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Rhapscallion Linnell

"I've got the habit of trying to fix things that aren't broken."

0 · 946 views · located in Thedas

a character in “Dragon Age: The Undoing”, as played by Yonbibuns

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"You know the ones that feel like family? You don't let them go."


Nothing Like You and IBruises
Fine On the OutsideBefore You Start Your Day



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Name: Rhapscallion Linnell

Pronunciation: RAHP-scah-lee-in LIN-elle

Age: Twenty-five

Race: Half-elf

Sex: Male

Sexuality: Questionable

Height: 6'0”

Build: Have you ever stood next to a particularly tall, awkwardly built tree? He's the kind of sloped lamp-pole you're sure is about to topple over you. Fascinating to look at unless he's gawking at you from a higher vantage, straight down your unfortunately-buttoned blouse—but not on purpose, really. He's got the lean musculature reserved for swimmers. His ability to outrun his pursuers far outweigh his ability to appear imposing. If you were chasing him, he'd definitely find a way to shimmy through the smallest alleyways. This isn't to say that he isn't in good shape: he's sculpted. It's just that he isn't built like a stocky lumberman. He's sharp corners, knobby knees, gliding limbs and somewhat broad-chested. It certainly doesn't suit his personality.

Class: Rogue

Specialization: Shadow Thief

Warden? Yes, yes, yes.

Appearance: If you'd only shot him a quick passing glimpse – because it's hard to miss a freakishly large man hunching his shoulders, trying his best to look as small as he can, scuffling his feet all the while, then you probably would've noticed the subtle hints that his lineage isn't quite right. Somethings off. It's in the severe shifts of his cheekbones, slanting in prominent humps below his eye sockets. It's in the corded leanness, much like a predator of the night, skulking under his leathers. It's in the cutting contours of his sharp nose, slightly aquiline when it's crinkled in anger. It's the stunted ears jutting from the sides of his head – not quite so long as the Elves in the Alienage, nor so short to be passed off as completely human. The bony ridges reach a couple inches above his temples, then curl inward: still prominently pointed but no longer than his middle finger. It's in the embarrassing fact that he's unable to grow facial hair: beardless as a baby's bottom.

Fortunately enough, Rhapscallion isn't as androgynous as his familial half-kin are. He's inherited a good blend of his parent's physical characteristics, lending him very peculiar components. He has a slender, elongated build; with the uncanny influence of his father's robust build affecting his musculature. He might have come from a nobleman's household, but he's never fallen into any slovenly routines. If anything, Rhapscallion keeps himself busy, physically and mentally, by running his Florentine routines and getting himself into trouble in the marketplace. Said distractions are the result of remarkable calf muscles and a pair of strapping legs that any brothel dancer would admire – if only, if only he was interested in the trade. His arms are thick and corded; a reward for years of using them for various tasks... like pulling himself onto scaffolding’s and rooftops.
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He's aware of the looks. Of the fact that he doesn't look quite right. Instead of responding with his general discomfort, Rhapscallion displays himself with an easy grace that's hard to ignore: fluffing his peacock feathers for all to see. He doesn't just move: he swaggers, he saunters, he promenades with an unforgivable ankle-boogie that sets your molars grating. His eyes are a pale, ghostly blue hue, an anomaly seeing as both of his parents supposedly had drab, unimpressive eyes of murky brown. The information's taken with a grain of salt because his father can't very well recall the name of his mother, let alone remember the colour of her eyes. They'd be beautiful. He knows this. His own peepers radiate a sense of wonder for worldly things; with appreciation, with love and affection, and certainly with an undeniable respect for those he considers strong. In spite of owning such expressive eyes, faint shadows often ring them, adding an uneasy peculiarity to his spectral irises. Rhapscallion wouldn't say that this made him look unappealing... just tired. Very, very tired.

Clumsiness plays an important role when referring to the assortment of puckered scars splayed across his upper torso: knees, elbows, legs. Cuts and nicks on his hands are near-permanent accessories, as well as the odd minor burn, and a whole rainbow of bruises and scars. No, no – there's been no glorious battles or extended fights with Darkspawn. He's just really, really clumsy. And if you grabbed a handful of his hair, then you'd find yourself with a fistful of thick tresses, naturally black, that's artfully shaved on the sides and left heavy on top. It follows no particular style; not Elven and certainly not Human.

Broad shoulders direct the cadence of his walk and he often leans on things, sloping his body comfortably instead of being a rigid stick. If his promenade is interrupted, Rhapscallion immediately seeks a proper resting place, much like a bird nestling itself on its perch. If it were his choice, then he'd be bedecked in a full suit of armour – however impractical it would be for a man of his skills. Luckily, he doesn't dress based on his internal, dreamy whims. Should the weather and situation permit, then Rhapscallion prefers going shirtless. However, that isn't always the case. Now that he's on his own , without the half-hearted expectations of his prior station as a dainty nobleman, he prefers wearing plain leather trousers with thick cotton patches and a simple blacksmith shirt. None of this truly correlates with his work. The more unassuming it appears, the easier his job will be. When dressing for serious occasions, he tends to choose tighter-fitting clothes, in more austere colours of slate grey, navy and red. Whether it's from sheer obliviousness or calculated mincing, he always seems to be half-dressed.

Not strictly speaking about his appearance, Rhapscallion often smells like a strange mixture of mixed herbs, metallic coins, lilacs and rainy mornings. It's odd.


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Demeanor: I promise that he isn't as foppish as he seems. Everything he does, everything he says, every look he gives, he does so with a breed of intensity totally and entirely characteristic of himself. He has the most uncommon presence. It's in the uncanny way he “invades” peoples personal spaces without coming off like a creep twitching a savvy-moustache. He's perceptive and acutely aware of his environment, even if he's slow to understand exactly what he's contemplating. He enjoys picking out the details in other people – the flutter of eyelashes, the clipped conjunction of lip movements, the fluctuating calibre of pupils, changing invariably – and trying to filter out their thoughts without vocalizing himself. Comparably to any youngster, Rhapscallion tends to take life as it comes, because he knows he'll come out alright; all in one piece, at the very least. He's fairly laid-back about worries unless they involve his friends. Because of his intense, often insatiable, curiosity, he's more likely than not to ask an inappropriate question in any given situation should it constantly nag at the back of his mind.

Following this, when he feels an intense desire to know something, Rhapscallion will continue at it until he finds an answer he's satisfied with. While some may find his curiosity endearing, others reciprocate with hag-scowls. If they end up getting upset about his incessant questioning, he'll will lay off for a bit, but he won't forget and will come back to it in due time. It's a constant voice whispering through his eardrums, so softly, so apparently there, that he finds it hard to let go of it altogether. Some people reprimand him for such things, but he doesn't tend to care. He doesn't feel it's inappropriate to ask questions, even if he's called nosey. He just wants to know – everything, all things, right now. A huffing hound who won't stop sticking his snout into your hands, even when you've already cuffed him in the ears. Lessons are learned excruciatingly slow.

Unlike the majority of stuffy-nosed men, Rhapscallion doesn't mind following directions from higher authorities, chosen leaders, or anyone who walks purposefully. He adapts quickly to new situations and generally acts like a leaf on a breeze, allowing whatever winds to guide him in the appropriate direction without fussing. Without kicking and screaming and resisting. It isn't in his nature. He's not very attached to his own views or opinions, in the same way he is not possessive or territorial. If asked, Rhapscallion will share his views with others, but if they do not like them he's unlikely to defend his stance. By nature, he's conflict-avoidant: he can easily move on or forgive something like invaded privacy, broken possessions, or heated arguments. He's not one to hold any grudges. It's tiring, exhausting, fatiguing.

Too much trouble to bother with for very long – he'd rather offer handshakes and consolatory hugs. He's really not an aggressive person: not filled with snarls and growls. If he's faced with a possible argument, he would much rather back away and remove silently himself from the situation and just hope that everyone will calm down. To avoid conflict is to make himself "invisible;" that is, he will try to become silent, stiffen up, hide, and simply hope that the conflict will pass him by or ignore them. The towels already been thrown in before you could open your mouth, sir. You might say that he doesn't have a backbone, which is where you'd only be half wrong – he finds it easy to be brave for others, but fails horribly when it comes to telling his friends “no.”

Enthusiastic and passionate and overly cheery. There's nothing more prevalent in his veins. He's about as social as they come. People energize and comfort him and he struggles being alone for long. He's uncomfortably friendly and outgoing and gets very bored, restless, and depressed when he doesn't have the chance to interact with others. He'll be yours, completely. He'll dedicate himself to pleasing you, making you smile, tickling your fancies, if only you'll stick around for a little while longer. Some might call him gregarious because of the wide variety of friends he collects, like small beautiful buttons kept in a wooden box underneath his pillow, he actually forms surprisingly strong ties to the people he's closest to. Unwittingly loyal bonds are formed, unbreakable and lasting. Once you've gotten yourself stick with him, there's nothing much you can do. His heart isn't just pinned to his sleeve. If might've been there in the first place, naturally grown through the weaves of his lapel, so that everyone can clearly, undoubtedly, see how much he cares about them. He's an expressive soul. He's an emotional time-bomb waiting for that one upsetting comment that'll cause quibbling lips and misty there's-just-dirt-in-my-eyes. It's hard for him to "see the obvious." He takes in the world differently than most.

Fears: If you haven't guessed already: abandonment. He's got some issues, here. Even though it's irrational, and it'll probably never happen given the circumstances, Rhapscallion's terrified that, in the end, everyone will leave him behind. He doesn't like being alone for extended periods of time. He is afraid of water that goes above up to his neck, if he's on solid ground: say a bridge or dock then he doesn't have a problem. If you sidle up beside him and pretend to tip him over, he will scream like a little girl and flail his arms around like he's being stung by wasps. Certain insects, particularly ones with barbed legs or hard pincers, leave him immobilized. Earth worms. Maggots. Small, wailing children with dripping noses. He fears losing those he cares about the most. It's an aching reminder how real things have gotten. He feels like he has a lot more to lose.

Hangups/Quirks:
  • He has trouble seeing the difference between certain colors. He suffers from a general lack of perceptual sensitivity, in other words: he's colour blind. Obviously, it's not something that he notices, but he'll occasionally ask for advice when considering certain clothes - like, does it really match? What the hell is this shade? The reduction in color signals makes the differences in texture and brightness more apparent, brighter, and awkward.
  • He transforms into the grouchiest bear when he's deprived of food, even if it's only been one missed meal. Bad-tempered, irritable, super cranky, and unnaturally hurtful. Each respective personality trait could form it's own progressive chain of events until he breaks down and eats something deplorable. He loves his food. Don't touch his food.
  • When Scally's lying, he talks out of the corner of his mouth. Or titters like a nervous little girl.
  • Several parts of his body are double jointed. He has the ability to bend and flex his arms in awkward positions. He doesn't really like doing it though, because it makes him feel sick. It's not a silly bar trick he's willing to do for you. Regardless, it's saved him plenty of times from dislocating his shoulders.
  • Rhapscallion's been rubbed raw for so long, so frequently, that he subconsciously shies away from certain kind's of people. Specifically people who remind him of his father. There's something to be said about the way he simply disappears when facing noblemen with familiar crests fastened to their collars. It's in his blood, in the very way he moves, to blend into the shadows. It's become second-nature. Irrational fears stem from all of those looks he received as a child - looks that festered, grew into isolated distaste. He'll smile. He'll play his part and dance: for you, for them, for himself. These irreversible damages have smothered his ambitions.
  • He doesn't understand the local system of exchange. Why, he wonders, is a vial of ink worth eight times its weight in gold, while a knife is worth a small fraction of its weight in gold? Heresy! "This, my friend, is why stealing is always easier."
  • Very low self-esteem. The slightest hint that the person he's talking to doesn't like him will send him doubting what he's saying, stumbling over his words and feeling terrible.
  • He's easily brought to tears, but tries to hide it, often unsuccessfully. There will be some specific types of things that bring him to tears, such as someone doubting his ability to do something, or someone questioning his racial background. Think: dying whale.

Opinions:
The Chantry: "Erm." Scally wouldn't outright slander the Chantry's name, nor Andraste's goodly deeds (but he'd probably still use her name in choice curses) because of the fear that Emil would swoop in and decapitate him with his words. Metaphorically, or literally; both are terrible ends he doesn't wish to experience.
Magi: "Powerful magic-men dipping their fingers in some bad, bad things? That's always a good idea. Oh wait, there's women, too?" He's nonplussed by the idea of Magi. If there isn't abominations roaming the streets trying to tear his throat out, then he's generally accepting of them. However, he hasn't been exposed to them enough to form a solid opinion.
Templars: "They... can't hear me, right?" Cringe-worthy fella's, the lot of them. The only lasting impression of them is clopping boots, armored frames, deadpan expressions and the unshakable humor of a brown paper bag. Surely, if Rhapscallion were born with magic thrumming in his blood, he'd be terrified that they'd tromp in his house and take him away. Are they always so serious? Solvej aside.
Elves: "Much better company than most." And they've got adorable ears, too.
Dwarves: Hitched breath. "By the Maker! Adorable. What, with their little fingers, little hands." He's serious. He wouldn't admit it aloud, but he's fascinated by their small stature. Grouchy attitudes, gruff beards, and the occasional ass-scratch doesn't put him off. They're all adorable. Almost as adorable as kittens, if they had beards.
Humans: "They're not all that bad, anymore. I mean, Mirabelle and Emil and them are alright." His opinions have changed greatly since journeying with all sorts of people. He doesn't mind them anymore, but he's still weary of anyone who reminds him of his father. Particularly stern, mean-men.
The Grey Wardens: "Never woulda' thought. The Wardens, and anyone associated; we're one big family." Scally believes in his friends and in the Grey Wardens. Both seem to go hand-in-hand, even if the others aren't initiated. He's surprised that they've recruited two others in their midst's, but he's honestly glad.
The Mission: Rhapscallion finally seems to understand the severity of the situation. It isn't likely that they'll all make it out alive, but he's optimistic enough to believe that they'll save the world. Whatever the outcome, they'll fight like hell for a better tomorrow.



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Weapon of Choice: Truthfully, in his youth, Rhapscallion preferred exotically curved daggers. They fit perfectly in his hands. Easy with their upkeep, took only moments to sharpen with a whetstone. An outside influence completely changed his mind and allowed him to broaden his horizons, if only a little. He still preferred two blades at once, even if his style was sloppy. His ingenious teacher fixed his posture, his balance, his ability to handle two blades in unison. As if they were extensions of his arms rather than separate objects. Soon after, Rhapscallion adopted two longer blades: shamshirs. Simple brass hilt and an equally straightforward handle made from animal horn that terminated in a distinctively bulbous pommel. Lightweight and complex, utterly beautiful. Even as he developed his newly discovered passion, he still kept his daggers hidden on his person: hidden from sight.

Armor/Apparel: It depends on the occasion, really. He's been known to change his apparel radically depending on who he's trailing: what's the least noticeable, what's the most comfortable, what's easily discarded. On long journeys, whilst traveling, Rapscallion opts to wear armour made out of tough leather. It comprises of a cuirass, a cingulum with several layers of hanging leather straps, epaulette-like spaulders, greaves, vambraces, leather gloves, and boots. He refuses to include any of his House colours, so they're dyed boorishly and conveniently dark. Unfortunately enough for you and your eyes, Rhapscallion doesn't truly understand what “efficient” means – so he's just as likely to wear a pair of loose-fitting trousers complimented by an array of colourful sashes. Under normal circumstances, the Hybrid wears full-length armoured links across his arms, from his shoulder blades to his wrists, with a crimson half-shirt to protect his skin from chafing. It's made from a lighter, more breathable metal.

Mount: Conquest perished in the Deep Roads, so Scally remains steedless. He felt bad that he wasn't able to give him a proper burial, but he still has a snippet of leather from his saddle in remembrance. He feels it's too soon to pick another.

Level: Sixteen

Skills:
Master Class: Jack-of-All Trades
Passive: Deft Hands, Improved Tools
Dual Weapons: Backstab, Lacerate, Maim.
Subterfuge: Stealth, Stealthy Item Use, Combat Stealth, Lingering Shroud.
Power of Blood: Dark Passage, The Tainted Blade.
Shadow: Pinpoint Precision, Decoy, Inconspicuous.



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Place of Birth, Nation of Origin: In the heart of Val Royeaux, Orlais.

Social Status: Formerly a nobleman, twice removed. Still with certain admonishing resources intact. He doesn't miss them one bit, though. Currently, Rhapscallion's found a home in the midst' of the Grey Wardens. He considers it far homelier in the respect that they seem to know that he exists and isn't some peculiar breed of dog that came in from the rain, moment's from being kicked back out because of invisible fleas. There's acceptance, there's crappy, gruely meals and there's something he's been missing for a long time. This isn't to say that he's a little put off by the whole "live-for-only-forty-years" deal or the fact that certain individuals would rather spit on his feet than shake his hand; but that's fine, it's alright. It's better where he is, now, better than anything else.

Personal History: How his parents met he never knew. His father is never one to tell the truth—at least not all of it and is much too fond of half-truths for Rhapscallion to ever get the real story out of him. Small, nonchalant fibs to keep a blubbering child quiet. Most importantly, he doesn't remember her. The one person who is supposed to be the most prevalent in his life. Orphans have always said they remembered their mothers smell: daffodils, daisies, dandelions. Beautiful flowers that had no names. They didn't need any names because they reminded them of her. He smelled nothing. Only an empty need to fabricate something, anything for the sake of remembering something. He tried to imagine that she was alive, whole and real, and with him right now. It was impossible without those small sensory secrets. To make himself believe, even just for a second. It would've been enough. He never saw his mother's soft hair and never understood the likeness between him and his father, not without her cooing words, not without her guidance to trace the contours of their adjacent noses.

Rhapscallion always felt like nobodies child. Technicalities aside, he was born to an unimportant Elvish maidservant and a pompous nobleman who couldn't even recall her name - simple syllables that would've meant the world to him. There hadn't been any other children to play with: no brothers, no sisters. Only a disconcerting youngster with bright eyes; boundlessly curious. How many words were spoken directly to him by his father? Perhaps: Elbows, Rhapscallion. Only speak when you're spoken to, boy. Where's your nanny? I told her a thousand times. Mostly, it was as if those words were directed at the walls. Like he couldn't bear looking him straight in the face. If he said he didn't live a privileged life, then Rhapscallion would've been lying. His father, Captain Fenlin Linnell, had served in the war, alongside much braver soldiers, before retiring to build his own economic empire breading strong warhorses. Renown, powerful, and growing further and further away from him.

The Linnell estate was expansive and extravagant, with a beautiful landscape that was wasted on him. Entirely permeated with fields, stables, and gardens. It felt empty. Much too large. Much too alien. It never felt like home. Weren't homes supposed to feel comfortable? Homey, even. It was filled with people who gawked at him, as if he didn't belong in the equation. As if he weren't a true born Linnell, undeserving of it's colours. More often than not, the boy was left to his own devices and enjoyed causing mischief as any other child would. His father took no pride in him and hadn't bothered teaching him etiquette, manners, business dealings or any pleasurable pursuits. Simply shlepped him off onto his nannies, with secrets glinting in his murky eyes.

So, essentially, Rhapscallion grew up in the miraculous, beautiful city that is Orlais under the guidance and tutelage of elderly, tittering woman who were wiser, and much more affectionate, than any he'd come across. They were made of titanium - and he was malleable, well-behaved, and sensitive. Every morning, in the bustling kitchens, surrounded by the billowing sounds of the furnace, Rhapscallion would take his place next to the cutting boards and listen to their stories of brave Elvish knights and warriors who lacked in nothing: duty, honor, courage, chivalry. Traditional, respectful virtues. He always begged them for more stories and tried to replicate the tones; imitate the knights' admirable characteristics. From them, Rhapscallion learned the greatest extent of politics, whispered rumors; Elvish history, culture, language and traditions. Everything came naturally, as if they were meant for his ears only. He entered this new world in strides, delighting himself in the attention he believed he deserved.
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Soon enough, Rhapscallion began wandering away from the sticky, uncomfortable confines of the Linnell estate. The further he went, the better he felt. Busy marketplaces transformed themselves into triumphant adventures. The Chantry became something to skitter past, absently pulling robe hems to evoke chaffing cries of indignation. How the Maker would frown at his antics! He became something of a rascal. He bombed around Val Royeaux and made a nuisance of himself, pestering the patrons for stories of adventure and treasure. Some became fond of his eager naivety and spoiled him rotten, teaching him a few tricks of the trade to keep him happy, while others either ignored him or sent him scurrying into the kitchen with a yell. Being so small, so significantly unnoticed, he thwarted arrests while picking up snippets of information in the streets. Only truly useful to himself. Every night, as he retired to bed, he whispered into his pillow the information he'd learned during the day of eavesdropping. It was one of many games that kept him busy. Kept him from wondering why his father couldn't bear the sight of him.

Rhapscallion proved quite capable when using daggers, particularly wielding two at once. The weight was welcoming in his palms, almost as if they filled a gap. Comically enough, two exotically wrought blades were indifferently gifted to him by his father on his thirteenth birthday. Soon to be forgotten, merely dumped into his awaiting palms, while he ignored the animated light dancing in his son's eyes. Waiting, expectantly, for something more. Something to form a truce between them. A familial bond between father and son. Nothing came. Rhapscallion was left alone with his daggers, clutched in his small, ineffectual palms, as if he could crush them if he squeezed hard enough: knuckles white. Worse tidings came from his nightly routine of eavesdropping. This time, inside the estate - nobleman guests from Tevinter whispered heatedly about Fenlin's half-breed "dirty-blood" mingling, far too socially, with his Elven nannies; what barbaric creature would arise from the kitchens?

His ears pounded. His heart sunk. His eyes stung, shamefully. He'd done nothing to gain his father's approval - he only dirtied it. Mucked it up with his own shortcomings. His father had always been a hard man. His ambitions had sewn the threads of formation in Rhapscallion's personality, desiring the title and perquisite of having the position of Duke. Those dirty little whispers had reached him, so he'd dismissed his beloved nannies, the hard-working men and women who'd raised him, and replaced them with fresh, younger staff; already cowed into submission. Too young to secretly defy their master for his benefit. Shortly after, those were the nights he cried the hardest, the longest. He craved everything he never had, ached for it, but he never did believe he could ever have it. Maybe a lifetime of believing, without being corrected, he was weak and worthless made him truly believe that he was, that no one could possibly want him around for any reason.

  • Finds a man willing to utilize his small stature, make money off him, and teach him useful skills.
  • Grows older, continues. Expands his vantage, works for other shady characters.
  • Decides he wants to be a knight: a Chevalier. Fails miserably.
  • Meets a strange Duelist who becomes his temporary mentor; is given dual rapiers.
  • Is found by Grey Wardens, including Commander Malik, hiding in a tree above a Darkspawn encampment, undetected.
  • Meets Solvej and Blathnat.
  • Passes the Joining, becomes a Grey Warden.
  • Meets Ethne in a battlefield, becomes steadfast friends.
  • Volunteers to join the group to save the world and vanquish Darkspawn generals.

Professional History: Honestly? Given Rhapscallion's personality, there wouldn't have been any proper way to refuse. Great knights always swallow their fears and charge headlong into the fray, right? Alright, alright: here's the specifics. He has a particular set of skills. The thief, able to perfectly conceal himself by the shrouding darkness of the shadows. He's been disappearing, but not quite disappearing to those with experienced eyes, before slipping back into view, as if he'd dropped from the skies or stepped through hidden curtains, unruffled, nonplussed. He's been doing this for years. He's unintentionally charming, able to persuade others to his cause with his umbrella smile and crooked, brightly-lit eyes. He utilizes surprise and shadow to get close to his enemies, and he's deadly in one-on-one combat, wielding two blades in unison. Traps, locks, doors - they're easy obstacles. He has an affinity for setting traps and going where they were never meant to go; creativity is a kind companion. He's part acrobat, part swordsman, and entirely reliant on his wits: the epitome of charm and grace without arrogance. Certainly, it goes without saying, that he was trained during childhood as an swashbuckling thief, he was proficient in basic reconnaissance skills, such as eavesdropping and pickpocketing. Joining the Grey Warden's had only strengthened the abilities he had and broadened his limits. He learned and developed a vast array of skills, such as subterfuge, blending into crowds, armed and unarmed combat, capable of extraordinary acrobatic feats, adept in social stealth, and fully apt in the application of deadly arts and possessed great physical and mental strength and stamina. Outside of his physical proficiencies, Rhapscallion is deceivingly resourceful.

Idea for a Personal Sidequest: How about several Companion Sidequest's leading up to his main Personal Sidequest? Including his own Questioning Beliefs. It'll probably involve trying to find out who his mother was, what happened to her, whether or not she's alive and well, and why she abandoned him in the first place. Acceptance of his upbringing. Realizing that he's not gonna' get left behind. Y'know, the whole she-bang. Focal points may gravitate around Orlais or Dalish encampments - clues will most likely be found along their journey.


So begins...

Rhapscallion Linnell's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Blathnat Ashling Character Portrait: Lukas Hoffman Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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Solvej had spent most of the return journey in an uncharacteristic silence, for what was there to say? She found herself in the unusual position of being caught between two parts of her life that she had thought to keep separate. Here, she was Solvej the Warden, valued if not entirely-reliable ally and proven time and again to be worthy of her place among the skilled ranks of the Grey.

But now, enter a figure from a past she would rather not remember, an exchange brief and terse and to the point, for truly, he was but peripheral in her torment, and it was better that way. Easier to ignore the fragments of memory, stirring ephemeral on the edges of her mind, like relics of a half-remembered dream from long ago. It was fortunate, that he did not often feature in these memories, that he was, in the grand scheme of things, not at all at issue.

It made it possible to tolerate his presence.

Still, were she not to set off immediately on this little death march of theirs, she would have had a few choice words for Malik about his appreciation for irony. And surely, the man would have heard her, that light smile on his face that meant he was actually considering something with all due gravitas, but knew that, regardless, he was right, and then of course he would have asked her if indeed her practicality had failed her after the intervening years. It had not, of course, and she would have conceded the point, but only after a parting shot about trusting her enough to inform her.

Ah, but if I had informed you, would you have gone? The answer, they both knew, and the bastard (affectionately called, for in truth she was most hostile to the people she actually liked) would have kept on smiling that roguish half-tilt and things would have been no different than when they started. Except, perhaps, that Solvej would have felt better about it. Unfortunately, simply knowing how the conversation would proceed was not enough to produce the attendant effects, and in the end, she was uneasy, in the way that one who does not know if she is guilty is uneasy being watched.

Still, it was easy enough to conceal, and none would know how deep that feeling ran, regardless of their perceptiveness. She had great practice with this, and by the time she approached the group by the wagon, she practically radiated confidence and casual ease, with just a hint of something unnamable with any word other than trouble. Not quite danger, not quite mischief, but something indefinably in-between. It was Solvej’s default affectation, for all of those awkward situations like this one.

She might have remained mounted, but it occurred to her that this was hardly the impression to make upon such a frankly ridiculous collection of people. Most, she knew; one was bloody well missing, and if he didn’t show up soon, she’d have his head herself, the sot. Those she didn’t were easy enough to pick out based on Malik’s information: she was half a mind to whistle and quip at the sheer size of the shapeshifter, but Blathnat was already saying something to him, so she didn’t bother.

The shortest member of their group, Solvej already knew she would like. Unapologetic-looking and heavily-armored, she had a feeling they’d be spending a considerable amount of time together on the front lines of things and possibly drinking like fish afterwards. The bombastic mage, she ignored, though not from disrespect: she’d known his sister, once upon a time, and their circumstances were similar enough that she generally avoided speaking to him. He might not know that this was why, but she didn’t much care about that one way or another.

The Seeker, she assumed was skulking. She didn’t know exactly where, but he was not the type to either wander away from the mission or to make social niceties with people. He’d have to break himself of that at least a little if he wanted to work in a team setting, but she’d leave that for him to figure out.

In the ends, what she did was dismount for a moment and peer at their leader. Though it was not common knowledge, Solvej was aware of why the girl was picked, and though having someone else waltzing around in your dreams was very strange, it had also given her something of an odd regard for the diminutive elf. She looked quite like a youngling still, but in the Fade she was something else entirely.

“You’ll do,” was all she said, with that understated pronouncement, the Black Templar swung once again astride Wagner, himself taller than their leader, and took point at the caravan. There was just that useless fop of a mentee, Rhapscallion, left, and if she knew him (and she did), he’d be along in all due time, frantic apologies and foolish gallantry firmly in tow.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Blathnat Ashling Character Portrait: Lukas Hoffman Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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Flashes of colors and sounds surged through Revaslin’s perception as he glided through the city, unseen, and unheard. He did not need the night, not now, though it was thrust to him. Today he had not felt the effects of the fade, even in the least, and consequently, his strength in silence was such that he sifted through the crowd unnoticed, though in their midst. From alley to street to roof he slid, unwaning in his speed. As he looked back to the forest from which he left his companions, the two Wardens, he thought of the long way he had traveled in his life, and how it was all converging on this one last mission. If he somehow came out of this alive, the chains that the Chantry had bound him in wound dissolve, as though made of sand. Perhaps he’d even return to his family, if he still had a family.

The solitary state of the city, firmly unchanging in the constant movements of its denizens, even at this late hour, made it rather easy for the Seeker to place his body in automatic movement, without the need of his conscious effort. His thoughts wandered in the deepness of the path he took to get to this point. He may not come back from this mission, afterall. It was worth reflecting upon.

.



You killed another templar!

My lady, he was not undeserving of it.

That doesn’t make a difference! You’ve been accepted as a templar less than a fortnight, and you’ve already killed a fellow Templar! I… I don’t even know what to say…

Your holiness, he was harboring bloodmages by taking bribes to look away. When I confronted him about it, he tried to shun me. Needless to say, he failed.

That is a bold accusation! The Knight-Commander will have your head for this deal!

I would not come here without proof, holiness, here is Sir Jorvik’s personal ledger, which I had taken from his body-

Looting off a body!

-that contains transactions of his dealings with these maleficarum. I also have two of these mages in custody, willing to testify. The rest were not as willing to cooperate.

My word, Lenny, I… I’ll look into this at once… Ah… Good job. Next time, though, make sure to go through the order first.

I crave your pardon and acceptance, milady, and I will do my best to follow these directions.






As his thoughts wove around his mind, and threatened to overtake his very being, his eyes drifted on their way to a Tevinter girl. The act of noticing her broke his chain of thought completely, and reminded him that he had other things to do than reminisce. This was the girl, the “Dreamer”, he was informed about, the girl that was to be their leader. She looked rather frail, almost glass like, but she moved on with rather ease. He would have laughed at the staff at her back, and how someone so small and child-looking could wield a weapon, especially a staff such as that one. He did not, however. He sensed her magical ability, and almost shrunk back at what he had discovered.

The Dreamer is a Dreamer? Certainly the Wardens are subtle in their naming conventions. Nevertheless, it is to be expected. I will have to be careful with this girl.

He followed her on the way to the rendezvous, observing her. He was like a shadow, always there, but always silent, disappearing and blending with the other shadows. He was now running on top of the various roofs that the city of Kirkwall had to offer. The sky was black, as befitted his temper, and allowed him to be more liberal with his steps.

His mind almost slid back to thoughts of the past, when suddenly he heard the howl of a wolf behind him. As he turned around he saw large yellow globes of eyes staring at him, but as his eyes focused on the apparition, it disappeared, with not even the smallest semblance of it left to vouch for its existence.

The vision sent shivers down Rev’s spine, and almost lost the girl. She was in no hurry, though, and he easily caught up to her.

These visions will be the end of me.





Eventually they finally reached the cart that was assigned as the rendezvous. Rev stood atop a roof and peered down below. There he saw the Dreamer looking about, almost nervously, waiting for any signs of new arrivals.

A raven sitting on the cart almost escaped Rev’s notice, but for its solemn countenance. There was something odd about that bird that warranted further investigation. It could have been a spy. Upon a more detailed study of this creature, he realized that it was a mage.

If that girl weren’t there, he would have known immediately. There was simply too much fade around her to make clear the more insignificant (by comparison) magic of a small bird. If this mage was truly one of the people invested in this mission, why was it that he had not made an appearance yet?

Rev quickly trained a bolt at the bird’s head. He stuck out his tongue to get a feel for the wind and readjusted his aim accordingly. If that mage tried anything unusual, or left the scene without introduction, he would die.

In almost no time at all, however, a dwarf in full armor made his appearance and addressed the leader. When the new arrival took off his helmet, or rather, her helmet, Revaslin’s eye locked on to the tattoo on her cheek.

A casteless. Is that the reason she’s going on a suicide-mission?

As he looked back at the raven, he saw it was no longer a bird. With a flash of light it was now a muscular man, who was rather barbaric in appearance. A wilder, no doubt, and an apostate to boot. Already there were two mages in the group, and as if that weren’t enough, another one came running like a buffoon. There were going to be a lot of encounters with the fade, no doubt, especially given the somniari.

Rev lowered the weapon tied to his left arm, and set the safety back on. No use in shooting someone by accident; though if a mage left the group by such a turnout, Fenlen certainly wouldn’t complain.

The two wardens he was already acquainted with soon came, the dark one looking around, to spot our Seeker most likely. Solvej followed, and Rev could see dark clouds of thought on her brow, though as she approached, that cloud seemed to dissipate. Well, certainly a question had been answered there, and the Seeker understood that she was not cold-hearted after all.

The last straggler came, looking more awkward than any others, especially on the horse he was on. At last, the group was assembled, and having made his judgments, it was time the Seeker made his appearance.

He slid from the roof onto the floor, and disappeared into the shadows. It was rather easy to wind his way about the streets, as there were many stalls and alleys that were unpopulated during the night. He reappeared behind the newest arrival, and gave a grunt of greetings.

Looking to the sky, he noticed that their time of departure was long passed.

“We’ve lost enough time,” he noted, “It is best we start moving.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Blathnat Ashling Character Portrait: Lukas Hoffman Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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Ethne did not have to wait long to discover the source of the rustling. As she watched, tension writ into the lines of her posture, someone approached, mounted on a pony. The beast was a hardy thing, compact and dense of musculature. The rider, she noted, was no different, encased head-to-toe in formidable armor, dwarven make, judging by the simple, sturdy lines of it. Well, that and the fact that it was hard to imagine a dwarf wearing armor made by anyone else.

The warrior removed their helmet, and Ethne noted with some surprise the features of a stalwart-looking female with a shock of white hair and a facial tattoo. Those had some significance, but she couldn’t remember what it was. The elf was subjected to the impression of being scrutinized, and she stood stock-still, clasping her hands gently at her waist. Her eyes were fixed resolutely on the middle distance, at least until the woman spoke, but then looked down at her in surprise. "Captain? No, no, you must have me mistaken for someone else. I am to lead, but only in the most literal sense,” she explained, but the rest of it withered in her throat with the dwarf’s blunt proclamations.

"I will-” Ethne was cut off by the sharp call of the raven she’d noted earlier, and she must have jumped about two feet in the air when its form shifted into that of an enormous man. The unexpected action had shocked her pulse into the frenetic beating of a jackrabbit’s feet on the ground as it ran from a swooping hawk, and she could not deny that the metaphor was appropriate.

She certainly did not expect the first words from his mouth to be an apology, and her wide-eyed shock transitioned seamlessly into a warm smile, and though she swallowed thickly, it was genuine as it could be. "Any of those would be quite the offering on its own, and all of them deserve more thanks than I can give,” she replied amicably, shifting into the more formal court-speak that she was used to. The phrasing did not make the sentiment a lie, after all, and it was simply her natural diction.

The Tevinter woman took an abrupt step backwards when another man broke into the clearing, this one more normally-sized for a human and also practically overflowing with energy. She felt his connection to the Fade, and knew that he, like the shapeshifter, was a mage. Her mouth opened, but she realized she had no reply, and closed it again with a clicking of her teeth, blinking rapidly. “Um…”

But the tide of people was coming thick and fast now, and she noted the approach of the Wardens with slightly-awestruck eyes. The one, she did not know very well, beyond that her name was Blathnat and that Malik had humor in his eyes when he spoke of her. Ethne didn’t really know what to make of the obliging pat and murmured reassurance, and it wouldn’t have mattered much, anyway, she was sure.

Solvej was a figure of no mean intimidation herself, encased in all that black armor and lugging around a spear. It wasn’t for this reason that Ethne respected her though; she’d walked in the woman’s dreams, and seen therein more evidence of strength than she’d thought possible. To endure what she had… well, it put things in perspective anyway.

There were two others yet due, and no sooner had she thought as much than she noticed Rhapscallion at the edge of the gathering, and grinned at him with enough brightness to light a dingy cave. "Scally!” she greeted her former guardian with a mirth-infused nickname before remembering her decorum and refraining from skipping over to him with all the childish delight of someone who has just seen an old friend for the first time in too long.

Another appeared from her friend’s shadow, murmuring something about delay, and she nodded resolutely, trying not to squint to get a closer look at his valaslin. She’d always found the Dalish so… puzzling, but now was hardly the time for that.

Clearing her throat, she did her best to gain everyone’s attention, then realized that even half this many pairs of eyes on her was far more than she was used to or comfortable with and colored slightly, a pale pink stripe dusting her cheekbones and nose. "I imagine most of you have been briefed to an extent, so I’ll keep this short. We are to ride west for a day, whereupon we will rendezvous with a ship bound for Val Royeaux. Orlais is our first destination, and the first Darkspawn general is there. If you’d rather not ride, feel free to use the cart. Oh, and for anyone who does not know but cares to, my name is Ethne Venscyath. I’m to find the Darkspawn in question, and lead you to them, but please… if you feel at any time that there is something I should know or consider with regards to anything else, you will find me a willing listener.” So saying, she flashed her teeth in a quick smile at the lot of them and mounted her horse, settling into the saddle and guiding him to the forefront of the group. Producing Malik’s map of Thedas from one of her saddlebags, she double-checked the place he’d marked and pointed her steed’s nose due west.


The group had been on the road half a day, the journey punctuated by talking here and there, and Ethne could also have sworn that someone laughed at one point, though she couldn’t say who, when they ran upon the first hint of trouble.

A fresh corpse lay on the ground, the sand stained red by the blood that had seeped steadily from an arterial wound in his throat. His clothing indicated him to be a member of the upper class, though a few of his garments were threadbare in places. Ethne immediately hopped off her horse and dashed forward, checking the man for any signs of life. Her eyes darted to the horizon, squinting to see if anything unusual was visible. The body was still warm, which at this time of year could only mean that he was freshly dead.

Biting her lip, she examined the man for anything more unusual, and then noticed that one of his hands was still formed into a fist. What healers called rigor mortis had not yet set in, and so it was not difficult to pry his fingers gently apart, and she was rewarded in a small manner when a piece of parchment slipped from his grip.

Smoothing it out carefully on her leg, Ethne read it over and frowned.
My dearest brother Jorundr,

I know that the magistrate has been most unhelpful with the recovery of your stolen property, but I must urge you not to take matters into your own hands. There is a war on, after all, and though I do not know the extent of what was stolen, surely a few dozen sovereigns and some equipment you can’t even use is not worth dying over. You are a scholar, not a warrior, and you have no idea what those highwaymen will do to you. Please, I beg of you, just come home!
-Astrid

Standing quickly, she turned to the others, the half-formed warning on her lips morphing into a strangled gasp when an arrow struck her shoulder from behind, pitching her forward.

Several bandits emerged from cover, among them the archer who’d shot first, wearing a triumphant grin. He and four of his fellows were accompanied by three massive warriors, and a good half-dozen or so dual-wielding rogues, four of whom immediately disappeared under the cover of stealth. Perhaps most worrying, though, were the two apostates bringing up the rear. One had already sliced into his own hand, and the other was readying an area-of-effect spell that rained fireballs down on the group, forcing them to scatter if they wished to live.

Rolling onto her side, Ethne retaliated with a Chain Lightning spell, aiming for the archers, who were clustered nicely. She was exposed out here in the open, though, and they’d be upon her in seconds without some swift assistance.

The Mission Briefings have been updated.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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Kerin guided the horses of the cart with a sturdy hand, though the horses hardly needed guidance. They were more than happy to follow the trail led by the rest of her party. Riding shotgun beside her was her helmet and axe-- in quick reach if things turned sour. Her pony trotted along side the cart as well, tied up. She had offered to drive the cart since none of the others seemed to be interested. Well, she didn't so much as offer as she told. "I'll drive the cart," she had said, "I'm not going to spend the entire trip dodging the long legs of your horses," indicating their height differences. No, she was much more comfortable on the cart where she could directly look at her companions without looking up.

The trip thus had been easy going. Except for the apprehension she felt about crossing the water. "Another sodding boat?!" She had asked, irritated. She hated the water of the seas, and the rocking it did to these boats. She already saw herself hugging on to the mast with a bucket beside her. It was not a pleasant thought. As she pondered the grim idea of the sea, their caravan came to a stop as Ethne bounded from her horse. Kerin stood, grabbing her helmet and axe as she rose, and looked to find the source of this interruption.

Even from her distance, she saw the poor smear on the road. Poor fellow, probably never even stood a chance, though it was his fault for wandering these roads alone. She watched in grim curiosity as Ethne searched the poor sod's body. She seemed to have found a note and had just turned to them when the arrow bit into her shoulder. Kerin slammed her helmet on her head and yelled an admonishment at the elf as she hopped from the cart. "Dammit twig-bean! You should have had one of us up there with you!" She yelled, meaning either herself or Solvej. Already, the fires of the berserker were being stoked.

However, Kerin wasn't the first into the fray. That honor belonged to the man called Suicide. She had arrived just as the large man froze someone solid. Taking the gift as it came, she scythed past the frozen statue with her axe outstretched, shattering the man into pieces. Once the deed was done, she swung her axe around to the front, giving an intimidating show. "Step up and face death!" Kerin bellowed at the bandits, and followed it with a snarl. With that the berserker fires within her raged.

After giving Rhapscallion the scolding his tardiness warranted, smacking his shoulder with her mail-gloved hand and shaking her head, Solvej had sped Wagner up until she was near the front of the line, muttering things under her breath in Ander that sounded vaguely like admonishments. At least they were off at last, there was somehing to be said for that.

She didn't share the dwarf's dislike for boats, but the short woman's complaint did cause her to exhale a short bark of laughter. "I think you'd best get used to boats, my friend. I doubt the archdemon was so kind as to plant all his most important flunkies in Orlais. I wouldn't; chewing on bloody decadent Orleians would make them fat and lazy." Her lips pulled back from her teeth in an expression between a grimace and a fox's own grin. If there was a culture with which Anders did not mix well, it was certainly the Orlesian one, even counting Tevinter. She knew better than to class them all as fops, of course, but it tended to be the default opinion until they poved otherwise. She'd always wanted to fight a Chevalier, though.

After about half a day, Solvej was looking with bored eyes at the landscape, still alert as possible, when their little leader's shoulders tensed and she became very fixated on something ahead of them. The group crested a hill, and Ethne dismounted, running forward to a body that was clearly already dead. Solvej narrowed her eyes at the horizon, but still nothing was visible. She filed her observations away, noting that the elf-girl was most likely a healer of some kind, if her first instinct was the suicidally-stupid one to-

"Bandits!" Solvej shouted, but she was nowhere near close enough to stop the arrow she saw from puncturing Ethne's shoulder, knocking the frail thing to the sand. The big mage and the dwarf were the first into the fray, and she was not long after them, jumping from Wagner and drawing up alongside the stalwart berserker. In all likelihood, they'd make the best front line, and with this in mind, Solvej twirled her spear, brandishing it at the remaining warrior, a reaver by the looks of the nasty things he was doing with blood. Her first blow met his shield, the force of the impact resounding up Solvej's arms. His sword came around to her side, scoring a narrow wound in her abdomen, but she turned to divert the worst of the blow, using her momentum to whip her spear around and deliver a devastating cleave to his weapon-side arm, the pointed end of her polearm finding a chink in his armor and biting deep.

The man staggered backwards, dazed, but retained the presence of mind to cover himself with his shield. Solvej, however, just grinned, a feral light flashing in her eyes. He was presenting his back to Kerin quite nicely. "Hey short, light, and angry: I got you a present!" She called irreverently, laughter infusing her tone. Ah, but there was nothing like a good knock-down, drag out!

Kerin snarled in response, but understood her Warden companion. She wound up her axe and swung it in a downstroke. The upstroke brought the axe painfully into the crook of the bandit's groin, lifting him up off of the ground and sending him flying. The Stone would feast on blood today! Kerin then turned around to intercept another bandit, this one brandishing a pair of blades and thought he'd sneak up on her while she was occupied.. Kerin cursed her luck at having to fight such a cowardly slip-fish. Her axe granted her a reach the bandit's steak knives couldn't hope for, and she caught the torso of the man in the crook of her axe head.

She yanked hard, pulling the light man in and then swung, throwing the bandit into Solvej's path, "Your turn Warden! And I ain't light!" She called. She turned to face the rest of the bandits and let out another taunting bellow, "Who's next!" readying her axe. She also made conscious decision to step backwards towards Solvej. There were rogues about, and Kerin was not about to be done in by an errant stab to the back. "Dammit! Someone handle those bloody mages!" She called.

When the dwarf hooked her axe around the next man's torso and heaved, the unfortunate rogue tumbled to the ground, dancing to his feet immediately in that lightfooted way they tended to have. Glancing around sharply, he shook off his dizziness and tried to get his bearings.

The first thing his eyes locked onto was the savagely-grinning face of Solvej. The Black Templar seemed to have earned her name- for her brutality, while nowhere near as overt and rage-based as Kerin's, nor as bear-shaped as Suicide's, was a cold, hard thing in the pit of her stomach, and she saw precious little need to check it. If they wished to attack without question, without mercy, than she would indulge them in their base need to die. The dagger-wielding fellow, close enough that she could smell garlic and liquor on his foul breath, staggered backwards with a small yelp, disorientation yielding to the panicked realization that the business end of a spear was inches from his gut.

He didn't make it very far before Solvej took a long stride forwards, fulfilling the sharp promise with a deft shove and a painful twist. There was a hint of mercy left in her yet, it seemed, for she quickly removed the weapon, plunging it up from under his chin and sparing him the indubitable agony of a slow death by exsanguination.

Just in time, too, for the mage's spell came to fruition just then, and fire rained down on their location. It was no good to stand and wait to get hit, and perhaps it was time she put her abilities to good use. Inhaling deeply, Solvej charged. With both warriors down and the majority of the melee fighters engaged or hidden, it wasn't terribly difficult to reach the back ranks of the bandits, and she supposed that the technique her mentos had called turning the blade worked just as well on arrows, for most of the ones aimed for her glanced off her armor. One stuck in her belly, having found a weak link in her chain, but she ignored it and summoned forth the holy smite, planting herself to the ground. It was something that would affect a relatively-narrow area, which as why she had to be close enough to the mages to hit them. Neither fell, but both staggered backwards, casting temporarily interrupted.

"Oi Seeker! This is what you're good for, isn't it?" She was pretty sure Revaslin was around somewhere, at any rate.

The rain of fire did nothing to sooth Kerin's anger. She looked up with irritation and roared in the face of the fire, as if daring it to try and burn her. With the leave of her Warden companion, Kerin felt it was best to vacate the area as well, else the dare be fulfilled. Kerin streaked forward out of the area of effect of the fiery rain and charged into the next fray with wild abandon. There were many more corpses that did not know yet they were dead. She let howl one last taunt before diving in, axe blazing. "Know your fate at the hands of the Fatebreaker!"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Blathnat Ashling Character Portrait: Lukas Hoffman Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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Ethne forced her breathing to steady, inhaling through her nose and holding for a split second before her lungs expelled the stale air through her mouth. Unarmored as she was, the pain was splitting, and she knew she needed to get the arrow out before she could heal it properly. Narrowed as her world was to her pain and her breathing, she almost didn’t notice the large shadow fall over her until she felt the familiar tug of magic being performed, and she pressed both palms into the sand, trying to get some leverage. She swore she could hear someone talking to her, and it was almost certainly dear Scally, the playful Warden she considered the closest thing to a friend she had out here, but she couldn't make out what he was saying and tried to wave him off. I'll be fine, I'll survive, please go help.

Her shoulder muscles screamed with the effort of righting herself, but she scarcely had the time to notice when a massive form in armor landed, his shoulder digging into her lower back. Agonized tears sprang to Ethne’s eyes, and she would have screamed, save that the breath was squeezed from her with the impact, and all she managed was a halfhearted wheeze, biting down on her own tongue by accident. The blood that welled up there filled her mouth with the taste of iron and shame, and how useless was she, that she could do nothing but squirm here.

It was, in fact, the sand that saved her life. The ground had just enough give that when her soft form was pressed into it, it absorbed a large portion of the impact so that her spine didn’t have to. A pitiful sound, something between a whimper and a soft keening, escaped her as the pressure was relieved. Neither of them was in much of a position to know it, but Suicide’s grappling had rolled the other warrior off her, rendering her able to move again, at least somewhat.

In the intervening time, Blathnat and Rhapscallion had noted the damage the archers were capable off and taken off, the latter disappearing from sight almost immediately with a skill any of the bandits could envy. He reappeared behind the first archer in the line, withdrawing the long knife suddenly protruding from the man’s chest. The ensuing chaos enabled Blathnat to get close without injury, and the two rogues made short work of the bow-wielding bandits.

Lukas, meanwhile, had jumped right into the fray, fearless and energetic as always. Though common sense dictated that magi should stay behind the lines and cause their damage from afar, there wasn’t really a line to speak of here, and his force magic was quite adept at keeping two knife-wielders at bay simultaneously.

Ethne spat blood out of her mouth and tied to concentrate. That arrow needed to come out or she couldn’t heal properly. It was an awkward reach, but she managed to get her uninjured arm behind her head so as to grasp the shaft of the projectile. Gritting her teeth so she wouldn’t bite anything soft again, she took a deep breath. One chance. I can do this. I can.

Not really sure if she believed herself or not, she summoned all of her meager strength and pulled, a harsh sob barely contained behind her clenched jaw. The pain was agonizing, but the arrow came out, and she tossed it away, summoning her magic for the requisite heal spell. The wound closed, most of the pain abating, and she blinked several times to clear her vision. The pull of familiar but unwelcome magic made itself known to her, and the elf’s blue-green eyes went wide.

Someone was calling demons from the Fade.

Scrabbling to her feet, Ethne took stock of the situation. The last archer dropped, but two more rogues appeared from cover and looked about to surround the bombastic Lukas. From her place on the rise, she could see that Suicide was in bear form, Kerin was just finishing someone off, and Solvej and the quiet Dalish man were facing down three sloth demons and a mage.

Thinking fast, Ethne projected her voice as loud as she was able. “Scally, Miss Blathnat, please help Ser Mage! Ser Solvej and Ser Dalish, the last caster!” That left the demons, and with a steadying intake of air, Ethne started forward. “Ser Dekton, Miss Berserker, please help me!” She lamented that she didn’t have all the proper names, but since half of them had ever introduced themselves, she couldn’t possibly know.

Whether or not anyone else followed her suggestions, Blathnat and Rhapscallion moved in to aid Lukas, the combined force of the two rogues and mage wiping out their remaining opposition with little difficulty. She hoped the other would listen, but this way something she could handle, would handle, one way or another. It would just be… easier, with help.

With each step, the aura of the Fade surrounding Ethne grew, and she held one hand at either side, having lost her staff back on the ground. She’d asked for Kerin and Suicide because the former was much more resistant to the Fade than anyone else here would be, and the latter would know what he was dealing with. Striding across the field, Ethne stared down the sloth demons, eyes narrowing to slits, her childlike face hardening in its expression until she almost looked her meager twenty-one years.

“You do not belong here.” The air in front of her shimmered and distorted, dancing around until the demons were shrouded in Fade, and she brought one hand up in front of her, twisting it and forming it into a fist clutched in front of her chest. All three demons staggered, but it would take much more than that. Her other hand launched a stonefist spell, and the pocket of Fade-energy around the middle demon dissipated as it was hurtled backwards, smashed against an outcropping of rock and killed as its ribcage caved in with the force of her spell.

It wasn’t a full-scale banishment, but she did not have the stamina for such a thing right now, so she’d settled for weakening them for her allies, which should do.


When the battle concluded, Ethne cast a quick group heal and picked her way carefully back to where she had fallen. Her staff, she saw, was broken, either under the weight of one of the two battling giants (for to her they may as well have been), or else just stepped on by someone during the course of the fight. Sighing a trifle sadly, she retrieved the pieces anyway; perhaps there was someone along the way who would know how to fix it. The focus stone was valuable, so it might at least get them a night’s rest and some food somewhere along the road.

Curiously, the note she’d been reading earlier was relatively undamaged, and she stooped to retrieve it, glancing it over once more. Either there were a few more bandits, or else this cache of theirs might be somewhere nearby. She flicked a hesitant gaze over the others, all of whom seemed to be in much better repair than she had been, and she tried very hard to ignore that her face still burned with embarrassment. “I, um.” It had to be worth a try. Surely, they would be willing to help, right? “This note, from the dead man. It says that there is some kind of cache somewhere nearby, possibly guarded by more bandits. They’ve been terrorizing this place. I mean, we might run into them anyway, so it just seems-” she cut herself off mid-ramble. “That is, I think it might be a good idea to hunt down these resources, and helping the people here does not seem bad either. Should we?”

Lukas was quick to throw in his beatific consent, and Rhapscallion agreed as well. Blathnat seemed to have no opinion, simply shrugging and looking around at the others, interested as to what their opinions might be.

Ethne just hoped that she didn’t sound like an incompetent fool, but then it might already be too late for that. She shifted her weight uncomfortably from foot to foot, looking anywhere but at their faces. Scally, she had sort of expected support from. He was kind that way. Lukas just seemed eager for adventure as far as she could tell, but she was glad at least two people were in some kind of agreement. She didn’t want to order anyone anywhere, and she wouldn’t. If it came to that, she’d just as soon abandon the option and continue forward without a large argument.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen Character Portrait: Blathnat Ashling Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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♫♫♫

Hadn't Rhapscallion been so focused on the path before him, on being so entirely unseen by those who would reprimand him, then he wouldn't have bristled like a cowardly animal when the Dalish Elf melted from the shadows. Gooseflesh jolted him awake, upright. Electricity pumped and pulsed through his spine, riding along it's ridges and ending in exhausted bursts through his shoulder blades. His hands immediately gripped Conquest's pommel, accidentally squeezing his calves around the stallions ribs. This earned him an impatient whiny and a shake of it's maned head that pulled the reigns clear across it's muzzle, so that Rhapscallion had to snatch forward like a child who could not quite reach the candies on the top shelf. Murmuring softly to himself, humiliated. So far, this was not going as he'd imagined. Quickly glimpsing through his shuttered eyelashes, Rhapscallion returned the Seeker's greeting with an awkward hand-wave, which quickly transformed itself into an unbalanced head-bob. “Yes, time—can't waste too much of that.” The useless statement parched his throat like he'd recently poured an hourglass down his gullet. He was always sputtering nonsense when he was trying to be serious: stagnant and nonchalant. He hadn't meant to sound sarcastic, but by the hitching lilt of his voice, it might've seemed that way.

When he tired of pulling at Conquest's reigns to make him behave, Rhapscallion clumsily slipped from the saddle with a soft sigh, blown through his nostrils, and scanned the mass of individuals idling on their mounts, on their feet, on the wagon. That's when he spotted her – that is, Ethne. His mouth twisted into it's usual coy smile, spiraling maddeningly into a full-mouthed grin. Hadn't Commander Malik told him that she was in charge? A leader of sorts. He could believe it. Her eyes spun like stardust and galaxies – full of wonder and kindness and an endless optimism that brightened his skies, even when he felt they were particularly bleak. He was honoured to have met her all those days ago, when things were much simpler, along the battlefields that scrapped his bones clean of courage and threatened to jelly his knees. Restraint, what was that? The half-breed's long steps brought him in front of Ethne, where he proceeded to draw her into his arms in swing her in a lazy circle before catching sight of Solvej's slitted gaze through sweeps of strawberry-blond hair. He smiled apologetically, and placed her back on the ground, safe and sound, before lightly brushing her shoulders as if he'd dirtied a particularly expensive ornament. “Sorry, sorry. It's good to see you, Scya.

Slowly, cautiously, as if he were trying not to frighten a floppy-eared rabbit, Rhapscallion danced away, all tiptoes and ballerina movements – or, sashayed rather – and contented himself by fiddling with the leather straps of his scabbard as she spoke. We are to ride west for a day, whereupon we will rendezvous with a ship bound for Val Royeaux. He exhaled slowly, purposefully allowing all the oxygen in his lungs to escape. Perhaps, small parts of him would flit away, too. They were bound for Val Royeaux? It certainly wasn't a place he was fond of. He could already picture his father's puffed up face, cheeks brimming in anger – if he could wheeze out fire like a dragon trapped behind an iron furnace, Rhapscallion was sure that he would. He would have to tread carefully, straying for from the estate if they ventured too close. Besides, they wouldn't notice him slip away.

He weaselled his way through the throe of stamping horses, pawing impatiently at the ground with heavy hooves – hooves that would crush his toes if he wasn't careful. Once he reached his destination: Solvej's scrappy horse, Wagner. “Do you come here often, miss? Saving the world from darkspawn and, equally terrifying, baddies?” He looped his arm through the horses reigns, attempting to drape himself across it's muscled neck like a long-lashed brothel-woman looking for a good time. At least, Rhapscallion had been trying to look the part before Wagner pushed him aside like an irritating child, nostrils flaring wide as saucers, snuffling and huffing into his face until he threw his hands up in defeat. She scolded him in response. He smiled, all jittery with his flashing grins and rolling eyes. She smacked him in the arm with her gauntlet. He pretended as if it actually pained him, pretending to lug it around as if it were broken. This was their usual routine – he was often late for important events. Finally, Rhapscallion eased himself back onto Conquest's back, staggering forward a few times when the horse refused to stay still, before successfully easing into the caravan's heart. He preferred the company.




I think you'd best get used to boats, my friend. I doubt the archdemon was so kind as to plant all his most important flunkies in Orlais. I wouldn't; chewing on bloody decadent Orleians would make them fat and lazy. “Oi, oi, that pains me. We aren't all fat and lazy. Maybe snacking on a few Orleians would make them a tad more fashionable. Darkspawn flunkies in silk, imagine that.” Rhapscallion eased beside them, grinning foolishly as he imitated a hunch-backed creature twirling it's laces and skirts. Growly-faced and brooding eyebrows. He didn't mind boats, having travelled the expanse of private islands in illustrious ships. The gentle swaying on the rocking boats always put him straight to sleep, so he had to constantly pinch the inside of his wrists to keep himself from toppling over. Briny seawater always smelt fresh – it felt, mostly, like freedom. His fingers brushed through air, slicing a wide arc in front of him. “We might even see the grand, the brave, the dashing Chevalier in action, ready to pledge their lives to the blade.” He recounted the words in his lavish storytelling voice, tapering it to a soft coo. Rhapscallion sniffed and leaned forward across the ship's wooden rails, cupping his chin into his upturned hands. They were true knights. “I think you'd be impressed.

Instead of focusing on the road ahead after debarking the ship, Rhapscallion regarded his companions with the fascination reserved for small children discovering glass spheres or coloured marbles or beautifully carved wooden figures. The one who'd frightened him earlier had been the most puzzling of them all. He steered clear of the group and preferred to lag behind on his own. Who was he? How had he come been introduced to this mission? These private questions threatened to slip from his lips, though Rhapscallion buried his curiosity by, every so often, throwing him inquisitive glances. It might've looked like a man peeking out behind someone's skits, but he believed he appeared like a man who was opening the door to further conversation, beyond discussing their loss of time.

"Bandits!" Bandits? A bulky mass of weight slammed into Conquest's chest. Flashes of gnashed teeth and the sound of battle roars assaulted him, breaking down his senses into one carnal, one imperative command: disappear. The stallion reared, kicking out it's front legs at the attacker and Rhapscallion tumbled off his rump like a ball-jointed marionette. His flailing limbs found no purchase. He couldn't have even reached the stirrups if he'd tried. In lieu of his clumsy fall, the half-breed's body crumpled, landing with a grunt on his buttocks, in a puff of hazy grey smoke. It flicked upwards in fat plumes, swirling with unseen movement.

His blades immediately slipped from their scabbards, singing through the air like freed canaries. It was a sweet sound that he was careful not to enjoy too much. What had Commander Malik told him that one fateful day? Laughing like a madman, speckled with blood. His first battle. A man's appetite for carnage can seem endless, so reign it in, control it, and it will not control you on your darkest days. He'd taken it to heart. Though, this did not mean he was not deadly. One decoy distracted a nearby warrior: foppish grin, glinting eyes, exaggerated movements. This was not his target. Rhapscallion moved through the throng of engaged fighters, easily slipping past falling blades and whizzing arrows, before he slipped his blade through a rogue's gaping face. Slipped through like butter, both ways. His image flashed like a broken film, before slipping back into the background. The man had been trained on Ethne, who laid on her side, clearly injured. Experienced eyes tracked unseen movements in the underbrush. Pausing for a few moments, Rhapscallion hunkered next to Ethne and sloughed off his stealthy-camouflage like a discarded cloak.

Maker's breath—... you, you've been shot. You are not alright.

Then, the half-breed was blown from his feet again in a mass of tangled limbs. A massive warrior had pushed him away, rolling on top of Ethne. He hadn't had time to push himself back to his feet, because Suicide had already dealt with that cretin. Arrows continued to pepper the grounds around them, so he traded a knowing glance with Blathnat and sprang back to his feet, disappearing in a wave of shimmer, before slashing out his blades in unison. Necks were slit, mercifully. The last buckled under Blathnat's extracted blade, toppling over his longbow: face pushed into the dirt. “Scally, Miss Blathnat, please help Ser Mage! Ser Solvej and Ser Dalish, the last caster!” His mouth twisted sourly as he scanned the remaining caster, eyes squinted. It only took him a moment to clip the man's wings, his Achilles tendon, to allow someone else to finish the bloody job. Everything else seemed to fall in place - they'd one this battle, it seemed. It still left his mouth dry, parched like a desert.

He gladly accepted Ethne's healing, lifting his rumpled shirt where he'd bruised his ribs. Though, he'd been eying her as if the arrow was still stuck through her shoulder. As if she'd fall on the ground at any moment, dead to the world. So, the half-breed mutely followed her and quietly asked the repeated question: Are you sure you're okay? Do you want some water? Would you like to sit down? He listened intently when Ethen described the dead man's letter, meekly suggesting that it'd be for the greater good if they stuck around and saw to the bandits terrorizing innocent folk. He blinked once, then twice, before pumping his fist in the air.

"It's settled then! Right? It's what we're here for. Helping and all."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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"It's Kerin, twig-bean!" The dwarf called from atop the bandit she had just tackled. She stood, straddling the bandit with her axe raised high above her head, just waiting for the finishing blow. She then bellowed, "Kerin Valar, casteless no more!" bringing the axe down heavy in a killer blow that split the head of the bandit in twain. A spray of gore colored her dwarven armor a shade of crimson, but she seemed to hardly notice. She stepped off of her victim, shouldering her axe looking for the next contestant. Thankfully, due to Ethne's call, the next corpse was obvious-- Even if it was a strange sight. "Demons?! What are demons doing here?" she said, irritation filling her voice. As if a roving band of bandits weren't enough, they had demons? No matter, whether it be from this world or the next, none would stand against the casteless berserker.

Kerin hefted her axe by the neck and ran to meet catch up with Ethne and Suicide. Kerin had no idea what kind of demons these were, as life in Dust Town didn't have such excitement. The dwarven resistance to the fade meant that they could not contact the demons, though she always heard stories about the malefic creatures residing in the deep roads. Who knew she'd face one so soon-- Among a group of the common bandit rabble. Certainly not her. Looked like she'd pick quite the exciting mission for herself.

She arrived just as Ethne did something to the air around the demons. Kerin ventured an approving glance at the girl. She might have been tiny, but she could take an arrow like a champ. As the demons staggered, she took the opportunity to strike along side Ethne's stone fist. Much like the spell, she threw herself at the demon, throwing all of her weight and muscle into her shoulder. The impact might not have been as strong as a fist of stone, but still. The berserker growled, jabbing the head of the axe into the belly of the demon again and again. Her barrage was relentless and the demon was steadily being beaten back, though not without getting some hits in itself.

The demon managed to rake the chest of the berserker, but that only served as fuel to the fires. She shrugged off claws as if they were nothing and followed up with a headbutt to the creature's chest. She then bashed with the head of her axe once more, this time putting distance between herself and the demon. Now with room to work, Kerin spun to gain momentum with her axe and came down with all the fury of the stone itself. The axe easily cleaved through the demon and didn't stop until one side was completely buried into the dirt beneath.

With the battle nearing it's end, Kerin exhaled deeply. She was tired, being in a state of near frenzy took a lot of energy.




Kerin leaned on her axe, helmet under her arm, as Ethne caste a group spell. Kerin grumbled, not taking too kindly to the spell, but otherwise kept her mouth shut. She wasn't the one who got pelted by an arrow after all... Though the rain of fair did manage to scorch a bit of fur on her armor. Blood ran freely down her armor and a drop was making it's way down her cheek, bringing attention to the tattoo she bore. Whether the blood was hers or anothers was open to debate. If it was hers, she didn't seem like she was injured.

"Calm down hopscotch," Kerin told the flighty rogue. He had been following Ethne and pestering her... Well, maybe not pestering her per se, but it was sure bothering Kerin. "You're irritating me," she said in no kind terms. Though she did agree with the man on one thing. They should go clear out the bandits, though perhaps not for the same reason. "Let's go then. I hardly got any blood on my axe and I'm itching to see that problem fixed," she said with an evil grin. "Besides, we need something to fill this wagon, and ill-gotten gains from bandits sounds like it'll do the trick," she added.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Blathnat Ashling Character Portrait: Lukas Hoffman Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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Scally was fussing again, and though it did give Ethne a nice dose of the warm-fuzzies, now was probably not the best time for it, especially if the irritation Kerin was expressing was not hers alone. Turning, the mage reached up and placed an index finger to his lips in an attempt to shush him. “I’m fine Scally, truly. Thank you, though.” She smiled and lowered her hand, pivoting again so that she was facing the group, several of whom had considerable things to say regarding the choice before them.

What the Seeker- for that was what Solvej had called him, and it sounded perhaps less crude than the Dalish, which was the only thing she’d known about him until now- said troubled her perhaps the most, though the ex-Templar’s rejoinder was quick in coming. Both of their arguments carried the ponderous weight of logic, but… she wasn’t exactly sure what she was supposed to do here. For most of her life, all of Ethne’s decisions had been made for her, regardless of her own personal opinions on any matter from the clothes she wore to how she used her gifts. She certainly did not want anyone here to feel the same way, least of all because of her.

“Well,” she pronounced slowly, drawing out the vowel just a little longer than normal, “this technically falls outside of the parameters of the mission, which means that each of you is free to act as you choose. Therefore, serah, if you do not desire to come, you need not do so. Indeed, if you think the most prudent course of action would be to find the ship and convince it to sail off without the rest of us, I certainly will not impose upon you to do otherwise.” There was the faintest note of humor in her tone, but she was not mocking him, or if she was, it was so gentle it could hardly be considered mocking.

“As for anyone who wishes to find these bandits, whatever your reasons, I’d welcome the company.” With a nod, Ethne took up her horse’s reins and started forward, this time listening intently for any possible ambush, though she couldn’t say she’d hear one if it was there.



As it turned out, Revaslin need not have worried, for the bandit encampment was on the way to the rendezvous point, and what was more, all the bandits left in it were dead, bodies strewn about the ground in the grotesque patterns of some demented child-artist with blood-colored fingerpaints. Armor plating was torn open, entrails spewed about the sand, limbs resting ripped free of their trunks. Some even looked gnawed-upon, rents torn into exposed flesh of a more razor-edged kind than Suicide’s bear-jaws would produce.

Of course, there was scarcely time to note any of this, for the much more prevalent observation was that the camp which had once belonged to bandits was now overrun by the sickly-white forms of Darkspawn, hurlocks and genlocks to be precise. The spawn were a bit too numerous to count in one glance, and they certainly did not spare the travellers the time to make an accurate poll by numbering heads.

“Be careful!” Ethne shouted, though perhaps unnecessarily. What she really meant was if you’re not already a Warden, you might get the Taint, but there wasn’t really much choice but to expose themselves to that possibility.

Attempting to be a little smarter about her tactics this time, she immediately fell behind the lines created by her comrades, aiming a Tempest far enough back that it would hit only the oncoming darkspawn with its bolts of white lightning. This battle, rife as it was with foes, was likely to be a bit more dragged out than the first, and she immediately switched her focus to healing, shooting off raw spellpower from her hands while she waited for someone to become injured.

As of yet, however, everyone was still hale and whole, and none of the Darkspawn had broken through to reach her. A tingle traveled down her arm as she attacked again, lobbing the white-violet magical energy over Kerin’s head to hit an incoming Hurlock. Her attacks were less effective without a staff to channel them through, but as long as she conserved her energy for healing, everything would be all right.

Ethne kept herself low, wary of arrows, and cast an arcane shield for good measure, not lingering too long in the same spot for fear of making an easy target of herself. She could not drop into stealth, nor bat away arrows with her large weapon, so this would have to be good enough for now. A few Darkspawn dropped under the sheer tenacity of her attacks, unable to reach her to retaliate, and she refocused her attention on the archers after that.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Lukas Hoffman Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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Rhapscallion stopped doggedly in his tracks, leaning precariously forward as Ethne shushed him with a finger to his lips. His words died off, trailing off into nothingness. His ghostly blue eyes widened, then squinted off into the beginning of laughing crow's feet. He was satisfied by her answer. He understood well enough that she'd tell him if she were hurt, or at least, he hoped she would. His shoulders were meant to be lent on. The bloody – albeit, adorable – munchkin leaned heavily across her grounded axe, tucking her helmet under her armpit and looking every bit as exasperated as most felt when in his company. He'd seen those looks before. Still, Rhapscallion couldn't help but grin and sidle up beside her, unruffled by her unkind words. “I was worried about you, too, y'know.” As if predicting some kind of repercussion for his comment, the half-breed skipped away and folded his fingers together behind his head. His mouth folded into a straight line, serious. “With that axe, you're nearly as frightening as Suicide.” It was the sort of compliment Kerin would accept. It was better than whisking his fingers through her snowy white hair – looked as soft as rabbit's fur, and he bet they felt the same. He'd probably lose an arm in the process. Worth it.

His mouth worked as if he were tasting something particularly sour, moving it to the corner's of his puffed cheeks. Who'd disrupted their jolly accession? Rhapscallion's eyes roved across the group and landed squarely on the naysayer – the Seeker. The quiet one who'd preferred the company of cicadas and crickets. Unlike the rowdy scallywags he was used to dealing with, the Seeker responded calmly, gently, without malicious intent. As if he were piecing something out by himself. Passion threatened to take hold of his tongue, and make him say something truly foolish. The half-breed buried his swilling feelings, tipped his chin forward. “Without Ethne, we can't continue on with the mission. As soon as we finish off the bandits, then we can continue on – won't take long with our abilities, would it?” Would they have been willing to turn a blind eye on all those who suffered for the greater good. He knew that Ethne could never shutter her eyes and ignore any suffering people, regardless of race, gender, or her own well-being. Would the ones' who suffered understand their need to fulfill their duties, ending the Blight, when their loved ones died in their arms? He did not think so.

Without Ethne, they could not continue onwards. It was simple. Rhapscallion smiled brightly as she turned towards the beast-formed Suicide and cast another spell across the sluggishly bleeding wounds where Solvej had extracted the arrows. Solvej – always the first to do away with dirty, bloody business. Always the first to volunteer her services. Initially, Rhapscallion had reached forward, then flinched away, fingers retracting away from his matted fur, when Suicide's growling ursine voice tumbled from his curled lips. He hadn't meant to. He was still grateful that Solvej had stepped forward, filling in his place without hesitating and hoped, wryly, that Suicide hadn't noticed his tremblings fingers. When had he been so afraid of someone? Never. Never. Even when Suicide had returned to his original form – he would've said less frightening, but he wasn't so sure – Rhapscallion couldn't help but inconspicuously glance in his direction and flicker his eyebrows up across his forehead.

You would certainly make a great knight.

Squinting eyes regarded him for a few more moment's before he finally nodded, clearly satisfied with some sort of mental conjunction that he'd pieced together. Ginormous puzzle completed. Rhapscallion's shoulders rolled upwards, then slacked down again when he noticed Solvej looking at him – mirth and amusement clearly pinned and displayed on her lips, in the corners of her eyes. “Figured me, the splendorous Hopscotch, out?” He parroted softly, scrunching his face, placing his hands across his chest in an act of obliviousness. Well, the half-breed was oblivious. “I don't know what you're talking about, Captain.




There is no glory in battle, even when you're facing terrible foes like bandits who prey on the innocent. Rhapscallion had never felt the steely sensation of justice pulsing through his veins as smooth and right as water, as positively good as unselfish righteousness. He did not feel guilty for the bandits, but he did feel a certain wrongness licking as his wounds. How could people like this even exist? The price of battle – depending on the situation, on the unfolding events – was always the end to cruelty by the means of spilling blood. Certainly, some could be bought with coin, but the half-breed very much doubted that any of the group wanted to reduce themselves to charismatic banter. He'd already noticed Kerin's fingertips dancing across the blade of her axe, affectionate as if she were cradling a lover and antsy as a youngster who'd been given the chance to prove himself. She did not need to prove herself. She simply, in all of her entirety, yearned for battle. It sang through the air, loud and clear. For now, Rhapscallion wasn't sure whether or not he admired these traits or disagreed with them.

Hasty, long-legged limbs slowly halted. His feet scuffed through the dust, kicking up small cyclones at the abruptness of his pause. His eyes, his spectral orbs, slowly, excruciatingly slow, took in the brutality of the situation. Everyone had been slaughter, strewn across the encampment like discarded dolls. Muscles jumped in his jawline. There were entrails shlepped across abdomens like fat worms seeping internal juices and who-knows-what else. Protruding ribs glistening wetly in the sun, baring themselves like jagged ruins. Their faces were contorted in awful angles, lips twisted and tongues lolling from the corner's like a slaughtered animal. What could've done this? His stomach gave an unpleasant lurch, threatening to spill it's contents across his leather boots. His nice leather boots. He swallowed thickly, looked away and busied himself by looking at the others.

How hadn't he noticed the stoop-backed creatures filling their mouths with organs, slurping back entrails and wiping their hands across their faces like messy children? Rhapscallion's lips trembled, curled slightly. Disgusting creatures rippling with lean muscles and bony structures, fingers digging and diving and falling back from their smacking lips, slick with blood. He nodded sluggishly when Ethne called for caution, trying to still the tremors of fear quaking through his body. They'd always terrified him. Needlepoint teeth flashing through a mouth so dreadfully wide he thought they'd be able to gobble him up or tear his arm clear off, ripped straight into it's mouth like a whale. He initially stepped in front of Ethne, throwing his arm out wide before fading into a puff of camouflaged ripples. The archers would have to be dealt with quickly, efficiently.

Rhapscallion had found himself lagging behind with Lukas, throwing an invisible grin that flickered in a heated ripple, a desert illusion of sorts. A momentary flash of teeth. He jovially slapped a hand on the mages' back as he leaned precariously forward, limbs bent like curled coils, until he unbound, throwing himself forward with the easy grace of a healthy Halla. His focus strayed across the Seeker's battle trained hawk. Her beautiful wings stretched through the fleeting spots of sunlight, reflecting muted colours and her eyes, most notably, seemed to dictated the outcome of their battle. So peculiar. He'd have to ask Rev about her later – if it was truly a her, Rhapscallion was admittedly not very well educated when it came to the avian variety. He was all about horses. Even if they'd previously disagreed when discussing their course of action, he had to admit that the Seeker was not someone to be trifled with if you were on the opposite spectrum of acquaintances. He would not want to make him his enemy.

His blades flashed through the air. They sang a terribly haunting song. They sliced through the fabric of his stealth as if he were cutting through interwoven sheets of silk, only noticeable if they were focusing their eyes on the location the blood had come from. Where it'd initially thrown it's wide arc. Spurts of blood spattered from errant legs, knees, shins: felling the archer's in a tangled sweep of limbs. Their arrows flashed by him, unaffected. He could still feel them whizzing past, snatching at strands of hair if he wasn't paying enough attention. One barbed arrow scored itself through the collar of his shirt, terrifyingly close to the pulsing veins in his neck. It sent him reeling backwards, tripping clumsily over a corpse. In this moment, his heartbeat heaved into a maddening staccato. His world exploded, or else, it seemed like it did. Billowing clouds of dust swirled everywhere, obscuring the entire landscape. His vision blurred, flashing hot with tears. It swam back in place after a few seconds, when he realized he was no longer on his feet.

Rhapscallion couldn't piece together what had happened. He felt something wet slide across his neck like a snake and pool in the hollow of his collarbone, dripping sluggishly down his chest and blossoming unforeseen colours across his shirt. He touched his fingers there, quickly. Then, dropped them away when he realized they'd come away wet and bright red. Half of his tunic had been sheared away, as if someone had lit a match and burnt half of it – like an unwanted love letter. Pushing himself to his legs, still trembling, Rhapscallion attempted to right himself. His stealth wavered uncertainly, then faltered altogether. When he took a step ahead, trying to circle around one of the remaining rogue's, his legs nearly folded under themselves. The dust became thinner. He could see. He could see.

Then, a snarling face – belonging to a particularly ugly Hurlock – ripped through the remaining cloud of smoke and sand and dirt. It's clawed fingers swiped through the air as Rhapscallion flexed his empty hands.

Where had his blades gone?

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Blathnat Ashling Character Portrait: Lukas Hoffman Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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For the most part, the others seemed to be doing well, and perhaps it was foolish of her to assume that they would have needed her assistance so soon. Between the deadly harmony of the three most directly-physical fighters on the field, tearing through the Darkspawn lines with a seamless efficiency so impressive it was a finesse of its own, the shadow-dance and flitting lines of the three rogues, slicing at backs and planting explosives at choke points, or even Lukas, commanding raw kinetic force with an aplomb usually reserved for the most experienced enchanters, the ‘Spawn stood little chance, and Ethne altered her strategy, dispensing her mana a little more freely, the harsh press of stone and the crackling electricity of white lightning the occasional heavy pulse-beat or staccato rasp added to the music of the battlefield.

When Scally was downed, Ethne’s response was immediate. A blast of ice from winter’s grasp flashed from her fingertips and slowed the hurlock’s progess, and a healing spell immediately followed with a sharp flick of her wrist. A stonefist ripped free of her arm, taking the last of her mana with it for now, but she’d have an opportunity to recover, hopefully. It certainly finished the ‘Spawn off, and just in time.

The rhythm was inexorable, and the Darkspawn unable to keep up with its demands. One by one, they fell, and it was then that Ethne understood something: it may well be the case that they were not expected to succeed, but Warden-Commander Malik had given them the best odds he dared simply by putting them together. They were not a perfect unit, but if their prowess here was anything to go by, they had at least the potential to rise to the occasion. It was in the rage fueling Kerin’s axe-swings, the deft precision of Solvej’s spear, the raw feral ferocity of Dekton in either shape. It was the Seeker’s dead-eyed efficiency and the waver in the air as Scally disappeared from her sight. It was in the sheer energy Lukas exuded whilst throwing enemies in every direction and in Blathnat’s graceful blade-swipes.

She had never enjoyed battle, but for once she could understand why others did.

The Seeker appeared then, and spoke to her in Arcanum, handing her a marred piece of wood. The tingle it produced in her fingers upon contact was an almost sickly thing, and the sluggish, smoldering magic in the staff was the furthest thing from her own. Still, a staff was a staff, and for now, it would serve her purposes.

"Gratias mea,” she replied, her own Arcanum smooth and lilting. "Nos loqui post hoc.” She had no idea about what he wished to speak, but now was clearly not the time. Then he was gone, and the other sounds of a fight replaced the voice in her ears.

She cast her eyes back out over the field in enough time to see the last Darkspawn fall beneath Blathnat’s hand, and the relieved smile was only halfway across her face when it vanished as though it had never been there at all. Ethne’s eyes went wide, and her hands were out at her sides as the tremors in the ground began. The terrain was mostly sand, and so she was able to keep her footing, but what in the world…?

A feral roar sounded from somewhere in front of her, and another answered behind. It sounded like no animal she’d ever encountered, or even heard of, and the air became thick with the same kind of wrongness the Darkspawn impressed upon her Fade-sense, and she glanced swiftly at Blathnat.

"You’d best be over here, girl,” the Warden volunteered, whipping a blade through the air to clear most of the residual blood from it.

Approaching the center did seem like a fair idea, as whatever was drawing near appeared to be doing so from all sides, but scarcely was she even ten steps forward before a massive form went barreling straight past her, the wind of its passage knocking her off her feet.

Rolling into a crouch, Ethne noticed two things immediately: firstly, it was perhaps the largest Darkspawn she’d ever seen, and secondly, it was not alone. Three in total, massive, hulking things with wicked black horns curving back from their foreheads over their skulls. No such thing existed in any tome she’d ever read or story she’d heard, and she’d grown up in the most learned country in Thedas.

This was going to require some serious strategy, and she only hoped their skill would hold up against such monstrosities. The first to strike did so at Solvej, aiming a massive fist straight for the Black Templar. The two others seemed inclined to fight Kerin and Dekton, respectively, and Ethne held a healing spell at the tip of her tongue in case one of them was hit.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Lukas Hoffman Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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Time dragged it's hind quarters slowly, so agonizingly unreal – if he hadn't known better, he might've thought that the Fade had dropped all around him like a curtain. The Hurlock's spittle splashed from the corner's of it's gaping mouth, flashing it's teeth as it lurched forward. Hollow-eyed, beady-eyed, empty. He could hear his heart thumping loudly, drumming uncomfortably loud against his eardrums. Could they all hear it? His shallow breath caught in his throat, and he reeled backwards, trying to gain some distance from the beast when a blast of ice funnelled over his shoulder and stopped the creature in it's steps. He silently gave thanks to her, a quiet, unheard prayer, for Ethne's helping hand. If it hadn't been for her – Rhapscallion didn't want to think about it. His quivering shadow skin rippled, renewed itself like chords twisting together. There were still the aches and pains and a rouge rawness to the burns on his chest. He was not-quite-healed, but it was bearable. For her, Rhapscallion flashed his thumb into the air and twisted back into the terrain's background, rippling free from his corporeal appearance.

Synchronized breaths. Graceful, deadly movements. Each and every one of them spun with the precision of a killer – even if they didn't agree with each other, even if their reasons were vastly different – they still killed easily, and often. They danced on each other's killing grounds, skipping over corpses and retrieving their anchored blades from undulating backs and spinal chords, thick necks and careless limbs. No longer was he dead weight on springs. Rhapscallion's movements breathed new life, not only because of Ethne's healing touch, but because a distinctive sense of camaraderie filled him like an empty container as he cat-called opponents and was met with willing alliances: shortly accompanied by a fellow blade, destructive spells, or talons, or an overly willing axe. His spectral gaze registered their movements, regarding them with a childish awe.

A sudden twitch of the ground caused Rhapscallion to stop abruptly in his tracks, dancing backwards on the balls of his feet to regain his composure. It sounded like thunder, felt like a hundreds of hoof beats beating in unison. The half-breed whipped his head around, searching fervently for the origins of such a sound – for whatever it belonged to, because earthquakes certainly didn't bellow like a broken animal. It twisted his insides unpleasantly. He kept to his feet, bracing himself. Whatever it was, it was approaching. Trees and vegetation, from the treeline, whipped around like shouldered clothes draped across a laundry-line, creating a cacophony of loud crunches and the substantial resonance of branches snapping underfoot. Or trees, honestly, it was that loud. He glanced in Blathnat's direction, watched as Ethne began to cut a path across, then – that thing swept from the trees and nearly barrelled into her, it's muscled arms tucked tightly to it's body and thick rivulets of drool dripping from it's open maw.

Ethne!” Rhapscallion called breathlessly, before dragging his gaze back onto the Darkspawn-creature recovering a few paces away. Slowly paying it's massive hands against the ground to turn itself around. Hadn't he read about these things? An ogre. Tepid creatures who's appetites were renown. Brutish beings with single-digit intelligences. Weren't they easily distracted by shiny objects? He tried to retrace the origins of his dubious information – whether or not he was just grabbing at straws, or if the nanny had told these stories to keep him from playing in the woods. Whether or not it was true, Rhapscallion still gracefully danced around the sluggish creature, fished a shiny coin from his pocket and threw it against it's back. It skipped like a stone skimming the surface of water, plopped in front of it's piggish eyes and was promptly ignored – though, it did illicit another mean growl. His nanny was a bad woman. “No, no, definitely not a fairy-tale Ogre, then.

"They sound pissed," Kerin deadpanned to Rhapscallion. The roars from the creatures would have humbled ordinary men, but Kerin was neither man nor ordinary. Instead, she seemed irritated. While the ordinary darkspawn were good sport, these beasts sounded too large to be ordinary darkspawn. Now instead of sport, it'd be a chore. The first beast charged for Solvej. Had she had time to think, she'd feel offended that the beast would attack Solvej first. But in short order, a hulking beast of her own charged her.

Kerin wasn't the fastest person on her feet, and she had no time to get out of the thing's mad charge. She did all she could to hide behind her axehead. A large muscled mass threw itself against her axe, bashing the weapon into her chest and taking her off he feet. She flew back a number of yards, helmet flying off and a couple of ribs snapping under the force. Upon landing, she bounced and slid to a stop. She lay unmoving for a moment before rolling over and coughing hard. Blood ran freely from her mouth and dripped on to the ground before her.

Normally, this would be demoralizing for a warrior, to be slung across the field of battle like an after thought and to taste their own blood. But for a berserker, this ignited the deep rooted flames of hatred. Kerin got to her feet, completely ignoring the pains in her chest and roared-- easily matching the fercioty of the ogres'. It had no form or diction, just blood rage in sound form. Once her blood roar subsided she snarled, "I. Will. Bury. You."

The ogre, unaffected by the rage of his opponent, followed up his massive blow by crouching, knuckles to the floor. Two deep puffs of breath later, and he was barrelling forward, heedless of Rhapscallion and Ethne in his path, intent upon the dwarf.

For her part, Ethne sucked in a breath when the first blow connected, readying another healing spell. All the same, it would be a while before she could use it, her mana reserves still depleted from the first half of the battle. In an effort to do something, anything, to help Kerin, she slung bolts of magic at the giant, diving out of the way when it passed and flinging yet more after it with desperate speed. It was enough to cause her some physical pain, as the magic leaving her arms so apruptly stung at her skin. She knew from her lowest moments that if it was not properly contained, her power could actually tear wounds in her skin, much like blood mages inflicted voluntarily, though she refused with a determination that had often surprised her to use that life-liquid as they did. On the more positive side, the staff was helping somewhat, and though the creature tore up the ground it passed over, leaving great rents in the sand and soil beneath, its path appeared to be completely linear, and she doubted something that big moving at that speed could possibly adjust its angle of approach. If Kerin could stay out of its way, all three of them might have a chance to lay into it from behind.

Pissed – more like, starving.” The half-breed elicited sombrely, eyeing the Darkspawn's heaving chests, their rounded bellies. How many people writhed in it's stomach? It was a thing of nightmares. Initially, Rhapscallion had turned towards the first beast that was hankering for Solvej – his mentor, his companion, his fellow Grey Warden – but then, one of his own, lurching massively towards Kerin first, barrelled it's way in his direction. It lifted the her clear off her feet, slamming her beloved axe into her chest and sent her flying through the air, or tumbling, rather, until she slid to a stop. Rhapscallion had enough time to scamper out of it's path, sweeping his blades in a wide arch so that he could catch the Darkspawn's elephant-esque heel as he passed.

Immediately, Rhapscallion moved towards Kerin, who's body gave a mighty twitch. The snarling beast impeded his path, knuckling the ground and tossing it's head into the air. Thankfully, she was on her feet again, though a little worse for wear. He could see blood dribbling from the corner's of her lips. Internal damage, surely. He'd seen the same injuries dealt to fallen horses who'd crushed their ribs. Nothing could be done right now. Her eyes spun wildly, uncontrollably. Even if he'd called out to her to ask if she was okay, if she needed help, if she needed to get away from the beasts' insatiable rage, or enlist his help in the way of a distraction – he doubted very much that she'd hear him. There was a violence singing just behind her irises, wickedly blazing. She was on fire. Or else, she was the fire. He could not tell which was more correct.

The Darkspawn's shuffling pause, huffing breaths, and lifted knuckles, all indicated that it about to charge once more. Drenched in a light layer of sweat, Rhapscallion disappeared from sight, capering around the Ogre's maddening run until he coiled down and wrenched himself up into the air, springing with the alacrity of a sprightly hoofed animal. “Take out it's legs!” He walloped, slamming his dual blades into the creature's chunky shoulder blades. Thick like a blubbery substance that only slightly gave way under his blades – so strong, so goddamn stocky. What was this thing made out of? His eyes, for once, were hard, focused in a deadly gaze with the massive beast's shaking head. It's knobby fingers sought purchase on his clinging form, constantly missing, but nearly, nearly touching. When it couldn't grab onto it's rider, it began thrashing wildly, attempting to buck him off, while still tromping dangerously towards Kerin. He numbed himself to the emotions that flooded through him. They could move in from behind while it was momentarily busied, momentarily consumed by the task of ejecting him from it's back.

His fingers, slick with sweat, clung on.

The ogre bucked haplessly, trying with all its considerable might to divest itself of its painful burden, but alas, to do so was a matter of finesse, not of raw strength, and this was something the creature knew precious little about. Its motion seemed only to sink the shamshirs deeper into its shoulders, and the strength of its arms was fading fast.

"What?" Ethne breathed when he called out to them, her heart in the throat and making it uncomfortably-difficult to breathe past her mounting anxiety. A cold tendril crept up from her belly, winding itself around her heart and lungs, the chill of fear seeping into her very bones. Still, she forced the beath for this, because it needed to be said. "Scally, if we do that and it falls on its back, you'll be crushed!" Perhaps she was woefully underestimating his agility and ability to get himself out of the way if that happened, but she knew he was still injured. There was no way a simple healing spell had fixed all of that damage, not by a long shot. Her worry threatened to close off her windpipe entirely, but she forced the bile down and hoped that Kerin would know what to do.

Speaking of the dwarf, Ethne at last felt the rush of relief that was her abiility to cast another heal, and seeing that Scally was up and moving, Kerin definitely needed it more. A flare of the somniari's fingers sent the spell right for the berserker, and it should be enough to reduce the damage, knit the bone back together and stop the internal bleeding. They'd still be bruised and tender, but it was all she could do at the moment.

"Then we bring it to it's bloody knees!" Kerin barked, branishing her axe wildly. She pushed forward, her offhand hugging her close to her chest for support. While the pain was pushed far back into the recesses of her mind, her body took automatic measures to protect itself. She surged forward as fast as her stout legs could carry her, looking to meet the charge of the beast. Though enflamed, she was not foolish. Despite the rage carrying her, she would not be the victor in a head-to-head charge against the beast. Instead, she shifted her body heavily, sliding across the sand and into the side and began to make her way around the beast while it was preoccupied with a couple of blades digging into it's shoulder.

Then Kerin's anger surged again. The beast would fall to her axe, there was no doubt in her mind. She pressed her charge at the back of the creature's legs. So focused was she on her enemy, she didn't even notice the bones knitting back together in her chest. Once in range, she hefted her axe and with both hands gave a mighty lumberjack swing towards the back of the knee, looking to bring the beast to a kneel. Hoping this would work all to the berserker's simple plan, Kerin pivoted and followed on to the back of the other knee, letting another chop meet the soft spot behind the knee, and then added another to the lower back-- hoping it would be the blow to send the ogre forward to the sandy beach below.

Nothing else could be done but cling to the Darkspawn's hardened back like a sea urchin clutching to the rocks, evading the creature's swiping hands as if he were tiptoeing away from the ocean. This certainly was not like riding the green, unbroken stallions on his homestead – he wasn't going to let go unless the creature's brains were splatted on the ground, either. These were not hooves that would scrape across his back, possibly giving a few boo-boo's or bruises. One stomping step from the ogre's massive foot and it would all be over: lights out. He needed the creature to be preoccupied with a more severe injury, giving him enough time to plunge his shamshir's into better purchase. They would attack like a pack of wolves, if they must. His muscles ached from being whipped back and forth, clutching the leather grips like a child. At least, it must've looked that way from the sheer size difference.

Through the turbulence, Rhapscallion might've huffed jarring words, broken into fits of winded breath: “Then, make sure that doesn't happen!” Honestly, he hadn't been thinking about that – Solvej could attest that he often didn't think. The possibility that he might be crushed under the ogre's immense girth hadn't crossed his mind, he'd merely acted. He wanted to protect them. White knuckled, blistered palms, aching forearms. He tried to think of something else, anything else: daffodils sweeping forward like a mass of vibrantly coloured arms, a crow's fingered wing beats and flickering penny-eyes, and certainly not, the droning dullness shooting through his arms like strained accordions.

The ogre's position shifted, and even though Rhapscallion couldn't see where Kerin had gone, charging towards the back of the Darkspawn, he could tell that she'd done some damage. His muscles tensed, readying themselves for the ogre's lumbering fall.

The beast, far too distracted by the man on its back, did not even notice the dwarf come barreling towards him. Perhaps, if he were intelligent enough to form the thought, he might have reminded himself that in the end, it was always the little things that changed everything else. Kerin's consecutive blows to his knees staggered him, and he tottered, swaying like a drunken harlot for several long, agonizing seconds. The final blow from the woman's axe tipped him forward, and for a moment, he seemed to be perfectly in-balance, able to fall not one way or the other for the exact evenness of forces.

And it was always the little things. Ethne, guessing that he was going to try stepping backwards, froze the ground there into an ice-slick, and his foot could not find purchase, sliding out from under him until he at last crashed into the sand, facedown, leaving Rhapscallion not only relatively unscathed, but with access to the unprotected area of its neck, between the horns that were as much helmet as decoration. Unlike its companion, however, neither of this ogre's legs were broken, and though its injured shoulders violently protested the maneuver, the creature fought to bring its arms to brace itself on the sand and try to leverage itself up once more.

They would have to act quickly.

Kerin hopped onto the beast's leg as it was grounded and began to chop down at it's thigh. While the dwarf knew very little of the body, she knew that there was an artery somewhere around there. If she chopped away enough surely she would find it eventually. Even if she didn't find it she perhaps could buy Rhapscallion some time to finish the beast off himself. She heaved with her axe and went to work on the beast's thigh, chopping away as one would chop wood for the winter.

"Slit it's bloody throat Hopscotch! End it now!" She wailed.

How close was Rhapscallion from releasing his death-grip on those shamshir blades? Close enough. Beads of sweat fell from his neckline like pebbles, stinging. The slightest attempt to lift himself up the creature's back, kicking his feet against the uneven ridges, to gain a better foothold ended in shooting aches electrifying through his fingertips. As if someone were whipping his hands and arms with a wooden stick – an ornery teacher who was beginning to lose her patience. His fingers were beginning to grow numb with the thrashing, violent, unpredictable bucking. The world tipped forward, jerking Rhapscallion away from the daffodil fields he'd been thinking about. The little dwarven lass had done it! The ogre's clumsy steps, swaying from side to side, rocked Rhapscallion like a stubborn leech. Thin wrists slick with the creature's sluggishly oozing blood. Then, they stood very still. So still, the half-breed wondered what was happening. The Darkspawn's hunched back stood stock-straight, as if a rod had been injected into his spine.

Fate – or the little things, always the little things – interjected and sent the ogre slipping backwards, flipping himself over on his face. He'd been ready for the impact, watching as the trees rushed past in a green patterned blur. It would've been beautiful if he hadn't been so dizzy. It would've been graceful if he hadn't flipped over the ogre's back, now clutching only one of his shamshirs and cradling the creature's thick neck between his legs, now, more than ever, like a horse. The creature's horns proved to be capable footholds, so Rhapscallion immediately pushed himself back, bolstering himself against those curved racks and drove the shamshir's tip into the soft flesh of it's exposed neck.

Moments before the Darkspawn's head whipped around and sent him sprawling on the ground, finally ejecting it's rider.

Though the ogre's reflex may have divested it at last of its burden, the job was done. Between the three of them, they had successfully managed to end its life, and it thrashed no longer. Straightening her posture, the relatively uninjured Ethne went to see to the other two, offering a hand to pull Rhapscallion to his feet and checking Kerin over for further injury. Fortunately, the hit she'd suffered at the start seemed to be the only major damage, and so the elf breathed a relieved sigh.

At least until she heard Lukas's entreaty.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Blathnat Ashling Character Portrait: Lukas Hoffman Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Adalberto Garza

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As Adalberto felt the brackish breeze caress his face, he considered how the world had a way of pulling little jokes on its inhabitants. He didn't know whether to account coincidence, fate, or luck for the stirring turn of events, but he couldn't help be unnerved regardless. It was almost funny, the fact that the potential possible probable end of his career as a Grey Warden would begin with a salty voyage to Orlais, considering the reason he'd become one in the first place was due to that exact same voyage so many years ago. It was unsettling, in a lot of ways. Just the idea seemed too ironic not to serves as grim foreshadowing, but the actual reality of being here- on a ship- ruffled up his feathers and conjured memories he wished he could forget. He was not at peace, that was for sure. He was practically an anxious mess, really, yet it seemed he was just a burly man glaring at the beautiful sky for whatever reason. Probably thinking about anchors and beans- you know, all that manly stuff.

He left the railing and clomped to the center of the ship, lacking all elegance whatsoever. Malik had him waiting here on the ship for his future companions- Berto assumed it to be because he had a past with such settings- and the crew had proved to be quite the characters. Berto liked them rather a lot but they...

Well, frankly, they sort of scared him.

Berto would have probably been intimidated by strangers just due to the fact that he'd be making a first impression (Man, did he hate those. There were plenty more to be made in the near future, too!) but the Captain and his... er, babysitter... were both so commanding. He spotted Jack and cautiously, oh so cautiously, squirmed his way over to her. He cleared his throat again once she was close enough, shifting his eyes from side to side underneath his furrowed brows. Was it... was it getting hot in here? "Er, ah..." he began, voice a deep bass that resounded even as he murmured, Just be cool, Berto. Be normal. These are friends. Just... just speak. he ordered himself, a deep frown forming on his face as he thought. "Jack," he began again, locking eyes with her now, Was that... was that weird? Does my voice sound weird right now? Am I allowed to call her Jack or is that just reserved for her frien- "when, ah... when will we be leaving?" he sputtered, the question finally trickled out into the air. He had his arms crossed over his chest and his stance wide, yet a droplet of nervous sweat trailed down his forehead. Berto was a lot like a walking contradiction.

Jack leaned bodily against the mainmast, chewing on a dried date and trying not to think about how irritated she was with the Captain right now. Swallowing, she let her eyes fall half-lidded as the rest of the crew scurried about, making preparations for departure. They'd sailed into this nameless, woebegone port yesterday, and frankly she was glad to be leaving. Not even any wenches to be had in the sad-sack town, and was it wrong to want to sail to Orlais for no other reason than the whores?

Probably.

Not that she cared much, mind. Reaching into her burlap sack, he pawed around for another date and frowned. Empty. Andraste's ass, it figures. Huffing softly, for she was not typically an emotive person, much unlike the captain, she tossed the sack to a cabin boy and jerked her head towards the entrance to the galley. They could reuse that.

Ponderous footsteps, slower than any sailor worth his salt, heralded the approach of their civilian passenger, and Jack's left eyebrow climbed her browned forehead with admirable tenacity. His speech was as slow and awkward as his gait, but for all that, he knew how to move with a vessel at sea. "That's a question for the Captain, laddie." Her eyes flicked to the bow of the ship, and she raised a hand to her temple, massaging with the air of one long used to ardent migraines.

The Captain, shaggy-haired and wild-eyed, was standing at the fore of the ship, and for the love of the Maker, he was wearing a bloody cape Long, red, and swishy, which was doubtless top-notch for the dramatic whip-back of the wind but completely useless for everything else. She shouldn't be surprised anymore; at least he'd abandoned his recent fetish for hats with enormous feathers. "Oy, Rhuddy! When the hell 're we movin'? That pickup job ain't gonna take care of itself!"

Captain Bryland looked back over his shoulder at the pair of them, and Maker save them all, he was grinning. Never a good sign if you were Jack, because it meant he was up to something. "Never fear, my lady love! We shall depart this place at once, and sail to where destiny awaits us!" Jack rolled her eyes as the captain held up a single hand and snapped his fingers.

Apparently, he'd drilled the entire crew on this ridiculous display beforehand, for at that single signal, the mainsail unfurled and the helmsman spun them eastward, the ship pulling out of the bay with standard snapping proudly in the breeze. Jack closed her eyes and counted to five, slowly. Opening them again, she gave Berto a sidelong glance. "Just... ignore him. He's always like this, and no, it never stops."

The NPC Dossier has been updated.



Unsure exactly how many parties were injured in the wake of the attack, Ethne played it safe and cast a group heal. It was rapidly becoming obvious, however, that for at least one of their number, this would not be sufficient.

Solvej was laying prone on the sand, next to the body of the beast that she and Lukas had felled. From the angle of one of her legs, Ethne knew there was at least a full break. She could only hope that the bone was not completely shattered. If the woman’s ragged breathing was anything to judge by, chances were she had more than a few injured ribs as well. “Okay. Keep as still as you can, Ser Solvej. Anyone else who is injured, please have a seat; I’ll be with you as soon as I am able.”

Okay. Ethne stilled, bringing herself into the Fade. The scenery around her, no longer bound to the laws of ordinary perception, took on the faint appearance of bleeding watercolors, fogged at the edges. She must be tired, if it was this difficult to see clearly. At least she could spot what she was looking for. Several Fade spirits, blue-white in color and soothing in aura, were at her side nearly immediately, and each laid a hand on her shoulder or her crown. Mercy, Patience, and Compassion. Vitality and Love weren’t around, but the three currently present would suffice. She could also feel the rumblings of demons- close, but held at bay by her friends for now.

As spirit healers were trained to do, Ethne opened herself up to the foreign magic, channeling it as though it were her own. The soothing warmth rushing over her skin smoothed away her own trivial injuries nearly instantaneously, but Solvej was going to require much more work than that. Luckily, the woman’s leg had only snapped in one place. Taking the limb in both hands, Ethne set it as gently as possible, murmuring quiet phrases in Arcanum perhaps as much for her own comfort as the Templar’s. The magic knit the bone together, then repaired the blood vessels and muscle around it. The limb might be a bit tender for a while, but it was perfectly useable.

The woman’s ribs were a mess; one had come dangerously close to puncturing a lung, and there was still heavy internal bleeding. It took the elf about ten minutes to put the arrangement to rights, and she wobbled slightly when she closed off the flow of magic and stood. “I hope that was enough magic moonbeams,” she told Lukas, the barest of smiles appearing for just a moment.

Of course, her work was not done, and she insisted on seeing any other injured parties before she backed off. Scally definitely needed some more work, but he was nowhere near as badly-off as Solvej, and it took her half the time. Between her two earlier spells, Kerin was almost good as new, but a couple of her ribs were still bruised, so Ethne dealt with that, too. The woman’s mangled axe, she could do nothing about.

“Ah. There we go!” The soft exclamation belonged to Blathnat, who had surreptitiously wandered away from the others, being uninjured herself, and found what they’d come for. The cache, for all it was worth, had a rather poor locking mechanism. Inside the oblong trunk, she found a sizeable pouch of sovereigns, several knives of various makes, one which she took for herself, a simple bladed staff, and one rather large, double-headed axe. The coins, she handed to Solvej, the staff to Ethne, and the axe to Kerin. The rest, she didn’t much care about, as she’d managed to recover one of her own blades from the dead creature without difficulty, so she left the other rogues to sort out who got what.

[b]Level Up!
The Mission Briefings have been updated.



The group was soon once again on their way to the rendezvous point. The half-day of travel passed without notable incident, and it was on the evening of the day after they departed that Blathnat’s sharp eyes first picked out the ship on the horizon.

It was a grander ship than any Ethne had ever seen, though admittedly, that wasn’t saying much. The polished wood gleamed in the ocean spray, four masts rising proudly to challenge the clouds overhead. The standard was red and black, as Malik had promised, the emblem upon it resembling a bird in flight. The group drew up to the shore and waited as the massive vessel slid expertly in parallel to the small sliver of beach. They were even now just skirting the edges of the forest, and most of the sand had given way to rocky drop-offs.

A large board- a gangplank- descended from the side of the ship, thudding dully onto the sand. Two men and a woman climbed down. The first man was dressed in the garb of an ordinary sailor, and immediately began boarding the horses and the cart. The woman had a no-nonsense, hawkish look about her, as though she were always keenly watching something. The set of her mouth gave nothing away of her thoughts for the group or their task, but her eyes flicked back to the second man every couple of seconds.

Ethne was frankly in awe of this fellow. Tall (though not enough to rival Dekton) he nevertheless had a presence about him that demanded attention. The black leathers and linens, stitched with his own crest, probably helped, as did the impressive-looking crimson cape that rested on his shoulders. The grey and white osprey perched with dignity on his shoulder seemed to eye them almost as keenly as the woman did. The knives at either hip were of the finest make, if one knew anything about smithing, and the scars bisecting his left eye and the right side of his mouth spoke of a great deal of past trouble.

In marked contrast to his imposing stature, his hair was shaggy and his face set into what could only be described as a trickster’s grin. “Ah, and here they are! Welcome, adventurers, Wardens, and seekers of most indelicate fortune, to the Scarlet Tide. I am Captain Bryland, King of Pirates, and this lovely creature is Anthea Jaconelli, the most astute first mate a man could ask for.” He swept a low bow, somehow not dislodging his osprey, but the one called Anthea only snorted and rolled her eyes.

“Don’t mind the captain. You’re free to call him Rudhale, and I’m just Jack, thanks. Well, time’s a-wastin’, and you lot have to get to Orlais, so climb aboard.”

Looking for all the world like a reprimanded child, pout and all, the Captain shook his head and waved them onto the gangplank, leading the way up with an easy grace that gave the lie to his bombastic demeanor.

One, however, did not follow. ”Malik needs to know about those… things,” Blathnat put in with certainty. “And that story’s going to take more than a letter to tell. If there are more where those came from, Kirkwall might be in for a surprise. There’s another Warden aboard this ship; consider him my replacement. Try not to die, girls and boys.”

Ethne couldn’t say she was pleased to see the woman leave, but she admitted that Blathnat had a point, and so followed the sailors up the gangplank with only a nod. The helmsman turned the ship shortly after the gangplank was withdrawn, and their voyage to Orlais was underway.

The Codex has been updated.



Chapter One: Morpheus, The Dreamweaver
"The first of their foes lay waiting in Orlais, a Darkspawn of greater intelligence than the average man, and no mean power. Unbeknownst to any among them, much of Val Royeaux was at that time held under its insidious sway. In order to survive the fight, however, they would first have to endure a challenge almost as great: surviving each other."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Blathnat Ashling Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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"The hell did this happen?" Kerin asked outloud as she rubbed her chest. She knew that a couple of ribs had snapped and were jostling around in her, but now the only thing she felt was a little bit of tenderness and bruising. Still, she was breathing heavily, and her axe was embedded in the thigh of the monsterous ogre next to her. Once she was satisfied that bones weren't floating around in her chest cavity, she patted the leather hide of the ogre as a hunter would to a prized game animal. A bloody grin splayed across her face, she taunted the dead creature, "Well big boy, you're way too big to bury. I'm sorry I can't hold up my promise." She then grabbed her axe and ripped it free.

Her grin was shot all to hell. The head of the axe was massively dented and the top quarter of one of the blades was completely missing. Chips and cracked etched all through the axehead. It functioned more like a blunt device more than a hacking one. The only reason it was able to dig into the monster at all was the force of all of Kerin's anger behind every swing. The same anger that was beginning to well up inside once more. "You nugfucking son of a bitch! You broke my damn axe!" She yelled giving one last chop with the axe before storming away, her grin replaced by a scowl.

She approached as Ethne was playing healer. That would explain why her ribs weren't swimming around in her lungs, but the sight of all of the injuries reminded her of the blood she spat up moments ago. She walked towards the group rubbing the dried blood from her mouth. She did a poor job as crimson flakes still remained at the corners of her mouth, but she would worry about that later. Ethne was busy tending to a mangled looking Solvej, but if the Twig-bean could heal broke bones during battle, Kerin had enough faith to believe that she could heal the Warden.

Once Ethne finished up with Solvej and moved on to Rhapscallion, Kerin took this time to poke a little fun at the Warden. "Isn't that spear of yours supposed to keep enemies at a distance?" She said with a half cocked grin. "Last I checked, getting grabbed does not count as 'Keeping your distance'," Kerin teased. Though it may have been blunt, Kerin had taken a liking to the Warden. This was her way of showing it. By that time, Ethne had finished with Rhapscallion and began to harass her about healing.

"Dammit Twig-bean, I told you, I'm fine! Go see to someone else!" Despite her protests, Kerin allowed her to dispense what little healing she wanted too. It was one battle wasn't going to win. She turned to the other Warden's, Blathnat, exclamation and grabbed the axe that was handed to her. "That's a bit of luck, isn't it?" Kerin said, holding both axes in her hand and looking at each. Either way, the new axe was in better shape so she tossed the old one. Now all she needed was her helmet. She spent the next moments searching for it and once she had found it, they left the battlefield, the blood of the Darkspawn bathing the sand in taint.




While she was unshakable in the presence of the Darkspawn and Ogres, the sight of the ship lazily rocking on the shore inspired dread in the heart of the dwarf. The head that was held high during the battle now sunk into her shoulders and her fiery steel eyes turned dark. While she was afraid of no mortal being, the water was did not bleed, it did not die, and could not be frightened. She hated the water, and she hated the floating coffins they called boats. Her sudden dejected demeanor was obvious to all those around her-- all they need was to look at her.

Kerin hesitated at the gangplank, the gate to her own personal hell. The appearance of the pirate and his first mate completely escaped her notice, as she was too busy talking herself into crossing that border. She needed to get on to that ship in order to continue this journey. If she did not find the courage then her companions would fight this battle by themselves. Kerin did not want to do that to them, she wanted to fight, but in order to do that, she had to cross the gangplank. She looked up to her companions with an expression on her face closest to fear, looking for some kind of support. She really did not want to get on that blasted boat...

But she forced one heavy boot on the lip of the plank. Then another step. And another. Her eyes were closed and she was imagining herself walking down the solid hallways of Orzammar. Those grand hallways would never give out, and they wouldn't break and send her to a watery grave. No, she was safe her. All she needed was a few more steps... And she was on the deck of the ship.

It began to rock. She froze like a frightened nug. It was no denying it now, she was on the ship. The solid ground beneath her had turned into a couple of wooden boards. They were the only thing between her and the watery hell below. Kerin then moved-- or rather ran-- to the nearest, most solid object she could find. The mast. There she sat and wrapped her legs around it along with her arms. The rocking was still there, but at least the threat of falling overboard was no longer an issue. The thought of what she looked like to her companions came to mind...

"If any of you so much as bloody chuckle, I will murder you the next time we hit land, and I'll make it look like a bloody accident!" She warned.

Without much fanfare, the ship left the shore (much to Kerin's dismay) and began the weeks long journey to Orlais. Kerin watched in sorrow as the solid land began to shrink before her eyes. It was a sad sight, but she stayed clutched to the mast. Now that the journey was under way, the only thing left to do was to finish it.

Before long, she was joined on deck by one certain Dekton Hellas, Suicide... She could only imagine what she looked like to the large man.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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His thumping heart was a gossamer of patchwork loops and worried seams coming undone when he surveyed the damage done to the rest of his companions – because, honestly, he considered them all his companions even if it wasn't mutual. Like an old teddy bear with disconsolate eyes, fluffed innards ready to spill out with the slightest pull of a string. He wasn't perfectly put together. Rhapscallion couldn't draw the shades over his distress. It wasn't in his nature. The worrisome gravitational pull guided him over Ethne's shoulder to see whether or not Solvej was alright. His presence lingered, hovering like a bloated fly. Though because of Kerin's earlier chiding, he'd learnt not to continuously jabber on, pestering those who'd merely wanted silence after doing battle. Flapping his gums got him nowhere, and it certainly didn't heal any wounds. As if sensing another annoyed interjection, Rhapscallion let out a low whistle and skipped backwards, fiddling with his fingers behind his back.

He plopped himself down on a malformed stump, patiently awaiting for Ethne to approach him. His long limbs had finally composed themselves at his sides, no longer fiddling with his belts, or scabbards, or picking at his fingernails. He'd already unbuckled his forearm gauntlets and his lopsided pauldron. The half-breed promptly discarded the burnt remnants of his shirt – ripped into tendrils so fine they could've been used to floss the ogre's teeth – to allow Ethne to heal the burns blistering their way across his upper torso. They were spidery little marks spinning wild patterns across his skin. If they hadn't been so discolored, it might've been beautiful. Rhapscallion had been apprehensively avoiding the Seeker's gaze. No doubt he'd be amused that he hadn't sensed the trap there in the first place. Instead of dipping his fingers through the cache like a delectable pie, Rhapscallion mutely shrugged his shoulders and retrieved his shamshir from the creature's thick back.




The half-breed busied himself by running his fingertips across the mollusk-encrusted underbelly of Captain Bryland's wonderful ship, completely captivated by the hardened knots spiraling through the grains. They'd scramble aboard any minute, Rhapscallion certainly couldn't wait. He hardly payed any attention to the Captain's heady introduction, preferring to busy himself with the ship's figurehead – though, his ears twitched at the name Scarlet Tide. Was that it's name? It was brilliant. His mouth formed a barely-contained giddy line, attempting to remain serious and calm, full of wry twitches, before it cracked and exposed flashing teeth. Now, this would be an adventure. He'd completely forgotten their destination and what said destination might hold for him. Though, he'd momentarily paused when Blathnat announced she would not be coming. He threw his spindly arms around her shoulders, pulling her into a humiliatingly tight hug before solemnly muttering that he'd lost one of his drinking companions. Who would he share his mulled wine with? For now, it didn't matter. He'd see her once again. When the Captain waved them aboard, Rhapscallion nearly pranced across the gangplank.

He was the first to board the ship, though he'd loitered around the railings, leaning heavily across them to see how the others' fared with the seas. Surely one of them was frightened of sea voyages. Like an amused feline, Rhapscallion's delighted grin danced across his mouth as if he would suddenly break into unstoppable bouts of laughter. He watched. Honestly, it was only Kerin, which was surprising, given her temperament, who had trouble boarding the ship. Was she actually frightened? Perhaps, it was not so surprising. She was a dwarf, after all. They were used to the musty ceilings of the underground, not the gentle swaying of a ship idling on the waters. She was used to shifting clays, earthen dirt’s, and smooth stones. His eyes shone with encouragement. Rhapscallion resisted the urge to push her along like a clumsy colt walking for the first time. He knew that would not go well. It was strange. He would've thought that she would have welcomed another adventure. Here on the ocean, especially aboard a pirate ship, there was blood and brine and adventure. He'd been aboard such a ship once as a castaway, nestled alongside barrels of spices and flour – when he ran from his father's homestead, from his responsibilities, from his awkward life. Instead of tossing him overboard when they found him, the half-breed was put to work without prejudice. It was a fond memory.

His thoughts shook apart like crumbs when he caught sight of Kerin dashing madly across the deck, wrapping her arms and legs around the mast like a stubborn child clinging to her mother's skirts. Rhapscallion's mouth twitched, once, twice, then subdued itself into a forced frown. To avoid breaking down into laughter, and subsequently being murdered when they reached Orlais, the half-breed turned on his heels, clicking his tongue thoughtfully, and retreated down into the ship's inner quarters. The cry of gulls and the crash of water melted away, replaced by the busy sounds of movement and clattering wooden utensils scraping the last morsel of soggy bread from their corresponding bowls. His stomach rumbled in response, reminding him that he hadn't very well eaten in awhile. Rhapscallion's uncannily light footsteps found themselves shuffling out of Solvej's way, invoking a strangled greeting that died quickly on his lips. She did not look amused. Something had occurred. He knew better than to snatch out at her wrist and question her – Solvej, though hard enough to anger, preferred to calm down in her own time, uninterrupted.

Instead, Rhapscallion finally found himself in the crew's quarters where food was prepared. Where the men sat huddled on benches and dolloped scoops of whatever-it-was-they-had into their mouths. Another willy smile. Ethne. He snatched a bowl, plopped spoonfuls of stew into it and inconspicuously sat down next to the Healer with a theatrical sigh. Leaning his face into his upturned palm. “Quite an adventure, don't you think? Darkspawn, and leadership, and adventure! Endless, endless Darkspawn.” He ladled the spoon in a circle, staring into the bobbing dumplings. “Do you think we'll turn the tide, Eth? Save the world, I mean.

He wanted, dearly, to believe they could.

Ethne, upon reaching the ship, had climbed aboard and been entirely uncertain as to what to do first. She'd never been on a boat this large, scarcely been on a boat at all. In then end, though the vast expanse of the sea called to the more poetic side of her nature with all the force of a Siren's song, she was long used to rejecting tempations greater even than those, and settled for keeping herself out of everyone else's way. She may have the ghost of a map planted firmly in her head, but it was muzzy still, and she held no illusions that without it, she would not be here in the first place. Though she was accustomed enough to doing in single opponents, she had always done so in a setting where all the control was hers, where her target was singular, and where lives as such were not at stake. In short, she didn't belong here, with these hardened warriors, fearsome mages and elusive rogues.

The decision of where to place her weary self had been made by a raucous call to attention from her stomach, which had her flushing several shades of pink when she asked the nearest crewman where she might find some food. He'd raised his single eyebrow speculatively, but pointed her down a set of stairs, which she'd dutifully followed with a mouselike tread, placing one soft-soled foot in front of the other with caution, unsure how much the rocking of the ship might affect her balance, which truly was precarious on the best of days. At least she wasn't ponderous, she supposed.

As it turned out, the food available consisted mostly of some form of hard bread and a stew which smelled mostly of fish. She'd eaten much worse, and really, though it was quite bland, there was nothing distasteful about any of it. Perhaps it was just her hunger, demanding that she replace the depleted reserves of energy left in the wake of more magic than she'd ever had cause to do in a day before, but it might have even been delicious. Given the size of the galley, she was seated among several burly sailors, but when they spoke to her, they weren't rude, or at least not intentionally so. She supposed sailors had a different set of manners, and being referred to as 'poppet' was probably not offensive. Or at least she didn't think it was.

She was listening to one man swear up and down that Darkspawn came in kraken-shape, while his friends ribbed him. The easygoing nature of the conversation relaxed her, however unsavory the subject matter, and when Rhapscallion joined her, the budding smile on her face had bloomed impressively, wrinkling her nose and teasing from her a chuckle. She bumped her shoulder into his when he sighed dramatically, shaking her head, but her mirth contained itself at his question, and she looked down into her stew as if it were suddenly the most fascinating thing in the world.

How was she to answer? Her self-doubt was not a temporary condition, brought about by a change in circumstance. It was no idle fancy of a chit groping about in the dark for comfort, reassurance, or- Fade forbid- compliments. It was something ingrained into her very make, resting woven somewhere between muscle and bone. Had she grown up anything but a slave, anything but a half-willed Dreamer, she might have been confident, assured. But magisters, demons: they spoke the same words, and at the root of it all was her weakness.

She tore her eyes from her food and looked at her friend, expression nothing but open honesty. "I believe it can be done. I believe in the others. And I certainly believe in you, so... yes. Yes, I think we will. I know we will."

He'd caught the end of the swearing man's conversation – something about a certain Darkspawn who's shape imitated the frightening sea creature pirate's whispered about in bad weather. It might've been his imagination, but Rhapscallion squinted grimly at the floating contents of his stew, picturing slender tentacles bobbing amongst the potatoes. Although he might pretend to enjoy thoseparticular tales when huddled around a campfire, entrusting himself with the task of narrating childhood terrors; Rhapscallion, in reality, was not keen on ghost stories, goblin tales, or anything that involved being gobbled up. He preferred reciting livelier tales about knighthoods, vanquishing demons, and battles won by pure cleverness. Those were the stories that lit a fire in his heart – certainly, not the one's that involved gnashing teeth and sucking tentacles dragging him to the depths of the sea to drown. Even the ones about beautiful sirens luring men away from the safety of their ships seemed far better, though they usually ended the same.

When Ethne bumped his shoulder, Rhapscallion feigned a quick expression of pain, gingerly holding his shoulder, whistling softly through his teeth. A few ruddy men exchanged glances, frowning at his dramatics, before flashing uneven grins: all cobbled teeth, black fillers and pocked faces. It seemed as if they were used to people of his sort aboard the vessel. These were the moments he felt warmth and familiarity and affection. He encompasses the world in his hands, picking everything apart until he thinks he understands it – and he believes she does the same, picks things apart, and worries, for the most part. They were both naive, weren't they? He could admit it with every fibre of his body. Solvej told him on several occasions, as if to remind him. It's all too easy to do, to make wishes on stars he couldn't see. His pretend-frown melted away into a preposterous smile, crinkling laugh lines and dimples. He watched curiously as Ethne's gaze lowered back down to her stew, much like he'd done moment's ago. As if she were investigating the mixture, waiting for a Darkspawn-kraken to crawl out and announce itself, an uninvited visitor. With what they've gone through already, Rhapscallion wouldn't have been surprised.

He suddenly worried that he'd ruined her appetite by asking something so deliberate, so resolute. It was a question that left too much room open, all gap-toothed and smiling sickly. Sometimes, he was the one with nightmares, with self-doubt, with thoughts that did not match his words. He wasn't all dancing, singing, laughing, living. He wondered if Ethne had the answers. He wondered if it was selfish to ask her, selfish to believe that her response would hearten him. The muscles in his jawline worked at a response, chewing unpleasantly on words to remedy the situation – when she finally tore her eyes away from her food and looked at him again. She was bright, like the sun: a stunning yellow. Even if they hadn't saved each other's lives on the battlefield, Rhapscallion knew, without a doubt, that he would have befriended her in an instant. It was inevitable. No question about it. Her hopes, his hopes, were bright enough to blind – perhaps, it was infectious. His expression softened, before he flapped his hand in front of him, embarrassed. He exhaled through his nose, pinching his earlobe: clearly relieved.

I'm glad you said so. We've got a strong group, I know that much, even if we butt heads along the way.” He laughed loudly, leaning back in his chair. They'd do fine. “So,” Rhapscallion enunciated, dragging the singular adverb into a soft croon. “After all this is done, what will you do, travel the world? Adopt five children? Find that blasted kraken?

After... It was a thought gossamer in cast, thin and translucent and ephemeral, liable to tear if you tried to grasp at it with too much fervor. Such things must be nursed tenderly, drawn close to the lights of hope and possibility burning betwixt the heartstrings and allowed to grow more solid, more real for their presence. Played close to the chest, perhaps, for other people were sometimes less kind, even when they didn't mean to be, and anything so small as an offhand remark could incinerate her butterfly-wing dreams in but a moment. She of all people understood dream, and understood frailty. But. But her whimsy, her unspoken little hopes and the thoughts that backlit her faraway eyes, these were things she could share with him of all people. Cynics would eviscerate her. Pessimists would shake their heads and scoff. Realists might be the worst of all, for they could lay her to waste with words she could at least understand.

But he was like her, and she knew she could entrust him with these fragile little things, her dreams, the kind that grew in your soul before they ever played before you at night. "Someday," she said quietly, bashfully, for perhaps it was silly and small, but it was certainly hers. "Someday, I think I want to have a garden. With roses, and wisteria, and orchids and ivy, you know?" Upon reflection, it was a painfully-simple thing, so stark in its lack of any complexity that it might have been embarrassing. But to she who'd never owned a thing, it was a mighty little dream indeed, positively audacious even, and it carried with it many little things. It implied a place of permanence, perhaps, where she would need run from nothing and nobody. Maybe even a little home to call hers. She didn't dare imagine that there might be friends or family to share it with, or go so far as to speculate to where she might grow the flowers, or what books she might read in her own little slice of paradise, because the fabric of her fancy was not yet strong enough to hold those things.

"How about you?" The smile that dimpled her cheeks was innocuous as springtime swallows in the air, but she wondered somewhere inside if Grey Wardens were allowed to have those kinds of inclinations. If the Blight was over, though, surely he could do what he wished? Brief as their acquaintance was, Ethne was secretly certain that she wished for him to visit her garden, and- perhaps, if they wanted- that the others might come, too, if the fancy struck them someday. Who, after all, didn't like flowers and vegetables and trees?

Hope was a persistent thing constantly, and consistently, nipping and grabbing at the hem of your flapping shirt like a grimy child on the streets with a twinkle in his eyes. It did not judge. It did not bend and break under hardships. Hope was the little bit of fire they held in their cold hands, fingers markedly numb, on a freezing winter night, while something magical and unexplainable set their hearts alight, and they knew, somehow, they'd find a way. It was enough to keep Rhapscallion revitalized, tenderhearted. If there was anything he would do, he'd certainly keep their hopes tucked into the hollow cavity of his chest – safe and sound, warm. For them, he would not change. He would become an immutable fortress. Finally, rather absently, Rhapscallion shovelled a heaping spoonful of the stew into his mouth. It was cold. It was lumpy, gooey, and smelled funny. It was too spicy. It was also the best thing he'd ever tasted. A starving stomach often made anything and everything taste like godly dishes – this certainly wasn't any different, though he appreciated the different textures and heavy spices.

He was a bit naive for believing in fairy tales and true love and anything else that's considered childish for a man, but it's what always kept his hopes alive, keeps his buoyancy. It's what kept Solvej from pushing him too far while they trained. There's a spark roaring to life in his eyes, so impassioned, it's almost desperate: that need to fix, to cradle and protect. Grey Wardens weren't expected to live any longer than their short life expectancies permitted, which usually spanned thirty or some years, depending on the level of interaction with the Darkspawn. The Calling was a dreadful thing full of old whisperings and feverish nightmares. In the end, it always ended up a blade through your throat. If they didn't willingly commit themselves to the Deep Roads with honour and dignity, then, eventually, the darkspawn would seek them out, drawn like moths to the flame. This was common knowledge. Even still, Rhapscallion hoped for a brighter future. Ethne's bright eyes creased up at the corners, though they looked somewhat distant. It's a childish impulse, to want something safe, but what it all comes down to is that he's running scared. Eventually, just as Solvej will, Rhapscallion will weave himself through the Deep Roads and kill as many darkspawn as he can before falling – that's the honourable thing to do, right? It's what they expect, after all.

These dreams, these hopes, were little bird-boned things tucked into the folds of their hands, curled around their fingers like lizard tails. He loved too much with his whole heart: it collided and tumbled against adjacent organs, stretched down to his knees, swept through his throat and threw itself from his tongue. It was a clumsy thing. He believed he shared these sentiments with Ethne, or at least, she understood them. Her light was not sifting through her fingers like an hourglass. It was there – he could see it, clearly. Rhapscallion's wooden spoon scraped unpleasantly, searching for morsels of potato. His bowl was empty. Had he been eating that whole time? Hopefully, she wasn't too put off by his appetite. A garden? He smiled softly, imagining what it might look like. It sounded beautiful. In the Linnell estate, there'd been a stunning garden of marigolds, blistered vines, twisted mandrake roots, and a mass of roses, all garnished with nettles and slugs and thick worms. He used to pinch the beetles between his fingers, offering it to the nannies like flowers. They always laughed before shooing him away. “That's wonderful!” The half-breed crooned, eyeing her brightly, childishly. “And whenever I visit, I can bring a different seed. Like the primrose – they're simple, but they're really beautiful. You'd love it.

Her question took him aback. Even if it was obvious given the turn of conversation, Rhapscallion hadn't expected it. His mouth twisted, crinkling awkwardly on his usually cheery features. What would he do in the future, after they'd sorted everything out? He couldn't think of it in terms of whether or not they survived. It was impossible, improbable. The likelihoods and chances meant absolutely nothing. Solvej had taught him better than that, even if it meant whisking his innocence and his common sense and his naivety in the same crummy bowl. “What about me?” He repeated, slowly, as if testing the words. He fiddled with the wooden spoon, swirling it in lazy circles, focusing on the small puddle of juices. Clearly, it wouldn't give him the answers he sought, so he pushed the bowl away. “I want...” He trailed off lamely, before finally recovering, “Someday, and don't laugh, I want to open a bakery. Y'know, baked goods, confectioneries, nutted breads. Of course, I'd still offer my blades on occasion.

What do you think the others want to do? Somehow, I can't picture Kerin baking anything.

Ethne didn't laugh; wouldn't have thought to do so at all, really. Dreams like these were sacred little things, she knew that better than anybody. Instead, she nodded along solemnly, though a smile made of pure goodwill and delight still layed at the edges of her mouth. She didn't want him to think she was mocking, oh no, so she kept it constrained to that and naught else, but... it was such a lovely thought. "I think it sounds fantastic," she opinioned with no hint of condescension. It was good that he had something like that thought; she'd been terribly concerned that Wardens looked to their futures and saw only darkness. Sometimes, that was all she saw, even. It was that desperate, desolate realizaition that had eventually set the fire beneath her feet, giving her the phantom strength she did not have which allowed her to, in turn, flee Tevinter and that encroaching, fulminating dark.

The scrape of his spoon against his bowl did draw a giggle from her, and she pushed what remained of her own stew at him, having eaten considerably more than her usual portion already. She kept the spoon, though, tapping it against her lower lip in a fanciful gesture as she pondered over his question. "I think... that in our little town, with my garden and your bakery, Kerin guards everything and terrorizes the little children who come asking her to teach them to fight." A silly assumption, that they'd all be around when this was said and done, but no sillier than assuming it would be done at all, and the elf allowed her imagination to run away with her. "Dekton lives in the woods, but every once in a while, we see a crow or a bear or something and we know he's there, and he always visits on holidays. Solvej is a grand adventurer, and comes back with stories of places we've never been and things we've never seen. Lukas teaches all the mage-children and runs a tavern, supplied with food from Ser Seeker!"

She chuckled at her own absurdity, but it was all in fun, and surely there was nothing wrong with that.

Strangely enough, Rhapscallion could picture her silly images. Clear as day, clear as his own hands in front of him. More than anything, he hoped, wished, prayed that it came true.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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The sun dipped behind the horizon, pulling the light of day with it. To Solvej, it had always seemed as though those last few rays went kicking and screaming, streaking purple and pink defiance across the darkening canvas of the sky like a child torn away from his finger-paint, or else a mage-student who wanted to finish just this one spell, I know I'll have it soon Ser Templar can't lights-out wait for one more hour? She never had been able to say no, for while there was no magic under her skin, she recognized drive and dedication when she saw them. Those things had always resonated with her, striking some unheard chord in her soul that she could feel more acutely than she could comprehend.

It was moments like those in which she'd always wondered if it was the right thing to do, trap the mages in their iron-barred cages and watch the life bleed from them in stages. Truly, the windows in the Anderfels Circle were barred. Maybe it was a mercy; the outside world did not look quite so lovely punctuated with cold, dark metal. And it wasn't, but maybe it was unfair that they never got a chance to know that.

Solvej knew something of cages, and maybe that explained why she recruited magi almost exclusively when it was her turn for that sort of thing just a few months ago. There was no denying that they were necessary, and there would be no denying it if they succeeded, for three of them were magic-users, and had they been locked away in Circles, she had no doubt that they wouldn't even know where to find what they were looking for, much less be able to conquer it. Snorting, she rapped herself sharply across the cheek. Melancholy reflection ill suited her. Perhaps it was just something about a damn sunset that made her such a sentimental fool. Bracing her hands on the ship's railing, she leaned over a bit, staring into the choppy water below. Hadn't it been smoother this morning? The sea was a mystery to her.

She'd have to tell them soon. They were within two days of Orlesian port and they had the right to know what they were facing. She couldn't help but want to stretch out the respite for as long a she could- even if Kerin was hardly getting any rest. The thought brought a lopsided smile to her face, and she glanced back over her shoulder towards the mainmast. She was well away from it, but it was the tallest thing on the bloody boat. And the dwarf the shortest. Which was true. There weren't even any rats aboard, and the one dwarf she'd seen on the crew was just a few inches taller than Kerin. But really, damn sentiment anyway. It seemed to demand that she spare them the bad news, let this calm before the storm last as long as she could make it. Now there was a maritime metaphor that she understood perfectly.

The air was getting cooler as the afternoon slowly transformed into evening. It had always been a beautiful transition, with it's heavy clouds laced with golden washed textures, and bright pastels strewn unevenly across the retreating sky, sun slowly submerging behind the horizon. The stars were beginning to come out, tiny pin-pricks of light in the vast expanse above. Dusk held promising prospects of new beginnings, unfurling closer Ethne's dream garden. Vibrant pinks metamorphosed into wine-coloured lilacs, fruit capsules bobbing. Chromatic purples burst into lovely orchids, spreading it's petals wide like a hawks feathered wings. Kaleidoscope of colours swirled and bled into one another. Unfortunately, certain colours looked off. Pale, or revered, or mixed up. It did not, however, lack it's luster. The sun's warmth slowly leeched away, replaced by a fresh, rejuvenating chill. He listened hard, and never stopped listening, even if it was subconscious. Sounds were as beautiful, or even more so, then actual sights. The occasional soft squawks belonged to the seagulls flapping and busying themselves in the waters, seeking refuge in the choppy waves, dipping their heads in search of fish. It was the constant shifting of the ship, rhythmic rocking offering it's own hum. Gentle breath-beats obviously coming from the mast's direction. He'd seen Kerin's silhouette still wrapped around the mainmast, clinging on for dear life, it seemed, though he'd taken precautions to remain unnoticed. It was one thing he was actually good at. His heartbeat seemed the loudest, adding it's own crescendo to the breathtaking soundtrack eventide offered.

There were no marbled songs, two octaves too high, within the ship's belly. Not anymore. Everyone else had drawn back into their own quarters, pulling itchy blankets tight around their shoulders and drifting off into snuffling, wheezing, snorting sleep – unless he counted his own in their ranks. He wouldn't have been surprised if many of his companions stood vigilantly awake, far too concerned with their thoughts, with their worries. Rhapscallion cupped his empty hands, placing them gingerly in his lap. He regarded them seriously, squinting. It was ridiculous, but he wished, desperately, that he had a goblet of apple cider. Sun-bellied, sun kissed liquid of warmth and fallen leaves and a familiarity that did not leave you when you blinked or looked away. Overripe apples that left your hands smelling sweet, sticky. This was his vulnerability at his greatest; at his strongest. Hope fluttered in his chest at dusk, leaving him completely, utterly open. He closed his fingers, curling them towards his palms. He missed something.

Rhapscallion's legs crossed smoothly, retracting from the safety of the wooden rails, where he'd been kicking his legs back and forth like a thoughtful child. It was only then that he noticed, while leaning precariously backwards, inches from letting the back of his head touch the planks, Solvej leaning across the railing a few paces away. How hadn't he noticed her before? The half-breed was an inky smudge of shadows against a background of darkness, dusky skies hardly offering any light in the form of stars or it's half-moon – easily missed, easily overlooked if one was so focused on their thoughts. There was something etched across her face. Perhaps, she was worried? He stifled a small chuckle, pressing his knuckles to his lips, when she rapped her knuckles against her cheek, obviously reprimanding herself for a silly thought. Finally, Rhapscallion pushed himself to his feet, silently, quietly, and approached his companion from her left side, sidling beside her. “From the looks of it, I don't think Kerin's gotten a wink of sleep.” He commented breezily, arching his eyebrows, then knitting them together. He suddenly looked contemplative, etching lines at the corner's of his eyes, as if he were gathering something within himself. A flooded balloon growing larger and larger. He tapped his fingers against his elbow, scratching behind his stubby ear with the other. Like Solvej's unbidden melancholy, it did not suit him. Then, it spluttered out in one long string: a babbling sentence of truth. “I'm afraid, you know? Of going home. Of doing all this, Sol. Will there be an after all this? There. I said it, I'm afraid.” Her gardens, his bakery, their lives.

He needed to talk to someone about this. Who better, then, to abolish his fears than his Mentor?

Solvej actually jumped a bit when Rhapscallion appeared out of the umber-dark shadows of the ship. Normally, she wouldn't react so even when someone got the drop on her; she had grown quite adept at shielding herself from expressing disadvantageous feelings. At present, however, she was distracted enough that she simply forgot to steady herself. Her eyes narrowed as she glared at him, and she was halfway through some guttural admonishment in the language of her forefathers (and mothers) before her tongue stilled in her mouth and she turned abruptly out towards the ocean again.

He was afraid. And why shouldn't he be? She was quite certain she was not leaving this journey alive. The realization would not dim her cold ferocity, only feed it, for she was not quite ready to consign the rest to the same death she had predicted for herself, and that would keep her fighting harder, watching more carefully, and sleeping with one eye always open. Her bare-knuckled grip tightened on the railing, though she eased her face into a half-cocked smirk, the kind of reckless expression that fit her like she'd been born wearing it. Grey eyes sparked dangerously, and she tossed her short mane back in a careless gesture, ridding her face of the few copper hairs that had been plastered against it by the wind. Her breathy laugh was soft, a raspy chuckle from the back of her throat more than the pit of her belly where it should have been.

She glanced at him askance, that gloriously-dishevelled, half-rabbit protegee of hers, and one of her hands left the railing, curling into a loose fist before she knocked him in the shoulder with it. "Afraid? Afraid? Where's that would-be Chevalier they promised me? The gallant hero of women and children everywhere, the fearless Grey Warden who'd face down the whole horde with his hands alone, bare as the day he was brought into the world he was meant to save?" Her tone was flippant, irreverent, and entirely unconcerned, but the dark circles beneath her eyes and the unconscious crease in her brow spoke differently.

"Besides, if you're going to protect that ladyfriend magelet of yours, you'd best stiffen that jelly-spine, you bloody lout." She was certainly teasing him now, if the sly slant of her mouth was anything to go by. It had always been like this between them, some effulgent mix of stern advice and acerbic mockery, but she'd never, never, dream of making him other than he was. Solvej wasn't an optimist. Hell, she was a cynic, jaded-green as they come and entirely unapologetic about it. But the world needed people like him, and people like the Dreamer, more than it would ever need people like her. Cynics were a dime a dozen; true optimists, with real ideals and the innocent hearts to follow them without reservation, those were precious gems worth protecting.

He reminded her so much of her brother that it hurt, sometimes.

"You'd be ignorant of the danger or too stupid to value your own life if you weren't afraid, Rhap. It's not about preventing fear; never has been. It's about conquering it instead." Her voice was quiet enough that it was almost carried away on the ocean's breeze.

He smiled apologetically, lifting his hands as if to say he didn't mean to frighten her. Her thoughts musthave been fluttering through the winds, like ash on a breeze, for him to startle her. Usually, whether or not Rhapscallion's footsteps were masked or dampened, she would have immediately spun on her heels to flick his forehead, grinning widely. She always seemed to know he was coming. Perhaps, even before he'd decided to step towards her. He joked about it, often. As if she had telepathic abilities, or the fact, that just maybe, he was just too easy to read. Like fluttering pages whipping through the wind, outlining his personality, his bubbly thoughts, and all of his emotions that, usually, swept into one rampaging typhoon. Her glare was half-assed. So, Rhapscallion didn't cringe away like a pup who's snout had been taped. She'd turned so quickly, back towards the ocean, that he couldn't help but follow suit. It really was beautiful. There was a wildness, an uncontainable freedom, that frothed in it's gushing swells. If they were in the ocean, surely, they'd be swept away under it's currents, swept clear from the ship, where they'd be alone in it's depths. Still, even though that particular thought scared him, Rhapscallion couldn't help but think that the inky ripples, reflecting the pinprick stars and half-moon, was radiant, divine, breathtaking. Unapologetic, pure.

With sights like these, it was easy to forget what they were doing, where they were heading, and what hardships they'd have to face. It was easy to shuffle everything under a rug and leave it for a rainy day. Things were easier in moment's like this. He wished, fervently, that they'd freeze in time, and roll along like ponderous slugs. It was a childish wish. Rhapscallion had never been careful, had never understood why he'd have to sleep with one eye open, or ever be cautious, when he was surrounded by reliable people like Solvej, like Blathnat, like Ethne. He believed, wholeheartedly, in people. It showed in the way he slept around people, with his blades settled away from his calloused hands, regardless of the company he kept – and he was a heavy-sleeper. His assurance and confidence in others kept him from pessimism, whisking it away, promptly, from his mind. He watched Solvej as he always did when searching for reassurance, inspiration, support. Sometimes, Rhapscallion watched her because he was worried. Even in the darkness, he'd seen her hands tighten on the railing. He could imagine white splotches blossoming near her knuckles. But, like always, Solvej surprised him in the most pleasant of ways. Her expression transformed. She tossed her head as if ready to face the world, laughing. She, like the sea, was beautiful. He believed she didn't know this.

The half-breed had been peeking at her, and caught her glance, before arching his eyebrows, in awe. Her ineffective fist buffeted his shoulder, as if to say stop that, honestly, what's wrong with you. It was her next words that touched him, dipping deep in his chest to pluck, loosely, at his heartstrings. He couldn't help but smile, sheepishly. A fearless Chevalier? It'd never really occurred to him that anyone had truly, honestly, taken him seriously when he spoke of becoming one of Orlais' most devoted knights. It was a fleeting dream – nothing like becoming a baker, but still, even still, Rhapscallion wanted to do great things and become as strong as he could to protect those he cared about. It was the most precious: his companions. Even if Solvej's tone was flippant, carelessly silly, there lied some truth there. She believed in him, didn't she?

Ladyfriend magelet. His ears flattened immediately. Thankfully, because of the nightfall's gloom, she wouldn't be able to see them burning. Nor could she see the blush faintly painting his cheekbones, hopefully. Rhapscallion flapped his hands, indignantly. Ethne's strength came from a sunny brilliance that shimmered in every direction, banishing the shadows back to their corners. Perhaps, he was one of those shadows, waiting and watching from the sidelines. It was filled with kindness and generosity. Things that people often lacked. “She's strong, you know? Wouldn't need me, the great fearless Grey Warden, to protect her. Definitely not.” He playfully bumped her shoulder with his own, clearly embarrassed, before brushing his fingers through the fringe of his cropped hair, settling them at the scruff of his neck. Even in the darkness, you couldn't miss the dazzling flash of teeth peeking from between his lips, stretched into a toothy grin. They heckled each other, constantly, but even so, he knew that Solvej would always be there for him if he needed help.

Solvej just chuckled, a surprisingly-mellow sound, and shook her head with the air of one long-used to this sort of exchange. She couldn't see his face or his ears, but she knew from that tone, sheepish and bashful, that she'd struck home on that little thought. "Of course she is," the Templar replied sagely, though the gravity was what her levity had been before: just a shade false, for the benefit of the exercise. "But even the strongest among us couldn't achieve this alone." That was just a fact. She reached up to tousle his hair with her fingers, for no other reason than the simple fact that she could. It was not often that Solvej made friends, mostly because there just wasn't time under the present circumstances. Before, there hadn't been a need.

She was willing to acknowledge, perhaps only since she met Rhapscallion, that she'd always had need of friends, but hadn't known how to name that hollow feeling in her heart. Whatever the case, the time since had made her even more fiercely adamant on behalf of those she saw as hers: her comrades, her allies, and her friends all.

His fingertips slipped away from his neck, dipping quickly to dash the tears brimming at the corner's of his eyes. Quickly, and perhaps, unnoticed. Rhapscallion heaved a dramatic yawn and stretched his arms up above his head, curled fingers entwining together before he dropped them down over Solvej's shoulders, pulling her into an angled hug. It would've been a comical sight given their height difference. “Thank you.” It was a whisper, equally muffled. He released her, clearly rejuvenated. Maybe, just maybe, they'd be alright after all.

The woman responded to the half-hug by elbowing him in the ribs, then surrendered and reached up, patting him on the back. "Nonsense, you blighter. I did nothing at all."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Lukas Hoffman Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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They were two days’ travel from the Orlesian Coast when the first clouds began to gather, darkening the horizon like the contents of some unholy cauldron, swirling and thick. The Pirate King stood, as ever, at the fore of his ship, for once solemn and heedless of the incoming breeze that teased him, lifting feathery tendrils of hair from his head and toying with them like some languid, contented lover. He was willing to wager it was chiller than her fingers would have been, and the thought ghosted across his face as nothing more shattering than the flash of pearlescent teeth.

”Something funny?” Anthea asked him, stepping up to lean her torso on her crossed arms, braced on the deck railing. Her eyes easily caught and followed the trajectory of his, and something that might have been a sigh gusted over her lips. ”I’d better get that bloody dwarf off the mast.”

Rudhale laughed, a surprisingly-subtle sound. ”Do make it clear that she’ll be swimming otherwise. I doubt much else will move her.” Anthea nodded, watching with some trepidation as the slight upward slant of his mouth morphed into a full-blown grin, and he turned abruptly on his heel, polished boots carrying him on his merry way to his own cabin belowdecks.

A storm, a tempest, but oh, how exciting this was to be!



”Oi! I told you layabouts to drop that sail a half hour past, what in the name of that strumpet Andraste do you think you’re doing with that rigging?” Jack was not pleased. If they wanted to have a chance of weathering the sudden storm without capsizing or taking irreparable damage to the hull, they needed to drop all their sails before the canvas was torn away or caught enough wind to plunge the bowsprit under the waves it was still only just cresting.

The tempest tossed them about like a child a much-maligned toy or a husband his equally-hated wife. The thought made Anthea grimace with much feeling, and she regretted the fact that her metaphors were always a bit too accurate. The roiling ocean, like so much hissing pot-water had darkened to a near-black grey, and aside from the mage-lights still illuminating the deck –rails and the point of the bow, the only illumination they received was from the occasional fork of torn lightning, accompanied always by the violent roar of thunder. All hands were on deck, and each of them was a slipshod, sopping wreck of a man or woman, sliding around the slick deck with the accuracy only sailors had, but fighting a losing battle all the same.

”Sorry, Jack, Cap’n said keep ‘em high, so that’s what we’re doin’, yeah?” She barely caught the response over the din and the roar, and the first mate ground her teeth together.

”If that’s what he said, that’s what we’re doing,” she confirmed, though it wasn’t loud enough for anyone to hear. It didn’t need to be. For all his antics and his foppish tomfoolery, for all he seemed more the strutting peacock than the hunting-cat she knew him to be, not a one of these people would dare contradict him.

They lived for moments like this. She lived for moments like this, because he’d given her the reason to live again at all. The same was true for each and every body aboard, guests excepted, and if they waltzed into port with more pride than lowly pirates and thieves deserved, it was because of him. He’d get them through it; she had absolute faith in this.

It didn’t mean she wasn’t going to shout at him for it. A rigging-rope came loose, snapping free under the creaking pressure of the mainmast, and Jack caught it, hauling hard and placing it in the hands of the boatswain, who, like the rest, was currently just trying to keep the Tide afloat. Giving the woman a solid thump on the shoulder for encouragement, she stalked to the fore, clutching the rails for dear life and feeling very much like a half-drowned dog.

He, on the other hand, was another matter entirely. Just as soaked with ocean-spray as the rest of them, the Captain stood tall at the tiller, sodden cloak snapping back in the voracious wind. For all that, he still looked invincible to her, and she took comfort in this simple illusion. ”Rudhale, you sodding idiot! Why are we keeping the sails? They’ll drive us under!”

He glanced over his shoulder with a faintly-exasperated expression, as though he’d been expecting a more intelligent question, and in that moment, she was quite sure he was the most infuriating man on the planet. He turned back to face forward, adjusting the tiller for some reason that didn’t quite make sense to her, then pushed back his wet mane with one hand to clear his eye-line. ”Truly, my dear, you’d think you’d have a little more faith.” Because he was facing away, she had to strain to hear him, letting go of the railing to slide her way over to the helm.

”Faith has nothing to do with it, you stupid bastard! We’re going to lose the sails, and you’ll be lucky if the masts-“ Jack abruptly stopped speaking as the ship lurched forward and she lost her balance, flopping towards the bow and certain death, aware of the exact moment when her feet left the deck. She tried to catch the railing, but the rain-slick wood wasn’t easy to grip, and her hold failed, plunging her towards the churning sea below. She was going to die, and Jack was strangely afraid of that. She’d never had cause to fear death before. Not when she’d dealt it with startling regularity, nor when she faced it down after her flight from the House of Crows. Now, though… she really didn’t want to die, and her indifference was replaced with a fear she had never thought to know.

A hand closed around her forearm, and she breathed a sigh of relief when she peered upwards through the driving droplets. Rudhale was hanging from the railing himself, but his grip appeared to be firm. ”Silly girl,” he said with a shake of his head. ”You know I’d never let you fall.”

If Anthea had been the sort of woman who took to men, he’d have probably had her right there. As it was, she snorted and climbed up his arm, hooking the one holding her onto the railing so that he could follow. He did, hauling himself upwards with a fair amount of grace given the situation, and she would have hit him with something blunt and heavy if the situation didn’t demand otherwise. ”You’ve really got to learn to let things go, Rhuddy. Fine, we’ll do it your way, but if you get us killed, I swear to all that’s rotten I’ll make your afterlife as shitty as I can.”

His only response was a mock salute, and she rolled her eyes. Time to go make sure this suicidal plan of his worked, then.



The following morning, the ship pulled into the port of Val Royeaux, the sunrise calm and still, the ocean obediently ferrying their vessel into safe harbor.

Well, “safe” might perhaps have been stretching matters a bit. The entire dock appeared to be abandoned, save for the homeless who had nowhere else to go. Everywhere, buildings were boarded up and shuttered down, not a hint of any activity to be seen. The bars and even the brothel were totally empty, abandoned and left to the mercy of the monsters that held the inner sanctum of the city in their sway.

All of the members of Malik’s assembled squad were currently convened in the Captain’s cabin, which he had magnanimously lent to the Warden Solvej for the purpose of conveying information about their destination. The Captain himself lingered in an armchair, set a little ways away from the rest, though it was clear that he was only symbolically excluding himself and would hear everything they said. A glass decanter was in one hand, the amber-colored substance within a shade less brilliant than his eyes but obviously alcohol of some kind. In his other hand, he held a flask of the same, which he tossed to the dwarf Kerin upon her entrance. It was not as pungent as dwarven spirits, but it was just as strong, and perhaps more palatable.

The maps of the city laid out on the table were detailed and clearly expensive; these were his, as were the cartography tools lying neatly beside them. Bolted to the ground were several teak bookshelves, shuttered so as to prevent the tomes within from flying out during events like the one the night before. Presently, they were open, in case the group should find any of the contents useful. Though relatively few in number, there was not a common or ill-treated bound volume or scroll in the lot; all were rare, all were in excellent condition, though few were in Ferelden. Other than that, the room was bare, save a rich Antivan carpet on the floor, a hammock in one corner, a chest underneath it, and several more chairs, arranged around the map-table.

Solvej stood before the table, searching over the maps, and she did not make any move to talk or acknowledge anything in particular until everyone was assembled. Once any preliminary chatter had died down, she took a deep breath. ”It seems,” she began with a glance at the pirate in the corner, ”that Darkspawn have already overtaken the center half of the city.” She traced a rough circle with one mail-gloved finger, outlining a segment of the map that included all of the inner noble estates, the Chantry, and even the imperial palace.

”It’s protected by a palisade wall on the outside, which, for those who don’t know, is essentially a lot of very sharp wooden stakes in front of a wooden wall. They’re built to be the outermost defenses during sieges, which is apparently what the ‘Spawn are set up for. We have neither the time nor the resources to successfully lay siege to the defenses, which means we’re probably going to have to get in by breaching a weakness or finding some way around.”

”Of course, assuming you do that, there’s still the magical wall to deal with,” the captain pointed out soberly, perhaps ironic considering the beverage in his hand.

”There’s a major Fade disturbance there,” Ethne contributed, voice troubled. ”It’s preventing me from telling what’s going on in there. I know Morpheus is present, but I couldn’t say exactly where…” She trailed off, staring at the map with a frown marring her face.

”If we can get to that barrier, can you take it down?” Solvej asked, glancing at all three mages in turn.

Ethne shook her head slowly. ”I don’t know. Maybe. I’d have to be closer to tell. Is there no other way in?”

”Not that my contact was aware of,” Rudhale replied diffidently. ”Then again, there are many things Lady Montsimmard does not know, so it may be a matter of just looking in the right place.” He downed the rest of his drink and set the glass down on the arm of his chair, watching the group with what appeared to be a mild interest. Now here was a conundrum. He wondered what they’d do about it.


The Mission Briefings have been updated.
New Codex Entry

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Lukas Hoffman Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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It seemed as though they were out of one storm, and now headed for an altogether different one. The shapeshifter was pleased.

But contrary to what Kerin likely thought, this storm they now faced had a much greater chance of taking their lives than the sea. Physical and magical walls, darkspawn, and this Morpheus. It was an exciting challenge, but obviously not one that should be rushed into blindly. These darkspawn had the advantage of numbers by far, and superior positions. If there were some way to level the field, to force the spawn to fight on their terms, perhaps things would become easier.

He spoke up from where he peered over the others from the rear of the room. "I have wings at my disposal. Can this magical barrier be passed through the air? If not, I could at least search for a weakness from the skies. If so... I lack the Warden's taint, so I could perhaps avoid detection if I am careful, and and learn how to disable the wall." Taking on all the Darkspawn in Val Royeaux by himself wasn't really much of a plan, but even Suicide wasn't so careless as to want to try it. Not without the others at his back.

"Can we not move this bloody meeting on something more solid than a boat?" Kerin said, her hand hiding the majority of her face. What part of her face that could be seen was positively green and sickly. No doubt the earlier storm had something to do with it. Despite being peeled off the mast under the threat of swimming (sinking like a stone really), the time in the hold during the tempest did nothing to settle her stomach, nor was it the best time for her to try and find her sea-legs. She spent the majority of her time with her head in a bucket she had found, cursing the Stone, her Ancestors, the Maker, Andraste, and any other religious figure she could think of.

The best part of the whole voyage thus far had been the Captain's flask. She took it and greedily drank the promised liquid, hoping to take the edge off of the sharp knife currently twisting in her belly. It would take a lot more than a mere flask to put her under the table, but it was better than nothing. Still, despite his charity, he couldn't escape the barbs of Kerin's tongue. "Where was this a couple of weeks ago? Would have been nice then too," She said, upturning the flask again. Even if it was an admonishment, her eyes told a different, more thankful story. With some liquid courage finally finding it's way into her veins, she felt a little better. If she was lucky, the flask would last the meeting and they could get on land before it wore off.

She listened as Solvej and Ethne laid out the plans... Or rather, laid out the puzzle. Clearly, a berserker rage wouldn't suffice alone. Kerin sighed, she never did have a mind for this sort of stuff, she was always the muscle. She always left smuggling routes and such to the higher ups in the Cartel. While Suicide posed a solution, Kerin merely shrugged. She was never the one for planning and his recon idea sounded decent enough. "Best I can do is dig under the blasted wall... Though," Kerin said, an idea coming to her. "The blighted bastards have to be coming and going somewhere, right? Why not make that our entrance?" Seemed simple enough. Find where they enter, and bust through. Though, her lack of tact... Left something to be desired.

Ethne mulled over the words of her companions, staring at without really comprehending the map in front of her. She'd never been very good with directions; you tended to lose that sort of concrete feeling of spatial orientation when you spent so much time in the Fade, where it was hopelessly distorted anyway. Still, it couldn't hurt to have some concept of what was going on.

"The barrier's dome-shaped and apparently opaque," Bryland replied once the first two had put in their suggestions. "You'd get closer to the center with flight, but not usefully so." When the dwarf quipped her gratitude in the usual dwarven way, he simply smiled, not taking the bait in her acidic words, though at another time perhaps he would have done so with much enthusiasm.

"We could do both?" Ethne suggested tentatively. "I mean, Dekton could fly the perimeter, find the gate in the palisade, and report its location to us. Aren't gates always weaker than the walls around them? If we have to breach, we could do so from there..." The girl looked back and forth between the others as though for reassurance, chewing her bottom lip thoughtfully until her eyes centered on Solvej. The Lady-Warden seemed to know a good deal about this sort of situation; perhaps she woudl best know how to use the resources at their disposal.

Solvej narrowed her steely eyes, deep in thought, fingers tapping an idiosyncratic rhythm against her armored thigh. "The gate would be the best place for a direct assault, yes, and if that barrier's really a dome, it seems our only good option." From the way she spoke, she clearly didn't like the plan much. "Still... we'd either have to rush past a lot of Darkspawn or find some way to keep them at bay. Just as a gate makes it easier for us to get in, so does it provide a nice choke point for them to slaughter us wholesale." They were, she could tell, quite elite for such a small group, but they were still just that: a small group. They would be dealing with the personal force of one of the five most important Darkspawn in the horde. The odds were, put frankly, shit.

"We need a distraction. Did your contact mention whether or not there were any local forces still fighting in the area? If we can organize them for an assault, we stand a much better chance of getting inside." This last was directed over her right shoulder and sideways, to the lounging Captain Bryland. The ease of his manner set her teeth on edge; who was so calm about a entire capital city under Darkspawn attack? Shouldn't he be playing up the dramatics right about now? It seemed that, once again, her predictions about his behavior were off entirely, and she hated it.

Revaslin stood in the corner, breathing through his mask. He eyes scanned the map and his colleagues through the small slit which afforded his eyes. His words were almost a whisper, but they rang clear and audible. "I must agree with Sir Hellas. Reconnaissance must come first. We know next to nothing about this barrier, and until we observe it in more detail, it would be unwise to assume its shape or any portals leading in or out. If there is indeed an aperture, we would need to know its strategic location in order to form any good plan. It is my understanding that Darkspawn can sense Wardens as much as the other way around. Our Wardens would have to be the distraction, if indeed we choose that course of action. An ambush by Wardens would seem unlikely to succeed."

"Surely they couldn't be left to do so alone, though," Ethne pointed out, hesitant to split the group. As it turned out, her concerns were partially alleviated by the pirate.

"They may not have to. My understanding is that the citizens of Val Royeaux do not take the invasion lightly. A very large, very angry Templar and several of his best men were out of the city when the Darkspawn moved. Perhaps the Darkspawn moved because they were gone. Either way, they lead the opposition now. I assure you, a man the size of Ser Delacroix will not be difficult to find." Bryland's shrug was diffident, though some hidden joke turned his mouth up at the corners. "It looks like the lot of you have a plan. I rather expect you wish to execute it swiftly, no?"

"If it get's us off this sodding boat, I'm all for it. I'd rather face a league of Darkspawn than another league of water," Kerin said, positively itching to get off the boat.

The shapeshifter wasn't sure if he was happy about not being able to go over this barrier. Surviving the horde on his own, or with whoever he could find, was indeed a rather exciting prospect. As it was, the captain was correct in his assumption that they would want to move quickly. Suicide could tell that Kerin was dying to get off the ship, and he himself was eager to be moving forward. Their Path lay before them, the fog cleared around it. If they hesitated for too long, it would return and blind their way.

"I will find our Path, then. Perhaps when we walk it, this Delacroix will strike as well, taking advantage of an opportunity we can present him with."

"Well, then, it's decided," the pirate replied, leaning forward in his chair before he stood. "I will have my men prepare our things for departure, and then we shall be off."

Ethne blinked, certain for a moment that she had misheard. "We?" she echoed quietly, clearly somewhat perplexed. The pirate's only response was to wink as he stode out the door, which of course turned her face a light pink. Shaking her head slightly, she looked over at the others and shrugged, following after the man's much longer strides. As far as she could tell, they needed all the help they could get, and it seemed like he wasn't giving them much choice anyway.

Out on the deck, the Captain called his first mate to him, explaining the situation in low tones. Her response was to draw her fist back and sock him right in the jaw. "Now isn't the time for stupid jokes, Rhuddy," she admonished loud enough for most of the crew to hear. Curiously, they simply continued to go about their business, drawing the cart and the horses, plus one very black Orlesian charger, up from below, leading all of them down the gangplank with minimal need for communication. Their work was solemn, which was uncharacteristic, but other than that, nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary.

"I do quite understand that, Anthea," he replied mildly, rubbing absently at the blossoming red mark on his face. She hadn't held back, that was for certain. "Which is why I chose not to tell one." He watched with no small amount of amusement as his first mate's mouth worked uselessly, her face turning several interesting mottled shades of rose, which was quite the feat on her sun-darkened Antivan complexion. He was rather proud of himself; it appeared he could still render her speechless if he really wanted to.

He was rather less entertained when her next words came out with not the spirited vehemence he was expecting, but a sad hollow whisper. "And what are they supposed to do while you're off saving the world? Have you forgotten that you saved them first? Will you abandon them now, leave them without a Captain and a purpose?" She was gesturing at the crew, but her subtext was clear as water to him.

Shaking his head, Rudhale sighed theatrically. With all due dramatic flourish, he unclasped the red cloak from about his shoulders and threw it over hers, fastening the gold pin in place. It looked a little sillier on her than even on him, but he didn't mention it. "I am abandoning nobody," he replied with surprising earnestness. "I promised after all. I will not let you fall. But with me here, neither can you fly, my dear." Leaning forward, he pressed a chaste kiss to Jack's forehead and patted her cheek playfully. "So fly, and I must say if by the time I come back to steal this ship a second time I am not stealing it from the legendary Captain Jack of the Scarlet Tide and her fierce, loyal crew, I shall be very disappointed indeed."

"Steal it? Get keelhauled and thrown in the brig, more like," she muttered, blinking too rapidly for it to be natural. He smiled gently and shook his head. It's not worth crying for, love. With that unspoken admonishment, he turned smartly on his heel and jogged down the gangplank after the Darkspawn-slaying company.

The plank drew upwards, and he raised his hand only once, in farwell. His men and women returned it one and all, before their new captain's voice rang out, berating them for their laziness and urging them back to work. Rudhale chuckled under his breath and turned to his new crew, though he was humble enough to realize that he was by no means captain of this one. "Okay" the little elf-woman was saying, "Dekton, if you would please fly for us, we'll find cover until we have a better idea of the layout."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Lukas Hoffman Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro

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Lord Guillame Delacroix watched the gate from behind his battlements, leaning heavily on his dwarf-crafted hammer. His face clearly hadn’t seen a razor in a week at least, and salt-and-pepper stubble only added to the haggard appearance of purple-rimmed eyes and a squarely-set jaw. He was a singular figure, head and shoulders above even the tallest of his men, and considerably broader as well. These things were the reason he was a Templar in the first place, as Chevaliers were only ever of nobility.

The reason he was Knight-General, now lorded in his own right, rather than a simple footsoldier, was more a fact of the keenness in his eyes than the bulk of his muscle, and it seemed that when he swept grey-blue irises over the enemy fortifications, he saw something few others would, for the muted clank of his brilliant silver armor- still maintained better than he was, even after more coatings than he cared to count of Darkspawn grime- signaled his movement. Straightening, Delacroix slung his hammer over his shoulders with deceptive ease and signaled to the man standing a few paces away. The Knight-Captain of the Orlesian Chantry was a much smaller fellow, but scarcely less competent.

“They ready to attack. Inform the men.” His words, in the deepest of bass rumbles, were never anything more ornate than he needed them to be. Politicking was for Du Lac and his Seekers. The Templars were only stalwart guardians, asking for no more power or resources than was necessary to accomplish their aims- this, he was quietly adamant about seeing to.

“Yes sir. When?” The Captain’s own glance at the palisade gate was searching, but it did not seem to yield him much, as he felt the need to ask anyway.

“Ready your shield. The servants of the Maker stand always prepared.” There was no more to be said than that, and the order repeated itself down the line, to the last man. Runners were sent to inform those placed with more stealth as quietly as possible of the news. Though he made no specific instruction of it, Delacroix knew word would reach the Warden as well. He was not sure what kind of Warden she was, but every last blade and body would be of use in some way, there was no denying that.

Hiding their preparation would be impossible; there was far too much noisy armor and shouting for the Darkspawn to remain unaware of what was going on. Once or twice before, this simple posturing had been enough to deter an attack, but the Knight-General knew that would not be the case this time. He was rather aged, as active soldiers went, but his instinct for enemy tactics had only increased with time, and whomever commanded these Darkspawn did it with solid tactics: now was the worst time for the Orlesians and the best time for the siege-layers. They were tired, demoralized, and sorely lacking in numbers, comparatively, but if the stalemate held much longer, there was a chance of reinforcements. However slim, it was not a chance Delacriox would have taken before swooping down upon his opponents in such a situation, and neither would this too-intelligent ‘Spawn.



Half an hour later, his forces and the Chevaliers that accompanied them were growing restless. An unnatural quiet had blanketed the area; the smell of burning flesh still hung thick and heavy in the air. The atmosphere was oppressive, as though something rested itself on every pair of shoulders present, and he would not have put it past that damnable barrier to be the reason. Magic, fouler then any he’d ever encountered, and here was a man who’d hunted down more than his fair share of maleficarum in his day. It felt… sickly, cloying, pressed against his nose and throat like some kind of wet, poisonous fog.

It was bad enough that those without a lick of magic or Templar training could feel it, and indeed perhaps these were the worst off, being unaccustomed. The Chevaliers looked uncomfortable, several as though they were about to be sick, and he knew that whatever controlled that damnable dome was increasing the pressure.

“General Delacriox!” one of the watchmen called, and he looked towards the lad immediately. “Intruders!”

The massive man blinked. This was unexpected. The cry had not been ‘Darkspawn,’ and so he would refrain from immediate orders to slay them. Still, their timing could not be more inconvenient. “Watchmen! Continue to attend to the ‘Spawn. I will deal with this.” So saying, he moved through the rapidly-parting crowd of his soldiers and out from behind his wall.

There, approaching with some inclination of care, was a decently-sized group, a motley looking assortment of people if he’d ever seen one. Uniform in only one way: they were armed. He held out a hand for them to slow their approach, not wishing to expose them to the no-man’s-land between his own line and that of the Darkspawn. “Arretez-le!” he commanded, and the girl at the front of the group immediately ceased her movement, and the lanky man behind her would have collided with her back had he not been paying enough attention. He barely avoided it as it was. “Pourquoi etes-vous en Val Royeaux? Indiquer votre entreprise.”

A few registered looks of confusion, though just as many seemed to understand. Still, he tried again. “Why are you in Val Royeaux, strangers? Do you not see the city is gone to the Darkspawn?”

Ethne, presently blessing her education, was at least able to understand his Orlesian, though how exactly to explain this to a stranger (a very large, very Templar stranger, no less) was a bit more difficult. “Pardon me, ser, we have been sent by the Grey Wardens. We are here to help.”

Delacroix scanned the group, pausing for longer intervals on Bryland and Solvej. “A wanted criminal and a traitor to the Order, here to help me? And they let a mage speak for them?” He shook his head slowly, disapproval nearly palpable enough to squash her flat into the ground. “I should kill you where you stand.”

”Now, now, let’s not be hasty.” Rudhale broke in, clearly not bothered in the least by being recognized or almost-threatened. “Why waste perfectly good bodies with flames and sharp, pointy objects? Wouldn’t it make more sense to hurl us at the Darkspawn? We take down a few, and if we die, well, that’s no concern of yours. If we don’t, well, you may just get rid of your little pest problem, hm?”

Delacroix considered this, and agreed that it was sound strategy. More a practical man then a zealot, he saw no ill outcome for his duty, and so he accepted the proposal. “Very well, but you’ll need to get past the gate to have a chance, and that will be no easy feat.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” Ethne replied, rather more cheerfully than was perhaps appropriate for the situation. “We’re good at not-easy things.”

To this, the Knight-General gave a noncommittal grunt, which might perhaps have become a sentence, except that he was interrupted by the sounding of the alarm, and turned abruptly. Indeed, it appeared that the Darkspawn had chosen their time to attack, and it was now. Taking hammer in hand, the Templar looked back at the rest. “If you are to go, go now. One of my men is with another Warden. The Darkspawn are bound to sense her. Rescue them if you will; they will be of assistance.”

It was mere seconds before no-man’s-land was filled to the brim. Clearly, the Darkspawn intended this to be a rout, to drive away the last of the resistance. Those that remained were not inclined to take this lying down, of course, and the roar of battle was quite shortly the only thing he could hear. Delacroix’s hammer came down hard on a hurlock’s skull, crushing bone and brain like an overripe melon. Elsewhere, several ‘Spawn sensed the taint and let it lead them right to Mirabelle and Emilio, pleased by their own cleverness.

Things would be no easier for the newcomers, either. Like it or not, there was no time for splitting the non-Wardens away for stealth; the attack had not been heralded by any kind of warning at all. They’d have to fight free, and try to regroup before they could even think about making a run for the gate.


The Mission Briefings have been updated.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland

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How hadn't he known? It was a foolish thought. His father hadn't spoken to him in ages, let alone heard from him. Disparity clutched it's talons through his chest, fumbling blindly through his thoughts. Intrusively shoving his rationality off the ship's planks, willing it back into the calmed swirls of the ocean. It was surprising how much he felt while glancing out the circular window, watching nothing in particular. The infamous docks of Val Royeaux, usually saturated with laughter and hardy business and exotic wares glinting in the sunlight, were barren, so completely, and unusually, empty. There was something very wrong. Even as Solvej explained the situation, occasionally sweeping her fingertips across the expanse of the map, pointing out important locations, Rhapscallion couldn't help but feel a swelling pinch of regret. When the sporadic, unpredictable tempest swept across the ship, displaying familiar weather, there'd been a sense of breathless harmony. His homeland cherished it's flighty climates. Anything you could imagine, and there it was – a possibility in the making. Overhanging slate roofs, slick with dew. Little balconies with guardian statues sheltering it's masters. Exotic bamboo blinds fastened shut. If he closed his eyes tight enough, Rhapscallion could imagine the details, vividly, with pronounced designs. Everything within the borders of Val Royeaux was an intricate maze, a thoroughfare to getting anywhere quietly, without being noticed. It'd been a lively game in his childhood.

Lingering shapes of the homeless, of the poor and sickly, offered a small glimmer of ironic hope. If they hadn't been slaughtered, then who could say that everyone else further in had been? Darkspawn weren't usually so organized. They'd destroy, plunder, rip, and tear until there was nothing left standing. Perhaps, there was an inkling of hope that his father was among the survivors. Everything was deathly quiet. A smothering blanket of thick white fog, staining the buildings a pale silver, enveloped the docks. The streets were silent. He imagined the tendrils, or tentacles, of mist snatching forward and weaving intricate patterns around the hunched forms. Instead of gawking out the circular window, so small that he had to cup his hands at the sides of his head, Rhapscallion decided to focus on his companion's voices. His eyes followed Solvej's gloved fingertips, encircling the richer estates, the Chantry, and the nobleman's quarters. He didn't contribute to the conversation. He merely nodded his head like a jerky marionette with each interjection, clearly concentrating on calming his trembling fingers, and perhaps, as antsy to get off the ship as Kerin was. Once everything was properly decided, or as decided as they appeared to be, everyone seemed to be moving forward. The half-breed only had a quick moment to catch the Captain winking at Ethne, before he retreated ahead of them. He hadn't the heart to feel any green-eyed apprehension.

Templars. From the moment that pirate said this endeavour would involve Templars, she'd known it wasn't going to go well. She did not delude hersef into believing that she was infamous, exactly, but there was no mistaking that a full report of her less-than-cordial exit from the order had been made, and also that at least a few of the more fastidious Orlesians would have read it and probably known what to look for. She wore her black armor with more pride than she'd had then, these days, as if to remind the world that the worst of her sins were behind her,and she was not afraid to own up to them, to face the scorn and the thinly-veiled hostility she might encounter with straight spine and up-tilted chin. She had done wrong, yes, but so had they. None were so clean and crystalline and without stain as the Knight-General's armor would suggest, and she was never going to forget it. Well... her eyes flickered over Ethne and Rhapscallion, drilling into the backs of their heads for several seconds. Perhaps it was only that very few were without stain. Those two had surely done wrong at some point, but they seemed cleansed of it, somehow, in a way that only sort of made sense to her. It was almost unearthly, in the girl especially.

She met the old man's penetrating stare without fear, narrowing her eyelids so that barely a sliver of iron iris remained visible. He was a towering figure, no less imposing for his calm, and though she did not understand his words until he switched to speaking Ferelden, she understood his tone. He called her traitor, and Solvej's breath huffed from between slightly-parted lips in a scoff. She had killed Templars, but she still consideed herself no traitor, for they were no true Templars, if they chose to abuse their power and slay an innocent. The revelation that by such critera there were few true Templars indeed would have driven her from the Order eventually if her own actions had not done so first.

She was opening her mouth- to tell him he could try killing her if he liked- when the pirate's smooth tones broke in instead, and she had to admit that his way of doing things was smarter at the moment. She'd always known gilded tongues could get someone far, but she'd never had one, and she wondered, when she wasn't distracted by the presence of the Knight-General or the horrendous number of Darkspawn she could sense (and the insidious magic that surrounded them), where he'd managed to acquire his.

Templars had always unnerved him. Especially, those of the Orlesian persuasion. It might've stemmed from the childish image of clanking armour and pounding boots following him down cobblestone streets, sweeping him up by the collar to reprimand him for stealing a knuckle of bread. Their voices were always low, as if they were telling you a secret you wished you could plug your ears against. As if they were threatening to stick you with the pointy end of their swords or steal you away in the night and bring you to the Circle. In his child's eyes, Rhapscallion continued to see massive men with the ability to crush with those, equally, massive hands. Those types of irrational fears were placidly shoved into his front pockets, tempered and controlled by the feeling of the smooth rocks he'd gathered before boarding Rudhale's ship. It calmed him. He still fears his voice will come out an uneven mess of mumbles and half-words, so he remains quiet and doesn't respond when the Templar demands why they're here, in the flowery language of the Orlesian people. How surreal. His shoulders slouched forward. How strange. He'd one left Val Royeaux as a frightened young lad. Now, he'd returned as a Grey Warden, sworn to protect those who were plagued by Darkspawn. It was only when Delacroix's impudent voice hissed through his thoughts, snapping whatever gracious considerations he'd been having moment's ago, cleanly, succinctly terminated. A wanted criminal and a traitor to the Order, here to help me? And they let a mage speak for them?It was one of the same – this hatred, this unexplainable disgust he'd tasted before.

He'd wanted to tell the man to watch his tongue. He'd wanted to place a hand on Ethne's shoulder to remind her that Delacroix's prejudice belonged to him alone. He'd wanted to gather himself up and make him feel sorry for what he'd said, but then, Rhapscallion's silent little growl, growing into a wheezy snuffle, was properly extinguished when Rudhale stepped in to smooth the wrinkles out of the conversation. He'd wanted to shield his companions. He whispered a soft, barely audible: “Ungrateful shem.

The agreement, loosely construed, was perhaps cemented when the call of alarm went off, and the former Templar sighed, pulling her spear from her back and hefting it easily in one hand. The way Delacroix laid into the first fool 'Spawn that crossed his path was impressive, and she realized it would have been unwise to pick a fight. What was it about these situations that clouded her usually-precise judgement? Was it really just the hatred, buried deep and festering? Or was it also her protectiveness? She didn't bother ruminating too long on the topic, choosing the much simpler route of shoving her spear in the nearest sickly-pale genlock chest, and concentrating on her Taint-sense. "That way!" she called, pointing in what was surely the direction of the other Warden and whatever Templar was with them.

"Pirate, you're with me." She trusted Kerin and Dekton to frontline the defense, keeping the sweeping tide of 'Spawn away from the most vulnerable members of the group, but she was going to need assistance in carving their route to the rescue. He didn't look too much like the heavily-armored men around them, but something she could not name assured her that not all was as it appeared with him. Maybe it was just the fact that he confused the hell out of her, and that either meant something was fishy with him or she was stupid, and she didn't much like the second option. Strengthening her defenses, Solvej waded into the sea of Darkspawn.

"Am I, now?" the captain replied with a quirk of the lips. "Far be it from me to countermand the lady's wishes." Despite the jocular, vaguely-teasing nature of his tone, Rudhale's actions were all business, his asymmetric blades- a kilij and a peculiar device Anthea had told him was called a katar- sliding from their sheaths soundlessly as he followed the black-armored woman's tread. She had assumed correctly that he would not fall so easily as it might have seemed; one of his favourite pastimes on his ship was training his men, in the sense of letting large groups of them come at him at once. His much more level-headed companion had always berated him for the idiocy of this tendency, but it was bound to serve him well here.

They never had beaten him, after all.

Their attempt to get around the body of Darkspawn and flank did not go unnoticed, of course, and it wasn't long before the group was flooded with the rather unhygienic creatures, and something that might have been a dramatic sigh passed through his nose as three of them charged him. "Tsk tsk," he murmured, sidestepping one and bringing his kilij around to clothesline the rabid hurlock. The combined force of his muscle keeping the blade in place and the headlong charge of the creature may have jarred him a bit, but he twisted easily with the movement, and its head was quite nearly parted from its shoulders. Close enough to count, at any rate. One of the others, he tripped with a foot, sending it sprawling to the ground. Rolling his eyes, he stepped inside the guard of the third and punched, driving the triangular blade of the katar into its gut and twisting.

Removing the blade, he stepped firmly on the back of the downed 'Spawn with his left leg as it tried to right itself. "I don't envy the Wardens their boredom if this is what they deal with," he pronounced blandly, placing the tip of his longer blade against the back of the writhing beast's neck. A bit of pressure, and the job was done; apparently, they died much like men. He hoped he wouldn't dirty his clothing too much with this muck; he was rather fond of the shirt he was wearing. Stepping off the corpse, he took to humming a sea-shanty and looked to see where that charming lass with the temper had taken herself off to.

Was he... humming? Who did that, right smack in the middle of a life-or-death situation? "Do you take nothing seriously?" she asked, a faint edge to her tone of voice. She understood the value of humor, certainly, and often employed it herself, but there were certain boundaries that didn't seem to exist for him as they did more reasonable people. There was hardly time for a lengthy discussion on the matter, however, as there were plenty more Darkspawn to deal with. Approached by a mass of five, Solvej realized it was time for a little crowd-control.

Sweeping her spear in a wide horizontal arc, she tore it through varying levels of armor and flesh, though really the effect was mostly just to keep them at bay. It worked, but more foes were joining the struggle, and a scowl settled over her face. Drawing upon years of extensive training in discipline and mental fortitude, she felt the light gathering at blade-point before she saw it. Reversing the momentum of the weapon, she twisted her arm, pointing the head down, and plunged it into the ground. The shock wave that resulted was silent, blue-white energy rippling from the nexus point outward, setting a fair few of the 'Spawn aflame with spirit-based fire licking at their legs, their arms, their faces.

It was not, however, enough to stem the tide, as new bodies simply filled in the places where the old had been, stepping over their comrades without heed for the smited dead. She met the charge without hesitation, stabbing the front most in the chest and deflecting a knife-blow with her obsidian gauntlet. The rogue genlock followed up with a narrowly-managed slashing blow to her left thigh, which threw her off-balance, forcing her to stagger to regain control. Unfortunately, it also placed her in the unenviable position of "about to take a hammer blow from a hurlock Alpha," and she grit her teeth, trying with the same deliberate, quick-thinking control to get out of the way of what seemed an inexorable conclusion. At the very least, she knew how to move to mitigate the damage.

All around him was the stench of dried blood and corpses and whatever pungent aroma wafted from the Darkspawn. It was frightening mix, reminiscent of a sewer teeming with undead rats. Perhaps, it'd only erupted when several guardsman shouted and hollered and hooted. Those alarms were met with pallid creature's storming their way past the gates, shoving at each other with haphazardly formed shields and weapons. The sight hit him like a punch to the gut, knocking him askew for a moment. Careening away from Solvej's cocked arm, from Rudhale's assured footsteps. He didn't allow his footsteps to falter, instead using the momentum to throw himself into a diving roll, where he released his duel scimitar's from their scabbards in a clean, slicing sweep, straight across one of the creature's bulbous stomach. He ignored the squelching slap of intestines, sidestepping away and towards his companions, once more. Rhapscallion hadn't waited for any instruction. He didn't need any, though he'd spared a passing glance in Ethne's direction, clearly satisfied that Kerin and Suicide were with her, though she could very well take care of herself. His mouth tightened, before twitching into a small smile. "As long as you keep those creeping fingers away from her, Pirate-Prince.” Muffled footsteps, and the occasional kicked stone, were the only indications that Rhapscallion shadowed their movements, already camouflaged into the background.

He saw past the putrid stench assailing his nose, and mouth, past the shuddering and choking, past the sweat-soaked hair, to the haunted, energized, terrified glimmer deep within spectral blue eyes. Twin scimitar's moved in unison, extensions of his entire being. Spurts of blood indicated wounds inflicted by an unseen opponent, only appearing for a split second before filtering back against the stone walls and wooden buildings. He ran. He leaped. He appeared, he disappeared. But, Rhapscallion's was always watching. Specifically, Rudhale's nonchalant, breezy movements. It almost irked him how the Captain could so easily dismiss the Grey Warden's duties. How he could so easily dismiss what they stood for, what they fought for. His eyes steeled immediately, shooting repelling 'how-could-you' needles. “Saving lives' isn't boring.” He sputtered, parrying a wild club swing, then quickly reversing it so that the weapon clattered away from the creature's swollen fingers. His scimitar's flashed up, severing the arteries pulsing at the Darkspawn's thick, mottled neck. A snowflake landed on his nose, and he lifted his hand to rub it away – small, tiny snowflakes, that weren't actually snowflakes, at all. It was ash.

"Oh, is that what we're doing here?" The pirate drawled lazily in response. "I rather thought the point of this bit was taking lives."

Weren't they? Taking lives, that is. What did he consider these creatures? He didn't have time to respond. He wouldn't have known what to say, anyway. Like swarming beetles, the Darkspawn's numbers swelled and pressed forward like a flood. Familiar flames brightened the macabre backdrop, catching his peripherals like shiny pennies in the distance. The creatures seemed nonplussed by their fallen comrades, scrapping away burnt flesh with their clawed toes as they scrambled over the growing heap of curled bodies, still breathing, and bloody corpses. He'd seen the hurlock Alpha before it's grotesque arm cocked backwards, violently throwing back it's hammer, before attempting to jerk itself forward to try and squash Solvej beneath it's girth. Rhapscallion's mouth dried, dropping something heavy into his stomach – a smooth stone. He shouted something unintelligible, before throwing one of his scimitar's forward with all his strength. It whipped through the air, flipping in maddening circles, before embedding itself into the hurlock's exposed chest. The half-breed's balance toppled, rocketing him into another genlock. He managed to bring his scimitar up in time, blocking a clumsy blow with an equally clumsy defence. He wasn't quick enough, it seemed. The creature's slender dagger found it's mark, slipping through the tender flesh of his waist, before slipping out, just as quickly, as Rhapscallion jerked backwards, sucking in his stomach a few second's too late.

Rudhale was right behind him, having nearly lost a few hairs when one of the youth's swords went whizzing by. Shaking his head slightly, he grasped Rhapscallion's shoulder, making sure he wouldn't lose his feet even as he slid around him, kicking the still-advancing Darkspawn in the shin, then abruptly using the same foot to dislodge its (rather sloppy) grip on its dagger. "Amateurs." There was a small pause, and he looked back over his shoulder. "Not you, laddie." Truly, the 'Spawn were rather inelegant, he mused to himself, stepping into the disarmed one's personal space and acquainting it with the business end of his katar. It seemed that the only advantage they had was numbers.

Well, that and the ability to Taint their foes and make more Darkspawn. Picking up the dagger he'd just removed from the genlock's person, he examined it briefly and handed it to the injured Warden. There was little he could do to treat such wounds, especially now, but it would be remiss of him to let a comrade wander around less than fully-armed, anyway. "There you are. Do introduce yourself to Irony. She's a lovely friend to have." It was, after all, the dagger the young man had been stabbed with himself. Hearing something approach from behind, Rudhale swung around, just barely ducking away from the fireball launched in his direction by what appeared to be relatively massive for an emissary. An omega, then, quite the rare sight, if he was given to understand correctly.

"Why hello there, my good man. Quite enthused to begin, are we?" he quipped, but there was no mistaking the challenge in the words. The duellist had thrown his metaphorical gauntlet, and the emissary answered the gesture with several potshots from his staff. "Ah, ah, ah," the Captain admonished, faintly amused, dodging and weaving with surefooted steps. "You're going to have to put in some effort if you wish to kill yours truly." More importantly, those hits would be aimed only for him, leaving the lady and the laddie to keep on moving ahead through the less-dangerous rank-and-file 'Spawn.

The scimitar whizzing by bought Solvej precious time, and she used it well, managing to get her spear up and level with the alpha's chest, surging forward with as much strength as her wounded leg would allow. It was nothing compared to the pain of crushed bones, and it was not like she had to worry about Taint-infection of any kind. The bleeding was trivial enough for the time being, so the only legitimate problem this new wound presented was weakening her forward momentum. To compensate, she drew on her will to fortify her defences and turn the blades, so to speak, and her hands wrenched, twisting the solid Anderfellan steel in them about inside the alpha's chest cavity.

Glancing quickly behind her, she noted both that Rhapscallion was injured worse than she was and also that the pirate was apparently of the opinion that one-on-one combat with an omega was a smart idea. More the fool he, but if he thought he could handle it... Solvej spent a brief moment in deliberation, staving off another three Darkspawn in the process. The wind had shifted, carrying more snowy ash towards them, as well as the stench of burning bodies, both human and fell 'Spawn, and her lip curled in a minor show of disgust.

Like it or not, they had to get to that other Warden, the sooner the better. "Rhap! If you can still fight, get your ass back in my shadow and stay there until absolutely necessary. The more surprise we've got, the better!" She didn't say it, but that abdominal wound looked bad, and until the healer could have a look at it, she wanted him out of danger as much as possible. To be fair, what she suggested was also solid strategy. She could fight her way through by herself if she absolutely must, but it would be excellent planning to have a hidden knife if she got in over her head, just the same. There was also no telling what they'd encounter when they reached their comrade, and frankly they could not rely on the pirate to survive his battle, much less be of use when it was over, still less to be of direct help to them.

Hell was breaking loose on Val Royeaux's killing grounds, between the pressing buildings and the looming gates. Rhapscallion's entire world, including his spinning visibility, was pitching forward, then backwards, guided by a strong hand clapped across his shoulder. He caught snatches of men hollering, throwing their swords in the air like trophies before spurts of blood exploded from their lips, successfully silencing any words that might've struggled out. He couldn't save them. He could barely keep his feet under him. If it hadn't been for Rudhale's secure grip, then he might've fell flat on his face. In fact, the half-breed hadn't even realized it'd been Rudhale mitigating his balance until the pirate swept around him, gracefully, using his shoulder as some sort of leverage to debilitate the still-progressing Darkspawn. The creature's mouth pitched open, as if it couldn't believe the strange turn of events, as if it hadn't registered it's clumsy fall. This man certainly was something else. As quickly as he had frowned at the pirate's lascivious attitudes, he'd already remedied his misconceptions with a slathering of respect and saucer-eyed recognition. It reflected in his eyes when Rudhale glanced over his shoulder, promptly smoothing any of his ascertained ruffled feathers – not that he would've been offended at being called an amateur, anyway. What kind of fearless, experienced, knight hefted their swords through the air? Amateurs.

In the heat of battle, Rhapscallion swore that his heart would beat straight out of his chest and gallivant down one of the alleyways, convinced that better warriors, much more skilled individuals, would take his place. Perhaps, it'd been Solvej's chiding voice reminding him, whilst renewing his acuity, that certainly, any belonging to the Chevalier, did not think such thoughts. Perhaps, it'd been in the knowing twinkle in Rudhale's eyes. He readily accepted the dagger pressed into his hands, balancing it in his palm. Instead of murmuring soft words of gratefulness, Rhapscallion's mouth twisted into a smile, eyes dancing, and added as an afterthought: “Irony? I like that.” Which was strikingly close to saying you're alright, I trust you, I trust you, I do. His fingers closed around the dagger's hilt, still hot with his own blood. To understand irony, you needed to have a good sense of humour. Thankfully, Rhapscallion's whimsy kept him from slouching on the ground like a heaping sack of potatoes to lick at his wounds like a stricken hound. It would do no one any good, least of all himself. Something brightened the back of Rudhale's head, throwing leaping sparks up like a flickering candle, and he'd had enough time to spring away in the opposite direction.

His hood flashed up over his head, shadowing his flickering features. The ragged remnants of his dark cloak billowed behind him like wagging tails. When living on a knife edge, life would always be a balancing act, a constant battle to keep all bases covered, though Rhapscallion was never foolish enough not to rely on his companions. The upper portion of his armour, hardly covering anything beyond his shoulders and forearm, were already caked in blood and dirt and whatever grime spilled from the Darkspawn's putrid blood. He would not be affected by them, because he'd already willingly infected himself with their blood. Rudhale busied himself with the freakishly large Omega – the one who'd been hellbent on removing the pirate's head with a scorching-hot fireball. Somehow, cautioning him against creature's strong magical abilities seemed silly.

As if I would do anything else!” Rhapscallion cheerfully asserted, pressing his fingertips against his abdominal to stifle the bleeding. It wept through his fingers, stained his nails, and oozed between his knuckles. His familiar smile faded, flickered, then disappeared along with the rest of his body. It melted away against the backdrop of carnage. The only indications of his whereabouts were the flecks of blood spattering like spiderwebs, with each graceful footstep, weaving around human and Darkspawn corpses alike. He couldn't feel any intense pain. Honestly, he couldn't. An exhilarating rush shot through his veins, pumped his heart steadily, and exterminated his finger-quakes. It was his throat that felt strange, like sticking nettles, like tick-trails, or centipede stings. His exhaled, softly, then stepped in line with Solvej. She would know he was there. She always did.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro

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The Darkspawn were thinning out, now that the Templars and Chevaliers were getting their swords out of thier arses and into the battle properly. Lines were actually gaining some coherency and solidifying, presenting a plethora of nice, shiny targets for the Tainted bastards to take aim at. That didn't mean their problems were through, however, because she was sensing that there were a hell of a lot more where that other Warden was. Chances are, they'd been drawn that way like moths to a flame. Let nobody say that the ritual ingestion of Darkspawn blood wasn't a double-edged sword, one that would cut you down in the end.

Still, Solvej mused, swinging her spear in wide, bloody arcs, there was something to be said for delaying the inevitable, even if it was for thirty more years at the most. Thirty was more years than she'd yet lived, and when you considered how young people could die without that guarantee hanging over their heads, well... she probably wouldn't have liked being an old crone anyway. Dark red ichor spattered over her face, but she ignored it, smoothly turning another wide slash into a stab instead, hauling so that the impaled 'Spawn crashed into his nearest neighbor. She released, striking the stumbling one with the butt of the spear, a dangerous blunt weapon on its own. Its face obliged her by caving in, and the sardonic smile crept onto her face with customary ease.

Was it wrong, to be satisfied with a kill well-executed? Not if it was what got you through the battles.

Punctuated by the occasional flash of her more will-driven abilities and the sporadic flicker of Rhapscallion's appearance or cloud of smoke as he vanished, the two made a bloody parade in the direction of the other Warden and whatever Templar was unlucky enough to end up facing down a dozen or so 'Spawn with them. When she reached the spot, she was momentarily confused, and then heard a scuffle above. Ah, so they were on the roof. Solvej's weighted leather boots thudded steadily on the wood comprising the veranda of the house, and she flanked the incoming Darkspawn, body-checking one of them in order to rush up the stairs before it, trusting her friend to be hot on her heels. There was one more beast at the top of the stairs, and her spear eruped from its chest cavity as she stabbed into it from behind and below, on the stairs. Bracing her arms, she shoved forward, following the corpse up. It'd be a useful shield if anyone up there decided to shoot first and ask questions later.

As was expected, Rhapscallion dogged Solvej's heels at a respectable distance, occasionally swiping his blades forward, between Solvej's arms, legs, and over her shoulder, when the opportunity presented itself. He tarried a few steps behind her, always watchful for her sweeping spear. It would not do if he accidentally bumbled into her line of fire. His dual scimitar's infrequently blinked into sight, then disappeared just as quickly, before snapping forward and slicing through important tendons, meant to cripple. They'd prove to be short work against Solvej, as she gracefully whipped herself about, walloping her weapon in bloody circles, while Rhapscallion ducked between her wild attacks and pranced off to the side to further debilitate their enemies. They were getting closer. Once they'd reached the stairs, the half-breed huffed up beside Solvej, whilst cleaving passing ankles so that'd they howl, enraged, and tumble down across their neighbouring 'Spawn.

Speaking of which... "Oy up there! The cavalry's here, so try not to kill us, eh?" She alighted on the roof, kicking the corpse off her spear with a shove and whipping around to face front. "More Blighters on the way, of course." Backing up a few paces, she chanced a glance over her shoulder. The guy in Templar armor was an archer, and the woman (who must be the Warden) was hardly armored at all. That meant she got to play damage-sponge until this was all over. So be it.

Emil was too much worried about the Genlock in his face to notice the speartip bursting through the chest-cavity of the 'Spawn at the door. He thrust his sword into the beast and left it there, quickly realizing that there was now enough room to actually use the bow he prided himself on. He kicked away his new meat-sheath and took an arrow in his hand. He nocked and drew, aiming for the 'Spawn at the entrance. His tunnel vision hid the fact that the creature was already dead and was already pierced by something too late as the arrow flew into the creature's chest with a dull thunk. It was then he realized that something else was behind him... Something friendly.

"Of course," Mira echoed the spear-armed woman. "Give me a minute, will you? I'd like to get my knives back." She proceeded to poke about the bodies of the darkspawn, pulling a small knife or two from one here and there, sliding them back under her belt, onto an armband, onto a holder strapped about her thigh. The gore-covered spear-lady had hacked all the way to her, surely she and Emil would be able to hold them off while Mira collected her weapons. There were only so many to go around, after all, and efficiency was key. If she lost knives, she'd have to find or buy or make more, and that was a pain.

She'd actually made it through the fight so far with only minor injuries, mostly bruises and small cuts. Quick feet and quicker reflexes had done that, as well as a good amount of hiding behind the big Templar, and taking advantage of distracted darkspawn. She had no doubt that if she had taken any of them head-on, she wouldn't have been in nearly so good of shape.

"I'm Mirabelle Desmaris, but you can call me Mira, and this handsome fellow is Emilio Alessandro, but you can call him Emil. Oh, and I'm a Grey Warden, which is why all the darkspawn around here seem to think I insulted their mothers or something." She tiptoed through the bodies of the darkspawn they'd killed to the woman's side, her knife still in hand. "Thanks for the assist, by the way. Don't think I've seen you around. You new here? If so, welcome to beautiful Val Royeaux!"

"Always with the stupid jokes," Emil muttered, ripping off his helmet and braining a 'Spawn with it. The helmet would only be a hinderance in close-quarters with his bow, he'd need his peripherial vision in order to not get gutted from the side. He tossed the bloodied helm away, making a point of collect it later. He too had approached the spearwoman, though not for the mere warm and fuzzies another companion brought. Another body increased his own chances of surviving, and at the very least she'd be another layer between him and the pointy end of a blade. In the midst of the battle, Emil quickly sized the woman up under his dull stare. She had a Templar feel about her, yet she did not wear the standard Templar fair. No, she wore black mail and plate. Something bothered him about the woman but he couldn't quite place it.

Besides, there were things that were more bothersome than one woman who's appearence could very well decide whether they lived through the push, or end up as a fine meal for the heathen darkspawn bastards. He grimaced, "Do be more useful than this one," Emil stated flatly, jerking his head towards Mira. At very least, he prayed to the Maker that this one wouldn't surprise him by drawing all of the 'Spawn's ire on him and him alone. With that said, he grabbed an arrow and placed it between the eyes of an encroaching Darkspawn.

"Another Grey Warden?" Came a disconnected voice, seemingly coming from over Mirabelle's shoulder. Followed by a hazy flicker, barely registering as a person, until the billowing smoke sizzled around the weaving image and out stepped the lanky man, fingers still pressed against his bleeding abdomen. He smiled brightly, tossing his head like an agreeable mare. He pointed figuratively towards the heaps of fallen Darkspawn, waggling his fingers. “They just want love, is all. Don't seem to like us Warden's spanking them for misbehaving.” Rhapscallion made a point to inconspicuously look at his new companions – because, honestly, he'd already shuffled them into that tidy little category, filed neatly into the envelopes of childish reliance. The woman toting the daggers reminded him more of a travelling gypsy, full of song and dance, then any Grey Warden he'd come across. It was refreshing. If she came from Val Royeaux, then perhaps he'd known her? His memory was shoddy at best, but he believed he wouldn't forget a face once he'd seen it. On the other hand, the archer seemed dry-boned and humorless. Eventually, he'd have to coax a smile out of that one.

Mirabelle had jumped slightly at the appearance of another in their midst; she hadn't noticed him at all. She'd have to get a few pointers on hiding from him sometime. Once she got a look at him, however, she smiled right back. He instantly seemed much more her type than the two other brutes up here. And he was a Warden too! Excellent. "Yep! Fresh from Grey Warden academy, that's me. Drank the blood, had a lovely dream, the works. I got the pendant and everything." She gestured towards her necklace, the small vial of blood resting on her chest.

"By Andraste's bloody grace, Are all Wardens like this?" Emil pleaded to the Maker. If they are, then please strike me down now. If they were, he'd seriously have to rejudge his previous notions of respected warriors of stone-hard determination and grim stoicism. Right now, they seemed more like an order of mewing cats than a sacred order that held the doom of the world at bay. Emil couldn't nor wouldn't hide his disappointed sigh.

"Mm," Solvej hummed in the back of her throat, skewering a Darkspawn in the shouder and throwing it off the roof. "It's called gallows humor, Templar. It means that when we're done here, we'll all be able to laugh about it. Much more productive than praying about it, I assure you." Glancing over at the way they'd come, she could see Suicide, Kerin, Ethne, and the pirate advancing in their direction and smiled.

"Would you look at that? The gang's all here. Looks like it's about time to make for the gate and go kill us a nice, fat general. Whaddya say, kids? I'd understand if the big, bad Templar was too scared, of course."

"Kill the general? Do you really think your sorry rag-tag band of misfits can pull that off?" Emil asked as he followed her line of sight to couple of more combatants that decidely did not look like either Templar or Chevalier. Though one of the misfits had a.. Ethereal glow about her that just screamed mage. Emil grimaced in disgust, and not just because of the macabre way blood spewed from a Genlock's neck as an arrow struck an artery. So the once-templar had a mage in her company. How far had she had fallen if she had truly been a templar once? Yet now was not the time to have petty squabbles over idealogy, now was the time for action. "No one but the Lord-Seeker himself has entered the barrier, and that's been nearly a week ago. What chances do you believe your people have?" Emil asked with contempt. Did they really believe that their pitiful excuse for a team could do anything? It was suicide, plain and simple. Though, he would admit, they needed to do something and get off of the bloody house.

"Lead the way and see if we make it to the gate alive first," Emil said begrudgingly. With his sword sheathed in a 'Spawn elsewhere, he would be least effective on point, unless he began to use his bow as a club. He had way too many arrows for that to happen.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro

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At the word dress, Ethne huffed quietly, amusement flickering over her face in the form of a transient smile. She was still glowing faintly, and it made her feel so alive. Brave; fearless, even. Some part of her reminded her that such a feeling could be dangerous, but right now, she was a mountain (a small one, but still), and the Darkspawn were nothing but howling wind. "This," she pronounced clearly enough to be heard, "is no dress." She knew dresses a little too well- she'd been to court in Tevinter, wrapped up in layers of muslin and gossamer and corsets so tight it was hard to breathe, but the enchanted fabric of her robe was something different entirely. "And... you wouldn't be the first to stain it so." Perhaps something more than she should have said, but this feeling was loosening her tongue, and the magic was flying from her fingertips in a way it usually didn't unless she was ensconced in dream.

The comment did draw her attention for another reason, though. Whether Kerin had meant her own blood or not, she was quite heavily injured, and Dekton, stalwart as he was, wasn't much better off. She couldn't see Solvej or Scally, but she did occasionally glimpse the pirate out of the corner of her eye, flitting this way and that, scoring that large mage (was that what Dekton would look like as a Darkspawn? It was not a very nice thought) with dozens of riddling cuts. He really was some kind of long-limbed cat, toying with a bird that had claws. Still... she drew in another breath, harnessing the resplendent blue-white of Vitality's power and fanning it outwards to wash over her allies, closing wounds where she could, stemming bleeding where she couldn't. The spell cut off with a small gesture, and she quite nearly sighed with some of the relief her comrades should be feeling, as if the whole thing were on some strange feedback loop that she didn't quite understand.

Looking to the side, she noted that the 'Spawn were starting to veer away from the three of them to engage other, more promising targets, and the line of Chevaliers, less disconcerted to be working near so much magic than their Templar counterparts, which in turn freed them to pursue Solvej, Rhapscallion, and Rudhale, wiping up the Darkspawn they'd chosen to outrun rather than outfight in their mad dash to save a Warden. Not that Ethne had any problem with this at all- helping was rather the whole point of the endeavor, wasn't it? She was content to help in small ways alongside the big ones, and today, saving but one life would feel like quite the accomplishment.

They were rushed by a scattered group of genlocks and hurlocks that had managed to regroup behind the Orlesian line, and Ethne felt her palm grow chilly before she swept it out in front of her, freezing the incoming group to varying degrees. She was quick in moving in for the kill, too, swiping the bladed half of her staff to open a hurlock's chest cavity. The smell, more than anything, was what got to her. People didn't really bleed in the Fade the same way they did in life, and the thick, pungent odor of iron and Taint was almost enough to induce retching. Even so, she breathed through her nose, unwilling to risk consuming the blood by some unhappy mistake.

Kerin would not allow Twig-bean to surge ahead of her in battle. She had nothing against the mage, it was merely a matter of pride for the dwarf. She wouldn't be outdone by a woman who looked as if she could float away with a strong gust of wind. Though, the fact that Ethne was glowing... Did manage to raise an eyebrow from the dwarf. As a rule, dwarves were never a race for magic due to their proximity of Lyrium and natural resistance to the fade. They traded in their spirit for the hardiness of the Stone. However, being inept at magic as she was, Kerin still felt the tingle of the young woman's fade prowess. It almost impressed her. As it stood, all Kerin saw was a mage who was taking kills that could have been hers.

Not to be the one to be left out, Kerin charged ahead and shoulder checked the first 'Spawn she came to. Quite easily it shattered into a thousand icy pieces as Ethne had already frozen the beast in place. She would have to move further away from the Mage's icy reach if she was to find any sport in the battle. She would also make her presence known, "Fall! And feed the Stone with your taint!" she cried before throwing herself axe first into the next living Darkspawn. The axe bit deep into the Hurlock's abdomen, and as promised, and fell and bleed into the Stone underneath.

Seeing his two female counterparts launch themselves into the fray, taking advantage of frozen opponents. At the opportunity, Suicide took off into the air in the form of the raven, soaring over their heads, to the rear of the group they were tackling, shifting back to human form and landing behind them. His lust for violence was great, but not so great that he didn't have the sense to close his mouth. His fury came forth through the intensity in his eyes, rather than the booming of his voice.

The first hurlock he came upon was an archer, at the rear of the group. He swung the blade end of his staff with tremendous force into the creature's waist, the weapon cleaving the darkspawn clean in two, the separate parts splattering to the earth beside each other. Suicide was not bothered by the sight or smell of blood in the slightest, as was apparent when he went to work on the remainder of those between him and his companions. A second hurlock he grabbed by the back plate of his armor, throwing roughly to the ground, before smashing down vertically with the other end of the staff, the spiked mace, which crushed the creature's head with frightening ease.

He speared a genlock from behind, the blade bursting forth from its chest a good foot or so before the shapeshifter placed his foot against the darkspawn's back and kicked him off, casting Winter's Grasp upon the next hurlock, the slash of ice cleaving through armor and opening up its ribcage. In short time he reached them, the pincer attack having done its job well, and obliterating this group of enemies. "They've turned aside the flood," Suicide commented towards Ethne, pointing towards the Chevaliers and Templars, who had indeed managed to bring the fight to an even footing. "Where to next?"

"Isn't it obvious? Kerin posed, as she shouldered her greataxe. The light hit the grim weapon just so that the new layer of tainted ichor shimmered and danced. "Simple. We take the fight to Morpheus himself. We cut our way to the gate, we cut our way to him, we end this, and then we cut our way out. If all else fails, then we see how many of the bastards we can make die," Kerin said. Her stern tone and expression contrasted greatly with the eagerness that she fingered the haft of her axe. Though collected, there still hung an air of a beast begging to be let out of it's rusty cage about her. She had already tasted battle and nothing less than the complete devastation of their enemies would sooth the beast.

She tossed her head in Ethne's direction and regarded her under those steely gray eyes. "Am I wrong Twig-bean?" She asked, eyebrow raised. Of course she wasn't. When was the blood-letting of these foul beasts ever wrong?

Ethne wasn't sure she'd have put it that way if given the opportunity to use her own words, but the sentiment was more or less the same. "Well, actually, we'll be going by to rejoin Solvej and Scally, but yes, that is rather the plan." Perhaps she was still too wordy, but at least she wasn't stuttering anymore, not even when she braced her staff against the ground to trip a charging genlock, then whirled about and shot it with multiple bursts of magic. The motion dislodged several strands of hair into her face, and she exhaled in a huff to clear her vision. Maybe not too dignified either.

"If that's the plan, there's no time like the present," a new voice chimed in, and Ethne glanced to the side to see Rudhale approaching. Oddly, though his blades were positively steeped in Darkspawn blood, he seemed to be otherwise free of it, something that wasn't even exactly true of her anymore. She decided she probably didn't want to know, but since the massive magic-using 'Spawn was nowhere in the vicinity, it was probably dead.

Nodding, she took off, the path by now mostly clear. Where it wasn't, they were able to make quick work of whatever creatures remained, all the way up to the house where the four others were camped out. "Time to go, while the Templar line is still strong!" she called, skittering to the right as a corpse dropped from the roof, a telltale stab wound in its chest. Just as soon as the group had assembled again, they were off, and Ethne allowed much larger, more imposing bodies than hers form something of an inverted 'V' around the more vunerable or distance-oriented rogues and, well, herself, since the party's other mage didn't exactly qualify as "vulnerable."

This put her next to a slender woman she'd never met before, and even as she lobbed magical projectiles over the heads of her taller companions, she managed to speak. "Hello. Um, I suppose this is all a bit sudden to you... sorry about that." She made a face, scrunching up her nose a bit and frowning contemplatively, not really sure how much of an explanation she should or could give right at this moment.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro

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Rhapscallion's smile widened, then simmered slightly at it's edges. His own pendant, sloshing indefinitely with blood, swung around his neck like a pendulum, except it was a few shades more foreboding and slightly disturbing given the fact that the majority of his group had pitched forward like heavy sacks of potatoes. Frothing at the mouth like broken-bodied animals. His unconventional joining of the Grey Warden's had involved hiding in a great elm tree above a Darkspawn encampment, and being discovered by a baffled Commander Malik and an incredulous Solvej, who'd wryly suggested that such skills might be useful – the act of hiding from your enemies and remaining undetected whilst wrecking havoc. It brought back good memories. He bobbed his head, enthusiastically. “You've got some stories, I can tell.” He added as an afterthought, then grinned. “After this is all cleared up, you've got to share some with me.” Like moth wings fluttering peculiar patterns, Rhapscallion's eyes danced, flicking hopefully towards Mirabelle's companion to steal a glimpse of a smile. Fat chance. The man seemed completely rigid! And he wasn't very pleased with the turn of conversation, going as far as rolling his eyes up towards the skies as if the Maker would make sense of everything. He stepped forward, two steps to Solvej's right, past the tumbling Darkspawn, and slammed his own borrowed dagger through a bulging, red-rimmed eyeball, kicking the creature in the chest so that it'd slump forward and free the blade from it's gooey target. He turned towards Mirabelle, shrugging his shoulders and waggling his fingers inquiringly. "Is he always so gloomy?"

She simply shrugged. "Looks that way. You and I will have to fix that, won't we?"

With Solvej's next words, Rhapscallion's head whipped backwards like a dog who'd just been told it's caregivers had arrived at the door. If it was even possible, the half-breed's smile brightened, spreading through his eyes. He hopped towards them, stopped short, and swung back to look at the grimacing Templar. He blinked once, then twice, before tap-tap-tapping his index finger on his dimple, waving the proffered dagger a few inches from his eyelid. He didn't seem perturbed by it's proximity. “Negativity will age you, y'know?” He retracted his finger, and the dagger's glistening edge, before turning back towards his approaching companions, throwing out his arms wide. He decidedly tucked them back towards his body where they remained safe and unrequited. They were breaking through dark, double-blinds and they'd come through whole and alive, celebrating another victory and lives they'd managed to save. The sureness of this belief rocked his core. These alliances, as strange and unlikely as they stood, were important to him.

Somewhere in this whole mess, Mira had managed to figure out that all these random people were actually together, and were planning on getting through that barrier, and generally just doing good deeds and stuff on the other side. She wasn't exactly sure why she was following along, then. It seemed a hell of a lot safer to just hang back here with the burly men and women in loads of plate armor. Her former Warden companions had wanted to get through that barrier, too, and look where that got them... dead to the last man. These people weren't much more impressive, so she figured a similar fate awaited them, too. But... Andraste's perfectly shaped tits, she couldn't just leave them. As much as she wanted to save her own skin... well, she was a Grey Warden, and this kind of stuff was the price she had to pay for still being able to breathe.

She ended up alongside an adorable elf girl, though she was a little spattered with blood, casting spells at passing darkspawn, and the first thing she did was apologize. Mira herself was saving her knives, as if she used one at this point, she probably wouldn't have time to go retrieve it again. And besides, the others seemed to have things under control. She could always toss a stun vial if a troublesome hurlock got too close or something, and let one of the others finish it off.

"You know, I'm starting to get used to sudden," Mira commented to the elven girl, "since we're running towards the ugly black thing and not away from it, I'll just assume we're doing something really heroic and really stupid, and we could leave it at that. I'm Mira, by the way, Grey Warden, and the second most flexible girl in Val Royeaux, at your service."

Though she would be informed later by a snickering pirate captain that it had not been a particularly decorous question to ask, Ethne was rather quick to blurt the first thing that came to her. "Second-most flexible? Who is the most flexible, and how do you know?" The questions, though punctuated by a blast of chain lightning that sent three genlocks to their knees, was for all that asked with nothing but innocent curiosity. Whether Mira would have the chance to answer was debatable, however, as a cluster of Templars collapsed in on itself not far from their location, bringing the armored soldiers of the Maker low, and a good dozen Darkspawn left the finish to their allies and swarmed the motley collection of fighters headed for the gate.

The Darkspawn themselves were not particularly intelligent, mused Rudhale, but it seemed as though something in them was an animal sort of cunning, and that hive-mind of theirs must allow whatever strategist was pulling their strings to do so on short notice. He noticed that every once in a while, the group would be on the recieving end of a rather nasty sort of look, like the one Jack gave anyone who got too handsy with her. It managed to express the surprisingly-complex sentiment of 'I'm going to kill you in the most violent, painful way possible' with all the eloquence of silence. Fortunately, Delacroix appeared to have caught onto the fact that their endeavor yet stood a chance of success, for even as they advanced to the gates, the Orlesians made a corresponding surge, effectively preventing the body of the Horde from turning back to deal with the smaller incursion.

Let's hope the native lads last long enough to make a difference.

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Ethne turning towards the new Warden, which in itself was nothing he was too concerned with. As it happened, however, he had to rotate a bit more to meet the oncoming charge, having positioned himself not far from the tip of their little spear-formation, a space which was, perhaps fittingly, occupied by the lovely Solvej. This action enabled him to actually see the newcomer, and his brows ascended his forehead. "Well, well, well. Jack was ever so distraught when the updates stopped coming from her favorite brothel-girl contact. I don't suppose that was much by choice, now was it, Mira?" A hurlock charged for him then, and perhaps if he'd not learned to fight in close quarters long ago, he might have struggled with the notion of moving enough to be effective without shifting so much as to expose his less-armored comrades.

As it was, he stepped into the swing of a longsword and parried with his katar, using the opportunity to open the creature's chest with a broad slash from his kilij.

Solvej had stepped, unhesitating, to the front of their little formation. She would not have it said that, when things truly came about in such a way as to test their mettle and endurance, that she was anything less than poised to meet them. Pride might be her greatest vice, but it had its uses as well.

An arrow clanged off her helmet, causing her to see stars for several long moments, during which she was forced to close her eyes and rely on her other senses to keep her alive. The whistle of a blade through the air; the metal haft of her spear raised to meet it, and she lashed out with a swift kick in the direction of the assailiant, rewarded only slightly when she heard a scraping- steel greaves on stone- that meant she'd caused the other party to stagger backwards. Opening her eyes again, she used her blurry vision to judge the shot as well as she could, thrusting forward with the spear. It skittered on a chest plate, but sheer stubborn strength gave it enough momentum to slide to a softer point on the 'Spawn's body and sink in there. Not as deeply as she would have liked, so she twisted to compensate, opening a bloody gash that forced the thing to retreat, likely to be finished off by one of the group's ranged combatants.

The Darkspawn were renewing the charge, however, and she blinked the last spots from her vision, steeling herself against the onslaught to come. This bravery, they said, was something not taught but only learned, and she combined it with a taunt, planting the butt of her spear in the ground and reaching forward with one arm, palm up, then flexing her first two fingers forward, lupine smirk fimly in place, the universal gesture for 'come and get me.' It seemed to work, as the majority of the dozen made right for her. Shoring her defenses, she also engaged her ability to turn the blade, but with those three things going at once, the fight would be seeing no fancy tricks from her.

Her job simply became to juggle the Darkspawn about and endure everything they threw at her, hopefully with the chatty elf-girl's support, and let everyone else glory in the kills and the flash-bangs. A longsword glanced off her side, and Solvej growled under her breath, knocking back the offending genlock with a swipe of her weapon. One of her gauntlets met an incoming knife-slash, but she rotated her hand to grasp the rogue's forearm, using her abominal strength as well as that in her arms to pitch him towards Kerin, stumbling and all. "Incoming!" She didn't have the opportunity to see the dwarf's axe meet the unsuspecting 'Spawn, but she was sure it would be ugly, and conversely, damn beautiful.

Another charged her, and she managed to actually slay that one, finding the open space between his helmet and chestplate and finessing her blade into it. It cost her, though, and the next two genlocks managed to score her a pair of wounds, one on her left arm, just above the elbow, and another to her right hip. Her punch to the first reverberated against its shield, but she ignored the miss and flowed into the next thing, in this case a pommel strike to the cranium of the other one.

Not to be outdone, Kerin had Solvej's right flank, fighting step for step with the Warden- perhaps moreso considering the height, and therefore stride distance. Both to keep the formation and to give Solvej and herself enough room to flail their deadly weapons about, Kerin did allow herself to stay a couple of paces behind point, though not without a hint of jealously. Though she more than made up for it with an offering of flesh. Armor, flesh, shield, tainted steel, it mattered not to a Dwarf's axes in the throes of her rampage. Her axe sweeped in a Killer arc opposite to that of the pitch, and the effect of the combined momentum of both objects was grisly, if morbidly satisfying, as the darkspawn split in half before Kerin's axe. She really hoped someone seen that. Mainly her enemies.

Kerin bellowed a harsh cry at the onslaught of 'Spawn. A wordless challenge that dared her enemies to approach her with the promise of blood. A pair of 'Spawn that once had their attentions turned on the Spearwoman decided instead to take up the challenge issied forth by the dwarf. A choice that would soon to prove fatal. They rushed her, but Kerin was faster as she scythed ahead of the formation and cut through the challenged 'Spawn. However, the scythe alone did not kill these Hurlocks. It would take a bit more than that to topple these foes. Fair enough, as the stunt she pulled had put her past Solvej and ahead of the formation. By the time she finished her work though, the formation would bound to have caught up.

She turned just in time to catch a bloodied sword with the haft of her axe. Another Hurlock approached with a mace, so she locked the sword under the beard of her axe, and yanked towards the mace, and instead of blocking the blow with her axe, she instead used the sword arm of the Hurlock. A wet crunch and a pained howl was her just reward as she smiled a wild chesire grin. The sword, now free from the mangled limb, slipped from the axe beard, only to be grabbed by Kerin's off hand. Using the blunt face of her axe, she batted the mace carrying Hurlock away and returned the sword to it's original owner-- in it's belly. Now free of one nuisance, she spun on her heel and drilled the remaining Hurlock at the edge of her reach. Just in time as the formation caught up to her. As she ran she tossed back a rib directed at Twig-bean and Mira. "If you fought as good as you talked, then you may even could match me!" She cried, punctuated with manical laughter.

Even Emil had to crack a grin as he let loose another arrow.

Continuing with the theme of suddenness, Mira was struggling to keep up with everything that was going on. She'd been initally occupied by the elven girl's preciously innocent curiosity, but indeed she didn't have time to respond, as the darkspawn were pressing them hard. That was probably for the best, however, since it was a rather long, albeit interesting, story, and not one best told during a pitched battle.

But that didn't mean she didn't have the time to greet an old acquaintance, one who she'd not expected to see here, of all places. Then again, the unexpected was starting to become a normality for her. Mira's face lit up at the mention of Jack, and she found herself wondering where the pirate might be, since she was not at Rudhale's side. "We'll have to save the catching up for after the fight. Jack and I certainly have some missed appointments to catch up on. Unless we all die here, that is."

As if to stress the seriousness of the situation to her, a hurlock that the tough-as-nails spear woman up front hadn't managed to goad made a rush at her, one that she was rather unprepared. Mira had just been about to attempt running behind Rudhale when the hurlock rather abruptly turned to stone in mid lunge. A spiky ball on the end of a wicked-looking staff swung sideways into the hurlock's head, shattering it into quite a few pieces, and leaving the rest of the body to crumble apart. Mira looked to her newest rescuer, who just so happened to be a massive, bare-chested, savage looking individual with a look in his eyes that was more akin to an inferno than a fire.

"This is not," he said, driving the business end of his double business ended staff into a second darkspawn, "a good place," he ripped the blade free, before swinging it about in a graceful arc and slicing horizontally, sending the creature's head flipping away from its body, "... for talking." With that, he promptly turned into a giant bear before Mira's eyes, and charged off to crush a few of the darkspawn that were swarming the spear-lady. Mira looked to Rudhale. "Interesting company you keep nowadays. But I'd say he's right. Should probably get to work."

She followed in the shapeshifter's bloody wake, being quite overlooked in all the carnage, most of the spawn's attention being drawn by larger people and more obvious threats. Spear-lady in particular had goaded a bunch of them without any help from Mira's vials, and so she seemed a good person to work around. Mira was able to slip up behind more than one enemy, slitting a throat here, slicing an exposed hamstring there, protecting her ally's blind side, never getting too close to any enemy that looked her way. It was unfair fighting, and it was just the way Mira liked it.

"You bet your heathen asses he's right, now shut your mouths and get to work. All of you," he ordered. Despite loathing himself for even putting up with a heretical pirate, An airheaded Warden, a couple of mages, and a traitorious Templar, he was not stupid. These people posed perhaps the best chance they had available to end this nightmare. And if he could help put an end to it, he'd aid in whatever capacity he was able. He wouldn't like it, but it seemed as if the Maker wasn't in a bargaining mood. He had to take what ever little threads Andraste dangled for him. He just wished the threads weren't mage colored. The smell of magic coming off of them made his nose itch. Though he'd keep in mind not to tell the fellow who had just became a bear. Again, cynical, not stupid.

He drew his bow back far past the normal draw length and let the arrow fly. It whistled past Mira, the shapeshifter, and even the traitorious Templar as it Lanced through 'Spawn during it's entire journey. Some it killed, some it only maimed-- and he had enough sense to realize that this rag-tag band of warriors were either intelligent enough, or blood hungry enough, to not allow a wounded 'Spawn escape their ire. Live or die, Emil would fight his salty heart out, as he did in everything he did. Though, that did not stop him from hoping that a few members of their merry band wouldn't returned across the barrier.

“What sad lives you lead, if this is naught but work!” Rudhale replied easily, sweeping under a broad slash and countering on the rebound motion, taking a hurlock’s arm off at the elbow. Heedless of the gore that welled from the wound, the creature bellowed and went in for a shield bash, catching the fleet pirate in the shoulder. Mentally shrugging, he followed the movement, spinning to the side and allowing his momentum to carry his longblade forward.

The tainted one didn’t manage quite so well without a head.

Ethne was a little more chagrined, and obediently closed her mouth at once. A comment like Dekton’s was taken for what it as worth: the wisdom of someone who’d seen much more battle than she. It probably would have been sufficient on its own to remand her to silence, but if nothing else, Emil’s barked order guaranteed it, her acquiescence automatic and without pause. The realization of that fact lodged something uncomfortable in her chest, and had she the time, she would have wondered if she were truly free of her captivity at all. She knew she’d be avoiding the Templar for more than one reason if the choice was hers to make, but their predicament was bound to necessitate otherwise.

Gardens; gardens and friends and people she’d never met. That was what this was for, and endure it she must.

Darkspawn still clambered over corpses, building wreckage, and rolling barrels, alike. As if there wasn't a difference between the three. The dull thumps of lifeless bodies provided constant background noise, along with shouts of warning when an enemy came too close, and the accompaniment of wringing blades meeting metal and slipping through flesh. Gurgling screams of agony. He was relieved when he quickly whipped about, dancing as graceful as a wily gypsy, and noted that none of those cries belonged to his friends. What would've he done if they did? It was best not to think that way. As usual, Solvej dipped ahead of the group as if she were boulder whisking across a riverbed, protecting them all from flying projectiles and Darkspawn alike – a perfect hoodwink, a perfect diversion while they weaved around her and downed their own targets. The smell of burning and smoke and ash rippled through the air and crashed against them, carried along with the stench of unwashed bodies and Maker-knows-what-else the Darkspawn carried with them. Speckles of dirt and blood rained down on them with each splendid blade slicing through throats, or brutal axe swipes, or ferocious claws gripping and tearing. His own blades, not so balanced now that they weren't equally matched, slipped through openings and sent his targets tripping so that someone else could finish them off. He went along unnoticed, unseen – just another puff of smoke mingling with it's predecessors. His eyes could not close to these sights. “Here!” Rhapscallion's hunched shoulders pushed against his Mentor's back, rolling off with it's momentum, and succinctly moving Solvej so that she'd be in a better location, before hooking his blade against the first genlock's throat and brutally snapping it across the creature's upraised snout.

They were approaching the gate now, the portcullis relatively unguarded due to the tide of Darkspawn now swelling out into the open field. Still, their window of opportunity would be small, and they had to take it soon. For a moment, Ethne paused in her offense. As much as she wished to find herself as capable as the rest, there were other considerations to be made- like how they had no idea what they’d find behind that gate and needed every advantage they could take. Planting the blunt end of her staff in the ground, she activated a group heal with one hand and a heroic aura spell with the other even as the party passed beneath the gate. In the nick of time, too- the iron grate clanged shut behind them, barring the way out or in. There would be no more assistance from any of the Orlesians outside.

Oddly, there were few Darkspawn about, and those that still were fell beneath the group’s onslaught without difficulty. This, while perhaps fortunate, still left them with one rather glaring problem: the barrier. They drew up to it, the feelings of nausea and discomfort stirring now at twice their previous level. Anyone sensitive to magic would be experiencing at least some level of dizziness, and she was willing to bet that even the others would feel distinctly uncomfortable.

The bile rose at the back of her throat, and Ethne breathed only shallowly, fighting down the urge to vomit. She needed to understand what it was in order to have some inclination of how to break it down, and so she closed the last few feet between herself and the shimmering opacity, steeling her nerves as best she could and reaching outward. Her fingertips contacted the surface, producing white ripples in the image, but no give in its rigidity. She was less concerned with that than the fact that she was quite certain that she understood at least part of its nature.

“It’s… it’s like this is made of the Fade,” she pronounced, torn between awe and physical illness. Fade it may have been, but it was more twisted and corrupt than she’d ever known anything from there to be, demons included.

Beside her, the pirate rapped his knuckles on the surface and shrugged. “Well, that explains why they needed another wall. Can’t Templars and the like just tear right through this?” He shot an aside glance at Solvej and the sour one, raising a brow speculatively.

Ethne frowned. “Perhaps. This is… well, it’s a lot of Fade.” Rudhale was incredibly curious, but he knew the difference between occasions for scholarly discussions and occasions for action.

“Might as well give her a go, then. Perhaps if the two of you-“ he gestured broadly to the Templars in the group- “do that blue-glowy magic-cancellation not magic thing you can do, it will weaken for our favorite incredibly-tall shapeshifter and charming little miss to have a go at, hm?”

Ethne, too distracted to be embarrassed, nodded slowly. It was as good a plan as any she could think of, and she glanced over her shoulder at the three other necessary parties, hoping for the sake of expediency that they’d be willing to risk it. Solvej, the new Templar, and Dekton together would hopefully be sufficient for her to finish the job, but even then, this wasn’t going to be easy on her. There was a lot more involved than simply ‘having a go at it,’ but she wasn’t about to bring that up right now.

When the group came to a stop around the barrier, Solvej pulled off her winged helmet, deciding that no, right now the smell of blood trapped closer to her nose was not going to do her considerable intestinal fortitude any favors. She was trained to be sensitive to the workings of magic, but it had never affected her physically in quite this way before. Frankly, she would be perfectly content if it never did so again, and her lips turned down in a pronounced scowl. Running a hand through her hair, the Templar-Warden exhaled through her nose, watching the young woman carefully probe at the barrier.

Her conclusion was unexpected, but Sol could not claim that it was particularly surprising. Blighted Fade. There was no denying that magic was the root cause of most of her problems. It had been for the better part of her life, but all the same, she couldn't bring herself to resent that... much. The plan of action saw the woman leaning on her spear, her other hand on her hip, helmet tucked beneath her elbow. "Explains the gate closing. I doubt even this thing could stand up to all the Templars in Val Royeaux." She tilted her head to one side, eyes sliding over the darkened surface of the barrier. "All right. I'll give it a shot. The shiny bowman back there's gonna have to make his own decision though; I'm not sure it'll work the way we expect." The black-armored woman wasn't a scholar from habit, but she did know enough about magic to say that predicting it was kind of like trying to predict the weather- it only kind of worked sometimes.

Taking a couple of steps backwards, she squared her shoulders and fitted her helmet back over her head. No telling what they were about to face; best be prepared for the worst.

"It's not not magic pirate. We suppress it, then we kill it. Get it right before you find a new hole to breath out of," Emil snapped. Normally he would have accomplished this with a cold glare, but present circumstances were certainly not normal. The barrier felt like a physical manifestation of the fade and it was assaulting Emil's senses, making him feel more on edge than usual. Moments ago, where he smelled smoke, ash, and the death of battle, now he smelled nothing but the metallic scent of his own blood running freely from his nose. He wiped what he could with the underside of his gauntlet before grunting. It no doubt wouldn't let up until something was done about the barrier.

"Ah, so it's not not magic. Thank you for the clarification, though I must admit I'm surprised that you understand the similarity between what you 'suppress' and what you are," the pirate quipped offhandedly. He chose not to mention the man's bleeding nose as further evidence of a commonality between Templar and mage. He was probably pushing it as it was, and he had no desire to actually interrupt proper proceedings with a more physical confrontation when the enemy was not a Darkspawn.

There was that cold glare. He made no effort to put his irritation into words, only allowing his wild olive eyes to stare a hole into the pirate. While keeping his glare level on the pirate he continued, "And this shiny bowman has a name, Traitor," he said as he approached the barrier. As much as he hated to get closer to the twisted monument to the dangers of magic, he would not let the Black Templar do what was a true Templar's job. As he passed the mousey lady-elf mage, he tossed her his bow adding, "Try not to enchant it, mage." If he was to try and dispell this barrier he would need both hands. Ethne quite nearly fumbled the catch, but managed not to drop the surprisingly-heavy instrument of death, unsure as to how she was supposed to cast while holding it. Rudhale spared her the indignity by plucking it from her grip and slinging it over his shoulder.

"Feeling up to it?" He asked Solvej, "Or have you been away from the Order too long?"

The shapeshifter had heard the plan, what there was of it, but that was about it. As the others, including one of the newcomers, began to argue something, Suicide dropped to a knee, the world spinning about like it had the first night he'd drowned himself in mead at his clan's camp. He held up a hand as if to say "one moment", pounded the ground once with his fist, and proceeded to unload the contents of his stomach in one massive hurl. And, much like the first time he'd been swimming in alcohol, throwing up worked excellently. No doubt the barrier would have him puking more in a while, but for now, it was manageable. He stood, spit into the ground, before glancing to the others. "Better. Let's get on with this."

Mira hadn't been faring so well herself. Of all the group, she was perhaps the least built for situations like this, considering that even the elf girl seemed to have some experience in battle. Mira just knew how to kill things, not how to cleave through armies! She had already been a little woozy from the fighting, and this ugly stinky barrier wasn't helping. When the shapeshifter let it all go, she couldn't help but gag herself, a hand instinctively covering her mouth as she immediately turned away and crouched down. After carefully confirming that her single long braid of hair was not in danger, she spit the nasty taste out of her mouth, rubbing her stomach and breathing slowly through her nose to steady herself. "You guys... do your magic stuff. I'll... watch your backs."

"Smooth Buttercup..." Kerin said flatly. She out of all of her companions was the least affected by the barrier. She only experienced a mild discomfort, like an itch that couldn't quite be scratched. Chalk it up to natural dwarven hardiness, she looked no worse for wear than she had earlier. She stood with her arms crossed and looked as enthused as ever. A bored frown sat on her face as she spoke. "Do that for a couple of weeks straight on a rocking boat, then we'll have something to talk about."

Solvej had been about to reply to Emil's challenge when what she had long ago termed the 'barroom chorus' started playing, and she fought to stifle her snickers instead. Okay, so the fact that her team members were so badly-affected by the barrier wasn't really funny on its own, but there was just something about the whole situation that was starting to seem a little surreal. At least they weren't all dead yet, right? That damn well had to count for something.

When the putrid retching ceased and Kerin had indulged in her small revenge, the Black Templar glanced to her left and raised an eyebrow, lupine smirk firmly in place. "You know what they say," she replied lightly, "You can take the girl out of the categorically-oppressive patriarchal knight-Order, but..." she trailed off with a casual shrug, taking a deep breath and channelling her power through the haft of her spear, concentrating it at the business end and watching the blade light up like Andraste's Day magelights, before passing it through the air in a couple of test spins before directing the force at a point on the opaque surface she picked because Emil, Ethne, and Suicide would all be able to hit it as well.

The hit rebounded hard, but she struck again, unrelenting until the spear-light disappeared, and then stepped aside quickly to allow Emil to take over immediately, hoping that the barrier wasn't in some way self-repairing.

As Solvej channeled her power through her spear, Emil cupped his own hands in front of his chest, gathering his own power. Much like Solvej, his own power lit up the length of his arm. By the time he was up to belt the barrier with the power of a real Templar, his arms were shining a magnificent blue. With a sudden jerk, he took Solvej's spot and his hands flew out in front of him. Like a wave the powers of the Templar washed over the length of his arm and shot forward like a beam, striking the same spot that Solvej's power did. He kept the continous beam concentrated on the spot until he began to feel his own power wane, at which point he quickly ducked out of the way and let the next have his or her turn.

The first two blows to the barrier produced a slight thinning appearance, the opacity wavering until it was almost possible to see the buildings beyond, but not quite. As soon as Emil backed off, however, the obfuscation began to gain strength again. Clearly, it would take considerably more work before it came down. Ethne, watching with wide eyes for the right moment, knew it wouldn't break for her just yet, somniari or not. Her blue-green eyes swung to Dekton. "It just needs a bit more," she pointed out, swallowing somewhat thickly. She hoped. hoped that this was true.

The shapeshifter had widened his stance somewhat, dropping his staff to the ground in preparation for his own attack, which would not have nearly so much bright blue and white lights as the pair of Templars had produced. Suicide's approach was more primal. His eyes closed as his hands reached out before him. He really had no clue what it would take to bring down such a barrier, but he had also learned long ago that the forces of nature were something that should never be underestimated. With a low, growing, rumbling growl the shapeshifter used his powers to attempt ripping open the wall before them. The ground around him began to shake slightly, growing in strength. At first a few small rocks began to swirl about him, but then larger ones joined them, pieces of the earth beneath his feet ripping themselves free and creating something of a storm of rock about him. The ground at the base of the barrier cracked in places, the earth loosening at his command, and the occasional bolt of lightning struck the wall with vicious force from seemingly nowhere.

The barrier did not falter, but he was sure he was at least having some effect. A structure could not survive with its foundation utterly ruined, and Suicide was currently in the process of attacking the barrier's foundation, both in the physical world, and in the Fade. The act of combating the horrendously dark magic was making his stomach rumble in displeasure, but he pushed it aside, losing himself in the struggle. Sooner than he would have liked, however, his magical reserves were spent, and with a last roar he sent the storm of rock flying about him hurtling into the barrier. He grunted to Ethne to signal that he was through, and scooped up his staff once more, working to slow his breathing.

Ethne backed up somewhat when Dekton let loose, not particularly graceful and particularly unfond of the idea of tripping and falling flat on her face. It was almost funny, that even at a time like this, she was conscious of the fact that she didn't want to humiliate herself in front of such hypercompetent people. They weren't all skilled in the same way or with the same attitude, but there was no mistaking the prowess involved, as the swirling storm of rock and lightning was reminding her most effectively. Beneath the onslaught, the barrier wavered, each concussive hit producing white flashes upon its surface, rippling outwards and clashing with each other in tumultuous patterns. By the time the mage was done, it was indeed possible to see through the barrier somewhat, and what was there- or rather, what wasn't there, dropped a weight of doubt into Ethne's stomach.

There was simply nothing. Buildings and their edifices remained in place, but there were no Darkspawn, no people, no sounds, no signs of life whatsoever. Were they perhaps too late? There wasn't time to consider it properly; she had a job to do. It took considerably more effort than it should have to apprach what remained of the barrier, and it seemed now to almost be reacting to its damage, and she doubled over when another wave of nausea swept through her, dizzying her to her toes. Lurching forward, she caught herself on the dome, both hands pressed flat to the surface. This only made things worse, but it would be much more troublesome in the moments to come. Inhaling deeply through her nose, Ethne reached deeply into her wellspring of magical energy, drawing the stuff up through her arms and curling her thin fingers, letting the fingertips find what scant purchase they could on the slick surface. Closing her eyes, the little mage let the world grow silent, and slipped into the Fade.

The object- though it was also almost a presence- reacted violently, and she felt insidious magic trying to creep into her own body, as if to infect her with its darkness and malevolance. Though her physical form did not move, Fade-Ethne gasped, recoiling in shock and batting away several tangible tendrils of shadow as they made to latch onto her. One wrapped itself about her wrist and tugged, but her Fade-self blasted it away with a raw spell. Still, the force was persistent, and though such was not usually her wont, she found herself growing irritated. Several more tendrils wound about her wrists, and one ventured dangerously-close to her throat. Of this, her companions would only note a crease developing in her brow, and, perhaps if anyone was observing closely, her knuckles growing paler. The barrier itself was instead of a steady, even color, a swirling mass of smoke in glass, drifting and undulating by turns as if recting to something, which in fact it was.

Biting down on her tongue, Ethne tasted the coppery tang of blood in her mouth in both worlds, reminding her of a very important fact. She was of both, and this... thing, whatever it was, did not master either, not while she was here to stand against it. Her Fade self flared, disintegrating her bonds, and she went on the offensive, hurling as much magic as would answer the call of her will. For once, she didn't bother too much with aim or finesse, taking a leaf out of Dekton's or Kerin's book and attempting to win by simply brutalizing the opposition. This place answers to me, not you! It was an ingrained thing, an arrogance of a sort, perhaps, but here, if one didn't believe with certainty, one held no power, and powerless was something she had no wish to be any longer.

To the eyes of the group, a strange thing happened then. From the places her hands touched the barrier, there was a distinct sound- like a distant ringing, and white fissures formed in the surface, spreading slowly outwards and up, over and down, much like glass under too much pressure. With an exhale almost like a sigh, Ethne gave all she had, and all at once, the magic shattered, the shards disintegrating in midair, and all attendant feelings of illness or unease disappearing completely.

Smiling gently, she pulled herself back into reality, and her knees buckled, eyes rolling back in her head as unconsciousness claimed her. That wasn't so bad; she'd been worried the effort was going to kill her, and silently thanked the others for sparing her that much, at least.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro

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Death was a delicate dance, not to be disturbed, not to be clumsily performed. The calamity rose around him like the thick walls of smog crawling from the harbour, slowly blanketing the until they breathed it in through their flaring nostrils, through their pumping lungs, through the cavities in their chests. It was beautiful and intoxicating and dangerous. There were no comforting sounds of chirping cicadas, perched between drooping leaves and wheat-stems, seemingly calling to the Seeker as he rode from a distance, nor were there any merry trills or bird songs marking their heavy steps. Everything seemed heavier. Everything seemed much bigger, as well. Death was an unconventional departing of the soul. It whisked away through their guppy-fished mouths, hanging dreadfully slack, that'd been animated and screaming moments before they'd shivered to a slack-jawed halt, flitting desperately from in between the gaps of their teeth like open doorways. These noises, so ferociously ugly, so disturbingly inhumane, didn't unnerve him the way it had before. But, it still sent tremors of emotion coursing thickly through his veins and kept him from slipping his fingers, deftly plugging the sluggishly leaking wound at his abdomen, from falling away completely. He'd abandoned the use of both blades consecutively. His movements had grown less and less harmonized, diverging from their habitual rapport, so Rhapscallion decidedly tucked Rudhale's conferred dagger into the back of his leather boot and balanced his remaining shamshir in the palm of his hand, whilst keeping his fingers pressed against his gut-wound. His fingertips brushed along the slender cut, searching it's beginning and it's end, lipped cleanly apart. It didn't feel real.

The heaviness pressed inward as they approached the barrier, prodding it's intruding fingers across his mouth like a clamping hand and filling his ears with damp cotton. His stomach was already twisting into uncomfortable knots, threading nausea and unease through it's ilk like shlepping intestines. It wasn't unusual for the Fade to have this affect on people, else wise it wouldn't have been so feared. It made movement excruciatingly slow. It made your innards writhe like serpents, coiling around each other until you felt that you had spill pieces of yourself across the cobblestones or they wouldn't stop moving. It was a sickness, it was a disease, it was comfort being forcefully ripped from your breast. Goose pebbles and bumps shivered across his limbs as he trailed behind Solvej and the moody Templar, Emil. Tiny insects felt as if they were scrambling under his fingernails. Perhaps, laying eggs. Or, at the very least, creating an itch he couldn't possibly rid himself of. He watched as Ethne regarded the barrier, exchanging words with Rudhale and Emil. Strangely enough, Rhapscallion felt himself gravitating towards Rudhale, who shifted Emil's bow across his back, if not for the fact that he'd saved him from meeting an untimely death. His voice caught in his throat as if he were struggling through muck, fastidiously fastened in a net of sludge. His heels clicked backwards, before he found himself to Kerin's right. “Bet she misses you. 'Least the seas' a lot more pretty than this.”

Luminescent lights shivered down the expanse of the Templar's arms, and Solvej's spear, expanding outwards and glowing a brilliant blue – a pure colour, and beautiful, too. Had the Templar's ever stopped to admire their own handiwork? Not what they did while they overlooked mages, but what they created with their colours. With abilities that they so hated, and tried so desperately to subdue, in others. The not notmagic was magic, after all. His eyes reflected the beams of light, as well as the rebounding sparks snapping back from the impact: almost like fireworks. The shapeshifter's own sortilege was no more impressive then the Templar's, calling upon his raw energy while occasional streaks of lightning surged from the sky. Gusting rocks and pebbles swept around him as if he were a part of the wind, as if he were bending the climate to his will and lending them it's strength. These potentiality's were deep, ocean-bottom, crackling along like hairline fractures, because they moved through time and changed things that simply were. He could never completely understand how it worked, and he certainly couldn't try to explain it to someone else. In those spectacular moments, Rhapscallion wondered how someone could fear someone like Ethne. How they could be so unswayable. She was not most mages. She was not the ones he'd seen squirming in the alleyways, fighting a losing battle within their own flesh because they'd been treated badly. Because they were afraid of something, or everything. There was an untarnished, untouchable vibrancy behind those eyelashes, pinching her mouth into a smile that couldn't be slapped away. The kind of expression only available, only attainable, by dreamers and thinkers. She could laugh and love and cry and talk. Could Emil say the same?

He would never learn to never, ever, ever be afraid. It wasn't weakness, no; it was just human. So, even as Rhapscallion swayed behind his companions, watching idly as they worked their own sort of magic on the barrier, there wasn't any other place he'd rather be. If he was given the choice, then he would be standing exactly in the same spot. Inhabiting the same air they breathed. He knew, or he hoped, that they all felt the same. The Fade tingled reprehensibly on the back of his tongue, reminding him that even though he did not share the same aptitude as his friends, that he could still easily fall to the darker wiles if he wasn't careful. His attention snapped back to the shuddering barrier, careening into ripples that reminded him of a disturbed puddle. Then, it finally pulled back towards the ground like a great eyelid opening. If he squinted hard enough, then he could still see remnants of the barrier – so now, it was Ethne's turn to get rid of the damn thing. Rhapscallion blinked, peering around Mirabelle's slender shoulders before straightening his back with an audible: “Huh?” There were no screams, no Darkspawn scrambling over fallen corpses, no people scampering back into the shelter of their homes. It was eerie. Where had they all gone? Surely, if anything already happened, there'd be telltale signs. His stomach tightened. No longer were there fluttering butterflies of anxiety or the ever-present sensation of vomiting. Rhapscallion felt like he'd pitch forward if he didn't lean on his blade, pinching the bridge of his nose and closing his eyes so that he could recover. Soon enough, the wave of nausea subsided, and was replaced by a feeling of wrongness. As if the barrier were trying to divert them away. The half-breed's eyes went wide when Ethne rocked forward, steadying herself on the dome. He could do nothing for her now. Powerless to do anything but watch and glance worriedly in Solvej's direction: could very nearly hear his Mentor berating him for not believing in her.

There was a high-pitched ringing that hummed in the airwaves, like a distant vibration. His sensitive ears twitched. “D'you hear that?” He asked, rather to confirm that he was still sound of mind and not going insane. The half-breed stared up at the beginning of a white fissure, blossoming through the barrier's smooth surface. Those feelings of sickness and unease and wrongness suddenly disappeared when the magical barrier shattered, spattering glittering pieces over them. She would've found it beautiful. Rhapscallion's head slowly roved across his companions, landing once more on Ethne, only to see her knees buckling. Trembling under the effort to remain standing. The air vacated his lungs in one fell swoop. His instincts ignored the stinging pain roaring at such brusque movements, tearing his stippling fingertips away from his stomach. Rhapscallion dipped forward, quicker than he believed he could move in such a state, and threw his arms in front of him, catching hold of Ethne's shoulder so that he could pull her into his chest and keep her from slumping unceremoniously on the ground. His pain is insignificant. And thank the Maker. He hadn't known why, but he'd been afraid she was more than unconscious. Her chest still rose, slowly. Her heart still beat; four quick pulses of his for every one of her slow, calm pulses. Blessedly cool arms began picking her up, gently, as if she were fragile. A little porcelain doll who'd given her all to see them through this particular obstacle. His smile was strained, but genuine: and proud.

“L-Let's finish this, shall we?”

They were an interesting study in contrast. If Solvej had had the right words to speak of art the way it deserved, she might have even used them here. She might have pointed out that they, the Templars, were precision and technical skill, finely-sketched details and realism painted on a canvas so lifelike it was almost hard to distinguish it from the real thing. Emil was apt, there was no denying that. She could feel it, she could see it, and she'd never been one to just throw away the evidence and hold her prejudices close to her chest for succor. That was weakness in its most insidious form, for it often masqueraded as strength, of a sort. Conviction, they called it, as though turning your face to the sky and begging some merciless god to save you was more courageous than forcing your own way through whatever blocked your passage.

Suicide was another thing entirely. Broad strokes of color, dashed vibrancy and raw force. She was struck by it, but of course the barrier had the most literal end of that particular thought. The earth rumbled beneath her feet, and she took a half-step back, steadying herself, though her gaze never did leave the darkly-opalescent obstruction. Did he see it as blocking that path of his, she wondered? To be willing to give so much to see it cleared, well... perhaps they were not so different, despite the obvious things that spoke otherwise.

The magelet's art was more subtle, like a tune hummed so low it was almost subliminal. She simply walked up to the barrier and touched it, and the only thing to betray the sheer complexity beneath that action was the occasional echo, flickering across her face oh-so-faintly. Solvej could feel the Fade shifting, though she knew not what was happening, exactly. Was there a war being fought in a dream? Even that was more real than things she'd placed faith in before. That girl... she was so breakable-looking, and yet when all was said and done, the hairline fractures spiderwebbed not from her skin or bones, but from what had, moments before, seemed so much more solid than any one of them. From the others, she expected steel, and recieved it in spades. And yet it's the glass that does the trick.

Not without price, it seemed, and though she moved forward to catch the small elf, she was beaten by her own trainee, who, heedless of his own injury, planted himself in their guide's way, blocking her decent to the ground with uncommon tenderness. Solvej snorted, but there was no mistaking the quirk of her lips and the glint in her eye: she was smiling to see it. Still, there was work to be done, and though there were no Darkspawn immediately about, she could sense one, powerfully enough to clench her free hand into a fist at her side. She'd known the archdemon in her nightmares, but this wasn't like that feeling at all. She could almost taste the Taint on the back of her tongue, like she had done the day she drank the blood, and the fleeting grin vanished like so little smoke in the wind.

Nodding, she pointed. "It's in the Chantry." What had the girl said it was called? Ah, yes. "Morpheus." Gripping her spear tightly, the Warden proceeded forward, setting a moderate pace, but not so fast that they could be flanked without awareness of it. She couldn't sense any other 'Spawn, but that one was so overwhelming that she didn't trust herself not to miss an ordinary specimen, and they could kill you just as dead. Sparing Rhapscallion a grey-eyed glance, she shrugged. "Look after her, and stay towards the middle... ser." Her light jab was accompanied by a wink, but she was already ahead, not inclined to waste time waiting for him to respond. The half-breed followed his Mentor at a longer distance than he was used to, lips struggling to subdue his goofy grin. He obediently remained in the centre of the group, relying on his companions to fill in the gaps. It would not do him no good to dive headlong into combat holding one of his companions, and bleeding all over the place.

The pirate’s hands didn’t leave his sheathed weapons for the entire walk, except to return Emil’s bow to him. He was no Warden, with Darkspawn-senses to tell him when the brutes were near, and he would have no trouble admitting that he was just as susceptible to the Taint as the next fellow, but there was no denying that even to him, something was fundamentally wrong here. “Never thought I’d see the day when I’d rather a horde than none,” he said, quietly enough not to really break the odd atmosphere that had settled over the group.

Nonetheless, he was not afraid. Uneasiness was a kind of instinct, and one that had served him well- the fact of the matter was that the wary tended to live longer lives than the naïve. For all that, though, fear was a paralysis, and he generally preferred not to give into it. After the fashion of some of his companions, he flicked his eyes this way and that, never resting on any one spot for too long, straining his ears for the faintest hint of scuffing footsteps that did not belong to any of the people around him.

And yet, there was nothing. As they approached the Chantry, a building grand in architecture and undoubtedly as shiny as it was on the day the Darkspawn invaded (which was in itself interesting), something twinged in the back of his mind, and his muscles relaxed slightly, some of the tension bleeding from his posture. Hold on, that’s not-

But before his thought could even wholly constitute itself, the door to the Chantry swung inward, and they were quite nearly compelled to step inside. His feet moving of their own volition, Rudhale felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up, but try as he might, he could not will himself to draw a weapon, much less open his mouth for some doubtlessly-witty quip about bad feelings and how they tended to lead to trouble. Instead, he and the rest continued, and his eyes went wide as he observed the other people about them: Chantry brothers and sisters, citizens of all kinds, and a large portion of what he supposed was the noble population of Orlias, were strewn about the floor, unmoving. From this distance, it was hard to tell, but they bore no visible wounds and he did not think they were dead.

The sound of the door falling shut behind them echoed in the silence, but even the boom of the grand portcullis drew not one stirring from any of those present. He expressions on the faces of the prone seemed to range from rapt bliss to tortured horror, but for the life of him he couldn’t decide why. The pirate’s eyes were at last drawn towards the center of the room. Atop a massive staircase sat the throne of the Divine, but the woman herself (or at least someone wearing the appropriate raiment) was cast to the ground in front of it, just as still as everyone else. Instead, sitting like a cormorant atop some unreachable cliff, was what he guessed must be Morpheus. Sharp eyes would be able to discern something amorphous in the Darkspawn’s shadow, but the cloud that had descended over his perception did not allow him to dwell upon it.

The Darkspawn general was nothing like he’d expected. Indeed, the creature more resembled the illustrations of arcane horrors and certain types of demon, though perhaps it could be an emissary of some sort. Unlike the usual sickly white of the creatures, this one was ash-grey in tone, though he seemed almost to fade at the edges blurring into his surroundings as though her were not fully constituted. For al that, he looked more… human than most of his kind, and though there were spots here and there where the corruption of the Taint was obvious blemish on his skin, he appeared otherwise to be a very thin old man, dressed in the style of the Ancients. Nowhere was his otherworldliness more evident than at the foot of his throne, where his own feet seemed to disintegrate into a curling cloud of ash and fog.

Welcome. The word echoed not in physical space, but in Rudhale’s mind, and he supposed that the others must be hearing it too, because at that moment, Ethne gasped awake in the laddie’s arms, eyes wide and fingers clutching desperately at the young man’s shoulders. She appeared to be in a state of panic, turning back to look over her shoulder at Morpheus with the gaze of a cornered rabbit.

“Don’t listen! He’s-” her words were cut off by a lazy gesture from Morpheus, and out of the ‘Spawn’s shadow stepped a man. Rudhale recognized him immediately; Lord Christophe Du Lac was not a person one easily forgot.

“That’s the one.” was all he said, and there was a tremor from beneath the ground as Morpheus rose to his feet. The stone floor just to Rudhale’s right erupted, a jagged blue crystal emerging from it. Ethne, whatever the reason, jumped from Rhapscallion’s hold, pushing him backwards even as the stone was joined by others, surrounding her and molding over her until she was encased in what appeared to be a pyramid-shaped prison. The pirate reacted immediately, at last able to draw his saber, but his inclination to attack as immediately overridden by that voice.

Sleep.

And so they did, joining the native Orlesians on the ground beneath, unmoving, unseeing, and breathing only shallowly.



Ethne watched them fall, fists pounding uselessly on the lyrium prison in which she’d been encased. Her first thought had been the obvious one: to follow them into the Fade and help them out of it. But, trapped as she was, she could do no such thing, and she realized with a sinking feeling that they were on their own for now. Looking up, she realized Morpheus had disappeared, leaving only the other man behind. He was looking in her direction, and she had the distinctly-uncomfortable feeling that she was being measured. There was something so unspeakably cold about him that she shivered reflexively, sinking back against the opposite side of the pyramid when he approached.

“So, you’re the somniari, then.” he mused, and maybe it was just her, but his voice carried an underlying tone of authority so convincing it was dangerous. She nodded mutely.

“You’ll have to forgive me for that, but one does not win a game of chess without sacrificing a few pieces. Sometimes, even a bishop or a queen must go. I’m sure you understand.” She didn’t, and he must have read it on her face, for he smiled coldly. “But even pawns have their uses, don’t you think? Be patient, and we’ll see what happens.”

She swallowed, unable to move much at all until he tore his eyes away and strode off, leaving her to sink to the bottom of her prison and stare forlornly at the motionless forms of her companions.



For them, the ordeal was of another kind entirely. Each had their weaknesses, and Morpheus had read them like so many books, weaving effortlessly a dream of such reality perhaps even the somniari would have had difficulty telling them apart. Every time one tried to think beyond what they could see and feel, they almost immediately lost the inclination to do so, and in the end perhaps reality and dream were not so different after all.

Morpheus languished disinterestedly, head propped on one translucent hand, watching. These ones were special, he understood, and for them he had lovingly crafted prisons of their own making, left to his hands. The Seeker found himself back in his forest, his lovely betrothed at his side, blessedly free of the one problem that had plagued him most for the last number of years, and unaware that the lovely woman beside him was dead beyond all saving. Merry music filtered in on the playful breeze, rustling the leaves, and it was perhaps time for a hunt, though only if the mood took them.

For the barbarian, he’d elected to force complacency; the mages prison was a fathomless vista of stark whiteness in which no other being dwelled. There was no road to follow, no end to seek, and nothing whasoever to accomplish. The newly-minted Warden was back in her brothel- no memories of Darkspawn or terror or the raw knowledge of dead comrades to trouble her.

The dwarf was so simple he’d almost laughed. It was no great difficulty to create an Orzammar without caste, to resurrect her dead brother and place him once again at her side, and allow her he freedom to be whatever she would in this world of hers. He’d always had a particular revulsion for Templars, and so the bowman received a ship, tossed about in a storm as its crewmen fell overboard, one by one. As soon as he tried to act, however, the man found that his hands were tremulous, his vision blurry, his whole being in need of lyrium that he could not procure. And for all he knew, that was everything his entire life had ever been.

The first thing the half-breed Warden would notice would be the smell. In the darkness, it would smell of leather and horses, overlaid with a faint tinge of coppery blood. His eyes would yield him nothing, but his ears, well, he’d wish he had none. He would hear them, his friends, calling for his help, their rescue at his hands, and yet he’d be unable to move, trapped in his own fear, laid low by the baritone rumbles of his father’s voice, repeating over and over the things he’d already heard. It was so much simpler when the lie could be built on so much truth. The pirate king would be nothing of his own make any longer, exactly the fool he pretended to be. The bodies of his crew lie strewn about him, his own hands chained in his family’s dungeon. The words of that foul Chant repeat themselves over and over, and a mechanical voice- a woman’s voice, without feeling or emotion to it at all, asking him just who he was, really.

The Black Templar was just a girl. A weak, untrained little girl, watching a grotesque scene play over and over. A line of mages were marched into a room, condemned to Tranquility. All struggle against their bonds save one: a young man, fair-haired and unseeing. His mouth alone slowly quirks upwards, as though he has reached peace, but he does not see the other preparing to attack. It is a bloodbath, again, and again, and again, and she can do nothing to stop it.

They really were quite curious, these damaged people. He would gain much from their joy and their torment, amusement most of all.


The Mission Briefings have been updated.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro

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Emil took his bow from the ruddy pirate and examined it for nicks of abrasions. There was no telling where the pirate had been or how he might have contaminated his weapon. Satisfied that the pirate didn’t infect it or lick it, or whatever pirates do these days, he quickened his step and walked beside Solvej towards the Chantry. She shouldn’t be the first to step into such a holy place, she gave up the Maker the day she chose to abandon the order. She had no right to even be near the place, though considering present circumstances, one rogue Templar was favorable over a damned darkspawn. During the journey, Emil said not one word to the Templar at his side, and likewise, the graced him with the same politeness. Kerin herself traveled slightly behind the two parading Templars, closer to Rhapscallion and Ethne themselves. As they walked, Kerin wore the same bored expression as she had when the first arrived to the barrier. What was there to be excited about? The fight was behind and in front of them, what use was worry? They either died or survived. Despair did not register as it normally had. She was solid, placcid, just like the stones under her feet.

Before long, the group entered the Chantry—not so much by choice, but by some foul beckoning. Kerin hated the feeling with a passion, it made her feel like her body was not her own, when it damn well was. Emil suddenly felt cold, and another drop of blood fell from his nose. Neither dwarf nor Templar enjoyed this feeling. As they entered, they were greeted by Morpheus on top of his throne. Emil’s eyes widened in anger as he saw the divine laying limply on the floor. He wanted to shout at the beast who cast her aside, yet the words were caught in his throat, unforthcoming. Kerin, as always, took all this in as impassively as she always had. Then a man walked out from the shadows, one Emil knew. Finally, his words found footing and he yelled, “Lord-Seeker!” before falling silent and asleep. The last of his thoughts was anger at the man for allowing the Divine to be treated as so and for allowing the holy place to come to such. He fell forward, on his face, asleep before he hit the ground.

Kerin however, was more of a fighter than that. She forced her eyes open with defiance, she would not bow to this monster wills. Though she fell to her knees, she would not heed a foolish command such as sleep. She would fight him with all she had. But it was so hard. The embrace of sleep was so promising. So relieving. The last thing she saw before she fell to the ground was Ethne in her crystal prison. She looked at the elf girl in the eyes, her steel, unmoving eyes singing defiance all the way… All the way to the floor beneath.




Emil clutched helplessly to the railing of the Black Raven to help keep him from falling over from both the force of the storm and from the massive withdrawal symptons he was experiencing. The boat tumbled up and down, around and around while lightning danced in the air above him, thunder drummed in his ears, and rain pelted them like an angry God. The worse sound however, was not the thunder, nor the constant rythym of rain. No the worse sound was the cries of men and women he had known for his entire life fall overboard into the deadly currents below. It was all Emil could do to just keep a grip upon the railing and not joining his crewmates overboard.

It haunted him. He felt weak, he felt useless, and he felt angry. Anger at himself and anger at the Maker. He reared his head back and howled a wordless shout into the black abyss above before sinking down low against the railing again as the mere act of yelling sapped his strength. He had to do something, but even if the storm wasn't beating his ship, the withdrawal symptons would still send it spinning. What else could he do but sit there. Sit there and watch as his crewmates died in front of him and the storm tore at the ship. A vague sense of deja vu came over him... It was almost like his life was flashing before his eyes, but no. This storm would not take him, nor would it take the ship while he still breathed. The Black Raven had been his home for far too long for him to see it dashed in front of his eyes. He began to crawl, hands still wrapped around the railing, as he tried to make his way to the lines keeping the mast upright.

It proved to be a futile attempt, as just as he arrived, the lines snapped, sending a dangerous whip of rope into the throat of one of his friends. He.. Or she, Emil couldn't tell, dropped and the lifeless body slid across the deck and into the ocean below. Emil couldn't help but look away and curse himself and the Maker. What had possessed them to sail into the storm anyway? What were they doing out in this hell? What was the captain thinking!?

At a true physical proximity of no more than a hundred feet, Morpheus on his throne shifted his gaze to the silver-armored Templar on the floor, his lips twisting into a sadistic smile. The faithful were always the most fun to toy with, for the similarity between himself and the being they called their Maker was much more impressive than most of them would ever realize. In fact, if he twisted things around just so, there might be no discernible difference whatsoever. For now, though, it would be interesting enough to see what the once-pirate made of a little more interference.

Inside Emil's dream, the boat lurched, plunging into a wave with little grace. The captain of the boat held on at the tiller, barely keeping his feet as the ocean-water washed over him. There was little that could be done, of course; the sails had already been lowered, the lines already cut free or snapped from the force of the wind. There was little to do but ride it out. Looking back, the man saw what few of his crew remained working tirelessly to keep the boat from taking on more water. As lightning split the sky, illuminating the upper deck for only a moment, he caught sight of one who could barely hold on. "Emilio!" the man shouted, booming voice audible even over the din. In this reality, this man knew of his crewman's addiction, knew what it was costing him to remain here, abovedecks. They had been like family for the longest time, and perhaps because of this, the man did not hesitate, roping in his second mate with one whipcord-strong arm and pushing the man to the tiller.

He himself was going to see that boy below the deck and safe, no matter what it cost him. Gripping the starboard-side rail, the captain sloshed his waterlogged way down the stairs from the helm to the main deck, walking steadily, pulling himself arm-over-arm by the rail when the slick planks of wood gave his feet no purchase. Water dripped from everything, intermingling with that which lashed their faces and their arms with whip-force, the storm's rage not abating but swelling until it seemed that the sea was determined to swallow them whole and never relinquish them. There had been little sign of the oncoming typhoon earlier in the day, and such was not the time of year for it. Rather, it had seemed a cruel act of the Maker, almost as though he'd singled out the men and women aboard here for a punishment none of them could understand.

Reaching his youthful crewman at last, that captain grasped one of the lookout's arms and kept right on moving. "We have to get you below deck; you're useless in this state!"

"Who's useless! Emil cried, though it was an answer he already knew. He tried to find his feet once more, and again it proved to be a futile attempt. Still the fact that he could not at least stand on his own feet hurt his pride, and the fact that he could do nothing to save the rest of the crew weighed heavily on his soul. Each life lost to the sea added it's weight to his shoulders. He felt like he should do something for them instead of kneeling uselessly on deck. He growled as the Captain herded him towards the door leading below deck. No matter how much he willed it, he could not beat his afflictions, not now, not in the middle of a storm. Where did this sudden onset of his symptoms come from though? He did not think he had addictions on the seas... What happened to him?

There was no time to ponder that quandry as he allowed himself to be dragged along behind the Captain. He was right, he was no use on deck. Even being led by the arm, things did not stabalize for Emil. If the storm tossed the boat around like a toy, then the effects of his symptoms made it ten times worse. He couldn't tell which way was up, down, left, or right. Rain felt like it was pelting him everywhere, and the gnashing winds buffeted from all directions. This was truly Emil's hell. If there had been a demon wondering about, his sanity might had snapped in twain. Demons? Why was he worried about demons at a time like this? The only demon he had to worry about was the one spitting rain and wind at them.

The going was slow for Emil and his Captain. The man had to fight for every inch they gained. But they were moving steadily towards the door and Emil's salvation. His thoughts had shifted from helping his crew to just getting below deck and getting out of everyone's way. Maybe escaping the rain would allow him to better fight his own personal demons. However, Fate decided to intervene as it always does. A combination of a hard gale and the ship's bow crashing against the wave jarred all those on deck. A crack of thunder accompanyed what happened next. As the shipped rocked hard enough to cause the mast to crack, the man grabbing Emil found himself overboard, still clutching onto Emil's arm for his dear life.

A roar of pain escaped Emil's throat as he found his arm holding the entire weight of his captain. He quickly reached over with her other hand and grabbed the man by the collar. He would not give the sea this man. This man was as close to a father as Emil had ever known, he wasn't going to lose him without a fight. All evidence of his withdrawals vanished in that instant as addreline surged throughout his body and the only thought on his mind was that of saving this man's life and reeling him back on deck. He felt himself begin to slide forward on the railing as the weight of the Captain's was more than that of Emil's. Something that the Captain apparently knew. If something didn't give, they both would be in the sea before long. So, with one last smile, the Captain let of of Emil and fell into the water.

The relief was instant, but the pain was immense. Emil sunk back on deck, mind thoroughly destroyed. He had yet to give into despair up until that point, but that single action, that single loss pushed him pass the event horizon. Now, he felt truly lost. Dizziness, nausea, pain, despair, they all assaulted Emil as the rain hammered and the wind's bit. With one last ounce of strength, he reared his head back and yelled his pleas into the black heaven's above.

"Maker! Andraste! Please! Save us!" and for once in a long, long while, pain was clear in his voice.

As if in answer, a great boom of thunder rumbled deafeningly through the air, followed by streaking fingers of forked lightining. Any sailor worth his salt could tell you that those two things usually happened in reverse order, but perhaps none of them were paying enough attention, with the storm directly overhead as it was. Several more spilled over the side, leaving only abot five men remaining, including Emil. Like him, those others were by this point simply holding on for dear life, trying not to get pitched to their deaths in the dark water below. "Here lies the abyss, the well of all souls. From these emerald waters doth life begin anew. Come to me, child, and I shall embrace you, for in my arms lies eternity." This proclamation need not have competed with the thunder, for it was somehow much louder, resounding in the minds of those still present loudly enough to drown out perception of just about anything else. Two of the remeaining sailors lost their grip on the railings, distracted or simply willing to believe it and let go. The other two held on all the tighter, one mumbling words in Rivaini under his breath.

"Have I earned so little of your trust?" the Voice demanded, and it might have been their imaginations, but the rain grew only colder. "You ask me not to claim that which is mine? You beseech but you do not understand, you beg but you do not serve, you believe, but not in Me!" One of those pirates left clutched at his head, his nose bleeding profusely from the force of whatever was being done to him. The mumbling one was faring only a little better, but he and Emil were soon the only ones left, as a wash of brackish water took their suffering companion to his grave.

The last man looked up, meeting eyes with Emil over the expanse of the deck. The look on his face was one of mute shock, and though his lips still formed the words of his litany, it was obvious that he could no longer lend them the force of his voice. "Suffer, and know me!" The man's eyes went wide with shock, aware just a moment before the lightning struck him of what was going to happen. The sizzling sound was audible even over the din, the smell of burnt flesh carried to Emil's olfactory passages with uncanny precision.

He was alone.

Emil watched in silent horror as his last friend, crewmate, and family was just wiped out of existence by the Maker almighty himself. He couldn’t wrap his head around it. This.. This Maker was ruthless, extreme. Was this the deity he had worshipped so vehemently, that cared little for his people? The thought was unbearable. He clutched closer to the railing, his mind in rolling in turmoil, much like the sea around him. The Maker wished him to suffer? Hadn’t he suffered enough? He watched the man he would have gladly called his father fall into the ocean, watched his family fight futilely against nature and lose their lives in the process. What else was there to suffer? What else could he possibly suffer? What was his sin?

Nothing answered him. He was alone. Frighteningly alone. Even over the roar of the storm and the drumming of waves, the silence of the deck was deafening. No screaming, no orders, no one shouting encouragement. Just eerie silence. Everyone had left him. Even the Maker. As he clung helpless to the railing, his eyes, opened wide and unblinking, grew large and dull. His mind couldn't take the despair, the loneliness, the death. He was drained, emotionally, physically. He was lost. As the waves battered the ship, his body just rolled absently with it. Dead, alive, it didn't matter anymore to him. He had been all but abandoned. As the deep pit of despair ate away at his soul, he began a song. It was a song from his childhood, sang by all the sailors while they worked. While normally a cheery song, Emil’s emotionless delivery gave it a haunting melody.

♫♫♫
"What... Shall we do with the drunken sailor?
What shall.. We do with the drunken sailor?
What shall we do with the... Drunken sailor?
What shall we do with the drunken sailor?
Early in the mourning...

What shall we... Do with the drunken sailor?
What shall we do..."
♫♫♫


The song continued without end as the rain unendingly battered the broken Templar. However, the rain wasn't the heaviest burden on his shoulders.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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The weight in his arms pulled apart, as if the bones were formed from wind and things less substantial. He'd lost something in that quick movement. In those two seconds that had passed seemingly unnoticed, because the wrongness was replaced by something entirely different. Baritone voices postulated through his skull, grew louder, and broke into ear-numbing bellows that threatened to split his exhausted mind. Hadn't he heard this before? His vertebra felt withered and small. His spine trembled with shoulder-shaking sobs. Complete darkness enveloped him. Rhapscallion immediately backtracked, stumbling over something soft before wheeling around to face nothing in particular. Knobby elbows knocked against a brick wall he couldn't see. He straightened sharply, shifting from foot to foot, gnawing holes through his cheeks because there was no way to find them. There were no shadows to hide in. The man's words – the one he'd come to recognize as his father's – spun around in his head, merging together to make a flurry of incoherent sounds, until all he hears is the shrill chime of what sounds like a bell before his surroundings twist and send him sprawling on the ground. As soon as his hands touched the ground, the sentences rang as clear as day, clear as crystal, enunciated to make sure that he didn't miss a single syllable. So that he wouldn't misunderstand. The enormity of what was happening had finally begun to sink in.

He'd been born on bedtime stories telling him he was a mistake. Regaling him with tales of the moment his mother scampered away like a whore. His purple-lipped father would always come in, stinking of wine or harsh liquors, and sit on the end of his bed with that look in his eyes. It was the only time he openly spoke to him, without caution, without any inclination towards a familial relationship. Rhapscallion was a rat he couldn't get rid of. The wind would repeatedly slam the shutters closed, then open, while his father's slurring voice droned in a tight-lipped hiss: clumsy with his words, but still hurtful. He sniffed cautiously. The most prevalent smell wasn't the clean linens tucked tightly under his nose. It was the smell of leather saddles slung over stall doors and sweaty horse flesh. It made sense, now. The dry clumps of hay sticking out between his splayed fingers, catching at his fingernails. The occasional patter of hooves pawing through dirt, followed by impatient snuffles. Sounds leaked in. Sounds he'd never wanted to hear. His companions screaming. His father mocking him, laying the blame – worthless son, worthless man who couldn't even save his friends. “I'll... I'll find you!” He croaked, lungs wheezing with the effort of subduing his whimpering.

He couldn't move. His limbs refused to obey him. It didn't stop him from pulling against those invisible restraints, heaving his body as if he could tear half of himself apart and encourage the better half to keep going. His will faltered, then wilted against the barrage of all harshly spoken you-are-no-son-of-mine's. Rhapscallion drew submissively closer to the ground, pulled by an invisible force that he knew he could not resist. The voice belonging to Captain Fenlin Linell, hardly slowed, offering no quarter or reprieve. How could a father say such things? It pushed his shoulder blades down, anchoring weights across his spinal chord. The darkness whispered. The darkness screamed and begged and howled with pain. He moaned and clutched his head in his hands – for that was all he was capable of doing. It was Rhapscallion who'd all brought this upon them, it was his doing that they were being tortured, or worse. He was too weak to save them. That darkness was full of whispers, blaming and accusing and condemning. Those pointing fingers waggling at him, reminding him that he'd brought this down on himself. His heart thudded in his chest, and his mind reeled as he gasped for air. “Stop hurting them!” It was a wailing cry, desperate. “Stop... Stop!” They were burning. They were on fire.

Morpheus watched with detached amusement, quite sure that this was the second fight he would win without much effort, the baying Templar hound being the first. The scale here was smaller, much more intimate, but for all that, Morpheus knew that it might actually be much more effective. If one was careful with their portrayals, those closest to a person could break their spirits most surely, one way or another. It was even less difficult when the figure in question had already been built up as a bastion of cruelty and ill device in the mind of the victim. The similarities between speaking to the sodden hunter as his Maker and speaking to this half-breed boy as his father were striking. He wondered how far this one could be pushed before he stopped struggling at all, before he lost all will to see, hear, touch or taste, even within the illusion. That was the moment when his fate would be sealed.

His fingers tapped a slow rhythm on the armrest of his throne, and he worked a little extra magic, choosing to parade the youth's dearest friends before him, letting their agonized, tortured faces play in flickering images across Rhapscallion's vision, whether he opened his eyes or shut them. The voice of his father grew less thunderous, but louder all the same. "Find them? They're right here, you foolish boy, and still you can't save them. To think, such a useless child would call himself my son. You should have left my sight with your whore mother." The smell of blood and burning flesh grew to overtake all of the others, his friends' voices blurred in a symphony of terror and pain.

The funny thing was, Morpheus was letting the half-breed's own consciousness shape the torments; he was just giving the images life. By the very nature of the trick, Rhapscallion would be seeing what he least wanted to see.

The blame was compulsory, instinctual, so natural it felt like it'd always been nesting there, two finger lengths away from his heart. It was parting his ribs like the ocean and scrapping away whatever optimism he had left – hauling it out like water, as if his body was a pock-holed, sinking rowboat. When had the battle begun? It was over before they'd even had the chance to defend themselves. He desperately tried to stop breathing; to stop breathing in the heavy musk of leather. The grunts of pain and tormenting screams of his companion's,rising together in agony, pierced through his sensitive ears. It was as if he could discern every wave of misery, as if he could feel their pain quaking through his bones. It choked him, throttled it's fat fingers around his neck. Dust, from whichever corner of the immaculately cleaned barn, was everywhere now, too many people shuffling about, arching their backs in feverish convulsions, twisting and turning and trying to find some way out of the torture they had to endure because of him. He desperately wanted to help them, he only ever wanted to help. It was impossible. He was useless. His limbs had long since given up on any other movement other then to clutch clumps of hair, close to the scalp, and pull, pull, pull. To somehow transfer their afflictions onto himself. It was foolish. He couldn't move, he couldn't see through the darkness and he waschoking on their pain and the blind panic was scaring him to death, digging icy holes clear through his chest. His mouth opened, tried to force words past his trembling teeth; to desperately plead, to shut down his sobs, to make demands, but nothing came out. This wasn't how things were supposed to turn out. Where were the beautiful peonies? The violet lilac-lilies? Where were—

As suddenly as the darkness had taken him, Rhapscallion's eyes barely adjusted to the pin of light filtering down from the rafters, as if to emphasize their features. Invisible hands thrust her forward, seemingly growing from the surrounding gloom. Her body was an amalgamation of bruises, blossoming deep shades of purple and blues, as well as darker pigments that blended in with the barns low light malaise. They formed sickly constellations across her neck, her face, her exposed shoulders. Her long limbs, built so strong, were splayed haphazardly, in such an uncontrolled manner that it sent him reeling backwards. It terrified him. Never had he seen his Mentor in such a way. One of her legs, bereft of her usual plates of steel, was bent at an awkward angle, and one garishly bleached piece of bone stuck out from her kneecap, breaking through the skin. Her blood pumped through a variety of wounds, pooling out like velvet faucets. This was not repairable by any means. She wasdying. He couldn't shut his eyes to this. Air refused to move past his mouth, refused to enter through his nostrils; he couldn't breathe properly. Seeing them was infinitely worse than hearingthem – at least, without seeing them, a small part of himself could pretend he was mistaken. Could possibly convince himself that those weren't his companions. But this, this was too much. She was on her knees, glaring. Mutely reprimanding him, blaming him, calling him a coward, while his father added his own quips, loudly enough, to make it effective.

“Shut up! Shut up!” He screeched, pulling against his ethereal restraints. Nothing made sense. If no one was restraining him, then why couldn't he move forward? Imperceptible fingers grappled tighter around midsection, tugging him backwards. “What have you done to them? What kind of sick monster would do this to his own son, to my friends? You know nothing!”

The Darkspawn lord in the physical world let his head list to one side, what might have been a contented sigh whistling softly from between his teeth. The torment really was just too perfect, and it brought him immense delight of a refined sort. Pain was exquisite in its way, and this was the reason he did not simply suspend all of his victims in their own happiness. Oh, there was risk: the mortal mind tended to become sharper in the initital stages of fear or loathing or agony, and it was then when his deceptions were the most vulnerable. But, well, no risk, no reward, as it were.
He was drawn from his reverie by the sound of a rather violent protest against the lyrium he'd summoned to encase the chit. Ordinarily, he woudn't have even bothered- her mind was not so strong. But because of what she was, she would have been able to recognize the difference between reality and dream immediately, so he'd simply imprisoned her instead. He was beginning to regret not killing her outright, because she was presently interfering enough that maintaining the illusions was costing him most of his concentration. Now, though, a physical ruckus was being added to the mental one, and he realized with interest that she was beating the insides of her crystal with her small fists, apparently aware that this one was not having such a good run of it, so to speak. Curious.

Ethne's fingers, bloodied from repeated bashings against the inside surface of the blue crystalline prison, scrabbled to find purchase against the crack that the Lord-Seeker had placed there. She needed more freedom, a bit less lyrium. Her friends were suffering or drowning in false happiness, and she could barely do anything more than watch. But she was drained, she knew she was, and therefore nearly useless. If only she weren't inside here- dreams were nothing to people like her. This was exactly the situation in which she was supposed to be the most useful, and look at her now. Without a staff, she had no means of forcing the crack wider, of breaking out, but she was not so far detached that she could not understand that she was needed or at least capable of assisting, if only. Setting her mouth into a firm line, she abandoned the effort and tried it another way.
Rhapscallion's dream was still almost completely closed to her, and she was not going to be able to manifest physically in it by any means. But maybe, if she could give him a little help, she wouldn't need to just yet. Ethne slipped just far enough into the Fade to discern the contents of the nightmare, and was almost forced back out again by sheer horror. Her dear friend was on his knees, pulling at his hair and shouting. Before him were specters of most of the group, all in various states of egregious bodily harm. Stippled bruises, bloody gashes, burn marks, blisters and sores- it was enough to make a person sick twenty times over. Still, she forced her reactions to all of it from her mind- it was a dream, after all, and she would do well to remember it- and tried to think as coolly as possible. What could she do to help him? It would have to be something small, nearly insignificant, but something that would enable him to see the falsity of what was going on around him.

The chains. She didn't know if it would be enough, but perhaps the opportunity to move would give away something that wasn't quite right with this place. She couldn't say where it was, exactly, so trying to change something about it wouldn't do much good. Instead, she focused on the shackles about Scally's wrists and ankles, corroding them and weakening their integrity, hopefully to the point where a few good tugs would free him.
Scally. Still unmanifested, she tried again what she'd first attempted with Kerin- to exist as a small whisper at the back of the mind. She was forced out before she could say anything else, and stuck lingering at the metaphorical doorway of the nightmare: not in it, but not away from it, either.

To yield meant to give in; to give in meant to give up. Rhapscallion, even in the worst kind of predicaments, would never think about giving up. It wasn't an option. In his position, they wouldn't give up, either. He had to believe in that. Kerin's knees were wrought from steel, hardly made for kneeling. Solvej's intractable stubbornness would've kept them all afloat, away from hopelessness, and towards a solid plan to get them safely away. Dekton would have rather died than stray away from his Path, and the Seeker would not have even entertained the idea of having his freedom stripped away. Ethne would've been the balm to cure their hurts, to ease the pain, to remind them this too would only be temporary. All of his senses were cut off, apart from the jarring jolts of agony still galvanizing his bones and the disturbing sensitivity of his ears; his eyes were blind, his nose stuffed with smells he'd rather forget, his tongue thick with dust, and he didn't even have the good fortune to feel numb. He knew the meaning of agony – this was it, this was all it could ever be. Descriptions beyond the word were meaningless, filled with absolute nothing. If this was a test... hadn't he already failed it?

His mouth twisted sourly, peeling back from his teeth. Biting back a painful whimper and swallowing it down with a heavy gulp of air, Rhapscallion felt it rise back up in his chest, like an expanding balloon, and escape as a half-strangled hiccup. How many times had he heard that tears were signs of weaknesses? That men didn't cry. That men didn't do anything but stiffen their chins and continue on, so far removed from their emotions that they didn't need to suffer feminine afflictions. His father was wrong. He'd always been wrong. Still, the half-breed's helplessness was suffocating, reeking with the stench of leather straps and heavy boots. How different was he than a squabbling bird squirming in someone's palm, slowly squeezed until his bird-bones snapped and his flapping wings crunched? These were things made of nightmares, of bogeyman and monsters hiding under his bedsheets, and his worst fears pulling out everything that made him good and whole. His mentor, his companion, one of his dearest friends, Solvej, was kneeling in front of him. She was there. Even though it seemed impossible that she was huddled there, irreparably damaged, Rhapscallion still found himself bumbling apologies, skittering through his teeth like omens. A feverish mantra of forgive me, forgive me, forgive me.

As if Rhapscallion were removing his companion's fingers from the ledge of a cliff, he finally tore his hands away from his hair, dropped them from his watery eyes, and looked fully at his companion's crying out in the gloomy background. Wrangled with chains, lashed by unseen assailants, and forced down to their knees. Fresh burn marks, charred with melted flesh – worst of all were their accusing eyes, insisting that he wasn't trying hard enough to save them. He couldn't escape those expressions. Abstruse black hands clutched the nape of their necks, violently jerking them forward so that they could see him crying. It didn't make sense. Was his father doing this? Why? The smell of warm blood was filling the room, intermingling with horse leather and sweat, and he was already growing dizzy and nauseous from it. It's oppressive stuffiness, sickly and sticky. He hunched forward, holding his head and resting it on drawn knees. It was toomuch. Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me.

Forgive—

The weight on his shoulders faltered, as if he'd slipped through those intrepid, grabby hands, clawing down his waist. Those demons were drowning behind him, and he was leaving them, resolutely assured. No longer were shackles tugging him backwards, always too far away from his companions, but close enough to keep in sight. They creaked, ringing against each other until they finally snapped with a resounding crack. He nearly tumbled onto his face, but managed to throw his hands out wide enough to catch himself. It was enough to fill him with renewed energy, kindling from a dying fire. He drew himself into a low crouch, surveying the area for signs of discrepancy, or any trick that'd find himself once more in chains, bound to watch his companion's suffer. The buffeting breeze that was once carrying the smell of leather shifted, slowly, and blew with the faint scent of roses. Then, he heard it – Scally. It was whispered into the subtle curves of his peach fuzz neck, murmured into his ear canals, drowning out his father's baritone taunting. So soft, nearly inaudible. But, he'd heard it loud and clear as if she'd shouted it: Ethne. She was calling him. Petals sifted from the rafters, swirling down across his companions like snowflakes. His gawky hands opened, welcoming them. Strands of ivy bullied it's way around the barn's wooden planks, weaving across the beams. Pink carnations, yellow daisies, purple orchids, tickled his elbows. Relief swept through him, released in one whole-bodied exhalation.

“This isn't real.”

The resistance, the force that pushed her back to linger here, was Morpheus, and she knew it. He kept her lingering in the background, nearly brushing up against the Veil itself, because the balance of power in this dream was nearly all his at present. She was forced to dwell there, feel the energy slowly sapping from her limbs as her body grew leaden, and watch her dear friend suffer. It was it's own kind of nightmare, no better for the fact that she knew she could leave, if she chose to take the coward's way out. But she couldn't, she wouldn't, because this man had entrusted her with his other dreams, the ones made of spun sugar and warmth and light, and in turn he held hers. There was an unspoken bond in that, a tether that, thin as it was, tied her soul to his, and forbade her abandon him, even if she'd wanted to.

And so, with patience that she no longer felt she had, Ethne waited. Her chest constricted, forcing her heart into her throat, when his bonds snapped, lurching him forward hard enough that he had to throw his hands out to save himself from falling. That her signal had been sensed filled her with a massive sense of relief; she was losing her ability to intervene directly, and so his return of her whispered plea was more welcome than she could have imagined. With it, Morpheus' control wavered, and she seized the opportunity, manifesting at his side nearly instantaneously, giving her friend a watery smile, moisture gathered at the corners of her eyes. "I'm so sorry," she murmured quietly. With a deep breath, she wrapped her thin arms around his torso and transported both of them back over the Veil.

His strength ebbed through his fingertips, focused on keeping him upright. He found himself facing the one who'd called him in the first place, who'd broken his chains, and Morpheus' hold on his thoughts, his soul, his heart. Rhapscallion's own expression bordered on a blubbery smile of relief, spectral eyes screwing up. Ethne usually smiled to express joy, to comfort others. To comfort him. She had an entire repertoire of smiles, ranging from encouraging grins that stretched from ear to ear to gentle, grateful smiles that were occasionally accompanied by tears - like this one, in particular. They came at random times, but always at the right times. It reminded him that he wasn't alone, after all. Even before she'd wound her small, thin arms around his chest, he was already half-stumbling over to her, arms thrown wide, so that he could draw her to him. He wasn't alone. "Thank you," came out as a breathy whisper, muffled in her hair.

They'd make it through this.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro

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Rudhale woke to something sharp persistently poking into his back. He was laying on a hard, smooth surface, but apparently also on top of some small object, the persistence of which in causing him discomfort now bade him stir. He was groggy, and vision did not return to him easily. Sense was a fickle mistress, as always, and he wondered if it was the drink that had brought him to this state, his splay-limbed self scattered in multiple directions with the careless abandon of one who’d fallen unconscious after a touch too much revelry.

Pulling himself into an upright siting position, he gathered his arms and legs inward, testing everything to make sure that it worked. Once assured that all of his faculties were still with him, he rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, blinking and glancing about.

What he saw was nothing short of horrific. The surface beneath him was wood, fine-grained and smooth, now stained a dark red-brown with old blood. It pooled here and there, sticky and still half-wet. The pirate’s brows furrowed, and he stood slowly, wincing when he registered the presence of a painful cut on his left leg. It was, however, nothing intolerable. Favoring it slightly, he advanced forward, taking stock of his ship. He did know it to be his ship, but something seemed faintly… off about it. Well, aside from the conspicuous puddles of blood and gore, that was.

Approaching the mainmast from behind, he moved to the starboard side slightly, his eyes widening when he found what this brought into his view. There, piled in the center-fore of the ship, were the bodies of its crew. A few carrion birds circled above, but he was too absorbed in the sight before him to properly register their calls. Those faces… mangled and bloody as they were, he knew those faces. There was Tormod, the elven navigator, his facial tattoos cruelly deformed by the sharp point of some unknown knife, and there was Gabrath, the sole dwarf on board and the best damned rigger he’d ever met. Iowen, Hafter, Melah, Xander, Heidelberg, Seph… every last one of them was a barely-recognizable mess that plucked some unseen string in his guarded heart.

Rudhale was not the kind of man one expected straightforward benevolence from, nor did he ever attempt to give the impression that he cared for anyone quite so much as he adored himself. But this… this was precisely the worst thing that could ever have happened to him. These men and women… they were his. Each and every one of them, he had found damaged, seemingly irreparably broken, and he had thought them all beautiful. Not in the shallow sense in which other people meant that word, either. There was something in them, something that he saw or thought he saw, and that had bade him stoop to collect their battered half-corpses from whatever muck they’d been stewing in. Maybe he was just selfish and saw too much of himself in them. He’d always subscribed to that particular theory.

But regardless of the reasons why or how, he’d grasped their arms, dragged them on board, and bade his single apostate crew member, the ship’s healer, fix what was physically mangled, while he endeavored to take care of the rest. He believed in second chances, and third ones, and sometimes more than that. If there was any redeeming feature to his nature, it was his ability to forgive without forgetting, to endure repeated efforts to spit in the face of his hospitality and his offer without withdrawing either, until his work was done.

But this… this was the one circumstance he could not fix. This was what he’d sworn to prevent, at any cost to himself. He approached the bodies with increasing discomfiture, looking for what he’d least hoped to find. His first friend, his dearest companion, and his ever-willing counterpoint. As it turned out, Jack was atop the mass, and Rudhale breathed a sigh of relief, the anxiety melting out of his posture. His smile was dark, his expression one of carefully-masked displeasure as he glanced up at the churning grey of the sky.

“Wrong answer, I’m afraid!” He called, his tone brightly cheery.

Morpheus was confused. He’d sorted through the pirate’s memories and his aspirations, a complicated enough task on its own when deceptions and facades mixed freely with realities and half-truths, but he was quite sure he’d picked out the circumstance under which the man would suffer the most. Perhaps he should have moved the man further backward in time; there were many demons to be played with involving his mother and father as well. He was about to do this, to flip the illusion about entirely, since that girl seemed to be slow in interfering here, but the impudent human’s voice interrupted him.

“Don’t you want to know how?” Rudhale sing-songed, stepping carelessly over the scattered piling of bodies and leaping up onto the uppermost deck, near the helm. He relished the dramatic fluttering of the cape once more about his shoulders, and crossed his arms over his chest, his grin taking on an edge of manic danger.

Morpheus stopped, intrigued. “And what would the price of such information be?”

The pirate threw back his head and laughed. “And they told me Darkspawn were stupid. How about this? I tell you what you missed, and you let me out of here. I confess that if I’m going to die, I’d much rather go in a glorious battle than whimpering to myself in my sleep. That was mistake number one, by the way. I’m a generous man, so you can have that one for free.”

The general manifested just in front of him, shrugging bony shoulders. “Very well. If you’d prefer to die in the usual way, that will suit me just as aptly.”

“Your word, if you don’t mind,” Rudhale replied. Truthfully, he had no idea if such contracts would be at all binding for a Darkspawn or not. Did they even have a sense of honor? Probably not; the pirate hardly had one himself. Nevertheless, it seemed like the right sort of demand in this situation, and Morpheus chose to indulge him by giving it.

“Well, first of all,” the human began, “If you’re going to show a fellow his home, do him the courtesy of getting it right. My ship looks a lot like this one, but you’re missing the details. There’s a knot in the wood by the mainmast that’s missing, the starboard side railing has three notches in it, which is a superstitious notion that Hafter had from his Rivaini grandmother. Those sorts of things.”

He paused, and the smile disappeared entirely, his voice dropping in volume until Morpheus almost had to move to hear it. “I suppose that sort of thing can be forgiven. But you have to be even more careful about the people.” Rudhale leaned against his tiller, brushing one of the spokes with his fingers. “Something you failed to understand was that I would have died before letting such harm come to any of them. I can believe that I was somehow incapacitated. What I can’t lend any credence to is the idea that of all of them, she died last. Oh, I can see where you’d think so. She’s very good, dear Anthea. But she’s very much like me, you understand. She’d have gone down first, in the effort to slay anyone who so much as laid a hand on her crew. She’s like that.” His effulgence was back in a flash, and he darted forward, clapping the side of Morpheus’s shoulder like one would an old friend.

“That’s about the long and short of it, Serah Darkspawn. You just don’t understand sacrifice and love. Understandable, really; you look like nobody’s loved you in a long time. And you were in Orlais, too, a prime opportunity to fix that, but then you had to be all stodgy and send everyone off to fantasyland instead. I hope you at least wound up with a few nice, dirty dreams to enjoy vicariously? One of those would have kept me entertained for far longer, by the way. Ah, but I’m babbling, and what hero babbles? Time to go, I expect. Chop, chop!”

When Ethne at least mustered up the energy to pursue the pirate into his dreams, she found that she need not have done so, for he seemed to be returning to consciousness of his own volition. Perplexed, the elf withdrew. She’d done all she could, now all that remained was to release each of them from slumber. Emilio, Fenlen, and Mirabelle would not awake, but the rest would, and it would have to be enough. She would be of almost no use in helping them in her present condition.

Please let this work, she supplicated, though to who or what, she was unsure. With what little she had remaining, she awakened each of those companions who had managed to see through the deceptions of the Darkspawn.

Rudhale’s eyes snapped open, and he was on his feet in moments. Just as well; Morpheus was rising from his throne, the licking tendrils of smoke at his translucent feet growing thicker. He could quite nearly taste the magic on the air, and was hardly surprised when demons began to appear, seemingly from nowhere. A miniature army they were, too: ten shades, five rage demons, and three desire demons, plus two hulking Darkspawn the others would recognize as ogres and Morpheus himself, who started off the battle by hurling a massive fireball at the still-clustered group.

Rudhale braced for impact, but it never came. He watched with mild confusion as the flames simply guttered out in midair, disappearing in a flash of white light. When the afterimages faded, he caught sight of the familiar dark blue cloak and armor of the Lord High Seeker. “If you’re going to move, move now. I’ll free the girl.”

Rudhale certainly didn’t need the encouragement, and though he wouldn’t trust Du Lac as far as he could throw him (bad blood will do that) he complied anyway, racing into the fray after Kerin, who, perhaps predictably, was the first one in. He made it a point to stay clear of her range of motion, however. He’d known a few berserkers in his time, and when it was time to shed blood, they were the very antithesis of discriminating rationality.


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Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland

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Kerin’s eyes snapped open, yet she saw nothing. A fine red haze had descended over her vision. She heard nothing, only the rampant beating of war drums inside her head. Her mind was clear of all emotion, except one. Rage. Anger, fury, bloodlust. The drums beat even faster as she pushed herself to her feet. There was no more room for rational thought, for such trivialities like speech or foresight or memory. She wasn’t aware that her helmet had fallen off, that it had rolled away when she fell to the ground. Though it mattered little. Only one thing was on her mind. Her head lifted up and her clouded eyes were met with a small army. Yet she wasn’t intimidated. For every shade and demon she saw, she saw a dwarf nobleman’s guard. And at the rear of the the procession between two monsters, sat the man who killed her brother-- for the second time. She only wanted one thing in the whole world now.

Not freedom. Not equality. Not even acknowledgement. All she wanted, right then, was his corpse. Without even checking on her companions, nor even giving heed to the fireball, she rushed ahead. She didn’t know, nor care if she was alone in this battle, the only thing that mattered was that blood should fall. And it should fall now. Even if her companions did try to assist, in her state she could hardly tell friend from foe. Everything was an enemy, like it always had been. It was always a berserker’s saying that they must learn to control their anger and use it as a weapon. Right then, Kerin was controlled by her anger, and it was using her. She was the weapon. A congealed ball of hate, fury, and blood. Yet she cared little, she would give in to that beast, just to see the monster who had slain her brother fall once more.

She charged into the frontline of demons wailing a deathsong. Not of her own death, nor even the deaths of the creatures in front of her, but the death of someone very close to her. Her axe flashed as it cut across the chest of a shade—the thing having enough wherewithal to stay away from the blood-drunk berserker’s range. The swipe was accompanied by a thump of the war drums' song in her head. And another, and another, and another as she feverishly wailed on the shade. Though it may have dodged the first swing, it could not hope to dare to match her ferocity. She stood over top the mass of twisted flesh as it dissolved into ash—wasn’t much of a stretch considering the state the dwarf left it in. She looked up at Morpheus and gave him a look of utter defiance and rage. She would see his blood run, even if hers must run beside it. With that, she turned and threw herself into the fray with such reckless abandon yet seen from the berserker.

Solvej's face was still in that tight, close-lipped smile when Ethne led her across the damnable Fade into wakefulness once more. The dream was gone, but the shroud of its presence still lingered, and she found that she was left feeling strangely hollow. It was an echo of an old feeling, and though it could not hope to match the utter brokenness she had once nursed, brooding at the back of a cage while her pride forced her to stand tall, it still reverberated through her trunk and limbs, whispering formless doubts into her nooks and crannies. Not the ones Morpheus had sought to give her, but the ones her own mind- an infinitely more cruel tormentor- had seen seeded in the moment of her wavering. If the pounding of war-drums sounded Kerin's attack, Solvej followed on a breathy sigh, the sound of shoulders meeting their burden once more, of air moving through places where nothing else dwelled.

Her hands found her spear, and she gripped it with surety, using it to push herself up from the ground and stand. Chin high, she readied herself, watching the flaming orb descend and disappear. The Lord High Seeker stood in its place, a man of singular cunning if the rumors were anything to go by. To entrust a chess-player with lives was to submit to a piece's valuation, but there was no other choice to be had. Her mouth did not open, no admonishment or threat escaped her lips. Her knowledge was her own, and if he knew anything at all about them, he would know what to expect if his knife found the magelet's back.

The grim twist to her lips did not reverse direction, nor take on any more effulgent life, as she strode onto the field behind the berserker and the pirate. Her steely eyes gained no spark, no glimmer of determination, even as she branched off to one side, thrusting the polearm into the singular phosphorescent eye of a shade. Nothing changed when her arms twisted, nor when the creature's answering blow skittered ineffectually off of her darkened shoulder-plate with a resounding clang. Determination, anger amusement even: these were things for people filled with something, for people with other options, who acknowledged and embraced the possibilities of victory and defeat and who fought for the desired outcome.

They were nothing to someone for whom the outcome mattered no longer. She was a meat-shield, a thing by which others might be protected, but she fought not for her own life. She would never give up, never surrender, never consign herself to anything, but that was simply because her function would never end. The goal of protecting something- an ideal, a dream, a person or a world- was one never completed. Resignation was its own strength. Bend, but never break. Never stop. Never lose sight of the important things.

They were on the other side now, the shapeshifter and his prey. Unfortunately, there was perhaps more meat here than he could handle on his own. There were many to carve through on the way to the one that had imprisoned him, and many of them were foes capable of snuffing him out quickly if he weren't careful. That, and their healer was still imprisoned. Suicide didn't know if they could count on her abilities even if she were released in time. But the girl had surprised him before.

The shapeshifter had woken from his dream quite the opposite of Kerin; a very example of a calm center within a storm. At least, on the outside. He moved seemingly without thought, without emotion, but inside, he was reveling in it all. All that he could see, all that he could hear. The feel of the rough wood against his palm as he pulled his staff into hand. The sound of the enemy's fire roaring through the air, only to be dispersed into nothing by one of their own. The feeling of his allies beside him again. It all added up to make the man feel very much alive. The Path had led through the Fade and back, through his very past and his very soul. It had reminded him of who he was, and where he was going.

Which right now, was directly at the nearest desire demon, floating just above the ground and locking eyes with him. He broke into a dead sprint, ignoring other foes, intent on removing this one. He'd focus on the others when the time came. This one, he could handle by himself. As the distance closed, time seemed to slow somewhat, her gaze piercing through him, her voice echoing in his mind.

You could have them back, you know. Those that you lost. The years that you lost. I could give it all back to you, if you so desire. The peace of your youth restored, those that you loved by your side once more.

He was a few meters away, the distance seemingly having halted as time came to a standstill, and the shapeshifter gave his response.

The Path leads only forward, creature.

He launched himself into the air, shifting into a wolf in mid jump, heavy weight slamming into the creature's chest and taking her to the ground with an unearthly wail. He cut it short with powerful jaws clamping into the throat and tearing outwards, sending a geyser of blood into the air above him, darkening the grey fur of his face. His nose alerted him to a perilously close stench, and he jumped back just in time to dodge both massive fists of one of the ogres slamming into the ground, reducing the desire demon formerly under him to a mere pile of blood and bones.

Crimped rose petals, thick tufts of grass, and wooden rafters alike melted into the foreground. His father's stern voice faded to a faint hum, hardly intelligible. It didn't matter whether or not Rhapscallion understood them, because he'd heard those words before, replaying over and over again like a broken record. Useless fool; you're lucky I'm generous enough to feed you, to shelter you. No longer were Ethne's arms around him, though he still felt the embrace as if she were. His dream space, his nightmare, his greatest fears, were behind him, now. The Fade tingled across his tongue, flitted through his fingertips and lingered as an awkward weight pressed down on his shoulders, reminiscent of the spectral hands clutching the back of his neck like a disobedient hound. He would not be forced to bow to Morpheus, never to the likes of him. He gave his head a shake, then brushed his fingers across the floor – as if to test that he was indeed out of the Fade, out of that disgusting place when all of his companion's were suffering. Everything felt solid, real. He no longer smelt horse stalls, or leather straps, or sweat. Between hitched breaths, barely sniffling through his nose, Rhapscallion noted that all of his companions were in fact intact and whole and unhurt. His hands balled at his sides, trembling with the effort. Morpheus would not make his nightmare a reality.

Right now, in these moments, Rhapscallion was tired of smiling in the face of impossible odds, of laughing when he ought to be crying, so he didn't subject himself to any false pretences. He was wide open and he was rubbed raw; tears ran freely down his cheeks, swimming at the corner's of his eyes. It was easy, as simple, as laughing. His posture hunched again, curling in on itself so he appeared much smaller, much more vulnerable, than he'd ever looked. He had his elbow's on his knees and his head buried in his hands. Morpheus would not win. His hands dropped from his face just in time to see Kerin bolting forward with abandon, clearly past seeing any sense in bulldozing her way towards the miniature army of demons and shades and baddies Morpheus had conjured to face them. Perhaps, that had been what he needed to see to wipe his eyes on the back of his hand and stand for what he needed to fight for.

They would win this. They would get through it, as usual. Even though Rhapscallion heard no war drums beating madly, like it's own private battle ricocheting in his skull, nor did he seem grimly resolute in his efforts, or recklessly resolved to applying himself as a meat shield, there was no way that he wasn't moved by what he'd seen. He wouldn't let any of them fall – as unlikely, as impossible, as that particular outcome seemed. Determination rang loudly, as clear as swords colliding with each other, in his heart, swelling to disproportionate sizes. It was a stirring; in his throat, in his chest, in his thoughts. No longer was there a fluttering vacancy, or a hollowness, or a place filled with doubts. His companions were the only remaining necessity. Every stagnant cell in his body flourished, even though his wound still sluggishly bled through his tunic – it hadn't healed in his sleep, and he wouldn't have expected it to. Either way, it wasn't likely that he'd sit out of this.

Instead of stifling the flow with his fingers, as he'd been doing, Rhapscallion bolted forward, following behind Solvej and Kerin and Dekton, before springing off in his own direction. His sword, unbalanced and sticky with blood, danced in quick circles while he sidestepped a nearby shade's claws, admonishing his own sense of justice with a parry, then a side swiping blow that crumpled the creature into a hissing pile of ash. He broke into a run and weaved around the wolf-form Dekton who had already brought down the Desire Demon, gracefully manoeuvring himself so that he was in a direct course for the nearest ogre; a menacing creature who's roar sent shivers down his spine. There wasn't enough time to cower, flit away like the shadow's. He ran close enough for the creature to raise it's club, then skidded low, passing between the ogre's knobby legs and, in the process, whipped his swords crossways so that he could clip it's ankles. The movement wasn't without it's price, because Rhapscallion's eyes widened, tensing with the jolt of pain extending up his sternum, and blubbering out his mouth in a froth of red – the colour of rose petals.

The blade of Kerin's axe bit repeatedly into the shade, rending its flesh over and over, marring the purplish skin with jagged gashes. They oozed a viscous, blackish substance akin to the sort that came from Darkspawn, and the creature flailed in its terror, lashing ineffectually at the minature mountain of rage and bullheaded determination. Beneath the onslaught, it was no resilent thing, and it and its nearest two fellows sucumbed to the berserker's carnal rage, simply without the strength or the cunning to capitalize on her singleminded lack of awareness for her surroundings. The triad of rage demons that followed them were no different in this respect, but they could do something their lowly counterparts could not: meet her fury with fury.

Attracted to the obvious anger eminating from her, they attacked in tandem, lashing out with molten limbs, flinging globules of lava off their liquidinous bodies in the process. Their mindless ire knew no bounds; distilled from the very essences of people much like she, tormented by eons trapped in the Fade with no outlet for their wrathful designs, they sought to add another to their number. Two roared and struck for the dwarf's sturdy legs, the other wasting no time in reaching for her unprotected head. If they didn't reduce her to ashes, she'd cook in her heavy armor- either was acceptable to the mindless messengers of the world's vehemence.

Those that fell beneath the Black Templar's hand were not subject to anything quite so effusive in its draw; it was as if for the Demons Solvej represented a negative space, a zone in which their own attributions were sapped from them until they were nearly as hollow as she. This did not stop the assault, but it gave her next attackers pause. In the end, Morpheus aimed his next attack- a bolt of brutal lightning- squarely for her chest. The glistening spear of raw electricity would rebound, close enough to affect Rudhale if he didn't get out of the way quickly. It was followed by the remaining five Shades, all swarming in an effort to bring the warrior-woman to her knees.

Rudhale himself flickered to the side, aware enough of his surroundings to take stock of what was occuring. His first opponent, a singular desire demon, had promised the usual thing, but he was admittedly too close to his dream still to bother considering it much. Instead, he feinted to one side, abruptly reversing direction just before comitting to the strike. He was considerably speedier than the primarily magical, demon, and his kilij bit deeply into the exposed flesh of her neck. Really, they were pretty much asking for that sort of thing in a situation like this; he knew whores who wore more clothing. Several.

Quickly assessing the situation, he ascertained that most of the opponents remaining were occupied, with one very large exception. Though one ogre was occupied with Rhapscallion and Suicide, the other was presently making for the occupied Solvej, and Rudhale was having none of that. "I appreciate a good knock-down, drag-out fight as much as the next man- or woman," he mused aloud, with an aside glance at both of the female warriors in the group, "But surely even brutes like you must have some standard of fairness." Well aware that his next move would probably kill him if he went too long without assistance, he engaged anyway, throwing the metaphorical gauntlet and drawing the beasts attention with a shallow laceration to its thigh. He felt his focus narrow and his stance loosen as he concentrated on the duel. If there was anything he was made to do, it was probably this.

The ogre aimed, hurling an enormous fist towards the pirate, who percieved the blow as it was launched and ducked, rolling deftly to the side and back up onto his feet. Certainly, his main goal was to be a flashy distraction until some of the others could fight their way free and flank it, but that didn't mean he'd be content to let it remain unscathed. There was some pride underneath his ridiculous shamelessness, after all.

The second massive Darkspawn bellowed as its ankles were sliced into; Rhapscallion's blades bit deep enough to scrape bone. The tendon in the right side was cut nearly in half, hanging on by less than a third of it's thickness, effectively crippling its movement. The nasty side effect of this was that the behemoth grew frantic in its assalt, lending each of its blows a kind of devastating, desperate strength. Ignoring the shapeshifter for the moment, it shifted its focus to the annoyance who'd caused it the most pain, sweeping an arm out in an attempt to knock the half-elf off his feet. Meanwhile, the last two unoccupied demons, one a twin to the desire demon Suicide had already crushed and the other the remaining rage demon, converged on the mage, the frailer entity choosing to stay back and cast from afar. Morpheus joined this assault as well, launching a powerful collection of ice for Dekton's feet.

"Your allies are quite the fearsome lot," Du Lac commented to Ethne, quirking a brow. There was something almost sly about the manner in which he said it, the words drawling over his tongue in a way that possessed both confident assurance and a hint of something more sinister. It was a tone she was not unused to hearing: a very select few of the Tevinter Magisters possessed much the same one, and it uniformly belonged to dangerous men. She swallowed thickly and did not reply, without the energy to do much more than lie there and force air in and out of her lungs. The lyruim had made her feel sick before, now it was as though it was sapping her energy directly, and any faint illnes was drowned in the fatigue this new circumstance engendered. Ironically, she was only now called to sleep, when her friends had made it past their own somnolent trials... or not, as the case may have been.

"Ah, ah," the Seeker admonished sending her an aside glance in an almost-luminescent blue. It was like that power that Templars used was backlighting his irises, as though he were filled to the brim with it. But that was a strange thought, and it slipped away from her too fast to really register anyway. She watched with dull gaze as he stepped back from where he'd been kneeling beside the crystal, and caught the glint of something grey and almost opalescent in one hand. Flint...?

"The dwarves make use of lyrium in explosives," Du Lac pointed out casually, tossing the flint in the air and catching it again. "And of course, any such thing can be weakened or strengthened with the proper calculation and a bit of field testing." He smiled the fox's own smile, a subtle thing, full of grey-shaded promise. He'd left his words intentionally vague, and in her present state, she was in no position to be deciphering them on any level but the one he intended.

"What are you...?" her sluggish thoughts finally caught up with her, and Ethne's face registered a shock much more vivid than she would have thought herself capable of just a few minutes prior. He wouldn't... would he?

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland

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Two more corpses fell before the feral might of the berserker and three more stepped up to test themselves against her fury. It mattered not that these creature represented the physical manifestation of her rage, it mattered not even if they had been the same demons she had buried away deep in her very soul. If they dared to stand against her, dared to oppose her, then They. Would. Fall. Nothing would curb the path she would carve to Morpheus, even if she must fell the entire army single-handedly. The ‘Spawn dared resurrect her past, the symbol of all of her shortcomings, the very thing that forced her to rage against her very fate. He summoned his legion of demons to protect himself?

She would show him the face of a true demon.

The rhythm of the war drums became even more wild, feral as she laid eyes on the challengers. They dared stand against her, daring to match their rage against hers. Theirs was that of fire, of heat, and of fury. Hers was a substance that they could never hope to match. Where they looked to burn and immolate, Kerin merely seeked to snuff and destroy. She looked dully at the pale fascimile of her own rage, her own fury. Their anger was not hers, her anger had a singular purpose. Kill. Without words, without worry, fear, hesistation, she approached them, axe in hand and vacant look in her eyes. They wished to challenge her? They would recieve their challenge. They lashed out with tendrils of fire, spat molten lava, and even bleed red flame, though Kerin would not be intimidated. Instinct caused her to jerk her head and evade a tendril, leaving the end of her braid smoldering. Another tendril cut into the shoulder of her armor, leaving a molten streak-- though she would not be detered from her path, suffering only a minor stutter in her step. Another struck her in the belly, piercing the armor and cutting flesh, cauterizing to wound on contact, yet if Kerin felt the pain, she refused to show it. She grabbed the tendril with her hand and ripped it free and tossing it away. The only hint that she had been injured was the sudden jump in pitch of the war drums. They had their turns. Now. It was hers.

She lifted her great axe and smashed it into the ground with every fiber of her being, crushing the stones underneath and causing spiderweb cracks to race from the epicenter. Then she did it again, and again, all to the rhythm of the war drums. The tremor she had caused managed to throw the demons off balance, granting her enough time to lower her shoulder and ram into the nearest one. Flesh cooked under her armor as it melted and deformed from contact with the demon, but she didn't care, the pain merely drew the drum skins taut. The ferocity of her attack knocked over the creature and before it could regain it's position, Kerin dropped a killer blow, splitting it in twain. She jerked around, her eyes still clouded with the vacant stare as smoke rose from her shoulder. The metal was deformed and would hinder movement. Without thinking nor caring, she grabbed the soft metal of the armor and ripped, tearing the plates off of her arm and discarding it. Under the armor laid seared flesh and burned cloth. The wound was ugly, but pain could not reach her over the furious rhythm of the war drums.

She took her first step towards the remaining corpses, and with her next she surged forth, scything between the pair of demon. One of them got off a lucky slash, cutting her above the eyebrow, her blood now flowing freely from the wound. It mattered not, she wished for blood, craved it, and would not be sated until she got her fill. Then she spun with her axe outstretched, hammering the demons numerous times with the whirlwind of axe blows. It mattered little if the demons were finished then, for she lifted her axe once more. They would feel the full extent of her fury. She dropped it on the form of one demon. She then lifted it again and dropped it on the other. She did it again to the other, and again, and again. The war drums beat along with her wild fury. They would not relent, and neither would she until every last living creature who opposed her lay in a pool of their own blood.

The feral beast that was Kerin then laid her vacant stare upon Morpheus once more, a mixture of blood and sweat covering half her face and another injury drenching her arm in scarlet. The image she painted was a grim one, but despite her wounds she stood strong and defiant. These wounds would not kill her, not until she fulfilled her anger. She would not be defeated, her fate was Morpheus's to fear.

Rudhale’s battle-rhythm was much less steady than Kerin’s, a curiously-wistful aria made of multi-tonal refrains and haunting echoes. For all that, it seemed to serve him just as well as hers served her, and even while the grey-skinned ogre came at him repeatedly, his natural reflexes and balance kept him just enough steps ahead. It went left, he slid right, feet tapping frenetic, irregular patterns on the stone floor. There was no predetermined measure, no perfect stanzas or solemn chorus, just the liquid glide of improvisation. A massive fist crashed to the ground less than two feet from him, cracking the stone beneath considerably, buckling and pulling him towards the giant’s limb. Rather than fight this, he jumped, landing on the curled fingers and moving quickly, his gangly-looking legs proving themselves well-accustomed to the bucking and tossing of a ship on a wave as he ascended the arm to which the fist was attached, laughing merrily even as he sank the piercing-blade of his katar deep into the ogre’s shoulder.

Without a break in his movement, he allowed his momentum to carry him forward past it, and he jumped off the far side of the shoulder with finesse, the katar forced to drag through more flesh as he yanked it free on his descent. No sooner had Rudhale’s feet touched the ground than he was in motion again, tucking into a roll and just barely missing the sweep of its opposite arm as it roared its defiance and redoubled its efforts to end him.

“You lot don’t go down so easily, do you?” he teased flippantly. To be sure, it was hard to say if Darkspawn possessed the necessary intelligence to respond to taunting (Morpheus excepted, obviously), but it seemed that human voices themselves were something of a goad, or maybe he was just as annoying to them as he was to people- it was hard to say which.

The ogre responded with a headlong charge, something that he’d not been expecting, given the enormous tear in the deltoid muscles of its left arm. Nevertheless, he was able to move himself out of harm’s way- mostly. The transition left him somewhat off-kilter, and quick though his recovery might have been, it wasn’t quick enough. Morpheus, damned cheater that he was, had hurled a petrify spell, and though Rudhale literally bent over backwards to avoid it, it still caught one of his arms, encasing the limb in crushing stone. The pirate hissed, forced to drop his kilij, leaving only the short katar with which to fight. The sound of his arm-bones cracking was singularly unfortunate, and he bit down on his own tongue, a jagged groan escaping him when he regained the presence of mind to spit the excess blood from his mouth.

He was about to pick up his longer blade and sheathe his short one when he heard the distinctive sound of the ogre’s running footseps behind him. Rudhale threw himself to the side, barely able to avoid being trampled. He landed hard on the shoulder corresponding to the crushed arm, making a small choking sound when the pain rebounded throughout the entire limb. It felt as though it were simultaneously being stabbed with thousands of needles and set aflame. Gritting his teeth, the captain hauled himself to his feet, katar gripped firmly in one hand, and faced the ogre.

Suicide had been snarling at the massive darkspawn, his teeth dripping blood from the desire demon, when Rhapscallion had intervened, drawing its attention by shredding the creature's tendons in the ankle. The shapeshifter reverted back to human form when the ogre turned away to attack the rogue, and new threats may their way before him, a second desire demon, and one of rage. The demoness fired entropic magic his way at blistering speeds, a glowing white spell, attempting to paralyze him for the rage demon. The spell him squarely in the chest, as he had just shifted and was not prepared to move, and he immediately felt a constricting in his limbs, like being caught in so many spiderwebs, held to the ground and to the walls. Snarling as though he were still a wolf, Suicide raged against the spell and broke free, though his movement was still considerably slowed.

The rage demon charged forth, spewing fire and ash and leaving a trail of embers behind him. Dekton knew these things had but one tactic: burn and destroy everything in their path. He currently wasn't quick enough to avoid it, and with this paralysis spell still lingering, he figured shifting into a raven would simply cause him to fall to the ground, flapping about like a fool until the demon turned him into a little smoking pile of ashen feathers. If he couldn't go around it, he'd have to go through it.

Even as the demon prepared a gout of flame to direct towards the shapeshifter, Suicide's hands chilled, the magic flowing through the darkspawn staff. The blast of fire was matched with a cone of cold, flame and ice obliterating each other between the two combatants. Lowering his stance for purchase against the ground, the shapeshifter pushed forward, steadily overpowering the rage demon with sheer force of magic, the frost beginning to envelop the creature, causing it to roar in pain, and attempt to back away.

Just as he thought he would destroy the demon utterly, another combatant took its side. There was an explosion of cold at his feet, and not one created by himself. The shapeshifter was thrown from his feet, sent flipping through the air to crash against the nearest wall, his staff lost somewhere in the chaos. He felt blood running down his side, and found a large shard of ice embedded there. Morpheus. The master of the enemy himself had turned his eye on Suicide. The shapeshifter had little time to examine wounds, however, as the rage demon angrily sought to return the injuries it had suffered in kind.

The effects of the paralysis spell were wearing off, but Suicide still had only reached his feet when the rage demon was on him, spent of magic, instead swinging at him with burning claws. Suicide enveloped his arms with frost magic, lessening the burn when he blocked the demon's strike by hand. It landed one hit, fiery claws raking across his chest, leaving deep cuts that burned as well. He managed to get off a wintery strike of magic, cutting the creature's chest open, spewing fire and lava as it fell, forcing Suicide to leap backwards as it erupted into a explosion in death, becoming no more.

Solvej scarcely had time to wonder at the glimmer of light approaching from the corner of her eye before she was struck with the lightning, every nerve in her body taxed beyond the thresholds of pain. There were no apt metaphors, no adequate comparisons, for that sensation. It was not simply a charge of electricity- it was an attack from Morpheus himself, and he had not missed. The force of magic reverberated throughout her entire body so quickly and powerfully that it seemed like the waves of pain were almost crashing against one another, and all she knew was agony. Reflexively, her fingers tightened on her spear, planting the blunt end against the ground. She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out, the force of her breath completely stolen from her, lost in the paroxysm of torment that now afflicted her.

One of the shades was foolish enough to attack her in this state. Though its night-claws did bury themselves in a joint of her armor, finding the gaps in her chain-mail and piercing three idential holes in her left side, near her ribcage, it also became part of the electrical chain, and it had no inborn resistence to magic, no Templar's mental discipline. The only thing keeping the woman alive could not save the shade, and it fried from thie inside, blowing open from its belly, scattering discolored, half-cooked parts in a wide radius. The others were more content to wait, circling the armored female like so many vultures, just waiting to close on a corpse.

Slowly, too slowly, the charge faded, and Solvej at last inhaled a deep gasp, her erratic heartbeat regaining some sense of regularity. Aftershocks plagued her limbs, weakening them and setting her hands to tremor violently. Swallowing, she blinked to clear her sight, attempting and failing to lift her spear from the ground. It was then that the Shades attacked.

Gritting her teeth, the Templar let the spear drop and crouched, lowering her center of gravity and crossing her arms up to protect what of her face was exposed by her helmet. Shoring her defenses, she waited. Until she could regain better control of her body, she would simply have to endure. The blows were rain, and she put them from her mind. The majority clattered off of solid plate or skidded from tight-linked chain. One pushed her backwards, but she dug her feet in and waited, curled inward on herself and finding her center. Focus. Control. Discipline. Fortitude. These were the hallmarks of a Templar, trained into them from the first day they were lined up in front of their Knight-Sargeant, and though she was a very poor Andrastean, she was a very good Templar.

Pain is nothing. This body is nothing. I am nothing. Only the goal is important. I will endure. I will persevere, for they give me strength. Pain is nothing, this body is nothing... the litany repeated itself, over and over, and at last she could feel surety return to her limbs and her mind both. The tremors stopped, the doubt drained away. The emptiness returned, and she embraced it. Surging to her feet, Solvej cocked one fist and slammed it with extreme prejudice into the eye-like globule in its head. The force of the blow knocked it back several feet, and she transitoned into a kick, pivoting to catch one of the others unware and in the arm. The others backed off immediately, and she used her new room to take a few steps backwards, focusing on the one she'd punched first. With a running start, she dropped low, driving her shoulder into its abdomen and taking it to the ground.

The armor on her knees skidded with a grating sound on the stone floor, but she did not heed this information in any particular way, just as she had narrowed her focus to the exclusion of the pain from the wounds she'd taken thus far. The fact that she currently possessed no weapon was about all that registered, and so she instead picked up what passed for a cranium on the shade, slamming it repeatedly into the stone. There was nothing vengeful or angry about the motions, though they probably qualified as both viscious and brutal. She stopped as soon as the creature ceased moving, which was in just enough time to roll sideways off the corpse and avoid being decapitated by another. Decapitation, now there was an idea.

Something poked into her back as she rolled, but she knew on instinct it wasn't her spear. Unimportant, since it was a weapon and she needed one. Feeling blindly behind her, she clasped the hilt of whatever it was and swung it at the next shade, who hadn't ceased its pursuit simply because she'd dodged the initial blow. From the floor, she hacked upwards for the neck, and was rewarded with a gout of arterial spray when what appeared to be the longer of the pirate's swords opened up a broad line across the shade's throat. She might have wondered how that had come to be in this spot, but she chose to accept it and keep on moving instead. At last able to regain her feet, she slicked some of the gore from her face with the side of her free hand and faced the two remaining shades. Done wasting time, she closed the distance, shrugging off a blow from one and stepping past it to slash broadly at the other. To be perfectly honest, she was more accustomed to piercing weaponry, but she's learned how to use a blade, too, and it would be enough to end these things. Her target staggered backwards, but she pressed, reaching into her wellspring of power and drawing that magic, not-magic along the blade of the kilij. The holy smite ripped right through the injured shade, and she whipped the blade around to hit the second as well, and this time, the head really did go flying.

Solvej exhaled, a satisfied smirk playing across her feet, and chanced a glance around. There was her spear, for one. To her left, Rudhale was tangling with an ogre (stupid man, trying that alone), and to her right... flames take them all. Rhapscallion was no wiser. He was at least in proximity of Dekton, though the shapeshifter didn't appear to be having an easy time of it. Kerin was wailing away on a rage demon some distance in front, and presumably the magelet and the poncy Orlesian Seeker were still behind. Deciding quickly, Solvej ran to her spear, kicking it in Dekton's direction. "Do me a favor and help my idiot protegee if you get the chance, would you?" The question might as well have been rhetorical, because she had no time to wait for the answer. Time to go save a fool from his own ignorance, it seems.

It was impossible to wriggle up from his position like a snake; spring back onto his feet like he usually would. His endurance had whipped out of his mouth as soon as he'd slammed his back on the ground, careening through the massive Darkspawn's splayed legs. There was no way to fight gravity. It tugged him down by the shoulders, bearing down heavily on his sternum, and kept him skewed, and debilitated, on the cobblestones. The sounds of axes and swords and dancing spear-tips surrounded him, clashing with barbaric weaponry, and inevitably resulting in agonized howls. This was his own drumming beat of war drums. These were the only sounds that kept him from laying prone, underneath the massive, shifting weight of the Darkspawn. There is a splitting headache just between his eyes, churning away like a grotesque forge, or a familiar barrage of unkind words, and he feels oddly as if he is no longer connected to his body. His lifeblood pulsed between his fingers, staining the underbelly of his nail beds. It might take more than washing his hands to get rid of this event. Rhapscallion saw the world through fogged lenses, one's that couldn't concentrate on one thing long enough. His blood, his blood.

The hulking Darkspawn's massive arm swept towards him. If it hadn't been for his choice – what would be considered a little dark, and perhaps a little shameful, then he would've been done for. Rhapscallion's muscles tensed, flexed, and fluctuated. Blood still dribbled from his lips, painting a thick, steady line below his mouth, but at least he had enough good sense to hop away from the ogre's desperate swing. For a moment, Rhapscallion tipped forward and coughed – or that's what it seemed like he was doing until he finally straightened and dashed forward, stepping onto the creature's knee and throwing himself into the air like an unfurled coil. His blades were tainted; coated with his own blood. It would take a toll on his own life... but, it was enough to finish this beast and move on so that Kerin, or anyone else strong enough, could finally get to Morpheus. If they cut the head off the snake, then this would all be over. They'd be fine. They'd recover from this, wouldn't they? He gripped his blades tighter, wringing his hands into white-knuckled fists. The creature's movements were laughably slow, now. As if it were moving through a pool of molasses, slugging around oafishly. Rhapscallion utilized the Darkspawn's meaty shoulder for leverage, hooked his blade around the creature's fat neck and swung around so that he could drive his borrowed dagger straight into it's eye socket.

Tonight, he wouldn't be useless.

The triplicate of rage demons lay dead, and Morpheus scoffed. Useless creatures. The lower order of demons always disappointed him, though they had their place. While the intruders had been working tirelessly to make their way to him, their bodies had been weakening as they sustained injury after injury, both from the summoned minions and the pittances he threw at them. Their endurance was impressive, but none could last forever. Even so... it was time to intervene.

Hurling a frost spell at Kerin to slow her progress, he watched the ice climb up the dwarf's legs, locking her in place for the time being. Morpheus reached into the vast wellspring of power inside himself, drawing it out into the air around himself and weaving the magic in complex, interlacing patterns. It looked as if he were composong a tapestry of dark, sickly-pulsing threads, and cloaking himself in them. The air in the Chantry grew heavy and cloying, as though this were a more concentrated version of the barrier that had surrounded the center of Val Royeaux, but it was being turned to very different purpose here. Once the dome of green-threaded black had completed and solidified around him, Morpheus smiled from behind it, drawing the opaque energy back towards himself. The shape warped and twisted, molding around his body like so much clay. The lines of his form were pronounced through the seemingly-liquidinous casing, as though he were wearing seamless armor from head-to-toe. A hand-axe made of the same stuff formed in either palm.

All at once, the armor and weapons soldified, shelling Morpheus in pearlescent black casing that, if the way the worrying green still flashed through it at seemingly-random intervals was any indication, would function almost exactly like the barrier he'd created. Raising one hand, palm up, he shifted his grip on his axe and beckoned Kerin forward with two fingers. Come, vengeful one, and test your steel on this. The voice issued not from the 'Spawn's mouth, but once again from his mind, only... louder. Loud enough, in fact, that everyone in the room could hear it, as though Morpheus were somehow speaking over their own thoughts, however loud or single-minded those might be.

Mere seconds afterwards, the room rang with an explosion, shaking the ground and knocking both ogres off their feet. The one with Rhapscallion presently attached to its face still managed to grab the man by his torso and rip him free of itself, tossing him over Dekton's head and into the far wall. Its eye was not faring so well, however, and ti thrashed about blindly, doing great damage to its environment but in far too much pain to recognize what was going on around it. As a result, it couldn't regain its footing, and simply caused indiscriminate damage to its environment, which included crushing the Desire Demon still hurling spels at the Chasind mage beneath its massive body. Her bones snapped easily, rendering her at the very least unconscious, if not dead.

The second ogre was dealt several punishing wounds when it fell, the surefooted pirate capitalizing on his advantage, but it managed to use its one good arm to push to uprightness long before its brother would. Snarling incoherently, it prepared to charge the pirate, and the Templar, newly arrived to the confrontation. "Hello there, my dear. I have to say it's simply marvelous to see you," Rudhale asserted with a grin. Oh, there was no mistaking that his arm was still killing him, perhaps literally if it didn't get some attention soon, but that was no excuse to lose one's manners, now was it? At the sight of the charging ogre, he sighed theatrically and shrugged his good shoulder. "I'll go left if you want the right. I'd let you choose, but well, I'm only half as good as usual at present, I'm afraid." There was little time to spend debating it, however, as the rush was imminent, and he split off in the direction he'd indicated, aiming for the corresponding side of the beast. He'd left Solvej with the weakened arm, and with luck, she'd be able to cripple it permanently.

He, as always, would be a very distracting diversion.

The explosion, as it turned out, blew the lyrium crystal to smithereens, but where Ethne had expected to be vaporized or some such, she instead found herself encased in blue-white light and relatively unharmed As the smoke cleared from around her, the shield fell, and she was left rather closer than she'd expected to a still-smirking Du Lac, who was bent at the torso so as to be looking down at her from directly above. "I'm surprised. No begging for mercy, no screaming... you must be a lot more accustomed to the idea of your own death than people give you credit for." She shook her head dumbly, and he shrugged. "Oh no? Well, no matter." In a movement she could not quite follow, Du Lac produced a glass vial filled with an easily-recognizable bright blue liquid. Dangling it over her nose, he glanced aside at the battle.

"I do believe your compatriots could use some assistance. They have sustained heavy injuries already, and Morpheus is only getting started." She reached for the vial, only for him to move it just out of her reach. "But! This is only yours if you agree to take your injured and leave here the moment you are done. There are stories to be told about this incident, and you and yours will be in none of them. Is that clear?"

Ethne's brow furrowed, but she didn't see much other choice. The biggest problem she had with this was not the request itself, but that she could not discern his motives. The idea that he simply wished to claim credit for what was about to happen (if, indeed, they succeeded) presented itself, but it seemed far too simple for a man like this. Still, what other option was there? "Fine, we'll leave. Please," she need not have finished the thought, for the glass container was pressed into her palm quickly, and the Lord High Seeker flickered in her vision before vanishing entirely- to what end, she knew not.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland

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The Black Templar's spear slid to his feet, and the shapeshifter paused long enough to slide his foot under the blade and kick it up into his hands. He gave Solvej a nod of understanding, noting how Rhapscallion was currently attached to the eyeball of an ogre. The weapon was no magic staff, but it would do well enough, he supposed.

The rage demon dealt with, Suicide had been just about to charge the ogre when the explosion rocked the battle, taking him from his feet, as well as pretty much everything else. Suicide managed to hang on to the spear, and he angrily forced himself back to his feet, getting his bearings on how the battle had shifted now that Ethne's prison had been torn asunder. Morpheus had turned his attention on Kerin, after... changing. The mere sight of him conjured up feelings of nausea that the barrier had produced, something that would not occur from viewing carnage alone. He was an enemy born of foul magic, that much was clear.

The ogre he'd been asked to assist with was thrashing about now that it had regained it's feet, obliterating the second desire demon, as well as pretty much everything surrounding it. The shapeshifter couldn't see where exactly Rhapscallion had ended up, but he would do his best to comply with the Warden's wishes. He would at least put her weapon to good use, if the beast gave him a chance. Considering how disoriented it was, given its lack of sight, Suicide doubted it would see a blast of stone coming. Gathering up the necessary magical energy, the shapeshifter hurled a boulder at blistering speeds into the ogre's head.

It did not, as he suspected, see that coming, and the boulder collided with a wicked crack into its jaw, crushing what little shape it had for a mouth and teeth, and sending it crashing onto its back and writhing in pain, likely unable to see anything, or feel anything other than the mush that was the lower half of its face. Suicide examined the situation for the briefest of moments. These things did not give up easily, nor did pain seem to do anything other than to make them angrier. It needed to be finished, but none of his spells he could think of would quite do the trick. Perhaps it was time for the spear after all. While he did not expect to come out of a close quarters fight with an ogre, even a wounded one, without some injury, the healer was at least freed at this point, and quite possibly capable of healing, providing him with some measure of insurance.

And really, he needed no other justification to charge an ogre besides the fact that it would be quite the experience.

He took the weapon firmly in both hands, aimed the pointy end at the fallen ogre, set his eyes on his prey, and charged, closing the distance before the beast had a chance to collect itself. He launched himself into the air when he reached it, plunging the spear down into the ogre's chest, the weight and force behind the blow giving it great strength. Solvej's spear tore through the chest, cracked through rib, punctured lung, and quite nearly burst out the other side of the creature, before it finally halted. Still the thing was not dead, but the wheezing sound of its next breath told Suicide it was finding it quite impossible to breathe.

The shapeshifter wouldn't have much time to think about that, though, as one of its fists came up from the ground in a final show of resistance, and blasted him in the side, sending him floating across the length of the room, before he smashed through a pillar along the far side, skidding along the floor among the skittering bits of stone before coming to a stop, and not immediately moving whatsoever.

The explosion rocked the building as Solvej was making her way to Rudhale, and she loosed a string of Anderfellan curses more from habit than actual vitiriol. The ex-Templar wobbled, unsteady, but in the end, the same training that allowed her to stand her ground against large foes served her well. She wasn't quite indomitable, but she was close, and after she collected herself, reintroducing her right foot to the stone beneath with a pronounced thud, she moved forward again, reaching the fool pirate even as he spent his time cleverly stabbing away at the temporarily-downed ogre. He'd... done a lot more damage to it than she'd expected. Perhaps there was more substance to him than his style would suggest, though it clearly had come at quite the cost. One of his arms hung limply at his side, and she resisted just barely the urge to wince sympathetically. Not too long ago, more than one of her limbs had been in a similar condition, after all.

Whatever pain he was feeling wasn't enough to check his cheeky tongue, and she graced him with a tight-lipped frown, rolling her eyes. Playing the straight man in the comedy of life wasn't something she was quite so used to anymore, but she suspected that with him, everyone else was necessarily the more sane of the two.

There was no time for sharp, deadpan rejoinders, however, as the beast had regained its feet and set its sights on the both of them. Without an immediately better plan, Solvej was forced to adopt the pirate's tempo for this one, and she nodded succinctly. "Aye aye, captain," she mumbled dryly, splitting off in the opposite direction and digging her feet in, using her traction to propel herself powerfully forward. The ogre was commited to its charge, unable to follow the both of them at once, and chose to lock onto the more flamboyant combatant in an attempt to change direction slightly. Solvej hoped it wouldn't hit him full-on, but she had no recourse to help, and so chose to follow the half-cocked plan and do as much damage as was humanly possible. Adjusting her own trajectory, she tightened her grip on her borrowed blade and thundered past the creature, flaying open a broad slash along the inside of its elbow, just above the joint.

There was an unmistakable sound when the tendon there snapped, and the ogre tilted off-balance without that arm to aid its control. When the fist attached to that limb would have next hit the ground in its simian motion, there was no muscle strength to be had, and it fell sideways, collapsing onto its damaged limb.

The impact had not been without consequence for Solvej, either, and the combined momentum of both herself and the ogre had ripped her arm from its socket with a muted sucking pop. Gritting her teeth, she popped the joint back into place, hissing softly at the pain-spike that accompanied the motion. This was no time to be standing around, though; she had no idea where Rudhale was, and she could only hope that whatever his location, 'under the ogre' wasn't part of it.

As it turned out, Rudhale had indeed avoided that fate, though by dent of pure, stupid luck more than anything else. Quick on his feet he may be, but predicting the wild veering of an unbalanced and angry ogre wasn't really a skill he'd had time to hone into an art. Frankly, he'd not complain if he never had to. Well, no, that was a lie. He hoped to do this and more dangerous things dozens more times before all this was said and done. He was almost positive his wish would be granted, too, which made things all the better, assumng he survived this bit.

Rolling to his feet and careful to avoid his tender arm, the pirate quite nearly danced right on over to his still-prone foe, hopping over a weakly-swung arm and sinking the triangular blade of his katar deep into the ogre's throat, upwards from underneath the chin. As expected, it came back goated in blood and brain tissue, which he was intereted to notice was a very-ordinary grey in color, though with a tinge of blue he would not have expected. At last, the ogre fell still, slain for good. Straightening, Rudhale nodded as if to himself, then flashed Solvej a shameless grin and a wink. "I get this wonderful feeling life will never be boring with you lot around, my dear."

His head turned thereafter to the front of the building, where it appeared that Morpheus was preparing to make his stand. "Though I must say, that one is a little tiresome, do you not agree?"

The explosion rang through his ears like an unpleasant drum – hardly the heroic beat giving Kerin enough energy to plow through the ugly letches as if they were toys, aiming straight towards the source: Morpheus. It crackled whatever concentration he'd built, felling his building blocks in one swoop; as if a little boy had suddenly kicked them over. Where had it come from? He couldn't tell up from down, or how he was even managing to hold onto the ogre's flapping eyelid, occasionally spurting thick globs of what he hoped was blood. He might've shouted something about the shape of Andraste's breasts, but it was hard to tell with all that snapping about; voice undulating to a bouncing gurgle.Things had been going well until the Darkspawn's chubby fingers closed around his midsection, prickling it's knobby claws into his ribs while it bodily extricated his flailing person from it's face. He'd been clinging on for dear life moments before, hands tightly wound around the dagger he'd embedded into it's red-rimmed eye. Now, Rhapscallion was sailing through the air, without direction, without control; the ceiling winked away, spiralling into the floor, before he smashed into the far wall. Lights exploded. Whatever breath he'd been holding in was thrown out in a croaking gasp, forcefully expelled from his lungs. Golden leaves and silkspun wings speckled constellations and starlight’s in the corners of his eyes, closing its gloomy mitts, as if a heavy curtain was being pulled closed.

Pull yourself together. His hands dragged against the cement floors, seeking purchase between the cracks. Everything around him was slick and warm. Why was he in so much pain? He'd been on his feet just seconds ago. Rhapscallion moved his arms in front of him, pushed himself up so that he could lean his back against the wall he'd been thrown into – at least, it was good for something. He felt something on his back, a fly perhaps, it bites him, there's was a sharp sting; a permeating pain that stretched it's fingers across his abdomen, his midsection, his ribs. He was growing weak. A weak crackerjack smile, half-way between a grimace and a grin, spread across his cracked lips as he leaned his shoulder into the wall, gripping between the cranny's and crevices puzzle-pieced into the bricks with his fingers. His knees wobbled with the strain. His eyes were different, unfocused, glossy. Where had the explosion come from? How far was he from them?

He breathed, slowly, softly, through his nose, his mouth, to try and regain a sense of tranquillity. To still the sporadic beating of his heart. To harness some sort of hidden strength he wasn't aware he had. To stifle his trembling knee-buckling shakes. They were still fighting. Only a coward would lie down and give up. He'd promised – quietly, without ever telling them so – that he wouldn't see them fall, that he wouldn't risk blowing their dreams from his palms like dandelion seeds. Nearby, through Rhapscallion's wavering vision, he'd seen another form bulldoze into a pillar, knocking it into pieces, before continuing to skid beyond the wreckage – Suicide? Dekton. The fluttering organ behind his ribs clenched, annotating that he was in fact seeing his friends suffering at the hands of a known source, unable to prevent it from happening. But his hands weren't shackled. He could move. He could fight. He would.The grip on his blades tightened, rattling against his gauntleted fingers. Chevalier's wouldn't give in, wouldn't complain about a flesh wound, would they? Patches of his body flashed, mimicking his background, before phasing back to his original form. Useless – he gave up the effort, found his clumsy foals-legs, and drew his blades in front of him: this was it. Morpheus' voice, unspoken from his lips, rippled through the airwaves, invading the personal spaces of his mind. In order to stop all of the suffering, they'd need to put him down – cut the head off the snake, and it's body would die. The Darkspawn would flee from Val Royeaux: his home. He moved towards Kerin's flank. If there was anything he could do to assist her, then he would. They needed her strength; now, more than ever.

Something stalled her march. Her feet wouldn't move, no matter how much the war drums willed it. She didn't look down, merely kept her eyes straight, leveled coldy on the target, on Morpheus. She strained and pulled, but her shackles of ice would not budge. The war drums sang a maddening song in her head, pushing, forcing, commanding her to move forward and end the monster with a fell swoop of her axe. As she struggled against her icy prison, Morpheus beckoned to her, his voice barely audible over the pounding of drums. If she understood him, she showed no indication. She needed no goading for the task at hand. The outcome would have been the same even if he keep his voice out of her tulmutious mind. She would reach him, sooner or later, and she would cut him down. The entirity of her purpose right then, was the destruction of that abomination of a darkspawn.

Then she was realized she was free from her frozen shackles. An explosion shook the foundation of the Chantry, and Kerin, even on her war path, stumbled a step. A singular step that shattered the ice around her feet. Only one foot left the ground however, as her axe thrust into the stone to keep her balanced. She was not going to fall, no matter how many explosions he threw at her. She would not fall until her purpose was complete. With her foot now back on firm ground, she took a step. And then another step. Followed by another. Once again, she was on her war path.

The sudden sheath of black and green pearlescent armor didn't even register with Kerin, though it matter little. Just one more thing to get through before she could rend the soft flesh beneath. She approached her objected, her vacant eyes staring directly into Morpheus's face. If she had her way, it would soon be robbed of life. She hefted her axe, unaware that Rhapscallion was on her flank. It wouldn't have mattered if she did realize she wasn't alone, her goal was firmly in sight, within cutting distance. And so, she reared back her axe and let fall a Killing blow, hoping to end it all right there.

Rudhale saw the blow about to fall, he and Solvej jogging to reach Morpheus, Kerin, and Rhapscallion before the Darkspawn had a chance to retaliate. Having felt its magic, he could say with certainty that she wouldn't last long if all his attention was focused on her, determination of superhuman proportions or no. He winced when what should have been a limb-severing blow simply bounced off the shell like wood off steel, except with a much more resounding noise. A flicker of movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he watched the other ogre struggle for breath, Solvej's spear planted in its chest. He was debating whether or not he was in better condition than the Templar woman beside him and which one of them should go help Suicide finish it off when the point became rather moot.

All at once, each of them was flooded with a powerful cooling sensation, something like the ocean breeze on a sweltering Antivan summer day, and slowly, their damaged and battered bodies knit themselves back together. For his own part, the pirate was met with several wet clicks as his shattered bones rearranged themselves and fused. His smaller cuts and bruises remained unchanged, but he had his arm back, and he wasn't about to complain about anything else if that was he case. Flexing the fingers carefully, he grinned like a madman when there was no pain. Glancing over at Solvej, he jerked his head at the dying behemoth. "If you want your spear back, I'll take that," he offered. It didn't make much sense to rush Morpheus with a single katar, not if the mighty dwarf's axe-blow had simply rebounded like that.

His suggestion was punctuated by the whistle of a stone projectile as it whizzed past them and collided with the Darkspawn's head, breaking against the thick cranium but cracking its skull in turn. Behind them, Ethne wobbled forward, staff in hand and the extra energy replenished by the Seeker's potion already spent. Still, she'd tried to be as wise about it as possible, and hopefully it would help.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland

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Her axe rebounded off of the armor. Kerin didn't understand, couldn't understand in her state. The war drums pounded deep heavy beats, demanding his blood be spilled by the axe in her hand. The rhythym was coming to a bloody cresendo, restless, rampaging beats demanding she continue her war path, demanding that she cut down the being in front of her. The pounding drums would not relent, she would not relent until Morpheus lay dead by her feet, and only then would she be granted a reprieve from the maniacal drums. She struck again, her axe rebounding off of his fade-armor. Hairline fractures began to spiderweb across her axe, but it did not matter. Even if she had to use the bare haft of the axe, she would beat Morpheus to death.

Years of repression, of oppression, of being looked down upon, of being spit upon, of being insulted, hated, reviled. Years of being thought of lower than dirt, of being nonexistant were boiling over, tempering the dwarf into a fine honed point of black treacly hatred. Funny thing about hatred. It was stubborn. It would not relent, she would not relent, until Morpheus felt all of the pain and anguish she had to suffer through during all of her years. Him. Morpheus. The Darkspawn general. The dreamweaver. The puppetteer who resurrected a corpse Kerin had long since buried by her very hands, killed by her very hands. The unfeeling monster would never understand her pain, her struggle. With one gesture, in bringing back a familiar face she had consigned herself to never see again hoping to entrap her in a blissful dream, he had summoned a monster she thought she would never hear again. With it, it brought back the waves of guilt, of anger, of hopelessness. Tears began to stream down from her vacant eyes.

It had broken her.

And in those pieces, all of her emotions she had bottled up, only allowing the barest traces escape during her typical berserker rampages, allowed them all to escape at once. He stood in the center of her warpath, she would be relentless in her pursuit, she would find determination mere mortals could only hope for. She. Would. Break him. Just as he broke her. Her axe reared back again and met the unyielding armor. Again. And again. Her strokes were relentless, marching along with the rampaging drums. Perhaps it was the sheer ferocity of her attacks. Perhaps he was playing with her. But eventually, finally Morpheus struck back.

His own axe cleaved deep into her shoulder, rending flesh, carving steel, and cutting bone. Perhaps it was the dwarven resilience to the fade. Perhaps it was mere beastial instinct of preservation that saved her, as she moved away from the axe and managed to slip away with the limb still intact, though not without price. Blood ran freely from the wound, flowing past mangled steel and flesh. Yet, if she felt pain, she did not show it. Her determination, the war drums would not allow it. Yet his own onslaught wasn't done as he come down with another axe. The beast playing the war drums had enough werewithal to throw her axe up and intercept the blow. Yet it was more than one blow. Much like Kerin had been relentless with her own axe, Morpheus was just as relentless with his. One, two, three, four, the ringing ran concurrent to the march of her own drums.

Then something shattered, the axe in her hand felt lighter. She stumbled backwards as the haft in her hand turned to splinters and the axe head shattered into fragments. She stumbled back as her legs quivered, threatening to collapse on her. Yet she did not kneel. She would not bow. She would not back down. She could not break anymore. She would keep fighting until death. Her inhuman determination steeled her as she drew her shortsword.

She would see his blood run, even if hers must run beside it.

The shapeshifter's battle with the ogre was not met with pain or death, broken limbs and internal bleeding. Perhaps that had occurred at some point as his body was smashed against a pillar, but he felt nothing of the sort now. For his recklessness, for his headlong charge against a foe easily twice his size and more, Suicide was rewarded with sheer rejuvenation, bliss in the form of Ethne's healing magic. The little one always seemed to find a way to them.

He was compelled to rise, compelled to wake up and smell the fact that he was very much alive. While Kerin was lost to her aggression, the shapeshifter was distinctly aware of everything happening around him, as though his senses were on overdrive, his mind processing at a rate far above the normal. All had fallen before them, before their onslaught, save for this architect of prisons, he who felt their attacks were mere insults, who had thought them mere ants to be squished under his heel. He would feel wrath yet.

Suicide suspected there were enough of them pressing the darkspawn leader up close, and as such refrained from shifting to bear or wolf. He doubted mundane claws and teeth would do much against their enemy's barriers, which were clearly of a magical nature. Thus, the shapeshifter kept his distance, shifting his attack instead of his body, channeling primal forces through his hands, and giving Morpheus a taste of a typical day in the Wilds. Lightning, rock, and ice alike danced across his hands, before striking at the darkspawn from long range, attempting to slice, bludgeon, or electrocute through the barrier. Kerin's physical means had proved ineffective. This would perhaps prove if magical means were also as ill-suited for the fight.

Solvej's answer was to toss Rudhale's sword to him and jog off in the direction of the other fallen ogre. She'd have preferred to be running, but her body wasn't really having that at present, as each jar of her feet against the stone floor was reminding her. When the healing magic swept over them, she could have collapsed in her relief, but it wasn't that kind of rejuvenation, it seemed. Rather, her newly-whole skin seemed to be tingling, her nerves alight with some kind of vigorous energy. A shudder wracked her, and the Black Templar took off running, heedless of the large stone construct that went flying by behind her. Her hands closed over the familiar haft of her spear, and she yanked, working the end free of the ogre's flesh and bone.

Giving the polearm a test swing, Solvej nodded her satisfaction and advanced on Morpheus, circling around so as to flank him and still leave Kerin plenty of room to swing. It wasn't clear exactly what if anything would damage that armor he was wearing, but if it was anything like the barrier from before (and it looked pretty similar), then it was a good bet that her abilities would have some impact at least. For a moment, she simply watched the Darkspawn move, trying to figure out where any weak spot might be. For all that the armor seemed seamless, in order for him to move at all, there had to be joints somewhere. Given the fact that he swung an axe like anyone else, she figured they would be in the usual places.

Swallowing, Solvej concentrated, channelling her energy into her spearpoint. While Morpheus was busy dealing with whatever magic Suicide was throwing at him, the Templar struck, attempting to drive the business end of her weapon into the place where the shoulder-joint would be on any normal set of armor.

Morpheus was forced a step backwards by the force of the magic hurled at him, but aside from that, it didn't seem to have much effect. The stone and ice shattered agains his shell, and the lightning appeared to be absorbed without any negative repercussions whatsoever. Rather the opposite, in fact, as with a jerk of his arm, the Darkspawn channelled the very same bolt through his axe, firing it back at Dekton, amplified by his own powers.

He was raising his opposite axe to finish cleaving the dwarf's arm off when he realized it was no longer in such bad shape as it had been, and his uniformly-ebon head raised, the place where his eyes would have been pointing firmly in Ethne's direction. As a result, he was completely unprepared for the Templar-Warden's assault, and her spear contacted his shoulder-joint precisely, the energy at the point of the blow sinking into the spot. The armor here regained the liquidity it had had before he hardened the barrier into a carapace, and the spearhead sank further into the spot, piercing what would have felt like flesh underneath before the shell re-solidified, trapping the blade of the polearm as though in solid stone.

Whipping around, Morpheus used Solvej's grip on the spear to bend it, bringing one of his axes down on the haft, which shattered as easily as Kerin's axe had, the upper half still sticking out of his body. That was two without their primary weapons now, but something worthwhile may well have been discovered for the sacrifice.

Indeed, Rudhale had been watching, and was slowly forming a hypothesis. "The joints!" he called, "I bet he has to make them softer when he moves them!" How else would motion be possible at all? So thinking, the pirate slid in behind the darkspawn, watching and waiting for an opening. He'd be wary now, and wait for the telltale movement of an arm or a leg before attacking the corresonding chink in the armor. Of course, he'd have to be forced to move, first, but both the magic and the good old-fashioned beating seemed to have accomplished that just fine.

It was strange how things could change in the second of a heart's beat – mid-thrum, accommodating it's tune so that it would sing a little higher, a little more hopefully, a little less pessimistically. The bluebird euphony, serenading in his skull, chimed alongside his companions, accompanying Kerin's deafening war drums, and Rhudale's merry jig and Solvej's despondent refrain, as well as the adjudicated timbre that could only be Dekton's known Path. It was Ethne's song that threaded it's fingers through his wounds, closing the ugly gnash rippled across his abdomen, as if it were being mended by ghostly seamstress hands. If it could be called anything, then Rhapscallion would've named it a heart song. His ribs scratch-scratched against their knobby neighbours, disregarding the initial jolt of pain it sent through his chest, catching at his lungs like an unexpected punch. Icy fingertips grew gentle and warm, sending bolts of electricity fumbling down his spine, his legs, his arms. He nearly toppled over from surprise, only slowing his steps so that he could gather his bearings. He reached out, fingernails catching at the ripped fabric – no blood, barely a scratch. The aching in his ribs seemed more like a located bruise that could be ignored.

All dripping worries, like a heavy cloud that'd been relieved of it's weight, Rhapscallion's head reared up and measured the situation, taking in what he knew, and trying to figure out if there was a way he could possibly weasel his way past Morpheus' defences. It didn't seem likely. When Morpheus' macabre axe, splintered an unyielding ebony, bit into Kerin's exposed shoulder, effectively shredding through her armor as if it were little more than an inconvenience, Rhapscallion wasted no more time thinking of his route. His molars ground against adjacent teeth. He would not see Kerin kneel, as if that were even a possibility – this was not his nightmare and Morpheus had less control here than in the Fade. They wouldn't fall like discarded puppets, strings promptly severed. He was whole. He was there for them, and them only. They were a resilient force, feeding off each other's energy, and he would make sure that he wasn't left behind. Rebounding behind Dekton's mass of spells, Rhapscallion weaved behind his companions, before flickering out of view, perfectly blending into his surroundings, and leaving little than a small puff of smoke in his wake.

Her axe. Her spear. It seemed as if they were onto something. Rhapscallion's eyes focused, pupils contracting, pinpointing weaknesses in the creature's unusual armor – kinks that could be taken to their advantage, used to make Morpheus kneel. His body flickered, once, then again, so that he'd have time to trade a knowing glance in Rudhale's direction. If he could distract, or even surprise Morpheus enough, then his clever companion would have a clear shot at one of his joints, and attempt to debilitate the damned thing. The half-breed circled around the Darkspawn, flickering back into view, and slashing at Morpheus' midsection with his tainted blade, before bringing it up again across it's head. His movements were quick, spontaneous, and invariably fluctuating, fading into clouds of billowing smoke whenever he'd been spotted, succinctly trying to annoy the Darkspawn enough that he'd move to attack him.

Morpheus had a choice before him, and he chose to complete his rotation, facing Solvej and Rhapscallion rather than Kerin, Rudhale, and Dekton. The half-breed's distraction technique proved effective, and the Darkspawn focused on him first, crossing his arms in an x-shape and then thrusting outward with both in an inverse-scissor motion meant to flay open the shadow's chest. The move committed him to a half-step forward, shifting the majority of his weight to his left.

Kerin's head darted around, throwing her empty gaze at her companions who began to approach her enemy, her corpse. A twitch of her lips was the only thing that told of her displeasure at not being the one to draw first blood. The twitch turned into a bared teeth as Morpheus turned his back on her in order to deal with others. Fool. She was the most dangerous, it was her that he should have been focused on, not some skippy elf or former Templar. The war drums commanded that she make him pay for his trangression, to remind him of the bloodied dwarf. Her back arched and she flipped the shortsword in her hand so that she held it inversely. Then she pushed off with her foot, barreling toward the Darkspawn.

Her feet felt heavy like lead and her movements felt unsure, sluggish. Even the war drums were beginning to sound drowned. Their beat was slow, strained, but still had the power, still had the drive behind every crash. The Broken would not be denied her corpse. Kerin would be his downfall, and when he lay dying, gasping for breath but instead inhaling his blood, the last word on his dying breath would be her name. She charged recklessly towards Morpheus, completely uncaring to bodily harm. Perhaps it was her grim conviction, perhaps it was Ethne's healing magic, but she managed to reach Morpheus without falling. It was then that she threw herself in the back of the legs. She would not bow, but she would make him. Throwing every ounce of her weight behind the toss, she used her entire stock as a battering ram against the Darkspawn's legs, demanding that he topple, uncaring to her own safety.

The Broken would break him.

Morpheus, already less stable than before due to the force of his blow against Rhapscallion, took the blow harder than he would have otherwise, and it caused him to topple backwards, crashing to the ground and taking Kerin with him by sheer dent of his weight, which was double what it might have looked due to the incredible density of the artificial carapace. In order to regain his feet, he desolidified several of his joints, and that was precisely the moment Rudhale had been waiting for. Sidling into the unoccupied space between the Morpheus-Kerin pile of limbs and armor, he drew his kilij forcefully across the back of a knee-joint, leaping back again so as to allow someone else to have the same opportunity. He was certain a properly-aimed spell would have a similar effect, assuming it was something like stone or ice.

Of course, the problem now would be not hittting the dwarf, still entangled with the Darkspawn as she was, so the skill they'd need here was precision, not force.

Solvej looked once at the jagged, broken metal haft of her spear, then at the downed Morpheus. Surely, it was not the ideal situation, and her weapon presently was far from as structurally stable as it had been with point intact, but as long as it was still capable of stabbing, she didn't really care. A wound was a wound, and he wasn't going to die unless he sustained some. Probably quite a lot, really. She caught on to all of this a hair slower than Rudhale did (not that she would ever admit to losing to the pirate in anything), so she aligned herself behind him, sliding in as he drifted out, her metal staff lit with Templar skill, and aimed for the same spot she had last time, since she knew that worked. This time, though, she was careful to stab quickly; it wouldn't do to lose the only remaining method she had of damaging this thing save sheer determination and raw energy, which was unlikely to be nearly as effective.

He was bound to be back on his feet soon, though; everything had to count. Frankly, she hoped Kerin was all right under there, but there wasn't much any of them could do for her if they wanted to capitalize on the advantage she had so belligerently provided them.

Suicide snarled as his attacks bounced seemingly harmlessly off the darkspawn's armor, his magical energy wasted against an impenetrable defense. Even worse, the darkspawn was able to turn his efforts against him, sending a bolt of lightning back in his direction, which he was able to dodge only by ducking down behind the pillar he had smashed into earlier. Soon enough, however, his allies had revealed a weakness, one that required a careful strike of a magical nature, something that Suicide was certainly capable of performing.

Winter's Grasp was a very accurate spell, when wielded by skilled hands. As a mage who was practically born in ice and howling wind, Suicide had more experience creating and controlling the cold than most mages formally trained in its use. The others had exposed a weakness in their enemy's defense, and it needed to be taken advantage of. Perhaps they could slice him into bits by targeting the joints. The shapeshifter's hands ceased their storms and summonings of earth, instead chilling completely, frost rising from his palms like steam or smoke.

He targeted the same knee joint that the pirate had struck, summoning his last reserves of mana weaving a bladed ring of ice around it like a deadly noose, encircling it completely, before closing his hand into a fist, sending the precise attack slicing into the joint from all sides, hoping to sever it entirely.

Under the combined force of the assaults, something shifted. A hairline crack, no longer than the average little finger, appeared, running from the back of the Darkspawn's knee down his calf. Solvej's spear-shaft clearly scored his shoulder as well, and the effect was much the same; with a sharp sound, a portion of the black-and-green amalgam losing all color and etching itself in white instead. It wasn't much, but it was progress. Still, it was nowhere near enough. The substtance was magical, that much was clear, and something needed to be done to cancel it. Try as she might, Solvej's Templar abilities alone were getting nowhere fast, and neither magic nor brute force nor reasoned finesse was having much more luck.

Despite the new chinks in his armor, Morpheus was able to force himself to his feet without too much trouble, delivering the dwarf who'd put him on the ground a heavy kick to the ribs for the trouble. His hands tightened noticeably on his axes, and he made a swing for Rudhale, who managed to duck out of the way, thankfully with his weapons (and limbs) still intact. Whirling around, the darkspawn threw one of his weapons tomahawk-style, aiming squarely for Dekton. As soon as it hit or missed, it would simply dissolve, to be reabsorbed into his armor and reformed into his hand.

Some indeterminate distance away, under the cover of a very effective stealth-cloak, a pair of eerie lyrium-blue eyes narrowed, and the Lord High Seeker moved.

The motion required to throw the axe had weakened the solidity of the joint the Black Templar had been prodding at with mild success, and it was there, so close behind Morpheus as to be within a needle's reach, that he stabbed the Darspawn with something entirely different: a sharpened shard of the Templar's lifeblood. The pure lyrium did what nothing else so far had done, and the cracks that spiderwebbed across the surface of the armor were a testament to the success of the maneuver. It was right about then that Du Lac allowed himself the smug satisfaction of a plan well-executed. Why else would he have convinced the fool to lock away the somniari in a cage made of lyrium? Well, it worked, of course, but it also provided him the means to his own ends- namely, getting this foul piece of unholy chattel out of his city.

Nothing was ever as simple as it seemed, of course, and the fel howl that issued from Morpheus as his armor cracked and fell away portended more unfortunate things to come. "Get back if you want to live," the Seeker pointed out oh-so-helpfully, and he himself flickered and vanished once more, the shard of lyruim falling to the stone floor. Morpheus yowled again and clutched his own head, as if trying to contain something within it. To no avail, apparently, for his body seemed to swell before their very eyes, Fade energy practically leaking from him as water from a sieve. This was advantageous to Suicide and Ethne, who found their mana replenished for the trouble, but the benefit was almost certainly countermanded by the fact that Morpheus continued to grow, his arms and legs thickening to massive proportions and sprouting brutal claws, his mass of reddened, rotting flesh carrying him well over fifteen feet tall and likely twice again as heavy as everyone in the group combined. His body was simian in proportion, the arms much longer than the legs, his knucles dragging against the ground even from his elevation.

On the plus side, he no longer had near-perfect defenses.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland

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The shadow, weaving in and out of visibility, sucked in it's breath, willing it's smoky-stomach to fall inward, just enough so that Morpheus' wild scissoring scrapped against his crooked vambrace. It didn't fare well against Morpheus' axes, rending them with deep gashes, before Rhapscallion had the chance to circle around the Darkspawn and continue his maddening assault. He regarded his companion, in a titled world, between Morpheus' shoulder, between the spaces and gaps. His eyes widened. What was she doing? The sight of Kerin's unhinged, unrestrained charge clamped down on his heart, quickening it's pulse. She was hurt. She was bleeding. But, she wouldn't stop. Would any of them? Would they be willing to die here, now, for Val Royeaux? For something more. Of course. His lips part slightly, as if trying to intone a warning. As if to say something intelligible because he honestly couldn't bear seeing any one of them being struck down by this heartless monstrosity, who cared nothing for their dreams, for their ambitions, for their strengths. Instead, Rhapscallion scampered out of the way, unseen, and circled to the far side of Morpheus so that he wouldn't hamper Kerin's jostling canter. He could not, and would not, make her bow. None of them would.

The light flick of a wrist, seemingly appearing from the shadow's, had not gone unnoticed. After all, Rhapscallion was presumably gifted in seeing the unseen, at becoming nothing and just as quickly appearing in the most peculiar of places. It was the small, nearly imperceptible movement, that gave Du Lac away. He hadn't enough time to ponder why he was hiding in the shadows, and why he hadn't been helping them earlier. Was he waiting? Biding his time, perhaps. Rhapscallion's attention focused back on Morpheus, while he hopped backwards a few feet behind Rudhale. The creature's carapace skittered like spiderwebs, fracturing like a broken mirror. He eyed the shard of lyrium, flitting across the cobblestones to indicate the Seeker's unwillingness to participate further. His mouth went dry. The creature's very being was changing. It's limbs extorted beyond their normal length, proportions ridiculously large. This was Morpheus' true form?

Solvej didn't spare the time to think too hard about what was going on. She had probably less than zero trust for Seekers generally, it was obvious that they were currently in no position to be too picky about whose help they accepted. The fact that he used lyrium to undo magic was enough for her to internally berate herself for her own stupidity. She of all people should have remembered that correlation. Still, it wasn't as though this sort of thing came up often anymore; Darkspawn mages were rare, and usually went down as easy as any of the rest.

Either way, it wasn't a mistake she'd make twice. The Seeker dropped the lyrium shard; she dove for it, snatching the thing out of the way just as Morpheus's increasingly-large foot landed where it had been before. Rolling, she came to her feet and beat it, giving the thing enough space to swing without hitting her. Exactly what was going on, she was having difficulty deciding. This sort of thing, she'd seen on more than one occasion; whenever some fool got stupid enough to let him- or herself get possessed by a demon. But Morpheus was already a Darkspawn, how was it that he could be a possessed Darkspawn? Maybe he just was a demon to begin with. Solvej had heard no tales of such a thing, and frankly, the news should probably scare all of them witless. Either one of those two things was a nightmare on its own (unfortunate pun fully intended), but something that was both? No wonder the bloody bastard wouldn't just die.

"Well... doesn't he just look like a bag of kittens?" she murmured flatly. More than twice her height and probably almost ten times her weight, ugly as sin to boot. This was going to be fun.

Casting away the near-useless remains of her spear, Solvej tightened her grip on the lyrium, the jagged shard about as long and thick as her forearm. The explosion that had created it had effectively weaponized it- one end was quite sharp. She wanted to get it in his eye, but there was no chance of that when he was so high up. Looked like they'd have to bring him down first, and she doubted Kerin could just pile-drive him into it now. For the moment, she'd have to go with Plan B: distract him so everyone else could kill him.

Without anything to properly channel her abilities into, she settled for a simple blast of spirit energy- less concentrated, more flashy. Kind of like Emil. The blow left her fingertips with a crackle, aimed squarely for the Darkspawn... demon... thing's chest.

The flash of light carried more than a little power, and even Morpheus felt it, diverting his attention to the woman who'd launched it. She was weaponless, save for a gling of blue at the end of one hand- lyrium. He detested the substance, and those who let it snake through their blood, tainting themselves in ways they did not understand. Righteous, they thought, and holy, but what did any of them know of holiness? To them, he was a forgotten child, a test case for mortals that some divine creator loved more. As though anything so great as he would ever envy them, grow bitter and small over the favor of some second-rate god! There, now there was a delusion greater and more powerful than he could conjure, and he did not like that anyone was held to it.

The massive fingers of his right hand grouped together, the sharpened, jagged claws forming into a razor point, backed with the strength of a metal more refined than silverite. He drew back, thrusting his hand forward, aimed right for the Templar in black armor. She'd sought his attention, and she would have it until she wished she didn't.

Suicide was currently in the process of picking himself up off the floor, having been recently decked by an axe thrown tomahawk-style from Morpheus. He'd at last run out of magical reserves, and had been foolishly searching the ravaged interior of the room for where his staff had gotten too, to no avail, when the axe cleaved into his right shoulder, near the neck. The force of the attack had taken even him from his feet, sending him to the ground on his back with a roar of anger and pain. From the feel of it, the weapon had sliced entirely through his right collarbone. Moving his arm at all was a lost cause, at least until Ethne could summon up another healing wave to revitalize the group.

As quickly as the axe had come it was gone, dissolving into nothingness, leaving the shapeshifter with a useless arm and a lot of blood. Growling, he pushed himself into a crouched postion behind the pillar with his left arm, when quite suddenly he felt a different kind of rejuvenation. No healing was involved, as his shoulder was still losing blood at a rapid rate, but he felt his magical reserves replenish, the power of the Fade returning to his fingertips.

The change in their enemy's physical form was a startling thing to see, certainly, but at this point, Suicide was beginning to expect the unexpected with the darkspawn. All its size and strength and power aside, it was just another obstacle, a bigger giant to bring down, a greater prize to be consumed by him and his allies. For the moment, though, Suicide was weaponless, and his various forms did not seem of use at the moment. He imagined trying to fly as a raven and find his staff would be excruciating, what with the injury. Annoyed that he could not be doing more at the moment, he launched a Stonefist towards Morpheus, hoping to at least get him off balance, and disrupt the strikes he was currently aiming at Solvej.

Pain. For once, since the fight had begun, the sharp stabbing pain broke through the war drums' song and assaulted her. She grunted as she dropped her sword and grasped at her ribs. Broken. The strings tying the war drums together were beginning to loosen, the song was stuttering and straining. Yet, the song continued, slowly, but surely. Her empty gaze flickered from conscious to unconscious, but something deep within her troubled soul would not allow her to succumb to the pain. Something kept her from falling even further. A coughing fit wracked her frame as blood flowed freely from he mouth. Damn that Morpheus. Damn him. She would not be outdone by some errant kick to the gut. Kerin beat the cracked stones under her form as she tried to get to her feet. She was on her hands and knees when she wavered, her body threatening to topple over on itself.

But it didn't.

A resounding beat of the drums steeled her, and kept her from falling. She coughed again, spewing more of her blood. Her lips grimaced and she blinked as pain rocked her, but another beat of the drum and she forgot all about it. Another resounding beat, and she found her feet underneath her. Another, and she shoved herself up, now standing. She was hunched and panting heavily, as if the were the low roll from the drums. It was as if air couldn't fill her lungs fast enough no matter how hard she tried. Another cry of the war drums, and that too was forgotten. She threw herself up, straightening her back and stood proud. Blood flowed from the corners of her mouth, a cut drained into left eye, covering that entire side of her face with blood, her arm was reddened from burns and a number of cuts coated her arm with crimson. Her armor sheened red with the blood from her belly, but still, she stood staight, and she stood proud. She stood bloodied, but unbowed. Her weary empty eyes now laid evenly on Morpheus and beheld his new form.

It mattered not. One form or another, he would die. The drums commanded it.

Ethne, not at all unaware of the predicament currently facing Dekton and Kerin especially, nevertheless simply didn't have the energy left to do anything about it. She'd have to wait until her body could once again draw upon the power she required, and hope against hope that everyone would be okay until then. Solvej had fearlessly blasted away at the Darkspawn, and had gained his full attention for her trouble. Dekton had taken advantage, launching a great chunk of stone at the enormous demon... spawn? It felt both kinds of wrong to her, and so even though she didn't fully understand it, she'd have no choice but to think of it that way.

The Stonefist collided with the creature's elbow, several shards embedding themselves just beneath the skin of its arm. It didn't throw off the force of Morpheus's blow by much, but nevertheless it did have some effect, and those paying attention would notice that this form of the General bled much more easily than the last, black life-essence falling from its great height to splash over the stone in a viscous, ichory mess. It practically reeked of the Taint, and it was then that Rudhale at least became aware of the lingering urgency of another particular danger, especially for the bloodied and heavily-injured Kerin. With that many potential places for infection, there was a good chance that she or any of the non-Wardens in the group could wind up with a problem just as obvious as the one standing before them.

So for once, instead of making some kind of quip or joke, the pirate closed his mouth and got to work. The attack aimed for Solvej went just wide due to Suicide's interference, and the claws buried themselves at least a foot into the stone instead of impaling her, armor and all. This gave them an opportunity, and he at least was going to take advantage, moving in and slashing at the stuck arm with sweeping, whirling strokes from the kilij. With a limb this thick, there was no chance of simply cutting it off, but if they could disable it by severing the right tendons or muscles... the same probably applied to the feet.

For her part, Solvej took advantage of the opening her allies had presented her with and ducked under Morpheus's arm, making a beeline for his legs, lyrium shard still firmly in hand. While the 'Spawn struggled to remove himself from the ground, the Templar managed to get right in front of his feet. Gripping the shard in both gauntleted hands, Solvej raised them above her head, standing with her feet shoulder-width apart. "Dein Blut verbrannt werden zu lassen, Sache," she hissed, plunging the solidified lyrium downward in an attempt to quite literally stake the general's foot to the stone floor beneath.

And burn it did. The Black Templar's creative solution was partially effective, and the lyrium shard was driven through Morpheus's foot, drawing a howl of contorted rage and pain from the Darkspawn, who at last managed to tear his claws free from the stone, swatting at Rudhale, who earned himself a shallow but bloody cut to the stomach, as though what armor he bothered to don wasn't there at all. Worse was the retribution Solvej recieved, as her maneuver hadn't quit managed to nail him down the way she was hoping. That very same limb made full contact with her abdomen, sending the group's most defensive member flying end-over-end some distance away. Where she landed, Morpheus didn't really care.

It was then that Rhapscallion noticed the extent of Kerin's injuries as she knelt, spewing blood on the ground, and stubbornly forcing herself to stand, once more. He let out a low curse, eyebrows darting up, then clinching forward. There was no mistaking that Kerin would deny any efforts of aid, would refuse to sit out, would rather die then silence her war drums. Uncharacteristically grim, Rhapscallion gracefully whipped around Morpheus' legs, already coiling with new muscles, and it's clawed hands, knuckling the ground as if he were a bull ready to charge. He sidled beside Kerin, readying his only remaining shamshir. The dagger that Rudhale had given him was conventionally lodged into the ogres bulging eyesocket, where it remained at that very moment. It didn't matter. As long as he had something in his hands, or even if he was bereft of any weapon, he'd continue clawing, spitting, and fighting. “Until your blood stops boiling.” A strange statement, half-murmured from his lips. If she went left, then he would go right. This was not a battle for one – but for them all.

The pained drums only drowned out Rhapscallion's words, only coming across as a murmured whispered. She jerked her head to the side and silently regarded the man with unflinching eyes. Whether she understood him, or his intentions was unclear, what was clear however, was that the man was not her foe, her prey. The drums did not demand his blood. Her eyes slowly made their way back to the monsterous form of Morpheus. He was her enemy, it was his blood that was demanded. So she began her march. Slow plodding footsteps forward. She would not be be able to climb his back and slit his throat in her condition, no matter how much grit, and blood, and determination she had. She would have to cut him down.

Bring him to her level. She would have to cut at his feet. The weak tendons of the ankle. She would have to make him fall, to make him kneel before her, before she could drag her blade across his neck. But first, she'd have to get to him. Her steps were slow and heavy. Even painful at times, each jarring step sending a blade of pain into her ribs. Though she could not hesitate, the drums would not slack their pace on account of her pain. They were merciless drivers, but they kept her standing. They urged her, and she forged ahead, heading right for the ankle. Once there, she drove her sword with what strength she had left at the monster's soft tendons of it's literal Achilles heel, looking to steal his movements away. She would tear, she would rip, and she would destroy the heel with her shortsword, mangling it beyond use if given the slightest chance.

The fact that the Dreamweaver had shifted his weight in order to kick at Solvej proved a liability here. The shortsword wasn't quite enough to sever his Achilles' tendon entirely, but it did bite deep. Though the burn of lyrium did not accompany this strike, the black blood that welled from the wound was in no trifling amount, and there was no mistaking that these were not mere insect bites to him. Morpheus was faced with a choice: stand on the foot impaled with a still-agonizing lyrium nail, or else the one wekened by the wound to a vitally-connective tendon. In the end, he was forced to strike a balance, and this would considerably reduce his overall mobility. Enraged, he swept one massive arm in a wide arc, aiming to knock down Kerin, Rhapscallion, and Rudhale in one go.

For his part, the pirate managed to flip himself just out of range, but was left far enough away that an immediate counterattack was impossible. Ethne, who'd been hammering at the creature's arms and chest with mere staff-blasts, was at last able to provide some minor assistance, and prioritized Kerin, who seemed to be in the worst shape, sending a singular healing spell in the dwarf's direction, which hit exactly as Morpheus's arm would have, assuming the berserker couldn't get out of the way in time. It seemed that for the time being, they were simply going to have to outdo him in a contest of raw endurance.

Suicide frowned when the healing didn't come, but understood when he saw Ethne aiding Kerin instead. She was in worse shape, and also in more immediate danger, which she clearly wasn't willing to remove herself from. Seeing that Ethne was stuck resorting to staff blasts, the shapeshifter supposed she must have reached her limit. Perhaps it was time to find his.

Contrary to his namesake, Suicide did not seek death. Rather, he did his best to not allow it to factor into his decisions. Such was the case when he bolted out from behind his cover, running with only his left arm pumping, the right hanging limp at his side. It wasn't as though the pain would be too much if he moved that arm as well, it was simply that he couldn't. His arm did not respond to his thoughts, instead choosing to make itself a dead weight, dripping blood from his fingertips as it ran in a stream from his shoulder down his arm.

One arm or no, he needed to find his staff. Something to channel is magical energy through, something more focused than his hands. The others seemed to be keeping Morpheus busy enough up close for him to search, or rather, feel for it. There was a slight pull coming from the direction of where he had originally been struck by Morpheus' ice spell, a familiar call of a weapon almost asking to be wielded again. He spotted it on the ground amidst the remains of one of the rage demons that had exploded. His left hand slid along the ground until the sturdy wood touched his skin, at which point he closed around it, muscles in his arm rippling as he whirled the heavy weapon to face Morpheus.

Suicide channeled electrical energy through the staff, not simply the element inside the wood, but that force inside himself, amplified through the weapon. From the bladed end shot a twisted fork of lightning, exploding against Morpheus' upper chest and head, but remaining controlled, his focus preventing it from jumping from target to target, but rather jumping about between areas of Morpheus' body. He continued to press the attack, inching closer to his enemy, intensifying the continuous blast of lightning as long as he could hold it.

Morpheus's kick sent Solvej spiralling away from the group, only to crash bodily into the wall behind the Divine's throne. Her fingers instinctively scrabbled for purchase, seeking to keep her from plunging the extra fifteen or so feet to the floor, and met handfuls of a thick tapestry, red in color, with the image embroidered largely in gold. It didn't stop the heavy, blunt impact of her back and then head against the wall, and both her armor and her helmet took damage that her skin and bone alone would not have been able to withstand. The Black Templar tasted blood in her mouth as she bit down on her tongue, feeling at least two, possibly as many as four of her ribs crack and snap. Even that didn't compare to the pain in her head though, and even as her dwarf-forged helm rang against the smooth stone.

She barely held on to the tapestry as it tore beneath her weight, depositing her in a more-or-less standing position on the ground. Not that she could tell; it was presently difficult to figure out which direction was up, let alone whether or not she was standing. Trying to find her balance, she instead pitched sideways, landing hard on an arm and unwittingly rolling onto her stomach, seeking without thought the least-painful arrangement of her parts. Spitting a globule of blood, Solvej narrowed her focus once again to her breathing, trying to clear her head of the persistent diziness. Chances were good that she had a concussion; the feeling was quite familiar, and this wouldn't be her last. It certainly wasn't her first.

She needed to get her head out of this metal contraption. It had done its work and saved her life, but now it was only causing her more pain. She grabbed ineffectually at it a few times, frustrated when her grip skidded away or simply failed to work as she commanded it, and it was only with a frustrated growl and far too much effort that she managed to free herself and toss the thing aside. It was, she noticed as it rolled irregularly away, severely dented, and the same could be said of the chestplate she was wearing, though that damage was probably repairable, at least. It was also constricting her breathing, especially given her current prone position.

With a fortifying breath, the ex-Templar gathered her arms underneath her, noting but attempting to set aside the protests her injured torso voiced at this notion. She was looking to double her number of lifetime broken bones on this mission alone, she was certain of it. The thought brought the weakest of curves to her lips, and she pushed herself upright with a huff, glad that this time at least, she didn't just list sideways and collapse like some kind of drunken sailor. Glancing over at the scene she'd left behind only when forced, she observed Suicide letting loose a long burst of lightning and figured it was as good an idea as any. Not wishing to inadvertantly cancel anything he was doing, Solvej picked a different vital spot- the heart- and gathered what remained of her stamina to her. Without anything to direct it into, she simply focused on making the beam as narrow as possible and let loose, the blue-white joining the silver-yellow in an attempt to just kill the damn blighter, already.

Unlike the pirate, Kerin chose the other direction to avoid the massive arm sweep. Instead of backing up, the drums urged her forward. They would not allow her to back up, leaving only one direction. Forward. As the monster began his sweep, Kerin lunged forward with newfound energy, though she didn't quite realize that she had Ethne to thank for that. For once in her life, her dimunitive sized proved a positive as she painted a smaller, if not still a very important target. Using her sword as leverage, she swung around the foot, landing between the thing's legs. Thanks to the surge of energy, the war drums roared just a little bit louder. It did nothing to stem the pain, but it managed to erase some of her fatigue. That was the best thing for now. She could feel pain later, now was the time for fighting.

Now with more energy, she tried to resume her vicious sawing with her sword. Jabbing, cutting, ripping, tearing, she would be brutal, she would be vicious, and she would try her damnedest to seperate the appendage from the leg. If need be, she would fight tooth and nail to bring the foul darkspawn demon down. She had chosen her fate, now all she needed to do was show Morpheus his.

He'd seen her being flung unceremoniously away from the group, kicked away like a flopping broken-thing. In a brief instant of grief, because that was all he could afford as Morpheus' bulging arm swept forward, Rhapscallion imagined two-hundred and six bones cracking as Solvej collided with the tapestries, dragging them down in a knuckled heap before she came to a skidding halt against concrete and speckling bits of brick. His alerted sense of panic made up of rabbit-reflexes and childish cleverness forced him into a quick-handed back spring, instinctively tucking himself into a tight ball. He bared his clenched teeth, grinding his molars, as if to ready himself for another foolish endeavour. If his mentor saw him, she'd surely rap her knuckles across his ears for being so stupid. The air was heavy, slowing to a crawl. Time seemed to playing on his shoulder, forcing a sense of calm, of tranquillity, of solemnity through his entire being. Rhapscallion landed on all fours across the Darkspawn's extended wrist, slamming his shamshir deep so that he'd remain anchored. His feet scrambled for purchase, nearly swinging off from the creature's wild momentum. The creature's fat fingers, each as thick as small trees, wriggled below, presumably from the damage he'd done. His heart beat like thunder in his ears, roiling sideways as Morpheus' hand halted it's arc. The world wobbles a little. Then, steadies.

With a sharp intake of breath, and a grunt, Rhapscallion ripped the blade free of it's fleshy prison. There wasn't anything left to do but run, scamper up the creature's knobby elbow, with surprising alacrity, and clamber onto it's knotted shoulder blades. It would be enough to distract him, at the very least, if he wasn't thrown across the room. Better yet to avoid those rather large mittens and remain comfortably stable. He let the shamshir's blade drag against Morpheus' thick skin, though not deep enough to hamper his movements. “What have you got to fight for?” It came as a bestial snarl, gurgling from the pits of his belly. Morpheus did not fight for love, or for his companions, or for anything that would drive him through the most difficult obstacles, regardless of the damage it may do to him. He fought for no one. What alliances did the Darkspawn have? They didn't care about each other – regarded their lessers as pawns, necessary to throw away if it benefited them. Humans, Elves, Dwarves all had the ability to fight for more, for less, for the right reasons. His arms were starting to grow weary from the weight of his blade, from snatching handfuls of flesh, and throwing himself onto the creature's simian head. Nothing.”

Straddling Morpheus' thick neck, Rhapscallion hefted his shamshir over his head, clutched between both his hands, and aimed just between the damned thing's eyes.

Given the goings-on elsewhere, Rudhale took a cue from Kerin and attacked the opposite foot, the one with the lyrium still embedded inside it, hacking away at tendons and muscle with what could realistically be described as relish. The dual jets of otherworldly force from Suicide and Solvej were keeping Morpheus highly preoccupied, unable to move his body much for the lightning, nor his magic for the continual spirit damage supplied by the Templar. This left him open and vulnerable to the ascending assault provided by Rhapcallion, though it was only by virtue of the incredible control exercised by his comrades that the half-blood noble did not find himself electrocuted by the shapeshifter or smote by his mentor.

Ethne watched, wide-eyed, her position well away from the thick of things sufficient to presage to her several of the events that were about to transpire. Kerin hacked through her tendon first, Rudhale not far behind, and the sickly snaps echoed too loudly in the vaulted space they occupied. The reaction was immediate; the Darkspawn lost all ability to stand, and began a slow collapse. Perhaps it wasn't slow at all; perhaps it simply seemed so to her. Either way, gravity was taking over when Scally positioned his blade at the juncture of Morpheus's nose and brow. The saber was not a piercing weapon as a rule, but the blade did the job, sinking in deep with an uncomfortable scrape against bone.

"Timber!" the pirate's voice called, infected with a note of relieved cheer that shattered the unnatural air of the moment. For the Dreamer, things began to move once more in real-time, and she breathed a long sigh of relief she could have sworn came from somewhere in her soul as the Darkspawn at last collapsed, taking not one of her allies with it.

Morpheus was dead.

They'd achieved what had seemed impossible.

And at least right now, in this moment, it didn't seem to matter much that they'd have to do it all over again in the near future.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro

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The Darkspawn felled, an expectant silence descended over the group. The sounds of battle grew muted, reduced to the rasp of labored breathing and the muted clanks of steel arms and armor, though it was no stretch to say that far fewer of these remained intact than might have come about from ordinary battle. Then again, nothing about what they’d just done was ordinary in the slightest.

The spell over the Chantry broken, the other denizens of the building, still prone near the walls and on the upper levels, began to stir. Du Lac reappeared before the group, his attention focused on Ethne. ”Time to make good on your end of the bargain,” he said, eyes flickering to the Divine’s throne. “Begone from this place, and if you return, do it not as saviors. Ah-” and here he looked over the elf-girl’s shoulder, where Revaslin was just rising to his feet from his slumber. “You will be coming with me, Seeker Fenlen. I think it’s time your assignment was … reconsidered.” The Dalish man nodded in response, apparently not fazed in the slightest by his sudden change in circumstances.

Ethne might have protested the situation, but it was what she’d agreed to, more or less, and she recognized that Du Lac was Fenlen’s commanding officer, so there was that. Rudhale couldn’t have cared less about the man’s authority, but he also had no desire to linger, and he was quite distracted by something else besides. There, propped on the seat of the padded throne Morpheus had previously occupied was a leather-bound book, smallish in size. He was certain it hadn’t been there before, and he moved subtly towards the chair when Du Lac wasn’t looking, slipping the thin thing into his coat, placing a finger to his lips when he was quite sure at least one of his comrades had noticed.

Emil was too busy to notice the sneaky pirate pilfering the book as he was on a path directly to the Lord-Seeker. His eyebrows were furrowed and his eyes wore a hard glare. Without much warning, Emil cocked back a fist and sent it right into Du Lac's Jaw. "What in the Maker's name is the meaning of this?! We walk in to see you beside Morpheus's side? What game are you playing at?" Emil asked, enraged by the Seeker's apparent alignment with the Darkspawn.

It would have been difficult not to notice the enormous enraged Templar heading in his direction, but Du Lac seemed less than concerned about it. Indeed, though the man's punch was telegraphed well before it landed, the Seeker didn't even move, apparently content to let Emil's gauntlet cut into his cheek. The trickle of blood this produced was swiped away with the Seeker's first two fingers, and he surveyed the digits for a moment with what seemed to be a resolute lack of anything resembling shock, anger, or even pain. When next he looked up, he met the taller man's eyes easily, boredom playing very obviously across his face. "I knew Delacroix did not select his men for subtlety, but I must say you are in fact the most unintelligent Templar I have ever had the misfortune of knowing. I could have you killed for that." His tone indicated that he wasn't going to bother, but he also left the accusatory question entirely unanswered.

Emil's eye twitched and his hand balled back into a tightened fist, but then relaxed. The Seeker was right, he had more authority than him. If given the slightest indication of hostility, he would have him executed. Emil wasn't known for being suicidal. He met the Lord-Seeker's eyes for a moment, meeting ill-intentioned glare with bored expressions, but it was Emil who backed down first. There was something vaguely off-putting by the man, and despite Emil having a height advantage, he felt somewhat intimidated by the man. Emil simply spat to the side and turned around, walking away from the Lord-seeker. "Is the Lady Divine alright?" Emil asked.

"She will be fine, as will the rest. Your task, however, is not here. Leave before they awaken."

And it was then, without much ceremony, that they were forced from the Chantry, though that was not to say that many of them were reluctant to go. Kerin, who had fallen unconscious, earned herself a free ride across one of Rudhale’s shoulders, and though the pirate winced when the motion of getting the stocky dwarf there aggravated his wound, he said not a word of complaint. They’d all worked hard, perhaps none more than the sleeping berserker, and he wasn’t about to gripe about doing his part.

It was with weary footsteps and in many cases grievous injuries that they marched slowly outside the city. Their only stop was before General Delacroix, who passed several health potions to Solvej with a silent nod. His address to Emilio was equally brief, and he simply informed his Hunter that he was now under the command of the Grey Wardens, passing him what would doubtless be necessary doses of lyrium. For the manpower of both Emil and Mira, he asked to keep Lukas, who’d been trapped outside the gate and aided the Templar effort. The mage was willing enough, and the deal brokered swiftly. From there, the party made the outskirts of Val Royeaux by nightfall, able to set camp and tend to their injuries. Ethne saw to everyone over the next few hours, though the mood was sober at best.

At last, the sun set, and after establishing a watch, the group succumbed to their exhaustion and slept.

It was not in the nature of the somniari’s sleep to be restful, and this night was no exception.

Level Up!





The Fade had seen fit to deposit her in what appeared to be a twilight region, the usual brown, grey, and orange palette of the place swapped for one of dusky blues, inky blacks, and slates. Ethne blinked, flexing her hands experimentally. There was a chill feeling on the air, as though something insidious were caressing her skin with corpse-cold fingers. The feeling seeped deeply into her bones, in the way exhaustion did, and it brought with it a resigned melancholy she rarely knew.

The mage shivered, the hair on the back of her neck standing up as her skin pricked with gooseflesh, uncomfortable pins and needles that made her want to squirm. It was fear, but of the most generalized sort, for there appeared to be nothing immediately present to fear at all. Something slithered at the back of her mind, a hissing voice too quiet for her to hear. All that was left behind was a faint trace impression of snakes in the grass, sun-warmed but too smooth and marbled. Something gilt and shining but faintly discomfiting, almost lecherous, like a stranger standing too close to her back.

It was gone before she could attend to it further, that voice- that feeling- but the subtle dread still remained. Swallowing, she started forward, knowing that to linger overlong would accomplish nothing. This, she had always been told, was her world, as surely as it belonged to demons and spirits and gods. Here was a balance, struck between hubris and debilitating terror, one delicately maintained like a bird on a wire keeps hers. Here, thoughts had power, and the will was sovereign.

As she walked, her feet seemingly striking nothing with texture, the space around her grew darker, the colors fading into deep umber. After an indeterminate amount of time, her eyes were no longer of use at all, and even when she turned back, there was no hint that the direction from which she had come was any more bright than the pitch to her front. Sight was useless, and there was nothing to feel or hear or taste or smell. The sensation of nothingness was uncanny, and she placed her palms together in front of her collarbones to remind herself that there was something to feel. She sang softly, the words falling like drifting feathers into empty space, just to remind herself that there were things to be heard.

The last at least, was soon patently unnecessary, and Ethne fell silent when the space around her seemed to fill with voices, speaking a language she did not understand. The tones were smooth and rolling, almost as though every trilled r and elongated vowel was leaving the mouth only after being infused with sensuality. She may not know the words, but it would have been difficult not to recognize Antivan as a whole.

The voices belonged to from the sounds of it, people of varying ages, infused with laughter and good humor, and if she hadn’t still been experiencing that tingling along the length of her spine, she might have thought she were about to have a nice dream for once, one in which nobody was hurt or died and nothing got destroyed whatsoever. But that was not the way of things, and it wasn’t long before a new voice entered the mix, this one young, masculine, and urgent. The sound of a door being thrown open added itself to the clinking of glass and ceramic, and there were several rasps as steel was drawn. A female voice carrying a palpable weight of authority spoke next, clearly giving out commands, and there was much scraping of wood on stone, accompanied by shuffling and the thudding of leather-clad feet on carpet.

By the time the screams started, Ethne was crouching, folded in on herself as small as possible, trying in vain to cover her ears. The voices were in her head, not her audits, and that much was obvious. It didn’t stop her from trying, but of course, she was forced to listen to the screams, and the howls, and the feral snarling that she could by now identify as belonging to darkspawn. Her body was wracked with trembling shudders when something else in the atmosphere shifted, and something in the remaining voices grew more urgent.

There was a shrill cry, and all fell silent. It took a moment for Ethne to process, but she knew with certainty that it must have belonged to a child. “Cease,” ordered a voice, and it was of a kind with Morpheus’s. The difference, though, was that where the other General had possessed an oily, soothing tone until angered, this one immediately presented her with a sense of consummate authority and professionalism. The sound of blades being sheathed filled the dream, and Ethne blinked as someone, the woman again, addressed the Darkspawn in Antivan.

“For now, I require only hostages,” the voice replied. “Do as I command you, and that shall not change. Your guards will leave, your family will remain.” This pronouncement was followed by much rapid discussion, and then the sound of retreating footsteps. Confused, Ethne waited for the trap to spring, the Darkspawn to finish off whomever it kept hostage, but to her surprise, nothing happened.

“I am Erebus, The Gatekeeper, the Endless Night. I will be waiting, Dreamer.”

Ethne’s eyes snapped open, and she surged upwards, sitting up so quickly she felt lightheaded. Her breath came in shallow pants, and she attempted to regain balance by staring into the fire. Around her, the others slept on, oblivious to her revelations.

”Erebus…” she whispered softly, holding her chilled fingers out towards the flames to warm them. There was something strange about what she’d just dreamed, something she would never have expected, but she dare no put it to words, not just yet.


The Mission Briefings have been updated.




The next morning, the somniari relayed to the others their next destination: Antiva. As was common with these things, she would learn more specifics as they came closer to their goal. It may, as had been the case before, require walking in the dreams of a Warden before she could place the exact location, but Antiva was a ways away yet. To get there, they would have to travel north, and after consultation with Solvej and Scally, it was decided that the Deep Roads- relatively empty of Darkspawn during a Blight- would be the best choice for travel. Getting to the nearest entrance by horse took another day, and at the end of it, they camped in tandem with a wandering merchant, who professed his desire to reach Val Royeaux and what was now relative safety. The chance to reequip was fortuitous and well-earned, and spirits were much higher that night than they had been the one before.

The Codex has been updated.





Chapter Two: Erebus, The Gatekeeper
"One Darkspawn General vanquished, I doubt any will deny that they had the right to a little pride in their accomplishments. Most had overcome their greatest fears or desires, and they had surely conquered a mighty foe, capable of warping the very nature of reality. What the wise would comprehend immediately, however, was that challenges even greater lay ahead, and Erebus waited for them, casting a long shadow over the merchant nation of Antiva."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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Each gentle breeze seemed as loud as cicadas, breaking the solemnity blanketed around them. The first night away from Val Royeaux, and the corpses littering it's courtyards, had been the worst. The silence was devastating. His desperate attempts at banter had flopped sideways, frequently met with deadpan stares that told him they were thinking of those dreams, of what Morpheus had forced onto them in the form of Fade-sequences. Sleeping proved difficult, if not an impossible task. Even now, Rhapscallion noted subtle changes in each and every one of his companion's compartments, as if they carried themselves differently – perhaps, stiff-backed, or hunched, or hollow-eyed. He wondered vaguely, whether or not Kerin was still full of rage, unable to allow any amount of softness to touch her. Was she the hammer, constantly battering herself against the anvil? Tempering herself. Hoping that it shattered her. He hoped not. He hoped that she wouldn't find their support, or affections, inconvenient. They needed her, as much as she needed them. He could feel the heaviness in his chest, bundled up like molten lead, boiling through his veins. Hadn't they won? They'd saved Val Royeaux, and all of it's remaining inhabitants from death, from dying at the hands of twisted creatures bent on destruction. So, why then, weren't they celebrating a victory? There was no dancing, no singing, no laughing. Nothing at all.

The second night wasn't faring any better. He paced back and forth. His leather boots wearing snail trails in the scuffed dirt, clumsy markings of a man with too much in his head. He hadn't had time to look for his father amongst the rubble, but somehow, deep down, Rhapscallion knew that his father had been one of the first to flee at the first signs of danger. Cowardice equalled survival – and that, in all it's glory, was what he was best at. The past, and present, was already passing into history, fading like sunlight behind clouds. Like little beams filtering through the leaves, leaving them gasping like guppy-mouthed fish because they couldn't keep up with all of the horrors the world had to offer. Open-palmed and unforgiving. The stuff of violent fairytales – that's what it was, and it was difficult to accept, and to move on from what they'd experienced. He understood that, but it didn't stop him from occasionally looking up from his post, towards the main campsite, and looking a little hopeful, or at least expectant.

Strength could be defined on many levels. Who told him that? It might've been Commander Malik or Solvej. It was the reason he was pacing so intently, pausing briefly to straighten his posture and stiffen his upper lip. “You—you were amazing! Your strength, your grace—... no, no, that sounds wrong.” He bumbled, dipping his chin forward, and tapping his temple with his index finger. Dread pooled inside him, manifesting itself in a burning inferno that threatened to swallow him whole. He felt like he was being dunked in a river, in the deepest end. He'd laugh at him, Rhapscallion was sure of it. “You know, I was wondering, if you could teach me, you know?” He enquired to the nearest tree, turning in a sharp circle, before facing it once more. “To be strong! It came out a little louder than he wanted. He puffed his cheeks and pressed his knuckles to his lips to stifle any other foolish thought, disappearing in a twist of smoke. Momentarily dispersed, Rhapscallion's form slowly materialized behind a nearby tree, puzzling itself out from his toes, to his legs, and up. If he could transform into any animal, then what would it be? Certainly not a ferocious bear, or an ardent wolf, or even swift hawk. Probably a runty nugglet.

Stupid, stupid. I sound like a girl.”

The shapeshifter himself was returning from a hunt, padded paws silently touching the soft earth and pushing him forward, his prize hanging limp from his jaws. It had taken years to learn to hunt animals as he now could. It was something no man could teach, but only the wild. Only failure, only watching a success and then imitating it, becoming closer to the wild so that one might benefit from it. He had learned well.

It had been the emptiness of his dream that had made him long for the wild again. Val Royeaux had been a city the likes of which Suicide had never seen. Urban landscapes were to him as the seeming end of the world was to the Orlesians: something he knew was out there somewere, but impossible to visualize due to its sheer differences from the world he knew. He wondered what the city looked like when at the height of its splendor. The darkspawn had done much to sink it low, and even though it still possessed beauty, it was overshadowed by the darkness and the corruption the Blight brought with it. Though it would not have the majesty of the Wilds, he knew, there was undoubtedly a kind of beauty the darkspawn had denied him from seeing. He hoped he would have the chance later.

The wild had calmed him, made everything more or less right. Time spent as a wolf had reminded him of home, or the closest thing to it. It was simple. He'd closed his jaws around the neck of the rabbit, swiping a paw down to prevent it from bolting. A sharp application of pressure and a swift twist and it was over, little pain inflicted on the prey, the end swift and final. His teeth hadn't even punctured skin, and his meal hung limp from his jaws, not even bleeding. A good kill.

His senses alerted him of various things as he returned to camp. The smells of battle and darkspawn still lingered on them all, even if they had found a stream to clean themselves. All of them, from the Black Templar to the Dreamer, warriors, rogues, and mages alike. Blood and battle hung over them like a heavy cloak. The smell was pleasing. His ears picked up conversations. The two smallest of the women discussed dreams and hair, among other things. The Templars spoke of the mission, the pirate discussed with the still-recovering dwarf, who bore the stench more heavily than any of them. Battle had sunk its claws deep within her.

And one spoke to himself, the lean half-elf whom Suicide had not spoken to much. He'd fought well against Morpheus, and fearlessly. The Black Templar was no doubt an excellent teacher. And yet he seemed so unconfident at times such as this. Suicide couldn't immediately see him, but he could smell him, just as he could smell them all. They had unique scents. The shapeshifter maneuvered himself silently towards the tree he was drawn to, dropping the rabbit upon the ground with a small thump before shifting back into human form, remaining in a crouch.

"And why is that stupid?" he asked, scooping the rabbit from the ground and wiping dirt from its fur.

The cold of the night pressed down like an unwelcome blanket, chilling his bones with it's faint breeze. He shivered and scooted a few steps away from the tree, determined to easy his worries with the fire's warmth. Perhaps, it would be better to approach Dekton when his nerves weren't so frazzled, and when he didn't feel like his Adam's apple was suffocating him. A small thump stopped him in his tracks. His head whipped around to spot the mysterious assailant – a Hurloc, a sneaky bear, a small rabbit? Terrified blue eyes quickly scanned the underbrush, wide and vulnerable. His hands flew up in front of him, protecting him from a blow that never came. It was only then that he noticed that the assailant was none other than one of his companions – the rather large shapeshifter, dropping it's kill across his feet, only to scoop it up and clean it's bedraggled fur. His eloquence flopped, along with his manliness. Rhapscallion awkwardly cleared his throat and brushed his hands across the front of his chest as if he'd been expecting him the entire time. As if he were just waiting for Dekton to appear from the darkness, stealthy in ways that could only truly belong to those attuned to the wilderness. To those who padded through grass and dirt alike on graceful paws, imperceptibly silent.

“I... uh,” The half-elf mumbled, scratching his elbow. The words he'd been practising were jumbled in his skull, merging into one long string of unintelligible sounds. He lowered his head, breathed deeply through his nose and finally looked Dekton full in the face. This man – this shapeshifter, this hulking mass of muscle – exuded strength and discipline in ways he could only envy. In manners that appeared distant, winking on the horizon, so far beyond his reach. He was a vestige of stone. These were things that Rhapscallion couldn't possibly become, even if he'd been graced with a stockier physique, or a life lived in the woods. Was Dekton free from chains, or was he anchored by some erstwhile affliction as well? It was difficult to tell. He hadn't spoken to him before, let alone bonded. His eyes turn towards the ground, shadowed with nerves and weakness. From the corner's of his eyes, through the light curtain of darkness, Rhapscallion can see the shapeshifter kneeling in the dirt, calmly brushing out the rabbit's fur. The definition of strength varies among people. Hadn't Solvej told him that only to make him feel better? He believed, with wavering conviction, that strength came from those who refused to fall down. But still, still.

“I want them to rely on me. Like they do with you.” His thoughts were scrambled, if not confusing. Another breath, deep in his belly, and Rhapscallion was finally able to look away from the ground, meeting the shapeshifter's rolling shoulders. The man seemed so at ease with his surroundings, as if this conversation wasn't a chaotic mess of emotions. He swallowed dryly, plowed on with his point, or lack thereof. “If I'm going to be useful, I need to be stronger. If I want to be the one doing the saving, then I need help.” He left his comment open-ended, left to Dekton's interpretation. No longer did he want to be the one tumbling all over himself, in need of a hand because he couldn't keep himself out of trouble. No longer did he want his Mentor calling over her shoulder, asking anyone who was close enough to save her stupid protege from being impaled. It wasn't enough that he could become invisible. Miniscule misfortunes could send an errant blade swimming between his ribs. If it hadn't been for Ethne, then he might've suffered a graver fate. It was overwhelming. He laughed softly, tapping his forehead with his fingertips. He was being ridiculous.

Suicide didn't join in the laughter, instead scrutinizing the relatively little man, at least compared to himself. "You want others to rely on you," he repeated in his typically steady, deep voice, "but it sounds as though you cannot yet rely on yourself. Physical strength has its uses, but when burdened by doubts it is undermined, to the point where the foundations cannot carry the weight. Your worries and your fears cut you deeper than any darkspawn blade has."

He began to move back and forth slightly. The movement was something similar to a wolf prowling about a wounded animal, but the shapeshifter did not intend it that way. It was simply how he moved. "Forgive me if these assumptions are incorrect. You desire help, and I can only know what I have seen. Our dreams are our own, unless we choose to share them." Personally, Suicide would not have minded speaking of what Morpheus had put him through, but he would not go out of his way to hit the subject. If others wanted to know, he would tell. "I must assume you are concerned over how others perceive you, judging by your hesitance, the struggle with which you form your words. You want to appear strong. Then be strong. Do not mask what you are. If others do not value you for your qualities, then are they truly worth your time? Do not bend your very being to conjure an illusion that is, and only can be, empty. You will find nothing of substance there."

He considered explaining his Path as he had to Kerin some time back, but that was another discussion entirely. If Rhapscallion was looking for purpose, he could share his ideas, but he suspected that wasn't the case. He was where he wanted to be, but he hadn't yet accepted who he wanted to be. "You must come to terms with who you are, and accept yourself, every aspect of your being. All designs you have upon the world will fail or be empty if you yourself are not yet whole." He stopped moving, gesturing towards where Ethne sat with a quick flick of his hand. "Look to our Dreamer if you want another lead to follow. Physically she may be among the lowest of us, but she has a light within her that she is unashamed to believe in, silly as it may sound to others. She has a confidence in those around her that encourages them to greater heights. She too could use a greater amount of self-assurance, but I truly believe she will let nothing sway her from her Path."

He was stronger than him. This, Rhapscallion knows. Perhaps, too well. It reflected in his eyes, barely holding his fixated stare across the shapeshifter`s hunched shoulders. Not only physically, because he understood, at least, that it’d taken more than brute strength to solicit his attention, and to approach him in the first place. There was a growing need to better himself. He drew courage from his companions and how hard they fought, even if it was for entirely selfish reasons. In such a large body, capable of crushing his much more insignificant form, there was something much more substantial than his tangible, natural brawn. Morally, emotionally. His soul was stronger. It did not tarry from whichever direction he'd chosen. He did not know what a Path was, nor did he understand its purpose. He didn't laugh. Rhapscallion surprised himself by meeting Dekton's scrutinizing gaze. There was no sympathy, or revulsion – two things that were all too familiar to him. He was taken aback by Dekton's rumbling voice, so completely steady, so unusually calm. Perhaps, because he hadn't actually heard Dekton speak very much, or else it hadn't truly been directed to him. Either way, Rhapscallion's eyes widened, then flicked back across the ground. His fingers absently swept across his midsection, idling where the Emissary had sunken it's dagger. A Grey Warden had many scars, and all meant something. A Grey Warden's scars mapped their life; their victories and defeats. It marked his shames, as well. His darkness. His sadness. The moments in life where his doubts had seemed the most prominent. How many scars did Dekton have?

He shifted his feet, digesting the shapeshifter's words. Why hadn't he ever thought of that? The air was becoming cooler now. The little goosebumps prickling along his forearms were good indications. If he couldn't rely on himself, then he couldn't possibly protect them. His doubts were tenacious, frightening things, colouring his world and anchoring his feet to the ground, crouched in the darkest corners. Perhaps, seemingly unnoticed. Rhapscallion scratched his chin, watching as Dekton paced back and forth, like an animal of the woods. It reminded him of Captain Fenlin – he wouldn't call him father, anymore, because he was anything but – pacing his quarters, staring down at him. Always from a higher vantage point to make him feel smaller, less important. He'd grown alongside women with thin faces, treated unfairly in the pantries. It was a stark contrast to the rough education of open handed slaps and loosened belts, in hopes of choking the rebellion out of him, or else, to throttle the dirty blood from his ears. Knife-ears, forest whelp. “You don't mince with half-truths, do you?” He quarried, smiling weakly. “He... I don't want to be paralysed by that same fear. If anything happens, if I can stop it from happening then I need to be something else, or someone else. Stronger, less soft.” Rhapscallion's next laugh was clipped, hardly a gesture of amusement. “I'm no Chevalier, or any great warrior, or even a decent Grey Warden. I know this, I know.” It was a flimsy explanation for his worst fears, for what Morpheus had shown him. He took a deep breath, exhaled through his nose. “Didn't it scare you? What he did then. Wasn't it hard to forget?”

Suicide shrugged. "It was an illusion," he said. "Nothing more. He may have drawn on fears, on outcomes that we seek to avoid, but he could not create them in the physical world. In the end, he too could not stand in our way. If anything, he strengthened us. Made us see our weaknesses, and the need to correct them. It brought us here, now."

Substance. His substance. The imagined burdens on his shoulders were his alone to bear, but even so, none of his companions seemed to be bothered by it, or notice his insecurities. They hadn't blamed him for not trying hard enough, or being too weak. It was his own heart that was peeling away, deeming itself insignificant. It was his own skin that crawled, uncomfortable with itself. Trying to become something harder, less likely to break. He followed Dekton's hand, a loose gesture towards Ethne, who was busy speaking to Mirabelle. Flickers of the flame's light danced across her face, shadowing her eyes whenever she turned her head. She knew his silliest wishes. His dreams for the future, if he ever made it that far. The Calling would always be the monster under his bed, whispering softly in his ears. It was something all Grey Wardens understood, and accepted, albeit unwillingly, through offhanded remarks of sacrifice, until that fateful night where your senior sat you down and explained the true duties of a Grey Warden. Of having relationships. Of living beyond the sword. Her Path was an unwavering force. Perhaps, as strong as Dekton's beliefs. “What if I don't know who I am? Or if my Path's all wrong. If it isn't enough for us.” He breathed softly, tipping his head up. Path? Destiny? Roadways to something that ultimately led to himself. He glanced back towards the campfire. “Her Path must be light itself. I don't know if I can be that strong.”

"Your strength is not, and never will be, her strength," Suicide said, "Nor my strength, nor Kerin's, and so on. You know who you are now, and you know what you want to improve. If your desire to reach your goal is not great enough to attain it, then perhaps this is not a Path you should follow. The choice cannot be mine."

Suicide glanced up to the tree, a small smile forming on his face. "Of course, if I am wholly mistaken, and physical strength is all you require, this tree could suit our purposes, if you would be up for some pull-ups in the morning."

He couldn't help but laugh, following Dekton's gaze. He understood. It wasn't physical strength – it was acceptance of himself, of everything he was, of things he wasn't ready to face.

“You're not mistaken. But, it wouldn't hurt.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro

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She could hear the sound of people sleeping beside her, something that had only been the case since the start of this journey. Before falling in with the Wardens on their quest to slay the Darkspawn and preserve all the untainted life they could, she’d invariably slept alone, in a room that was hers only in the most nominal sense, surrounded by cold stone and uncomfortable silk and satin. It was, she supposed, a life that some would envy, but she had never been allowed to mistake it for one in which she was loved. Valued, yes, envied sometimes, and certainly well-used. But never loved.

Was that why she was so inclined to believe that the most important thing was to care about other people? Ethne drew her knees up to her chest, hugging them tightly to herself and closing her eyes, her ears following the inharmonious rises and falls of breath. She could almost pick them out, by now: Kerin’s strong and steady, but more abrupt than the others, Dekton’s bear-breathing, waffling and heavy, somewhere further away. Solvej’s sometimes hitched, and the elf thought that perhaps she dreamed of the Horde then. Or perhaps the Horde didn’t bother her anymore, and she dreamed of her brother again. Scally’s breathing was light but slow, with pauses, as though he were reluctant to let go of his gathered air.

It was calming, to be here, and a kind of warmth slithered over her skin, brought on only in part by her proximity to the fire. She was afraid of embracing sleep herself, for she knew what it would bring. More nights spent walking in an endless deep, one that grew only darker by recent development. There was no love to be found there, either, and it was practically where she’d grown up. Her spirit-mates, those who chose to walk beside her, lost their power in that darkness, lost their luminosity, until they were only whispers in the night. It called up a profound feeling of loneliness, one that she’d much rather forgo to feel like this, as she did surrounded by living, breathing, people who seemed altogether unconcerned with what she’d been before, what she was capable of.

But then, was that not the very reason she needed to brave the darkness at all? Were they not counting on her to divine the location of the next Darkspawn general, so that they could carry forth their burden on proud shoulders? Was she not to seek so that they might destroy? Even Emilio had chosen to bear that burden, reluctant as he was, once it was placed so unceremoniously upon his back. She could do nothing but the same. It would be an act of duty, of devotion, of sacrifice. But, she could not help but think, in the end, she would be glad to do it.

Because, for her if nobody else, in the end it would be an act of love.



The next morning, Ethne awoke to the sounds of camp being already broken. Solvej was directing the loading of their few tents and other supplies onto the cart, and already the horses seemed to be well-prepared to march. Here and there, new equipment and old was being checked and double-checked, and the somniari quickly rolled up her sleeping materials and loaded them on with the rest. Her staff affixed solidly to her back, she swung astride her painted mount and waited for the Lady-Warden’s command to move.

It was not long in coming. Kerin gingerly hopped onto the back of the cart-- not yet willing to face the uncomfortable ride on her pony while in her condition. She sat her new helmet on her knee and leaned the greatsword beside her, ever within grasp. Though still not quite recovered from her ordeal, she wouldn't be found useless once the fighting began. Rhapscallion watched as Kerin pulled herself aboard the waggon, and idly considered taking that route, as well. His own bay – a horse stolen long ago from his father's own herd – snorted loudly, pressing it's snout to the back of his neck before he jumped away, flapping his hands to keep it from harassing him. Everyone else had already prepared their weapons. They were already beginning to mount their steeds or bury themselves around crates of equipment, in Kerin's case. Conquest pawed indignantly, eyeing him sidelong, as if mocking his hesitance. “Don't kid yourself,” He mumbled, rolling his eyes. He tightened his belt, and pulled it down two more loops before tying it into a loose knot. He'd lost some weight since travelling with his companions. Nothing to complain about, really.

Once everything was set to go, Solvej hefted her new poleax behind her, assuring that the straps used to secure it fitted snugly over her re-hammered black chestplate, and then joined the rest in being mounted. “All right,” she pronounced, loudly enough to be heard by all but not much more than that, “The Deep Roads should be mostly empty at this point, but it’s not hard to contract the Taint if you’re not careful, so do us all a favor and be careful.” Not one for protracted speeches, that was all she said before pointing Wagner’s nose towards the cavelike entrance to the underground caverns that constituted the warren of the Darkspawn, and just like that, the next part of their journey was underway. When Solvej finished her speech – short, sweet, and to the point, Rhapscallion finally sidled beside Conquest, pushing it's muzzle away from his elbows, and awkwardly clambered into it's saddle. The Deep Roads? It stirred something within him. Something that would happen to all Grey Wardens, regardless of their deeds, or how hard they'd worked to save innocent lives. He frowned, shaking his head. He wondered whether or not Kerin was nervous to return so close to her home, Orzammar.



Two days into the Deep Roads, and they’d only encountered a single band of Darkspawn, nothing that took them more than a few minutes to rout, without any significant injuries at that. Ethne was beginning to hope that their journey would be like this until they left, but of course not everything was so univocally positive.

Her dreams were worse down here. So were the dreams of Wardens, if Solvej’s were anything to go by. Still, she’d managed to pinpoint Erebus’s location, which was indeed Antiva City. She had no idea if his occupation would be as obvious as Morpheus’s had been, or if he was using the hostages as mouthpieces to act as though nothing were wrong at all. Both were distinct possibilities, but she had no way of guessing for sure and he had not spoken directly to her again as he had on the first night. Whatever else was the case, the dreams were exhausting, and she now seemed to have permanent wisteria-colored shading beneath her eyes, and frequently slumped in her saddle to doze despite her best efforts not to. She dreaded camping more than she did getting up to move, but she kept at it anyway. Everyone else was giving this everything they had and she would not allow herself to be any different.

Well, everyone except for Mira. She kept largely to the rear, though not so far as to be the last, as she preferred to keep something of a buffer between her and the darkspawn, something Emil did quite well for her. She felt more than a little out of place among all the warriors and the mages, not sharing nearly the same drive they had. It was to be expected, considering that she thought their mission a suicidal one, and planned to cut ties with them as soon as she could extract the help she needed.

Underground was not the kind of place Mira imagined herself being. It was living up to its expectations so far. The pair of boots she'd purchased off the merchant several days ago were already showing signs of wear. They weren't exactly built for hard travel, but it wasn't as though she was going to plod around in the hideously thick contraptions some of the others wore. The encounter with the darkspawn had seen her maneuvering into an out of the way location and letting the others do pretty much all of the dirty work. She was well aware that she wasn't really carrying her own weight at this point, and was certain to remain mostly quiet about it. The Warden-woman at the helm looked like she meant business, and Mira wasn't keen on drawing her ire, or getting her attention at all. The dreams, however, could potentially change that. The courtesan was looking significantly more disheveled than usual. A nightly reminder that she couldn't push her luck forever.

The Deep Roads was an amalgamation of rocky formations, made up of ruined walls tumbled into a mess of pebbles and square pillars spanning the expanse of the roadway. Spiderwebs loomed overhead, as if to promise eight-legged creatures Rhapscallion would rather not spot skittering along the ceiling. The Deep Roads promised many things, and reminded you of its immortality. It was more specifically a silent, endless frontier. How long had it been there? In its perpetual state of stasis, with its network of tunnels and caverns seemingly going on without an end? The structures were beautiful, in a very overwhelming way. The sheer emptiness they'd experienced since entering the caverns sent prickles of unease down his spine – it wasn't that he'd wanted to run into Darkspawn, but the fact that they hadn't even spotted any spiders, or deep stalkers, didn't bode well. It was too silent. He might've enthusiastically skipped along the corridors, brushing his fingers against the various Paragon sculptures watching their progress, but his dreams had so completely impaired his optimism that he lagged slightly behind his companions, occasionally shaking his head to rid himself of his lethargic contingency.

Rhapscallion's relentless optimism slowed with their progression, thoughtfully rendering itself into disquieting silence, whittling away with each passing day spent in the Deep Roads. His eyes were slitted, opaque and shuttered. His jaw was set into a hard, thin line, and the boyishness of days gone past seemed fleeting. They appeared in small spurts of curiosity, when Rhapscallion spotted small channels of lava boiling underneath a bridge, or a peculiar vase left by those who once lived in the Deep Roads, and then, just as quickly, they disappeared. Dismounting had seemed like the most sensible decision, as he'd almost dropped from his saddle several times. Instead, he'd tolerated the horse's snuffling nostrils and walked with its reins clutched in his hand. The half-breed's long limbs hung heavy and loose at his sides, fingers poised towards the ground, as if he couldn't be bothered to walk properly, and his ponderous footsteps seemed unplanned, frequently clumsy. He'd nearly careened into Dekton's back a few times, snapping back to a bristle-backed awareness when his eyes drooped closed. He continued his plodding pace, occasionally glancing towards his companions. They must've been as tired as he was. Rhapscallion offered little in conversation, because his words bounced off the walls, and he much preferred not calling down hidden hordes of goblin-faced wretches. Lines of fatigue etch the contours of his eyes, rendering his eyelashes to slivered gaps.

Ethne, noticing his unusual reticence, laid a small hand on his shoulder from her position atop her own horse. The creature and she were both small enough- and Scally tall enough- that she didn't have to reach down much to do it, but she offered no words. What was there to say? This place was steeped in nightmares. She could offer nothing to change that, at least not in the daylight, when all that remained of them were memories and lingering impressions. All she had to give was a smile, and give it she did, though she suspected it was precious little balm to worries nestled so deeply, so close to their hearts. She could feel them, too, plucking here and there at her sinews and tendons, dragging her eyelids down and forcing her cheer to subdue itself, for respect if nothing else. All she could have said was that they needed to endure, to carry on, and he didn't need her assistance to know that.

Visions took him. Nightmares of a different flavour ebbed it's way into his sleep, snatching at his security like a thief in the night, always edging at the corner of his subconscious. It took a toll on his assurance, though he still offered reassuring quibbles, nodding his head towards the stalagmites, and asking Kerin questions of those who'd once called the Deep Roads home. What had they been like? Were they as tough as she was? Were their different fighting squadrons, too? It kept his mind off of the alarming dreams he'd been having. Of needle-point teeth gnashed towards the ceiling, bugling horrible sounds that sounded like dying animals. Of monsters that seemed to notice him watching. Of keen glances, crooked grins, and gripping hands clapping against his shoulders. He awoke violently, resolutely pressing his knuckles to his lips to quieten his heavy breaths, his terror, his panic. On the days he felt a bit better, a little more energetic, Rhapscallion traded light banter with Mirabelle, whom he'd already aptly coined, Dancer. He wasn't even sure whether or not she could dance, but her light-footed steps, and easy grace, told him much that he hadn't seen. Either way, it suited her. She seemed withdrawn, as if she wished to be left alone – which he was never much good at.

The Deep Roads did not bring with it foul dreams for the dwarf, as the dwarves were immune to such luxuries. What it brought instead was memories. Memories of Orzammar, of Marl, of the castes. Every now and then, a hand would find it's way to her cheek, tracing the brand upon her face absentmindedly. While the others had dreams to fight through, Kerin had to fight her memories. She became quiet-- more quiet than normal. Most of her time she found reflecting on events that had transpired in her home of Ozammar. Other times it were the events that led her up to this point, back under the ground in a Grey Warden Caravan. Kerin was back on her pony for the rest of the journey, despite any objections the others may have had. She was a warrior, and she had her pride. She would not have a free ride all the way to the next General.

Emil took up a rear-guard position at the tail end of the caravan-- far away from the Black Templar and still be considered part of the group as he could manage. Emil too had been quiet during the trip, yet that was to be expected from the broody Templar. He was still coming to terms with his lot. Forced into mission with a traitor to the Order and two mages. The days found him ingesting more of the Templar's Lyrium conconction than was necessary. He found it the only way to get through the days, that and fervent prayer to the Maker. Perhaps he would get out of this yet. Perhaps not...

The shapeshifter was intrigued by this place. He'd been in caves before for extended periods of time, of course, but the Deep Roads were something he had never experienced. He would wait to pass judgment. The scenery left something to be desired, and though he wouldn't have minded seeing a few more darkspawn, he understood that the past few days had served as a much needed reprieve for the group. He was well aware of the two new additions to the group, the Templar and the whore that stuck to the rear, but he felt no real desire to meet them. The Templar did not seem friendly, to put it mildly, towards his kind, and the whore, well... he doubted she would be around much longer, one way or the other. For now, he was content to prowl along near the front of the group, the mace end of his darkspawn staff making regular clunks into the rocky earth.

At the front of the line, Solvej stiffened. Voices were filtering back in their direction from the passage ahead, but she sensed no Darkspawn. Still, there was no way to know if the people up ahead would be at all friendly. She’d heard a while back that slave trafficking and the thievery of more honest merchants were now major industries in the abandoned tunnels, and though she wasn’t worried about the band’s ability to deal with a few muggers, she still didn’t want to just charge in there without knowing what they were dealing with. With Rhapscallion walking terribly close to Dekton, he'd nearly slammed into the man's hunched shoulder blades, and was forced to backpedal inelegantly to see what was happening ahead.

Holding up a hand for as much silence as travel would allow, she cocked her head to one side, listening. He peeped his head to the side of the shapeshifter's elbow, then meandered closer, pausing when Solvej's hand signalled their halt. Faint noises caused his stunted ears to twitch, picking up pieces of conversation that seemed uncomfortably close. Imperceptibly, Rhapscallion's fingers drifted towards the pommel of his blades. As of recent, it seemed, when it came to any confrontation, it always ended up bloodshed.

“You sure they’re there, Havar?” Came one voice, worn to a raspy edge with time and experience, most likely.

“Damn sure,” replied another, this one younger, but also male. “We’d all know that stench for miles by now, Dov.” There was a smattering of gruff laughter, and she could almost imagine the one called Dov shaking his head.

“Fine. Go get the elf. He’ll want to know.” The first voice spoke again, and there was a sound of movement. Solvej’s hands tightened on the reins, unsure of whether or not to prepare for confrontation. Thankfully, the steps faded in another direction.

“You sure it’s a good idea to help that guy, Dov? There’s something just damn unnatural about him, if you ask me.” This one was a female voice, no less scratchy and worn than the rest, though.

Someone, presumably Dov, snorted. “According to the Shapers, we’re all unnatural, Tara. Don’t see why we shouldn’t take what help he’s offering.” That appeared to be the final word on the matter, and Solvej frowned. It was hard to tell what was going on, but there was little point in debating on it, especially since they’d probably be heard. Instead, she started forward again, rounding a corner in the corridor and reaching behind her for her poleax when Wagner, much to his own equine surprise, came chest-to-nose with a bronto.

It wasn’t just a bronto, however, as this one appeared to be saddled, and sitting in that saddle was a dwarf. Raising a steel-grey eyebrow, he swept muddy-colored eyes over the Black Templar and then all those ranged out behind her. He appeared relatively unmoved by their presence, though his chapped lips did curl into a faint smirk.

“Well, well, well. What brings the Grey Wardens to the Legion’s doorstep this time? You can’t all be here for your Callings, surely? Or are they recruiting babes these days in their desperation?” Despite his words, his tone was indulgent, even humorous.

“Nobody’s here for the Calling,” Solvej responded automatically. She didn’t often act like she had much authority, but this particular situation was one in which it seemed best to behave like the Captain she was. “We’re just passing through.”

“Hmm,” the armored man hummed in the back of his throat. “If you’re headed north, you have a problem, lass.” He stroked his beard thoughtfully, leaning forward slightly on his bronto. There was the faint clink of metal from his armor, counterpointed by the heavier sounds of his compact bow, shortsword, and war axe all shifting on his back and at his waist. The casteless tattoo on his face was incredibly faded with age, bisected by enough scars that it was hard to tell its original shape anyway.

Solvej sighed. It hadn’t been her intention to give away their destination, even to such staunch allies as the Legion of the Dead, but now it appeared they had little choice. “And just what problem would that be?” she prompted tersely. There was always a problem somewhere, and she had this feeling that they'd be solving this one, too.

This just widened the dwarf’s smile, and he gestured for all of them to come forward. “A problem you might well be the solution to, Wardens.”

The NPC Dossier has been updated.




Another half hour found them at the main Legion encampment. From the way it was set up, it was clear that everything was ready to be moved at a moment’s notice, but the sharpened stakes of wood lashed together with sturdy rope provided a clue that they’d been here for quite some time. The dwarf who’d led them here had identified himself as Dov, commander of this particular unit of the Legion, a vanguard troupe.

Set in the center of camp was a low wooden table with a map spread across it, weighted down at all four corners by chunks of stone, likely taken from the crumbling wall at their backs. “If you want to go north, you have two options: the first is directly- this tunnel here will take you beneath Cagliari and then from there right up to Antiva City. Problem is, that passage in particular is clogged with Darkspawn. They’re starting to fortify it a couple miles up. The other route is less direct. It’ll lose you a month at least, but there aren’t near as many of the bastards in it.”

He fixed the group with an appraising stare. “With the lot of you, I think I can responsibly direct my men to take down those ‘Spawn fortifications before they go up. Without you, I’ll be stuck defending my own location in two weeks, maximally. The choice is entirely yours, but I don’t know of any third options.” Dov swept a hand over the map, which did indeed fail to yield any alternatives besides the one he’d presented.

The choice before them was clear. All that remained was to make it.

"I want that tunnel" Kerin demanded, jamming a finger on the first tunnel. "It's the shortest route to our destination," she explained, though it was clear that wasn't the only driving force of her decision. These people were the Legion of the Dead. Warriors with only one purpose, stymie the darkspawn horde and fight until their death. Casteless and caste alike fought together in the Legion, it mattered not your previous stature. There were no noblity caste, no warrior caste, no crafter caste, no casteless, only the Legion. And a Casteless, this Dov, was their leader. Yes, the route was the quickest way to Antiva. But more than that, this route would allow Kerin to fight with these men and women.

She admired them, warriors with little-- if no-- equal fighting together for a singular purpose. Purpose... Perhaps that's what she admired the most about them. They fought for something bigger than them. They were dead men, so they certainly didn't fight for themselves. She looked around at the warriors gathered. No they didn't fight for themselves. The fought for each other. They fought for their home. They fought so that their lives may slow the horde. They had purpose and reason, and that made them dangerous. More dangerous than she could ever be, no matter how angry she became. She admired them, and she wished to be a part of that, if only for a moment. She looked up to Solvej, "I say we cut through them. With the Legion at our side we can't possibly fail," she stated. A gruff snort was her answer.

"Why should we? Just to entertain your pride, Dwarf?" Emil rebuked to Kerin's glare. "We have a duty to do, and that's to kill the Archdemon's minions, not gallivanting about and aiding these dwarves," he argued. "We can't very well do our duty if we're all dead, now can we? The other path may be longer, but at least we'll arrive all in one piece. Unless you think you can kill something like Morpheus by yourself," Emil said with a flat frown. Kerin merely snorted but did not argue. What use would it be to argue with a man who's afraid of the fight?

"You're assuming that if we delay a month, there will still be Darkspawn in the same place for us to kill... or anything left to save," Rudhale pointed out, with what might have been a surprising level of practicality. He looked vaguely troubled for a moment, and then a wide grin split his face. "We have to protect the Maker's children and all that. It'd be awfully unheroic of us to show up when everyone's already dead." Had that sounded more like him? Yes, he supposed it probably had.

Rhapscallion merely nodded, bobbing his head like an agreeable mare. It wasn't with the same childish confidence of one who simply wished to agree with the majority, but rather of a man who'd been so unusually taken with the individuals who scrapped their whetstones against their weapons, laughing loudly, and gregariously. Individuals who seemed fearless, but in actuality, were very aware of what may happen against the hordes of Darkspawn they faced in the Deep Roads, protecting each other, as well as anyone who lived on the surface. The thought of death didn't hamper them. It hardly slowed them. They reminded him of an iron shield, banded together with loyalty and trust and nobility. Perhaps, quite similar to the Chevalier, or the Elven knights his nannies had told him about all those years ago. He, too, found that he wanted to fight alongside them. He smiled broadly, then swiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “I agree. Straight through, and we'll be there quicker.” He acceded, glancing at Solvej, then to Rudhale. He might've taken the pirate's statement a bit too seriously, far too close to his heart. “Exactly. What kind of heroes would we be if he left them unaided?”

Solvej had been very close to making a sarcastic comment about the pirate actually seeing sense, but then he'd gone and opened his mouth again. She still couldn't quite figure out if he was that ridiculous on purpose or if it was just second nature by now. Perhaps it was both. Either way, she rolled her eyes and said nothing, waiting for some kind of consensus (or near-consensus, because she didn't care if Alessandro was the only one who disagreed).

Mira, who had slowly made her way towards the conversation, could easily have made some sort of clever remark in taking sides between Emil and the dwarf woman, but she didn't do so, instead hoping to catch Ethne's eye. "We should go straight through," she offered, almost shyly, which seemed very unlike her. It was all she was willing to add. Surely the Dreamer would understand the value of haste, knowing what she knew.

Ethne looked up at that, understanding the implication. They needed to be under Cagliari at some point, and she was not willing to wager that their journey would take them past the same places twice. It was always a possibility; her dreams need not choose a logical order to present themselves, but...

Suicide surveyed the newcomers with interest, these dwarves. He was unfamiliar with the Legion, but the choice seemed clear enough to him. "The direct route leads to battle, and a quicker way to our goal, the other way rewarding us with nothing but lost time. The choice is clear, is it not?"

"Well, that looks like a majority," Solvej put in, "and frankly none of us is qualified to play dictator." She conveniently left out her own opinion on the matter, as it was highly unnecessary either way by this point. Rolling her shoulders, she cracked her neck to either side and leveled a stare at Dov. "What's the plan, Commander? We're not going to do all the heavy lifting for you." They still needed to be alive when all was said and done, after all. Kerin cracked a grin and laid expecting eyes back on the Casteless commander. This was going to be fun.

Dov chuckled uner his breath at the woman's words. "Wouldn't dream of it, lass," he answered, but the amicability was soon replaced by a much more businesslike demeanor as he too bent over the map. "It's hard to see on here, but the tunnel we want actually forks into two paths. The 'Spawn are building their fortifications just in front of that fork, which would allow them to get reinforcements from two separate directions. You can imagine why we don't want that, I expect. The plan is simple: we get in there, destroy as much stuff as possible, and then pull out before we accrue too many casualties." The dwarf's expression was grim; there was no mistaking that there would be casualties, but he was going to put his men on a strict time-span requirement to prevent the approach of too many reinforcements from the Darkspawn. Destroying their infrastructure was the key to his unit's survival: any kills beyond that were a bonus but not worth losing lives over.

"Ah, I see. And the fact that we need to get through will clear at least one of those reinforcement tunnels by default, no doubt," Rudhale mused, looking over at the other man with an amused expression. Still, if he was upset that they were being used in this way, he did absolutely nothing to indicate as much.

For his part, at least, Dov was completely up-front. "That is a benefit, yes. We've been entrenched in this spot for too long. The better chance we have of moving, the better chance we have to live. You need to get through, and I need a tunnel cleared. None of us will get what we want if we can't get past the fortifications, and for that, we'll need each other."

"That seems true enough," Ethne said, drawing both men's attention for a moment. Swallowing, she put aside the nearly-automatic fear that engendered and continued. "But it doesn't explain how."

Dove smiled. "No, it doesn't. My scouts report that the fortifications are strong, and besides that protected on all sides but one with tunnel walls. The bulk of our attack will be a frontal charge, and the Darkspawn will be expecting that. What they don't know is that there's a much smaller mining passage that lets out behind most of their lines, blocked by a small but moveable cave-in. You lot and five of my best men will be taking that way, while I and the rest provide a distraction from the front. We can't get the whole platoon in that way, but something tells me you folks and Ragna's squad will be plenty."


The Mission Briefings have been updated.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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Her offer to provide any assistance in the healing tent was turned away, which was probably for the best. She'd need everything she had for the journey she and her companions had yet to complete, but all the same, she couldn't help but ask. What perplexed her more than anything was that someone had mentioned another mage having taken care of most of it earlier, but she had seen no such person around the camp at all, just her party and the dwarves that comprised the Legion of the Dead. The name was something that didn't make much sense to Ethne, as they all seemed very much alive to her. More than just alive, in fact; most of them were positively vital. As though they lived with a special kind of appreciation for that fact. Perhaps it was because they constantly knocked at the door of Death itself, loudly, and with hammers? She supposed that constantly being under that kind of pressure would make one more inclined to appreciate what they had left, however much or little that might be.

It wouldn't leave much room for procrastination or delay. If you had something you needed to say or do, you'd have to address it in short order, or risk it never being said or done. There was no time to still tongues or dance around the important matters. You couldn't hold court in the Deep Roads, and your politicking would by necessity be minimal. How very different that was from magisters who thought they had ages, eons to manipulate all the pieces on their chessboards, to play each and every one of their opponents like a finely-tuned harp until the whole song and dance was exactly the promenade they wanted it to be.

If the risk of death were not constant and oppressive, she might have preferred it. She might prefer it anyway.

Speaking of things that needed to be said, Ethne set her course back for the group's gathered belongings, deciding that this would be the best place to begin her search. From there, she commenced a lightfooted sweep of the camp, looking for her closest friend. It had been clear from a few days into the Deep Roads that Scally was not doing well, but she'd had no real opportunity to ask him about it. Here and now, surrounded by these courageous people who had no time to waste, she thought she'd be best off making the time. He was important enough, there was no doubt of that, and if she had to put off something else, well... she would.

After a few minutes of searching, she found him, still looking the same haggard soul he'd been for days. Her displeasure was an understated thing, a small pursing of her lips, the edges faintly downturned. "Scally? I've been meaning to ask you... is something the matter?" The answer was obvious enough, and the question perhaps a little stupid for all that, but... Ethne interlocked her fingers, tugging lightly at them in something resembling a nervous gesture. It wasn't nerves, exactly, just the usual ever-present worry. He drew it from her with greater frequency and power than most, though she couldn't quite decide why. She had more faith in him than she'd ever had in herself, so it wasn't that- but suffice to say she'd never had much cause to fret over someone until she'd met him.

Rhapscallion knew, distinctly, that he was suffering nightmares brought on by the Darkspawn blood coursing through his veins. It was the unfortunate curse that all Grey Wardens suffered. Certainly a poor trade off for the ability to sense whether or not there were Darkspawn in the vicinity, and to see them hunkered in your dreamspace, like so many insects buzzing around in a bee's hive, always watching you with their beady eyes. Not to mention the less than subtle fact that Darkspawn were drawn to them like slabs of meat thrown to a ravenous mabari hound. They were human beacons, drawing out the creatures they'd always live to hunt down, to kill, to eradicate. The word "nightmares" did no justice to the dreams he experienced as an unwilling spectator. Even "night-terrors" fell short, shuffled under the sheets of something children braved; they were nothing short of horrific, unexplainable things. Full of mind-numbing shrieks, gurgling barks, and spears brandishing decomposing heads. Tongues lolling, eye-sockets empty. They went on throughout the night, the moment he shut his eyes, until dawn, where he suffered quietly, lips closed, nostrils flared, fingers digging into his chest to stifle his heart's erratic beats. Those vicious, eviscerating visions were of things he couldn't rightly describe to anyone else. How long had it taken Solvej to grow accustomed to such sights? Or else, had she ever gotten used to them? It seemed impossible.

Even among such courageous folk, surrounded by strong partitions, it was difficult for Rhapscallion to shake off his general unease. It wasn't so bad when he was awake. He occasionally drifted into the campsite, conversing with warriors belonging to the Legion of the Dead and asking for pointers involving where they struck first, how they parried, and how they operated as a unit. He always had questions, so many questions, that more often than not, the dwarves shuffled past, shooing him away with a flick of their hands. He didn't mind. There was an oppressive silence in the Deep Roads, only interrupted by the frequent sounds of hammers snapping against metal, skittering sparks, and hissing back into large vats of water. He took a greedy, grateful sip from his waterskin, wetting his chapped lips, moistening his parched tongue. Of recent, Rhapscallion had taken to sitting away from his companions to sort out his thoughts, to put them into proper order so that he could think clearly. The frequent rumblings of his stomach did nothing to brighten his mood, so he infrequently thought of sticky pastry treats with honeyed dribblings. Spicy peppers stuffed with cheese and scallions. Sweetbreads stuffed with figs. Lemon cakes frosted with sugar—

He raised his head, blinking slowly. He disantangled himself from his delectable thoughts, and regarded his approaching companion. Her Path really was made up of light, of things not meant to inhabit the darkness, though it'd eventually drive it away, anyway. He found it difficult to look her in the eyes and not smile. Both of them might very well spend a lifetime fighting in armies, running with wolves and loyal, but dangerous allies, and never settle down in little villages with their gardens or bakeries, but even still, Rhapscallion felt as if all of those things were possibilities and chances he could place all of his well-wishes on. It didn't matter if it was wish-thinking. It didn't matter that it might'n never happen. There was something in his throat that refused to allow abated words; an apprehension blooming in his chest. He knuckled his eyes, wishing the sleep away – he probably looked like a corpse, hardly worthy of worry. Rhapscallion whistled softly, scrounging up enough energy to arch his eyebrows, and smile a little wider. “I'm fine. Just a little tired.” It was a pathetic response, ringing with half-truths. Her worries warranted more than that. His smile wavered, then sunk into a frown. “It's almost as if they know exactly where I am, where we are, and it's too much at night. Or day, not that I can really tell with the ceiling and all that. Never liked any place that couldn't grow flowers.”

Ethne smiled at that, then shook her head slowly. "Any place can grow flowers," she replied wistfully. "It just depends on what kind." This was more-or-less literally true, as there were blooms that could survive in very adverse conditions, but it was fairly obvious that she was speaking metaphorically. For a moment, she worried her lower lip contemplatively, eyes downcast. There might be something she could do about that, but as with so many things, she was uncertain. The magic of dreams was a subtle, slippery kind, and frankly, the thought of somehow making an error in such a delicate matter as the psyche of a dear friend was nearly enough to set her a-tremble.

He looked at her, then. He was tired, as she was. The night held no prejudices, especially for those who wandered in the Fade, unable to steer away from errant dreams, or visions, or worse. Rhapscallion reached up, patted her interlocked fingers still. “You'd tell me if something were bothering you, wouldn't you?”

"I..." Would she? It was a good question, perhaps better than she'd thought before anyone had asked it. The reaction she wanted to have was an immediate, unhesitating yes. But that would require a freedom from guilt that she didn't quite possess. There were old things, ugly things, that she had to admit at least to herself that she didn't want him to know. Didn't want them to know, but him least of all. They knew, he spoke to, a different person than the one who'd worn this skin a year ago. What would he say if he knew? That she had been a nightmare every bit as terrifying as the ones that stalked him when he closed his eyes? That she'd been worse? It wasn't a consideration that surfaced too often, not when they were busy with problems more immediate, but every once in a while, she was reminded of it, and in those moments, she was bothered by it. More than she liked to properly consider.

He deserved to know. They all did. But perhaps they didn't really need to, and that was what kept her silence, folded around her like a cloak of protection. She wasn't that person anymore, and so she was no danger to them. Ethne pulled her own strings now, as much as anyone did, and so there was no somniari puppet of a Magister for them to contend with. There was only her, and she wasn't going to harm them. Quite the opposite: they were the first friends she'd ever had, he her first friend at all, and for them, she would do things she didn't think herself capable of surviving. So why did something as simple as words stick in her throat? That kernel of doubt, the one she'd always carried with her, had blossomed when she wasn't looking, unfolded in the fertile soil of a bleeding, guilty heart and twined its green-ivy vines around her heart and lungs, constricting her voice and her courage alike.

Any place could grow flowers, but not every place would. She had grown a thorny bramble, one which she'd tried to uproot. The strangling ropes that replaced it would harm only her, but they were still far from innocuous, far from innocent. Ethne swallowed, her throat drier than she'd noticed, and unlaced her fingers, wrapping them around his hand. A small gesture of comfort, that had been, but rooted as she was to the spot, she needed it still. "I wish I..." A small hesitation stymied the words; she shook her head minutely. "After this battle, I can try to help. Walk in your dreams. The Darkspawn, they... tend to avoid me in the Fade." She was at once glad that she could offer this pale facsimilie of assistance, and ashamed that she could not say what she really wished to.

It wasn't his fault she was a coward, had been so much worse.

The present was already passing into history, fading like sunlight behind clouds. Or like beetles skittering across stalagmites, ceiling-boulders, and the underside of pebbles rustling beneath his feet as he sidled forward, hunkering his shoulders so that he could hear Ethne better. He vaguely pondered what she meant by flowers, but shooed it off to the side. Hardy flowers could grow, like Kerin, in the unlikeliest places – but the dank, musty Deep Roads did not make him feel any better, even if it'd been littered with rosebuds. The uneasiness ate at him, carrying away small morsels of courage. This was a place that set your nerves afire, your thoughts ablaze, your toes curling with anticipation. Even worse, to any Grey Warden, it felt as if the Darkspawn were attending the shadows, waiting for any small chink in their concentration, so that they could sweep down on them like insects drawn to a dancing light. He was worried, most of all, for his companions. Small cuts, small wounds, and large amounts of physical contact with the Darkspawn, could bring upon worse things than death. The Taint was such an ugly disease.

He didn't need to know all of her individual habits to know that she was hesitant in relaying her worries, her doubts. He'd seen enough dewy-eyed veterans, hunkered in dirty taverns, unwilling to part with any of the things they'd seen in war-torn capitals, or what they'd had to do in battlefields, to know that Ethne was reluctant to part with something. Even so, Rhapscallion remained expectant, as always, and was not disappointed when she decided that, perhaps, it was best if she didn't agree with his submission to share her concerns – not yet, anyhow. His heart was permanently pinned on his shirt, flapping in the wind, as tattered and worn as any flag. Perhaps, as soft and tender as the underbelly of the newt's who called the Deep Roads home. If she so chose to badger him about his past, then he'd willingly share everything there ever was, everythinghe ever was before becoming who he was now; a Grey Warden, a protege, a man of the shadows. She'd seen glimpses, already.

There were things that, both he and she, might've been better of not knowing. Parts of a puzzle that were far from being beautiful, or kind, or anything that put someone of the mind of courageous men and women who always did the right thing. There were some things they could never get back, things that might've coloured their cores a little darker. Their souls were fragile things, prone to giving flight, or finding themselves clasped in shackles they never wanted to bear; always new, always of a different flavour. He understood that best of all. He did not know Ethne's past, nor had he ever thought of asking. She'd always been, in his livid eyes, something made of light, of flowers unfurled in the palms of your hands. Would he have believed her if she'd spilled her story out? Would he have believed that she could've done ugly, unforgivable things in her past? He wasn't sure of that, either. Perhaps, there were songs that weren't meant to be sung. He very nearly smiled at the thought, and he might've, if it weren't for the expression on his friend's face. Of course, all songs, and all stories, were meant to be sung if it meant lightening someone's burden.

If she had blood on her hands, then Rhapscallion would still give her an encouraging squeeze, settling his fingers around her own. He thought, more than anything, that he was sure of this. A thousand wrongs in the past, while not being entirely forgiven, could be changed by a future of rights. This was something he had to believe in. His hands told secrets in the spaces, silently laughing, directing his pains, his trials, his tribulations in opposite directions. Small action as it may be, it still gladdened his quick-beating heart. If it was time, or assurance, that she needed, then Rhapscallion would not press her to tell him anything. He offered a smile, patient and genuine. “I'd like that. Might make my nights a little bit better. I bet you drive them away with dreams of flowers, and ladybugs. Grumpy blighters don't seem to like anything cheery.” It was the only thing that he could think of to lighten the mood, to steer the conversation away from things Ethne would rather not talk about.

Not now, anyway.

Just like that, the worst of her feelings passed, and she smiled, shaking her head. The stranglehold on her heart loosened just enough for her breathe again, and it was enough. More than enough. "Oh yes," she replied amicably. "The Darkspawn fear nothing more than the scent of roses and the softness of lily-petals. I assure you there will be quite a lot of both." Whether it would help with the problem or not, it could certainly be made to happen.

"Um, Scally? ...Thank you. One day- one day I'll tell you everything, I promise."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion

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When the time came, the questing adventurers were directed to the west side of the camp while Dov's men prepared themselves for the main charge. When the Darkspawn were sufficiently distracted by it, this smaller, more specialized assault team would flank the 'Spawn from a narrow side tunnel that opened up into the fort, on the other side of the palisade wall and traps the foul creatures had set. Dov had informed them, once they gathered, that they would be led there by his Lieutenant, who also happened to be his daughter, and that she was waiting for them here.

Indeed, as soon as they reached the designated area, several figures resolved into view. All but one were dwarves, grim-faced and businesslike. All wore the armor of the Legion, but they were about evenly divided between those in plate and those in chain and leather. The sole female in the group was immediately noticable for her nearly cherry-red hair, braided about her crown and still long enough to fall in a tail to her waist. She held a helmet under one arm, a sword and shield affixed to her back as good an indicator as any of her own preferred tactics. The fellow she was speaking to was considerably taller and more willowy than her, his neatly-tailed hair enough to make the prominent points to his ears obvious. The words they exchanged were too quiet to be audible to the approaching group, but something he said caused her to smile and shake her head slightly, and she buffeted his elbow in a friendly manner before turning to attend to the approaching newcomers.

"Hail, Wardens and friends! It's about time you got here." Her smile was confident, assured, but her tone only friendly. "I would that we had the time for more pleasantry, but alas, duty calls. My name is Ragna Dovarsson, and I'm the one getting you into that camp. Once we're there, you're free to kill the blighters as you see fit, and my men and I will do the same. Stone preserve us all." That was all she said, turning on her heel and striding forward with a sharp gesture to her men, setting her helmet securely atop her head. The tunnel through which they would be passing wasn't overly long, but there were several opportunities for wrong turns, which was why her father had elected to send her in along with the Wardens. She'd been happy to accept the task; it would offer her a chance to see the legendary warriors in battle, something that with her youth she had not yet had the opportunity to observe.

Andaer followed Ragna's eyes as they locked onto the travelling band of Darkspawn-slayers, and he bobbed his head in acknowledgement. Though none of the parties here save him were yet aware of it, he planned to take his leave with them when they made for the deeper reaches of this warren of tunnels. He had good reason to believe that the children he'd been charged to find had either been taken to Antiva to be sold to the Crows or to Tevinter, to be sold to the magisters. There was scarcely any other reason to kidnap Dalish children, after all, disgusted as the thought made him. To them, he offered a shallow bow, more a dip of his head than anything else, but he did not speak, for it was not his place to lead this band, and he had no wish to interfere with Ragna in this. The lives of her people might well depend on her, and that was something for which Andaer had the utmost respect. He simply adjusted the slender blade at his hip and followed after her, noting that she and the rest chose to mount.

With a touch of his magic, he called Seth to himself and swung smoothly astride the silver-white halla, following the dwarves down into the caverns of which they were so inexplicably fond. Though Ragna had asked him many questions about the surface, she had expressed no actual desire to see it for herself, something he found quite curious. There was a certain kind of austere aeshetic quality to the tunnels, he would admit, but it was rather ruined by the grime, old blood, and clear smell of rot. Even the peculiar beauty of glowing fungi and the occasional outcropping of bluish lyruim could not overcome that.

Solvej was a bit surprised to see an elf among dwarves, especially a Dalish. She'd thought they had little reason to leave their homes these days, useless as they were being when it came to actually doing anything about the Blight. The excuse was that they needed to be so in order to survive, and perhaps there was something to that, but it seemed unappetizing to someone who staked her life on long odds daily. Perhaps this one was more inclined towards the reckless danger of killing off blighted bastards, or maybe he had some other agenda, but either way he was Ragna's problem, and the woman seemed like she knew what she was doing.

Between Wagner's height and her own, Solvej had to stoop just slightly to clear the tunnel entrance, but she immediately understood the reason for the fact that everyone was mounted: they'd take up less of the (scarce) horizontal space this way, and also be able to move into a mounted charge quite quickly upon exiting, probably a good idea if the 'Spawn were going to be right there. The issue of them being able to sense Wardens also loomed large, and she suspected that the extra measure would also help there: they'd likely be expecting ground-level Wardens, and just a few, not over a dozen mounted warriors. It was as much surprise as they were going to be able to get. The passage itself was dark, and, like most in the area, smelled positvely rank, but after several days of much the same, she was fairly-well accustomed to it, anyway.

Astride such a wilful beast, Rhapscallion was less inclined to understand the imperative nature of mounting to save space in the tunnel entrance, and he very nearly crushed his head against a stalagmite when he missed the opportunity to stoop, forcing himself to lean precariously backwards over Conquest's rump. He grunted when the low ceiling passed by, straightening his shoulders. Why couldn't they have assigned him a bronto, instead? He would've gladly given anyone his reigns, even settling for Kerin's pony. At least she wasn't being jostled about like a dangling piece of cargo. Squinting in the growing darkness, still unaccustomed to the overwhelming heaviness of his surroundings, Rhapscallion pressed the back of his hand against his nose, crinkled his eyebrows, and pressed further into the midst of warriors, of like-minded individuals all fighting for a good cause. He hadn't even noticed the Dalish moving along the ranks, closest to Ragna.

For her part, Ragna and her men were astride stocky brontos, this particular strain of the beast tameable... well, enough to handle a rider without killing them, anyway. It had been an idea of hers, to use the creatures for this purpose, since horses rarely survived long down here, and one of the members of their platoon had once been a livestock breeder. Granted, his family had bred nugs, but apparently the principle wasn't all that different, and within a few bronto-generations, they'd had an impressive collection of mounts, one for each man in the squadron. It was certainly a plus that the creatures needed so little light to see, and they chose the right path virtually without any prompting, assuring their passengers and the horse-mounted warriors following them a swift journey through the tunnel.

Solvej was right to be concerned about the Darkspawn sensing the Wardens among them, but Ragna was prepared for this, as well as one could be. They would doubtless be met with a bit of resistance immediately upon their exit, but the charge her father was leading would certainly be enough of a distraction that it was not likely to matter much.

Even as she thought this, a light became visible some distance ahead, and Ragna spoke quietly, but enough to be heard. "The exit's ahead, Wardens. I'm guessing the charge is already underway, so feel free to start laying into anything you see as soon as we get clear of this tunnel. We'll be trying to knock down the wall from this side so the others can get in, so if you can keep them away from us as much as possible, you'll have more allies at your back sooner." It was solid strategy, but Ragna knew that well enought that she didn't feel the need to press the point. In a more private aside, she fell back slightly, allowing her vanguard units to overtake her, and pulled up alongside Andaer.

"I suppose I won't have the chance to speak with you again, salroka," she said, voice heavy with sadness. It was true enough that the elf had not been around for more than a few weeks, but it was not hard to ascertain that she'd miss his patient willingness to answer her endless questions and the peace which seemed to exude from his very pores. "Atrast nal tunsha, Andaer. May you always find your way in the dark." She smiled, then, with a brief nod, spurred her bronto to greater speed, drawing her sword and shield from her back, catching up with the front lines of her men in just enough time to burst free of the narrow tunnel. Ahead of them, a small detachment of Darkspawn, perhaps twenty in total, were waiting, and Ragna's shield immediately went up, deflecting a flaming arrow aimed squarely for her face.

"Go, Wardens, and bring them death! We'll take care of these!" she cried, swinging her blade in a mighty blow which, combined with the momentum of her bronto's charge, cleaved the head right off a hurlock. Her troops were not far behind, each as fierce as she.

On the other side of the wall, the charge was met with considerable resistance. Dov's men were being pelted with arrows and magic from Darkspawn perched on battlements, and still others were jumping the wall, eager to engage the Legion in ground combat. Those met swift demises under the press of Dov's men and occasionally his axe, but their bowmen were having a hard time, disadvantaged as they were on the low ground. If the Wardens and his daughter did not act soon, he would be forced to withdraw, lest his casualties outnumber their lives. It was an unfortunate way of thinking, but one that had served him well all these years. Still, he set his jaw and dug in his heels, deflecting a downward swing from a genlock, and Dov felt his lips twitch into a smile, even as he sank into a rage like ice- cold enough to burn.

Emil traveled through the caverns and passages with his usual amount of stern grimfacedness. He too rode a horse, though he hadn't assigned the creature a name. It was a second hand blood-red roan he was given with his departure with the Templar Order way back in Orlais. He noted the oddity of an elf embedded within the dwarven ranks, yet the mere curiousity was only enough to raise his brow and issue a monosyallbic "Strange." Though things certainly couldn't have been considered normal by any means. He took it all in stride as they what felt like wandering the tunnels. When the light at the end of the tunnel began to burn, he was relieved that they hadn't become lost. Though, chances were that was about the be rectified as soon as they entered the battle. Lost to a sword or lost to the tunnels, it mattered not.

Emil's trained eye scanned the field before him, working out where he would be best utilized. He needed a perch, somewhere high so that he could rain death with impunity. What he got was the sight of a wooden palisade with rickety platforms on either side. He nodded, that would serve his purpose. Though first he'd have to get rid of the current occupants, a couple of Darkspawn firing down into what he guessed was Dov and his group of warriors. He figured that his plan would work two-fold, gaining him a perch to snipe from and supporting Dov's men in their efforts... Though, he couldn't do it alone. His eyes went to Mirabelle. He had noticed the way she avoided battle than partake more often than not. He could not fault her for that, she was clearly not built to be a warrior... Though she did prove herself enough for him during the Seige of Orlais. His plan wouldn't directly involve them in full on martial combat-- perhaps a skirmish or two, but nothing heavy. She'd do.

He pulled along side Mirabelle and said, "I intend to assault the palisade and relieve the pressure the archers are putting on the Legion. I'll need aid in the matter," He said, finally turning to look at her, "Unless of course you think you'd do better in the middle of the fray between blood drunk dwarves and ravenous Darkspawn," Sure, her tainted blood would draw the 'Spawn to them, but if they can eliminate the archers quickly enough, then they could hold their position above the steps easily enough. "If we do this though, I'll ask that you warn me before you coat me with one of your vials," Emil stated flatly.

"And here I was thinking you didn't like me at all!" Mira said, the forced cheer in her voice a poor mask of the fact that she was incredibly uncertain about all this. The others could gawk at the elf among the dwarves or the brontos they rode on, the new sights and sounds, all they wanted. Mira just wanted to be alive and in one piece when all this was done. Her grip on her knife was tight, causing her hand to turn somewhat whiter than usual. Her left hand was hovering about her belt, ready to draw a throwing knife or vial at a moment's notice. She'd seen battle with the Templars and the Wardens back in Orlais, but she had had multitudes of allies at her side then, and they'd been defending their own positions, not assaulting battlements full of darkspawn.

"I'm in,", she said before holding up her left hand to the Templar. "Give me a lift?" she asked, her lips curling into a small smile.

Emil nodded and extended a hand out to the Warden. It was either her, the jellyfish halfbreed, or the pirate. The halfbreed would probably be too close to his mage-friend or his mentor. As for the pirate... No, the girl was a much better choice. The pirate was still a sore spot for him considering their recent... chat. Once he was sure the Warden was on the horse, he drew his sword and spurred the creature forwards. "Watch yourself now. I still refuse to play the Stalwart Knight," he said harkening back to their first fight. If it was meant to be a joke, his tone nor his expression dared to show it.

"We'll see who ends up rescuing who," she teased into his ear, despite her own thoughts, both the ones about her own lack of combat ability, and the fact that Emil probably wouldn't even allow himself to be rescued if the need arose, if only because of his pride. "Oh, and don't worry about the vials," she said, "I'll only hit you with one if it really seems necessary." With that, it seemed the moment for their charge had come upon them. Mira slid a vial of yellow liquid into deft fingers, ready to stun a group of darkspawn and ease their way. The last thing she wanted was for the horse to go down before they even made it to their destination. For the first time, she was also grateful to see the hairy shapeshifter slide up towards the front, in the form of a bear, keen on garnering as much attention as he could. Better him than her, certainly.

It was certainly not the case that the only Darkspawn in the encampment were the ones on the wall, and the ground crew had their work cut out for them as things were looking. The first wave of them were already approaching, those that had been prepared to deal with the incoming dwarven charge, no doubt. Solvej spurred Wagner into a surge, calling back behind her. "Magelet, you're with me!" The opening for them to get at the weakest members of the party was far too wide, and she was planning on using herself to narrow it off. Hardly a glamorous endeavor, but one that would prove helpful once all the sprining into action was done and they had to settle in for the hard reality of being very, very outnumbered. She was not fool enough to think she'd be successful without the mindful monitoring of someone who'd be able to help if- when- things went awry for her.

Her poleaxe was an implement wielded without mercy, and several Darkspawn found themselves without limbs, or else impaled on the pointed pike-edge of the weapon as her powerful draft horse propelled both of them to a naturally narrow point in the line. She took up residence on a section of the wall, forming what would hopefully be the first link of a bottleneck on the 'Spawn. This left a few of the archers actually behind her, but that was where Alessandro and Desmaris were headed, and though she lacked noteworthy trust in either of them, the woman's urge towards self-preservation and the man's obstinate sense of duty would get the job done if nothing else did.

Several of the ground-bound warriors turned their charge towards her, and Solvej cracked her neck to either side, kicking her left foot free of the stirrup it was in and bringing the leg around to the other side so as to jump smoothly from the horse's saddle. Wagner was a creature of battle in his own right, and armored to show it. He reared back, his front hooves catching one hurlock off-balance and knocking it to the ground. The heavy thud that followed was accompanied by several cracks, and she knew that the warsteed's return to the earth had ended the creature. For her part, Solvej slashed at an incoming genlock with her poleaxe, giving the thing a broad, but shallow gash over its leather-armored chest. The Warden focused most of her energy on her defenses, which meant she'd be killing them at a slower rate than usual, but she'd endure much more damage in exchange.

Given her present goal and the fragile magelet behind her, she deemed this to be best.

When Solvej gave orders with that certainty of hers backing them, Ethne really saw no point in arguing; not that she would have anyway. Frankly, she was happy enough to let those who knew of warfare lead it, and she trusted that the woman had a plan. Nudging her horse into a run behind the Black Templar's, the somniari didn't slay Darkspawn on the way, as admittedly she wasn't really sure of her aim from the back of a moving creature. Instead, she dipped into the Fade for a more benevolent force, channelling the Heroic Aura from Courage, one who only rarely deigned to let her borrow of his strength. It seemed that charging headlong into a mass of Darkspawn was sufficient to draw his attention, however, and the spell spread outwards from her in a wide radius, enough to touch Solvej, Rhapscallion, and eventually Mirabelle and Emilio as well.

The armored woman pulled them to a stop, and Ethne heeded the practical advice, staying behind her and lobbing projectiles over the Warden's shoulder, occasionally pausing to double-check the condition of her allies. They were bound to need her skills in a situation like this, and without any other healers on hand, she'd have to be very judicious with her use of mana. For her own part, Ethne kept the back of her horse, in case she needed to dash off to get within range of someone, and also because it leant her the slight advantage of height. Since her back was protected by the wall, she let an Arcane Shield stand as her defense against arrows, but otherwise guessed she'd be about as safe as one could be in a situation like this.

Unlike Wagner, Conquest had no intentions of galloping gallantly into battle, sheering through Darkspawn like a hooved-weapon of kicking legs and disagreeable-head whips. Instead, Rhapscallion was unceremoniously thrown from his saddle when the stubborn beast suddenly lurched to the side, causing its rider to tumble into an improvised roll before gaining his feet from underneath him. He only glimpsed a kick of dust, a flicking tail of cowardice, to know that his faithful steed had turned away from the battle, probably seeking a safe place to hunker down in. Thoughts aside that he might've been better off begging the dwarves for his own bronto, who were hellbent on crushing everything that stood in their way, Rhapscallion threw himself forward, invoking in batted breath for quicker steps, hastier movements, so that he could somewhat keep pace with Solvej's rampaging horse. His long limbs certainly helped in closing the distance between him and the approaching onslaught of 'Spawn just as his mentor swung off her own horse, gracefully meeting the action with a measured slash.

His form flickered like a candle, blowing out in a shifting surge of smoke. If one had been looking close enough, then they would've noticed the faint remnants of a smile before it disappeared. The burden on his heart had been lightened, even if the past few nights had been hampered by nightmares, of monsters best left under a child's bed. They would always live to fight another day and as long as he was able, then he'd be smiling alongside them. Menacing growls, pained grunts, rattled through his ears. This was something Grey Wardens understood best, if anything. Threads of warmth extended from his gut, tickling through his arms, his legs, his spine – certainly, coming from none other than Ethne. Who else could inspire them so? He was sure, if there'd been any other mages with similar abilities, that he could immediately recognize her magic, as if it were someone's voice, familiar, close. He bent down, scooped up a handful of dirt, and flung it into a nearby Hurlock's face, spinning around so that Solvej could sink her blades in. Rhapscallion dodged an incoming club, ducking under the arm and driving his shamshir backwards, straight into the hurlock's armpit. He wrenched it away by circling around the howling creature, already facing another.

Solvej had done the job that Mira had planned for her stun vial, and thus it was unnecessary. They had their opening, and so Mira pocketed the vial, opting for a throwing dagger instead. They made their way up behind the Warden and the Dreamer, and Mira watched with much interest as Solvej cleaved apart a good number of the beasties with her poleaxe. But like a fat Orlesian noble devouring a delicate dessert, there were always bits left over on the edges of the plate. In this case, there was a small number of archers that had avoided the Warden's wrath, either by chance or by fate, or by some sense of self preservation that had encouraged them to push their fellows in the path of death instead of themselves. Whatever it was, it would only buy them a few more seconds, if Mira had her way.

"I've got these," Mira said to Emil above the din of the battle, which wasn't particularly hard since she could speak directly into his ear. Without waiting for a reply, she pushed backwards off the rear of the horse, letting it continue forward. Her boots hit the ground, and Mira immediately went into a forward roll, being nothing if not graceful. As she had expected, the archers had their attention drawn by the murdering Warden or by the rampaging horses, or perhaps both, and none thought to look for little Mira, slipping up behind them.

When unopposed, it was quick. A slice to the back of the knee of the first hurlock brought him down below her height, and a swift drawing across the throat put him down even further. She darted to the next, blade sinking into lower back. It turned to find the source of the pain, but she was gone already, shifted around to his side, stabbing a knife into the back of the head. A genlock, being the clever little one, though to turn its shortbow on her, but her throwing knife was out of her hands before then, stuck between the eyes before it could pull back the string. She closed the distance quickly, pulling out the blade by its handle, even as the darkspawn fell.

It was a run of enemies looking the wrong way, and it was violence like this that actually got Mira's blood pumping in a way she could enjoy. One slice to the next, each invigorating her more than the last, giving her energy to cut through them. She grabbed the back of a head, exposing the throat to be slit, watched dark blood shoot from the neck, spraying the next one in front of it. She would of course flow around such disgusting substances for fear of getting them on her clothes. The next hurlock sent an enraged mace strike her way, but she wasn't there when it landed, instead appearing beside it, knife sinking into a weak point, cutting to the spine. Only when the last of these archers that Solvej had left behind had been cleared did she stop to take a breath, and see where her Stalwart Knight had gotten off to.

Kerin, for her part in the battle, did not wade in atop her magnificent warrior steed, blade naked and steeped in crimson. Nothing about the dwarf was ever that grandiose. She was dirtier, grittier, and more brutal. Instead of forging ahead with her steed, she dismounted the pony immediately. The little horse was not bred for battle, and as such would only be a liability. A simple snarl from a lucky Darkspawn was more than likely tip the creature over, dumping Kerin to her own doom. There was also the issue of his size, barely standing at half the height of Solvej's Wagner. Her pony was not a warrior beast, but a transporter between the battle for the real beast. The dwarf that rode atop him. His duty was done, where hers began.

As boots hit stone, her helmet slammed on her head, and the fresh steel of her blade rang clearly. Whereas the axe was a more brutal weapon, Kerin noted the soothing sound of the steel ringing free. It was akin to a bell, a bell that tolls only for the death her enemies. And she loved it. It more than made up for the fact she couldn't hardly walk right with it strapped to her back. Without much more to do, she wailed a deathsong that signified the start of her berserker frenzy and the end to all that may oppose her. Though slower than the mounted warriors, she more than made up for it in raw ferocity. What little Solvej left in her wake, Kerin easily swept up, though not without a flare of irritation. The weakened prey left no challenge for the raging berserker. She swore to rectify that.

Instead of following Solvej to her section of the wall, Kerin veered off and chose a different section, one with fresh blood waiting to be spilled. Her greatsword cut through the 'Spawn the same as her axe, though the point allowed her the versatility of stabbing as well, and as such, she found herself skewering two 'Spawn at the same time when one tried to back away from the rabid dwarf and ran into his fellow. A grim smile found the macabre sight entertaining. Once she had found herself at her own section the wall, she began to cut down anything that had a pulse, effectively becoming the second link in Solvej's bottleneck.

With Kerin and Solvej carving their own paths, Suicide chose his own, making the attack three pronged. The warriors had already drawn a significant amount of attention, and the shapeshifter figured a flanking maneuver, as well as it could be performed in this cavern, would be beneficial, to prevent the Warden and the berserker from being overwhelmed. If the darkspawn chose not to turn their attention on the bear attacking their sides, they would simply find themselves dead. Well, they'd likely find themselves dead either way, it was just a matter of where the wounds would be dealt.

A bear's legs were not so fast as a horse's, nor did they carry the same momentum behind them, but Suicide was much easier able to change directions, as well as react to attackers. It was not long before he'd worked his way into their side, veering away from where Kerin was cleaving into their ranks. A deep bellow signaled his charge as he raked claws into the first unlucky spawn to cross his path. There were far too many to tackle alone, but such trivialities were not worth giving thought to. He had an excellent group of companions at his side, and at least one of them would no doubt take advantage of the enemies he had effectively corralled. Their blades tried to bite into his sides, but he was in a defensive posture, lashing out with brute muscle at groups that approached, and slaughtering the foolish that tried to strike on their own. It would be some time before they wore him down enough to get through his defenses.

Admittedly, Andaer was a solitary soul. A hermit, some might say, and with ample justification. It had been quite some years since he'd found it necessary to engage in combat on a scale even remotely appraoching this one, and to be sure, this lot were strangers to him still. True to his word, he was certainly going to attempt to attach himself to them. One did not simply wander beyond Legion lines into the Deep Roads without some kind of precaution, after all. He supposed that, perhaps, the best way to secure his passage would be to prove himself in some way useful. The warrior types were generally appreciative of someone who could 'pull their own weight' as he believed the idiom specified.

Of course, they generally also seemed to prefer people who were not as he was. Glancing about the scene, watching Darkspawn bodies fall, replete with grievous wounds and exsanguinating onto the filthy stone beneath, he considered that something of an irony. They seemed to let much more of it than he ever would. A cool assessment of the situation left him with a choice: he could either follow the raging snow-pated dwarf or the towering wildman in bear-shape. It was with no air of hurry whatsoever that he thumbed his blade loose in its sheath, treading softly in the thunderous, heavy wake of the armored woman. The first Darkspawn to fall upon his path was one already injured, suffering a gast to the side from the mighty blade she swung with so much ease. "Abelas, Din'len," he murmured, reaching for his magic until he felt himself connected to the creature's Tainted blood. With no small mental effort and a sharp pulling gesture, Andaer quite literally sucked the rest of the life-substance from the Hurlock's body through the wound, leaving but a withered husk of flesh behind. His other hand channelled fire, heating the enchanted steel of his thin sword until the edges of it took on a cherry-red hue, the hilt still perfectly cool to the touch.

A genlock that had thought to spin away from the worst of one of Kerin's blows found itself most abruptly without a head, the supernaturally-heated blade slicing through the loose, putrid flesh of its neck. Whipping to the opposite side, Andaer laid into the next, not so cleanly, but in enough time to prevent his own unfortunate injury, the momentum of his abrupt double-back fanning his grey-streaked ponytail over his back and shoulder, stinging his cheek. He ignored it, following the slightly-clumsy blow with a much more graceful one, passing the sword to his free hand and stabbing for the heart, twisting with a short, violent motion of his hand. The drugen'len had come to what was more or less a stop, blocking off the other side of the wide passage. Where she was stalwart and stony, he was fluid and liquidinous, and he occupied himself slipping around her this way and that, stepping in to slash at or distract one or more of the incoming Darkspawn when too many clogged their side of the cavern, inflicting slow-bleeding wounds or worse, finishing off those that survived her initial onslaught, and generally choosing to neaten the raw destruction that was her trade.

The ants go marching two by two, hurrah, hurrah... It was a grim sort of good humor that brought the old nursery rhyme to Rudhale's mind now, but he was disinclined to quash it. He might have even sung it out loud, were there anyone around to hear. There was not, and so he didn't bother wasting the breath. Why perform if there was no audience? Instead, he sidled up to the elf-man for a few seconds, leaning to the side conspiratorially. "I'm sensing a pattern here," he proffered offhandedly, but of course he did not expect to be answered, and when it was clear that the stranger had chosen to follow in the wake of the darling dwarf, Rudhale shrugged and figured that had him marching into the fray alongside a bear.

Things couldn't be better, as far as he was concerned. Not only was the one called "Suicide" (and he'd be asking about that, because the large barbarian fellow had yet to jump off any cliffs or throw himself on any swords, so it clearly wasn't literal) quite skilled and not lacking for bloodthirst, but there were so many puns to be made! The pirate jogged himself over to the shapeshifter, who was just then disembowling a Darkspawn with his "bear" hands (and already ti was paying dividends), and drew his mismatched weapons.

Like everything else about Rudhale, the arrangement didn't look much like it should work. One blade was twice as long as the other. One was curved and one straight. One broad, one narrow. One was designed to slash, and one to pierce and puncture. You practically had to be schizoid to work them both at the same time. He wasn't so sure about "schizoid," but he was about twelve kinds of crazy, so there was that. They were making a little more forward progress than the other two ground groups, which had satisfied themselves making a barrier to narrow the passage for the Darkspawn. A sound strategy, no doubt, but it did lack a certain element of... flair. One which he was only too happy to provide, naturally.

Given that their other option was a bear, it was hardly surprising that a good number of the foes that stopped to engage them at all chose the human, and he found himself not for want of fleshy bits to hack and slash at, mixed, of course, with the occasional stab or kick or something of that nature. One of the more clever sorts (genlocks, they were always genlocks) got him in the side, and Rudhale grinned. "Why, you bloody little blighter. That was a good shot, that was!" He congratulated the party responsible by disappearing and reappearing behind its back, thrusting backwards with his kilij and twisting, removing the blade with a flourish and righting it to face forward again. The arc of red-black blood that flew off the steel surface spattered unnoticed on the stone beneath his feet.

Life was good.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion

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The Templar glanced back as the girl yelled something at him and quickly dismounted just as fast as she had mounted the blood-red roan. He held his gaze for a moment, then once satisfied that the girl wasn't going to actively get herself killed, spurred his horse forward, tearing his sword free from it's sheath. The first victim of his blade was a Hurlock who couldn't get away from the Templar fast enough and got his head cleaved clean through. A grim smirk etched Emil's face for a mere second before it was summarily replaced with his normal tight-lipped expression. Though eventually Emil would have to dismount as well, else try to force the horse up the rickety stairs leading up to the platform on the far side, high above the rest of the battle. While it would be a sight to behold, Emil believed he best leave the insane antics for the Pirate, wherever in the Maker's name he may be in the forsaken bloody fray.

Emil swung his foot out of one side of the saddle, and leaned on the side of the horse, timing himself just right so that when he jumped, his fall was cushioned by the soft bodies of a pair of Genlocks. Without giving them time to likewise get a slash or stab off, he finished the fight before it could even start. He stood, and quickly stomped the head of one of the creatures and plunged his blade into the chest of the other. Another, heavier stomp on the other creature and the resulting crunch told that the genlock wouldn't get back into the fight. He then began to make his way towards the base of the stairs, cutting with his sword the whole way. Luckily for him, the densest concentration of the fight was happening on the wall proper, between the trio of the dwarf, the black templar, and the shapeshifter and their retinue. On his way, he paused for a moment to scratch his nose with his elbow. At first he just figured it for the Shapeshifter of the dreamer, though the itch was... Different, somehow. Something far more.. sinister. Though he'd have to think about it later, he was busy at the moment.

It didn't take him long before he was ascending the stairs. He had sheathed his blade and switched to his heavy bow, firing up the stairs at any 'Spawn who turned a corner too fast. A trail lay behind him, dead and bleeding 'Spawn with arrows protruding at every angle as the blood puddled at the base of the stairs. He'd need to polish his boots again after the fight was done. He reached the top of the platform, and turned out to be his turn to be surprised. A genlock bolter waited for the ascending Templar with his crossbow aiming right for his heart (if he even had one.) It was only by his quick wits and instinct that he managed to turn just in time for the bolt to bury itself in the back of his arm instead of his chest. A rabid hiss escaped with the pain and he whipped back around, bow swinging in a wide arc. The thick arch of the bow connected with the skull of the bolter, throwing it back and slamming it against the railing.

He approached with menace in his eyes and before the bolter could reload for a second shot the injured Templar kicked the genlock through the railing, and screaming down to the rapidly approaching ground. The thump almost managed to soothe the Templar. He grabbed the bolt and ripped it free from the armor, skin, and muscle as he approached the corner of the platform-- his perch. His actions had drawn the ire of what little archers and bolters were left-- thanks in part to Mira. So it was with them he began to work, but not before firing off an arrow behind Mira, striking a nearby 'Spawn. Mostly just to state that he was alive too. He couldn't bear to have her worry for him after all.

Solvej didn't even flinch as a fireball flew by over her shoulder. The magelet knew how to control herself, even if this was not something she automatically believed of all mages. Whether they acknowledged it or not, every last one of them was in that girl's debt to some degree, and the least she could do was trust that she wasn't about to get a lance of lightning to the back or some such paranoid delusion. "Hn." With a soft grunt and a powerful exhale, the Black Templar swung her poleaxe in a ripping horizontal arc, cleaving through the general abdominal areas of several Darkspawn in the process. A number of blows sought the chinks in her armor, but none found them, rebounding off the darkened steel with great clangs but no particular effectiveness. Solvej didn't carry a shield in large part because she was one, when she chose to be.

She caught a Shriek trying to edge in past her to get at Ethne and scowled, thrusting forward with the polearm and catching it just under the chin with the smaller blade topping the axe portion of her weapon, wrenching to the side and carrying the foul thing's throat with her. Switching her grip, she imitated something she'd seen the pirate do at some point and slammed her gauntleted fist into the face of the next hurlock to approach, producing a short series of wet pops. The creature toppled over, prepared for many things, doubtless, but not knuckles to the jaw. Taking several strides forward, she stomped on the base of the 'Spawn's spine even as she caught the next one in the temple with the blunt end of the pole. She could sense Rhapscallion to her sides, then behind her, and then a fair distance afield, cutting down his own opponents with a grace she did not possess. A small tingle at the back of her neck represented the nearness of magic, and in her own way, the magelet was mighty, too.

Their combined strength was clearing a large swath around them, other Darkspawn being channelled towards Kerin and the sword-wielding elf or else the pirate and the bear shredding through the lines on the other side. The temporary break in the onslaught was enough to allow them to advance forwards, and now it was they getting hit first, directing a smaller number towards the others, and on a more holistic level, they were all doing excatly what they needed to. Digging in under the pressure, advancing when it abated, and keeping the strain of it from overwhelming any one group in particular. It was almost beautiful.

It was also making quick work of the Darkspawn.

So far, so good. Ethne wasn't one to relish in the heat of battle like so many of her friends did, but at the very least, she could say she was no slouch when the situation called for it. She thought she was improving at this whole open-combat business, and if her relatively-unscathed condition was anything to go by, she was probably right. The thought brought her little joy, but there was certainly something to be said for not being a liability to the others.

From her position astride her horse, she was able to observe the flow of the battle around her, and though she hardly understood it in the same tactical, clever way as Solvej or Rudhale or Emilio might, she could tell at least that things seemed to be going well. Steering the Tevinter-bred mage mount with her knees alone, she swept her left hand outwards, producing a stonefist which crashed through a line of darkspawn at least seven deep, knocking all of them over. It was patently obvious that there was a marked difference in skill between these still left in the Deep Roads and their counterparts that marched on the surface, or maybe that was just her imagination.

It scarcely seemed to matter, and even as she ducked, forced to lay nearly backwards against her steed's rump, the uncanny sound of an arrow whistling by the space her head had been, she immediately straightened and hurled a silvery bolt of chain lightning in the offending direction. She was acting mostly by instinct now, and considerations about things like the enemy's strength or her allies' strategies were only minimal, a buzz somewhere at the back of her mind. Gripping her staff in-hand, she followed after Solvej when the woman strode forward, changing their position for purposes unknown to the little mage. It brought the first melee-fighting hurlock to her side that she'd had to deal with, and his sword caught her a good blow, leaving a line of blood trailing out of a gash from the middle of her thigh to her knee. The flimsy fabric of her robes was torn through easily enough, but the cut, though painful, was shallow, and not enough to distract her for long. With some effort, she steadied her shaking breaths and bent forward, throwing momentum from her torso into the stabbing motion that buried the somewhat-pointed tip of the mace-head of her staff into the darkspawn's chest.

It staggered backwards, freeing her to follow up the physical blow with two more, the ice projectiles catching it first in one foot (when her aim wavered with an unexpected jolt of pain from her leg) and then full in the face. It collapsed, and Ethne drew a shaky breath. It was just pain. It would be fine.

Rhapscallion's movements seemed more precise, more assured then before. Doubts had clouded his mind, harried his balance. Honestly, it had been all of his companions who helped him crawl out of whatever darkness he'd found himself wallowing in the moment he'd stepped foot in the Deep Roads. It was a conjoined effort, even considering those who preferred not to speak to him, such as Emil, that had lifted his spirits. He couldn't contribute everything he had if he didn't put in what he had to offer in the first place – namely himself, and who he was, how he fought, what he believed in. Ignoring his foolish desire to somehow become stronger, or someone else entirely, Rhapscallion weaved between Darkspawn with astonishing grace, given his temperament when out of battle, and threw himself into a series of intricate swings, flourishing swipes, and clever tricks that involved nasty kicks to the back of their knobby knees, felling them, then quickly sinking his dagger into their exposed jugulars. Infrequently, he looked over his shoulder, noting how close, or how far, his companions were. He needed to be sure.

His battle cries were not like Kerin's barrage of drums, nor Suicide's supposed calm, or Emil's discreet barrage of arrows sinking into flesh, of the whipping sounds that belonged solely to Solvej's spear, driving into sluggish hearts, and whatever blighter that was foolish enough to face her. Who knew where Rudhale was? His theme must've been made out of a pirate's jig, primed for dancing and merrymaking and utterly destroying his opponents without even breaking a sweat. It suited him well. Rhapscallion hadn't seen Mirabelle in all of this, but he supposed that her fighting style was much like his own, full of catlike grace and hidden stashes of poison, gasses, mysterious vials that would debilitate and ruin them upon contact. He didn't actually have any vials of poison, though he knew they would've come in handy. Instead, Rhapscallion relied on his opponent's momentum, sidestepping when they barrelled into him, utilizing his shamshir as a hook, then sinking his blade like a fatal thorn driving into their hips, their sides, past their craggy ribcages. He had kept the jagged dagger that Rudhale had given him, out of sheer irony – the one that had sunken into his abdomen, leaving behind an equally messy scar as a reminder. Irony wasn't tragic.

He, too, acted solely on instinct, following the heat of battle like an ebbing wave. If it moved this way, then he, too, would manoeuvre with it, leaving strategies and plans to those who could think of them while in combat. The clusters dwindled in his surrounding area, so Rhapscallion sizzled from view stepped between fallen corpses, always careful not to step on them. He'd always been this way. Stepping between open arms, lifeless fingers, and just beside someone's gaping mouth, eye-sockets inhabited by discarded daggers. He quickened his pace, heading back towards Ethne and Solvej. He bound across another body, breaking into a brisk jog. Another hurlock – as if there were not enough – stepped into his past, long enough to snarl something unintelligible. His shamshir snapped forward. The head was taken clean from his shoulders before he even had a chance to raise his own weapons. The severed head went rolling carelessly down the dark tunnel, and his body fell into the genlock standing beside him. He danced past, scoring back-lashed blows to it's ankles.

Rhapscallion finally hacked and slashed his way towards Ethne, utilizing her horse's rump to keep himself from staggering over the Darkspawn she'd just dispatched of moments ago. Of course she could protect herself, for even Solvej had said so, he had no doubt of that, but still, he worried after her. It was a nagging feeling tickling at his neck, forcing him to look backwards. To check on Kerin, to see if Suicide was fine, to make sure that they were all alive and well. “You're alright?” It was a question, sifted through heavy breaths. He wasn't looking at her, but instead peering out across the battlefield, hands clamped on his blades. He hadn't seen her wounds.

"I'm alive, aren't I?" she replied, managing a small smile over the rhythmic clenching of her jaw. It might not have been a deep wound, but she was no Solvej or Dekton or- gods forbid- Kerin, capable of pushing past agony like it was mere irritation, and it hurt. "And you're alive. And they're alive. I've never been better." In it's own strange way, it was even true, and that was something she'd think about later, when she had the time. Right now, there was a Genlock taking aim for Rhapscallion's exposed back, facing her as he was, and she was having none of that.

With a certainty she hadn't experienced in a long time, Ethne conjured the stone to her hands, compacting it into a shape as small as she could, and threw the dense projectile with a short, sharp motion, watching with half-lidded eyes as it crushed the Darkspawn's ribcage and slammed it back against several of its fellows, all headed for Kerin and the mysterious Dalish man. They'd all still be half-stumbling and crash, most likely. She found it difficult to mourn that, considering. Not him, not them, not ever.

Suicide was more than fine, despite the darkspawn's best efforts. When the pirate Rudhale entered the fray beside him, enough attention was drawn to him that the shapeshifter decided simply holding their aggression was no longer necessary. They had bled them enough to destroy them outright. After clawing open a last genlock's skull, Suicide shifted back into human form in a flash, confusing the nearest hurlock with the sudden change in the fighting style it was facing. It hadn't made up its mind as to how it wanted to proceed before Suicide splattered it over its comrades with the mace end of his staff. Enraged at their losses, a second charged forward, but the shapeshifter smoothly parried the blow to the side, before taking hold of the hurlock by the arm and using momentum against it, pulling it forward and around before slingshotting it back into its own ranks, where it slammed up against another darkspawn. With a roar Suicide hefted his staff overhead and speared the blade end through both of them, sending them down in a heap.

Two more came forward, Suicide parrying the first's blow aside before launching a fist into its face, shattering the jaw and sending it spinning onto its back. The second's overhead blow was cut off when Suicide's staff connected with skull mace end first, stunning and turning it around. He flipped the staff off smoothly and sliced horizontally, cleanly removing its head, before turning back to the first, driving the swordstaff down through its face.

A good day, indeed.

A short bark of laughter escaped the pirate at the Darkspawns' confusion over Suicide's sudden shapeshift (my, my, try saying that five times fast!), but Rudhale was too busy with his own business to sit back and ridicule them when they turned into a drunken parody of some crude stage-show, the sort one might see in certain Rivaini taverns. Still, it was hard not to superimpose a bit of that fast-paced, dangerously-catchy music onto the whole thing, and if he was adding a little more spin and flourish into his own dance of death, well... surely nobody would fault him for that. He may have even started humming, though really if anyone were to ask him about it later, he'd just smile a shit-eating grin and shrug diffidently.

One slice left, two vertically, sweep both blades low, there goes an artery, there a heap of guts, breathe in, spring sideways, feint with the kilij, slip under the shield, punch up under the chin with the katar, step out, and exhale. As natural as the breathing alone, when you'd been doing it long enough. Two hurlocks moved in at the same time, one swinging a hefty-looking mace and the other coming at him with dual knives. Well. That was three weapons to two, except pirates didn't play fair. With a one-shoulder shrug, Rudhale adjusted his grip on his katar and gave it the old two-finger toss, burying it neatly in the bicep of the club-wielder. That, naturally, was enough to weaken the incoming hit, and he took it on the flat of the kilij, pivoting out of the way of the much shorter daggers aimed for his chest and sliding his sword cleanly out from undrneath the club, forcing that one to hold his weapon all by his injured self.

Grinning like a madman, Rudhale delivered a slash to the back of its knees, causing an immediate collapse. Unfortunately he might have sliced too deeply, because the fall happened quickly enough to trap the curved blade in between the hurlock's thigh and calf, and he wasn't going to fight for it. Releasing the blade easily enough, the brigand dropped into a roll, springing up to the left of the second 'Spawn, who was by now considerably irritated by its inability to actually hit its target. Too sodding bad, as he suspected his new snowy-pated friend would say, because things were about to get a lot worse for it. Being unarmed didn't slow him any, and he kicked upward, smashing one of the knives clean out of the creature's hand with a weighted blow. Jack had told him it was stupid to wear steel plates in the soles of your boots when you made your living on a boat on the ocean where people could drown, and he'd gleefully ignored her like he usually did until she threw up her hands and told him not to blame her when he was dead and swimming with the fish.

It was a shame she wasn't here to see that he wasn't always a hopeless idiot. The second knife came down, but not before he caught the wrist wielding it and twisted. That time, he actually took hold of the blade as it fell, reversing it in his grip with a deft spin and shoving it into an eye without needing to think about it. Stepping back, Rudhale cracked his neck to either side and glanced around. The numbers were thinning.

The rapid beat of soft footfalls carried Mira the rest of the way towards the tower that Emil had ascended, his arrows taking down those that pursued her, which was fewer than most had attacking them, and more than Mira desired. She was forced to roll under a slicing blow from a hurlock, coming smoothly to a knee and sinking her knife into its lower back. Not waiting to see if the wound brought it down entirely, she pushed onward, flipping a throwing knife into her off hand, quickly finding a target blocking her way to release it into. It struck true in the throat of a genlock, but it fell awkwardly to the side, preventing Mira from retrieving it immediately. With all the dead darkspawn around, she doubted she'd be able to find the exact bodies she'd hit with knives when this was over. It was frustrating. She'd have to buy more next time she had the chance.

A pair of hurlocks had formed up side by side at the base of the stairs and looked to begin ascending towards the pesky Templar archer, but Mira was able to dash up behind them quick enough, knives in each hand, sinking a blade into the back of both skulls. The pair went down in a heap together, and their thick skulls preventing the knives from coming out cleanly. The awkward combination of forces that was trying to free the left knife, the weight of the falling hurlocks, and the sudden presence of stairs beneath her feet, was enough to trip Mira up and take her to the ground with the corpses.

Cursing to herself, she wrenched the second knife free and pushed herself up, turning to check behind her. A pair of archers had drawn up, though the first was struck by an arrow from above, no doubt Emil's. The second Mira flung a knife into just as he loosed his own attack, which struck Mira in her right shoulder, just under the collarbone. The force was enough to push her back into the stair above her, causing her to trip again. Though significant pain coursed through her arm and chest, and Mira was the first to admit she was none too familiar with pain, she refused to let herself sit still, pushing herself back upright and making her way up to the top of the tower. Emil himself seemed fine, and so she crouched down by the barrier that acted as a railing, giving herself a moment of respite.

"Get this out, will you?" she asked of Emil, tapping the arrow and immediately regretting doing so. "Just do it quickly, yeah?"

Emil cursed at himself as he couldn't get to the other Darkspawn in time before it losed it's crossbow bolt toward's what he thought was Mira. Mirabelle-- to his knowledge-- was positioned somewhere below the platform where he was stationed. She had left his line of sight, though an educated guess told him that the two bolters were aiming at his wily ally. The resulting knife to the face of the other proved his hypothesis correct, though whether or not the bolt had scored a hit on her or not was left up to mystery. Part of him wanted to go down to check, but the cold, solid part of his mind told him it prudent to stand his ground and fire at any other 'Spawn encroaching. If she was dead, there was nothing he could do about it, though if she survived, he would surely see her soon.

Once again, his guess proved right as Mira stumbled up the rest of the stairs and crouched by the railing. A part of him was glad she was alive, the other part was glad too, but only because she would another able hand if the 'Spawn managed to break toward them. He did stop his barrage of arrows long enough to hear her ask him to rip the arrow free of her shoulder. He was accustomed to that pain, having a bolt go through his arm just moments ago-- which still stung like hell-- though she, obviously, was not. She was no warrior, and he couldn't help but wonder how she managed to make her way up to him. Instead of words he merely grunted, withdrawing another arrow. Though instead of nocking this one, he handed it to Mira. "Bite the wood. Try not to think of the pain... It will hurt-- at least until the Dreamer can take a look at you," he said evenly. There was obvious displeasure in the tone which he said dreamer, but no time to dwell on it now.

"Right. So I'll count to three, and pull it out then," He said... "One...Tw--" though instead of three, he ripped it out at two. Unfamiliar with the trick as she was, Mira had not been expecting that from the Templar, and yelped quite loudly. It hadn't been as bad as she'd thought, but that didn't change the fact that she delivered Emil an affronted glare, as well as a solid slap to the side of the face. "Damn it!" she blurted, spitting out the arrow. "You stupid little... ugh, thanks." Emil took the hit with as much grace as he could-- he couldn't say that it was unexpected, just that it stung a lot more than he would have imagined. He returned with a glare and muttered, "If you would have clinched on three, it would have hurt a lot worse..." rubbing his face.

She supposed that made sense. But that alone wouldn't get him off the hook. "So what do we do the next time I get shot, huh?"

"Don't get shot."

Kerin, still doing her part in this magnificent battle, was knee deep in the fresh corpses of many Darkspawn. Tainted blood painted her armor a treacly crimson, dripping into a pool of blood at her feet. Her own armor was showing the wear of the battle, dents, nicks, a gash along the back of one of the arms, though none of them were deep enough for her to get infected by the taint. She made damn well sure of that. If she was to go, it wasn't going to be over a case of taint induced sniffles, but with her blade in her hands, a war song at her throat, and a battle in her front. Tis would be a good day to die, but she knew that more grand battles lay ahead of her yet. She wouldn't miss those for the world.

It seemed her unquenchable bloodlust drew a newcomer to her, like flies to spoiled meat, the scrawny mystery of an elf. She didn't mind in sharing her meal with him, as long as he didn't get in the way. She wouldn't slow her swings down, not in this state, not in this battle. She still had a bit of hidden agression to work off. Perhaps an artifact from the Morpheus battle, perhaps not. She knew not, all she knew at that point was the joy of battle. Though, she did note how the elf drew the blood from the creatures. Though it mattered not in the long run, a dead darkspawn was dead all the same, no matter the method in which it was slain. She also noted how the elf seemed to slip around her, avoiding her own blade and generally causing havoc in a stereotypically clean elfin way. Not that she could speak, standing solid, fighting in a stereotypically dwarven way. The thought made her chuckle. Or was it the thought? Was it the carnage that laid around her. Perhaps both. Perhaps neither, so maddened by blood she was.

It was a magnificent day, fighting underground once more.

Perhaps unfortunately for Kerin's very precise understanding of the situation, it seemed that the Darkspawn were not going to allow Andaer's methods to be clean for all that much longer. With a small, resigned sigh, like one might give a particularly-obsinate child, the elf drew the straight-bladed dagger at his waist. Like his sword, it was pristine. Unlike it, the smaller blade had to be. He was not ignorant to the dangers of the Taint, nor of more commonplace infection, and this one was used only ever for a single purpose.

In a smooth movement, Andaer drew up his right sleeve, slicing through the linen wraps that wound over his forearm. The fabric fluttered unheeded to the ground, and without even the faintest hint of hesitation, he laid the blade over the surface of his skin, drawing it perpendicular to the direction of the limb. In its wake, a thin line of crimson welled to the surface, running freely over the honeyed tan of his skin and the paler, regular white scars that signified many previous such self-inflicted wounds. He was no uneducated human, experimenting with the power of his blood in darkened corners of some Templar-kept pet Circle. He had no need of dramatic flourish and hand-stabbing, nor was he about to ruin any of his muscles on accident.

With a half-clench of his fist, he drew the liquid into the air, and that was all it took. Much of what had been puddling around his dwarven compatriot joined it, forming into thick ropes of blood and ichor which wound sinuously about the air surrounding him, and through this, he threaded his magic. All at once, it was like opening one's eyes after a lifetime of blindness. Rather than sight though, it was another sense, indefinable as one of the usual five. All the same, it was as impactful and overwhelming as seeing color for the first time, and only years of careful moderation kept him from trying to do too much at once. Instead, he reached for the nearest Darkspawn, an archer, and felt for the life in its veins. Once he had a proper grasp of the network, of the way everything in that body moved and flowed and was, he took possession of it.

At first, the creature fought the intrusion. They always did. But the Dalish's will was stronger, and the next arrow it fired buried itself in the neck of another Darkspawn, and another, and another, and by the time the creatures had discovered the source of the new onslaught, Andaer had moved on, controlling another instead. Multitasking was tedious, but not impossible, and though he understood he looked quite unusual, with ribbons of red flowing around himself, he could strike a foe with his sword all the same. And he did.

Something twinged in the back of Ethne's mind, a particular something that she had once termed the "healer-sense." It wasn't a very graceful appellation, but she didn't quite know what else to call that feeling she got whenever someone she was with became injured. It was just another one of those things she didn't quite understand, like how she knew it was Mira. Still, now wasn't the time to question it, and the healing spell left her fingers without another thought.

Dagna's men had not been idle in the meantime, and while the Warden-group had dealt with the bulk of the Darkspawn, the dwarves had set about knocking down the walls and destroying the encampment, careful to avoid the area immediately around the platform on which the archer had placed himself. The sound of snapping wood was prominent as the battle wound to a close, the last of the palisade falling even as the horns of retreat sounded. Dov's troops had sustained a fair few losses, but nothing he hadn't been expecting, and the Wardens had proven themselves more than capable today. Dagna, dismounting, caught Andaer's eye, gesturing to her bronto and then to Kerin, who the redheaded woman had noted earlier rode nothing more battle-ready than a simple pony, a beast more suited for hauling carts than anything.

She released the creature's reins, and as she expected, he made his way over to the elf immediately afterwards. She had no idea how he'd managed it, but the elf had made friends with the grouchiest bronto she'd ever met. Maybe it was some of that foresty-elfy stuff she didn't know much about. Whatever the case, she saluted, waved, then caught the saddle of one of her compatriots as he ran by, pulling herself astride in motion and calling out to the group. "Good hunting, Wardens!" But there would be no more assistance from the dwarves of the Legion. They had their own job to do, and it was not one easily foresaken.

When the last Darkspawn fell, Rudhale straightened, taking in what was left of the outpost. It was in shambles, which he took to mean that they had succeeded. What was more, it looked as though everyone he'd come in with was still alive. If he'd had any mead or ale, he'd be passing it around right now. Instead, he wiped his recovered armaments off on the nearest bit of fabric (dead hurlock mage, as it turned out) and sheathed them, trotting over to where Kerin was (presumably eventually) coming down from her rage episode. She appeared to be surrounded by a pile of corpses almost as tall as she was, and he chuckled to himself, shaking his head as he ascended the pile, ignoring the unpleasant squelching noise this produced. There was actually an odd absence of blood, considering, and that appeared to be concentrated at the feet of the new man. Odd, that.

"Looked funny at you, did they, my dear?" he quipped laconically, crouching and reaching a hand down to her. If he was concerned that she might still be anger-crazed, he certainly gave no indication of it. "Serves them right, if I do say so myself." Kerin looked up at the pirate, half-crazed grin still plastered to her face. Her berserker episode had been replaced with the euphoria of a hard won battle. She was in high enough spirits to offer a quip right back to Rudhale. "They still look funny, if I say so. Tongues hanging out and everything," she said, laughing and accepting the pirate's hand to aid her escape from the hole she so merrily dug.

From the platform, Emil leaned on the railing, and added his own comment, though still nursing a bruised cheek. "Now that everything has been well and truly murdered, can we please get on with it?"


Level Up!

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion

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The wearied warriors all drew together with time, ebbing gradually towards the gravatic center of the dwarf and the pirate, as though pulled there by strings they didn't quite yet see or acknowledge. Ropes, mayhaps, something thicker and stronger, made of the stuff of legend. A few treads were heavy with something approaching reluctance, and if he had to guess, the Dalish man would say that not all came to this arrangement equally-willingly or with gladness in their hearts. Fair enough; his shoulders were weighed down by the oppressive stagnation of obligation as well, and it occasionally tempted him to bitterness he would not allow himself to express. Everything for a reason, and his fate because he had accepted it thus. It was only on rare occasions that he still felt acutely the empty space beside him, where another had once stood, warm and kind enough for both of them.

They seemed to be inclined to move out again, and perhaps wearied was not such an appropriate word after all. The man in black and the dwarf wore matching grins and traded barbs with no malice as he helped her out of a mound of dessicated Darkspawn corpses. The woman in ebon armor wore her pride around herself like a shroud, but even through it, he could guess that there was real acceptance there of the burdens she carried. The large shapeshifter conducted himself with quiet violence, restrained, but never far from the surface. The Templar was impatient, irritated, but seemingly resolved, a stark contrast to the lightfooted woman at his side. There was uncertainty there, as of a bird unused to its jesses. The two youngest members of the group might have perplexed him the most; not for the reasons he might have expected. To his eyes, they were practically yet children, but even so... the lad moved as one accustomed to dark places, but his expression was open, bespeaking worry for the others, the young lady not least of all. And she was strange, wasn't she? Magic quite nearly dripped from her skin, so close was she to the Fade, and yet for all that, she did not appear to face the situation with the usual reverent, fearful ponderousness of those who touched it so closely. His every exercise in spellcasting had been a constant temptation when he was that new to it.

They were all quite curious, in their way, but he was not here to stand and observe. Rubbing a palm over the bronto's shoulder, he led the beast after him as he approached the group. "Your pardon, Wardens. Miss Dagna requested that I lend her friend here to the service of yourselves." Nevertheless, it was directly at Kerin he looked, and to her the leather reins were handed. "I also have a request for you, if you would hear it."

Solvej had glanced with a frown at the wound on the magelet's leg, but said nothing of it. The girl was a healer- if she couldn't be trusted to know when a wound needed fixing, they were all in much graver trouble than she'd thought. Taking up Wagner's reins, she approached the center of the field, where the others seemed to be more or less coalescing. Alessandro was already trying to hurry the process along, and it wasn't necessarily a sentiment she diagreed with, not that she'd ever put it quite the way he had. Even so, she was at least patient enough to wait while the elf approached. He was efficient about his business, and apparently entirely unruffled by either the battle itself or present company. Considering present company included Suicide, Kerin, Alessandro, and herself, this was somewhat impressive.

Apparently the dwarves had left a gift for one of their own; Solvej's lips twitched slightly. A bronto seemed to suit Kerin much better than a pony or the cart. It was also a sign of acceptance, perhaps. Solvej didn't know a lot about dwarven culture, except that there were a lot of rules and apparently some people were arbitrarily deemed worthless- and that the tattoo on Kerin's face made her one of them. Acceptance was probably a big deal. Nevertheless, she didn't dwell on it, and turned towards the slender man at his words. Blinking once, slowly, Solvej shrugged. "We'll hear it." It didn't mean they'd do anything else about it, but then that wasn't what he'd asked for.

Andaer gave the gruff armored woman a soft, close-lipped smile. "My thanks. I am Andaer, if names are of consequence to you. I have business further inside the Deep Roads; I seek after a pair of children that were lost to some kith of mine. While I would undertake the journey alone if I needed to, it strikes me that we are headed in the same direction, and I would be a fool if I did not ask to accompany you for the span our paths converge." He left it at that, a simple accounting of the facts. There was no plea, only an implied request. Their choices were not his to make, and he would not attempt to do himself any favors with words.

There were times when actions and causes must speak for themselves.

The bronto didsuit Kerin far better than any other mount. Rhapscallion couldn't help but knuckle away the bubbling laughter, which smeared a bloody moustache across his lip. A dwarven lass was quick to point it out, while being equally as bloody, shuffling towards him, and pointing a waggling finger at his face – which he quickly remedied by rubbing said smear across his shoulder. He let a low, soft sigh. They'd all survived another battle. Why had he worried in the first place? They certainly didn't need it to survive. Even Ethne had unwaveringly brave in the face of danger, like he always knew she was. When she'd been injured, it was he who had been momentarily distracted. She'd been quick to remind him that if he turned his back, it'd be his life that would need saving.

Reminiscent of a dishevelled hound weaving around scrappy warriors, Rhapscallion closed the distance between his companions and the newcomer, Andaer. The simple, unspoken suggestion for the group to unify in the goodly act of saving children from the Deep Roads had him bobbing his head. He'd already begun shifting him into the informal pile of would-be companions. Anyone who cared enough to brave the Deep Roads to save someone had to be a good person, in his mind. There was something genuine in his speech, or rather, in the way he carried himself. “And I'm Rhapscallion. We couldn't just let you go alone—” He began to say, before dribbling off and looking sidelong at his companions. He wasn't exactly in any position to be telling anyone what they would do, or deciding anything at all, but he was so sure that everyone felt the same.

Ethne, who'd been rather concentrated on healing the gash in her leg, had heard the conversation, but didn't have much opportunity to speak until the man's question was out in the open. She studied him for a moment with innocent curiosity, his words turning over in her head. There was something so... peaceful about him, like he'd never had to face anything particularly troublesome or damaging, but then, to observe that very demeanor here, after what had just happened, conveyed exactly the opposite. Even so, she found herself somewhat calmed by it, too, and she was smiling without really knowing it. "I'm Ethne," she returned brightly, "And I see no reason why not."

Of course, she was aware that she wasn't the only person likely to have an opinion, so she looked around at the others. Rudhale's eyes flicked surreptitiously from the pile of corpses Kerin had been standing in, to a seemingly sourceless puddle of blood some distance away, and then to Andaer, and finally to Emil for some reason, but in the end he simply shrugged. "Not sure you really know what you're signing on for, my friend, but if you're still alive, I'm willing to wager you know what you're doing." His tone was thick with some implication that Ethne couldn't name, and one that she couldn't find a reason for. Even so, he was back to the careless breeziness that characterized him immediately afterward, and she decided she must have imagined it in her fatigue.

Kerin was coming off of her battle high, though still clearly in high spirits. She looked down at her bloody, tainted armor and chuckled, ineffectively swiping at the gore. At best, she was merely making matters worse, smearing rather than cleaning it. "It's going to take days for this to wear off-- unless we find an underground reservoir. Think this would intimidate some of the ugly nughumping bastards in the meantime?" Kerin asked the pirate, punctuated by a chuckle. Regardless of her answer, she accepted the reins with a bit of confusion, her eyes following the line to the bronto at the other end. The mirth in her eyes drained and was replaced by surprise and perhaps a bit of gratefulness. It didn't have time to register however as she dragged herself over to her new mount, rubbing it's head.

The rest of what the elf said went over her head, the creature being the source of her attention. It was obvious she was out of the conversation for the time being. Emil on the other hand, listened intently. They apparently had another beast added to their party, but at least this one managed to match its owner. He nodded, listening to his request. "The first question is what are children doing down in the deep roads. Tis not a playground after all," Emil grumbled, but he seemed to lighten up, his shoulders loosened and he shrugged, "But they are children who are in need of our help. I say let's help the man find his charges." Emil said. Apparently the Templar had a soul after all. Though if he knew the what Andaer really was, he might have been less than forthcoming. A good thing he looked over the displaced pool of blood. That would have raised difficult questions for the Templar.

The dwarf's reaction, he found endearing in its way, and he didn't much mind that she took a leave of absence from the rest of his words. What was life if one could not enjoy its more rarified, precious moments, however small? The two youngest of those assembled, he was certain were the sorts to not mind company at all, from the way they kept close to one another's sides, and he dipped his head graciously. The Templar's words had it listing slightly to one side, his smile fading gradually into a more neutral, but still incredibly calm expression, and Andaer blinked dark eyes slowly. He fingered the pommel of his blade, an almost-absent gesture, as he considered his answer. "They are not wherever they are by choice, Ser Templar. They were kidnapped from the forest surrounding their village in a slaver raid. Whether they are ultimately bound for Antiva and the House of Crows or Tevinter and the hands of the Magisters, I cannot say. Neither is a fate to which I could in good conscience leave them, and I managed to track them this far. I suspect they passed through here before the Darkspawn set up their blockade." It wasn't usually until things became desperate that people contacted him for his assistance, and the trail had already been cold for quite some time. Fortunately, some of the young boy's blood had been found, and Andaer was using his magic to follow its source, not unlike Templars did with phylacteries, as he understood it.

All the same, he was touched by the easy acceptance. He hadn't expected to meet so little resistance, but then perhaps it was more for the sake of the younglings than he that he was being admitted. He presumed that either this Templar was a far cry from his kin or he had not noticed the particular brand of Andaer's magic. The man dressed as a seafaring raider, on the other hand, appeared to have noticed very much, and Andaer met his eyes for several seconds, conveying little but passive solemnity. He understood well enough what was being implied, though he had to admit he was not used to such subtlety from humans. Of all those that he had met, most were much more straightforward in their warnings or admonishments or occasionally even their fear, and he'd never begrudged them that. It was true that he often grew tired of being spat at and called maleficarum, but he could not expect each person to know the difference between blood magic handled properly and the crude imitations of it perpetrated by nervous apprentices and ignorant zealots.

"If your friends are also without objection, I would not keep you here any longer. I know not your purpose, but it seems to be of much gravity."

"You're not wrong," Solvej replied with a shrug. If nobody else was going to kick up a fuss, she saw no reason to protest herself. Another pair of hands couldn't hurt, however temporary, and it was not as though one could find fault with his cause. The only ones who hadn't spoken on the matter were Suicide and Desmaris, and she shot both a brief speculative glance.

The shapeshifter shrugged as if to say, why not? He leaned slightly against his staff, mace end planted firmly into the crushed chest cavity of a hurlock. His skin was in many places dripping with dark blood of the spawn, though he himself seemed in good enough shape. He studied the elf for a moment before speaking. "If he does not impede us, I see no reason he should not follow. Let him prove his worth in battles to come."

Mira had mostly been marvelling at how her shoulder was more or less completely healed from the magic that she could only assume Ethne had cast. It was still tender to the touch, but it certainly didn't feel like an arrow had just been unceremoniously ripped out of it. Now there was apparently something of a vote as to whether the lithe elf before them could come along. Mira... couldn't think of an objection. If he too was searching for a group of people lost to him, perhaps he might better understand her own desire to get her friends back. She had to guess they were getting close at this point...

"The more the merrier," she said, taking in the sight of the elf. "I think we could use someone with a little sophistication." She wasn't quite sure why he struck her as someone who could assist with that, but maybe that's because she was comparing him to a gore-covered dwarf woman and a barbarian who turned into bears and wolves. "Thanks for the spell, by the way," she added in Ethne's direction.

Andaer gave the young woman a vaguely-perplexed kind of smile, close-lipped and understated, but decided it was probably a compliment. "I shall endeavor to provide what I may," he replied, a slight hint of playfulness coloring the declaration.

"Well, looks like we're all in agreement, then!" Rudhale proclaimed, clapping his palms together and rubbing them up and down. "Trust me when I say you're not likely to see that again, my friend."

Ethne, for her part, nodded shyly at Mira, still not exactly accustomed to drawing thanks for what was really just her job, if one thought of it the right way. Still, she was glad she'd helped somehow. With their affairs once again in order, the group mounted up and departed without further delay.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion

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When morning came, Mira didn't feel very rested. Maybe it was because she couldn't really tell when morning was. It always seemed the same down here, so dull, dirty, and dreary. And hard. She wasn't used to sleeping on a bed of stone. How the dwarves managed to put up with this place, she would never know. The passing days were making it clear just how much she wasn't cut out for this. Not yet, anyway. She wondered if Solvej, with her composure of iron and steel, her toughness, her strength, had ever been a girl. She seemed more or less immovable in terms of will since Mira had joined the company. How long had it taken for her to become who she was? What trials had she endured? Mira wasn't sure she wanted to know the answers.

Her dreams hadn't helped her sleep, either. Visions of the darkspawn and the archdemon and other varieties of monstrosities were making nightly appearances, with startling clarity. However long she had to prepare before meeting them... probably wouldn't be long enough. Combine all of that with the growing rush of thoughts she was having as they neared Cagliari, and Mira really didn't get much sleep at all.

She pushed herself up as the others prepared to move onward for the day, knowing that the time for acquiring their help would be very soon. She looked a mess compared to her usual self: her braid was poorly maintained, her clothes layered with dirt and dust from the road and from battle. Even her skin seemed a darker shade now, her eyes as well. It was only just as the group was to depart that she finally managed to speak up. Her voice initially caught in her throat from lack of use; a swig of water from her canteen helped with that.

"Before we go today," she began, loud enough for anyone in the vicinity to hear her, "there's something I need to ask of all of you." To be honest, she wasn't even sure they'd hear her out. She hadn't made her presence felt very much among the group, except for maybe with Emil. Surely he at least would lend an ear. He liked to appear cold, but Mira suspected he was actually a big softie on the inside.

Ethne had just been attempting to leverage a bedroll onto the ever-increasing pile of things on the cart, without much success due to her height and lack of upper-body strength, when it abruptly left her hands and was tossed deftly into the stack of them. Nonplussed, she met the pirate's grin with a small smile, but he simply winked and turned away to grab the next thing. She thought to follow suit when Mira spoke up. It must be time for what she'd mentioned earlier. Ethne wasn't much of a geography expert, but she had maybe heard Solvej mention something about Cagliari and a day's ride, and so it was surely close at hand. The elf already knew she'd be lending the newly-minted Warden her full measure of support, whatever that was worth, but she was not sure how many of the others would consent to do so. Chances were good that they'd camp within the vicinity of Cagliari tonight, so maybe it would be a matter of splitting the group. It was hard to say before anyone knew what was going on.

"Well, don't keep us in suspense, Mirabelle," Rudhale teased flippantly. "I'm just dying to hear about my next adventure." He draped an elbow over the edge of the cart and leaned, suspending his motion with a clear edge of expectancy.

Emil was busy snuffing what little of the fire that was left with his boots. He didn't want to risk using what they had for drinking water, seeing how he wasn't so sure about the next time they'd find an underground water source. He had just managed to kill the last sparks of flame when Mira called everyone to attention. After he had dusted what ash had gathered on his boot, he meandered his way towards the Warden, and listened to her request for aid. Rather, her request to listen to her call of aid. The Templar wondered if it had anything to do with the girl's recent changes. She appeared different from their time in Val Royeaux. She didn't seem her usual chipper self, and she looked far more haggard that he'd thought she'd let herself become.

It was quite clear to anyone who had been paying attention that there was something bothering the girl. He had refrained from outright asking her about it, figuring that it must had been an internal struggle, and asking about it would only make things worse. Of course, it was the pirate who was first to speak, drawing a lazy glance from Emil. "Your adventures are going to get you, if not all of us killed one day Pirate," he said. Then he turned to Mira and spoke again, trying to drown out the thoughts of meeting his fate because of one of the Pirate's adventures, "You've got our attention Mira. Speak," He stated plainly.

"Thanks," she said. Normally Rudhale's humor would have been just her flavor, but at the moment she couldn't help but find it somewhat sour. She wasn't feeling particularly humorous herself. Of course, the pirate was just trying to keep the mood light, so she held nothing against him. "But I don't think you'll like my adventure any more than whatever Ruddy can dream up." Glad that she at least had the majority of the group's attention, she began.

"You'll probably remember that I did not participate in your fight against our darkspawn friend in Val Royeaux. We all had our own dreams. In mine, an opportunity to speak with Morpheus presented itself to me. According to what Ethne could retell, I asked about the location of my friends from my home, who were taken captive the night the darkspawn attacked. In exchange for their location, I agreed to submit myself to his control." Mira wondered what the group would think of that. Most of their dreams had remained private affairs, so personal were they. And while she wouldn't be detailing the contents of her own, she was aware that her actions could be seen as selfish, if any of the group had expected her to contribute directly to freeing Val Royeaux.

"Of course, you ended Morpheus and I was released. Ethne gave me the darkspawn's answer that night at camp: they were taken into the Deep Roads underneath Cagliari, which we now approach." She shrugged. "You can probably see where this is going. Those girls were everything to me, a family more than just friends. It'll probably mean either sneaking into or full-on attacking a fortified darkspawn encampment, but I'm not going to leave them to whatever the darkspawn have planned. I know you have your mission, and I don't mean to distract from that, but I'm going after them, and I'd welcome anyone who wanted to help... seeing as it's looking like a one way trip otherwise."

She finished, looking about at the group members for support. She felt relatively certain the Dreamer would want to help. That made things somewhat awkward. The little elf was invaluable to the mission, and no doubt some of the others wouldn't want her following Mira on her own suicide mission, considering that they already had one. The shapeshifter, for his part, remained quiet, leaning on his staff towards the rear of the group. He had little knowledge of this girl, and wouldn't be following her to her death unless most of the others wanted to divert as well.

The Templar winced at the reminder of the fight in Val Royeaux. Or rather his uselessness in the fight. The pirate's words came back to haunt him, causing him to drop his gaze to the floor as she spoke about the trials Morpheus had put them through. The haunting melody that he'd come to associate with that ordeal lingered on the edge of his mind, souring the once cheerful song for likely the remainder of his life. As Mira continued to talk, it was revealed that she had choice to stay under Morpheus's influence in exchange for information. Emil did not hold the fact that she had a choice to opt out of the fight against her. Better it be by choice than to not have the strength to break free after all. Hell, it probably took more strength.

Emil looked back up when she told the reason she did it. Her friends. She had done it to get the location of her friends. A very aimable thing to do, and Emil couldn't help but feel the barest hint of pride for her. What she was proposing was a rescue mission for her lost friends, family. He knew what it felt like to lose those close to you, and to have a chance to rescue them. He then completely understood why she chose to stay in her dream. He couldn't help but wonder what kind of dream she had. Was it as horrible as his was? Better? Only she knew, and he wasn't about to pry, lest her ask him the same.

When Mira finished her speech, Emil sighed, and he tone heavy. Though it was the same tone he had always used, the fact that he was the first to speak spoke measures. "I doubt this lot can sneak anywhere," He began, shooting glances at the dwarf, Chasind, and pirate. "Even so, I imagine that we're still going to do it in any case. This... group has a propensity to do things the hard way. So, I suppose you have my bow for this endeavor."

"And if we're going to do it, we need to hurry. We are wasting time these girls do not have," Emil added. The smile Mira gave him was more genuine than she had thought she was capable of at the moment. "Thanks, Emil." He may not have liked it, but he played the stalwart knight rather well. "Save your thanks. I haven't done anything yet," though not too well.

Ah, so that was it, wasn't it? The hesitation in Desmaris's demeanor, that unnecessary timidity. It was back to what they'd spoken of earlier. And Solvej remembered the entirety of that conversation with uncomfortable clarity. She would not lie to herself and say that she was fully behind the detour- she knew that Mira's friends weren't alive anymore, and they were close enought to Cagliari that even now the Darkspawn were playing at the very edges of hers senses. "Whether they can sneak or not doesn't matter," she pointed out. "The Darkspawn will sense our Taint coming." Part of her was very much against this, but she was relieved to find that it was a much smaller part than she'd expected. She'd always worried that this job would take what tiny, vulnerable, sheltered part of her heart remained and crush it, but perhaps that wasn't happening quite yet after all. Perhaps he was still with her in spirit, protecting the part of her that he'd always thought was her best. It was a foolish, irrational thought, but one that carried a thread of warmth that was not at all unpleasant.

We all do things we don't like for our families, don't we?

"I can't say for sure," Solvej continued, "but my best guess is that we'll be dealing with at least one Broodmother and her hive- those are elite Darkspawn that protect them. It won't be easy and it won't be pretty, but if you still want to do it, I'll help as well." There was a good fight to be had out of it, if that was what Kerin and Suicide would be after.

Andaer remained silent, judging that such important matters were hardly for him to decide. They had been kind enough to take him along- he could not object to any diversions or sidetracking in good conscience. It seemed a worthy cause, besides.

"I'm up for it," Kerin said, though she seemed distracted. She didn't sound as enthusiatic about the apparently forthcoming fight-- and from what Solvej had added, a glorious one at at that. It was as if something else weighed on her mind. Though the fight would allow ample oppurtunity to work off some steam, and a good thing the fight sounded rather large too... She had a lot of steam to work off. Ethne nodded as well, but Rudhale hardly saw the need. It was pretty obvious that he was quite fine with the whole endeavor, after all.

"If we go, we go together," the shapeshifter offered, shifting his weight as some of the others lended their aid. Solvej and Kerin offering to assist had pushed him greatly towards going as well, and if they all were willing to help her, it would be to him as though nothing had changed, and they were still on their mission. "I will fight as well."

Mira nodded her thanks to Solvej, Kerin, and Suicide, knowing that those three added a significant amount of punch to the team. As for the Warden's words, Mira did not know what a Broodmother was, but she didn't like the sound of it. If it stood in between her and her friends, it would die. She knew the odds of the girls being alive was slim, but she would never be able to forgive herself if she didn't give them a chance. Proving her inexperience as a Warden, she hadn't even remembered that the darkspawn would be able to detect them. That made things a lot more complicated. Perhaps some kind of distraction would be in order. She couldn't say for sure until they had their eyes on the encampment.

"Think you might have something a little bigger than a knife I could borrow?" she asked in Rudhale's direction. She was no swordsman, but something with a little more substance than her little knife would probably be very helpful soon.

At the question, the pirate grinned broadly. "As a matter of fact, I do," he crowed, reaching beside himself and pulling a burlap sack to the front of everyone's belongings. This was the one that held his things, and he spent a few moments rummaging around-- accompanied by the sounds of clanking metal and various heavy objects-- before his eyes lit up as he obviously found what he was looking for. From the sack, he withdrew a sheathed weapon, about a foot and a half long if the leather casing was anything to go by. The hilt was plain but workable, wrapped in treated leather cording meant to preserve grip and resist the soaking-in of liquid. A small crossguard would prevent Mira from losing a finger if another blade slid down the length of it, but due to the peculiar wave-shape the steel carried under the plain cover, that wasn't too much of a concern. It was clear that, however unadorned the thing was, it had been made with incredible attention to detail and craftsmaship.

"Kris knife," he explained proudly. "Old Avvar invention. The shape tends to make it uncomfortable to wield a stright blade against, and it's nice and light. Yours if you want it, dear Mirabelle." It was certainly better to put an object like that to good use than to just let it languish at the bottom of a pile of his things. There was actually a reason besides preparedness he was carrying the thing, but it was perhaps better if everyone simply assumed that he was either a pack-rat or absurdly fond of odd weaponry. The latter was even true, to an extent. Emilio was fooled, if the utterance of Bloody magpie," was anything to go by.

"Ooh," Mira said, showing immediate interest in the blade, "aren't you beautiful? Just what I need, I think. Thank you, Rhuddy." Accepting the weapon from the pirate, Mira examined the steel more closely. Simple, but undeniably elegant, and strong, too. It was no exquisite piece of Orlesian craftsmanship, but not everything needed to be, she supposed. "Well... shall we get this over with?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion

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Given that the darkspawn would detect a group of Grey Wardens if they came too close to the encampment under Cagliari, it fell to those not tainted by darkspawn blood to infiltrate the base and clear a path. Upon seeing the defenses, it was determined that a direct assault would likely end in only their deaths. The darkspawn were too numerous here and too well fortified for that. The base was dug into the rock, the outer perimeter of walls stretching in a roughly one hundred meter half-circle around a cave mouth that led down further into the earth. Three gates were situated along the wall at various points, thick, sturdy things that would not be easily passed by. This upper level looked to be simply the encampment portion of the base, while whatever they were guarding lay in the earth below them.

The shapeshifter had done much of the scouting of the base, moving swiftly and silently through the air as a raven, doing his best to avoid being spotted, as the sight of a bird underground was not exactly common. After alerting the group to what he had seen, he led the group consisting of Rudhale, Emilio, Ethne, Kerin, Andaer, and himself through a rocky approach to the gate on the southern side. Suicide had claimed it to be the best choice, though if that meant it was the least guarded and most vulnerable remained to be seen. He had been notably silent for most of the previous few days, but that did not mean he was quiet inwardly. Despite the steady stream of battle and the constant influence of worthy companions at his side, he felt himself growing somewhat restless. He wondered if this perhaps ill-advised detour might serve to return him to his previous calm.

He settled into a crouch behind a rock wall at least ten feet tall, the last cover available to them before a section of clear ground that was perhaps fifty feet in length leading up to the wall and the gate. A pair of towers flanked the gate, a bow-armed hurlock stationed in each. Suicide had to assume they were not expecting an attack. They would need to avoid wasting their advantage of surprise. He turned back to the group assembled behind him, speaking quietly. "Watchers, one in each tower. Both should fall at once." He was no great strategist, but is was simple common sense to know both of these archers needed to die roughly simultaneously to avoid detection.

"Does anyone else know how to fire a bow? Emil asked, pulling his own bow from off his back. The next sentence was punctuated with a wrinkle of nose and brow and a measure of disgust, "Or Maker forbid, a bolt of magic with any accuracy?"

"Well," Rudhale contributed oh-so-helpfully, "I am theoretically capable of the first endeavor, though there seems to be but one bow between the lot of us, making it a rather useless potentiality, no?" He was tickled that they'd have to rely at least partially on magic for this, as it clearly rankled the Templar. As far as the pirate was concerned, expanding that man's horizons could only do him good, honestly. Why bother closing a mind when it was so much more useful open? It was nigh incomprehensible, but he supposed he understood the convenience of it. Having things to hate and fear made life easier, if considerably more miserable.

Perhaps surprisingly, Ethne broke in, staring at the far side tower with a rare hard look about her. It suited her childish face quite poorly, but for once she almost appeared her meager years. "I am... accurate at a distance with both earth and lightning. The latter would be more effective here, I think, but the former would draw less attention." Chunks of rock weren't quite so shiny, really, and both would probably make roughly the same amount of noise. She might have preferred ice, but those were not skills she was nearly as confident in. Still, she'd leave it to the discretion of people with more experience in this sort of situation.

Truly, she hoped there were some. It would be disconcerting to know she knew more about unobtrusive kills than any of the rest. An outside, but real, possibility that she did not waste time considering too much now.

Andaer, in defiance of basically every stereotype concerning the Dalish, had never fired a bow in his life, though he knew a fair amount regarding their craftsmanship, oddly enough. To the Templar's question, then, he simply shook his head, watching with interest as the Fade-drenched lady seemed to solidify before their very eyes into something quite other than she had initially appeared to be. Before, he'd known without needing to think about it much that he was looking at a child, in many senses of the word. Right now, he was quite certain he was witnessing something else entirely, however temporary it might turn out to be. Curious, all of these strangers. The flamboyant one was cleverer than he let on, but the elf could not discern his purpose, either in being here generally or in his statement.

The shapeshifter, he wished to speak to. There was something unusual there, perhaps a turmoil he couldn't quite detect. Perhaps not; he'd been rightfully accused of being overly sensitive to such things before. Either way, he would admit his curiosity without hint of shame on that account. The dwarf bore some similarity to people he had known, and he took her predominant trait to be pride rather than anger, but he could be wrong about that. The Templar was... thus far less odious than the other Templars Andaer had encountered in his travels, but his impressions there would wait for the inevitable revelation that had yet to come upon them. All in all, he wasn't sure whether to be confident they would succeed or certain they would fail, but he could not deny that he was very, very inclined to stay and find out. "Whatever we do, it seems wise to do it quickly. Each moment we wait increases our chance of being discovered."

"Marvelous," The Templar deadpanned, both at the pirate's inane bantering and the Dreamer's suggestion. He looked the woman up and down with a hard calculating stare. He didn't like the chances, she looked like a wispy thing, childlike, hardly able to throw a rock, much less a spell. He'd probably have a better chance at throwing the pirate and hitting a lookout than she did with one of her spells, not to mention it'd make him feel better. Though considering current happenstance, there was nothing else to be done. So it was with great reluctance that he relented. "Don't miss, else we're all dead and you've just dashed Mira's hopes, or what little she had," He said evenly.

"Be a hell of a way to go," Kerin interjected. To be killed neck deep in a horde of darkspawn, staining the rocks red with their taint. She could think of few ways to die more gloriously. Though, Emil would have preferred to not die instead and shot the dwarf a cold glare, of the "Not helping" variety. Useless as the stare was, he then retrieved two arrows from his quiver, driving one into a crack in the rock for easy access and nocked the other. He drew the bow back to full draw and lined up the shot on his chosen darkspawn, though he held his fire. Instead he waited and spoke, "On your count Dreamer. When you are ready, give the word and both shall fall," the word wasn't stated as fact, but more along the lines of a command. As if to say she had better make her shot count, or all of their blood was on her head.

"Very well then," Ethne conceded, apparently choosing to ignore the man's obvious disdain for her. "On three." Truthfully, that animosity stung a little; for all the downsides to her life, she'd rarely had to deal with people who hated her for what she was. Granted, some had feared her, and others had reviled her presence, but it had taken her a long time to learn how to tell that, given that she was presented in her early life with nothing but smiling faces and apparent goodwill. The realization that all of it had been a complex illusion... well, someone as forthright about his disgust just made it harder to forget.

Even so, she lifted her chin. She wasn't doing this for herself, so it didn't matter what he thought of her, or her magic. She could do this, and she wouldn't be a liability. Good people believed in her, and right now, failing them wasn't an option. Standing tall, something she could easily do and stil remain behind cover-- actually, it was necessary to aim properly-- she took a deep breath, wrapping the Fade around herself like a cloak. Everything else seemed to fall away; while she was dimply aware still of her environment and the people surrounding her, they no longer pressed on her concentration, leaving her entirely focused on her task. The lightning lanced in short bursts between her thin fingers, and she began her count with deliberateness. "One." Her posture tensed in anticipation of future action, but the direction of her vision was steady. "Two." The lightning brightened, concentrating into a contained, crackling orb in her right hand, which she raised carefully, slowly.

"Three." On the solid syllable, Ethne flicked her wrist sharply, and the little ball of light hurtled toward its target, extending into a bolt the size of a lance. She felt rather than saw it connect, as the life-force of the Darkspawn on her side flickered, then winked out of existence entirely. Only then did her hand drop back to her side. Unlike Emil, she had perfect faith in the abilities of her counterpart, and she did not bother to check that the arrow had hit its mark as well.

While Ethne might had felt she had struck her target, Emil's instincts weren't so steeped in such spiritual nonsense. The sharp eyed Templar saw that his own arrow had struck his intended target, dropping it into a heap in its tower, silenced forever. The next arrow was nocked in the bow nearly instantly, but the string remained slack. The Dreamer had appeared to killed her target as well. Very good, at least they wouldn't die at that moment. It was quiet for a minute, the Templar listening for any signs of commotion or anything that could tell them that they had been discovered. When none was forthcoming, Emil finally exhaled and nodded. "It is done Chasind, what's our next task," Emil asked.

"I desparately hope it involves less cloak and dagger. I'm not suited to such sneaky tactics," Kerin grumped. She began to wish that she had stayed with the Grey Wardens. If the Darkspawn could sense their blood, then chances were if they were to enter the fray, then it'd be to fight, and not to skulk around. Still. She would wait patiently. Blood was bound to be spilled sooner or later, as it always was with this group.

"Wait," Suicide commanded now that the lookouts were down. He listened for a moment for signs of alarm, but none rose. It was as quiet as before. Once satisfied, he took his staff into hand, turning to the group at large. "I will open the gate. We will enter, and butcher them before they know what is happening." He wasn't sure when exactly he'd been elected for command, but since the Templar was asking, this was the best idea he could come up with. It would be the most exciting, at any rate.

Without waiting for approval, or any comment whatsoever, the shapeshifter took flight, switching into raven form before their eyes and flapping hard across the open ground, gaining just enough altitude to clear the wall before he dropped down and out of sight of his companions. He fluttered down to ground level, landing amidst several tents, if they could be called such. They seemed to be made out of... skin? Stretched taut and nailed to wooden stakes. A lesser stomach might have been upset by such a sight, but Suicide was focused on the task at hand.

A genlock had seen him, cocking his head slightly to the side in confusion, dark eyes narrowing at the bird. Improvising, Suicide hopped about behind the nearest wall, and sure enough, he heard the genlock rousing himself to investigate. Suicide flapped upwards slightly, hovering as best he could some eight feet off the ground. The genlock rounded the corner and came to a stop almost directly beneath him, peering up, perhaps trying to decide if he would have a decent shot at killing the bird with a bow. He was never able to reach a conclusion, however, as Suicide shifted back to human form in midair, falling with the blade end of his staff downwards, spearing the genlock through the head and most of the way down the body.

The landing had been quiet enough, and the kill as well, the genlock still standing with Suicide's firm grip on the spear keeping him upright. He maneuvered the body to sit against the wall and wrenched the blade free, before shifting back into his feathered form and taking low flight once more, perching atop the nearest vantage he could find. The camp was, for the most part, still, but a few darkspawn were wandering about on their own, seemingly without an organized pattern of patrols.

And then, quite suddenly, a bolt of lightning came from above, quite nearly turning him into a smoking pile of feathers. He flapped upwards in surprise, eyes searching for the source of the magic. His first thought had been Ethne, before he decided that was ridiculous. But he soon found it: an Emissary, perched upon a central structure in the encampment. He'd no doubt been able to identify Suicide as more than a bird, being a mage. Not that it was too difficult, given the rarity of birds when undergound.

Well, there went the element of surprise. He still needed to get that gate open, though. He pushed forward, darting through the air towards the gate, noting that it was operated by a crank wheel in the ground beside it. It would no doubt take too long to open it himself. An alternative was needed. Not being the most skillful planner, he had to come up with one on the fly. He shifted back to human form in midair once more, landing and spearing a hurlock from behind along the encampment's main street of sorts, before quickly turning and slamming the mace end into the genlock approaching from behind, smashing the skull and sending the shorter creature spinning onto his back.

That done, he shifted into bear form, hearing the alarm being raised behind him. Not looking their way, he got a running start towards the gate, growling in annoyance when a second lightning bolt struck him solidly in the rear. It served to make him run faster, if nothing else. At his top speed, he had considerable momentum, taking his massive weight in bear form into account, and the fact that he could move at an impressive rate as a bear if allowed to move in a straight line. Lowering his shoulder and turning his head away, he slammed into the wooden gate.

Suicide's companions would see a massive bear come exploding out of the gate, sending splinters and stakes flying haphazardly about, the shapeshifter rolling over several times on the rock amidst the storm of wood bits before he came to a stop in a sitting position on his rear two legs. He took a brief moment to shake his head and clear the cobwebs, before returning to four feet, turning about, and charging back through the gate with a bellowed roar.

Kerin watched as a bear exploded out of the gate with raised eyebrows. No matter how she looked at it, the showing was quite impressive, and it served the purpose of opening the gate. Her steel blade sang as it was pulled from her back and in a nonchalant tone said, "I believe that's our cue. Let's go save our shapeshifter before they make a rug out of him, yeah?" She then hopped what cover they were in and made her own dash to the now splintered gate. Now things would get fun, as the whole cloak and dagger approach was surely and soundly trounced. Now there was a fight, and it called her name. She wouldn't disappoint.

This was shaping up to be another bloody magnificent (and quite possibly magificently bloody) day, and it probably surprised nobody when Rudhale burst into raucous laughter as Suicide emerged from behind the gates, Darkspawn in tow. He didn't wait for anyone else to decide what to do with themselves before he took his blades to hand and jumped into the fray, still cackling like a mad raven. Subtlety was possible for the pirate, but he ever preferred the grand and the sweeping displays. It seemed the Chasind knew how to set a stage indeed, and oh, was this the entrance of a lifetime. He might have even felt a tiny bit jealous, were he a competitive fellow by nature. As it was, he was more than happy to engage in a little audience participation from time to time, even if it was someone else's show. "I like your style, Suicide!" he called merrily, sprinting after the bear and into the fortress.

Emil just couldn't find the strength to reset his jaw, mouth still agape in surprise. His mandible worked for a moment trying to find the words, but he just couldn't seem to summon them. Instead, he just said, "Maker perserve us all. Damned Chasind, what was the point of taking out the lookouts if we were just going to bash through the gates!" The last four words weren't so much as said as they were shouted at the Shapeshifter, now reentering the smashed gate. He looked up to the roof of the deep roads, mouthed a silent prayer, sighed, and just generally looked utterly defeated. Let's... Let's go help before they get themselves killed," Emil stated reluctantly. It was with that same reluctance that he followed the dwarf towards the fray.

Well, that was... not exactly what he'd expected. The characteristic flash of lightning had not been good news to Andaer's experienced eye, but he would never have guessed it would portend a unusually-large bear crashig through the gate. It was, of course, not an actual bear, as anyone with a lick of magic would be able to tell, but that hardly dulled the surprise. Somehow, despite the incredible oddity of the situation, he was certain this would not be the strangest thing he ever saw if he chose to keep their company for long (assuming, of course, that they allowed him to). For now, however, this was the battle he had chosen, and he would devote no less to it than if it were his own family he fought beside and for. That was simply the only thing to do in a situation like this one.

Drawing his sword with a hiss of steel, the Dalish man met the eyes of young Ethne. "Come, somniari. It does us poor credit to leave the battle to others, does it not?" He knew not what seemed to trouble her so, only that it followed her around like a dark shroud of fog and that it seemed to suit her ill. Some people were made to be miserable, but he did not think that any such folk were among the members of this band. Besides, it seemed unwise to leave all of the doing to humans and a dwarf. Subtlety, he had learned, was conventionally more a property of his people. Curiously, he smiled just a little all the same.

Ethne's step caught at the address, one more layer of mystery added to the newest member of their group. She met his eyes for what must have been no more than a few seconds but felt like much longer than that. It was... strange. She should have been wary, afraid. Her secret was so for a good reason, and it was not often a stranger managed to discern it. Most called her the Dreamer with no idea what that really implied. But he'd used the proper word, and she felt nothing but a peculiar sort of calm about it. Her mouth turned up at one corner, and she nodded slowly. "I never used to think so, but here and now, you might be right."




Mira liked walking better than waiting. It felt like she was getting somewhere when she walked. But now they were here and she could walk no longer. She had to wait for the others she had dragged into helping her to open the door for her, and to clear out enough of the defenders silently for them to not be simply overwhelmed by their numbers. She honestly hadn't expected a place like this. It looked a fortress, built into the very ground. No doubt teeming with darkspawn, if they were guarding captives.

This was looking like a very, very bad idea now that they were here. But... Mira supposed it had always seemed like a lost cause, and now that they were here, she knew she wouldn't be able to turn back. Now she was just getting angry at herself. She needed to stop thinking about it, as more thought seemed to lead only to more doubt. But it wasn't as though she could simply turn her thoughts to sunshine and images of home.

Solvej and Rhapscallion were here with her, on a cliffside overlooking the darkspawn encampment, far enough away so that they wouldn't be sensed by the creatures. She liked the half-elf, though she'd had only a few chances to speak to him, and not once in private. He seemed like her type, and far more enjoyable company than the majority of their murderous band. Solvej she had little idea what to think, so inexperienced was she with personalities hardened by war and strife as she was. Mira didn't doubt that a little bit of the Warden's toughness rubbing off on her would be most helpful, though Mira wasn't sure she was capable of toughening up at this point.

"I know they're probably all dead by now," she admitted, seeing no point in trying to deny it. "Which would make this a very foolish and very pointless risk to be taking right now. I hope you can forgive me for dragging everyone away from your mission, but I'd understand if you can't."

Solvej, currently lying on her stomach and propped slightly by her elbows so as to see the gate ahead without attracting attention to herself, glanced backwards at Mira. "Don't apologize," she said bluntly, then sighed and shook her head. "If it was the kind of thing you really think you need forgiveness for, you shouldn't have asked. But you did, and we're all here now because we chose to be. Why I'd need to forgive you for something I decided is beyond me. Besides... you were right. We do stupid things for our families, blood or otherwise. Maker knows I have." She turned back to watching, waiting for some kind of signal to move. Someone was supposed to shoot magic into the air when they were needed, and that could happen at any time. She was content to let the other two chat, if they wanted; Rhapscallion was much more personable than his abrasive mentor anyway.

Had anyone else asked him to do something so noble, or so brave, then Rhapscallion would've been hard-pressed to refuse. It was his strongest suit and the only one that was likely to get him killed someday. He was a doormat – but, most certainly the good kind that received friends and guests and visitors and acquaintances with equal amounts of cheer and friendliness.He was the lumpy, enigmatic material that received them as they came and went in the world. The place they stopped to wipe their feet, to catch their breaths as they rapped their knuckles on the door of opportunity before brushing off the dirt from their sleeves, gathering up their weapons and striking back out into the world, hopefully more rejuvenated than they'd originally come in. He didn't mind. In short, there wasn't anything that he would turn down unless it was unethical, or morally wrong. Hurting innocent people, stealing from the poor, or wilfully ignoring someone in need all fell into those particular categories. The half-breed had been proud that no one had put up a stink when Mirabelle requested their aid. Even Emil seemed to have momentarily allowed his raincoat of unpleasantness to drop around his feet, belying an unexpected side to his surly character. Friends tended to do that to you.

Wringing his calloused hands together, Rhapscallion settled his chin above his thumbs, occasionally twisting his posture so that he could better see what was happening below. Not that he really needed to with his mentors' hawkish gaze flicking to the gate ahead, then back again. Her presence was strong and still gave him the familiar sense of safety from just being here. But, he was never a damsel in distress, and Solvej wasn't his knight in shining armor, even though she'd played the better part of the role for the majority of his time spent in the Grey Wardens. He huffed out a breath across his fingernails, waggling his index fingers out in a straight line. He, too, was inexperienced with hardened personalities, with those who'd rather dig in their heels and face walls of Darkspawn and opponents and enemies then turn away. To him, it didn't particularly matter. He faced it with the same, ever-present stupid-grin. If they didn't like him, then that was fine, too.

The conversation to his right caught his attention, twitching his sensitive clubbed-ears. He shifted his position so that he could see Mirabelle's face – hear what she was really saying because he didn't believe that all was hopeless, that they were all dead and this was a pointless endeavour. If there was even the slightest chance of saving Mirabelle's friends from the Darkspawn then they needed to believe that doing this could save at least one of them, or else when they fought, they wouldn't be able to give it their all. “Don't give up before we've even started,” It came softly, breathy, through the corners of his lips, as if he'd spoken any louder it would announce their presence to unseen monsters. He was looking at her. Of course, if it'd been Solvej trying to save someone she loved, then he, too, would be there waiting and watching for the opportune moment to save him or her or them from whichever creature, or chains, that held them captive. She might've shielded her heart from sappy conversation, but she still empathized nearly as much as he did. Permission wasn't needed because they were a team, now. They did things together. From the moment they'd formed their little group, they'd decided on that, at least, however silently. It needn't be spoken aloud, anyway.

Blindly optimistic and stupidly enthusiastic he might've been, but Rhapscallion truly believed that this would end well. They would find Mirabelle's friends and bring them safely above ground. It would never be a waste of time. Hadn't they been against bleaker odds? True friendship couldn't be accomplished without a few conflicts fought together. It's what they needed to build in order to finish their true mission, in order to essentially save the world. They couldn't run away from what they wanted to forget anymore, or shirk their responsibilities as Grey Wardens, as warriors, as specific people chosen to perform an impossible duty. He stretched out his arms, then patted the younger Warden's elbow, leaning his shoulder to the side to keep himself from plopping onto his face. “As long as someone's still breathing, then the fight's not over. Saving damsels? That's all the reason we need to fight. Your allies are our allies.” He offered a small smile, though it lacked in it's usual toothy-grin – this was serious, so it didn't warrant cheap jokes.

"Damsels, huh?" Mira said. "I think I can work with that. Especially if it's one damsel saving another." Despite everything that was going on at the moment, Mira felt that a personality like Rhapscallion's was exactly what she needed right now. Someone who wasn't a grizzled veteran of war and slaughtering darkspawn, though being a Grey Warden, she was willing to bet he'd already done a fair share of the latter. Still, there was something to him that she could relate to; him, and Ethne, and perhaps even Rudhale to an extent. She never wanted to let herself become a jaded person, darkened by the things she'd seen and done.

"Thanks, I-- what the... ?" her attention was drawn by an explosion of sorts from the gate, involving a bear and a lot of noise. "Andraste's tits... let's get down there." And just like that she was on her feet, making her way towards the fight. It was now or never.

"Way ahead of you," Solvej replied, having pushed to her own feet mere seconds earlier, after a curious flash caught her eye. Now, she hefted her poleax in one hand and set off down the slope, the surefootedness of a mountain-goat infusing her tread despite the fact that her momentum seemed to be the primary factor propelling her forward. That was just a fact of her upbringing. You didn't grow up in the largest mountain range in Thedas without learning how to climb them-- up and down.

"Damsels in distress.” Rhapscallion repeated, indicating the last idiom with a flick of his wrist – and if Mirabelle was anything to go by, then these particular damsels had nothing to worry about. Things would pan out. He patted her elbow once more before retracting his hand, scuffling bits of gravel with his finger. There was something to be said about naivety and experience. They could coexist as long as you had something or someone, rather, to fight for. Had Rhapscallion not received guidance in his youth, then perhaps he might've turned out very differently. A much colder, much more ruthless individual. Probably the complete opposite of a Grey Warden or a Chevalier, more akin to the Darkspawn themselves. He was thankful to them all. For shaping a better person, even if they didn't see it that way. His heart flew from his fingertips and he was sure, deep down, that theirs did, too. Mirabelle was no different. He didn't need to puff out his chest in the hopes of appearing bigger or stronger than he actually was. She wasn't a choosy bird with hard eyes and she wasn't a coward for disliking combat, or even choosing to stay behind in her dream-space. It had been noble.

"No pro—” He began to say, slowly trailing off at the sound of the explosion and bear noises or something going on below. Who could tell? It was either an ear-splitting roar or something they'd managed to rig up in their absence. Mirabelle was up, and so was Solvej, sprinting down the slope towards the gate. Even after all these years, it was astounding to see how quick his mentor could be with that hefty poleaxe. It took Rhapscallion a moment to gather his wits about him and follow suit, conjuring a murmured swiftness into his feet to catch up to them. His long legs, however coltish, aided him in his descent. His blades were already twirling in his hands, spinning to an unknown rhythm before settling to his dynamic cadence. Huffing alongside them, Rhapscallion nearly barrelled into Solvej before pinwheeling off to the side, puffing his cheeks. "Don't... know if... I'll be able to stop...!”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion

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Mirabelle watched with a mix of awe and horror as the great bear tore into the darkspawn ranks, but despite the massive spray of dark blood that shot into the air above him, it looked something like swinging a sword into the sea, and hoping to wound it. Some water was displaced, but just as much soon filled in the gap. The darkspawn, having been alerted to their presence, were pouring from seemingly every possible space a darkspawn could fit into. Archers on the occasional tower had turned to fire on the intruders, that troublesome Emissary still attempting to rain lightning down upon their heads.

An arrow thrumming into the wood next to her head snapped her back to the matter at hand. He was too far to reliably hit with a throwing knife, so she just ducked down instead and pushed forward. A hurlock slid out of a tent-contraption facing the wrong way, and Mira was quick to punch a knife point into the back of his skull. But like the sea, more replaced him when he fell, and she was forced to perform a quick backstep to avoid a down swing from a mace, cracking rock where she'd just been standing. She darted forward to take advantage, pulling her kris from the sheath on her back and slicing downwards twice in a crossing pattern, cutting the next enemy open and sending him falling back. It gave her but a brief moment of respite to look around. If there was anywhere the darkspawn weren't coming from in droves, it was the tunnel below them, the direction Mira wanted to go. If she could just get a suitable distraction...

The shapeshifter provided it soon enough, pushing away from the hordes to take a charge at the wooden tower holding up the darkspawn mage, plowing into the supports as he had done for the gate, splintering wood and sending the rickety contraption tumbling to the ground, bringing the irksome mage to their level, though Suicide lost sight of him amidst the debris and dust. The tower's destruction had thrown some chaos into the group of darkspawn, and more followed when a little green vial shattered amidst a particularly packed group of them, the gas spreading outwards violently, engulfing a large group of the beasts, who almost immediately turned to their nearest ally and raised their blade.

Darkspawn turned on darkspawn, the shapeshifter barreled into them once more, all the while the youngest Warden kept to the fringes of the chaos, darting towards the tunnel entrances before anyone was the wiser. She managed to lock eyes with Emil on the way and give him a beckoning motion, indicating that she'd made up her mind. She'd be going down there while she had the chance, and while she'd appreciate the help of anyone who wanted to follow, she wasn't going to wait around for them long enough for the darkspawn to return to their senses.

Being thrown headlong into a full-on war was not on the Templar's itenary when they set out, yet here he was, in the middle of a variable darkspawn fortress, neck deep in the tainted blighters fighting for all he was worth. He didn't quite know who exactly he should be mad at. The most obvious answer was Mira, seeing how it was her idea to come to this place in the first place, but he couldn't find it in himself to hold it against her. She was only doing what she thought was right to save her friends, and Emil could not see the fault in that. He did see the fault in the Chasind though, as instead of taking the quiet approach, he had opted to shift into a bear and raise all hell. Even so, he didn't quite have the time he would like to fume and glare at the large man, as all of his time was currently taken up trading blows with Darkspawn.

And trading blows he was. Already his arrows were littered across the area, mostly inside the vital areas of his enemies, and some were still pinned to the ground. Even a couple of lines of darkspawn lay dead because of a deadly arcing lance he had fired, a thin, but heavy and extremely sharp arrow fletched for penetration. Though he had switched from his bow to his sword at some point during the fray, and he had summarily set his heels and dug himself into the rocks at his feet. He was like a rock in a river, unwavering in the unending onslaught. His will tough as iron. He would not be moved by anything but his choice alone. The pirate's words so long ago that had stewed in his head had finally manifested. His duty was not to die, not to survive, but to slay every last enemy of these Wardens. A duty that was reluctantly put upon his shoulders, but one that he would see through any way.

His will was that of the Maker.

He had slung his bow back around his chest and held his sword with both hands, playing the role of excutioner to any Darkspawn that traveled too close. Steel simmering in the tunnels, tainted blood painting his armor, he would not be moved. At least, not until his eyes locked with that of Mira's. A beckons revealed that she was to enter the tunnels on her own, and do whatever it was she came to do. Smart girl, best to get it over with as fast as possible. He nodded, disenagaging his stance and making his way over to the Warden, but not before he got a blade to the shoulder for his trouble. The wrought iron blade bit deep into his arm and his shoulder, but his steel bit deeper into the assailent's neck, taking the head along with it. The pain was still there, but Emil was conditioned and seasoned to withstand such pain. What he worried about was whether or not it would affect his swing.

Another cut into a 'Spawn revealed that while his swing did suffer, though the flesh still rended just fine on an ordinary Genlock. Satisfied, he quickly made his was to Mira before nodding and staring down the hole.

Solvej's momentum had sent her crashing into a line of Darkspawn, poleax braced firmly for impact. She'd actually managed to impale two at once before she'd slowed enough to push them off with her foot and swing the weapon around behind her, catching the sneaky bastard that was trying to take advantage of her headlong run by getting at her unprotected back. It opened a line acorss its stomach, and she was off again, pushing into the fray with little grace but much resolve. There was an emissary in the area, and there were precious few people in the world better suited to dealing with a Darkspawn mage than a Warden Templar. It was important to get at the thing as soon as possible, before it decided that area-of-effect spells would be a good idea and they found themselves trying to dodge bolts of lightning or fireballs raining from the tunnel's ceiling.

When the shapeshifter charged the platform, then, she followed, spearing a Spawn or three in his wake and waiting. The dust the platform's collapse conjured didn't stop her, and she moved right into it, figuring she'd just kill her way through things until she found the particular one she was looking for. Would it have been better to coordinate with the others and form some type of attack strategy? Perhaps, but that wasn't really possible at the moment, and going after the Emissary was good strategy. Very few people stood up to the arcane as well as they did to steel and flesh and blood, and that was just a simple truth.

With a shout, she swung diagonally, the axehead biting into the collarbone of a massive Hurlock, which bellowed back and stepped into her guard, aiming an upward swing for her midsection. Jumping back, she narrowly avoided the hit and yanked her polearm towards her, tearing more flesh as it cut free. The wound was bleeding vigorously now, and clearly slowing the creature down, but it wasn't quite dead, and she nearly missed the appearance of another to her left, catching it through the smoke in her peripherals just as it raised its battleaxe to strike. Bracing herself for impact, Solvej was surprised when it never came, glancing over as her own oppoenent fell under a second hit to see that the second had sprouted a gleaming blade through its chest, which quickly retracted, the fresh corpse falling to reveal the slender elf behind it.

"Go quickly," he advised with equanimity. "I will ensure nothing follows you." Choosing to take him at his word, she nodded and set off through the dust cloud. It was far too thick for either of them to see Mira about to disappear into the tunnel below, and the area was so dense with Darkspawn that there was no way Solvej would have been able to track a single Warden.

Rudhale had dashed into the fray in Kerin's wake, and he was still following it, more or less, though by this point he was practically back-to-back with the dwarf. He was aware that this was not the smartest place in the world to be, but his reflexes were top-notch, and he trusted them enough to warn him if she for some reason decided he would make a better target than one of the tide of Darkspawn. He couldn't blame her for thinking so, if she ever did; he rather thought he was more interesting as well. Besides, that he was occupying this spot meant that no tricky genlock or angry hurlock was, and that seemed an advantage for them both.

He was no stranger to navigating the ocean, and if the sea was made of water or bodies didn't make much of a difference, as it turned out. The area around him was always in his control and he moved the waves in and out in patterns of his own design, whirling blades and precisely-placed strikes heralding an easy control, stark counterpoint to the all-consuming tempest raging at his heels. A hurlock closed in, and the pirate darted forward with all the accuracy of a shot arrow, right hand driving the triangular blade of his katar home into the Darkspawn's chest. He stepped back, sweeping out with a foot and collapsing the creature's knees, using it as an obstacle for the next approaching pair, diverting one around and forcing another to hop over, which made it that much eaiser to cast him off-balance with a broad slash from the kilij. While that one struggled not to fall, he moved to the side, catching the one who'd diverted under the chin with the same, opening up a thin red line across the throat.

And because he was probably no more than half-sane and couldn't resist, he was singing under his breath. "Don't haul on the rope, don't climb up the mast; if you see a sailing ship, it might be your last." The staggered Spawn, he finished with a flourish, kicking that corpse to one side. He was practically starting to build himself a wall now, but that was wholly intentional, inspired by the pile from which he'd hauled Kerin at the end of the last exchange. "Just get your civies ready for another run ashore; a sailor's not a sailor, not a sailor anymore..." He disagreed, frankly. A pirate was a pirate anywhere, if he had the right kind of style.

Very much unlike the pirate, Kerin didn't so much navigate the battlefield like a sea, but more like forest and she was a lumberjack. Learning her own lesson during the last outing, she prefered not to get buried in corpses again and found her cutting a bloody swarth through the bodies. Each step was puncuated by a slow, but powerful swing from her large sword. If they refused to get out of her path, then they would feel the wrath of the berserker. From the first 'Spawn she had slain she was fully blood drunk, desiring nothing else but the utter destruction of those who stood in her way. She was vaguely aware of the pirate dancing around her, his precise and meticulous assault a counterpoint to her own raw, unadulterated rage. She'd prefer nothing else.

Though, each swing held a different ferocity behind it. Instead of the euphoric berserk she had experienced with the Legion assault, this one was darker, more powerful. She didn't yell and scream as she had, she did not taunt, and she did not boast. She was eeirly quiet. And why shouldn't she be? Instead of images of glory and greatness, only the faces of the scouting party remained. Their words reverbed through her mind, opening old wounds she though had healed long ago. She may have been the very image of stoicism during the confrontation, but here, in the raw state from battle, the words were sharpened and they bit deeper than they would otherwise. Each fallen Darkspawn was a dwarf from her past. A guardsman, a bodyguard, A Cartel thug, a scout, a noble. Each one that fell, something intensified in the back of her mind.

It was quiet at first, like a heartbeat. But after every fallen foe it grew just a little bit louder. Not too loud, it was a subtle thing, creeping into her mind. Each beat intensfied until each one was a bassline drum beat. Just above barely perceptible, but it was there, and instead of weakening her swings, they intensfied as well, growing more bloody, more powerful, more raw...

She was Broken, but she would share her pain.

Ethne had soon found herself separated from Andaer, unable to follow his movements into the throng of Darkspawn. She was instead adrift and mostly on her own, which was working out okay... for now. Her magic was more than enough to keep them at a distance, and until she could find someone, anyone else, she only attacked when spotted, so as to draw a minimal amount of attention to herself. She was channelling Vitality as well, and somehow, her heart felt more open to his presence. Perhaps it was her realization that she was doing this for people other than herself, and not for the nameless masses, either; that desire to help by whatever means were necessary had opened something up inside her mind, and the Fade felt closer than ever, as if she were simply an empty container waiting to be filled with its essence. That alone made recieving her spirit friend so much easier, and she could feel him more closely than before, as though a warm presence rested in the center of her chest cavity, flooding her bloodstream with life itself.

It was perhaps by sheer coincidence that she managed to find her way around the massive destuction caused by Dekton, and spotted what seemed to be a mostly-empty tunnel leading away from the majority of the carnage. Mira was standing in front of it, and if the somniari was right, she looked like she intended to go in. It might not have been her summons to answer, but she stepped forward all the same. There was no telling what was down there, and it might be that some distinctly magical assistance would be needed.

Rhapscallion, too, sizzled away from view, sifting into small snake-slithers of smoke, before appearing just behind Ethne's shoulder. Spurts of blood followed his dogged pursuit, spraying behind, and over him, only momentarily blotting across his shoulders before disappearing entirely. He'd seen Mirabelle's beckons, and while it did not belong to him, he still followed suit and scampered through the amassed fray, slicing exposed tendons and wayward necks as he passed. Back-to-back and side-to-side, it wasn't likely that Rhapscallion would have stayed behind when one of his companions was so desperately trying to reach her friends, her past, her damsels. Besides, he reasoned quietly, Kerin and Suicide and the others were better off moving from opponent to opponent than he was, never hesitating and always meeting a new blade with renewed fervour. They were amazing that way – and in many others, but still, he wanted to see things through. Even if she wasn't sure this would work, after all, it was certainly worth a try.

The Templar and the Dreamer at her back, Mira descending into the tunnel. No doubt certain members of the party would be none too pleased that their unlikely leader had left the group to follow the courtesan down to what could very well be all of their dooms. She only hoped the group outside could hold off or simply distract the horde long enough for her to get her friends out of here.

Which led to the first problem: finding them. Torches were all that lit the passages beneath the encampment, and the paths themselves branched off many directions, with no clear method of organization or direction. She supposed it made sense for a horde to simply not care for orderliness, and perhaps they had some innate sense of direction that went along with their communal hivemind, and the awful stench that seemed to multiply rather than add when they were close to each other.

And yet, her feet seemed to guide her without thought, and she simply chose paths, trusting that Emil and Ethne would be right behind. She stopped occasionally, holding the others back, when she heard darkspawn. The whole place was in uproar, the creatures rushing to the outer encampment to help drive out the invaders. Most simply passed them by, the immediate proximity of so many darkspawn, and the enemies outside, some of them being Wardens, was enough to mask their presence enough for stealth to be an option. For those that saw them and charged, a quick throwing knife attack usually did the trick.

Down, down, down they went, and the scenery changed as they did, the walls turning from stone to a kind of grey web-like appearance, and then to a red, a bright red, the walls themselves seeming to glow and glisten, like blood lit by fire from within. The ground beneath their feet began to grow ever-so-slightly squishy, the walls decorated with the occasional... sack, filled seemingly by some kind of pus-like liquid. Holes large enough for a man to fit through popped up now and then, leading down to more lovely surprises, no doubt. The ground shook slightly beneath her feet, and Mira slowed, sliding her kris knife from its sheath and advancing cautiously. It was some kind of... belching? A drooling sound, gurgling... considering the shaking ground, Mira expected to find an ogre around the next corner.

And an ogre would have been preferable. She stopped immediately, sucking in a quick gasp, her heart momentarily catching in her throat. It was... a darkspawn of some kind, it had to be. Practically molded into the wall behind it, massive amounts of flesh rolling about the ground, blending with the walls here and there. Tentacles reaching upwards away from it and out of the ground around it... her. She had at least four pairs of breasts. And... there were two, facing each other on separate walls of the circular area they'd stumbled upon.

Her lack of understanding of the darkspawn was quite immediately and quite brutally cured. These monsters had no hair remaining to their heads, their eyes had turned to black and their faces warped to the point of being unrecognizable, but Mira knew these were once girls that she had known and lived with. She had laughed and loved with them, woken up every morning with the knowledge that they would be there. All along Mira had known that there would be a purpose to taking prisoners rather than simply killing them all, but she had assumed it had been for feeding purposes, not reproducing. Surely that was what these were for.

Rather than break down and cry like she might have if she'd learned of this from afar, Mira was now only angry. She was furious that they would do this to her friends. They would all pay, they would all die, even if it meant the death of her. And these girls... she would give them a release from their nightmare. She flipped the kris backwards in her hand, taking a stunning vial in her off hand, and charging forward, her caution long forgotten.

Emil offered no sound to the journey through the caverns other than the scrape of steel sliding back into it's sheath. He had his bow out and arrow nocked, his frame leaned slightly forward, giving him a stalker's clip. He made no mention to their changing surroundings, nor even the oppressive air. The itch in his nose began to act up, signalling that there was something ahead of him, something abnormal. The Templar merely shook it off as a Emissary or something magical like that, not fully realizing the monstrosties that lay ahead. The tunnel continued for what felt like ages, as the caution he walked with slowed down time and made the journey longer than it really was.

His face was tight, eyes wide in order to better pick out what little light flowed through the tunnels and to see any threats before they could get the jump on them. He played true to his Hunter's title, but for once he wondered if his prey would end up being more than he could handle. The Templar was never unsure, he was like a rock, and though cracks had began to show he had promised himself and the Maker that he would fill them, and come back stronger than ever. But here, in the heart of the Deep Roads, even the strongest rocks can be crushed under the ground.

What had been merely the usual sort of distaste at being around so many warped beings had morphed gradually into an ever-increasing sense of foreboding, and the air just seemed to get thicker and thicker as they descended, or was that only her? Neither Emil nor Mira nor Scally seemed to be noticing, but Ethne was finding it increasingly hard to just breathe. As webbing gave way to unearthly, pulsing red walls, she realized that the interference must be magical in nature. It was the only thing that would explain why she felt it so keenly. But why? What could possibly have twisted the Fade into such shapes as to strangle and stifle one who was used to moving through its fabric as though it were mere silk? Something unnatural was down here, and the familiar feeling of dread crept insidiously up her spine, sinking cold tendrils into her nerve endings and stiffening her posture.

She had not often wished she was anything but a mage, but she certainly did now. Ethne ran her thumbs across her palms, unsurprised when they came away damp with clammy sweat. She felt as though she were going to be sick, almost like she had before Morpheus's great barrier. Only, this was... different. Less powerful, but more pervasive, as though it infused everything in the proximity. It had sunk into the environment itself, with the passage of decades, not mere months, and that was why it was not the same.

The ground took on a tremor, and the mage readied her staff, gripping the metal in both hands, its solidity a welcome assurance. She would find none anywhere else, and she managed to forget even the small comfort of Scally beside her when they rounded the corner. For a moment, the enormous mountains of putrid, pink-and-purpled flesh didn't even register. She just stared blankly, quivering faintly like a rabbit caught in a snare. What... how... she fumbled for the right question, and in the end, it was simply why. Why were such things allowed to exist? Ethne had never been one for much faith in forces beyond magic, though she'd always held out hope that something watched over the world and would save it from the truly horrific, but... no such being could allow this and call itself benevolent.

Mira's charge forward finally snapped her from her reverie, and even though her heart mourned, her hands steadied. If nothing beyond this world could be bothered to show mercy to these poor beings, then they certainly would. Knowing that Mira wasn't made for the front lines, Ethne fortified her as well as she could, hoping that it would add a little boost, protect her where her rage would be no armor. The direction Mira veered, Ethne took the opposite, calling the raw lightning to her hands and launching it into the creature, face closed-off and grim.

He offered his brutality in battle, his efficiency in dispatching Darkspawn, and his insatiable need to help. Although, Rhapscallion's stomach still twisted when the ground sunk beneath his feet, springing back as if he were traipsing on a road made of plump gelatin. This place did not look like anything he'd ever seen. The pustules on the walls seemed to heave towards them, expanding and deflating like breathing organs. His expression tightened, then went lax. If the initial smell of the Deep Roads was anything to go but, then this new mixture was by far the worst he'd experienced. It might've had to do with the mysterious holes pockmarking the living-breathing-sack-walls, or the unusually squishy floors. His stomach squeezed again, seemingly predicating that all was not well. He pulled up beside Mirabelle as the first sounds of gurgling vibrated from the walls, or from around the corners, more like.

Even as a slightly-seasoned Grey Warden, Rhapscallion hadn't been prepared to see these brood-creatures. He'd heard of them from other Grey Wardens, and even from Solvej on occasion, but he couldn't have possibly imagined that they looked like this, like they'd been something prior, someone else. The rearing tentacles slashed at the empty air, and their gaping faces, mouths gurgling incoherently, sent shivers down his spine. Dim as he was sometimes, Rhapscallion had puzzled out the pieces, and wanted dearly to place a hand on Mirabelle's shoulder – it wasn't the time for that, now. This needed to end. This was not how he'd imagined this going. She was supposed to find them alive and well. She was supposed to find them in one piece, still waiting to be saved and so thankful that her friend had finally found them. The muffled ba-thump, ba-thump of his unsteady heart matched Mirabelle's swift movements, but his beat with a dull throb, skittering softly with the sound of her footfalls.

Pointless words could do nothing actions could. He steeled his rattled nerves, conjured swiftness in his ankles. Rhapscallion flitted from view, flickered, then appeared behind Mirabelle's elbow, blades at the ready. He would support her, as they all would.

The end of the tunnel provided a sight the Templar never in his wildest dreams expected. Grotesque creatures who were clearly once human awaited them. His knuckles grew white on his bow as his grip tightened evermore. He hesitated, unsure once again. His eyes wide beheld the Broodmothers, wondering if these were the girls that Mira were looking for. His answer came from the girl herself, not by words, but by her action. She was always the cautious one, and now the caution was thrown to the wind as she dove into the fray. Those were the actions of a woman enraged, a woman looking for vengence. She had decided on her course of action, and he would follow. He drew the bowstring to his cheek and aimed. He muttered a prayer to the Maker as he released his arrow.

"Blessed are they who stand before
The corrupt and the wicked and do not falter.
Blessed are the peacekeepers, the champions of the just.
"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion

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Mirabelle's rage had dulled her mind, but it hadn't completely closed it off. She was able to see that if they avoided the central area of the room, they would be able to stay out of range of one or the other Broodmother's tentacles. At least, that was how it appeared, given their length. It was possible that there was much more to them, hidden underground where it could not be seen. The thought turned her stomach, but couldn’t slow her. Her eyes were locked to the Broodmother on the right, her hand tightening around the stunning vial to the point of almost shattering it, which would have been disastrous to say the least.

In a clearer state of mind, she might have noticed Ethne’s fortifying magic, or Rhapscallion’s presence behind her, Emil’s arrows flying overhead, but all she could see now was a grotesque appendage swinging towards her head. She ducked and rolled under it, coming smoothly to her feet, swiftly underhand throwing the vial of yellow liquid up towards the monster’s face. It shattered and blasted outward with a loud bang, the chemicals screaming for release in the air, thick and hot here as it was. The darkspawn mother reeled back, arms temporarily not a threat. Mira did not see that behind her, some stray darkspawn had been alerted to the threat, and a few were now reacting to it, attempting to take the intruders by surprise.

Mira had no eyes for them, so close was she to the writhing mass before her. Tired legs gave another push, lifting her into the air where she sank her kris knife into a mass of flesh in the creature’s chest. It bellowed with pain as Mira tried to find purchase with her boots, trying to find somewhere stable to anchor herself. She pulled a knife from her belt, raised it to plunge the sharp end into the brain, end this miserable thing’s life. A sudden spasm of pain in her back on the left side accompanied a thump as a darkspawn arrow found its mark, temporarily seizing control of her limbs and preventing them from movement. The broodmother recovered, and a tentacle swiped her roughly away, sending her tumbling to where Emil stood firing arrows, the shaft of the one she’d been hit with snapping off like a weak twig. A stark contrast to how she’d felt last time she had been shot, Mira pushed herself back up, grabbing hold of her kris once more and taking off towards it again. She would attack this thing until either she or it was dead.

Ethne was scarcely in a position to help, in the middle of a deadly tango with the leftward broodmother as she was. Scally, Emil, and Mira were all focusing on the other, which was good. It would bring it down faster. What that meant was she had to stay alive long enough to keep this one busy, and prevent it from joining the other in attacking her friends. Drawing its sole attention was not difficult; she simply hurled magic at it with no little skill, focusing primarily on keeping her breathing even, her aim true, and her feet moving, so as to avoid the tentacles that seemed apt to spring up from the ground at odd moments. She was no lightfooted rogue, no invisible Scally or cavorting Rudhale or whirling Mira, but she'd learned this much fleetness at least, and she was small enough to make for a tough target in motion.

When Mira was shot and thrown back, though, she knew it, and unwisely turned to look. A tentacle caught her around the ankle in her moment of distraction and lifted her bodily into the air, hanging her upside down and shaking her like a rag doll. Dropping her staff quite by accident, Ethne scrabbled for purchase against the thing, gritting her teeth to keep from biting her tongue in twain by accident. Her hands at last met rubbery flesh, and she exhaled steadily, pushing lightning into the raw limb. She was rewarded with a wail, and the octopus-like limb convulsed, dropping her unceremoniously the ten feet or so to the ground. Fused with Vitality as she was, the girl managed to shake it off, landing more or less on her feet, one hand braced against the ground. Shaking her head, she regained her balance and stood, scooping up her staff in just enough time to use it to fend off the next groping limb, smashing the macehead-end of it into the appendage.

Panting a little, she swiped a few loose tendrils of hair out of her face and renewed her assault, stopping for no longer then it took to launch a few potshots from her ice-charged weapon before darting off again, keeping her patterns of motion unpredictable and doubling back now and again. That much, she knew from watching Scally, and she'd have to thank him for it, later.

Rhapscallion kept his movements erratic, and spontaneous, often shooting out to the far left, only to double-back behind Mirabelle's left shoulder. He, too, swept over the swinging tentacle-arm, vaulting over it with ease. It didn't stop him from shuddering when his fingers slipped against the slimy appendage, sticky with whatever it was that was coating it's flesh. He did not slow his pace to ponder what exactly it was. Everything in this chamber was disgusting. The floors still gave beneath his feet, seemingly huffing with their sudden appearance. When Mirabelle threw her vial, Rhapscallion skipped to the side, burying his blade into an approaching Darkspawn, who'd been assuredly salivating in the darkest corners, waiting for them to have their backs turned away, preoccupied by the bigger, more horrifying creature wheezing by the wall – no, a part of the wall. A sound hissed through his lips as he glimpsed Mirabelle throw herself against the brood mother, bringing her knives down upon the thing. It was not her actions that terrified him, but the arrow that'd found it's mark in her back.

He was not close enough to grapple with Mirabelle's arm and prevent her from throwing herself back at the brood mother in a wild, frantic attempt to end it's life. They needed to be organized. They needed to be calm and calculated and careful where they were going. He'd seen the look in her eyes – it was either her or that thing. One would emerge victorious and until that happened, his companion would not stop. The look itself was familiar. It was one that Kerin had worn against Morpheus. It was one he'd seen on Solvej's face many times in battle, as if nothing would stop her, as if she'd welcome death if it just meant the end of those damned things. Ethne, too, was battling with her own brood-creature. Rhapscallion's attention had been elsewhere, flitting across Ethne as her staff clattered on the ground, with her dangling upside down. He was in the process of turning towards her, ready to spring towards the mass of wriggling flesh when a wooden-contraption that might've been a makeshift mace, in a rudimentary manner of its own, smashed into his side.

He flopped onto his back, heaving out a breath like a balloon expelling its air. The Darkspawn responded in turn, throwing itself forward and rearing up to presumably smash in his head – and it might have if he hadn't of rolled away in time, still sucking in air, and griping his blades. Its second strike, aimed high, clanged against his shamshir, and was swept aside, where Rhapscallion met it's owner, sinking his knife into the creature's jowls. His recovery came as quickly as he was able to breathe, rolling back on his heels for a few seconds before skipping forward. Ethne, by this point, and from what he'd seen, was now back on her feet and sending beams (which was the only way he could really describe how she was attacking) of light at the brood mother. She was alive, but he wouldn't be if he didn't start paying attention. There was no use trying to get Mirabelle's attention – she would not listen, so he would support her any way he could by distracting the brood mother and dispatching of Darkspawn-archers. He spun, twirled, and backpedalled into Darkspawn, twirling his blades, and occasionally slashed at the brood mother's whipping appendages.

Silly or not, the girl had a spark about her when she was angry. Of course, such anger leads to reckless abandon, and her relentless assault on the Broodmother would soon take their toll. That only underscored the fact that they needed to accomplish this as fast as possible, both to save these girls from their misery, and to bring Mira back. Compared to the fiery Mira, Emilio was as cold and calculating as always. As soon as the initial shock of the broodmothers passed, he settled back into his analytical, hunter's approach. It came to little surprise as the 'Spawn began to crawl out of the woodwork behind the Broodmother's. This deep in the heart of their territory, it'd be foolish to not expect them to try and defend it.

Emil paid arrow for arrow, launching a thin lance through the 'Spawn that had struck Mira, and the 'Spawn behind that one, dropping them both into a heap. He allowed Mira and the Jellyfish to handle the one Broodmother, while the mage fiddled with the other. Emil would make sure a Darkspawn didn't slip a blade in their back as they fought. To that end he took a step forward and set his heels, and then began to fire off arrows. He would not be useless again, he would not be rendered incapicitated. He had a duty to do, and he would kill anything that sought to drag him away from that duty.

"Blessed are the righteous, the lights in the shadow.
In their blood the Maker's will is written."


With Emil's cover and the distractions provided by Ethne and Rhapscallion, Mira made her second charge. She had used her last stunning vial, and no others suited the purpose. The orange might have helped, distracting the creature with intense pain, but any contact with it would have extended that corrosive agony to them as well, and thus it wasn't an option. There was one type she could use, however. She pulled a white colored vial and shattered it at her feet, a white fog expanding in to the air immediately around her. Coated in the scent, the darkspawn, and hopefully the broodmother, would not be able to detect her, and would redirect their attention elsewhere. It meant more pressure placed on her friends, but it would be necessary if she wanted to bring this down.

Indeed, as Mira approached with her head ducked low and her eyes locked on her target, the majority of the tentacles redirected towards Scally, or Ethne if they could reach her, but she seemed closer to the broodmother on the opposite wall. By sheer luck one managed to side swipe her on its way to the half-breed elf, taking her from her feet. She took the blow well, though, tucking her shoulder and rolling as she hit the ground, wincing when her back hit but stil managing to come to her feet as smoothly as she could, and pressing on. She charged it from the side, drew a second knife early this time, and leaped up.

Her blades sank into flesh, her boots slipping at first but soon finding purchase amidst the... folds of skin. She thought not of the horrid, disgusting nature of the scene, but instead of her friends, now dead in all but body, who needed release. She ripped her kris free to a spray of dark blood, pushing upwards with her legs and stabbing in higher, near the creature's shoulder area. Her knife followed suit, and with a quick throw of her body's weight Mira had made her way behind the broodmother, perched upon its back. It clearly felt the pain of being wounded, but could not detect the source for the moment, the anger caused by the attack redirected towards the others. She would need to make this quick, as it would not be pleased when it finally realized the presence of the woman on its back.

It shook violently, and Mira was quite nearly thrown from its back, instead coming to rest on the shoulder, forced to squeeze the arm with her legs to keep herself from slipping, and putting almost directly in the line of sight of the broodmother. No strength of scent could hide her from that, and so she acted quickly, taking the kris knife and plunging it to the hilt just below the creature's chin. She did not think of who this person had been as she pulled it out, letting a literal fountain of blood pour from the throat admist gurgling cries from the creature. She didn't want to know if she'd had breakfast with this girl a hundred or a thousand times, if she'd cut her hair and explored the town with her on nights off. Whoever this girl was was no more, and now this broodmother would be no more as well.

But not instantly. It possessed a remarkable amount of blood, as was becoming apparent by the growing pool around it. It also possessed a considerable amount of rage at the fatal wound it had just been struck, and Mira was the nearest, and most responsible. The courtesan turned and jumped away from it, only to be caught in midair by a powerful tentacle slamming into and wrapping around her midsection. She stabbed her knives into it, but it was delirious already, and likely did not feel the effects, instead constricting like a great snake crushing its prey. She felt one or more of her ribs crack under the pressure, her vision going blurry and spotty as her body stopped working. She was only barely able to remove her weapons from the flesh before she was hurled bodily towards the wall...

And directly into one of the dark holes there. The world tumbled around her, all light disappearing as the walls seemingly collapsed around her and the earth swallowed her whole. Amidst the heat and the compression and the moisture, the feeling that came through the clearest to Mirabelle was falling.




Solvej's steps carried her ever forward, and the momentum, she would not allow herself to lose. That emissary was still somewhere on this battlefield, and until she found it, she would not be satisfied. Actually, that was inaccurate; she would be lucky to gain even a small amount of satisfaction from seeing it dead at her feet. One did not simply develop a bloodlust they'd never had, but there was something to be said for a job adequately completed, and in the end, maybe not all of her Templar's sensibilities had deserted her after all.

The poleax casually tore against a hurlock's face, but that wasn't enough to warrant even a small pause in the inexorable march-- she could almost feel its closeness, now, and sure enough, there was a flash from off to her left, presumably as the 'Spawn launched another glistening chain of lightning. There would be no more of those, for it had given away its position in this cloud of dirt, and she was homing in on it like an osprey on a sleek ocean-fish, talons extended. It had wisely sought the high ground, and she would need to surmount a small hillock before she reached it, one staffed, as it were, by several lesser Darkspawn. Launching herself forward, the lady-Warden scythed through a small knot of them, using the clanging ricochet of the last one's shield to redirect her swing at another incoming foe. This bit wasn't going to be easy, but that elf had kept his word-- her back was yet clear, and that was all she'd need for this.

A slash came in from the left; in the absence of a shield, Solvej raised her metal gauntlet to deflect, turning the blow before it had the chance to gather its full momentum. That had been a rather tough trick to learn, at first. Paradoxically, keeping oneself alive often meant, for her, taking hits that were best avoided, but in the way that she chose. Twining her armored arm around the blade, she grasped the crossguard and pulled, wrenching it from the surprised grip of the genlock holding it. Rotating her entire torso, she hacked horizontally with the axe in her other hand, though the motion was too unwieldy to properly decapitate. It was close enough, though, and in that time, she'd flipped her grip on the longsword and swung back, driving it into the stomach of the next incoming Spawn.

That had been only one of three, unfortunately, and one of the others found a chink in her armor, sinking a short blade into her right side, just above her hip. The Warden sucked in a breath, her visual field swaying for just a moment before she came to grips with the pain and managed to move again, blocking the incoming axe-blow with the metal pole of her weapon, braced in both hands. With gritted teeth and no small amount of pain, she forced herself to counter the motion with a pommel strike to the temple, and then a follow-up stab with the spike atop the axehead, dropping the second. With a groan, she ripped the knife free and threw it, though it hit lower than she expected-- in the knee of the last one, to be precise. Still, it toppled him, and she ended that round by crushing his windpipe with her foot. Bothersome. Blood dripped freely from her side, and there was no healer in sight. She'd just have to put up with it.

While Solvej took care of her assassination mission, Rudhale and Kerin were still in the middle of what seemed to be an endless rush of Darkspawn. He was beginning to wonder how many unique variations on pasty, rotting, and smelly there could possibly be (answer: more than he'd really wanted to know about), but that wasn't to say he had no fun. Quite the contrary, actually, the bloody fool was still singing and darting around with all the speed and ferocity of an unexpected whip-lash. As waves broke themselves upon the shore, so did the Blighted bastards break themselves on he and his much quieter friend. In fact, the only real utterances from her corner seemed to be the sound of sword meeting armor or flesh, and the occasional hissing death rattle. It was almost unnerving, only he had more nerve than was strictly healthy, probably, so it was fine by him. He certainly constituted enough flash-fire antics for the both of them.

The wall of bodies was still under construction, added to with a well-placed slash here and a stabbing punch there. The entire project did exactly what he'd expected it to-- namely, it had reduced the traffic to manageable levels, so to speak, funnelling the 'Spawn towards them in twos and threes rather than by the dozen, which was convenient. It also provided something to climb and claim the height advantage on, though that would leave his partner's back exposed, and he wasn't very much for that idea. So instead he kept at it, kicking the fallen to one side or another to keep the space in front of him relatively clear.

Suicide had been forced to fall back behind the piles of bodies that were forming as Rudhale and Kerin endlessly hacked into the enemy. He'd discerned that their healer had left them, at least the immediate vicinity. He could not see the Templar, Rhapscallion, or the whore for that matter. No doubt they had pushed further in while he had been busy. With their healer gone, however, they would need to be somewhat more cautious. The darkspawn here were endless and ferocious, and little wounds would begin to add up. To that end, Suicide decided it would be wise to take advantage of the situation that had been granted to them, and he switched back into human form, calling lightning into his hands.

His aim was not quite as precise as he would have liked with this particular spell, but Suicide did his best to aim the Tempest at where the darkspawn were being funneled, and not where Rudhale and Kerin fought, though a stray bolt or two may have occasionally arced their way. He trusted they would have the sense to back off rather than jump into the lightning. Well… perhaps the berserker wouldn’t, but she would at least have the toughness to swallow a lightning bolt if that came to pass. At least the pirate would have the sense to steer away from the storm, though. Surely.

His storm cast, the shapeshifter began expelling what mana remained to him, launching a stonefist, a slicing blade of frost, and then closing the gap to blast ice into the enemy at close range, freezing several solid and slowing others, preventing them from escaping the storm so quickly. This was likely going to be too taxing for such a small group to keep up, but they would give the others as much time as possible.

Another throb and she added to the makeshift wall of bodies. Had she been in a saner state of mind, she would have enjoyed the macabre sight immensely, though in the current state the only thoughts she had on the wall was to add to it. It would be a monument to her anger and rage when she was through. She skewered the 'Spawn, a thrum cascading into a rumble as she lifted the creature off of it's feet and tossed it into the pile, it's death knell scarcely piercing Kerin's blood red haze. The shapeshifter's crack of lightning did register, but she brushed it off as inconsequential. Nothing would interfere in her fury-- at least that was the idea. Kerin's steadfast refusal to budge meant that she was present when a bolt struck, arcing between the metal of her armor. The throbbing in her head skipped a few beats as the white hot pain flickered. For a moment she was stalled as the beat tried to find it's rhythm once again. That allowed ample opportunity for Darkspawn to close in and encircle her.

Her vision flickered white and black before the lightning found it's way back into the ground. As if to make up for the lost beats and the rage at being the victim of a lightning bolt underground, a heavy throb punctuated a smashing blow to the ground, creating a small scale tremor around her. Not before she was subject to a number of piercing bites from the 'Spawn that had encircled her, but the pain didn't matter. She pushed it out of her mind as she spun with her sword outstretched. For once, her stature proved beneficial, as if she was normal height, the whirlwind would have flew over the heads of the downed 'Spawn. Instead, each and every one of the blighted things recieved a deep cut in it's chest before being tossed over to the ever growing wall.

She stopped her whirlwind facing Suicide, and her anger was palpable, even if her helmet obscured her face. In a low cold, growling tone, she bit off her curt words. "Warn me!" she demanded. Even though the drum beats in her head were present, it was Kerin controlling her path, not the demon. She had taken some of Solvej's and Ragnar's words to heart about control. Only time and fate would see if she managed to keep the control, or if she would lose it once more. Kerin, as herself, dropped back closer to the Pirate and Shapeshifter-- he couldn't strike her if she was right beside him after all.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion

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Emil was torn. A single step brought him closer to the hole that Mira was flung into, but the broodmother that still lived cemented his other foot. Should he leave the mage and the half-breed here to defeat the broodmother while he played the knight to Mira, or should he leave her to her own fate while they dealt with the broodmother. Hesitation crept into his limbs as he weighed his options. He didn't have time for these decisions. Every moment that passed was a moment longer Mira fell through the hole and a moment the broodmother still breathed. Frustration and anger welled up inside him as he was torn between his duty to the broodmother and his duty to Mira. The words of the pirate returned and taunted him again. No, he would not be rendered useless again. He would not fail either duty. He cursed loudly and spun on his heel... toward the broodmother. He would see this thing dead, and then he would find Mira. The pirate could go to hell.

"I'll see that monster dead! We kill it, then we find the girl! Now," Emil outright ordered. Hopefully, what darkspawn would go for them instead of the lone Mira. Their proximity to the broodmother would hopefully drawn their attentions away from the lone warden and try to instead protect the thing. He fired off an arrow at the broodmother to better cover his approach. He'd aid Rhapscallion and Ethne instead of just firing at a distance. They needed to slay it quickly. Toward this end, he nocked a fat shafted shattering arrow and fired it off in the direction of the creature's face. The fat shaft slowed the arrow's approach though, and it was child's play for the creature to swat it. Luckily, it was close enough to the intended target that the shockwave sent wooden splinters into the tentacle and the creature's face, stunning it for a time, openning ample opportunity for either mage or rogue to attack.

Perhaps if Ethne had been a little less focused on what was going on around her, she would have tried to tell Emil that he didn't need to inform them of that much-- it was not as though she'd been picking daisies for the last however many minutes, much as she would have preferred it, honestly. Daisies were nice, and you could make chains out of them to wear. As it was, her reflex was instead to straighten at the spine and obey, because if there was one thing a Tevinter magister always knew how to do well, it was to break a person's spirit until obedience was the most natural thing in the world. A few months outside that environment was far from enough to make her independent, and she hadn't had the worst of it.

Pivoting on her right foot, she launched a heavy stonefist at the broodmother, driving the shattered remnants of Emil's arrow further into the creature's face, producing an awful howl. Chances were good that if they really wanted to kill it, they'd have to go the way of Mira and get up close and personal, though preferably with more caution, and of them, Scally was the best suited for that. So she joined the Templar in providing distraction and covering fire, believing that her friend would be able to find a way to end it if he had the opportunity. This one was already somewhat weakened from a long exchange with her magic, and she gave it yet more, lighting the flames at her fingertips. "Scally, you can follow this! The smoke will obscure you!" So saying, she flung the flaming projectile, aiming for the broodmother's base, where it would fling up dust and stone debris as well as burning the creature. She knew he could enter stealth on his own, but this way, he wouldn't have to spend the effort, and she and Emil could both reposition themselves as well.

Whatever Mirabelle had thrown at the broodmother had made it considerably more angry at him if the swinging tentacles, whipping appendages and enraged, wriggling fingers were anything to go by, which Rhapscallion attempted to dodge and skip away from. He thanked the Maker (whether or not this was genuine was always under debate) that the broodmother wasn't made of grotesque blades and jagged needles. He sidestepped the initial swipe, then barely tucked into a neat shoulder-roll to avoid another. His blades sang in unison, however unrelated and seemingly unbalanced they were, and met with those tentacles as cleanly as he could manage, snipping his own spirals and splices down it's snapping projections before he span away, trying to draw it's attention further from Mirabelle. If she could sink her blades into it's head, or into some sort of chink in it's slimy armor then they could all finish this ugly business and begin the healing process.

His thoughts, however, had taken another turn when he spotted Mirabelle tumbling away from the enraged mass, falling into one of those dark, sucking holes in the wall. His initial reaction was to throw himself forward, and try to snatch one of her hands – even though it would've been impossible given the distance between them, so he bit back a sound that might've reverberated her name and was rattled back by Emil's voice, ringing loud and true. He was right. They needed to finish this themselves with clear minds and find Mirabelle afterwards. Wasn't that the right thing to do? It didn't stop it from being a hard decision to make, and an even more difficult one to follow. Rhapscallion weaved harder to his right, slicing through flesh as he went and knocking bows aside with his shamshir, before following up with another intricate series of slashes. Arrows hissed overhead, sinking through eye sockets and roaring jowls. There were no comforting winds to whistle through his hair in these Deep Roads, and there certainly wasn't anything noble about sloshing through breathing corridors to find monstrosities such as this in existence. He only had his companions, and a duty he could not ignore.

They were all shredded raw, torn between those truths. Grey Warden or not – they all had a duty to finish things as neatly, as cleanly as they could before moving on to their next targets, even if it meant folding their own lives, and offering it forward. Hopefully, it would never come to that. From his peripherals, Rhapscallion spotted Ethne's stonefist colliding with the broodmother's yowling face, transforming its screeching into something else entirely. His head snapped to the side, following Ethne's flames, sizzling into the ground and throwing up its own shelter of dust. He didn't need to be told twice. Rhapscallion's feet had already gathered underneath him, springing forward at the brief wink of firelight sizzling at the magelet's fingertips. He utilized the cover as best he could, flitting from view every few seconds until he was directly beneath the broodmother's base – its bellies, whatever it was, then jumped. The creature might've felt his feet scramble for purchase across its chest, but it certainly wouldn't have seen him coming. He'd abandoned his dagger in it's shoulder, anchored his foot against its shoulder, its clavicle and swung his shamshir, two-handed, as it's neck, in the effort of lopping it off.

Emil spun on his foot, bringing him about face and staring down behind them. He felt he could leave the broodmother to the mage and half-breed, so that left him to deal with the 'Spawn creeping up from behind. Mid-spin, he had had knocked an arrow and when the spin drew to a stop, the arrow flew forth and struck a Darkspawn in the chest, collapsing a lung from what the trained Templar could tell. He hunkered his shoulders, widened his stance, and prepared himself. He would not be moved by these cretins. He drew another arrow, and pinned the next genlock to the ground before ending it with a precise shot to the heart. It collapsed in on itself. The mention of smoke and the sound of the ground igniting behind him was heard, though it was not enough to make the Templar turn and behold the ruckus. He had faith, he had to believe they wouldn't screw it up. Everyone had a duty, and if one was lax, then the whole boat would sink.

Another horrible sound, a death gurgle was heard, but he brushed it off as another genlock had forsaken the losing battle with their trio and instead insisted on finding the Warden who got sent flying through one of the many holes that littered the room. He managed to take a singular step towards it before an arrow to the back of the head stopped it in it's tracks. Finally winning himself some time, Emil tossed his gaze back to the broodmother just in time to see the death throes of the broodmother. Unfortunately, it's death throes included a wild swing with one of it's tentacles. Emil had just enough time to drop his bow and drop his sword before the fat appendage struck him.

He did not fall though, he would not be sent flying, he would not be thrown, he would stand his ground. Had the broodmother been at top strength, he would have been crushed, but with it's tainted lifeblood steadily seeping from the wound on it's neck, it did not have it's normal crushing power. Lucky for him. He grabbed on to the tentacle as it pushed him a number of feet through the ground. He felt his armor dent and warp under the blood and even a couple of ribs snapping off. He lifted his sword and cut the appendage off, halting it's forward momentum and throwing both him and the lopped tentacle to the ground. He lay for moments, trying his best to catch his raspy breath. If he didn't know better, he believed one of his ribs were tickling his lungs. Intimately.

He did not stay down for long. He was a Templar. He still had a duty to see through. He wouldn't let something as trivial as these injuries stop him from doing it. He brought himself to his feet slowly, so as to not irritate the injury any more than he had to. It was slow, but he managed to his feet. His hand wrapped around his midsection as if to keep himself together. But he would not fall, not just yet. He was made of stronger stuff than that. He lurched his way to his bow, which he picked up and slung it around himself. Without speaking to any of the others, he began to trudge toward the hole in which Mira fell down.

Rhapscallion's shamshir parted flesh like water, and though it caught jarringly on the bones of the broodmother's neck, it was strong enough to cleave through with effort. Ethne did not linger to watch the creature die, merely breathed a sigh of relief, shoulders slumping before she realized that Mira was still missing. Biting her lip, she trailed after the Templar, waging an internal fight with herself over whether or not to heal him. He seemed disdainful of magic at best, and likely wouldn't much appreciate it. Yet, surely he was practical enough to understand when it was necessary? Surely.

Nodding to herself, she enveloped the entire group of them in positive energy drawn from the Fade, closing their wounds and mending flesh and bone where they'd broken. She was, after all, a spirit healer for a reason.

The three approached the chasm in the wall, she herself feeling some trepidation that she swallowed. Mira had fallen into that, and it looked like the only way they'd be finding her would be to follow her. There was a chance she was injured down there, maybe having run into more Darkspawn, and so there was no way she wasn't going. Her boots squelched unpleasantly on the ground, but she ignored the visceral discomfort of this place. For all it was awful for her, it must be thousands of times worse for Mira. These... creatures... they had been her friends, once, her family. Ethne wasn't exactly sure she understood what that was like, but even imagining something like this happening to anyone else in the group was enough to turn her stomach, so perhaps it was yet worse than that.

Not for the first time, she found herself wishing that the mind was as easy to repair as the body.

"Mira?" she called worriedly, approaching the yawning hole in the wall alongside Emilio. She wasn't sure if she was expecting a response or not, but there was none. Well, all right then. Down they'd have to go. She glanced over at the two men. "Should one of us stay up here, just in case?" She honestly didn't know what the best thing to do would be, but she knew she was going down, and if they wanted to do so as well, she certainly wasn't going to stop them. "I'm going," Emil stated firmly.





Mira did not how far she fell, but it couldn’t have been far, because it was all too quickly the feeling of weightlessness was replaced with stabbing pain, and she was rolling again, and there was light, dim and surrounding the world in crimson, but light nonetheless. She was spat out onto wet ground, rolling over sideways several times and crying out before she stopped. Everything was a dark red color, but her vision was blurry and she couldn’t seem to focus. For a moment, she was content to simply lay there, face down in something, and try to relax, though each breath brought new stabs of pain and new spots to her vision.

The sounds of the fighting not far above her stirred her, and she realized she must have been directly below them. With shaking arms she managed to push herself up, get one foot beneath her weight, get herself upright on one knee, and look around. The ceiling was covered with some kind of fleshy growth, possibly the underbellies of the broodmothers or something. The walls were a slightly glowing crimson, damp and stringy, the floors a more solid surface, but still squishy beneath her, a layer of dark red liquid covering the deeper areas. She did not want to acknowledge what that was, but was forced to when she looked closer. There were… pieces, left around the perimeter of the room, which appeared to have only one exit, a dark doorway that she had no desire to follow, even despite her current surroundings. Her knee was dangerously close to a severed human hand, and she shuddered, pushing slightly away from it, only to realize that the remains were everywhere. Perhaps she’d been tossed onto some ogre’s dinner table, to be eaten at its leisure.

That was one possibility, but the thought of being eaten was wiped away when she heard a groan perhaps ten feet to her right, near the back of the room, the darkest corner. Her hand went to her kris knife, somehow making the trip down her with her without stabbing its owner. She twisted towards the sound, trying her best to put the pain aside and focus, trying her best to keep her vision clear even as she wobbled dangerously from dizziness. There was… something, a human shape, but she needed to get closer. She pushed to her feet with a grunt of effort, stumbling through blood and muck a few steps closer, before her heart nearly leaped into her throat.

It was… her. But it wasn’t. There were things that she remembered about Selena, and none of them were present. Her thick, luscious, flowing black hair was thin and fine, a greasy mess pushed back from her gaunt face. Her eyes had a hollow look to them, like she wasn’t really seeing anything. Where was that piercing gaze? It had cut through her when she was a little girl, stealing from the others for the first time, and being reprimanded for it. Where were the softer eyes? The ones that had met Mira’s when she’d explained exactly how a girl like her could be a part of a family like theirs. They were… empty and gray. Dead. But the woman wasn’t dead. No, her chest rose and fell with shallow breaths, like she didn’t want to take them but they came anyway, unbidden and unwelcome.

Selena wasn’t looking directly at Mira, and so she found herself moving sideways until she was, though it wasn’t exact. Her teacher was in a slumped, kneeling position, and was now staring more at Mira’s belly than anything, so Mira closed the rest of the distance with slow caution, sinking down to her own knees, not caring if they were sitting in the remains of others. She let the knife fall into a small pool, suddenly disgusted that she’d been ready to strike the woman who had been her mother figure. Her hand reached out to touch the side of her face, and she tensed when all she felt was cold, tired skin.

“L-… Lena?” she said, her voice not working at first. “It’s me… Mirabelle. I… I came looking for you.” This was all wrong. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. She and the others were supposed to be behind simple bars somewhere, tired but still beautiful, and Mira was supposed to be overwhelmed with their dazzling smiles and hugs when she had her big strong friends rip off the doors and set them free. She managed something of a sad smile. “You didn’t think I’d let these assholes have you, did you? We’re too good for them and you know it.”

She wasn’t responding or… doing anything; she was just staring blankly over Mira’s shoulder, the same place she’d been looking the whole time. Mira felt herself sink lower, her hand fall to Selena’s shoulder, her gaze fall towards the ground. She shook her lightly. “You’ve got to get up. We have to go, we have to get out of here.” Nothing, not a budge, not any sign that she understood who was in front of her. Mira shook her head. “No. No, you are not staying here. You said you’d teach me everything you know, and there are still some secrets up in that head of yours. I don’t care if it’s some new poison, or life advice, or just a ridiculous position you’ve been keeping from me, but I am not done with you yet.”

Mira had long since been crying, but Selena’s lack of any response was making her angry. It couldn’t end like this. She wouldn’t let it. She slapped her, hard. Selena’s head whipped to the side, and she groaned again. She simply looked away from a moment, but then her head slowly turned back towards Mira. Her heart beat significantly faster for a moment as she thought she might have gotten through to her. And then at last their eyes locked, and Selena saw her. It was the most terrifying thing Mira had ever witnessed.

It was hunger, and suddenly she understood. She did not want to comprehend, but she had at least understood what had happened here. It didn’t change the fact that Selena had immediately changed from non-responsive to clearly wanting to eat her. She lunged, surprising strength in her hands grasping around Mira’s upper arms as sharpened teeth sank into the base of her neck and shoulder, and the world turned red. Everything was madness and blood, her vision covered with it as she fell back, slamming painfully to the ground on her cracked ribs, her right hand reaching desperately for the kris knife while her left struggled to no avail to remove the monster that her teacher had become. It saved her, in a roundabout way, when Selena removed her hands to scratch and slice at her, nails like knives cutting into her abdomen and sides while her teeth sank deeper. With her left hand she managed to push Selena up off of her, the teeth tearing as they went, adding more blood to the pools that already were. Her right groped into the bloody pond, fingers closing around the blade’s hilt.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to end. She brought the blade up in a sideways stab, right through the throat, spilling darkened blood over herself and gaining the upper hand over the woman she loved most in the world. With her free left hand she pushed her off, sending Selena onto her back on the wet ground beside her. With one last cry, she twisted sideways and stabbed down, the blade punching easily into her skull, and finishing it.

She felt dead. She wondered if she would be dead soon. It was entirely possible. She pulled herself back to her knees, dripping blood down to the floor, with no way to know how much of it was hers. She tenderly touched the gaping bite wound where the shoulder met the neck, saw deep gashes in her stomach and sides, bleeding freely. The pain from her ribs was still making her dizzy, and an arrowhead was still lodged somewhere in her back.

Mira didn’t know why she thought that she’d be able to stand up, only that she did. She wanted to. She wanted to leave this place, to leave everything. To find out that it was still Morpheus, giving her the real nightmare now that she'd had her bliss. But she didn’t make it far, dizziness and blood loss overcoming her but a few steps away from Selena, leaving her slumped on her side with eyes peacefully closed, her kris knife still clutched weakly in her hand, coated with the blood of her home.




It was only with sweat beading on her brow, running in smal rivulets down the flesh of her back, that Solvej finally reached the emissary. Drunk on his power trip as he was, shooting magic with impunity from the top of the rise, he didn't notice her until it was almost too late, turning suddenly and attepting to rip into her with a spirit bolt. Her natural resistance to magic allowed her to shrug it off for the most part, and any pain it caused her only led to more tightly-gritted teeth as she swung. The poleax caught him in the side near his hip, tearing into his reddish robes, but the flesh damage was sparing as he moved away as quickly as he was able, hurling a stonefist.

That caught her full in the chest, and though it did not dent her armor as Morpheus had, she was forced to double over and catch her breath, an effort that allowed the emissary the opportunity to teleport away, reappearing some distance from her, though thankfully not within range of too many of the other 'Spawn, which were by now congealing into a group around her comrades, attempting to surround the whole lot. Given the back-to-back arrangement of the dwarf and the pirate and the shapeshifter's proximity to them, she wasn't too worried. They'd be able to support each other. The elf, she didn't see, but there was no time to be concerned about that. With dogged persistance, she bounded down the hillock after the emissary, readying her weapon to strike more truly this time, the bluish glow a testament to the Holy Smite that would surely follow.

She lunged to the side, able to avoid the gout of flames lobbed at her, and in that, she knew she had him on the defensive, his magic aimed solely for her, who could endure it most easily. But she grew tired of this pointless chase, and would indulge this creature's will to live no longer. Her poleax whistled through the air with the force of her swing, cleaving with precision into the emissary's neck, then all the way though, liberating his head from his body in a single sweep. The electricity that had been building in his decayed fingertips discharged, shocking her painfully, and she hissed, but remained standing until it faded out, at which point she turned back, this time to find a way through the gathering crowd of festering bodies and back to the others.

She hoped the four that had left would be back soon; there was no telling how much longer they could do this, especially not without a proper healer.

After seeing the Black Templar safely to the crest of the fort, Andaer had turned back, even now working his way to the small cluster of allies that remained on this level of the fortification. As he cut down the last hurlock in his way, revealing the sailor and the berserker, with the Chasind a little further off, he surmounted the growing pile of bodies without even so much as a grimace of distaste, landing in such a position as to form the third point in a triangle with the other two. The carnage through which he'd waded (and the body count was perhaps much higher than most tended to expect of someone like him, not that he noted it) had left him with only one visible injury, and that a shallow cut to his face, following the line of his right cheekbone. The fact that his blade glowed a cherry-red with channelled heat might provide something of an explanation for this, as it was much easier to cut with a hot blade.

The slant to his mouth was subtle, but might have been a smile, and he nodded to Rudhale, assuming that Kerin would be too otherwise occupied to bother much with such niceties. Shoring up his position beside them, he rolled his shoulders and settled into a lowered stance, body tilted sideways to present a smaller target. These days, the sword was almost as familiar in his hands as magic, though it had not always been so by any means.

"Ah," Rudhale exhaled upon noting the new presence in their midst. "Welcome to the eye of the storm, my friend." Not that talking had ever precluded him from doing anything else; multitasking was one of his many laudable talents, and he flipped one of his blades smoothly, stabbing up and backwards with it, effectively catching a genlock in the throat before it could complete the downward swing of a blow meant to surprise Kerin from stealth. There was an unmistakable twinkle in his eye and a half-wild grin on his face, even as he dipped his head to the Dalish man and went right back to the carnage. A bloodbath, impossible odds, and an excellent lot of compatriots to face them down with? This, this was home, and he loved every neck-risking second of it. One wasn't truly alive until one was a hairsbreadth from being dead.

Perhaps despite everything, the ranks of the Darkspawn were thinning, and growing ever more disorganized with the death of the Emissary, who'd been their commander. Now, as each second passed, they were less the deadly forces of discipline and ruthlessness, less the inexorable crashing of storm-waves on a tiny fishing vessel and more a steadily-drying, chaotic stream, attempting with increasing futility to dislodge a boulder from its midst. And more like a stone they grew, too, as they formed together, placing their backs to the backs of their comrades, a bristling ball of blades and blunt force and crackling magic facing in all directions. All that really remained was for the unfortunate dregs of this troop to dash themselves upon the stone, ferrying themselves to their own deaths, now so much more certain than they'd been at the beginning.

Tides, Rudhale knew well, could always turn.

Suicide had saved enough mana for a chain lightning spell, and sent it hurtling into the ranks of darkspawn trying to clamber towards them, letting it ricochet between them, killing some outright and stunning others for an easy kill by his companions. The Tempest had worn itself out at this point, and their enemies surged in its absence, pressing forward against the defenders, dwindling in energy as they were. Suicide contemplated their best choice of action. It would not do to fight here indefinitely, as they could not hold. If they could find a suitable avenue, displacement might be the best route, falling back and trying to delay them as they went. Running was less difficult than fighting, and though Suicide was loathe to run from any enemy, he did not feel that this was the place to die. Not yet.

The option of shifting positions was beginning to look more ideal, however, as the darkspawn had brought forth a corrupted bronto, rearing its head and stomping its feet, preparing to charge through their ranks and obliterate the little wall they had created for themselves.

Solvej, positioned not yet back in the thick of things as she was, found herself studying the flow of battle with a discerning eye. Though it would doubtless look like more of the same down below where the others were positioned, from where she was, she could see more Darkspawn arriving to reinforce the rest, the corrupted bronto a particularly-large contribution to their troubles. The landscape provided little in the way of opportunity for a terrain advantage, but off some distance to Rudhale and Kerin's side, Andaer's back, there was a narrow passage that seemed from this angle to lead out the other side of the fortress. It would allow two or three to stand abreast at most, which would filter the 'Spawn and allow the group to form a two-line defense, which could slowly progress backwards, creating more obscacles for incoming Darkspawn as the bodies were left behind.

It wasn't much of a plan, but it was all she had, and, with a deep breath, the Warden pushed aside the pain of her abdominal wound and charged on ahead, scything through a line of tainted backs as she bullied her way through to the others. "Your left!" she shouted at Rudhale, aware that the pirate was probably more likely to listen to her than Kerin was. The others could figure it out. "Get into the corridor and make a chokepoint! Take her with you!" The pointed end of the poleax met the spine of another hurlock, preventing her from pointing, but she trusted that at the very least, he was smart enough to figure out what she meant. "I can hear, Warden! I'm right here!" Kerin spat, taking a heavy blow to the armor on her shoulder but paying it back tenfold. Rudhale just laughed, having expected something like that. This Kerin was not the Kerin of Morpheus's battle, and he was perhaps more aware of the difference than the others had any reason to be.

Andaer glanced in the direction the Warden had indicated, spotting what he was looking for immediately, though perhaps he might not have if he hadn't been watching for it. A smallish, darkened archway led who-knew-where, but at this point, he'd take just about anything that wasn't open-field combat with what seemed to be half the horde. Obligingly, he turned his sword in that direction, and his efforts to slicing through what opponents blocked passage to it.

No, no, no, the pirate wouldn't take her anywhere. She was going to be the one who took the pirate, not the other way around. She was in control, not anyone else. Besides, the stringy pirate might could dance around the 'Spawn pretty enough and flow with the tides daintily enough... but she could part the waves. She turned to where Solvej had indicated, and after a couple of attempt to discern what she meant (to the left of the pirate was terribly vague afterall) she found the niche. Kerin liked the idea instantly, as the words killing field danced on her tongue. The thumps in her head heightened as she took the first couple of steps toward the niche. As much as she wanted to challenge the corrupted Bronto, it'd be foolhardy to try it while so many Darkspawn still skittered about.

She started her march with a scything blow, charging ahead of the group and lopping some legs off as she went. She was not a sailor, she hated the water. She wouldn't flow around anything, she never bent, she was not some tree that danced in the wind. She was raw, unbridled. When she Broke, the shards cut everything around her. She would break these waves with sheer force if need be, and she would emerge on the other side, not unharmed, but victorious.

Though first she'd have to reach the other side, and that niche, else she'd be nothing but an ornament for the horn on the Bronto's face. She brought her blade up for the first of many who would attempt to halt her deluge. The hurlock lifted his own twisted blade to stop the imminent blow. No warped blade would stop her shattering blow, and her own greatsword cleaved through the metal like paper and only stopped when her blade hit the sternum via head and neck of the creature. She surged forward, tossing the lifeless body from her blade and into some of his compatriots. They'd meet the same fate soon enough.

Her path took her through the Darkspawn and to the niche, where she happily spun on her heel and awaited the killing field to come. The throbbing in her head screamed for more blood, and she would not disappoint.

The pirate happily took up a position alongside the elf and dwarf, rather inordinately pleased with the symmetry of that. Between the three of them, it was, with time, possible to carve a wide swath into the lines of the Darkspawn, one that Solvej and Suicide would hopefully be able to follow without too much extra trouble. His companions were impressive, that was for sure, though in entirely different ways: Kerin was a blunt-force object of pure destruction, whereas Andaer slipped and flowed like water, cutting sharply and precisely. He liked to think he was a bit more like an ocean breeze, himself, never in the same place twice and sharpened to a razor-point when he needed to be, but otherwise content to buffet anything and everything around.

Ah, the glory of metaphor.

With paces stalwart, smooth, and quick in equal measure, the group at last advanced to the entrance, and the pirate promptly turned an about-face, cracking his neck once to each side. Given the width they were working with, it seemed best for himself and Solvej to flank Kerin on the front line, leaving her enough room for broad swings if she needed them, and let Andaer and Suicide work magic from behind. He was still quite convinced that the elf was a mage, and this would prove a most convenient opportunity to test that hypothesis. Given that he was useless at range himself, there was nowhere for him to stand but in front, though he supposed that if the Chasind man wanted to come to this party as a bear, Solvej's reach would allow her to work from one level back, as well.

"Did someone call for a slaughter? Because I do believe it's arrived." "Where have you been?" Kerin remarked, nodding towards the carnage left in their wake. Rudhale scoffed. "Warmups, my dear. Appetizers. Now we feast on the repast of glory and, well... gore." He waved a hand (covered in blood and spume, no less) in a light gesture of dismissal. "Fair enough. Was beginning to get peckish anyway," She replied, a grim smile playing at her bloodstained cheeks.

"Always preferred a woman with a good appetite," he quipped, lunging to impale the first genlock that got too close. There was the requisite squelching, of course, and then he kicked the thing of the kilij and stepped back into the line, flicking the weapon to spatter the stone wall with an arc of blood, as though it were the most everyday occurrence in the world. To be fair, for them, it essentially was, a fact that had yet to bother him in the slightest. Not the one to be outdone, Kerin had a response to this as well, "Don't bite off more than you can chew, Pirate." The resulting chuckle was drowned out by drum beats and the scrapping of steel against iron and flesh as she cleaved a hurlock through the midsection. The only reason the blade stopped from cutting clean through were the thick bones of its spine. The momentum and force of the blade tossed the body free and into the wall next to them. They'd paint these walls before they were done.

His answering laughter was genuinely delighted, a rather out-of-place sound considering their surroundings, but then maybe that was just to other people. He'd never found happiness to be out of reach anywhere, least of all in the kinds of places where adrenaline thrummed through you like music played in the strings of your heart and the echoing surfaces of your bones, filling your lungs and blood vessels with staccato tempos just perfect for dancing to. Was he crazy? Maybe, but he wanted to be no other way. "But that's half the fun, my dear! You never know what your limits are until you go looking." It was no longer apparent whether he was talking about this battle, life in general, or something else entirely, but then, that was the way he preferred it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion

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Emil's Song

Ethne's feet hit the ground of the lower floor with a wet squelch, and she grimaced, resisiting the urge to blanch. Quickly vacating the spot so that the other two could follow her down without landing on her, she picked her way further forward, allowing her eyes to adjust to the gloom. It was a little darker down here than up above, and she lit a few flames over one palm to provide further illumination. Her eyes fell first upon the mangled, nearly-emaciated corpse of what was surely once a human woman, but she scarcely had time to notice, because in close proximity lay Mira, apparently unmoving and possibly unconscious. That she could be dead was not something Ethne would allow herself to consider.

"Deos miserere." Abandoning the thought of waiting for Scally and Emilio, she sprinted forward, dropping to her knees in the muck beside the Orlesian woman, checking her pulse with two fingers. The elf winced when she had to maneuver past a nasty-looking wound at the juncture of neck and shoulder to do so, but surely enough, Mira was still alive, just out cold. Given her injuries, that might actually be for the best; there was no way that wasn't causing tremendous pain. Closing her fist and extinguishing the flame, Ethne released her gentle handhold on Vitality in the Fade and called Mercy and Hope to herself instead. There was much work to be done, and it needed to happen soon.

She hadn't forgotten that their friends still fought off Darkspawn not too far outside, and the time to leave was surely approaching. But rushing would only make the process harder, and she tried to relax, opening up that empty place inside herself for the spirits to fill with their magic, directing it through herself and out via the tips of her fingers. These, she traced gently over the air about an inch from Mira's wounds, sitting back on her knees and bending her torso forward so as to be able to see what she was doing. Extra light was no longer necessary; she could view everything with crystalline clarity through the luminosity she was emitting as a side-effect.

The process wasn't an easy one; the Warden's injuries were far from trivial. The one at the neck was especially troublesome; healing it first involved pushing out the corruption, then actually knitting the flesh back together as smoothly as she could. Even then, it would probably scar somewhat, in white lines over Mira's complexion. There wasn't much she could do about that. Five or some minutes after she'd started, Ethne was rather drained, but the necessary work was done, and she straightened slowly, as if cramped somehow, standing a bit shakily. "Can you carry her, please?" she asked of Emil. "I'm not sure waking her is the best idea right now; she needs rest more than anything else I could do, and there's no telling how disoriented she'd be if I forced it. We need to get out of here."

Emil's own descent ending with wet squelch as Ethne's, though he fell a bit harder than she had. A combination of his extra weight and the magically repairing organs had him acting more sluggish than normal, else he wouldn't have allowed the mage in ahead of him. Not for any sense of duty or anything mind, but mere pride. He wasn't so stubborn as to not realize that it was not the time nor place for it, and let it pass without word. He had bigger things to worry about than his foolish pride after all, such as where Mira had gotten off to. The fact that there wasn't a corpse where he had fallen told him that she was still alive and mobile. A nugget of good news if there was one.

Of course, Mira wasn't too far from it. Emil hauled himself to his feet and quickly approached the mage and the Warden, leaving room for the jellyfish to make his own descent. Emil knelt by the fallen Warden and the attending nursemage. The wound of her neck worried him, though he'd never admit it. His eyes did linger on the wound longer than those of man's who didn't care, however, and he tried to to discreetly check her over for any other wounds she had. The injury looked like a bite mark, if he didn't know better, though there wasn't any other creature around... Aside from the corpse. A woman, by the looks, her mouth full of crimson. He looked from this woman to Mira and back again.

Pity nearly overwhelmed him. The gaunt and hallow face still had traces of what beauty it once possessed. Somehow, Emil knew Mira had found her friends, and he knew she didn't like what she had found. He could only imagine what she was going through as she slipped out of consiousness. As Ethne's magelight extinguished, Emil's eyes still held a watchful gaze over the girl, his hand finding hers in the darkness. He could smell the mage working her healing magics on the girl, and for once the Templar dared not object. So much for the stalwart knight. He waited for Ethne to finish her magics patiently. The Templar thought about uttering a prayer to the Maker, but he couldn't seem to find the words for it. It didn't seem right. Besides, Mira wouldn't approve.

The man instead thought of something else. An old seafaring song, an ancient memory from his past. A homecoming song of sorts, sang during the hard times where his ship was heading back to Rivian after a terrible outing at sea. His voice was a low baritone, with a surprisingly soft underlining to his normally harsh and forward tone. And he sang:


"I have travelled the world around
Wandered far from home
Sailed the ocean in foreign skies
Still further to go
Back into my babies arms
From this world of woe
That was such a long long time ago"



As the song drifted to a close, so did Ethne's healing. At her insistence, Emil obediently lifted Mira in her hands and stood. "Agreed, Maker take it," he replied. The tightness in his ribs protested, but he didn't have time to entertain pain. They needed to get out of there, and they needed to get out fast. "You take the lead, I'll follow close behind," He said, jerking his head in a direction. Whether or not it was the right one remained to be seen. Besides, they'd need the magelight if they were to escape without tripping over something.

As much as Rhapscallion wanted to heed the notion of staying behind and not stepping into the fleshy hole that Mirabelle had tumbled down into, it wasn't as if he could stay behind while something terrible happened below – plus, it was terrifying to remain in a room that breathed, that was filled with decaying flesh and a slumped, grotesque corpse that belonged to the broodmothers. He did not want to stay behind, so he could follow along. He was last down the disgusting tunnel, careful to tuck his hands under his armpits to avoid touching whatever thing they were slipping and sliding down. Once his feet touched down onto the ground, or whatever it was that they were walking on, Rhapscallion hopped back, as if to find more solid purchase, and only managing sinking deeper into the squelching floors. A small sound escaped his throat; half-whimper, half grunt. He could not find any words, and he hadn't any need to, for Emil stepped forward, and in all of his cantankerous dispositions, sang a beautiful song that seemed to fill the room with once-absent warmth. It tingled across his skin, fluttered down his back. When Emil scooped Mirabelle up in his arms, Rhapscallion mutely nodded and muttered something about taking the rear so no one could sneak up on them.

With a little searching and some climbing, the three of them managed to find their way back to the level they'd originally come in on, Mira carefully settled with the Templar. Ethne led the way, the natural glow from her spellcraft serving to light the path before them, and as promised, Rhapscallion took up a rear guard. The ground squelched beneath their feet for most of the way, and she tried not to think too much about what that might properly be. Eventually, it solidified once more, and she could recognize their surroundings From there, it was really just a matter of retracing their steps.

Unfortunately, they emerged only to find that a knot of Darkspawn had congealed around the area, and they were hardly in a position to do much about that. Gritting her teeth, Ethne drew upon the last of her strength and let loose, punching thtough the line with an undirected blast of raw Fade. Anything else would take too long or be too weak, and they just didn't have the resources left to manage. Though she swayed on her feet, the elf immediately kicked herself into the fastest jog she could, gesturing for the others to follow. "We must move quickly! To the horses!"




Suicide didn't tire easily, but the fight was beginning to wear on him. Keeping up a magical and physical storm of attacks was taking its toll, but the shapeshifter hacked his way forward nonetheless, mace end of his staff crushing through a genlock's skull. A plan had been made to move into a corridor, use it form a better killing field, perhaps give their arms and legs a relative respite. It was the best that could be done, he supposed. He dugs his heels in and pushed towards the corner, nearly reaching the little wall of bodies when the bronto arrived.

The bodies were sent flying in a number of directions, but the bronto went right for Suicide. The shapeshifter managed to avoid the horn, but the creature's front shoulder barreled into him, catching him in the chest and sending him tumbling off to the side, crashing rather violently into a darkspawn tent, which crumbled around him. His staff clattered down next to him, but Suicide only had enough time to get to his feet before the bronto was at him again. The horn he managed to catch and divert with powerful hands, the beast's snout pushing him back into a wall even as his palms lit with frost, freezing a good portion of the bronto's face. For the moment, he was pinned into a corner by the bronto, and completey cut off from the others holding their own in the alley, save for Solvej.

Solvej was faced with a choice. The path the others had cut into the Darkspawn lines wasn't going to last forever, and frankly, she and the three already there would have a better chance at surviving if she joined them. She'd