The Canticle of Fate: Silver Lion Stanza

Orlais

a part of The Canticle of Fate: Silver Lion Stanza, by AugustArria.

The largest and most powerful nation in Thedas, Orlais sits in the continent's southwest corner. An absolute monarchy, the region is ruled by Emperor Lucien I and Empress Sophia.

AugustArria holds sovereignty over Orlais, giving them the ability to make limited changes.
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Setting

The largest and most powerful nation in Thedas, Orlais sits in the continent's southwest corner, bordered by Ferelden to the east and The Anderfels and Nevarra to the north. An absolute monarchy, the region is ruled by Emperor Lucien I and Empress Sophia.

Orlais

The largest and most powerful nation in Thedas, Orlais sits in the continent's southwest corner. An absolute monarchy, the region is ruled by Emperor Lucien I and Empress Sophia.

Minimap

Orlais is a part of The Canticle of Fate: Silver Lion Stanza.

4 Characters Here

Corvin Pavell [30] "I doubt you'd think so, but you're looking at the luckiest elf in Thedas."
Lia Tael [29] "If you want a place to call home in this world, you have to fight for it."
Vitorio Sansone [23] "True strength is not loud. And true danger does not announce its presence."
Evelyne Lafleur [20] "What do you do after you fail? You start over and take another first step."

Start Character Here »


Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Evelyne Lafleur

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"Here kitty, kitty, kitty," Evie beckoned, but the cat proved stubborn, and continued to stare at her like she had something on her face. She huffed after the calls had no effect and inched closer to the feline on top of a roof she absolutely did not trust. About twenty minutes prior, she had been safely on ground level, practicing her forms on the legs of a broken table she had found and propped up next to her door. She had just taken a break when a young girl, no more than fix or six, had wandered up to her. From her clothing Evie could guess that she was another resident of Riverside, just like her, a neighbor perhaps. The girl had tears in her eyes, and when Evie asked what was wrong, she had pointed at the cat that stared down on them from her roof.

The same cat that stared at her like she was a fool now. The roof of her house was not the sturdiest and already she had put her foot through a rotted corner-- she was going to have to find another bucket to catch the water when it rained. From then she had taken her time to crawl across her room, careful to stay on the crossbeams that held the roof up in one piece. Less likely for her to fall through on those, though not impossible... "Come here sweetie, someone misses you," she pleaded with the cat. Nothing, just more blank stares. She grumbled with herself and too another movement forward as she crawled ever closer.

She had given up trying to reason with it by that point, and instead focused not causing any more damage to her roof or even worse, taking a nose dive off of the side. Eventually, she did manage to reach the cat, and fortunately it appeared friendly enough to allow itself to be picked up without clawing at Evie's face. That was good, and slowly but surely she made her way back and began to climb down the side of her house with the precious cargo under her arm. Almost reminds her of her brief stint in the Academie, except the climbing exercises there required her to do in her full plate and gear. In comparison, carrying just a cat was a breeze.

Eventually, she reached the ground and the waiting child. "Kitty!" she said as Evie deposited it into her arms. "You know better, mommy told us to stop climbing houses," she chastised the cat. Evie agreed with the mother, if the other houses roofs were anything like hers. "Thank you miss!" the child said to Evie. She nodded her head and crouched to better see the child. She smiled and ruffled the fur on the kitty's head as she spoke, "You're most welcome, just try to keep this troublemaker out of trouble," she said playfully.

She hadn't quite made it back to standing before a familiar voice called out to her. "Evie-girl!"

The speaker wasn't exactly unexpected; he showed up with a military sort of regularity to check in with her, though little trace of the same could be found in his appearance now. Marcel, her older brother, was dressed neatly enough, and the sword at his hip probably never left it, but the bright orange scarf wound around his neck was assuredly not regulation, nor was the length of his dark hair—longer than she kept hers, actually, and pulled into a queue at his nape, bits and pieces escaping the discipline as always.

He grinned, flashing bright teeth, stepping up to where she and the little girl stood. "Making new friends, I see." He offered her neighbor a gallant bow, more than a little overblown quite on purpose. "What might our new friend's name be?"

The little girl's eyes lit up at Marc's timely appearance and seemed rather taken by his panache, but before she could give them her name, it was yelled at them from down the row of houses. "Christine!" the voice called, and looking behind Marc, Evie could see that it belonged to an older, portly woman. She stood in front of a house a couple down from Evie's own, but most notably [[[she had her eyes were stuck]]] on Marc, even as she spoke. "Come on home now," she said, and the little girl nodded.

The girl, Christine apparently, looked back to Evie and said, "Thanks again miss!"

Evie smiled again and nodded, "Anytime, just take care of our furry friend," she offered, and watched both child and cat wander back home, where undoubtedly the mother shuffled her back inside the house. Evie watched for a moment before turning to Marc, "You know, something tells me the mother doesn't like you," Evie noted, and she had a feeling she knew why. The lower classes she found did not trust the Chevaliers, and though it probably wasn't immediately apparent that Marc was an officer, there was something very obviously military about him, plus the sword at his hip probably didn't help.

He shrugged, obviously unconcerned. "Perhaps not. More importantly, Evie-girl, are you going to invite me in, or will we be having our conversation in the middle of the street?" He quirked a brow, tilting his head towards her front door.

"Had I spent a few more minutes up there, I don't think there would've been much of a difference," she said with some consternation as she looked toward where she had put her foot through her roof. Turning back to Marc she nodded, "But sure, let's move this inside," she offered, leading the way toward her door. She paused a moment to retrieve the estoc she had left leaning against the desk and then moved in, leaving the door open behind her for Marc.

The inside was much like the outside. Plain and uninspired. The first room they were in was a sitting room in the front, with a pair of chairs and an old fireplace and a kitchen in the back, with a counter and a an even older wood burning stove. Another door led off to the side where her bedroom was. There wasn't much in the was of decoration, aside from a single sword hung above the fireplace-- the sword she had taken from her uncle's house back when she had first accompanied Cor and Lia.

"I would've baked you something, but... my ingredients are running low," as they always were these days.

Marc sighed quietly, taking one of the chairs. It creaked almost alarmingly under his weight when he did, but held steady for now. "No need to worry about that." He smiled again, though it was a bit more strained this time. "With no war on and no field duty, I might actually have to start minding what I eat!"

The smile faded; his eyes landed on the sword over the mantel. His brows furrowed for a moment, but it was hard to tell exactly what he was thinking. He shifted his attention back to her, deftly untying something from his belt with one hand. When he set it on the table, it jingled—clearly there were coins in it. "There's the usual allowance in there, plus a bit from mother, and a bit from me. Maybe hire someone to get this roof patched." He couldn't hide his displeasure at having to say that, but he tried.

Evie frowned herself. She wasn't fond of having to have an allowance, but the fact remained that without it, she would probably go hungry. The jobs from the Lions were few and far between, and went to other things like armor repairs. At this point, her breastplate was probably more patch than original metal. Then she moved to the hole in her roof-- or holes, rather. There were more than the one she just made. She shook her head and took the seat opposite of Marc and began scratching at her hairline. "Maybe," she said with the same level of enthusiasm Marc had. In all honesty, she didn't like to dwell on her current lot, and would rather be doing things that took her mind off of it.

In that vain, "How is mother, anyway?" she asked.

"Same as always." Marc hummed, mostly to himself. "We're... talking to father, she and I. About you. I think part of him regrets what's happened, and after all this business with Uncle Jean—we might be able to bring him around." He leaned forward slightly, bracing both his forearms on the table and ducking his head slightly so they could meet eyes directly.

"This isn't forever, Evie. Just... try to keep your head up, okay? You won't have to live like this forever."

"Yeah, that's the plan," Evie said, a little more resigned than he had. She too had leaned forward, her elbows resting on her knees. "One foot after the other right?" she said. She wasn't so sure about it herself. Her father had been very... Firm on his decision, and he was never the type of man to go back on the things he decided on for no reason. However, Marc was right on one thing. She would not have to live like this forever-- though that relied more on her than them. She would have to improve her situation somehow.

Easier said than done. In essence she was starting from the beginning, and she had no idea how to begin again. She supposed helping out Cor and Lia was a start, but that was sporadic, and never felt focused. She was there to give aid when they needed it. Thinking about it made her feel lost and and threatened to drag her back out of inaction. It was why she always felt like she had to be doing something, moving, training, something other than laying in bed and relying on the allowance from her family. But to do something more? She didn't even know where to start. She shook her head slightly, thinking about it too hard made her feel trapped.

Marc cleared his throat, as if to remind her of his presence. "Anyway, tell me more about how things are with you. What keeps you busy these days, Evie-girl?" He must have sensed at least some of her unease, for he showed no inclination to linger on the topic of their father.

She wanted to spill everything to him, and almost had before she reined herself in and bit her lip, both metaphorically and literally. "A little mercenary work here and there, but other than that," she said, glancing at her uncle's sword. "We're trying to look into what Jean had gotten himself into..." She admitted. Between them, Evie had the closer relationship to their uncle. She wasn't blind, she knew how her uncle's actions had turned the opinion against him, she could see it in his eyes. What he did was horrid and irredeemable, but despite herself, she could only see the man who had taken it upon himself to train her to be a Chevalier. Clearly, that too had failed, but she would always appreciate the effort.

"He definitely got in over his head," she said, with a look at Marc that stated the obvious. She refrained from mentioning the Ashfingers however and the Venatori involvement. Both because she did not want him to worry-- and letting any information about the Ashfingers slip would invariably not be a good thing. Kess was a woman of means, she she'd rather not have it turned against her.

Her brother did indeed furrow his brow a little at the mention of their uncle, but since he'd brought up the topic himself earlier, it probably wasn't just that. "Who's 'we'?" There was evident curiosity in his tone—clearly he hadn't expected her to be part of any such investigations.

"A couple of Argent Lions," she answered, "And a rather unique Antivan fellow." She frowned after that and crossed her arms. "The Lions were the ones who found Jean, they've been investigating ever since. I asked to tag-a-long because... well, he was our uncle," she said shaking her head, "Feels like the least I could do is try to clean up his mess."

That brought something to mind. She glanced back up at Marc and asked, "How's father and you handling it? The Order hasn't been too hard on you because of the relation, have they?"

Marc shrugged. "Nothing especially difficult. Of course the Emperor prefers his knights with clean noses, but he is not the type to condemn a family for one member's... indiscretions." It was difficult to read his tone. Marc had always been of the view that soldiers ought not express their political inclinations one way or another if at all possible. They were the blades of the Empire, not its philosophers or politicians. It wasn't the most common view, but it wasn't exactly fringe in the ranks either; enough people thought the same that he never lacked for agreement on the point.

He waved the matter away, however, refocusing his attention on Evie. "But Argent Lions, Evie-girl? Is that really entirely... necessary?"

"Marc, I don't exactly have a lot of resources to call on here," she said, gently motioning toward their surroundings. "And besides, they were the ones who uncovered what Jean was doing first, it's technically more their investigation than mine," she said, leaning back in her seat. Maybe if she had visited more or been with him more, she could have seen what he was doing and steered him elsewhere. Jean had always been a difficult man to move, but maybe she would've had a shot. Instead she failed out of the Academie and spent the following months pitying and feeling sorry for herself. Still sometimes did, it appeared.

She shook her head and looked back at Marc. "And I'd rather not involve you and father if I can help it," she said. "You two still have your honor and image intact. I'd rather you not risk it by rooting around in the mud with me," she said with a self-deprecating smile. It was one reason, the others involving Ashfingers and Venatori. She'd rather they didn't find themselves a target for either group.

"Don't worry about me Marc," she said, her smile warming up, "I may not be a Chevalier, but I was raised by them. I'll be fine." At least, she hoped. She didn't exactly measure up then, and she hoped that she would not find herself wanting again on down the line.

The shuttered expression on his face, while difficult to interpret, suggested that her persuasion had not been especially effective. Marc sighed almost under his breath, then dredged up a smile. "Well... I'm sure the official inquiry will conclude soon regardless. Whatever else the mercenaries are doing won't have much to do with you, no doubt." He shrugged, patted her hand, and then reached down to his belt, untying another pouch.

This one, though, looked to contain a deck of cards. "You still know how to play corners, I hope?" That was clearly teasing, and his whole face brightened with it, boyish grin flashing and lighting his dark eyes.

"One way to find out," she answered with a sly grin.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lia Tael Character Portrait: Corvin Pavell

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Lia slept the sleep of the dead, undisturbed for the rest of the day and night after she arrived.

Well, mostly undisturbed. She was woken briefly shortly after collapsing into the bed, as Vito informed her she'd need slightly more extensive healing on her wound than a simple potion could mend, even the strongest he had. Lia found she was too tired to put up any argument. As it turned out, she fell right back asleep, and any further magic after that didn't wake her again.

When she finally did wake up again, it was to the uncomfortable twisting of hunger in her stomach, piercing through the general grogginess. She'd only removed her armor and her boots, preferring to sleep with the rest of her clothes on. Had she not been so tired and still in need of healing she would've never allowed herself to sleep in another person's house, but the circumstances demanded it. And while she was always wary, Vito had proved himself a friend, enough that she could trust him to watch her back while she slept rather than fearing anything from him.

She sat up slowly, pushing her mess of hair out of her face and lifting up her shirt halfway to get a look at her new scar. It was a few inches long, starting just below her lowest rib on her left side and running down about a third the length of her abdomen. Probably the worst one she had, actually. In all the action she'd seen with the Lions and then the Inquisition, Lia had somehow avoided all but minor injuries.

She should've known better than to attack someone like Leta alone. She'd given her an arrow for the trouble, but it probably only slowed her for a moment.

"Thought I heard you stirring." Lia looked up to find the girl Marisol in the doorway. "Good morning. There's some food left downstairs if you're hungry."

"Morning?" The storage room they'd put her up in didn't have so much as a window.

Marisol nodded. "Mhm. You definitely needed the rest. I thought Vito was going to have to knock you out to keep working on your side, but you're a heavy sleeper."

"Not usually." She mumbled the words more than anything, before shaking her head. "I'll be out in a minute. Thank you." She'd missed a whole day, which meant Cor had been left to report to Julian without her. By Marisol's relaxed demeanor she assumed nothing else had happened in the meantime, but still... she pulled on her boots and started fastening them. She needed to get moving.

She tried to make a quick escape once she was ready to leave, but Marisol was an effective host, and the lure of breakfast food could not be ignored. "Papà's off at the markets," she explained. "We saved you some, though. Seriously, you should eat. You must be starving." Lia couldn't argue with that, and found herself shrugging off her bow and pack again, and helping herself to the still warm scrambled eggs and toast.

About halfway through the process of polishing off the food, the front door jingled, just loud enough to hear from the kitchen upstairs. "Marisol?" Cor's familiar voice followed almost immediately, pitched to carry but not to startle.

"Come on up!" she called, recognizing the sound. "Thought you might be by."

With permission to enter the 'home' portion of the building, Cor obliged, the stairs creaking slightly with his ascent. He rounded the corner into the kitchen a moment later, face lighting in a smile. "She wakes," he said it with a light tone, but did a pretty terrible job of keeping the actual concern at bay, his expression considerably more serious.

Taking up a spot in the doorway, he leaned a shoulder against it. No armor today, which could be good or bad depending. "Feeling better?"

"Good enough," was her answer, and it was honest. She'd need a few hours to get up to full speed again, and it was a good thing it didn't seem like they had a job to do today. And while Vito did an excellent job with the healing, he wasn't a miracle worker. She'd known one before, and this wasn't that. But she was alive and relatively well, and that was a much better outcome than what she could've ended up with.

She noted Marisol's somewhat speedy exit from the room, heading back downstairs to keep an eye on the shop and give them some privacy. "Did I miss anything worthwhile?" she asked. She wasn't really sure what to expect from Cor, honestly, but then, Lia hadn't really processed what she'd done, and what it could mean, just yet. That was going to take some time.

He'd eased a bit at her answer, but Marisol's departure and the question seemed to return a bit of the tension to him—he wasn't really all that good at hiding things, in general. "Not really," he replied, shifting uneasily. "Vito filled me in on the parts of the story I didn't get earlier, and then I made a report to Julien. Unsurprisingly it's going to be a while before he can get back to us with anything useful."

He almost looked like he went to cross his arms, then decided consciously against it, hooking his thumbs into his belt instead. She could just see the hilt of a shortsword behind him that way—it was just his everyday sidearm. "You took a shot at her," he said plainly. He offered no more than that, regarding her expectantly.

"Of course I did." She couldn't help but let her tone become slightly defensive. She wasn't mad at him, though, nor was she surprised he'd want to bring it up. She was more frustrated at herself. "Should've been the only shot that was needed. But I screwed up." She should've been more careful, she should've waited for a better moment, she should've anticipated Leta's movement and adjusted for that. She should've been better.

"If I'd killed her, everything would've fallen into place. The Venatori would have no one left, Braven would fold to Kess or be destroyed, and everyone here could start moving forward again."

"Maybe," he conceded, though he didn't sound as certain as she was of the fact. "But you also could have died." His brows knit, a troubled frown settling onto his face. "Not that that's new, half the things we do could kill us, but—" He expelled what was left of his breath through his nose.

"Just... we're in this together. I wish you'd come back and let us plan something. Then it could have been my problem and yours, right?" A flicker of frustration pinched his features before it faded, but it didn't seem directed at her.

"I said I screwed up, didn't I?" She thought it was just a little hypocritical of him, given some of the things she'd seen him do, and other things she'd heard about and knew to be true. But she wasn't going to bring that up. "I saw a chance to make a difference right then and there, something I feel like we've barely been able to do here so far. And I took it." All she could think of was how hard Ithilian and Amalia had to work for every shot they got at Marcus, and how likely they'd be to pass up a chance like that if it fell into their laps.

But she wasn't either of her mentors. And Leta wasn't Marcus, no matter how much she'd learned from him. It was foolish of her to put Leta in the same light, and foolish of her to forget her own limitations. She sighed, not really feeling like finishing the food in front of her anymore. "It's everyone's problem now, I guess."

Cor nodded carefully, pursing his lips. "Right. I—never mind." His eyes fell just momentarily to his feet before he pulled in a deep breath and straightened. "I'm glad you're okay, anyway. It's been a really crazy couple of days." And the vacillation between the high of Arielle's birth and the low of basically everything after that had been extreme. He offered an almost-tentative lopsided smile.

"We'll work the rest out as we go. Which, uh, I guess I'm going to do. Are you heading back to the barracks?"

She shook her head. "Not yet. I'm going to stop by the Alienage first. But I'll head there right after." He'd know by now that if he was welcome to come along, she'd have offered it to him. But this was definitely a conversation she needed to have alone, and she figured Cor wouldn't really want a part in it anyway.

"Thanks, by the way," she added. "For coming by. And I'm sorry if I scared you. I'm, uh... still trying to figure how to do all of this." If her history was anything to go off of, Lia had a tendency to be rash. But that was something she thought she had in common with Cor.

He relaxed a little more at that. "You and me both. I'll see you later, then." As good as his word, he pushed off the doorframe and departed without further fuss. She could hear him say something to Marisol downstairs, though not exactly what. Probably just a farewell or something. Then the door jangled again, and the shop went quiet.

She picked at her food a little more, some of her appetite returning now that the conversation was more or less salvaged. She was glad he didn't seem to have a problem with making the attempt to eliminate Leta for good, at least. Just the manner in which she'd done it. Lia didn't know if she could accept someone like Leta going back into a dungeon to rot. Somewhere she could still have power, somewhere she could get away again. No, she needed to end, and the Venatori needed to end with her. While she lived, some trace of Marcus still flittered in the air, and that was something Lia could not ignore. Could not allow.

She cleaned up after herself a little, though Marisol was quick to return and help. It was a little awkward, with Lia getting the sense that Marisol didn't really want her to hang around but absolutely not willing to say it. She could understand that. Lia and Cor had brought Vito some significant income recently, but it came at the cost of a lot of trouble, and some dangerous people knowing their names where they otherwise wouldn't have cared.

Lia bid Marisol farewell and took her leave before anyone else could show up to delay her. She'd have to thank Vito later. For now she headed towards the Alienage. Contrary to what she'd told Cor she didn't actually go inside, instead taking up a spot along a side street where it was relatively secluded and quiet, even during the daylight hours. She knew Arrin took it on his route, which at this time he'd probably be in the middle of. She just had to be patient.

It took a while for him to appear—carrying messages and deliveries was an irregular job, and where he was when often depended on who'd paid him to do what on a particular day. But after about an hour and a half of waiting, her patience bore fruit. Arrin approached from the west, tucking a bundle of parchment envelopes into a ratty, but well-patched, canvas bag slung over one shoulder. He did not initially seem to notice her, which was odd. He was far from as practiced an observer as she or even one of the other Lions, but he wasn't usually oblivious to his surroundings, either.

He finally picked up on her presence just before he would have passed her, head snapping up to blink blearily at her. Shaking himself slightly, he plastered on a smile. "Oh, uh... morning, Lia."

She wasn't surprised he'd be a little off from his normal self. No doubt he'd caught wind of some of the recent events from other Ashfingers. There had to be plenty of turmoil and doubt around with the organization essentially splitting in two. At least they weren't likely going to enter open conflict, since they did ultimately want similar things, even if they'd have very different ways of going about it. Attempted assassinations or no, Kess wasn't likely to want them all dead. Just the ones necessary to bring back the rest. Lia was hoping for something similar.

"Hey. Don't mind the look, I'm fine." Blood blended in pretty well with maroon, especially once it dried, but he'd probably notice when he got closer. "Just had an unfortunate run-in with some angry former members of a certain faction here." She glanced around one more time to make sure they had privacy before she patted the spot next to her on the bench she'd chosen. "I'm assuming you've heard some things recently?"

Arrin grimaced, but sat down without further prompting. "Yeah. It's been—it's been tense. Last couple days, the lines are really getting drawn. Word is Braven laid an ambush for Kestrel, but someone else sprung the trap." He looked pointedly at one of the patches of dried blood. "Guess you'd know more about than than me."

He expelled a breath and leaned back, raking a thin hand through his hair to pull it back away from his face. "Everything's starting to separate. Informants are choosing sides, and the ordinary members like me. No one's died yet that I know of, but there's a few places some people aren't all welcome anymore, you know? It's like they're dividing up the city for now." Probably with at least some intent of clashing once the lines were in place.

Lia hoped it wouldn't come to that. The last thing they needed was the elves killing each other over a disagreement. That said, the current predicament was not as bad as the thought of Braven winning the confrontation, and having the Ashfingers absorbed into his Vhenallin. That kind of power in his hands would do nothing good for anyone.

"Braven's in league with some Venatori remnants. Very dangerous people. Guess he sees them as a means to an end, but I doubt he really knows what he's getting into." Whatever sympathy an elf such as Leta had for her people had to be overshadowed by her hate of other things. Clearly she didn't care if elves died to help her get what she wanted. She met eyes with Arrin. "I'm going to take care of this, but I can't do it on my own. Information is what I need most right now, and I don't have a lot of ways to get it. You, on the other hand..." She shrugged lightly, though her tone was quite serious. "I'm not asking you to get mixed up with Vhenallin, but if you can put yourself in the right place at the right time, and you hear something I can use... we can't let this get worse, you know?"

Arrin hunched his shoulders, features pinching, almost like a drawn-out wince. "I dunno, Lia. I was thinking about trying to... kind of sit between the two, see what I could see, all that. But—Braven doesn't mess around. Neither does Kestrel, come to think of it. I'm not sure how well I'll do, you know? If someone catches me—I can talk my way out of a lot of things, but I'm not sure that's one of them."

She wasn't fond of doing this. Like many city elves, Arrin didn't have the most confidence. She was much the same once, as there simply wasn't any reason for it. No reason to believe things would turn out okay. But unlike Arrin Lia had seen that they could turn out okay, and consistently too. It was just a matter of effort and skill. She knew Arrin had the latter, more than he gave himself credit for. But sometimes the former had to be forced before it would roll on its own.

"There are a lot of people in your position right now, though. Caught between the two, and forced to choose. Both of them have to know that, and they have to respect it. If they pull too hard, they're going to lose. And I know you can do this. Start with whatever you're comfortable with, and go from there. Anything helps." And if the time came where he absolutely had to pick a side, he could always fall in with Kestrel. Whatever their disagreements, she was absolutely the lesser of the evils here.

He pressed his lips together, but slowly nodded. "Okay. I—yeah. All right. I'll give it a shot." Shifting, he stood, brushing down his trousers and curling his mouth in a small smile. "We've all got to do our parts, right? Between you and my mom, I guess I'm convinced." No doubt Riris wouldn't especially approve of this, but like the rest of them, she had to work with what she had. Arrin had often expressed a desire to help her, even if he did it in ways she would never have asked him to.

"I guess I'll keep you updated, then. Take care of yourself, Lia."

"You too. I'll check in every few days for now."

She expelled a breath that had been pent up in her when he was gone, and she was alone again. She hadn't really been aware of it. She waited another few minutes before she started back for the barracks. The work was done for the moment, but somehow Lia felt she wouldn't really be able to relax for a long time yet.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corvin Pavell Character Portrait: Vitorio Sansone

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Corvin tugged his tunic down, making sure it lay properly before winding his belt around his waist. The shortsword attached lay comfortably across the small of his back, unobtrusive but there if he happened to need it. He wasn't looking forward to summer, when layering would prove to be less convenient. Flexing his hands, he felt the scar tissue on his arms pull slightly and grimaced. No use thinking about it now.

Satisfied that he'd stick out as neither particularly well or poorly attired for his plans, he left the barracks quietly, tracking the by-now-familiar route to Vito's. The shop was closed by now, of course; it was about an hour after sundown, and, he hoped, late enough that the Antivan wouldn't still be working.

He knocked on the shop door to be polite before he opened it—that it was still unlocked was somewhat promising. "Hey Vito? You around? It's Corvin."

A full head of dark hair appeared popped up from behind the counter, but it belonged to Marisol rather than Vito. Her expression wasn't the easiest to read. Forced politeness, perhaps, indicating she wasn't entirely happy to see him. "Hello, Corvin. He should be down in a minute." She took in his appearance, noting the shortsword but also the overall lack of armor. "Did... something happen?" No doubt she'd started associating him and Lia's arrivals with imminent trouble.

It wasn't hard to put two and two together there, and Corvin hastened to reassure her. "No, no trouble. We're actually just going to the tavern to grab a couple drinks, is all." He half-smiled. "I can't promise he'll be home at a decent hour, but I swear there won't be any fights."

A laugh echoed down the staircase; clearly Vito at least found this thought amusing. He appeared a moment later, dressed in his usual fashion, with his curved knife at his belt. It would seem that Corvin wasn't the only one who went armed as a matter of habit. Probably for the best, considering how dangerous it could still be to make one's magic known, even if the Circles weren't exactly operational at the moment.

"You'll see to that, will you? I do believe I've acquired my very own bodyguard. Charming fellow that he is, I suppose I'll be the recipient of much misdirected envy." He winked at Corvin, such an obvious, over-the-top one that it could only have been meant in jest, and bent to press a brief kiss to Marisol's temple. "I'll be back later, caro. Don't forget to lock up behind you if you go out as well. And leave me a note so I know who you're with."

"Yes, yes, fine. Do have fun."

He grinned, ruffling her hair slightly before using the same hand to gesture towards the door. "Lead on, my friend."

Corvin grinned at that, and nodded. Time to blow off some steam, then.

Really, it hadn't been that hard to decide to invite Vito along; he seemed like the kind of person that wouldn't mind the fact that the company's favorite bar wasn't upscale. Not to mention the kind that knew how to have a good time. Donny and Hissrad were plenty busy running the actual company these days, and aside from Lia, Corvin just wasn't that close with any of the Val Royeaux Lions these days. Too many years, too many faces moved on or brand-new to him.

The Smiling Lion might not have been a fancy place, but it was clean, and the location included a pretty nice view of the harbor, something its second-floor balcony took plenty of advantage of. When they entered, Svalda—the tavern's heavily-freckled dwarven proprietor— ushered them promptly to the best seats in the house, so to speak. In this case, a table right at the edge of the balcony railing, providing both the crispness of a night breeze and an excellent command of the scenery.

Once their initial orders were taken and delivered, Corvin sighed and eased back in his chair, tipping onto the back legs and resting his tankard on his knee. There was easily enough space between themselves and the closest others—a trio of elves playing cards—to give a sense of privacy.

"So, stop me if I'm overstepping here, but uh... Marisol didn't seem too happy to see me. She worried about you?" It made perfect sense to him that she wouldn't have the highest opinion of the near-strangers who kept dragging her dad into dangerous situations.

Vito smiled; clearly the question did not count as an overstep for him. "Oh, no doubt." His reply was unusually soft, but then he cleared his throat. "I really do need to talk to her about this; I think part of the issue is perhaps how suddenly it happened, and how little I consulted her about it." He shook his head, setting the thready ornaments at his ears to jingling lightly.

"It is not long we have lived as a family; I think I'm still getting used to it."

There were a lot of things that could mean, but Corvin wasn't quite nosy enough to ask which. At least not without a little more lubrication. Taking a deep draw from his tankard, he sighed heavily and nodded. "It's probably not really the same, but my family got pretty concerned when I took up mercenary work. At the time I thought they were just worrying too much—mom especially. I didn't think it'd be that much more dangerous than just living in the Alienage could get."

He'd been wrong of course, but in fairness to his original thought, it wasn't exactly most mercenaries that found themselves opposite things like dragons and Red Templars and whatever else. In his actual case though, he had to admit his mom had been right to worry. Probably why he didn't tell her half the truth about what he did.

"Do you have a lot of other family, back in Rialto?"

As if the mention of it had set him to seeking the place, Vito looked out at the water. It took a moment and a large swallow of his ale before he replied. "In a manner of speaking. We are... estranged from most of my family. We came here so that they would not bother us, for the freedom to live apart from them." Knitting his brow, he shifted his focus back to Corvin. "Nothing so noble as the beckoning of duty, I suppose, but then we aren't very noble to begin with." He finished off what was in his tankard, setting it down gingerly just before the next arrived, along with their food.

Corvin thought for a moment of his own father, then grimaced. "Yeah, I can understand wanting to not see someone again." The thought was extremely unpleasant, though, and he really didn't want to dwell on it. He doubted Vito did either—it wasn't exactly the stuff of a fun night out. For that reason and a few more to boot, he avoided asking after Marisol's mother, though he did wonder.

"But, uh... I dunno that there was really anything all that noble about me coming here, for the record. Don't get me wrong, I think the Lions do good work, but in those days I'd have followed the Commander anywhere. Still would, honestly, but it's... different. I was a kid. Wanted to see more of the world, maybe get a little of that greatness to rub off on me." Maybe find something he was missing, hard to name but keenly felt. A little less keenly when he leaped into battle beside Lucien and his friends.

It wasn't the worst motive in the world, but it was still pretty selfish, in a way.

"You'll forgive me for saying so, I hope, but I find it difficult to believe that it hasn't." Vito smiled, pausing a moment to tuck into his food. He was actually quite precise with his table manners, if considerably more relaxed than people in actually formal settings. Careful, was the word. Or something like it. "Perhaps it doesn't look like it from so close, but from where I'm standing, you're really quite extraordinary—you and Lia both. There's the Lions, of course, but I recall mention of the Inquisition as well?"

It was clear that he knew the answer to his own question when he continued. "Between the uprisings in Kirkwall and all that, well... it's quite a bit beyond an ordinary man's reach, to say the least. Close enough to greatness to look like it to me, at least."

Corvin cleared his throat, unsure whether he felt more amused or embarrassed. There was something about being complimented in such a matter-of-fact way—either Vito was genuine, or he was a hell of an actor. "The Inquisition part was mostly other people," he said in the end, half-smiling and leaning back in his chair. "But... I mean, I definitely feel good about having had any part of it."

Pausing to chew over some of his food, he admitted something he hadn't planned to. Honesty invited the same, maybe. "It's kind of messed-up, actually, but I don't feel... exactly right unless I'm caught up in something big and dangerous like that." His friends called him reckless, and they were right—but the decision to be that way wasn't itself a careless one, really. "I guess that's hard for other people to understand. Most of them try really hard to be safe, and risk and danger are trade-offs they have to make for doing the right thing. But for me, it's like—" he paused, trying to find the words.

"I can't really explain it, except to say I want that. Risk. It feels right."

Setting his utensils down, Vito leaned back a bit into his chair, shifting so that his elbow hung off the back of it. It gave his posture a few slants, so that he wasn't quite square-on with Corvin anymore. "I've known more than a few reckless people, but none I think who had thought so carefully about it." His smile had the same ironic suggestion to it as his words did, but he didn't seem inclined to admonish, nor to claim that his own personality shared the thread. It probably took at least a touch of something like that for anyone to regularly put themselves in danger, but from what Corvin had been able to observe, Vito could hardly be considered careless in any way.

He turned to study the water, spare light catching on the metal at his ear. "I almost hesitate to ask what you do for fun."

Corvin half-smiled, the expression a little more subdued than he'd meant it to be. Fun had used to be this—only generally with more people. A night of drinking, telling stories, playing games, making fun of Donny, and probably winding up following someone home for something easy and uncomplicated, if he happened to strike someone's fancy. He liked to think he often did; at least he'd never had trouble finding those amusements when he wanted them.

But all of that was more or less gone now, parts of the regular group sacrificed to the split, then the Inquisition, then the kinds of responsibilities that kept them from indulging so often. And death, of course—the Lions had lost no few of their number to missions, either. As for the other bit, well... he didn't really do that anymore, either.

He pressed his knuckles to his sternum, easing a tightness there and shrugging. "What, you mean getting shot at and stabbed on the regular isn't enough fun for you?"

Vito chuckled. "It's certainly more than enough excitement." Glancing down at his tankard, he frowned slightly. "Few more of these, and I might have some stories to contribute, if being shot at makes for good fun. Next round's on me."

It wasn't the first time Corvin had gotten the sense that there was a lot more to Vito than there appeared, but no doubt he wouldn't get much if he pressed, and he didn't want to do it anyway. There were things he wasn't that comfortable talking about himself.

So he nodded instead. "I'll take you up on that."

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Vitorio Sansone

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Vito hummed rather tunelessly under his breath, reaching up to rub idly at his goatee with his free hand. The other was currently occupied holding open a book. This one was a recent acquisition—his contact had it on good authority that it was stolen from the Circle in Montsimmard sometime during the mage rebellion. But the river of illicit goods flows parallel to the legitimate, and like all things in Orlais, it was drawn eventually to Val Royeaux. The price was a bit dear, and two months ago he'd never have considered the purchase, but with recent work he found it to be worth the investment.

Unfortunately, it was proving somewhat difficult to crack, as the recipes were buried within dense theoretical notation that he simply had no reference for. A shame, since the formulas would provide him with several new and useful products if he could just figure them out.

"Mari, do we still have the red book, or did we lose it to the fire?" His few textbooks on potion lore all had interchangeable and pretentious names, so he tended to refer to them by the colors instead.

"Well..." Marisol paused from her work of sorting new arrivals to their shelves to crouch down behind the counter a moment. She rummaged through books stacked away for a moment before she popped back up. "We still have some of it."

The cover was less red than it was a charred black now, and clearly at least the outer half of almost all the pages had been eaten away by the blaze as well. It was far from the only thing they'd lost in the fire, and sorting through all of it to see what was salvageable was a laborious, time-consuming process that had a way of wearing on a teenage girl. More often than not Marisol had been in charge of the shop, at least since the fire and all the outside work that came after it.

She rounded her way over to him and set the tome down on the table beside his chair. "I'll let you decide if there's anything worth keeping in there."

He grimaced, pinching a dried-out page between his thumb and forefinger with as much delicacy as he could muster before turning it. There might be something of use still in here, but the constant reminders of their own rather striking poverty were more frequent since the fire. He'd never been a rich man, not even in Antiva, but he hadn't struggled this much to make ends meet since he was a boy.

Marisol had straightforwardly never had this problem. Not before she lived with him, anyway. Vito sighed softly, closing over the new book and the old alike before setting them aside.

"Would you like to go for a walk, Caro? It's warm enough, I think."

She took a glance at the work remaining to her, but it obviously didn't have much pull, as she soon threw her hands out to the sides, letting them fall back until they slapped against her legs. A shrug of sorts. "Sure. I could use some air."

Vito nodded slightly, standing from his spot and flipping the shop sign so that it read CLOSED. They'd not had a customer in hours, and frankly probably wouldn't for the rest of the day, anyhow. That was the pace of business around here, most of the time. Most of what they made came from the reliable, intermittent large orders, like the one they made up for the bordello a few blocks over.

The midafternoon light was bright overhead, weak in the manner of winter sun in the south, but though the air was crisp, it wasn't too chilly for the slightly-thicker linen he was wearing today. Vito held the door for Marisol and locked up behind them, slipping the key into his pocket and striking off in the direction of the docks. He tended to seek the sea by instinct, but if Marisol wanted to go some other way, he certainly wouldn't protest.

He just... didn't want to be inside the shop for this conversation. It was too small, the space too personal. It was where they lived and where they worked, and he didn't want this tangled up in there as well, especially if it didn't go well.

He waited a few minutes, for them to settle into a steady pace and get clear of their immediate neighborhood. All the while, Vito considered how to put his question, and found himself frustratingly unable to think of anything but the obvious. He'd never had trouble talking to people until Marisol, something he thought was probably due to her importance.

He'd never really loved anyone until Marisol either, after all. Well, no one barring his mother, but that was quite a different situation.

"Are you happy?" The question, when it finally escaped him, did so almost too quickly, the words run together in a way that conveyed his discomfort with them rather more effectively than Vito would have liked. He felt like he knew what the answer was, but also wasn't prepared to hear it. "Here, I mean. With me, and... this."

"Me?" she looked up from the street in front of her. She walked with her hands in her pockets, her posture a little lacking. Her normal gait wasn't a saunter, exactly, but Marisol had never lacked for confidence. "I'm fine. This was my idea, remember? And I knew what I was getting into." She'd been fourteen when they came here, and already she knew all about the world, and all about its ugly parts. For better or worse, she knew how to handle just about anything she ran into.

Her mother's doing, that.

But clearly she knew that didn't really answer his question. She listed sideways until their arms bumped. "I'm more worried about you. We're not living in luxury, but we had a pretty good thing going, even with all the troubles we've had getting started. I thought this was the sort of thing you wanted to be doing, but now..." She glanced back over her shoulder, perhaps checking if anyone was in earshot. "Now you're running off to fight insurgents and getting into ambushes. So unless I'm wrong, you're the one that isn't happy. Or at least not satisfied."

As usual, her insight was exceptional. Vito pursed his lips, easing an itch on the side of his nose with the roughened pad of a finger. "I thought I would be." It had certainly been Marisol's idea to leave Rialto behind, but he hadn't said no. Hadn't even considered it, once she'd shown him that the logistics of it were possible. He'd wanted something else for his life, a new start that took him far away from the person he'd been—and perhaps worse, the specter of the person he was becoming. The journey to wickedness had been an incremental one, for Vito; whether or not he'd ever reached the destination, he knew he was well on the way at one point.

This was supposed to be his chance to backtrack a little, maybe find some grey area that was comfortable enough. Do no harm, even if there was no real compensating for the things he'd done.

But perhaps he was more like Corvin than he'd initially suspected.

"The ambushes, though, and the fighting—it feels like doing the things I'm good at again, but for the right reasons this time." And there was something very alluring about that combination.

"You're good at a lot of things," she countered, "most of which have nothing to do with killing and sneaking and criminals and all of that. And if you tried more things, I'm sure you'd find that you're good at them too." They made it within sight of the docks before long; it got a little more crowded than the sparse streets of Riverbend, but they still weren't in danger of being overheard so long as they didn't shout.

"You're a healer in the biggest city in Orlais." She lowered her voice somewhat. "I know you don't like people knowing you're a mage, but it's not a crime anymore to practice outside of Circles. You could be doing so much good without needing to dodge arrows every other week. Might not be as exciting, but..."

She shrugged, relenting a little both in her expression and her tone. "I don't want to tell you what to do. And I like your new friends well enough, they're obviously good people, it's just... I worry, that's all. Just because I could get by fine on my own doesn't mean I want to." She forced a smile, the humor an attempt to cover up the grim nature of the scenario she was suggesting.

Vito sighed softly through his nose. In one way, she was right, he supposed. But he was not the kind of healer that would be put on retainer by nobility, or invited to scholarly events and inducted into the more prestigious—and profitable—circles in the profession. He was a poorly-educated foreigner who got by on scavenged textbooks decades out of date and the best his intuition could do. He didn't think that made him any lesser, but he knew he'd always be perceived that way. The most he could hope for on that front was what he had now: a very modest business that earned enough to scrape by, and helped a few of the people in his proximity.

He would cure no diseases, and save few lives. It wasn't nothing, but it wasn't the kind of good he most wanted to do, either. Perhaps it was wrongheaded of him to think about the good he wanted to do, but there it was. Being a better person was still a work in progress, so perhaps he could be excused for his desire for something that was good and lucrative and interesting.

He reached out sideways and laid a hand on Marisol's head, ruffling her hair only gently, and only for about as long as he figured she'd tolerate. Admittedly it was usually a gesture reserved for younger recipients, but maybe part of him would always think of her as the girl she was when they first met: brave, smart as a whip, mature, and so very, very young.

"Perhaps you're right to." He'd certainly been closer to death in the last few weeks than he'd been for several years. He couldn't see that as an advantage, even if there was a certain excitement to it. "And I promise I'll never forget that you do. I don't know if there will be more of this in my future, but if there is, I'll be as careful as I can." He smiled himself, only slightly more naturally than she had.

He couldn't promise more than that, not at this juncture, and he certainly wasn't going to lie to her.

"Thank you," Marisol answered earnestly. She didn't seem overly disappointed with his response; perhaps she'd expected it, or simply needed to air her discomforts, make sure he acknowledged them, was aware of them. "I'm glad you're... finding purpose in it, I guess." It sounded like she was about to say enjoying it, but thought better of the word choice. "And I'm glad your friends have you watching out for them. Maker knows they need the help."

She walked in silence a few more steps, and then suddenly stopped, hesitating before she spoke again. "You don't think... the way you do things, it's sort of unique, you know? How you're self-taught and all. We've been laying low for a while now... but they're never going to stop looking for us." It looked like she wanted to say more, but then shook her head with a frustrated sigh. "Ugh, I'm sorry. I'm worrying too much, and you already said you'd be careful."

It was definitely one of the reasons he wasn't too keen to practice magic in the open, but he had at least one thing going for him in this respect. "I wasn't too open with my magic, even then. Not too many of them would know what to look for, or know one mage from another." They weren't exactly commonplace in the family, either, but her caution was understandable. "As long as I don't go announcing things to everyone I fight, it should be a minimal risk. We've done well so far, and they know I'm a self-taught alchemist, too."

"Okay." It seemed to conclude her worries, or at least push them down temporarily. There was always something or other to worry about for the two of them, and ever more since that fire. "Should we get something to eat while we're out here?" she resumed walking. "You'll need to keep up your strength if you're going to be a big hero around here."

He laughed. "If I'm ever a 'big hero' anywhere, please smack me. But I could eat, regardless. Shall we see how well the Orlesians can do Antivan food?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lia Tael Character Portrait: Corvin Pavell Character Portrait: Vitorio Sansone Character Portrait: Evelyne Lafleur

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Before the crack of dawn, even before most of Riverbend had roused itself awake, Evie was up. The first few days of forcing herself awake at this hour, her body and mind revolted, but eventually it relented. She had lost the discipline necessary to wake before the sun once, instead slipping out of sleep whenever she could sleep no more. Instead, she would lay in bed and let the day pass her back wasting her days in self pity. Regardless, she found it far more difficult to wake up without a drill instructor yelling in her face. She had to shove a number of tacks into her candle for them to jangle loud enough on the copper candle holder to wake her up.

It'd gotten easier. It was never easy but it had gotten easier. She didn't need as many tacks these days, and after the first fell, she dutifully rose and began to dress. As became part of her morning routine, after she dressed and slipped her pant legs into her boots, she slipped her estoc's sheath over her shoulder and stepped outside. She didn't plan to go far, and turned to stand in front of the broken table that leaned against her makeshift home. The bottom legs had broken off, and it was kind of charred from the riots, but it served her purposes. Evie drew her estoc and stood in front of the table, imagining an enemy. She proceeded to step through her stances, complete with parries and imaginary strikes, working through her whole repertoire more than once, until the sun began to rise over the horizon.

She had already developed a sweat when her practice was interrupted. "Miss Lafleur?" Evie turned toward the voice that addressed her, estoc resting on her shoulder. The man speaking was a city guard-- strange enough to see in Riverbend-- though he was a younger one. A rookie, if Evie had to guess. "I have a message from the Guard for you." Definitely a rookie. The guard pulled a letter out of his armor and offered to it, the seal of the city guard keeping it folded. After she accepted it and nodded her thanks, the guard took his leave.

Evie took a seat on her steps, her estoc leaning against her knees as she opened the letter and read. It was from the guard captain herself, and said that there had been a development concerning her uncle's case. That if she was curious or interested in following the lead, she should report to the guardhouse. It wasn't a difficult choice to make, and after about twenty minutes, she had donned her breastplate and a tunic over it, and was beginning to make her way in that direction.

Her path eventually led her to the said place, the Guardhouse. It was a stark and orderly contrast to the roughness of her own adopted neighborhood. After speaking to another guard and explaining everything, she was taken in and led toward the captain's office. As the door was opened for her, it seemed that she hadn't been the only one to receive a letter. Corvin, Vito, and Lia were waiting for her, but not for long if their posture was anything to go by. She gave them a small wave before turning toward the Captain. "I guess this means this is bigger than just my uncle then?"

The office was sparsely-appointed and immaculate, though there were enough chairs in it for all four of them to sit if they so desired. Vito and Corvin had availed themselves of the opportunity, and the former offered Evie a small smile before returning his attention to the woman on the other side of the plain desk.

If the signature on the letter was anything to go by, her name was Captain Ines Bernard. Dressed not so differently from Evie, she wore serviceable light ringmail with little to distinguish her rank save the subtle embroidered stripes on the high dark blue collar that showed beneath the layer of armor. Her hair was chopped to the exact level of her shoulders, an unremarkable chestnut color with the first few hints of grey barely visible in the mix. Her eyes were dark, assessing, and she gestured shortly at an empty chair before folding both hands beneath her chin.

"It was always bigger than Jean-Louis Lafleur. You discovered that yourselves, if I'm not mistaken." The Captain paused, taking a long draw from an opaque cup. It smelled of coffee, which correlated with the dark circles beneath her eyes.

"I won't bore you with details unless you want them, but the reason I asked you here is because we finally managed to track the "M" from his letters. Trouble is, he's holed up in a place the Guard can't reach."

Evie's back straightened as the captain spoke. She glanced at the other three collected in the room and then back to Ines before she spoke again, "I am curious, but the details can come later," Evie agreed, "Though, I guess the most important ones are where are they, and who they are?" Evie asked, brows raised.

"Who is still not entirely clear." The Guard-Captain set her coffee cup down with a long sigh. "M is apparently male, dark-haired, human, and entirely unremarkable, which I suppose is what you want to be when you're handing out orders to the lowest level of some sort of criminal organization." Ines, of course, didn't know nearly as much as the four of them knew about exactly what kind of criminal organization it really was, or who ran it.

"What I know a little better is where. He's rumored to be in a section of the Riverbend sewers. Problem is, the section is in the kind of neighborhood where the Guard isn't much welcome. Not the Alienage, but in the—" she paused, clearly searching for the right word. When she found it, her tone hardened. "—jurisdiction of a particularly difficult gang. They call themselves the Untouchables, which should give you some idea how they feel about city guards operating in their territory."

"And you're concerned that this gang is hiding M or something?" Corvin wore a puzzled expression, as though it didn't quite add together the right way in his head, but gave the Captain respectful silence in which to answer the question.

The captain shook her head, the ends of her hair brushing armored shoulders. "It's just the opposite problem: they're hunting him, too, and what they have in mind is not an arrest and a trial." She grimaced, then elaborated. "Kotter—not his real name, I'm sure—was moving that Ember you found out about. But not while knowing exactly what it would do. Petty crime lord he may be, but it's not in his interest for his customers to die or be that debilitated, and no doubt he was... unhappy to discover what the stuff did."

Vito blinked. "Please don't take this the wrong way, Captain, but why not just let them have him? Do you think he has some information that makes all the trouble worth it?" His tone was delicate, but it wasn't too hard to make out a bit of disbelief in it too, for some reason.

She sighed. "Honestly I have no idea. But he's the best lead we have, and so yes. I'm hoping we can get him first. I'd like to say something here about justice and fair chances, too, but I can't really claim the courts would do any better. Not always known for fairness, as you're probably aware."

"So I've heard," Corvin replied dryly. "So if I'm putting this all together right, you want us to see if we can figure out exactly where in the sewer he's holed up before they find him, and get him out alive for questioning?"

He leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. The posture didn't seem defensive, only thoughtful. "Is there anything more you can tell us about this gang?"

Captain Bernard hummed low in her throat, a contemplative sound. "The Untouchables are run by a dwarf named Kotter. As I said, probably not the name he was born with, but that hardly matters. We don't know much about his lieutenants save one. Human fellow—the others call him Bleeder. Rumor has it he's a blood mage, though no one's been able to confirm that." She wrinkled her nose, distaste for the possibility clear. "They're well-organized, and they operate in a cell structure: everyone knows what they need to know to get their work done, and no more. It means even if we can arrest one of them, we likely don't get anything but one or two more names or aliases. None of the low-level people know anything about the leaders or what they do exactly. I only know this much because I managed to plant a couple guards in the ranks, but the trouble is keeping them there."

"And is illicit alchemy their main business?" Vito rubbed at the edge of his beard, partway up his cheek.

"As far as we know. Of course, you have to commit a lot of other crimes to be successful at that. Smuggling, probably some extortion... we suspect them of a few murders, rivals that met a bad end, but I can't say it was certainly them without more evidence, so I won't."

"And what's the driving force behind the people going against the guard here?" Lia had been silent thus far, sitting straight-backed and somewhat ill at ease in her chair. She seemed more... rigid, perhaps, in this building than elsewhere that Evie had seen her. If she was making any effort to hide that, it wasn't working. "Are they afraid of retribution from the Untouchables if they help you?"

The guardswoman shook her head. "I don't think so. No doubt there's at least some of that, but for the most part..." She grimaced, pushing a breath out through her nose. "There's a lot of history bound up in this, and I doubt I need to tell you that the Guard itself hasn't always... cared. About certain areas of the city. Leave a place like that isolated for enough time, and someone else becomes the stabilizing force. Local law, if you like. The Untouchables are like that. Much as it pains me to say so, by and large their community looks to them for leadership. There's a loyalty there, and that's the real issue for us in terms of getting the information we need."

"So we can't expect much outside help if we find ourselves against the Untouchables," Evie noted, crossing her arms while shaking her head. Sounds like their best bet would to try and get in and get out as quickly as possible, though such plans rarely go so smoothly. "Regardless, it sounds like this is a time sensitive matter if they're looking for this M as well. Unless there's anything else we should know, we should probably get started then?" she asked the others for a confirmation.

"Let's." Vito lowered his hands to the arms of his chair and pushed himself out of it with perhaps a bit more vigor than was necessary. Touching his open hand to his chest, he inclined his head to the woman at the desk. "Thank you, Captain, for the information. I'm sure it's not... regular, for a relative to work on anything in connection with a case, nor..." He paused, glancing between Corvin, Lia, and himself. "Well, any of us, really."

Captain Bernard huffed softly through her nose. "If you get the job done, serah, I couldn't possibly care less. Good luck out there."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lia Tael Character Portrait: Corvin Pavell Character Portrait: Vitorio Sansone Character Portrait: Evelyne Lafleur

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The 'Switchback,' as this particular Riverbend neighborhood was called, was more or less exactly what Vito expected it to be. The whole area was in a similar state of shoddy repair to the rest of the district—roofs missing shingles and patched with straw, crumbling foundations, and buckled cobblestone alleyways narrow and reeking. But there was nevertheless a certain order to it: the streets were clear, mostly free of refuse and debris, the uneven windows in poorly-made frames were clean. A few flower boxes supported wilting blooms or herbs.

There was nothing well-to-do about the place, but the sense of pride and community was there. Subtle, hard to detect, but present. If the Captain was to be believed, it was a criminal organization that provided at least some of this unity, and Vito had no difficulty believing that at all.

He had seen it before.

There were a few people out and about; late morning as it was, though, most had already settled into whatever their work would be for the day. The echo of a forgehammmer rang down the street; a few merchants reclined under their awnings, already done with most of their business after the morning grocery runs. Rough-looking men and women loitered on a few of the corners, apparently preoccupied with dice or cards, but Vito knew them for eyes and ears, probably with a direct line to someone who could pass the information up to the area's boss.

"It is almost like being home." He grinned. "I think we'll want to be careful with our words, yes?"

Lia's hand didn't linger on the hilt of her dagger, but the keen-eyed could notice that it never wandered far from it, either. This was not the Alienage nor the Harbor District; being an elf or an Argent Lion would afford her and Corvin few advantages here. Still, it was a step up from being a city guard.

"We shouldn't split up, either," she advised. "No need to make ourselves any more vulnerable than we have to. And there's a foul mood here today besides."

"Glad I wasn't just imagining it," Evie noted. Her eyes had been drifting to their flanks ever since they entered the neighborhood. Fortunately, she too kept her hands away from her weapons, and even decided to forgo her helmet this time.

Still, her body language was rigid, and her shoulders were stiff. "I second not splitting up too," she said, glancing back at them for the moment, before returning to their vigil.

In contrast to the overt wariness of Vito's other two companions, Corvin looked as at-ease as ever, apparently unconcerned with the tense mood, though from his lack of surprise at their words, clearly not oblivious to it.

"We need to know where in the sewers this fellow is, right? Bad mood or not, I think that's going to take some asking." He did frown slightly then. "Probably better not to pick someone at random though. What d'you think, Vito?"

"I think we need to find the kind of person who doesn't mind talking to an outsider." Or who might not yet know how to pick one out of a crowd. There was a sort he had in mind, but it might be as much a matter of luck as anything. Still, the first thing to do was find a sewer entrance, or an area nearby one. Chances were, the average person here didn't know much about what was going on—they could be as charming as they liked, but it would be a waste if their target didn't have the information they wanted.

Val Royeaux had a decent infrastructure for these things, but in places as old and worn down as this, it was obviously not in peak condition. What had once been efficient channels cut into the sides of the streets, funneling runoff into grated openings, was now interrupted by uneven ground, bucked by years of alternating heat and cold, broken cobblestones, weeds sprouting from the cracks, and general neglect. Some of the water had come to rest in still, stagnant pools, the smell nearly enough to wrinkle his nose.

But Vito had grown up in worse slums than these. He followed the street, pausing only to glance over each grate for hints of tampering. A few were rusted or missing a few bars, but not enough to admit a person. All were still relatively secure in their housing.

It wasn't until he rounded a corner that they struck pay dirt, so to speak. Just what he'd been looking for. A cluster of three young children, somewhere between seven and twelve, were crouched in front of another grate, peering down or cocking their ears as though listening for something very particular.

"I'd be surprised if they don't know anything."

Lia approached first, squatting next to them, propping her elbows on her knees. "What're you kids doing?" she asked.

The one nearest her, a small boy who had to be the youngest of the group, shifted away from her by about a foot, little eyes quickly sweeping her up and down. "Papa says I'm not supposed to talk to you."

"No?" Her eyebrows lifted. "And why's that?"

"You're an elf," the child replied. "Papa says your kind are dirty."

Lia didn't react much, only looking as though she'd just smelled something foul. They were next to a sewer grate, after all. "Ah. Well, I'd bet a silver your papa's gone longer than I have without a bath. You too, for that matter." The child had no reply to that, instead turning his gaze on the others in the group of strangers, and examining them as well.

Vito, well aware of his obvious foreign-ness, glanced for a moment at Evie, but had second thoughts almost immediately. Antivan he may be, but he was willing to bet he still knew better how to speak to a child of this sort than someone raised to nobility.

So he too crouched, on the other side of Lia, for once not too worried about dragging his sleeves through muck. He'd worn more fitted ones for this, though the tunic to which they belonged was only slightly less vivid in its colors than usual. He leaned a little further forward, the better to make eye contact with the kid around his companion, and arched a thick brow.

"Rat hunting, eh?" He smirked in a knowing sort of way, and jerked his chin at the grate. "Probably didn't let you come with, right?" It was just a guess, but it was an educated one.

The boy's eyes widened fractionally, but he nodded. "Papa says I can't go till I'm big. But I know that place just as good as Thom does!"

Vito hummed, bobbing his head in an agreeable way. "I think your papa is forgetting that brains are just as important as being big." Propping an elbow on his knee and his chin in his hand, he continued very seriously. "Are they doing it right down there, you think?"

The child's little face scrunched in thought, but after a while he shook his head. "The rat's got the place all rigged up, I bet. They went down from the big entrance by Kerwen's."

Extrapolating the likely implications, Vito stroked his goatee. "I bet lots of people know that one, including the rat." He paused a moment, as if in consideration. "Which entrance would you have used?"

The boy hesitated, his eyes flicking between the four of them. Vito didn't push any harder, keeping his expression open and friendly. He wouldn't get an answer if he applied too much pressure.

"Why're you askin'?"

Vito shrugged, a loose motion with no particular urgency. "We've got a rat to hunt, too." From one of his sleeves, he produced a silver coin, palming it, then holding it halfway out towards the boy between his thumb and forefinger.

This seemed to be an acceptable motivation at least. No doubt the bribe helped. After a moment more thought, the boy snatched the coin as though it might disappear at any moment. "I'd use the one behind the cathouse. Rat used to be sweet on one of the girls there."

It certainly stood to reason that this mysterious fellow wouldn't trap a passage he intended to use. Perhaps he still did.

Corvin's eyebrows were somewhere up near his hairline; he'd grinned through much of the exchange between Vito and the boy. "Looks like we've got an in," he remarked with a vaguely-perplexed smile. "What say we take it before our window of opportunity gets shut in our faces, eh?"

"A most apt suggestion, Mattone." Vito pushed himself back into a stand with his hands on his knees, then dusted himself off a bit by reflex. As promised, the day was apparently going to include an expedition into the sewers. How lovely.

Finding the 'cathouse' in a neighborhood of this size was at least partially a matter of asking around, and he was sure they made an unfortunately-memorable group of inquirers, at that. It was difficult to imagine that none of the Switchback's more criminally-inclined had not observed at least part of their progress; he honestly wouldn't be surprised if the boy they'd spoken to had immediately told just such a person about the conversation. It was just good business sense, after all—he might find himself with another few coppers for the trouble.

Having once been such a child, Vito knew the stupid ones rarely survived all that long.

Still, even in a neighborhood like this, there were plenty of people apathetic enough to point them in the right general direction without batting an eyelash at the picture they made, and the four of them had just entered what he suspected was the right block when a pair of shadows detached themselves from the close alley walls and blocked their way forward.

Ah. This would be the other shoe falling, then. Kotter ran an efficient operation, it seemed.

The first was a dwarf, young, female, with more than enough brawn to make up for her lack of height, while the other was an older human man, at least fifty, with greasy long hair and a full beard, the type that looked like he'd been in this sort of life forever. It came as no surprise that Kotter's outfit attracted more of his own kind, as they were very likely to share some of his experiences and relate to him in a way they never could with a Val Royeaux local.

But neither of them spoke at first, perhaps hoping their message would come across nonverbally, and while it did, the effect was negligible. Lia crossed her arms. "We're going this way. Move."

"I'd advise you go the other way," the dwarf responded, "straight back home. The Untouchables know why you're here. Kotter only wants to gut one person today, but if you force the issue he has no problem making it five."

"Gruesome," Corvin observed, though he didn't sound particularly threatened. "Thanks for the advice; I do like my guts best inside my body." He shrugged a little. "But... we're still going this way, if you'll excuse us." He took a step forward as if to emphasize the point, looking for all the world as though he fully intended to keep walking right into the pair of them.

Whether it was merely the utter boldness of this move, the strangeness, the elf's considerable build, or something else, they both shifted out of his way. "Fuckin' knife-ear," the man muttered, but it sounded more like confusion than vitriol.

For his part, Corvin gave a careless little salute in response, a clear indication he'd heard the words and was ignoring them as surely as the warning.

Vito just barely resisted the urge to laugh at the looks on their faces, managing only to constrain his mirth into a light chuckle. There was something to be said for a sense of self-possession so robust as that. He and the others followed the path their warrior friend blazed for them, and they were harassed no further on their way to the brothel.

As their erstwhile informant had promised, there was a grate set into the alley behind the building. It smelled exactly as he expected it to, considering that a large residential building disposed of waste here. Rank.

"I suppose I should be grateful a city of this size has a consistently-functional sewer system at all." The observation did not stop him from wrinkling his nose. Thank the Maker he'd worn boots and trousers today. The idea of anything down there soaking into the hem of a robe was nauseating.

Glancing around briefly, Vito observed no watchers. So he reached for a gentle application of a telekinetic spell and used it to shift the grate aside, so as to not need to touch it. It scraped with a dull rumble over the broken cobblestones next to it, before coming to a stop a few feet back. "All right then. Who would like the honors?"

"Can't be any worse than Darktown," Corvin observed, moving up to the exposed gap in the street and peering down to confirm the distance. "Bit of a jump, but the end looks pretty clear, actually." It certainly stank regardless, but it was a degree better than the alternative.

Lowering himself down, Corvin disappeared a moment later. It took a couple seconds, but he called back up. "Bit slick on the landing; rain I guess. I'll stand close so no one falls."

"Rain... right." Lia finished tugging on a pair of leather gloves, full-fingered rather than the open style she seemed to prefer. She was also prepared enough to have a cloth mask she could pull up and fasten over her mouth and nostrils. She lowered herself through the opening after Corvin.

"That's what I'm telling myself, anyway," Evie replied, as if saying it would make it true. She too had already pulled up her scarf around her nose and mouth, and had ever since Vito began to move the grate. She stared at the gap for a moment, internally struggling and before sighing and resigning herself to her fate. "Never saw myself in this position a year ago," she muttered before following behind Lia.

"Well I certainly hope not." Vito, without a scarf or any other such protection against the stench, was simply going to have to make do.

He lowered himself as far as he could before dropping the rest of the way, landing and immediately steadying himself as his left foot threatened to slip out from beneath the rest of him. Fortunately, Corvin was present as promised, and a hand on the sturdy elf's shoulder was more than enough to keep him upright.

The sewer was as ripe and dank as expected; it took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the gloom, punctuated only occasionally by shafts of weak light from grates in the street. And better to keep away from those, lest something be deposited through the slats at an inopportune time.

"Best be on the lookout for these traps, then." Soft purple light bloomed over his hand, and he sent it to move ahead of the group, hopefully a little bit of warning before they stumbled across something deadly.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: [NPC] Bartender Character Portrait: Lia Tael Character Portrait: Corvin Pavell Character Portrait: Vitorio Sansone Character Portrait: Evelyne Lafleur

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Lately pretty much nothing had been able to turn Corvin's stomach, and he wasn't terribly surprised to learn that this was no exception to the new rule. He supposed he'd always had a pretty good one—the first time they'd both seen a charred dead body, Donny had puked his guts out on the Coast, but Corvin had been fine to run all the way back to Kirkwall for help. Not for the dead bodies, of course—for the one among them that wasn't quite so dead.

Maybe it came of being raised in a place that didn't smell too much better than this.

He led the way through the sewer tunnel, occasionally sidestepping something that looked particularly rank, but runoff rainwater mostly did its job in washing the worst of things into the deeper trough at the center of the passage, where it was eventually carried to places he'd really rather not think about ever. There was still enough light coming in from the grates overhead to occasionally illuminate their way, but Vito's magelight was a much more consistent, welcome aid to vision.

If the hints they'd heard so far were correct, there was every reason to suspect that parts of this passage were trapped, so Corvin kept his eyes moving, looking for tripwires in particular, as they were the easiest kind of mechanism to set up on short notice and in a place like this. He couldn't imagine anyone wanting to stay here long enough to install a pressure plate, but magic was always an option too, so he wasn't going to be stupid and careless.

"Which way do we want from here, exactly?" he asked, pausing at an intersection. It seemed pretty systematic down here: north-south tunnels met east-west ones, and they were pretty much all arrow-straight. He had a pretty good sense of direction most of the time, but it was a lot harder without being able to see the sky.

Evie spun on her heel, taking a look down all four tunnels, even the one that they had come down moments ago. Her facial expressions were hidden by the scarf pulled up over her nose and mouth, but it was still obvious she was just as flummoxed as Corvin was. "Dunno..." she said, eyes lingering on the left-hand tunnel, "They all look the same to me. Any of them particularly look like they've seen more foot traffic then the others?" she asked over her shoulder and directed the query to Lia.

"I remember when my assignments took me to faraway forests," she said instead. "Snow-capped peaks, vast deserts... now I get why Dad needed to get out of Kirkwall so often." Lia wasn't unfamiliar with Darktown or Kirkwall's sewers, Corvin knew, but she'd barely been old enough to serve with the Argent Lions back in the city, and when she did start the scouts were more often employed on the coast, where they had more room to operate.

"We should go this way, by the way," she added, turning them east, her eyes rarely leaving the ground in front of her feet. "This has to be dwarven." She pointed to a print in a disgusting bit of something, the shape of the foot too wide to be human or elven. "Suppose that means we need to pick up the pace. Just watch your feet, we know Kotter doesn't want to be followed."

"This should be interesting." Vito's murmur from the back was just loud enough to pick up on, and then a field of very slightly purple-tinted translucency appeared in front of Corvin. "I'm no barrier expert, by the by. That's more likely to slow something than stop something."

Corvin took the warning for what it was and hefted his own metal kite shield on his arm, leaving his sword at his hip for now. It'd just take up space if he held it, and he really didn't want to assume that this was going to turn into a bloodbath or anything. He wasn't sure exactly how it was going to go instead, but that was for figuring out later.

Bearing Lia's advice in mind, he quickened his steps, hustling them down the passage at a shuffling jog, not wanting anyone to lose their footing on the slick stones down here.

"Whoa, whoa, hold up," he said abruptly, holding up his free hand to repeat the signal and drawing to a stop himself. "Tripwire. Careful over it."

Vito's magelight had hit it just the right way—he could've easily missed the thin length of metal twine otherwise. The trap was quite crude besides that, though, and clearly rigged up in a hurry. That too seemed to suggest they were headed in the right direction.

Carefully, Corvin stepped over the wire, taking a couple of steps forward to give the others more room to do the same.

He snapped his shield up by reflex when his foot caught on the second, more cleverly-concealed wire, and it was probably only that which saved him injury: the twin arrows launched by the trap hit Vito's barrier at nearly the same time. It deflected the first, but the second punched straight through, smacking into the metal face of the shield with a clang.

"Oh for—" Another look proved that there was a third wire in the sequence. Fortunately he hadn't triggered that one. He wasn't sure if it was the sewer rat or the crime gang that had fashioned all of these—probably a bit of both, Kotter's agents building on what was already there to make it harder to follow them than it already was just to navigate.

Lia rose slightly from the crouch she'd dropped into when Corvin set off the trap, making herself a smaller target in case any of the arrows came her way, but nothing did. She scooped up one of the fallen arrows, perhaps examining its quality, but apparently found it less than remarkable, for she tossed it aside where it was no threat to anyone.

"Probably better to just ease through rather than try to disarm these," she decided. She would know how to get that done, but it would take time they didn't have to do it safely, and if the Untouchables planned to come back through this way, they'd either have to do it themselves or suffer the consequences.

Lia led the way herself past the third tripwire, but hadn't made it more than a few steps before finding yet another trap, this time in the form of a pressure plate well concealed beneath her feet. The result of stepping on it was a sudden cascading stream of fire flung down from above her, spanning the entire width of the hall. She was caught by it a little, enough that her right sleeve caught alight, and she was forced to roll forward to smother it in the muck.

It was hard to see through the constant flames to where Lia was now cut off from them, but she seemed to be all right, though more than a little disgusted. Anything she thought to immediately say, however, was cut off by the deadly whistling of a crossbow bolt that narrowly missed her, flew through the flames, and nearly hit the rest of them.

"Ambush!" she called back to them. "I've got no cover."

A jet of water flew over Corvin's shoulder, aimed for the source of the flames. It wasn't enough to extinguish them immediately by a long shot, and the contact hissed and steamed, adding spoke and droplets of scalding water to the mix. With some time, it would probably douse the cloak of flame between Lia and the rest, but considering her predicament, that may well be time they lacked.

Corvin didn't wait for the smoke to clear or the flames to gutter out—he just went. Pulling in a quick breath, he held it and plunged through the dying sheet of fire and hissing water, unflinching even as some of the latter fell into his face and scalded his cheeks and brow.

The trigger of another crossbow sounded just as he reached Lia, reaching forward with his empty hand and gripping her firmly by the shoulder to pull her back and pivot himself forward into the space she occupied, leading with the shield. Desperation and close timing made his deflection less than ideal; the bolt and its immediate successor clanged into the metal face of the shield hard enough to jar his arm, and he hissed on the exhale, releasing his friend and drawing his sword.

The walkway was narrow, but the angles were a disadvantage—they were coming up on an intersection in the passage, and there seemed to be enemies positioned both to the right and left ahead, giving their bolts and arrows a lot of places to come from relative to what his shield could protect from.

"We've got to get up there—now. Evie, take the right with Vito. We'll go left. Don't let anything get our backs." At range, two of them were near useless with the kit they had, so the only way to do this was to take the fight to the ambushers.

Corvin advanced at a jog that verged on a run, narrowly knocking another bolt out of the air with his sword.

"You got me?" He heard Evie ask Vito. Unlike himself, her kit didn't include a shield and she was unlikely to dodge all the bolts shot at her without a little intervention. It didn't sound like she waited for his answer however as metal scratched on metal, the unmistakable sound of her estoc leaving its sheath.

Her footsteps, still behind him, added to his. Her pace was quicker by the sound of it, perhaps in order to try and use her smaller frame and agility to avoid some of the the bolts. Still, they were on a narrow walkway, and there weren't many places for her to go, and eventually a bolt leveled itself in her direction.

A gust of wind buffeted Corvin's back near the split, knocking the bolt enough askew that it glanced off Evie's shoulder sideways instead of point-first. "Not the best with shields, Amatrice," Vito reminded her, but their progress forward seemed to allow him to cast more offensively, too, and a swell of filthy water rose up from the channel cut into the passage and doused the first visible ambushers, sending several of them reeling back in some combination of surprise and disgust.

Vito chuckled softly, saying something under his breath that was difficult to hear over the din but sounded suspiciously like how's that for fighting dirty?

Lia kept close behind Corvin as he made a swift advance, close enough that her arm was actually in contact with his back most of the way. Bolts and arrows kept coming in, but at one point Lia found an opening to shoot back, sending an arrow right over Corvin's shoulder no more than a foot from his left ear. It sailed forward and thudded into the upper body of the nearest of the ambushers, sending him staggering backwards with a loud, pained cry. Lia ducked back down behind Corvin's cover.

"Leave him for me," she said roughly, her tone some mix of a foul mood and the need to be heard clearly. There were several more at least positioned farther back, but Lia was already replacing her bow with her dagger, intending to deal with this first one herself.

Corvin wasn't about to question it. Lia knew exactly what she was doing, and he trusted her besides. Lengthening his stride, he accelerated, shield forward, and ducked around the arrow-stricken ambusher. That put him on a pretty clear path to the others, and he took it with a fleet, almost reckless stride, heedless of the slippage of his boots on the wet stone beneath him.

They got the idea pretty quickly, abandoning their crossbows and drawing melee weapons. The first didn't get her own shield up in enough time, and Corvin slammed into her, leading with his own. She lost her footing, falling into the filthy water behind her, and he swung the shield in enough time to intercept the next blow, aimed high.

The one that cut low, from the dwarf in the trio, was more of a problem; he had to parry at an awkward angle, softening the hit instead of turning it back entirely. Kicking out, he staved off the follow-up just long enough to slam the rim of the shield into the human man's chin, sending him reeling a few steps back.

A fluid, powerful stroke disarmed him, and the second blow from the shield knocked him cold, toppling him like a sack of stones. By then the dwarf had recovered, and the woman was pulling herself from the muck, swearing in a florid blend of the trade tongue and native Orlesian, only some of which Corvin understood.

He got the gist, though, and grinned.

"Well I think that's at least third-date kind of stuff, and I don't even know your name yet." She lunged for him, and the clang of the parry was accompanied by the ring of his laughter.

The distant clash of other weapons was a different sort of ring, no doubt caused by Evie contending with some of the foes on the other side of the passage. The hum and rush of magic was there underneath it, too, blasting water and air the obvious cue as to Vito's contribution. From the fact that the grunts of pain were in unfamiliar voices, it seemed likely that they were holding their own.

He figured he should finish things as soon as he could, then. Staving off another blow from the woman, he turned into the dwarf's axe, letting his armor absorb the brunt of the damage. It hit hard enough that there was sure to be an impressive splotch on his ribcage tomorrow, but that was hardly unbearable. With a flourish of his sword, he slid the blade between the axe's haft and head, twisting suddenly enough to disarm and delivering another solid hit with the shield, taking its wielder out of the fight.

Angry as she was, the remaining fighter was almost trivially-easy to deal with: he tripped her as she charged, bringing himself down with her as she fell, knee planted on her back. The shield bludgeoned her until she was out, too, but none of them was dead.

As he preferred it.

Of course, not one of them was in a position to do much talking, either, but Corvin figured Lia had that under control.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lia Tael Character Portrait: Corvin Pavell Character Portrait: Vitorio Sansone Character Portrait: Evelyne Lafleur

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Lia descended on her target as soon as she was in the clear, landing a strong right hook across his jaw that spun him around to face away from her. "I want this back," she growled, reaching over his shoulder, grabbing the shaft of the arrow she'd put into him, and ripping it free. Blood spattered the wall in front of the thug, and his scream of agony echoed as she replaced the arrow into her quiver. He dropped his crossbow, and didn't seem to have the presence of mind to reach for the knife openly sheathed at his hip. Lia eyed it a moment, then pulled it out herself, tucking the blade under her belt. Not a bad piece of work.

She was in a very bad mood, admittedly. This place was disgusting, she was filthy, the people here hated her, and she was working a difficult mission with little information to go on. She had burns on her right arm, and this shem attempted to put several bolts into her without a second thought.

With an angry little snarl she planted her free hand against the back of the thug's head and smashed his face into the sewer wall. There was an awful crunch of the nose breaking, and Lia seized him by the shoulder, hauling him back until he lost his balance and fell backwards to the ground. In an instant she descended on him Parshaara practically hissing in her hand like a dragon.

She straddled him, planted her elbow across his chest near the neck, and flipped the dagger backwards in her hand, letting the point hover near one of his eyes. Good to prevent sudden movements. "You might be the most worthless life this dagger has ever taken, you know." Her tone was dark, angry, but quiet and serious. "And there's a fair bit of competition for that. But if you spill something useful, I might let you go in time to get help before you bleed out."

The man's expression had shifted as she spoke, from something like indignation through a familiar spectrum that passed surprise, incredulity, and landed on a still-disbelieving sort of fear. It likely had something to do with the dissonance between the threat Lia seemed to present and the threat she actually was, like it was slow to get through his head that she was in fact pointing an enchanted dagger right at his eye.

He went completely still under it though, probably helped by the fact that he'd surely be able to feel the heat of the dragonbone blade at the distance—enough to be more than a little uncomfortable. "W-what the fuck d'you want?" he managed, not quite stammering, but near enough that the failing of his courage was audible as well as visible. Whether it would actually yield anything remained to be seen.

Her elbow was near enough to where she'd pulled the arrow out of him. Without letting her gaze waver she shifted it ever so slightly, and pressed. Subtle enough that it might look like she didn't even notice she was hurting him. "How many of your people are with Kotter?" she demanded to know. "How much further is he? Are there more traps ahead? I don't have time for games, and neither do you. And if you lie to me and I live through today, you'd better expect an arrow in the back of your skull sometime soon." She'd do it, too. Lia didn't need anyone's permission to hunt down a worthless thug that no one would miss.

A pained hiss left him; he squirmed under her hold, struggling to hold his head still under the knife. His eyes started to water. "Don't—don't know how far he's gotten." His throat worked as he tried to swallow, not entirely successfull from the way he choked as he continued to speak. "Rat's supposed to be holed up 'nother mile in or—nngh."

"And how many of you are there after him?" Vito remained at a fair distance, his expression quite neutral. It was a rather sharp contrast to the usual pleasant smile he wore.

"Uhh.." He clearly had to think a moment about this. "D-dozen? No traps of ours what I know about. Rat might have some?" His eyes shifted from where they'd moved to Vito back to Lia. He swallowed again, thickly but well enough that his next words came out slightly clearer. "You with M or somethin'?"

"Not in the slightest," Lia answered dismissively. She was inclined to hurt him more for having the gall to ask her a question, but if she was going to let him live, she didn't want even the false rumor going around that they were aligned with someone on Leta's side. Cast off or not.

Holding silent a moment longer, Lia decided that she'd heard enough. She pushed off of him and got clear a step, allowing him to get up if he was still capable of it. "Get out of here, then. Try not to kill yourself on a trap on the way out." His friends could sleep in the shit a while longer, for all Lia cared. From the sound it they didn't have time to deal with them any further.

The man looked rather surprised to actually be allowed to go, struggling to his feet immediately. The wound in his shoulder looked to be giving him some trouble, but between his other arm and his legs, he managed. "Uh... yeah." His brow furrowed for a moment when he considered the still bodies around him, but he must have reached the same conclusion she had about letting them come around on their own time.

He wasted no more of his own, beating a hasty shuffle back from the way they'd come.

Cor clicked his tongue against this teeth, arms crossed over his chest. "If it's only a mile they're probably there already," he noted, eyebrows furrowing. "I guess we're going to have to try anyway. Maybe they won't mind negotiating." He didn't sound especially hopeful about the prospect, but that he'd mentioned it at all was a fair expression of the optimism he at least tried to maintain most of the time.

Lia would've been more optimistic, if their position had been more advantageous. Criminal leaders were rarely zealots in the way the cults she'd fought were. They lacked ideologies that would lead them to throw their lives away even when it was unnecessary, instead seeking survival at all costs, and profit after that. But if this was going to play out how Lia expected, it wasn't Kotter's group that would need to negotiate for survival. They were four, in their enemy's territory, and they were very likely too slow to get what they wanted.

They pressed on another half-mile, a little more recklessly than before, but the thug Lia interrogated proved to be good to his word, and there were no more deadly traps they needed to navigate around. Instead she could focus on the trail, and before long it became quite fresh. They were getting close.

"No one draw first blood," she suggested, sheathing Parshaara. "We're not here to bring down the gang, just for the Venatori."

"Mhm," Evie agreed quietly. The estoc remained perched on her back, and her shortsword hadn't budged from her side. The same thought that crossed Lia's mind must've crossed Evie's as well, and though the mask still obscured much of her face, her body language wasn't that of a relaxed individual. "Think this'll work?" she asked aloud for the others. Her own tone was rather uncertain however.

"No." Vito's reply was rather solid; he offered a small shrug and an apologetic smile. "Doesn't mean it isn't worth trying, however. Gangs like this are often committed to their own senses of justice and fair reprisal for misdeeds, but they're fundamentally pragmatic, at least. Shouldn't try knifing us in the guts unless we're too disrespectful to tolerate. Or try to press the point too hard."

They were definitely getting close now—there were raised voices ahead, just loud enough to hear as they approached.

"Just kill me then, if that's why we're all here!"

The plea came from a young man, his accent plainly Tevinter. They rounded the corner into a convergence of the sewerlines, a large rounded chamber lit mostly by torches, though some natural light filtered down from a grate above, where a steady drip came through and plinked against the stones underfoot. The torchlight belonged to the Untouchables, who were gathered here in force and armed to the teeth, all surrounding their dwarven leader and his bound and bloodied captive.

There were no less than twenty of them, and Lia was sure more would be in the shadows or on watch down the other paths. Kotter, the leader, would be a difficult fight on his own. He'd fled from a previous encounter, but here he had the advantage, and he had a fearsome maul and the strength to wield it. With twenty of his best, including his blood mage, a fight wasn't an option here. They were good, but Lia guessed they could only take half of them in these tight quarters before they were overwhelmed and killed.

No few of them reacted in surprise to their arrival, and the rather unstealthy manner in which they made their entrance. There were shouts to get Kotter's attention, and he stepped back from his prisoner to face them. The prisoner had to be this 'M' they wanted; he looked as much a Vint as he sounded, even without the telltale white robes of his cult.

"I remember you," the tattooed dwarf remarked, gesturing with the head of his maul towards Cor. "One of the mercs that crashed the meeting with that Castle-town tin can." He tilted his head a little, as if trying to see past him into the blackness beyond. "You lot kill any of my people getting here?"

Cor, who'd stowed his blade like the rest of them but kept his shield on his arm, shook his head. "Not unless someone got really unlucky." It could be hard to gauge exactly the amount of force required to knock someone out, and Lia knew he'd had a few odd mishaps recently hitting much harder than he'd intended to, but unless there'd been an accident, it was pretty obvious that no one should be dead.

His eyes flickered to the young Vint, brow furrowing faintly. He didn't look like he'd been having a great time of things, from the blooming black eye and the smears of blood visible on his clothes and skin. It didn't seem to be that in particular that perturbed Cor, though. Maybe it had more to do with what it meant for their chances of getting M out of here alive. "I'd uh... really prefer it if no one was dead at the end of all this, actually." He tried for his customary good-natured smile, which looked rather natural on his face despite the circumstances. It might've even been strange if she'd not known him beforehand.

He looked for all the world like an elf expecting a positive answer, though he surely wasn't.

"You might be surprised to hear that I'd prefer the same," said the dwarf. His accent, like most surface dwarves, was still thickly that of Orzammar, and he made no efforts to hide his origins there, his brands and tattoos identifying him as both former Casteless and former Carta. "I try not to kill too often. Takes the enjoyment out of it. So I really only kill when I have to, and today is one of those days. I've waited quite a while to get my hands on this Vint piece of nugshit."

"We're not here to save him," Lia assured him. "He's as much our enemy as yours, but we need him alive. He's no head of his organization, but he could help us get to them. We'd be more than willing to take the fight to your enemy for you, in that case."

"I've got nothing for you, or any Argent Lion," spat M, with disdain. "Little more than lapdogs of the Inquisition."

"He called me worse," Kotter said, apparently amused. "But you see? Fucker wants to die. He's been cut loose and he knows it. I've already pried at him, gently by my standards. Nothing. Even trudging around in the sewers you lot look too clean and shiny to do worse. He's useless to you."

"You don't know me very well," Lia said, her tone almost a warning. She didn't look like a torturer, and maybe she wasn't, but her years and her experiences had given her a will and resolve to do what she had to. Especially where the Venatori were concerned.

"You're right, I don't," Kotter conceded. "I also don't know who sent you. You are fancy sellswords, right? Is it true what the Vint says? Inquisition pulls your strings? Or is this personal?"

Cor raised a hand, tipping it back and forth in a 'so-so' motion. "Fancy sellswords, yes. Bit of both on the other part," he admitted freely. Nodding at M, he explained a bit more. "This blighter's with the Venatori, and the Inquisition has quite a lot of reason to want to root that sort out, you understand. But uh... we're none too pleased with his most recent side project, either. Riot in the Alienage; I'm sure you heard about it?" Given their reason for the first confrontation with dwarf, it was all but a certainty that this would connect several dots for him.

It wasn't uncommon for Cor to walk this particular line. Everything he said was true, but he also left enough out that the elements most likely to irritate Kotter—in this case, the Guard connection—were absent from the explanation entirely. Lia knew he wasn't fond of doing it, but he was also very good at it, and tended at least to let people do most of the work of filling in the gaps themselves, letting them reach an incomplete or slightly-off understanding that he seldom corrected.

Nevertheless the dwarf did seem a little irritated, or perhaps just tired of speaking with the unwanted guests. "Too smooth by half, you are. I'll tell you straight who sent me and mine here: the people. The people of the Bends." He nonchalantly allowed his maul's head to fall to the ground, and it just so happened to smash the Venatori's toes, eliciting a pained groan. "The people found this fucker out for me, and the people have demanded a corpse. I intend to deliver, because I prefer having the people on my side. I made a mistake before, one that gets rectified right here."

Lia grimaced. This wasn't going particularly well, and they were probably lucky Kotter didn't feel like attacking on sight. Safe bet he didn't want to lose the people it would take to bring down the likes of them, though he had the numbers to do it.

"Here's the compromise," Kotter continued. "If one of you wants to kill the Vint and make it quick, go right ahead. Otherwise piss off and leave me to it. The people want one corpse today, not five."

They were going to move him from this, it seemed. Tactically it was a nightmare. The Untouchables stood ready with arrows nocked and crossbows loaded, knives and axes held in steady hands. Lia had an arrow already free of the quiver herself, but didn't dare nock it yet. "Not sure there's a choice," she said to her allies. "I can do it, I'll make it clean. None of this is worth dying for." There were times not to give ground, but this wasn't one of them. She waited only to see if there were any objections.

"About as good as it's going to get, I suppose." Vito didn't seem especially perturbed by this, and actually went as far as to offer Kotter the slightest nod, as if in acknowledgment of something. The bargain, perhaps.

Cor looked markedly less satisfied, but it was obvious enough that there was no getting anything better out of the deal than that, and a merciful death was probably better than whatever M was going to get at Kotter's hands. He met Lia's eyes, and gave her a tiny nod.

That was all she needed, but Lia still lifted a hand before she thought of lifting her bow. "Might want to take a step back, Kotter. Don't want anyone to think I'm about to shoot you."

The dwarf obliged, though he gestured to her hip with his maul. "I like the look of your dagger. Sure you wouldn't rather use that?There's something so impersonal about the distance an arrow provides." He wasn't wrong about that, but Lia figured it was for the best. Killing a defenseless prisoner wasn't something she'd done before. Even if he was Venatori, her enemy. Even if it was mercy.

M never broke eye contact with her, even as she pulled the arrow back until her breath touched the fletching. Only when it whistled into his heart did he flinch, and then his head did lower, and his eyes closed. There had been no look of thanks there, just the steady burning gaze of an enemy to the last. Lia lowered her bow.

Kotter approached the body to confirm the kill. "Seems that concludes our business here. I'd prefer if we didn't have business again but... somehow I doubt that. Until next time, then."

He didn't have to tell her twice. The dwarf probably considered this a good day, with the Venatori dead, a prize to deliver to the poor and outraged of the city. He was a bad man, there was no doubt about that, but Lia wondered if it wasn't for the best. He was no friend to their enemies, and while he had power their enemies would find it difficult to regain a foothold in Riverbend. Not what the guard captain wanted, exactly, but she and Kotter could battle it out another day.

Somehow Lia suspected the Argent Lions would end up in the middle on that day, too.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lia Tael Character Portrait: Corvin Pavell

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Guard Captain Bernard wasn't happy with how things turned out in Riverbend, but as far as Lia could tell she wasn't mad either. As guard captains Lia had known went, she wasn't half bad, able to remain reasonable and disciplined when she didn't get what she wanted, when the people she'd hired were forced to compromise with her enemy. But as crime lords went, Kotter wasn't half bad either. Obviously one was preferable to the other, but Lia was determined not to get involved again in the near future.

She was after bigger fish.

Winter was making its last feeble grasps on the city, and steadily losing to spring. Some parts of the city practically came to life when the weather warmed, flourishing green and every other color that flowers could have, but the ways in and out of the Alienage were always dull and dead. Inside the walls they did what they could, but it never shook the feel of a ghetto, where the people had more important concerns than aesthetics.

Lia waited hours sometimes for Arrin, every few days like she promised, and always in a different spot on his route from the last time. So far he hadn't brought her a thing, at least nothing useful, and sometimes their meetings consisted of a subtle head shake before they were on their way. But he seemed determined, confident he'd be able to help her soon.

Today she took a spot on a bench under a still-dead tree, eating lunch in the form of a sandwich. She'd taken to not wearing Argent Lion colors; better to be thought of as just another city elf. Granted, a city elf with vallaslin, but there wasn't much she could do about that.

Today it didn't take her particularly long to encounter him. Arrin always had a sort of energy about him, a lightness of step that made him suited enough for his job; he seemed like the kind of person that would fidget a great deal if he didn't get that energy out doing something else. At he moment he all but hummed with it, something that might've been harder to notice if she didn't seem him quite so often. There was a clip in his step, though, an abruptness to movements that were usually longer and smoother, and rather than the casual acknowledgment he usually met her with, he seemed to be actively looking for her. More subtle than he'd been a while ago, but still hardly all that difficult to spot.

He very consciously made himself not hurry to where she stood, it seemed like, actually slowing down a little and flipping through the few letters left in the bag at his hip. He stopped on the other side of the bench, taking out what seemed to be his delivery manifest and parking himself in a seated position, drawing his legs up so he could rest the manifest on them at an angle.

"I, uh... think I have something." He paused there, clearly waiting for some sign that it was a good time and place to speak.

Lia didn't see why not; she picked either quiet places or quiet hours to wait for him, and this was the former. His approach made it difficult for anyone to follow him without being spotted, at least from Lia's angle.

She didn't react much, because she wasn't too surprised. Arrin had talent that he was putting to use, and she didn't expect her enemies to sit around waiting for long before making a move.

"I'm all ears."

Arrin raised a hand to his brow, rubbing absently at one of his temples. "Q's got something planned, near as I can tell. Not sure exactly what she's trying to do, but I know it involves getting someone on the cast or crew of a play, of all things." He furrowed his brow, shaking his head faintly. "Some fellow named Tethras is casting for a show. I don't know who her people are or why she wants them there, but apparently she's pretty set on it."

Lia tried to hide disappointment, and probably did well enough stuffing it under her surprise. She'd hoped and sort of expected to hear something about the Vhenallin and Braven, maybe even something they knew or were doing for the Venatori. Q was... well, she wasn't an ally and she wasn't a friend, but as of their last meeting they weren't enemies, and at least a few of their goals aligned. Lia had no desire to have the Ashfingers on her back, but... this didn't sound good.

"Tethras?" she repeated. "Varric Tethras?" There really could be no other, if this was about a play in the city. She'd forgotten about it with everything else that had been happening. "He's from Kirkwall," she explained, for Arrin's benefit. "A writer and a friend of the Emperor and Empress. The play's about them, I'm pretty sure. They might even be there for the premiere."

They were a busy pair, obviously, but few things were as important to them as their friends, and Varric went way back with both of them. Lia knew they'd want to support him. The idea of Lucien watching someone play him on stage almost made Lia laugh, and she would have if the rest of the news wasn't so troubling.

"If they're there, any number of important Orlesians would show up too." She looked up at him. "You're sure about this, then? That she's trying to infiltrate the cast or crew?"

Arrin looked faintly put off for some reason, but it wasn't clear what was doing it. The frown was only a small one, in any case. He sighed quietly and shoved his ledger back in his bag a moment later, humming quietly. "She's probably already done it," he said, but it sounded like a guess. "Maybe you could just warn the guy, but I think she wants it done bad enough that she'd just find a way to get someone else in the second time, you know? I don't know who all she's got or I'd tell you. I'm not exactly in her inner circle or anything, but I know she has a lot of people. She's probably the only one left with much chance of swaying people away from what the Vhenallin are doing."

His tone was unusually hard to read, there, some ambiguity in it obfuscating Arrin's thoughts. Still, he seemed quite sure of the information, little as it was. He stood, dusting down his trousers and resettling his threadbare cloak forward over his shoulders. "I'll let you know if I hear anything else, but..." He shrugged.

"This is really good, Arrin," she said, standing, and trying to sound reassuring. "More than enough to go on, and Varric will trust it if it comes from Lions. Find out what else you can, but be careful. I'll be in touch as usual."

"Sure." Arrin nodded a bit, an indescipherable look passing only momentarily across his face before he mustered a faint smile. "I'll see you around, Lia."





Explaining everything to Cor was awkward. She started with the information itself, relaying that Kestrel was apparently going to infiltrate Varric's cast or crew for the upcoming play, for an unknown but certainly nefarious purpose. From there it didn't take much to convince him of the need to go and speak with Varric about it, and figure out the best course of action. Before long Lia had cleaned up and changed back into the company gear, and the two were on their way to the Castle District.

"This came from Arrin," she explained on the way, knowing she'd need to give him her source eventually. Cor was perhaps the only person she trusted enough to give the name to. "I... asked him to keep an ear out for me, see if he could bring me something useful on our enemies. Ashfingers aren't exactly that, but this is important all the same."

Cor fiddled with the fastenings of his mask; like her he wasn't inclined to wear it unless absolutely necessary. His face was telling in its absence. Contemplative when she'd mentioned Kestrel, resigned when the rest hadn't been clear, then ever so slightly skeptical when Arrin had come up. But, as always, he was willing to trust her intuitions about things, and so he let out a sigh as they headed for the Castle District gate.

"Definitely better to know what she's up to," he said, lips compressing into a thin line. "No idea what she'd want with a play, but I guess it's going to be a pretty important one, with big names around it."

She appreciated that, that Cor was willing to follow her lead on things when she wanted to take the initiative. For someone who often seemed prideful and bullheaded on the outside, she knew he was anything but. Whatever this was with Varric's crew, it was real. She trusted Arrin's word. All that remained was to figure out what they could do about it.

Lia didn't bother with her mask in the Castle District, simply carrying it as Cor did, and no one bothered them over it. Better things to pay attention to than two elves on their streets. The Grande Royeaux Theater was where Lia headed, expecting to find Varric at work there, doing... whatever it was one did this far in advance of the play. He was directing matters in addition to writing the thing, so he had to be busy.

They were allowed entry into the foyer, but there they found the doors barred, and they were forced to treat with an attendant, who needed some convincing that they should be allowed to speak with Varric, who was indeed somewhere inside. In the end they got the young Orlesian to pass a message along, a request that Varric come out and see them when he was able. She hoped the attendant would remember to mention their names.

Thankfully, Varric didn't make them wait long. He emerged looking a little grumpy, in a long leather coat with rolled sleeves, his shirt unbuttoned near to his abdomen as usual, the still lingering winter weather be damned. Lia supposed the fur on his chest kept him warm. For once he didn't have that strange crossbow with him. He looked a fair bit older than the last time they'd seen him, but he clearly recognized them both, judging by the way his face lit up.

"The Emperor's finest, in search of a humble storyteller!" He swept into a cheerful bow for them. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"It's good to see you, Varric," Lia greeted. "It's... a bit of a sensitive matter, actually. This might not be the best place."

He took that in stride, no doubt having some experience handling such things. "I've got some time, just finished for the day here. How about you show me where Argent Lions prefer to drink, and we'll talk there?"

The trip back to the Smiling Lion was a bit of a trek, but Varric had a way of filling time with anecdotes and jokes that was impossible not to notice. The dwarf had facility with words, and a penchant for knowing just which story would go best with which situation or surroundings. Probably good that Varric was that good with those things, as it seemed to be his profession these days.

The tavern was fairly clear at this time of day, and as they were accustomed, the Lions were shown to whatever seats they should want. Cor chose the ones on the balcony again—he'd confessed to like looking out at the water. Many of the Lions had at least a touch of wanderlust, but in him it seemed to be particularly strong, somehow, and he was drawn to things like that, sometimes it seemed without really being aware of the fact.

Once they were all situated and suitably provided with food or drink to their preference, Cor took a draught from his and leaned back in his chair. "You're uh... you're at least passing familiar with the Ashfingers, aren't you, Varric?"

"I hear lots of things, old habits dying hard I suppose." The dwarf half-grinned as he said it, looking relaxed as ever. "Not the most pleasant group to deal with, as I understand."

"Not the worst, either," said Lia. "But they're the probably we've got currently. I got a tip today that the Ashfingers are looking to infiltrate your play, either in the cast or crew."

"My play, really?" He seemed... almost amused to Lia, or perhaps more intrigued. She supposed he was the sort to react to these types of situations with anything but fear. At least on the surface. "And I take it they're looking to do more than sabotage the performance."

"I don't know what their goal is, but Kestrel doesn't aim small. Whatever it is, we need to find a way to stop it."

Varric hummed thoughtfully and took a drink from his cup. "I can double the checks on everyone we bring on still, and make sure those already hired get them too, but it's not like Ashfingers sign contracts. And I can't just refuse to hire any elves."

Lia imagined plenty of Orlesian nobles wouldn't have any problems with that, but even if it happened it would necessarily solve the issue. "Might not even be elves we're looking for. The Ashfingers have money and resources, they could easily hire outside help for a job they want done."

Cor leaned back in his chair, wearing an obvious grimace even as the front legs lifted off the ground. "I mean... I guess the other way to do it would be uh... watch the watchers, or something?" He shrugged, elaborating after another swallow. "I'm guessing it'd be hard to keep an eye on that many people, even for you, but if you had some help, we might be able to figure out who the likely candidates are and go from there? We could be stagehands or something, undercover ourselves." He sounded a little intrigued with his own idea—most likely he found the notion of out-spying a spy sort rather agreeable.

Lia thought it was an absurd idea. Her ability to be sneaky was largely limited to staying entirely out of sight, not actual spycraft. Her people skills were only marginally better than her dad's, a rather low bar to clear. Still... the right thing overheard, the right conversation eavesdropped on, and they could possibly put a stop to this before it started.

Varric seemed to be actually considering it, and didn't try to hide that some kind of ideas were brewing in that head of his. "I expect you'll be made quickly," he said, "if the Ashfingers are half as good as I've heard. You're both... well, even without the mercenary uniforms you're not going to look like many other elves around here." Lia's vallaslin were a painfully obvious identifier, and she didn't think Cor could make himself small if he tried.

But he waved his hand dismissively at that after another moment's thought. "Bah, but what does it matter? Having you sniffing around could easily make it hell for troublemakers to make trouble. I'd be glad to bring you on. Last round of auditions is in two days' time at the Grande Royeaux, we'll be filling out the rest of the team there as well. Stop by and I'll find a place for you."

"This should be interesting..." Lia made no attempts to hide her uncertainty about the plan, but Varric ignored it.

"Wherever you end up, I'll expect your best work on the play too. We're putting on a show for royalty, after all."

Cor seemed rather pleased with this development, from the rather satisfied smile that took up residence on his face. "Well I've never been accused of lacking panache, at least." He wasn't like to need it, if they were in fact going to be stagehands of all things, but it might at least help him fit in a bit with the crowd, so to speak. At least that seemed to be where his thoughts were heading.

"...and we've got a couple friends that might be a little more anonymous than us, I suspect. So if there's room for two extras, maybe we can be the obvious protection and they can hide behind that smokescreen."

"I'd be happy to meet any friends of yours. Should be able to find them places." His eyes darted between them for a moment, before Varric picked up his drink and lifted it with a grin. "Here's to your new careers in theater."

Lia rolled her eyes, but indulged the dwarf, lifting up her own cup. "May they have less drama than mercenary work."