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The City of Chains

The City of Chains

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{Completed} These are the stories of nine lives in the city of Kirkwall, intertwined in the midst of magic, prejudice, war, and strife.

6,700 readers have visited The City of Chains since AugustArria created it.

Copyright: The creator of this roleplay has attributed some or all of its content to the following sources:

http://dragonage.wikia.com/wiki/dragon_age_wiki

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Introduction



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Blesséd are the righteous, the lights in the shadow.
In their blood the Maker's will is written.
-Benedictions 4:11

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With the Hero of Ferelden defeating the Fifth Blight after merely a year, it seemed as though the world would be spared the ravages of another decades-long war that typically accompanied the arrival of the darkspawn hordes. But in the city of Kirkwall, just across the Waking Sea from devastated Ferelden, the turmoil was only just beginning.

The issue of magic and how it should be handled hangs over the city like a dark cloud, promising to bring a storm in good time. The mages within the city are kept on a very short leash by the local Templar Order and their driven commander. Some believe such vigilance is necessary to avert the dangers mages pose to the world around them, and to themselves. Some believe such vigilance is more akin to tyranny and oppression. The issue doesn’t merely involve the respective members of the Templar Order and the Circle of Magi, however, but everyone within the city. And as the tension between the groups rises, everyone will have to take a side eventually.

In addition, other issues have arisen recently, and though they are overshadowed by the issue of magic, they have a large effect on the city. With the Blight destroying much of Ferelden, thousands of refugees fled across the Waking Sea, seeking refuge in nearby Kirkwall. Having no homes to return to, most were stuck in the city after the Blight’s end, forced to carve out any kind of living they could. A fleet full of Qunari warriors was decimated by a storm off the nearby Wounded Coast, and while the reason for their presence in the area is unknown, they have since been stranded in Kirkwall while they wait for a ship to return them home. A clan of Dalish elves recently traveled near Kirkwall, and was forced to halt at the base of Sundermount upon losing their halla.

Combine all of this in one city, and Kirkwall is the very picture of chaos. It is into this city that you were thrown, either by birth, desire, or circumstance.

What kind of mark will you leave behind in the City of Chains?





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A Dragon Age AU written by:
AugustArria | The Valkyrie | Talisman | Yonbibuns | Kurokiku


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The City of Chains

Set during the events of Dragon Age 2, The City of Chains tells the interwoven stories of nine individuals who come to reside in the city of Kirkwall during the most turbulent eight-year period in its history. They come from all walks of life, but are united in their desire to build a life in the city they come to call home. But that life isn't easy in a city where magic, religion, race, and politics clash on a daily basis. To secure their future, they must navigate a dangerous road, one that leads to events that will shape the very future of Thedas.


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The Canticle of Fate

Three years after the events of The City of Chains, the south of Thedas is in chaos. The Mage-Templar war threatens to destroy both factions, and wreaks havoc across Ferelden. Civil war looms in Orlais as Celene's grip falters. In an effort to contain the chaos, a Conclave is called between mages and templars at the Temple of Sacred Ashes. But this only leads to tragedy, as an unseen enemy strikes, and the temple is destroyed, leaving only two mysterious survivors. With the Divine dead, the Inquisition is reborn, and called to restore order where chaos now reigns. This is their story. This is The Canticle of Fate.

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The Canticle of Fate: Silver Lion Stanza

Following the defeat of Corypheus, the Inquisition was restructured and moved to a new home in Lydes. While no imminent world-shattering threat remains for them to combat, there are still a great many dangers left over from the strife that ravaged southern Thedas. The Canticle of Fate: Silver Lion Stanza is centered around the city of Val Royeaux, where growing racial tensions between humans and elves threaten to escalate into chaos. The new Emperor and Empress send for two elven Argent Lions, agents both capable and trustworthy, to find the source of the trouble, and keep the peace. With the weight of the past and expectations for the future bearing down on them, their time to be heroes has come.

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Dragon Age: The Undoing

Something of an informal, retconned prequel to the other stories, The Undoing takes place back in the year 1:95 Divine, at the end of the second Blight. It follows a group of elite (and expendable) warriors on a last-ditch, desperate suicide mission: to take out the Archdemon's four most elite darkspawn underlings, and bring the areas of the world these generals occupy back under the control of the Grey Wardens and their allies. The team is made up of oddballs who don't fit anywhere else, the mission is damn near impossible, and everything points to an early failure. Naturally, it gets worse before it gets better.


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The Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael

Earnings

0.00 INK

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“We stand upon the precipice of change. The world fears the inevitable plummet into the abyss. Watch for that moment... and when it comes, do not hesitate to leap. It is only when you fall that you learn whether you can fly.”



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It was busy time in Kirkwall, the City of Chains. Though fortunately untouched by the Blight that had sprung up from the Korcari Wilds before being decisively defeated at Denerim by the Hero of Ferelden and her gathered army, Kirkwall has still suffered ill effects due to simple proximity. Thousands of Ferelden citizens took ship and sailed away from their homeland while the war was still in doubt, many of them stopping and seeking refuge in the Free Marches, with Kirkwall being the first stop. Many of them have since had their homes destroyed by the darkspawn, and have nowhere to return to. Those that could work their way into the city before it shut its doors have since taken shelter in Darktown, or if they were lucky, the slums of Lowtown.

The memory of what happened to Ferelden’s Circle of Magi is also fresh in the minds of many mages and Templars in the Free Marches. Blood magic, demonic possession, an entire tower overrun by abominations. It has served as yet another reminder to Kirkwall’s Knight-Commander that she must remain vigilant in the face of magic, no matter the cost. Many mages, and quite a few citizens, disagree. The tension between mages and Templars can only rise in the future, and what last remnants of stability remain may soon disappear altogether.

It was also the year in which the Arishok of the Qunari, the supreme military leader of their people, was shipwrecked along with many of his warriors off the Wounded Coast, and left stranded in Kirkwall, while they await a ship to take them back to Par Vollen. They seem content to simply wait in their compound on the docks, and not bother the locals, but the degree to which they have embedded themselves within the city already is… slightly alarming, to the Viscount if no one else. Already resistance to their presence is building, and racial tensions threaten to flare with time.

Hurtled into the chaos, there are those that fight, and the world will shake before them. Whether it is fate or chance will be left to them to decide. These are the stories of the individuals who left their mark on the City of Chains, and the world…


The Chanter’s Board has been updated. New quests are available.





How could so much have happened in just a few hours?

Sophia Dumar was fuming, hiking her skirts up slightly and descending the Chantry steps as quickly as she dared. Upon reaching the bottom, she took off towards the Viscount’s Keep, desiring to break into a run, but just barely having enough sense not to. It was very important that she was never seen to panic. Sophia was really the only well-respected member left in the Dumar family, as the nobility in Hightown had often witnessed, and then talked about, her unfailing efforts to hold her father and brother together. As much as they talked about Saemus and her father behind their backs, at least they knew the pair of them had a voice of reason at their side.

Of course, they would whisper other things if they saw the Viscount’s daughter running through Hightown in a panic, her dress streaming behind her. It irked her that such posturing was still necessary even when her own family member was in danger, but she had to think long-term here. Always she had to be two steps ahead. Saemus was not in immediate danger, as anyone who had kidnapped the Viscount’s son would do so for the potential profits from ransom. Damaging the family’s reputation beyond repair was something she could prevent by appearing calm.

Well, calm was a polite word for it. She walked swiftly, her face set as stone, an undeniable urgency in her step. She shuddered to think of the possibilities had Sister Mirabelle not been in the Viscount’s Keep, and had not thought to inform Sophia, who had been praying for her brother’s safety in the Chantry, and speaking with the Grand Cleric. Elthina had advised Sophia not to do anything rash upon returning to the Keep, but her warning had little effect on the girl. She had to do this herself. Regardless of what her father thought, she wouldn’t trust just anyone with the well-being of her brother.

The Keep seemed farther away than usual this time, but at her pace, it wasn’t long before Sophia was climbing the other large set of stairs in Hightown, the approach to the Keep on Viscount’s Way. The guards gave her respectful nods as she passed, and the two before the great doors into the Keep cleared the way for her, allowing her to stride into the main hall of the Viscount’s Keep unhindered. She just about ran into the first person she saw inside, a tanned, hardened looking woman, well-armed and outfitted in light leather armor. She grinned at Sophia as she passed her.

“Don’t worry yourself overmuch, sweetheart. We’ll drag your brother back here and make a bloody mess of whoever took him. The Winters are more than a match for any Qunari, mark my words.” She blew past Sophia before she had a chance to respond, the half-dozen men she’d arrived with following her out. Sophia could have screamed. The Winters. She’d learned of them recently, some mercenary band out of Nevarra, looking to get a foothold in Kirkwall. They did not have a good reputation, at least not for getting things done cleanly. They got their work done, that was for sure, but their methods were unsavory, to say the least.

Sophia shook her head, moving swiftly up the stairs out of the central room, taking a left and heading towards the Viscount’s office. She found her father’s seneschal, Bran, outside the door, his red-orange hair neatly slicked to the side, his dress impeccably fashionable as always. He attempted to preempt Sophia as she approached.

“My lady—” he began, but Sophia was quick to cut him off. Don’t, Bran. You’re not going to talk me out of this one.” Bran flashed her a charming smile, which was deflected fully by Sophia as if she’d smacked it out of the air with a shield. “That doesn’t mean I can’t try. Please, don’t put yourself in danger for this, the Winters are more than capable of—”

“Bringing Saemus home safely? You don’t believe that, do you Bran? They’re brutes, more likely to bash my brother’s skull in than rescue him! Does father know of this?” Saemus glanced around slightly nervously. “Please, my lady, if you would just keep your voice down. Appearances must be maintained, as I’m sure you already know. Your father gave me orders to hire anyone skilled enough to help. He will take no chances with this Qunari, and as the Winters say, they leave nothing to chance. Although, I admit, their methods leave something to be desired, and I didn’t think them the best choice for a rescue mission, but what am I to do?”

“How about not sending murderers to keep my brother safe?” she said, her voice stinging him slightly, but she let it slide. What was done was done. She could still fix this. “What’s this about a Qunari? Tell me what the Winters learned so that I can go after them and make sure this doesn’t go horribly wrong.” The look on Bran’s face told Sophia that he wasn’t giving in easily. “The leader of the Winters, Ginnis, said that her scouts had successfully tracked the boy down, and that he had been captured by a Qunari. But please, Sophia, the Winters are very intent on receiving their reward for this. Don’t put yourself in their way. There’s no telling what they might try. And your father explicitly stated you were not to go.”

“Bran,” she said, quieter now, “I need to know where he is, where the Winters are headed. You know I won’t let this go. I just want to be there in case something goes wrong. Are you really willing to trust Saemus’ life to a band of thugs?” The seneschal sighed, before giving in. “I should know better than to keep arguing with you, my lady. The Winters tracked him to the Wounded Coast. If you leave soon, you should be able to follow their trail.” Sophia exhaled in relief. “Thank you, Bran. I appreciate this.”

She took her leave, heading to her quarters, passing her father’s room on the way. He likely knew she would go after Saemus, but unlike Bran, he knew better than to try and stop her. He’d long since lost his ability to stop Sophia from doing what she would. Sliding her door closed, Sophia slipped out of her dress and began donning her armor.




It was days like this one in which Ithilian found himself wishing he’d chosen to stay with Marethari’s clan, instead of coming here to wallow among the downtrodden and the hopeless.

But perhaps it was a fitting place for him, hopeless as he was. He sat in front of his pitiful little home in the alienage, leaning his back against the wall, facing the vhenadahl in the center of the elves’ little corner of Lowtown. In his hands was what was formerly a small block of wood, but was now beginning to look very much like a halla, though the noble beast’s spiraled horns were not yet quite in the shape Ithilian wanted. He chipped away with a small knife of his, a blade that had been through far more than these elves here could ever imagine. He remembered a specific occasion in which he had plunged this very blade deep into the skull of a darkspawn hurlock that had tackled one of his comrades to the ground. He’d saved his fellow’s life, but only temporarily. The taint got him a few days later. One by one, they had all fallen to the wretched darkspawn, as they desperately tried to flee through the Brecilian Forest to the north. Even Felaris hadn’t been able to survive. A shriek had been able to sneak into their camp when one of the hunters had fallen asleep at his watch from exhaustion, and by the time the creature’s screams woke their makeshift camp, their leader’s throat had been slit from ear to ear.

The thought of those days made him restless, and angry. Oh, how far he had fallen, by some chance at the hands of the Blight, yet another thing the shemlen had brought into the world. He had lost his connection to anyone who thought as he did among his kind, that they would simply run themselves into the ground if they did not change course. If they did not fight against the weight that wanted to crush them under its heel. No one would hear him, and no one would join him. Marethari protected her clan well enough, he could give her that, but she’d turned them into a bunch of fearful nomads, trying to hide from the humans while they focused on remembering the past. Remembering. The word made him feel oddly sick to his stomach. Reclaim was the word that Felaris had used, and the word Ithilian had lived by.

The word he still lived by. He had to remind himself of that every now and then. To admit defeat in his fight was to admit that he had nothing left to exist for. If that were true, he might as well go back in his house and hang himself with his bowstring. No, he wasn’t done yet. Not by a long shot. This city was ripe with opportunity for someone looking to make a mark. He just had to bide his time, avoid the attention of the city guard, and find the right chance, the right way to get his message across. He had to not only make the humans feel what he felt for once, but also find a way to inspire the others, to convince them that they could achieve something greater if they were just willing to push back.

He was shaken from his thoughts as the gleam of shining silver armor caught his eye. He looked up from his woodcarving to see a man in the unmistakable armor of the Templar Order descending the stairs into the alienage. Ithilian shifted his headscarf and squinted with his one remaining eye to get a better look at the man. Red-brown hair, striking blue eyes, a thick goatee, and middle aged, perhaps five years older than Ithilian or so. It was not the first time Ithilian had seen this shem within the alienage. In fact, he had visited several times in the past few days, always meeting with Arianni under the vhenadahl, where they discussed something Ithilian had previously considered to be not his business. He wasn’t looking to get the attention of the Templars if he could avoid it.

But Arianni’s vallaslin marked her as one of the People, and for that Ithilian felt obligated to speak with her. Whatever she had gotten herself in, the woman was Dalish, and worthy of his assistance. Perhaps once the Templar left this time, he would see what her troubles were, and if he could be of use. Gods knew he could use something more meaningful to do with his time.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

Lucien wasn’t particularly fond of Hightown. Everything, from the stones underfoot to the people chatting at market stalls, seemed to carry an air of whitewash, as though the sparkling cleanliness of appearance was merely a façade for manipulation and scheming. Of course, his cynicism was perhaps understandable, given that he’d once been elbow-deep in a similar mire with no desire to be there, limbs thrashing through the weighted honey of sweet lies that seemed feathered promises instead. How different could nobility be in the Free Marches?

If what time he had already spent here was anything to go by, then the answer was a simple, disappointed, not much. The names and the faces were sometimes different, but the game was the same, even if the players would barely be amateurs in his aunt Celene’s court.

He didn’t fit in with it. Never had, really; a man who preferred to wear his armor rather than his coronet, and speak with his actions rather than his words. Righteous was not the word; he was filled with no holy zeal. Surely, that was here and everywhere reserved for Templars. But he at least had his honor, and this alone was enough to make him a pariah. If that was what it meant, let it be so. Here, it was almost worse: his armor was not quite so rich or recognizable, and the weapon slung across his broad back was, of all things, a scythe, a simple farmers’ tool, modified to stand up to the increased pressure of battle.

The disgraced Chevalier looked down at the parchment missive in his hand. A general announcement, seeking those sturdy of body to return the Viscount’s missing son. Frankly, the details were a bit sparing, but if in fact the boy had been kidnapped, there was nothing for it but to find and retrieve him. It rankled Lucien that people would exploit a mere boy for political advantage, though of course he had seen far worse. If indeed this was the intent of the kidnapping, retrieving the lad as soon as possible would be imperative, lest he wind up slit in the throat and left for dead as soon as the assailants had what they wanted. Assuming, I suppose, that he is not already so.

Lucien’s long strides eventually carried him forward to the Viscount’s Keep, a great building with brutal architecture, the spires of it towering over everything else by the chantry, jutting into the sky as if to challenge the blue expanse for dominance in the eyes of man or Maker. The concept was familiar, though here I was executed in a manner almost Spartan. No sweeping buttresses, no painted ceilings, no ornately-patterned rugs, just crimson runners and more spikes than he bothered to count.

Pausing at the bottom of the steps, the mercenary palmed his cheek and rubbed absently at his slight stubble, turning his head this way and that so as to look around with his good eye. He managed to step aside even as a tanned woman nearly ran straight into him, eyes glinting with purpose. “Move before I move you,” she growled, and the former knight blinked, acquiescing mildly and allowing his tread to keep him moving forward thereafter. Discourtesy, he had grown used to, and he shrugged, proceeding up the flight of stairs and inside the Keep.

The Seneschal was in front of his office, looking a rather harried man. Lucien stopped a respectful distance from him and executed a shallow, but polite bow. Holding up the missive with a deferential smile, he ventured the first words. “I doubt I am the first to inquire, serah, but might you have any further information on the whereabouts of Lord Saemus?”

Bran had appeared slightly worried upon seeing yet another mercenary approach him, but Lucien's tact seemed to put him at ease somewhat. "Indeed there has been news, though the situation may soon be under control. A group of mercenaries has already departed to retrieve Saemus." It looked as though the Seneschal had been about to ask the mercenary to leave, when he thought better of it. "However, there is something I might ask of you, if you're looking to make some coin. The Viscount's daughter, the lady Sophia, has decided to follow these mercenaries to ensure her brother's safe return, and it is apparently not my place to stop her." He paused for a moment, as though searching for the best way to word his request. "Lady Sophia is a capable warrior, but these mercenaries, the Winters, have earned themselves a rather... dubious reputation, and they are numerous. If someone were to accompany the lady, and ensure her safe return as well as Saemus', they would be entitled to the same reward."

Lucien considered for a moment, thoughtfulness drawing his brows together, but he nodded in short order. A protection detail was a relatively complicated assignment, especially if the person he was to be looking after was to be willingly putting themselves in danger, but he did not think it beyond his capabilities. Besides that, he did not much like the idea of putting the safety of both a hostage and potentially the Viscount’s first child- reputed to be the most reasonable member of the family- in the hands of a group with a less-than-stellar reputation.

“It would be my honor,” he replied simply, distancing himself from the Seneschal that the other man might return to his duties. He took up residence against a pillar, crossing his arms over his chest and one leg over the other. He was the picture of unruffled composure, if perhaps slightly scragglier in appearance than one would usually associate with such a demeanor.




Errant fingers teased harpstrings, though there was precious little audience about to hear it. This was inconsequential; the Ben-Hassrath played for herself. If others derived enjoyment from the lulling tunes, then that was all well and good, but she of all people understood the difference between a fringe benefit and a real purpose. Playing was an aid to her thought process, as if hearing the harmony of chords and melody somehow reminded her that everything in the world had a place in it even as every note made a song better for its right placement and presence.

Sitting as she usually did, facing the entrance to the Alienage, back against the painted tree, the vhenadahl, one of the young ones had told her it was called. Its boughs stretched overhead, and she decided that if one had to choose a symbol of something better in a place like this, it was not a bad one. Of course, she had little use for symbolism, as letting things stand for other things did very little in terms of accomplishing goals. Were they so content to languish under one tree when they had once been masters of entire forests? Suffering ill-suited most of them, and yet they were apparently satisfied bearing it, to some degree.

In one sense, it was admirable, in another, deplorable. Amalia’s boat-light eyes narrowed slightly, and she plucked a few more strings in quick succession. For all that many things were certain, few were ever simple.

That was when the Templar entered. She watched him mildly, unmoving from her position, but clearly a sentinel all the same. Sometimes, the authorities from that foolish religion humans had bothered her charges for their conversion, and while she had not needed to intervene directly as of yet, she was not a fool and knew that the tensions in this respect were only growing more taut by the day.

The man approached Arianni, a woman who the Ben-Hassrath knew to have a son with a human, and to be formerly of the Dalish. None of this was information she had asked for, but whatever the reason, her charges seemed inclined to speak to her of little things, and she saw no reason not to hear them. Their voices were low, at least at first, but this did not stop her from hearing the gist of the exchange. So the boy was Saarebas. This fact was neither here nor there, but it had obviously provoked the Templar to action.

Amalia’s fingers stilled, and she pressed her palm to her strings to silence them. The heavy tread of armor-laden feet heralded the Templar’s departure, and it was then that she stood, flowing to her feet like so much silk and tucking the instrument gently beneath one arm. She was not Averaad, the leashing of Saarebas was not her responsibility, but… her role often constituted finding that which was missing, as few who left the Qun did so publicly or with courage, and this was therefore an extension of her abilities that did not fall to someone else. Reason enough to justify it.

Approaching the elvish woman on light feet, Amalia cocked her head to one side and spoke, words low but clear. “If you fear what might become of your child should the Templars find him, it would be best to ensure that someone else finds him first,” she pointed out plainly. This manner of hers, she knew, tended to unnerve people unfamiliar with the Ben-Hassrath, but she was a common-enough sight here in the Alienage that most no longer took offense to it.

Arianni appeared somewhat surprised at Amalia's words, or perhaps just her presence. "Hello, Amalia. You overheard that, did you? I... I am more fearful of what will happen to my Feynriel if he is not found, not the Templars. He... has had difficulty controlling his power of late. He dreams of demons, speaking in his mind. I'd rather lose him to the Circle than to himself."

It was then that a third party entered the conversation, when the Dalish, Ithilian, came forth, rather swiftly, moving through the shade cast by the vhenadahl. He was armed and armored as though he were about to go for a hunt, which he very well could have been. His bow was slung across his back, a full quiver of arrows at his hip, and a pair of long knives sheathed at his waist. He greeted Arianni with a small nod of his head. "Andaran atish'an, Arianni," he said. He gave no greeting to Amalia. Arianni looked perhaps more intimidated by Ithilian than she was by Amalia, even though he too was one of the People.

"Good day, Ithilian," she responded quietly. He did not wait for further reply. "If there's something to be done for your son, half-blooded as he is, it should be one of the People that aids you, not a shem." Arianni hesitated for a moment, looking between Amalia, who Ithilian had still not acknowledged, and Ithilian. "I... had been afraid to ask you for your help, Ithilian. I know you do not look fondly on my child." At this Ithilian crossed his arms. "Whatever you are now, you were Dalish once, and for that, you have my assistance. Perhaps it might help to remind you of what you turned aside."

Amalia could not say that she was particularly accustomed to being ignored, but then it was not as though she expected any different. This one looked at the world around him with hateful eyes, on every occasion she had seen need to observe, and she seemed to have done something to deserve at least one elf's ire. No matter; what bas believed of her was not her concern.

Even so, she had no intention of backing off here, and while he spoke, she stood, for all the world as relaxed as she had been under the tree, a single index digit resting gently perpendicular to her lips. A repose, really, and she cracked her neck first one way and then the other. Interesting, that he understood something of purpose, of differentiation, even if his parameters were in this case wholly mistaken. "Saatarethkost," she intoned, addressing him though she doubted he'd be so courteous as to return the favor. "Your understanding of boundaries is worthy, but here, you draw them in the wrong place. I will help Arianni regardless of your will, but if your true goal is success, you would understand that to accept my assistance is nothing shameful." She shrugged, a surprisingly light motion, and turned again to the woman.

"Does the dathrasi still maintain the shop in Lowtown?" she asked flatly, referring to the boy's father in no kind terms. Though she did not much go in for the bas methods of childrearing, even she could understand that to have so little involvement in the process was shameful in a society such as this one, and a man who shirked his role as father was not one worthy of any distinction. She'd been made aware of his return through the same gossips that provided her all of her information, and she had yet to hear of him leaving.

"He does. Vincento will be in the bazaar. He recently returned to the city from Antiva. Feynriel might have sought him out when he ran. But if Vincento knows nothing, you might also speak to Ser Thrask, the Templar, in the Gallows, to learn what ground he has already covered."

Ithilian had been scrutinizing the girl Amalia after she had greeted him with a word he was not familiar with. Something to do with her Qun, likely, the beliefs which he had heard she followed instead of the shemlen Chantry. "Your ears are as round as any shem's," he noted, "but if you would help Arianni regardless of my opinion, then there's little I can do to stop you. I'm willing to see if this Qun of yours can elevate you above the other humans," he paused for a moment, before adding, "though I have my doubts." He then turned to Arianni.

"We'll start with this Vincento, then. With any luck, I can tear your boy's location from his hide. We'll get him to safety." Arianni bowed her head in thanks. "Ma serranas, Ithilian. Thank you, Amalia. I will pray for your swift return." Ithilian gave Amalia a nod of his head, before heading off towards the steps out of the Alienage.

"Let's go hear what this shem has to say."

"Is that all it takes, then?" she mused, though truly more to herself than him. She had heard this word, shemlen, and knew it designated the same thing as human, though less charitably. Apparently, it was an entirely useless category, one that served no actual function other than to classify based on physiology. There was a reason the horned Qunari no longer referred to themselves as kossith.

Nevertheless, the battle against ignorance was not hers to fight, at least not at present, and he seemed about as willing as he was going to get to tolerate her presence, so that much at least was done. "Meravas, then," she replied, and it was answer to both Ithilian and Arianni. "So shall it be." Doubting very much that the other would wish to put his back to her, she decided that she might as well lead the way to Lowtown, as she had some idea of where the one called Vincento operated. If she was concerned about exposing her back to him, she certainly did not act it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rakkis Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by throne
”You needn’t go so soon, you know.”

Rakkis was standing just to the side of a bed in disarray, not a sword’s length away from the waif who’d just crooned those words. He spared a glance over his shoulder as he pulled his breeches up and cinched his belt with two sure movements of his scarred hands. Artfully, he had cocked an eyebrow at the young human who lay florid and tangled in the sheets, playing his part even after the deed was done. Harlan must be making half a fortune off this one, he decided, And no small part of it from me.

”Say ‘mustn’t.’ ‘You mustn’t go so soon.’ It implies more want on your part, rather than disinterest on theirs. Everyone loves to be wanted and nobody wants to be disinterested.” He peeled his gaze away from the whore, inspecting his surroundings for- ah, his shirt. He scooped it from the scrollwork arm of the ornate chair that it had fallen upon in the midst of their unwrapping of one another. Returning to the bed, he knelt upon it and then tugged the shirt on, fumbling like a child to get his head out the right home, then the same flapping business with his arms. He reappeared with a dazzling grin at the young man. ”But as it happens, I must. Go, that is. Though, before I do… He reached down and lifted- Stavros’? Stentos’? It started with an S and ended with an S, he remembered that much- at any rate, he took him by the hand, smiling. ”Why don’t you tell me who gave you these?

The squeeze he gave that delicate wrist was not painful, but the whore gasped in surprise. Rakkis kneaded the heel of his hand expertly over the whore’s wrist in such a way that it caused the make-up he’d noticed during their mattress theatrics to give way to ugly bruises. They described the shape of a large man’s hand in stark, yellow-purple contrast to S-some-other-letters-S’s exquisite pale flesh.

He listened, nodding, his eyes steeling up briefly in the wake of a few more graphic details of “The Story of How a Boyish Whore Was Bruised”, which his erstwhile entertainment delivered quite well. He was an actor, once, or I’ll join the Chantry.. When it was through, he let his fingers dance briefly near his hip, somehow extracting from his pocket a single sovereign. He smiled like one would when consoling a squalling child and briefly made it disappear, then walked it down his knuckles, then with his thumb, flipped it so that it landed on the portion of the sheet that was rather needlessly preserving the last gasps of the boy’s modesty. ”You should choose a different name to go by here. Something punchy, easy to remember. How will anyone ever ask for you a second time if they can’t remember your silly name?” He grinned in the face of a whore’s indignation, and then sat at the edge of the bed to lace up his boots.

Those same boots, not a moment later, carried him lightly down the steps to the ground floor of The Blooming Rose. He set his hands on his hips as he bounced down the final two steps, a heroic pose, or more likely, a mockery thereof, and then swept toward one of his oldest true friends in Kirkwall. Most whores considered time their greatest enemy, robbing them every second of the looks that kept them in coin. Maeve, on the other hand, was always more beautiful than he remembered. He embraced her quickly before pulling away. After a bit of banter, he casually mentioned what he’d only heard just moments before, though he did dimly recall seeing a poster, now that he thought of it, which he hadn’t bothered to read. ”You’ve heard about the Viscount’s son, I’m sure.”

Rakkis was fond of saying, or rather, thinking declaratively, that one had no need of spies if one had whores. Maeve’s tale overlapped partially with the waif’s, sketching out for him a few salient details: there was plenty of coin to be made finding the brat, the Winters were planning on using the reward and good-will from finding said brat to get a foot-hold in Kirkwall, and that a few of The Winters had indeed passed through the Rose recently. He stood on the tips of his toes to kiss each of her painted cheeks before bidding her farewell and promising that his next visit would be soon.

The Viscount’s Keep was not so far that Rakkis felt inclined to rush. He enjoyed sauntering through Hightown. There was no one who relished being unwanted half as much as the elven brigand did. He paused to inspect a poster, nearly identical to the one he’d ignored earlier, and realized that they were hung everywhere. He spat on the ground. Sons went missing in Lowtown and Darktown every day, daughters too, and nobody cared but the ones they were missing from. If it weren’t for the music of very many coins clinking together in his mind or the bruises on a boy-whore’s wrists, he might have turned about for the sake of spite.

He didn’t turn around, though. He went right on sauntering, right up the steps and inside the Keep. He rolled his eyes when a guardsman moved to bar his way. The man was nearly two heads taller than Rakkis, and at least twice as massive. ”I’m here to help find poor Saemus. Be a good statue and direct me to whichever doddering functionary I need to see about signing on.” As was often the case with hired help, the guard was quite unsure what to make of Rakkis, and he grudgingly pointed the way to Bran, the Seneschal, whose title vaguely reminded the elf of the name of a whore he planned to avenge.

He strode with ersatz dignity to the seneschal’s office, literally puffing his chest out… which proved to be for naught, given Lucien’s presence. He would have needed several extra chests and a pair of stilts to look impressive in that sort of company. Despite his relative diminutiveness, he looked the man right in the eye as he nodded up at him in passing, displaying the sort of grin that madmen often died wearing. He swept onward, bound for the fire-haired majordomo.

The Seneschal looked up from his desk, where he had been writing. His eyes made a pass over the length of the elf entering the room, one eyebrow raising slightly. He then sighed, finishing up the letter he'd been working on, before reluctantly speaking to him. "Tell me you aren't here for what I think you are."

The elven rogue's lips pressed into a smile that he probably imagined as rakish. "I'd never presume to know the thoughts of the Seneschal of Kirkwall, so I'm afraid I can't tell you that. What is it that you think I'm here for?". As he idly awaited a reply, he slid his tongue along his teeth, as if trying to clear some obstruction between the gaps, and then reached up to lend a fingernail to the effort.

Bran did not seem amused. "You're here about the bounty for bringing Lord Saemus back safely," he stated flatly. "Let me tell you now, the situation has changed... but the Viscount would not wish me to turn a willing hand aside. So I'll give you the same offer I did for the last mercenary who came looking for coin." He put down his quill, leaning back in his chair. "The Viscount's daughter will be following a mercenary company that has already departed for the Wounded Coast, to retrieve Saemus from his Qunari captor. Lady Sophia will be ensuring nothing goes wrong. If you would accompany her, and see to it that both she and her brother return to the Keep alive and well, you will be granted the reward."

Somewhere in the midst of Bran's speech, Rakkis had either unstuck whatever was stuck in his teeth or abandoned the pretense of trying to. He only seemed to be half-listening, having turned his gray gaze to inspecting (with a dearth of approval) the decor of the man's office. "'Bounty' is such an ugly word for rendering such a valuable service to our fair city, don't you think?" He smiled absently and shook his head. "I'm aware of the changes in the situation, m'lord, which only makes my presence even more necessary. But I'm sure you look forward to hearing all about that when we return. Where have my fellow adventurer's gotten off to, then?"

"Lady Sophia is donning her armor at the moment, I imagine. She will be present shortly, and will no doubt immediately depart. The mercenary outside will also be accompanying her."

His gaze slid toward the open door and he smirked. "Tell him to keep an eye on her, did you?" He didn't bother waiting for Bran to not answer. "You've discharged your duty in this matter quite adequately, Seneschal." With that, he bowed very low and took his leave.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose

Earnings

0.00 INK

If ever there was a soul that looked out of place absolutely everywhere, it was probably Rilien Falavel. Fortunately for him, neither the open staring nor the curious whispers that followed his presence ever really seemed to bother him in the slightest. Presently, three Hightown wives were clustered about some distance behind him, the low rasp of their whispers carrying even over the distance they stood.

Worthy, the dwarf with whom he was presently doing business, moved sideways to glance at them from around the elf’s hip, but in the end he simply shrugged and went back to business. The pragmatism of a merchant dwarf was as much a boon as anything, assuming you knew the value of your goods. For all that he did not much care about money, Rilien was well aware that his products were of excellent quality, and very much sought-after, which entitled him to a certain amount of profits.

A coin purse changed hands, and the Tranquil tied it to his belt wordlessly. He was making to depart when Worthy’s voice stopped him. “Hey, Ril. I’ve got something else you can do, if you’re interested in a bonus.”

The man paused in his movement, stilling as though he were formed from stone. "What is the task?” He asked in his customary monotone. This increased the fervency of the muttering, but he paid it no mind.

“Client of mine wants something delivered. Gascard DuPuis. An Orlesian ponce, with an estate in Hightown. You can just pass it to his steward or his doorman or something, they’ll know to pay you.” Rilien blinked once, then turned smoothly on his heel, accepting the package from Worthy and diverting his course for the Estate District of Hightown. He was aware that this would take him past the Chantry, which was troublesome, but unlike most people, Rilien was quite capable of putting his hangups to the side and doing what needed to be done. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he didn’t really have hangups, only memories of them.

Still, the stride that carried him past the place was efficient and fluid, enough so that between it, his smooth facial cast, and his barely-sunned hue, he might have resembled something more ghost than elf.

He was slowed by the voice of a woman, one that seemed to carry more panic than anything in its tone, but the folk here were simply passing her by as though she did not exist. Though some anguish was clear in the tense lines of her body language and pleas fell from her lips like water from a mountain stream, not one even paused. To say that this plight stirred his sympathy would be to mistake him for someone who understood what sympathy was, and even his memories held no recollection of such an emotion being bestowed upon him or named to him. Regardless, it did pique the curiosity of a well-sharpened mind, and he tucked the small package beneath one elbow and approached her.

She had hair of an ashen-blonde most often seen in humans, and her eyes were a very clear blue. Her clothing- a dress of sturdy fabric, but frayed in a number of places- put her in Lowtown at best, though considerably better off than anyone in the Alienage or Darktown. Which meant that she was here because the Chantry was here.

He wondered distantly if he was going to regret this.

"With what do you require assistance?” he asked bluntly, well-aware that, for the moment at least, his snowy forelock was sufficient to obscure the translucent orange of his sunburst brand. It felt hot and slimy on his skin, always.

The woman seemed to overlook his tone of voice for the most part, wrapped in her panic as she was. "It's my brother, Keran," she said, seeming to latch on to the elf with her eyes as he approached from amidst the other passerby in Hightown before the Chantry, like she was clutching at a rock in the middle of a raging river. "He joined the Templar Order here a few months ago, even though I begged him not to. You hear dark rumors about the Templars here... but it is dangerous even to speak of such things."

She glanced around the courtyard, to ensure that no passing Templars had heard her, before continuing. "I would write to Keran every day, but he recently stopped returning my letters. I went to the Templar Hall to see if everything was all right, but Knight-Commander Meredith had me thrown out. They wouldn't tell me anything!" Her voice had grown rather loud, but she quickly quieted down again. "Do you think you could help me find out where he is, or what has happened to him?"

There was no visible reaction to her tidings, merely a pause of several seconds, during which Rilien turned the information over in his mind. A missing Templar, new to the Order, now entirely disappeared. How peculiar. Though Rilien was inclined to avoid Templars whenever possible, he was aware that they posed comparatively little danger to him, given his obvious condition. He was unmoved by the woman's distress, but all the same he could see no reason not to acquiesce to her request. There was little to be gained, but also little to be lost. "Does your brother have any friends among his Order?" he inquired quietly.

"Yes, he does! He wrote to me about them. He spoke fondly of the recruits Wilmod and Hugh. They were his best friends in the Order, and if anyone knows where Keran is, it would be them." She then bowed her head in thanks to Rilien. "Maker bless you for helping. May he watch over you in this endeavor."

Quite frankly, Rilien would rather the Maker kept out of his business entirely, but he did not bother to say as much, instead inclining his head in return. He would make his delivery, and then find Sparrow. Adventures to search after mysteriously-vanished fellows were something he imagined would strike her very active sense of fancy, after all.


The sound of armored boots managed to gain distance, no matter how many times she turned a corner or burst into a sprint. Despite being essentially sheathed in steel, the Templar still managed to keep step and even gain on the woman. And they called her the monster... Sweat was already beading on her brow and rolling down the bridge of her nose. If she didn't lose him soon, the next time she'd see Lowtown was from the Gallows. Another hard turn and she began to look for place to hide. Then it came, like the Maker himself guided her to her salvation... Well, as much as the Hanged Man can be called salvation. She ducked into the tavern and quickly scanned the bar before calmly walking over and taking a seat at random.

She pulled her scarf up around her head to hide her red hair and ordered a drink. As the drink made it's way over to her table, she began to talk to her new drinking buddy like they had been friends forever. "So the bastard has these slippers he's tryin' to sell me right?" she said with a brogue just as the Templar entered the bar, "He's tellin' me how they are genuine Orlesian slippers and how they'll feel like they're making love to my feet," The Templar scanned the bar as he looked for his target, but seemed confused. The woman disregarded this entirely and continued to tell her story.

"So then I tell the rotten bastard, those slippers look like a rabbit's ass!" She said laughing harder than her small frame would allow. Behind her, the Templar looked defeated and exited the Tavern, continuing the search for the woman who had ran. "You should have... Seen.. His... Face? Is he gone?" The woman asked her new friend-- an elven woman. Once she was sure the Templar was gone she sighed deeply and slipped into a more familiar Antivan accent. "Oh my. I almost didn't think that it would work... Uh.. My apologies for dragging you into this," She said, "My name is Aurora," she introduced herself, the Rs rolling off of her tongue, "And I thank you for your aid. Can I get you a drink?" Hopefully, this woman was liquored up enough to forget the entire scene.

Some minstrel played a jolly sailor’s tune somewhere to her left, but this was a piece of information Nostariel scarcely noted, absorbed as she was with staring at her empty flagon as though the dregs of her ale contained the answers to all of life’s greatest mysteries. Occasionally, there was a bard that played in here, and his music was much better, but the white-haired elf (odd as it was), hadn’t been by in some time. She wasn’t sure what made her think of that just now, but it was considerably lighter than the other thoughts swimming around in her mind these days, so she allowed it to convalesce a while longer before the next, more ponderous thing moved in to take its place.

She wondered how Lucien fared, at this moment, and Rakkis and that curious man Sparrow. Considering that they and the bartender were the only four people she knew at all around here, it was probably natural to wonder after them. Occasionally, the slumped-over Warden would remember herself enough to be ashamed of this, her slow, undignified death, and unfortunately right now was one of those times. Probably because this was her first drink today, and she was still sober because of it.

A situation easily-enough remedied, she supposed. Her hand was halfway up to motion for the bartender for another round when movement caught her eye from her peripheral vision. Nostariel paused then, lowering her hand and following the newcomer with surprisingly-sharp eyes. She knew all of the regulars by gait and carriage if not by name, and this was not one of them.

To the Warden’s surprise, the woman (for indeed it was one, and a rather small one, for a human), slid into the seat across from her, and began talking slightly too-loudly. Nostariel, despite frequent intoxication, was no idiot, and it was obvious that the act was being put on for a purpose. When the Templar stomped through the door, the reason was apparent with silver-armored clarity, and her decision was made.

“Utterly deplorable. I say he’s lucky you didn’t call the guard, my dear.” Nostariel sniffed haughtily, straightening her posture and nodding along with the rest of the rant until the Templar left, sparing just one more when the woman asked if he was gone.

“Think nothing of it,” she replied to the woman’s thanks, placing the accent as vaguely Antivan, maybe Rivaini, but… no, definitely Antivan. “I spent enough time under the watch of the Templars to understand that it is no desirable thing.” Despite her words, there was something almost wistful in Nostariel’s tone. She waved a hand to decline the offer of a drink; she didn’t usually let anyone else buy for her.

“Aurora, is it? My name is Nostariel; it’s a pleasure.”

So this woman had run-ins with Templars as well? Aurora was intrigued. Just who did she managed to sit in front of? "Nostariel? It's a pretty name," she said, cocking her head curiously to the side. She let a pause pass before speaking again. "Templars... You too? So does that mean that you... Uh.." She trailed off. How does one go about asking if another is a mage? Was there some sort of process? Was it rude? Aurora was interested, but didn't want to be pry either. Instead of saying the word outloud, she made odd gestures with her hands. There was something about this girl... Did the Maker really have this kind of a sense of humor?

Nostariel nodded, a trifle melancholy, some unknown affliction flitting across her facial expression before it smoothed out into something gentle again. "It means exactly what you think it means," she replied softly, then tapped the crest on her shoulder, the sole marker of her status as a Warden, the red band underneath the logo denoting her rank as Captain of the Grey. "And a few other things, too." Of course, not all of them were good things, and it was probably obvious that there was far more to the story than she'd bothered to say, but it was not a tale that would pass easily into empty air, fellow mage or no.

"So tell me, Aurora, how does an Antivan apostate find herself running from Templars in Kirkwall of all places? It's not the first location one thinks of when the word 'freedom' is mentioned; of that I am quite certain." Her tone had transitioned smoothly to diffidence, a miniscule smile tugging at one corner of her mouth, and it was clear enough that the question was meant at least partially in jest, and need not be answered seriously if the young woman should wish to avoid doing so.

Her eyes followed her fingers to the crest on her shoulder and Aurora's eyes widened in surprise. Not only a mage, but a Grey Warden at that! She had never met a Grey Warden before, but everyone knew their symbols of Griffins. Strange, seeing a Warden in back end of Kirkwall's seedy tavern. Surely there was a story behind that, but Aurora wasn't going to press. She was happy just knowing that this woman was a mage as well. But a Warden... At least she didn't have to worry about getting sent to the Gallows.

"You knew I was Antivan?" She started. It was obvious how the Warden came to that conclusion. Her accent hardly left any doubts. The corners of her mouth tilted downward in a show of disappointment. "I've been trying to get rid of the accent. You know, try not to draw any unneeded attention to myself," she said turning to look at the entrance where the Templar had been standing. "Been failing spectacularly recently," She shook her head and took a drink of her beer. It tasted horrid. She had merely bought it for the facade, but she hated to waste it. She sighed again and said, "It's not like the word mage does any better. There was a surge of refugees, and I figured that it'd be harder to track one apostate among them."

"Or, you know, I could say that I just wanted to see a Qunari," she said with her grin coming back.

"Indeed not," replied Nostariel, thoughtfully. A wry smile twisted her lips at the mention of the Qunari, and she quirked a brow. "They are... certainly something. What that something is, I couldn't say for sure." The young woman rested her chin on a hand, propping her elbow on the table and regarding her newest acquaintance with something approaching curiosity.

"You know, it helps to have safe places all about the city, ones that you can duck into from just about anywhere. There's a network of tunnels beneath the place, too, but sometimes just having friends in the right places is enough." She paused, her index finger circling the rim of her tankard slowly, then glanced up at the redheaded apostate. "My rooms are just up the stairs and to the left. Second door on the right, next to the storytellers'. If you ever need somewhere to hide and I'm not around. The word 'Ewan' disables the ward, and also replaces it again, so you should be able to get in without fuss."

Was it foolish to entrust such information to a total stranger? Yes, but Nostariel had not counted herself anything other then a fool for a very long time. "You will, of course, need more than one such place. How well do you know Kirkwall? I could show you a few potential hiding spots I've noticed, if you like. The key to keeping a secret is to make it look like you aren't." That, at least was something Nostariel knew a fair bit about.

Aurora eyes widened at Nostariel's offer of safe havens. Thus far, she had been relying on her wits and her feet to keep her out of reach of the Templars. Sure, her... lodging in Lowtown served her well. It was out of place from the main bustle of the city, though she dare not track any suspicions back. She had survived by staying away from the Templars and rarely resorting to magic. Knowing that this woman was offering a couple of more safe havens... It was comforting.

She nodded as Nostariel spoke, listening intently to her words as it may save her from a trip to the Gallows one day. "Ewan... Is there a meaning behind that," She mused outloud. She wasn't posing it as a direct question to the Warden, just a bit of curiosity making it's way out of her mouth.

"Long enough to know the best paths to avoid the heaviest traffic. But I don't have 'safe houses' no," She said. She knew her way around Lowtown and the paths best suited to losing Templars, just in case, but that was about it. "I'd like that. Very much." She said with pure gratitude written on her face. She then glanced back at the Hanged Man's entrance. "It doesn't happen often... Today was... Unfortunate," she said. She wouldn't have had this problem if a band of rogues didn't try to prey on a young woman... Though whether the day proved to be ultimately unfortunate remained to be seen. She did managed to find a Grey Warden mage after all.

"I guessed as much," Nostariel replied easily, ignoring the implications behind the young woman's innocent question. They were certainly present, but she lacked the strength to face them quite yet. It was a foolish piece of sentiment, after all, better left as far away from the stark lights of daytime and sobriety as possible. "Well," she continued, perhaps a shade more brightly than she'd spoken in a while, "I suppose there's no time quite like the present, is there?" Splaying her fingers on the tabletop, Nostariel lightly leveraged herself off the bench she'd been seated at, standing and dropping a few coppers on the table for whomever happened to clean it. She had a running tab at the Hanged Man, one which she paid monthly with her board fees.

A tilt of her head gestured for Aurora to follow her out-of-doors, and the Warden's light footsteps were without hitch or stumble.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Rakkis Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon

Earnings

0.00 INK

The Viscount's daughter slid through the door to the private quarters and into the Seneschal's office. Bran looked up to see her sheathing Vesenia, her hand-and-a-half sword, across her back, her suit of armor gleaming in the morning light that streamed through the window. It was an expertly crafted suit of silver plate, remarkably light for the protection it offered her, and yet still strong enough to turn aside any glancing blow. It was also stylish enough to make most Orlesian Chevaliers moderately jealous, with crimson and white ribbons sown into the shoulder pauldrons and breastplate, as well as a crimson skirt falling loosely around her legs to reach her knees. She had tied her thick golden hair back into a ponytail, securing it in place with a headband of tightly interlaced red and white cloth.

"My lady..." Bran began, but as ever, Sophia was quick to quick to cut him off. "Bran, I'm going. Everything will be fine." He shook his head. "It's not that. A pair of... mercenaries, I suppose, arrived while you were donning your armor, and I've assigned them to accompany you to the Wounded Coast." Sophia sighed. "More mercenaries? And how am I supposed to trust these ones any more than the Winters?"

"Because they are fully aware that their reward will only be presented if both you and your brother return unharmed. And, well... the first one seemed an honorable enough sort. The other should be held by the coin, if nothing else. You'll see soon enough. They're waiting for you outside." Sophia shrugged. There wasn't any more time to waste. She wasn't going to argue with him about this. And... she had to admit that taking on the Winters herself should things go awry was a bit of a tall order. They were skilled killers, not commoners. "Fine," Sophia gave in, before turning to leave.

"Maker guard you, Sophia," Bran called to her as she left. Sophia had never thought the Seneschal a very religious man. Perhaps he was just saying it to encourage her. If he was, it worked well enough. She passed through the Seneschal's door swiftly, moving easily in her armor, a feat not many of the noblewomen in Hightown could perform. She noted the presence of her two companions, the first a large, well-built man, a warrior like herself, the second... a slender elf. His facial tattoos initially identified him as Dalish in her mind, but... the tattoos seemed oddly vulgar. She had to admit, she'd never met a Dalish elf, but she'd always imagined their facial tattoos would be more... elegant?

But it didn't matter. He would help her, or he wouldn't get paid, which was likely all these mercenaries cared about. She waved the two to follow her, and moved swiftly down the steps away from the Viscount's quarters, expecting them to keep up.

"Let's do introductions on the move, shall we?" she called back to them, golden hair swishing behind her as she walked. "Sophia Dumar, daughter to the Viscount of Kirkwall, as I'm sure you know."

Lucien tracked the elf's movement with his single mercurial eye, returning the rougish nod with a markedly more respectful and decorous one, though other than that, he was quite content to remain out of the man's business, and maintained a fair distance from the Seneschal's office. Eventually, the tattooed fellow reemerged, and the warrior was fairly certain he caught the tail end of a jest made at his expense. Never heard that one before, he thought with faint traces of sarcasm, though he was more interested in the fact that the other man seemed to be lingering as well. It was not difficult to put two and two together, and he drew the conclusion that he would not be alone in his endeavors this day.

He was spared having to ask the actual question by the appearance of an armored woman, face set into an expression that was all business. The craftsmanship of her arms and armament spoke to wealth, but also the presence of mind to maintain such things, and her gesture was all he needed to suppose that she was accustomed to being obeyed. After that, the introduction was only a formality, and he uprooted himself from his spot against the pillar at last, rotating his left arm in its socket as he tread carefully after her trailing ponytail. He maintained a respectful distance of two paces behind and to the right, but the motion made bowing a frankly ridiculous option, so he embraced the efficiency of the situation and spoke while walking.

"Lucien Drakon, milady, lowtown mercenary, as I'm sure you have no reason to know." He echoed her delivery with something approaching mild humor. And why not? Though he'd been told she was a warrior, it was still in his nature to expect formality thick enough to choke, and its absence was... refreshing.

Rakkis played a single thumb along the exposed hilt of his unnamed rapier while he waited. He smiled pleasantly enough at Lucien, then at Sophia when she made her appearance. The slender elf gravitated toward the large mercenary's right side when they were underway, hanging just a step back; not out of deference, but more likely to be annoying. ”And I am Rakkis. A pleasure to make your acquaintences, of course." He eased his hands behind his back, clasping them at the small of it. He had to step quickly to match his companions' longer strides, but did so easily enough.

Sophia made note of their names, if only to know what to call them in case orders needed to be given. The name Drakon might have had a greater impact on her had she not been in such a hurry, and had she not been so distracted. "We could go through the formalities," Sophia commented as the group exited the Keep, "but personally, I'd rather we just got moving. I hope the two of you can ride. We'll be making haste to the Wounded Coast, where we should be able to pick up the Winters' trail. Maker willing, we'll catch them before they do anything stupid." She made a sharp turn at the base of the steps, turning towards the Viscount's stables. The guards nodded and let her pass, her two companions let through as well.

Rakkis' nose wrinkled up on the word ride. He had no great affinity for animals, particularly the sort large enough to flatten him with a kick. Of course, the well-bred beasts that the Viscount was liable to keep might be less surly than the nags he'd had occasion to saddle before. ”That," he commented dryly with a smirk toward Sophia, ”Would require catching them before they get anywhere near your darling brother."

"That is my intent," Sophia said as the three of them made their way into the stables, an open courtyard of mostly cold stone flooring, though they would be able to see the Viscount's private riding grounds through a gate against the far wall. A stablehand was quick to bring Sophia's horse to her, a proud-looking white warhorse which she smoothly mounted without breaking stride. "Bring horses for my companions," she commanded, and in short order a pair of them were brought forth, both black. Strong, sturdy horses, not the caliber of Sophia's, but noble creatures all the same. Once the group was mounted, Sophia kicked her heels into her horse, calling back to them.

"Try to keep up!"

Lucien was forced to adjust the way the scythe lay across his back, in order that he would neither stab the horse nor himself. It was a minor inconvenience at best, but it had never been a problem when he carried a sword. It would be some time, perhaps, before he allowed himself that luxury again, or any other. Still, there was a faintly-pleased crinkle in the corner of his visible eye when he swung astride the beast. This, the exercise of military skill from astride an equine, was one of the things the Chavaliers took most pride in, and the Orlesian cavalry was, in the opinion of its members and a fair amont of others, the finest in the world. Lady Sophia spurred her beast foward, and the call that issued over her shoulder, filled with no small amount of confidence, sounded very much like a challenge.

The Orlesian man's good eyebrow ascended his forehead, and he shook his mane of hair good-naturedly. How tempted he was to revert, even for a moment, to his boyhood, when he'd answered so many such barbs from his father or his comrades and raced with no thought for anything but the joy of it. Alas, that was likely not the intention, and there were much more important matters to be taken care of. Steering with only his legs, Lucien squeezed his horse's flanks rather than kicking it, but the response was the same, and he made sure to actually heed the command and keep pace, aware that time grew short.

”Horse," the elf said, nodding toward the coal-colored steed that was brought before him as if that were its name. He hadn't the same aplomb or horsemanship as his two human comrades when it came to getting astride the damnable thing; it was nearly a trapeze act of sorts for him to get one foot into a stirrup and then swing for the sake of momentum to wind up in the saddle. He situated himself, looking cross and uncomfortable, and then leaned in to whisper into one of the animal's large ears. "There is a woman down in Darktown who makes a most delightful horse-meat stew. I know her well, and would see her business thrive. Do not cross me, Horse." He kicked his heels into the great beasts sides, then held on for dear life as it started off its cantor. The animal probably barely realized there was a rider in the saddle, so slight was Rakkis, and it was with wide eyes and quite a few curses that he managed to stay seated at first. Sophia and Lucien would likely gain a sizeable lead before he finally got the hang of it.

The three of them departed Kirkwall, heading for the Wounded Coast.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

The shem chose to walk in front of Ithilian, perhaps as some kind of show of trust, or cooperation. Or stupidity. He welcomed the third in shemlen, but had no desire for the first two. But he made no complaints. Best to know where the girl was, and what she was doing, at all times, at least until he could discern her motives. There was no coin to be had from this job. Arianni had nothing to spare. There were toes that could possibly be stepped on, such as those of the Templars. And from what Ithilian had gathered in his short time in the city, the Templars were not a group to be trifled with, or a group to be made enemies of. At least, not publicly. And neither Arianni nor Feynriel were of her people. Arianni was Dalish, and Feynriel... had no place. His human blood would mark him as lesser among the People, and his elven blood would mark him as lesser among the shemlen. So what was she after?

"Why do you care?" Ithilian asked bluntly from behind her as they walked up the steps, in the direction of the Lowtown Bazaar. "The boy is no kin of yours, and neither is Arianni. What do you get from doing this?"

"Must it be about what I stand to gain?" Amalia asked, neither pausing nor looking back. "There is a task that needs doing. A boy who, by your reasoning, has no place in the world, needs to be found. I am both willing to and capable of finding him. Is there any reason I should not?" Truly, she had never understood thinking of this kind. Among her people, everything that needed doing was done, by those who were suited to do it. Personal gain was irrelevant. Care was exercised because other people were just as you were, but perhaps incapable of doing some of the things you could do.

As she walked, she fiddled with the loose straps on her back, slinging her harp next to her chain-weapon, careful not to scratch the wood. It was not a paticularly valuable thing, and she of course held no particular attachment to it, but this was no reason to be neglectful to it. Her stride continued uninterrupted, and she led him around a corner and into Lowtown proper. There was the Hanged Man, a popular establishment if she heard correctly, but Vincento was located further still, on the other side of the Bazaar.

Ithilian frowned at her answer, watching her carefully. He would have been much happier had she just admitted to whatever greed was driving her to help a half-elf, but instead she continued with this line of what seemed to be complete selflessness. She had nothing to gain. But because she was capable of helping, and because she couldn't think of a reason not to, she offered assistance? No, there was a snake here somewhere. He could hear it hissing beneath her words. There was something she was hiding from him. The Dalish ensured that his knives were loose in their scabbards at his waist.

Entering the Bazaar made him tense. Especially since he was armed. Depravity ran thick here. In the Alienage, the pitiful nature of the citizens made him feel sorrow for the fate of his people. The pitiful nature of these shemlen made him want to tear something open. Fortunately, he had a target, and a very good reason to carve answers from him. He picked up his pace to walk almost beside Amalia, knowing the location of this Vincento's market stall, as he had passed by the Antivan just the other day.

Vincento's Northern Merchandise it was called. Even from a distance, Ithilian could pick out the man's accent, his voice carrying over the crowds. The second he spotted Amalia, he turned his attention on her. "You, my lady, look like a woman who appreciates exotic garments from faraway lands! Would you care to take a look at my wares? I have a fine selection of goods from glorious Antiva!"

"Do I?" The Qunari mused, glancing down at her ordinary, threadbare dress. For the moment, it was a useful disguise, underneath which she kept more appropriate garments for dirtier work. No, she was quite certain that she looked nothing of the sort. "I believe you may wish to reevaluate your claims later. Presently, however, I am here to inquire about your son." She fixed him with a knowing look, more than a little eerie for the fact that one of her irises was an unnatural red. Crossing her arms over her chest and leaning predominantly on her right leg, Amalia cocked her head to one side, a bird-like gesture that conveyed nothing but the utmost patience.

The merchant gave a single laugh, though it was obviously infected with his nervousness. "Son? No... I'm afraid I have never had the pleasure. My wife, sadly, is back in Antiva, and cannot often--ugh!"

His gaze had been fixed on Amalia, likely distracted by her mismatched eye colors, and he hadn't been prepared in the slightest when Ithilian rammed his forearm into the merchant's throat, growling. His other hand drew a knife from the sheath at his waist, and he drove Vincento backwards, slamming him against the wall and pinning him there, the point of the knife pressed painfully into his side, in between the two lowest ribs.

"Listen very carefully," he said, his tone deadly serious, the look in his eye matching quite well. "If you know anything about Feynriel, and where he is at this moment, you are going to tell me. If you think for a second that I won't slice your belly open, watch your entrails spill about your pathetic little stall, and enjoy every second of it... well, you get the picture." Vincento struggled, but he was hopelessly trapped against the wall, so after a few tense seconds of this, he managed to sputter, "S...Samson!"

Ithilian reluctantly released him, allowing him to collapse to the ground in front of him. He flipped his knife around to point at the now sitting Vincento. "Speak," he ordered. After collecting himself for a moment, the Antivan did just so.

"The boy... he's in over his head, but... he came to me, after running away. I could do nothing for him, but... I sent him to the only man I know who does not despise mages. An ex-Templar named Samson." Ithilian sheathed the knife, crossing his arms. "And where can we find him?" Vincento coughed several more times. "He... he is a wanted man, so he stays out of sight. But he can usually be found near the entrances to Darktown. Please... you won't turn him in to the Templars, will you?

Ithilian shook his head. "I intend to make sure the boy doesn't end up a corpse. What he does with his life is his business. Gods know you've never made it yours." He turned back to Amalia. "Most shem don't respond very well if you appeal to their good natures. They have none. I find force to be far more efficient... and satisfying."

Amalia, perhaps more conscious than her companion of exactly how public this encounter was, had shifted, moving so as to obscure the exchange to anyone entering the Bazaar from Hightown, which she knew to be the patrol route for the city guard. She released a soft exhale from her nose that might have been a sigh when he went straight for the aggressive option, but in the end, results were the most important consideration, and as long as he was not so wasteful and foolish as to attempt to kill Vincento, she couldn't say she much cared. The man was clearly dathrasi, and the Qun had little use for liars.

Still, Ithilian's proclamation seemed to trouble her, if for no other reason than she still did not understand what the great difference was between being shemlen and being anything else. "There are many paths to the same end, Sataareth," she responded slowly, glancing between the winded merchant and the armed elf. "Not all of them require violence... nor will all of them see you arrested or killed by the shemlen you despise so much, particularly when executed in broad daylight."

"And not all of these paths lead us to Feynriel in time."

She shrugged lightly, as if to say the argument was of little consequence. "Perhaps we should seek this Samson. I suspect the dockside entrance is the one we want."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera

Earnings

0.00 INK

If Sparrow belonged anywhere, it might've been in the deepest recesses of Darktown or in the moderately acceptable bits of Lowtown, both of which she was incredibly, irredeemably fond of. These were the places you could move about unnoticed, unhampered by cloisters of eavesdropping women, flashing wealthy fans in front of their faces, or scowling men who questioned your motives without actually vocalizing their thoughts. It was in their piggish eyes, digging inconspicuously through your pockets to see what kind of coin you could spend at their shops. These were the places without plated gentleman who'd rather wring her neck up on the gallows then see her gallivanting the streets, without a care in the world. It didn't matter that freedom often tasted like mouldy residue, chokedamp and stale body odour. Lowtown smelled considerably better, anyway. Though, it still harboured disgusting chambers that threatened her independence – the Gallows, with all of it's cages and bars and bordered cells. Thankfully, the Templars themselves seemed to congregate, and stick around, in the Gallow's barracks, taking refuge with the statues while dutifully avoiding the Alienage and taverns as if they'd somehow contract the plague if they ventured too far. Dirty bludgers with a penchant for swinging their batons about, like heckled roosters.

The only redeeming feature Hightown claimed was the fact that it had the Blooming Rose in it's midst, nestled in the back alleys like a scuzzy cousin you'd prefer avoiding. It had as much accordance and belonging, among such highborn, snobbish citizens, as a wolf in a field of sheep, gallivanting as a kindly shepherd. She had long since lost count of the young women and men she had flirted and exchanged passionate kisses with, though she hadn't ever taken it further. Her identity was important. Still, it was one of the places that Sparrow frequented, if only to steal a few kisses, a few touches, and the sweetest of words – she couldn't help it, really. She'd become a regular, and those who worked there knew her name, her tastes, her peculiar behaviour. Hard-eyed Madame Lusine always offered her a special table whenever she swaggered into the establishment, always keen to subtly offer her a position if she so wished to take it. Peculiarities were always desired. Sparrow often wondered whether or not those eyes, so devilishly keen, could see straight through her.

In Kirkwall, Sparrow could be anyone, anything. She could be a gentleman or a woman. Hardly a lady. She could be a stiff-shouldered warrior with enough ferocity to make a man think twice, or a soft-eyed boy pressing his lips to proffered knuckles. To them, Sparrow was what she put herself off to be: a man. It was easier that way.

Sparrow's business took her into the heart of Lowtown. Her swaggering gait slowed, ponderously, until she finally stopped. She rubbed her chin thoughtfully, eyebrows scrunched. Where had Rilien wanted to meet up, again? They'd been recently looking for work, even though Rilien truly had need for nothing and it was only Sparrow who was constantly landing herself in financial trouble. These little, completely relevant, bits of information always slipped her mind. Especially if someone sidetracked her, which happened quite often. Her absentmindedness was commonplace and if it hadn't been for Rilien's otherworldly patience, his Tranquillity, then surely he would’ve dealt with her in an unpleasant fashion long ago. Her excuses were lame, half-hearted things. It didn't assuage the sense of squirming, half-caught guilt that quietly mumbled in her mind. A gnawing resignation that Rilien deserved better from her. Most likely, it'd be her companion that'd find work, anyway.

Too late to dwell on something that would be rectified later in the day. Rilien always seemed to find her in the end. She often joked that he could find her quicker than a rabid Mabari hound, though she suspected he always ran into her from sheer luck, otherwise he'd just become accustomed to all of her preferred places. Hadn't she mentioned that she was heading to Ashton's shop? Perhaps. With a huffing breath, Sparrow continued walking to her intentioned destination. She was originally heading for Ashton's cozy shop, but all of those other tempting stops hampered her little journey – primarily the one where she'd gone into the Hanged Man and guzzled down several goblets of dry whiskey, like a fish who'd suddenly been driven to land. To remedy her lateness, she'd bought Ashton a bottle of sweet rum from behind the barkeep's counter. Corf was kind enough to part with it when she, actually, won a few rounds of cards and slipped her winnings across the dirty counter, wringing her lips into her affable grin. The warmth still wound it's fingers through her stomach, kneading a comfortable satisfaction. She was tickled pink; a pyre at the world's edge, dancing, smiling, laughing.

Ashton's wasn't just another stuffed shirt. She wouldn’t even consider him a dirty shemlen, which was saying something considering her opinions on humans as a whole were as quaky and unstable as a collapsing building. Her insatiable, unexplainable hatred for them burnt far hotter than her passion for life, for everything breathing. She was like a slow spreading fire, slick and smooth. She'd learned, over time, that they weren't always the same. Sparrow's heckles did not raise in Ashton's presence, so she'd deemed him safe. At least, her fingers didn't twitch along the hilts of her blades. So, the half-elf resisted the urge to dramatically kick in the door and opened it, politely, with a little jingle of the chimes. One thing that she loved, or adored, about Lowtown in particular, were the varying smells – and not the musty ones everyone complains about. It was the candied nuts, exotic fruits, sweetbreads and glazed pastries. It was the smell of leather, rich, fresh.

Deep, earthy, musk – it welcomed her into the shop, brought her almost dreamily wafting forward until she slapped her hands on the counter, careful not to drop the bottle tucked into her armpit. The unmistakable and unfading scent of leather. Ashton must've known about it's magical properties. She wondered whether or not she was the only one who was so drawn to it, so irrefutably fascinated. “Ash!” She crooned, depositing the bottle on the counter. Her eyes, half-shuttered, searched for her friend – perhaps, he was in the back. She laughed heartily, tossing her head back like a delighted colt. "I've a gift for you, but it may be gone by the time you get here." Her reasons for coming were long forgotten. She always had ulterior motives, or favors to ask. Perchance, it was conceivable that going to the Hanged Man, for once, was a bad idea.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

"Well, there's not actually a lot of places in the Bazaar itself, but losing a pursuer in a crowd like this is very possible, especially if you can change your appearance on the go, though... I'm sure you already knew that." Nostariel gestured at Aurora's hood with an approving nod. "Still, if you're really in a pinch and can't make it to the Hanged Man, there's always the sewers." It might have been expected of a tidy-looking woman like her to wrinkle her nose at the very thought, but this was a soul who'd been covered head-to-toe in Darkspawn guts and the vomit of her weak-stomached junior Wardens on more than one occasion, in no place less dangerous than the Deep Roads themselves. So yes, sewers were far from desirable, but certainly she could put things in perspective if need-be.

The two were just now rounding a corner, but the blonde elf drew up short upon looking around it. Having just passed a garment shop that tended to sell less-obvious raiment for mages, they were now within a few feet of a most disturbing scene. Vincento, an Antivan merchant who sold mostly luxury items, had his back to the wall and his posterior to the ground, clearly struggling to maintain even that upright position. Over him loomed a man the Warden had never seen before, an elf with some kind of covering on his head that sloped down to cover one eye. She was reminded for the barest moment of Lucien, but then decided that this small thing was where the similarity ended.

As she watched, the man's companion spoke to him, and Nostariel found herself puzzled by the exchange. The name, Feynriel, did not sound familiar, but it did sound Dalish. Nostariel had always had things to worry about besides the plight of her fellow elves, and indeed she was too much a mage and a Warden both to feel much more than a cursory connection to the People, as she understood they called themselves. Even so... there was an urgency in their actions that compelled her to ask. She was, if nothing else, an aide to causes larger than herself, always.

Glancing back at Aurora as if to beg her pardon, she addressed the other two. "My apologies, but... can I help you?" It was probably the most generic offer of assistance she had, but then she didn't understand the situation fully, only that it was somehow important enough to drive this man to violence. Whether it would be he and his companion she helped or Vincento, she could not yet say.

Ithilian had been aware that the scene he'd caused would draw some attention, but as he heard another speak, he found himself thinking perhaps he should have been more observant. He hadn't really checked to see if anyone potentially dangerous was around. But there were no guards grabbing him by the arms yet, and he had really wanted to hit a shem so he figured it had worked out well enough.

The Dalish found himself highly intrigued when he saw who was speaking to him, however. That she was an elf was the first thing he noticed, but he soon took note of what she was wearing. His old clan had encountered a Grey Warden once, Duncan, an older man with a full beard, and impressive skill with dual blades. He had been human, yes, but Grey Wardens were another matter. The Dalish had always respected them, and Ithilian's clan had been no different in that regard. This elven woman's garb was of the same make, and the sigil was the same; she was a Grey Warden.

She had no vallaslin however, and he had to admit, she didn't quite carry the same aura that Duncan had. Perhaps it was her age. Ithilian would have guessed her over ten years younger than he. Or maybe the way she carried herself. Where Duncan had appeared stronger than an ogre, she looked... different, slightly reminiscent of the other city elves. Perhaps she had been one of them.

"Andaran atish'an, Grey Warden," he greeted her, his attention occupied by her enough for him to not really notice that she was accompanied by a shem. "We seek a boy by the name of Feynriel, who recently fled the Alienage due to disagreements with his mother. He is also a mage," he said, lowering his voice significantly when he spoke of magic. He then gestured back to the still sitting Vincento. "I have just wrung a lead out of this shem, and we are headed there now. I would welcome the company of a Grey Warden, if you wish to offer aid."

A mage. Well, if Nostariel had entertained any doubts about whether or not she was going to help, they evaporated with that particular revelation. A youth, troubled by his magic (for truly, it was impossible not to have been troubled by something like magic at some point, she was sure), and now missing. Swallowing, Nostariel glanced back down at Vincento before kneeling in front of the human and checking him for injuries. He appeared to be mostly unharmed, but she cast a quick heal just in case, offering the man her hand to leverage him to his feet.

As soon as he was set to rights, she turned around to face to the other two. "It is Nostariel, if you prefer. I suppose I cannot ignore a story like that," she said, voice just as quiet as the Dalish man's had been. "My assistance is yours."

Sighing, she looked back to Aurora and managed a thin smile. "I must ask your forgiveness, Aurora, but it seems this cannot wait. I'll not ask you to put yourself at even greater risk. Remember what I said about the wards."

"You say this as if I'm not coming along," Aurora said, crossing her arms and grinning. The whole issue with the Templar had only momentarily dampened her mood, she was not the one to let it get her down though. Her interest was roused as soon as this Dalish said mage. She knew the troubles the boy had probably encountered-- and will encounter yet. What sort of person would she be to just allow this boy to stay missing? "Perhaps it will give me time for things to cool down as well?" She said, picking her words carefully. They were out in public among many prying ears, not to mention the Dalish and his friend.

Today had certainly been interesting, and it seemed that it had only began. Aurora began to brighten at the prospect of doing good for another fellow mage.

"Perhaps it will," Nostariel replied evenly, returning the smile with half of one of her own. She'd had a feeling the answer might be something like that, but who was she to stop someone from doing what they felt was right?

The appearance of two new individuals was not exactly unexpected, and Amalia was for the most part perfectly content to allow them to conduct their business through the Sataareth. If someone of his demeanor was capable of tolerating them, someone of hers would have no trouble. The first was dressed in blue and silver armor, with a staff slung across her back. Amalia had heard of the Grey Wardens, though she'd never had cause to interact with one. She understood that they were a group tasked with a very specific mandate, one that they held to, on average, with no less diligence than a Qunari. That bas could successfully understand the principles of duty and boundaries was impressive to her, though she was not even remotely tempted to say so.

The other was female as well, and apparently in some way associated with the Warden. When the blonde woman stooped beside the merchant, the Qunari caught the brief flash of magic, and her eyes narrowed. It was still difficult to get used to the idea of Sarebas without Averaad, but it was apparently woefully common in such societies as these. It was not her role to adjust situations of this nature, however, and so she like her kith behaved as tolerantly as they felt themselves inclined to be.

"If we are to go, it would make sense to do so now," she pointed out mildly. This ex-Templar did not strike her as a particularly trustworthy sort. Perhaps it was simply in her nature as an enforcer of law to frown upon those who could not be bothered to follow it. And basra laws at that- though she thought their systems fatally flawed, there was no mistaking the loose nature of their restrictions.

Ithilian glared in annoyance when the shemlen girl accompanying the Warden insisted on coming along, but it seemed more a matter for the Warden, Nostariel, to deal with, not him, so he did not object openly. That didn't mean he had to like it, of course. He'd be keeping an eye on her, as well.

"My name is Ithilian, formerly of Clan Mordallis of the Dalish, from the Brecilian Forest in Ferelden. This is Amalia, of the Qunari, who is right. We should leave before this shem decides to crawl back into his hole."

To them both, Nostariel simply nodded. Their words made sense, and rescuing that poor boy was clearly the priority in this situation. As she did not know where they were going, she gestured ahead of herself deferentially, allowing the Qunari woman (and how odd; she had thought that female Qunari did not fight, but this one bore weapons despite her civilian's clothing) to walk in front, since he seemed to have the best idea of where to find this person they sought next.

Still, her mind was troubled. Children with elven blood who went missing around here... she'd heard too many tales of this city's history to dismiss his capture by slavers as a very real possibility. And trapped, with nothing but his fledgling magic to defend himself with... she shuddered. She knew what that felt like, how strong the Fade-demons were in those moments, and she had been raised to resist them. She could not imagine what might become of a youth with no formal training and no other visible options. The musing suffused her steps with urgency.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Rakkis Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon

Earnings

0.00 INK

Lucien had been given cause to visit the Wounded Coast on more than one occasion, given that this location was rife with bandits and Tal'Vashoth alike. Despite the rather unsavory nature of its residents and its repuation for running ships aground, it was very much a scenic place, with the same raw beauty as many of the lands that surrounded Kirkwall. Here, in the Free Marches, what was not city was often wild, and the landscape was dotted with caves, outcroppings of rocks, and in this case, quite a lot of sand. It was very unlike Orlais, where just about everything was farmland or else relatively-tamed forest. The air here was crisp and salty in his lungs, but he did not quite allow himself to forget his purpose.

The group had slowed to an easy canter, to spare the horses the indignity of a turned foot or a potentially-catastrophic stumble. It also allowed Rakkis an opportunity to regain the ground he had lost at the start of their mad dash for this place, which the once-knight considered fortunate. It would not do to encounter these other mercenaries, nor the boy and his captors, at less than the full strength of their force, however few in number they were.

The tracks the Winters had left were easy to follow; the divots in the sand indicating the passage of many human feet but no equine ones. That were clearly making no effort to hide their presence here, and perhaps they had no need to, with that many of them. It was hard to put a number to it, for some tread in others' steps, but it was no mean force. A true company, and not just a loose association of individuals, then. The tracks diverted south, and Lucien pulled his horse up when he heard the first unnatural noises. That was down very close to the ocean itself; a bandit camp had been there until recently. Perhaps the Qunari had killed them?

Squinting his eye, he placed a hand on his brow to shade it from the sun, but no more details of the situation were immediately visible to him. "There," he indicated the area with a gesture. "We can approach from any one of three directions, or all of them, if you prefer. Given their number, I would of course advise caution, though I'd also understand if you preferred to forgo it, given the circumstances." A not-quite-smile twisted his lips, and the expression was perhaps best classed as wry, patiently so.

"I'd rather not give them the impression we mean to attack them," Sophia said from atop her horse. "They're not our enemies yet, after all." She swung one leg over the horse and smoothly dismounted, squinting at the area. She could see some of the Winters from here, and judging by their postures, the situation was not a very tense one. She gestured to her two companions to follow. "Follow me. Keep your weapons sheathed, please. It appears the Winters may have things under control. Maker willing, the both of you can return to Kirkwall and receive your rewards without ever drawing blood."

Rakkis dismounted as gracefully as he'd gotten onto the black steed in the first place. He somehow managed to get both feet beneath him and land silently upon the soft sand. The elf glanced toward Sophia and shook his head. "You pious types really do take all the fun out of rescue missions, you know. I suppose you are in charge though." Something about the way he intoned the second sentence might have cast doubt on the matter.

She led the way down with smooth, long strides, movement with a purpose. She took the middle of the three paths, leaving her sword sheathed across her back. A pair of Winters stood watch at the entrance to the old bandit camp, but made no motions to stop her. She nodded respectfully towards them as she passed, and they made no reaction.

"And the world's rid of one more Qunari," came Ginnis' voice from the center of the camp, and Sophia's attention was snapped to her. The leader of the Winters stood with twin daggers drawn and dripping dark red blood, over the prone form of a lone Qunari, lacerated by multiple wounds, his blood staining the sand. "Easier than I expected." She called back to the men accompanying her. "Call the others back, we won't be needing them. We've got an appointment with the Viscount, isn't that right, Saemus?"

Sophia's younger brother of two years was kneeling beside the dead Qunari, his attention fixated on the corpse. "Ashaad..." Sophia was confused for only the briefest of moments, before she understood. Suddenly everything made perfect sense. Oh, brother... this is going to complicate things. Saemus had turned his gaze on Ginnis, anger in his eyes. "You killed him! You... you vashedan bitch!" He had risen to his feet now, and seemed entirely unaware that his own sister had now entered the area. He likely mistook her for another mercenary.

"That one of their words?" Ginnis responded, with a mix of amusement and annoyance. "See, that's why you need to be dragged home. You're playing too nice with those things. I'll wager you've gone even further than that, haven't you, brat?" Sophia decided to make her presence known now, lest things get any more out of hand. "Enough!" she called, getting their attention. Saemus turned. "Sister? What are you doing here? Did father..."

Sophia shook her head. "No, I came on my own. You and I will have to have a talk with father when we get back. For now, I just came to make sure you were safe." Saemus cast a hateful glance at Ginnis. "I was safe! I was never not safe, at least not until father sent thugs to do a job he should have done himself!" Ginnis rolled her eyes. "Quiet, you! Listen, girl, the Winters were more than capable of handling a single Qunari. We've done the job, and we've already claimed him, so the bounty is ours. The boy is coming back to the Keep with me."

Saemus seemed indignant, proud, defiant, and most of all, completely sure of himself. Sophia knew this to be when he was most rash. "Sophia... if I must go back, so be it. But I will not see these... murderers, rewarded." Sophia sighed inwardly, but outwardly she just met Saemus' eyes, so that he would know just what he was asking of her. She would do anything for her family, of course, she just needed to be sure that this was truly what Saemus wanted. Ginnis took a threatening step towards him. "You spoiled little shit! Maybe I should cut out your tongue, and charge extra for bringing you back quiet!' Saemus stood firm in the face of her threats, however.

"Saemus... are you sure about this?" Sophia asked, glancing down to the dead Qunari. Had he really meant so much to him, that he would ask his own sister to risk her life for him? And Saemus nodded. Sophia took a calming breath, before slowly reaching up with her right hand, and sliding Vesenia from its sheath, and stepping beside her brother. "Serah Ginnis, I'm going to have to ask you to leave. My brother will be returning with me."

Incredularity was soon replaced with outrage on Ginnis' features. "You're kidding, right?" When Sophia made no move to answer, she shrugged. "It's no problem for me, you know. I can always kill you and make it look like the oxman did it." Sophia raised her eyebrows at her, but she had no doubt in her mind that Ginnis was crazy enough to actually think that would work. Realizing her remaining time to talk was short, she looked to the two that had accompanied her, Lucien and Rakkis.

"Serah Lucien, Serah Rakkis... I will not ask you to put your lives in danger for a cause you do not believe is just. I must stand by my brother in this. These mercenaries murdered someone who was a friend to him, and I cannot see them rewarded for such an action. If you wish to leave, I would do so now." Ginnis took a few steps back, putting some distance between them before the inevitable fight. "The girl has a point. Neither of you will be sharing my bounty. You can either clear out now, or die with her. Your choice."

Sophia swallowed, holding her blade at the ready. There were perhaps a dozen Winters around them, and if she had heard Ginnis correctly, more on the way. Certainly not a fight she could survive on her own, and Maker knew Saemus was useless at fighting. But she would stand with her brother. These people would not be rewarded for murder if she could help it.

Lucien, having dismounted and left his horse tied near Sophia's, had followed at a fair distance, single ocular taking in his surroundings. Desiring a bloodless end was noble and good, but he didn't much like the look of the situation. The dead Qunari only made his apprehension tangible. A full mercenary company for one Qunari? He knew little of them, but nothing he had ever learned led him to believe they were the sort to kidnap anyone. So much of this reeked of excess force already.

The three-way discussion did nothing to set his mind at ease, and indeed the lad seemed to confim that he had been at the very least a willing party in this little expedition, if not its mastermind. The details of the family squabble simmering under their dialogue were not something he really desired to know, but he was rather used to people airing their dirty laundry in front of him. Things like this happened in far more spectacular and public fasions in Orlais all the time. It actually seemed relatively mild, though the presence of the mercenaries was still his primary concern. At least a dozen, and an allusion to yet more. His hands itched to heft his scythe, but out of respect for his charge's wishes, he stilled them for the moment.

Of course, as soon as Sophia's sword was in her hands, all bets were off. Gritting his teeth, Lucien released his overlarge farming tool from the straps that held it to his back and lifted it, blade down, placing it in the sand and leaning on it with false nonchalance. "Vengeance may not always be just, but breaking a promise never is," he replied neutrally, fixing his gaze on Ginnis. "Nor is needless murder, whomever the victim. If this is what it comes to, then I will fight until it is done, milady."

For his part, Rakkis looked rather bored by the conversation that ensued. He kept casting his eyes skyward, tapping his left foot, fingering the silver knife earrings that lined the lower edges of his pointed ears. He'd drawn a bit closer than Lucien had, somehow managing to creep closer and closer without every seeming to actually move at all. His annoyed and annoying performance served a distraction, and his edging took place when all eyes were on one of the two women doing most of the talking. Unlike his companions, he didn't bother drawing his weapons. Instead, he folded his arms across his chest. Unseen, his fingers brushed the hilts of throwing knives cleverly concealed on his person. Amusement limned his gray eyes as he glanced askance to Lucien. ”Speaking technically, killing the mercenaries would be needless murder. But you have to admire the boy's spirit, mmh?" He gave his head a shake. ”The Coterie has no issue with the Winters. Given that they've offered us the chance to be on our way, I really shouldn't do anything to cause problems."

The elven thug smiled apologetically at Lucien, Sophia, and Saemus in turn and took a single step backward.

It isn't needless when innocents will die if I don't, Lucien told himself firmly, but it was a thought he did not voice aloud. It was not for him to force his ways upon anyone else.

"Well, would you look at that," Ginnis said in amusement. "The only one here with half a brain is the knife-ears. Wise choice, elf. Right, let's get this started. Kill the bitch and her bodyguard. Leave Saemus untouched. I'll deal with him later." With that she dropped a small flask at her feet that exploded into a cloud of thick smoke, in which she vanished utterly. The other Winters, wielding an assortment of dual weapons, swords and shields, and two handed-weapons, charged.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Rakkis Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon

Earnings

0.00 INK

Sophia had little time to be disappointed in the elf's decision, as the Winters were quick to jump into the fight. Not that his backing away was entirely unexpected; she hadn't judged him to be the most trustworthy of individuals, and his apparent affiliation with the Coterie did him no credit. But there was no time to think about that now. It appeared as though she and Lucien would have to take them all on. So be it.

Her method of removing Saemus from the fight was a rather ungentle shove, sending him stumbling away from where swords would shortly be clashing. Sophia had no idea how Lucien behaved in combat with that outlandish weapon of his, but her strategy was not one she had to debate for long. She would take the fight to them. Sophia wasn't good on the defensive, certainly not when multiple enemies were attacking, as they were now. At least four were coming right for her, two wielding sword and shield, a third hefting a battleaxe, and the last carrying a bastard sword similar in size to her own. There were a few towards the rear, the way they'd come in, wielding bows, but it would be difficult for them to get clear shots in with all of their allies getting in the way. And of course, Ginnis would be entering the fight at some point. She'd disappeared in the smoke, and would soon be hiding among the rocky surroundings, no doubt waiting for the most opportune time to reemerge.

The axeman reached her first, swinging downwards at her. Sophia sidestepped, deceptively quick even with her armor, and countering by slicing across his leg, though she didn't have a chance to inflict any more damage, as one of the ones with a shield, a brutish woman, sent a sweeping horizontal blow her way. She threw her blade up to parry, catching the sword solidly and deflecting it to the side, letting her momentum open up her defenses, giving Sophia the opportunity to send a quick slash at her throat. It found its mark, and the first Winter fell to the sand, clutching her throat.

Lucien found himself dealing with a smaller share of the melee combatants than Lady Sophia, which was vaguely insulting to his sense of pride, but they'd realize their mistake soon enough. As it was, two heavily-armed and armored individuals was nothing to be reckless about, though an honest self-assessment promised victory. With something that sounded suspiciously like a long-suffering sigh, the one-eyed man hefted his scythe in both hands. Part of the benefit of a weapon like this was the simple fact that nobody else used one, and so people usually weren't prepared for it.

The fighters coming at him were not well-matched in speed, and the faster of the two seemed to be unwilling to compensate for this and slow down. His downfall, the Orlesian supposed. A surprisingly-deft swing of his weapon brought it within striking range, though the duelist applied an extra burst of speed, causing himself to be struck in the side with the wooden pole rather then the steel blade. He appeared to be quite pleased with this development, correctly assuming that Lucien would not be able to arc his scythe back out and then swing again in the time it would take to close the distance between them. Unfortunately for the Winter, the mercenary had no need of such maneuvers, and with a sharp tug, hooked the inside of the blade around the man's waist.

It bit deep, slicing through leather as though parting water. The spine was a bit more of a challenge, but he didn't bother to try cutting it in twain, rather allowing the momentum of the pull to bring the duelist into very close range. Shifting his grip so that he held the polearm with only one hand, Lucien drew his other arm back and connected his gauntleted fist with the rogue's jaw, hard enough to leave very obvious rents in his face and render him unconcious.

The man fell to the ground even as his compariot drew within range, and Lucien simply changed direction, catching the much-larger warrior in the stomach with the end of the pole. While he doubled over, the Chevalier stepped in closer, walking his arms up the haft of the scythe so he was holding it around the center. The combination of arrangement and distance allowed for the equivalent of a pommel strike to the back of the head with the blunt end, followed by a quick reversal, the pointed end of the weapon burying itself in the joint of the man's armor underneath his shoulder. As anatomy worked, there was a rather important artery there, and Lucien was rather certain the man would not be standing again.

An arrow skittered off the pauldron on one shoulder with enough kinetic energy to force Lucien to bend or stagger. He chose the former, then decided that the archers probably oughtn't be allowed to keep shooting with impunity.

Rakkis silently added another dozen or so tallies to the ledger entitled "People Who Died Because They Didn't Actually Listen To Me" while he waited for the battle to take form. The Coterie may not have had any grievances with the mercenary band known as the Winters, but he did. And he'd specifically said that he shouldn't get involved, not that he wouldn't. He might have shrugged, if he weren't spending so much effort to make it seem like he couldn't care less about the skirmish that he was carefully monitoring. The melee began in earnest before he could reach two counting backward from three, and that was the instant that the elf chose to act.

His cloak fluttered. The Winter with the hand-and-a-half sword who was circling to get at Sophia's flank suddenly came down with a nasty case of dagger-hilt-protruding-from-throat. The axe-wielder got lucky, if recieving a wicked cut across the leg could be considered lucky. When he ducked as a result, Rakkis' throwing knife went sailing several inches above his head. His cloak fluttered even more when he broke into a sprint, his light footfalls carrying him over the treacherous beach sand rather than through it with barely a grainy spray to mark his passage. He ducked a bit low, having come to rather the same decision that Lucien had: the archers needed to be harried, and he was the only useful member of their merry band not currently waist deep in steel and blood. Presenting as small a target profile as possible for the bow-wielders to sight, he wove an abrupt, chaotic, somewhat serpentine course toward the nearest tent in order to use it for cover.

His hands slid across his thighs this time, and came away with a throwing knife each for the modicum of effort. Bowmen had the advantage of both range and stopping power over his little blades, but Rakkis had the advantage of... well, being Rakkis. One arrow tore through his cloak; it would have sailed clean through had the fletching not gotten muddled by the bands of iron he'd sewn into the hem. The trapped projectile bounced about harmlessly as he skidded to an abrupt stop behind the tent, hanging very close to the canvas on the off chance that the archers were savvy enough to arc their fire over the temporary structure. Using one of the throwing knives, he cut his way through the first side of the tent, pausing to listen for the twang of bow-strings. Given that none of the arrows had impacted the tent-side with a whump, it was safe to assume that they'd taken advantage of the Winters' numbers thinning on the battle field to pepper Sophia and Lucien with arrows.

The second he heard the twang he'd been waiting for, he slipped from the entrance of the tent and rushed the mercenary's artillery line, if it could even be called that. His arms pumped much more deliberately this time, sending the knives in a pair of flat arcs one after another; he didn't have time to aim for a killing shot, so instead he just made sure he hit something, which in this case, happened to be the stomach of one and the drawing arm of the other. He didn't miss a stride in his bullrush, but he did cross his arms, drawing his rapier and parrying dagger with a simultaneous flourish as he moved into stabbing range.

It occurred to Sophia that she may have been a bit quick to judge Rakkis, as one of his knives struck the throat of one of the men attacking her. And while she always preferred the path of honesty, she could certainly see the advantage he'd given himself here, and her by extension. The field of Winters around her was thinning, however, which would make her a target if those archers couldn't be dealt with.

She'd preoccupied enough by her surprise at seeing the man fall with a knife in his throat that the sword and shield armed mercenary had been able to effectively close the distance. He rammed into her with his shield, the weight behind the blow sending her reeling backwards, but she maintained her feet. Unfortunately, this put enough distance between her and the Winters for the archers to loose their arrows. The first deflected harmlessly off her shoulder plate, but the second hit directly, punching through her armor just under her ribcage, effectively taking her wind from her. The mercenary closed the gap, hoping to take advantage of the injury, but Sophia's training far outdid his own. Winded as she was, she was able to put him on the defensive with quick, well placed strikes, before finally opening his defences and plunging her blade through his gut. She withdrew it just in time to deflect the heavy blow of the one with the battleaxe, who was clearly working through the pain of the deep slash she'd put in his leg.

Sophia brought the pommel of her blade up to his skull, the blow knocking him back, allowing her to turn the tables on him. His wound hampered him, and his axe was poor for defence. Sophia was able to get a clean slice into his knee, taking him down to the ground, before stabbing downwards, Vesenia cutting its way through his chest.

That was when Ginnis chose to reappear, as Sophia expected, at a highly inconvenient time. Her blade still buried in the man's chest, she had no guard up as the leader of the Winters appeared behind her. One of her daggers expertly found the weak spot in her armor, the sides, where the back and breastplates were strapped together. Sophia sucked in a breath as the dagger buried itself just above her right hip. She was forced to abandon her grasp on her sword as the other dagger went for her throat, barely catching Ginnis' arm in time. The woman drove Sophia back to the rock wall, pinning her up against it momentarily, before Sophia surprised her by headbutting her squarely in the forehead. The blow knocked her back, and she lost her own grip on one of her weapons, leaving it in Sophia's side, but she certainly seemed confident still, as she dropped another smoke bomb, and disappeared again.

Lucien's plan to assist his crafty elven cohort in tearing through the line of archers was cut woefully short. As things worked out, his path was cut off by a woman, apparently in the throes of a true berserker rage. Wielding a sword that had to be at least her height, it was relatively clear that she was not going to simply allow him past.

In his youth, Lucien had been of the restrospectively-comical opinion that it was improper for a knight to do battle with a lady. A few years in the Chevalier's barracks with some truly fierce females who had not hesitated to hand him his hide on a platter the first time he tried to pull 'that chivalry bullshit' on them had firmly disabused him of this notion, and so there was not even a break in his movement as he swung, only to be deflected by the massive sword. She clearly had not picked the weapon only for show, and the enraged bellow that heralded her own attack put him on the defensive immediately. He was forced to give ground when the sand proved less-than-solid under his feet, but it seemed only to drive his opponent further forward.

Rather more in control of himself than she, Lucien did not waste time in a weaponlock that would tire both of them quickly. The size and strength advantage was his, but the advantage of fighting intelligently was ever greater. Stepping aside, he used the opportunity to disengage. With all of that force still in play, she stumbled right past him. He pressed the advantage, swinging and scoring a deep cut on her left arm, but apparently part of the draw to surrendering to battle-rage was that you could ignore non-fatal wounds, because she had recovered and was coming at him again before he had the opportunity to hit a second time.

The sword was aimed squarely for his hip, and the wooden pole of his scythe would not be able to block, so Lucien did something warriors weren't typically trained to do: he dodged instead. Dropping to all fours, the Chevalier lashed out with both feet, entangling them with hers and wrenching forward, causing the berserker to overcompensate and crash onto her back in the sand. Regaining his feet, he noted that her sword had come loose from her hand and picked it up, hurling it far enough away that it would not be a problem- into the ocean to be precise. Of course, she was back on her feet before he could recover his scythe, so apparently it was down to a more literal strength of arms now.

Obviously still angry enough to tackle an ogre, she swung recklessly, and he caught the incoming fist deftly. He'd expected the second hand next, and so was rather surprised when she kneed him in the stomach. It smarted even through the scale armor there, and he had to suck in a deep breath before he could comfortably move. When he did, it was to lift her arm above her head and twist, in something parodic of a waltzing twirl. Had she moved with it, it would have been, but instead, he twisted her arm behind her back rather painfully and put her in a sleeper hold. Counting the seconds until she lost consciousness, he was grimly aware of something that smelled of smoke and blood approaching from his blind side. Able to drop the berserker just in time, he deflected the dagger aimed for his throat with a gauntlet and took a few large steps backward.

The advantage of surprise gone, Ginnis would find him no easy target, especially not when his foot found the scythe. Without taking his eyes off the Winters' leader, he nudged his toe under the ploe and kicked upwards, catching it with his hand. Not content to wait for him to attack, Ginnis rushed him, disappearing mere seconds before entering his range. He hated it when they did that, because it meant-

Of course. He whirled around in a half-circle, anticipating the backstab. One of her blades managed to slip in between his scales of armor, and Lucien's breath left him in a low hiss. Still, he'd wager he came out the better, because the business end of the curved steel head of the scythe was at least four or five inches into her left thigh, and he could feel it scraping bone.

The first time anyone witnessed Rakkis fighting, a single word came to mind: amateur. He did everything wrong, or at least, he seemed to. As he whirled into the midst of the archer's, he was literally whirling. It was a tight spin, granted, driven by three hard pivots on the very balls of his feet to avoid too much shifting on the sand, but presenting one's back to a foe was virtual heresy in most training programs. His arms were out wide, bringing his rapier through an elaborate figure-eight, leaving him wide open to an attack... or at least, he might have been, if his spin didn't present only the side which held his parrying dagger to his enemies as he closed the last few feet to engage them. Odd, that.

There were two sort of men who wound up as archers in mercenary companies. There were those who were actually archers, and those so useless at anything else relating to combat that they were best served by having a bow thrust upon them and learning how to hit stationary targets some of the time. The man whose arm Rakkis had cut was obviously part of the latter group. He partially released when the pain came, sending his arrow in a dejected arc toward the sand some ten meters distant, nowhere near anything living. While in the midst of his first pivot, Rakkis drew his parrying dagger across the man's bowstring, severing it neatly.

The second archer, the one he'd caught in the stomach, didn't really have a chance to show what brand of man he was. As he passed, Rakkis swung his elbow hard into his gut- or rather, into the hilt of the dagger that was still extending from said gut. The resulting agony had the poor fellow doubled over, then on his knees. He'd probably survive, Rakkis noted, but he was not going to be participating meaningfully in the fight any longer.

The third archer, though, was worth his wages. He'd been drawing a bead on Lucien, but quickly adjusted his aim and let fly. Had Rakkis not been in the midst of his absurd spin, the arrow would have caught him in the chest, puncturing a lung and rather ruining what had proved, so far, to be a very interesting day. Instead, his lanced along his right flank as he finished his last pivot. Pain blossomed, followed quickly by blood, staining his shirt and slowing him down, or vice versa. He immediately dropped his bow and drew a short sword, battered looking but well kept. It was the sword of a veteran without a great deal of coin, and Rakkis identified it as such immediately.

”Your friends are very good at this," he quipped, his breath running just a bit ragged. He launched an easily blocked feint, a forward thrust of his rapier, which his foe picked off cleanly just as he'd been expecting. He was stronger than the elf, Rakkis learned from that exchange, but only just so. The archer pressed what he conceived to be an advantage of some sort. After all, Rakkis was mid-thrust, his forward leg bent, his rapier arm fully extended. He leveled a savage, hacking sort of cut that would have bit into the slender elf's collarbone if Rakkis hadn't taken advantage of the soft sand and twisted himself ninety degrees around, ducking his head. A precise swipe of the rapier, practically an afterthought, across the man's midsection stung him into falling back. Rakkis sprang to his feet...

... Just in time to see stars when something very solid and made of metal clanged against his skull. Thoroughly dazed, he staggered forward. The first bowman, in a fit of desperate ingenuity, had pulled off his half-helm and clocked Rakkis in the head with it. The elf chose to stumble and fall, exaggerating the effects of the blow. He used his seeming delicacy to his advantage for the thousandth time as he sprawled himself out on the beach, belly-down, and groaned theatrically. He counted the sand-logged footsteps and then rolled onto his back, bringing his rapier up and extending his arm again.

His shoulder jolted terribly at the impact. The tiny point of his weapon passed easily enough through the flesh of the under-chin, through the palette, up through the skull. It was when it connected with the very crown of the inside of that skull that Rakkis found his arm buckling. If the third archer had been wielding anything other than a short sword, it might have been an impasse. As it was, the battered weapon, which its now-very-dead wielder had brought in an overhead cut to stab into Rakkis' back, hung just inches from his face. He abandoned his rapier and scrambled backwards, letting the corpse topple without entangling him.

Helmet-fellow had the sense to draw a dagger. He saw himself, clearly, as having the upper hand versus an injured elf on his ass with a weapon of similar make. Rakkis reached up lazily for the clasp of his cloak as he got his feet beneath him. It seemed a pity to waste such a thoroughly dramatic maneuver on such an unimpressive enemy, but he didn't have time to play around, if the sounds of Lucien's and Sophia's scuffle weren't too affected by the concussion he'd probably endured. With practiced aplomb, he sent the lead-weighted bundle of fabric flapping through the air like some unholy specter toward the unwitting archer. Ignoring his injuries, he fell into a brisk jog behind it, building momentum unseen. Just as it fluttered into his adversary, Rakkis threw himself forward, driving his parrying dagger through fabric and sternum alike. He got his free hand on the hilt and then ripped it downward, savagely, ruining a perfectly good cloak in the process. He also "parried" the lack-wit's internal organs, which were no proof against good steel, but that was of rather less concern to the elf. He hated sewing.

Lucien had drawn Ginns' attention away from Sophia, and Rakkis had torn into the line of archers, the pair of them effectively taking the heat off of her, for which she was very grateful, considering that she wasn't at her best currently. Deciding she had to do this while the adrenaline was still going, she braced herself against the rock wall, before gripping the handle of the mercenary leader's knife in her side, and sliding it out, exhaling heavily as she did so. A gloved hand naturally went to the wound as she dropped the dagger, coming back wet with her blood. The arrow would have to be dealt with later. She'd have to remove her armor for that.

Sophia pushed away from the wall and pulled her sword from the fallen mercenary, surveying the field. Rakkis had things... somewhat in hand against the remaining mercenaries, while Lucien had buried his scythe in Ginnis' leg. Sophia quickly covered the distance between them, taking advantage of the mercenary leader's wounded and pinned position by utilizing her increased reach. Vesenia could strike farther than those daggers ever could. The flat edge of her blade slammed into the side of Ginnis' knee, taking her down to a kneeling position. Without hesitation, the Viscount's daugther sliced horizontally, lopping off her head.

The first fight was won, and though Sophia didn't know exactly how bloodied the others had been, she herself was not looking forward to the prospect of more Winters arriving. Blood was dripping down her right side, and in a thin line down her left leg. But at least that bitch was dead. Sophia tried to avoid hate, but that woman had been simply unbearable.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: James Kirk Character Portrait: Exodus, the Angel of Death

Earnings

0.00 INK

Ashton sat on the corner of the counter picking his teeth with one of his arrows. If there was a more bored looking man in all of Kirkwall, he would have probably killed himself by now. Normally, Ashton would have been a bit more forceful in standing outside trying to shovel his wares down the throats of the Lowtown inhabitants, but a bout of lethargy struck him like a hammer. It was decent weather, there was only a bit of cloud in the skies, and here he was, inside, trying to make a living. Oh cruel fate indeed. He would have much rather been out hunting or fishing, but no. He had to sell what he had first.

The store had been quite for the day. Only a couple of customers, and too far apart to be called busy at any rate. Ashton scanned his shop once more, his lazy eyes making sure everything was in order. The flies were trying to get to Ashton's meats, placed in brown paper on the counter. He'd have to sell them soon, else they would rot. Ashton sighed again, hopping off of his counter. There had to be something else he could do besides watch flies try to make off with his goods.

Ah, he would go work the leather in the back. Soften it up and get it ready to work with. It wasn't much, but it was a lot better than doing absolutely nothing. So it was Ashton slipped off to the back of the shop-- not for long however. A familiar coo came from the front as soon as he had sat down to work the leather. Needless to say, the coo hinted at a lot more entertainment than the silly old leather did. The leather flew across the room and Ashton scampered back to the front shop.

"Oh, isn't it my favorite Sparrow!" Ashton cooed in turn. His eyes immediately found the bottle and he grinned. "A gift you say? I don't remember it being my birthday... But I suppose I can make an exception for you," he said coyly. Tis a dangerous game he played, flirting with Sparrow as he did. He still wasn't completely convinced that she was indeed a she. If he found out to the contrary, it might be the last push that snapped his sanity... Or he would laugh his ass off. One or the other. Maybe both.

His parcel delivered and his belt-pouch a litte heavier with coin, Rilien scanned the horizon, eyes moving slowly and deliberately over the furthest things he could see. It was... midafternoon, which meant that Sparrow was unlikely to be at their dwelling-place, but probably had not yet embraced the desire to imbibe copious amounts of liquor and gamble her- his, really- money away on games she would never win. Wicked Grace, as he understood it, required the ability to mask one's thoughts, and his erstwhile living-companion was so effulgent that he truly doubted she would ever master the art.

Am I trying to fool myself, or someone else? There way no way she'd not been yet today. Perhaps she'd played a game more suited to slight-of-hand, or at the very least not one that depended on the ability to bluff. Their stomachs would thank them if they ate something other than soup this week, perhaps.

Somehow, this slow roundabout of thoughts and vacant-looking gazes brought him quite solidly to the conclusion that the person he sought was in Lowtown. Probably the Bazaar, probably visiting that merchant friend of hers that she had talked about but never introduced him to. Not that he much minded either way, of course, but it did mean he'd have to do a little looking to find her. His motion resumed on no visible cue, the flutter of loose fabric the only sound the Tranquil made as he passed into the Red Lantern district. That establishment, the Blooming Rose... that accounted for the other half of the missing coin he replaced into Saprrow's hands every fortnight, he was certain of it. He'd never been inside, and he disliked even walking past it, because for some reason, he often found himself pursued by individuals asking if he was looking for long term employment within.

Today, he went unaccosted, and decended the steps to Lowtown watching with muted interest as the quality of the buildings and the clothing on the residents decreased by degrees. It was too easy, to spot someone and place them in the city: here a slumlord, there a nobleman whose coffers were emptying faster than investments could fill them. Miner, dockworker, Alienage elf, Darktown knocker. Alighting at last in the Bazaar, he began his unhurried search.

In Kirkwall, there weren't very many folk Sparrow was genuinely fond of. Especially in Kirkwall, what with all it's buildings pressed together like sardines and it's feverish oppression weighing down like pregnant clouds, breathing down honest necks. Layers upon layer of people crammed together in warrens and squares, all headed someplace in a hurry. It was no wonder that everyone's undergarments were twisted in knots. Those she knew – her many acquaintances, dealers, and clientele – were either too stingy, too prudish, or too unflappably boorish to suit her tastes. Hardly friend material. Thankfully, Ashton was neither of those. There was a comfortable anonymity in Kirkwall: in choosing her companions, her friends, her allies. She didn't have to watch what she said or did here because no one cared. Ashton had shown her in particular the beauties of Lowtown and why he'd chosen it in the first place to set up shop. It housed the lower-end marketplace, which was loud, smelly, obnoxiously colourful, and filled with all sorts of rude people who haggled and shouted with the shopkeepers right into your ringing ears. Rude hand gestures, sweeping arms, and gaudy expressions. It was filled with secrets, stories, rumours, and mysteries. Sparrow loved it.

Ashton! My, it's nice to see you.” Sparrow warmly greeted, twirling the bottle in a lazy circle, forefinger and thumb keeping it from spilling over. She shrugged her shoulders evasively, as if to say that it didn't matter if there wasn't any occasion to celebrate. Spontaneous acts of generosity came few and far in between in her world, but Sparrow needed a favour and she certainly had a good feeling about today. She would not, however, mention this yet. Like a feline rolling it's shoulders and testing it's claws through the dirt, she'd take her time. This wasn't to say that it wouldn't benefit them both. She wasn't entirely selfish. “Thought that you would, Ash.” She added with a brazen wink and a flick of her wrist, finally relenting her preoccupation with the bottle. It wobbled slightly, then righted itself.

She did not correct those who guessed wrongly at her biological pronouns. She did not refer to herself as any in particular, preferring to level the balance with a solid indifference: an anonymous brainteaser favouring neither side of the gender spectrum. Sparrow simply was. Those who thought she was an effeminate young man sauntering in from the ports certainly could. She would not correct them. Her corkscrew smiles and glinting eyes needed no verification. She was who she made herself out to be.

Her shoulders rose, then dropped dramatically. “Close shop for the day. I've a proposition to stave your boredom.” Sparrow's eyebrows furrowed, then she laughed as if she'd proposed something ridiculous. As if he'd swat her away. It was almost a lie. Or else, it was a small fib. She wasn't sure whether or not Rilien had a job prepared. She hadn't even introduced them. “I'm serious! Rilien and I have a job lined up, I'm sure of it. One that beats sitting around shop all day – and who knows, there may be women. Buxom women.

"Close the shop? But what if a customer comes and absolutely needs one of my fine products?" Ashton said in a sarcastic tone. In fact, he was half a heartbeat away from running out of the door and locking it behind him. Though, he had appearances to keep. What kind of shop owner would he be if he didn't put up some kind of resistance? No, he had to pretend he was important. However, she did make a good point about his boredom. And the buxom women did tickle his fancy... "Before I run off to who knows where doing who knows what," he started. Like he actually cared about the wheres, whats, and whys. Not the Howes though. They were an issue in Highever a year ago.

"Who's this Rilien fellow? And does this job pay?" Again. He couldn't care less. And all this pretending to care was getting old. He stared at Sparrow for a few moments before finally just shrugging. He couldn't do it anymore. He just couldn't find the will to pretend to care. He had to get the hell out of there, and do something else entirely, else his sensitive mind would snap from all of this nothing. "Pffffft, Right. Let's get going then. We don't want to keep this Rilien and the Buxom women waiting, now do we?" Ashton said, pivoting on his foot before Sparrow could respond and making his way towards the door. Finally. Some action. It was like the Maker smiled upon him.

Before he left he stopped suddenly, spun around, and grabbed the bottle off of the counter. "Almost forgot the most important meal of the day. So where were we?" Ashton said, heading towards the door for the second time. Though now nothing would stop him from leaving this place.

"Excuse me," Rilien intoned flatly to the woman who worked at the potions shop in the Bazaar, "I am looking for Serah Riviera."

Lady Elegant, as she liked to be called, was familiar enough with Rilien not to waste any time inquiring after his monotone, but that didn't mean she liked him, either, and she simply gestured with one hand in a vague direction. While inclined to ask for more specific directions than that, Rilien actually spotted Sparrow disappearing into a shop, and that of course was his destination. Flowing around the crowd, he crossed the crowded Bazaar, choosing to ignore the vigorous hawking of several merchants and what appeared to a small spectacle just over near the Antivan Imports.

Even for someone with as much inclination to careful movement as he, navigating the thick crowds of the afternoon took a considerable amount of time, and he did not actually make it to the place in question for a good few moments. The sign, perhaps appropriately for a storefront that sold game and animal products, appeared to be called The Hunted Stag, and the swinging sign in front depicted a deer with an arrow in its haunch. Nodding slightly to himself, the elf decided that this was the place and swung the door inward, producing a small bell-chime.

He walked in in exactly enough time to hear an inquiry regarding himself, and blinked. "I am the Rilien fellow," he offered blandly, and his eyes flicked to Sparrow. Based on what Ashton was saying, she had anticipated his arrival. How was that? He had never been to this location before, and ordinarily would have no cause to be here. Blinking slowly, he decided that his presence was likely expected in more general terms than here-and-now. The rest of the conversation perplexed him slightly.

"The woman from whom I accepted the entreaty possessed a bosom of average size," he pointed out, unsure exactly what Sparrow had promised if it involved such considerations. "And we are looking for a missing Templar, who is male." If he was at all surprised that Ashton seemed to be coming along, he did not act it in the slightest.

Yes, close the shop. All those desperate souls will have to wait for yer' wares. They'll have to stick their noses against someone else' leathers, today, I'm afraid.” The half-breed insisted wryly, throwing her hands out in an all-inclusive crescent, gesturing grandly to Ashton's spotless wares. Even though she often stumbled into Ashton's shop, hauling him out for misadventures, Sparrow would've vouched for each and every item in the shop. They weren't cheap, shoddy things. His leathers were impressive. His meats were tender, juicy, palpable. His entire shop smelled of hard work and dedication. It was admirable, to say the least. There was a simplicity that made it feel homely, as if you could come off the streets and kick your feet up, enjoy yourself – much similar, she had to admit, to the Hanged Man without it's obvious flaws. For instance, this establishment wasn't filled with slobbering drunks or cloaked travellers you'd rather not gamble with. It was safe. Her eyes danced with mischief, alighting anew when Ashton's initially feigned hesitance angled away from divergence.

Sparrow's calloused fingers rubbed thoughtfully at her chin, before skating quickly behind her head in an effort to delay her answer: build the suspense. Nothing was clear-cut and obvious when she spoke. It was all peculiar riddles, dancing rhymes, and coiled smirks. Half her acquaintances absolutely hated this particular trait, while the other half found it entertaining. His seriousness – his attempt to pretend to actually care about his whereabouts, about his company, about whether or not their was money involved – dismantled his framework, spiralled out of remission and sunk back into his whip-fire smile. Her silence dragged on. Then, they were both pivoting away from the shop, though Sparrow took the opportunity to give Ashton something. It wasn't fair dragging the poor boy all over the place without even disclosing whether or not they'd be running for their lives. Of course, Sparrow wasn't inclined to do any job for absolutely nothing. Her heart was not a man in shining armour, brandishing it's sword in the air while promising to save all the troubled maidens and poor peasants from the beasts.

All you really need to know is that you'll find him interesting, I promise.” The half-breed finally revealed, spreading her fingers out like wiggling spiders. As always, her explanations were unnecessary. Merely fillers. Her companion was a man of adventure. He didn't need any reason or rhyme to do anything as long as it was amusing. As long as it tickled his fancy. It was the reason why they got along so well together. Her footsteps faltered when Ashton spun on his heels, doggedly heading back towards the counter to acquire the bottle she'd brought. She laughed softly, eyes lidded. Her mouth opened to respond with another heady quip, but she'd been in the process of taking another step, reaching blindly for the doors handle before she walked smartly into Rilien's chest. “Makers tits!” She sputtered, retreating back a few paces. Fingers splayed. Raccoon-eyes squinting. Chest heaving.

You scared me—oh! So, you did find a job. Well, of course, you did.” Sparrow recovered, dusting her shirt off as if she'd gotten up from a nasty fall. “This here, is Ashton. Fellow adventurer, and certainly not a stick in the mud. I think you'll like him.” She believed that Rilien should, or would, like anyone she was acquainted with, which wasn't entirely true. Even if Rilien absolutely abhorred someone, he wouldn't show it – but at least, he wouldn't hesitate to say it loud and clear, unhesitatingly. He was her stone companion. An ungrudging friend. The pallets of her teeth flashed in a quick scowl, curling back across her gums. Templars. “A missing Templar? You do know what, exactly, they do to us, right? That's a dangerous job. More than dangerous. Lock us up dangerous, you know?” Then, as quickly as Ashton had relented, Sparrow's features softened, quirking slightly. “Can't refuse a woman with an average bosom, can we...” A job was a job, after all.

"Where do we start?"

"Average bosom? Male Templars," Ashton echoed, tapping his foot like a disappointed mother. He couldn't help but note the emotionless delivery of this Rilien, and had he been a spectator, he would have found it hilarious. Alas, all he managed was a dry chuckle, "Oh Sparrow. How you wound me so. I had expected us to be groin deep in a league of woman-- Alas, I'll take what I can get. Average bosom and all," Ashton said in a sarcastic tone. It was all a game to the man, he never took anything too seriously, as that would undoubtly drive anyone insane. Perhaps that was the reason Sparrow took a shine to him.

"... Wait. Templars? They can go missing? How do you even lose one in all that armor?" Ashton said, tilting his head curiously. He never known Templars to go missing. Then again, he never known Templars, so it really didn't matter. Ashton noted Sparrow's apprehension at the job-- for all of about a second, then she was her cheerful self again. Ashton couldn't help but grin.

"Here. Of course," he answered Sparrow, "Then we find the Templar fellow who is there. The trick is finding out where this there is," Ashton said before shrugging. A lot of help he was doing. He then placed his lips on the bottle and tipped it, taking a drink before adding to his master plan. "Surely the fellow had friends in the Order. Perhaps it'd be best to hunt these fellow down and ask them where he's at? Did the contact with average bosom mention anything of that nature?" Ashton asked, for once trying to be helpful.

"If so, instead of starting here, why don't we start there?"

His eyes then drifted back to Rilien. There was something about this man that was different. Not in an Ashtion or Sparrow type of different either. Different different. The man had hardly any emotion about him when he spoke. Besides, how did he even manage to find his way to the shop, Ashton didn't recognize him, and he wasn't the kind of person who forgot someone like Rilien. He quietly shrugged as he took another sip from the bottle. Didn't matter really, any friend of Sparrow's was a friend of his. Though, he would make a point of trying to invoke a laugh out of the emotionless man... It was all just a game to him.

Rilien generally remained silent as the friends exchanged quips. He was not, of course, bothered by it in the slightest. Such verbal repartee, he remembered, had once been a favorite pasttime of his own. Technically, he could still do it, but he'd grown something of a distaste for lying, and pretending to feel things he did not counted a far as he was concerned. When Sparrow ran straight into him, Rilien held steady, blinked slowly exactly once, and used his hand to steady her by the elbows, removing himsef from her path as though he had never been there.

He had figured the thought of involving themselves with the Templars would cause his compatriot some concern, but he did think this might be the occasion for a well-placed sentence of his own. "I had thought your sense of adventure might be sufficient to overcome your reticence." Just that, nothing else. No hint of a joke like a sibling's fingertips at your ribs, but no stern solemnity from a parent's rebuke either. A perfectly neutral observation, stated without inflection, and really whatever you read into it was your business. A man had once told him that he was little but a mirror, reflecting the little quixotic eccentricities of people back upon them, right alongside their flaws, and, with any luck, their small glories.

It was hardly necessary. Sparrow, he was certain, knew every last one of her small glories, and wore them rather like a peacock wore its shimmering azure feathers. Light, iridescent, on display for the world. So were the oddities and the flaws, and there was an honesty in that Rilien appreciated. She was also exactly as he'd said: crazy enough to venture into Templar territory with nary a disguise. Then again, so was he.

Their third, Rilien observed steadily. "Perhaps it is less that Templars can go missing as it is Templars cannot find things," he replied dryly. "Given the fact that we will likely be walking into the Gallows as we are and leave without arrest, I would say this is logical enough." The next series of questions were actually quite relevant, and the Tranquil nodded sagely. "Miss Macha said we should begin with the recruits Wilmod and Hugh. They are, I would expect, to be found in the Gallows."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Rakkis Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by throne
As Rakkis crossed to retrieve his rapier, he stooped, extracting the throwing knife that he'd left in the portly archer's stomach indelicately. The man groaned, which only prompted a decidedly dagger-like smile from the elf. ”I could put you out of your misery, if you'd like," he spoke wryly, wiping each side of the small blade in turn clean on the shirt of the corpse that his primary weapon was still skewering. A pitiful, wet, grunting sound was the only reply that the surviving Winter was capable of making, and it fell on deaf pointy-ears. With a grunt of his own, Rakkis used the toe of his boot to roll the heavy cadaver onto its back. The business end of the rapier remained hidden somewhere in his gray matter, and Rakkis knew from experience to be very careful as he gripped the dueling weapon by it's hilt and slowly slid it free from what had once been the seat of the unfortunate mercenary's consciousness. Blood and more began to dribble out of the widened entrance wound in the man's throat. The whole mess was now only fit to serve as breakfast for a dog.

Wiping that weapon clean as well, he sheathed it. The cloak, he decided, was a loss. He still had his parrying dagger in hand, fresh from its grisly work, in case any new challengers presented themselves before expected. Shaking his head, which almost felt as if it were still vibrating in the wake of the attempted braining by means of helm that he'd endured, he set off at a brisk jog toward Sophia, Lucien, Saemus, and quite a motley band of dead folk. ”Well, isn't this a fine mess." Anyone else might have been exercising sarcasm, but the elven thug seemed earnestly appreciative of the carnage. His eyes wandered it, like an appreciator of art's eyes might wander in a museum. Shaking out of his violence-inspired reverie, he grinned, letting his gaze move from Sophia's feet to her face. ”I'd heard somewhere that pious folk bled less than we heathen sorts. I suppose I might have heard wrong."

"The Maker provides me not with a physical shield, but rather the will to overcome, Serah," the Viscount's daughter said in response, as she surveyed the carnage the three of them had created, at the cost of only a few wounds to each of them. She examined her own wound more closely. The mercenary's knife had indeed cut deep, and the wound was bleeding steadily, but there wasn't time to worry about that now. More were on the way, and they couldn't afford to stop and treat their wounds just yet.

Saemus came over to rejoin the group. He was the only one without any blood on him, save for small bits on his knees, when he had knelt beside his fallen Qunari friend. "Dead, and good riddance. My thanks for standing with my sister," he said towards Lucien and Rakkis. "You're wounded, though. And she spoke of others coming, did she not?" Sophia waved him off. "It's nothing, Saemus. The wounds can be treated once we get out of here. Serah Lucien, Serah Rakkis, if neither of your injuries require immediate attention, we should focus on a plan for when the others arrive." She glanced at the way they had come in. A single path led down from the main road, but then split into three sepearate pathways through the rock walls, before coming together in a choke point at the entrance to the camp.

"I suspect the Winters will not go for caution, especially if they see only two of us. If Serah Lucien and I met the enemy at the entrance to the camp, Serah Rakkis could lie in wait along one of the side paths, and strike the Winters once they focus their attention on us."

Lucien, having retrieved his scythe, now leaned on it again, arms crossed over the end and supporting his chin in a way that could only be described as relaxed. Perhaps a bit discordant, give the situation, but he'd learned long ago that his impulsiveness, while unfortunately not entirely avoidable, was best saved for battle and not the spaces between. At the mention of injuries, he straightened and looked down at his abdomen, in which the small blade was still lodged. "Ah yes."

Relaxing his muscles there, he gripped the hilt of the knife in three fingers and eased it out. Examining the small blade for a moment, he shrugged and slid it into his belt. His armor would prevent it from stabbing him in its naked state, and he'd rather avoid too many more barehanded matches if at all possible. In retrospect, that had actually been rather enjoyable, though perhaps a tad too time-consuming. He felt a slight warmth as blood seeped slowly from the wound, but his scale mail had made it shallow at best. "I'm nothing to worry about, so a plan might be good, yes."

Scratching absently at his stubble, Lucien considered it. "No, perhaps not caution, but they may approach from all sides anyway. It is a tactical advantage I would not pass up, had I the resources to take advantage. All the same, we are but three, and there is little we can do about it. Allowing Serah here to flank seems the best solution."

Rakkis stooped at a corpse to clean off his dagger, his expression fairly bored as the others spoke. ”There is," he said, grunting again as he rose thanks to the arrow-wound he'd taken to his side, ”A better solution." He smirked to Lucien. ”A bloodless solution, in fact." He gestured with his dagger toward the noble siblings. ”You two take him and Horse back into the city. I'll remain here. The Winters are not a large organization, and their leader lays slain. If word were to circulate that they'd been butchered by a one-eyed man, the Viscount's daughter, and a very handsome elf, they wouldn't be able to obtain work cleaning out stables for all the laughter, never mind actually mercenerizing." He paused to consider his neologism, then shrugged; not one of his better ones. ”We'll let them pick their comrades corpses clean, and I'll encourage them to seek gainful employment within certain establishments in Lowtown. Much neater, don't you think? And if I'm wrong and they exact their retribution, well, you'd have a nice headstart by the time they managed to cut me to bits, so I really don't see a downside for you lot."

Either insanity or confidance blazed in the elf's gray eyes as he regarded them. It would be a bit of a coupe, on his part, to manage to recruit the remnants of a brigand-band that he'd had a hand in destroying. There was also the matter of the man that the whore had told him about. Rakkis had not recognized him among the dead, and suspected that his honorable comrades might object to or even interfere with the plans he had for that fellow.

Sophia let the tip of her blade fall to the ground as the elf explained his alternate plan. Indeed, the biggest obstacle to them simply taking this opportunity to escape was the matter of horses. They only had three, and while Saemus could certainly double with her, the elf's riding... left something to be desired. If Rakkis were to stay behind, and the three of them were to leave very soon they could perhaps make it onto the road in time, and take the far way back to Kirkwall, avoiding the remaining Winters who would be coming the short way.

And he was right. Their reputation would certainly be crushed, not only by them being defeated by a mere three people, but by their blatant attack on royalty of Kirkwall, the very sister of the one they were charged with protecting. Such a botched assignment would be near impossible for a small group of mercenaries to recover from. But... Serah Rakkis had revealed his ties with the Coterie. Sophia had expected he might be apart of one of the criminal organizations plaguing Kirkwall. He was going to encourage them to strengthen his organization? She didn't like that... but she couldn't help but feel that it was preferable to the coming battle if she refused his plan. More would die if they stayed, and there was no small chance that it would be themselves, wounded as they were.

"You are very dedicated to your organization, to risk your life in such a way for it, Serah," Sophia said, certainly not having any illusions that the elf was staying behind simply so that they could escape. "My concern is what harm these people may cause should they be corralled into a criminal group such as yours... but if further bloodshed can be avoided this way, perhaps it is best. And we've little time to discuss it further. Saemus?"

Her brother thought for a moment, aware they had to hurry. "Ashaad's death has been avenged. The Winters will no longer receive their reward. And I would not wish to condemn them all to death for the actions of their leader, though I've no doubt many of them would do the same in her situation." Sophia nodded, agreeing with him. It felt wrong... but there were many ways things could end up worse if they stayed and fought. The fight had taken a good deal out of her. "Very well. Serah Lucien, if you have no objections..."

Lucien blinked his good eye several times, looking to the much shorter man with somthing akin to shock, mixed with no small amount of perplexity. He seemed to give the matter some consideration, turning the implications over in his mind, finally shaking his head. "I doubt the world would benefit from more criminals, but that is not the reason for my refusal. If the Lady Sophia wishes to leave and take Serah Saemus, then I understand completely. I, however..." Lucien smiled then, a rueful sort of expression that was as much self-effacing as mirthful. "Well, however dubious your solution may be, I am fool enough to feel that you should not face the consequences alone, if your deal goes south."

The Chevalier shrugged, lifting his scythe and slinging it over both shoulders. "In other words, if they prove like their comrades and reject the peaceful solution, I might be convenient to have around, if for nothing more than a big metal distraction that allows you to slip away, no?" His honor would not allow him to leave another man behind to face such grave danger on his behalf, regardless of what deal he was planning on offering the Winters. That said, he knew the type. He expected that they would't accept, especially if the numbers in the second wave were greater than those of the first and their opponents were a woman short. He also understood that Rakkis might well take him up on his offer and make himself scarce if it came to that.

These and other practicalities, Lucien reflected with that same deprecating smirk, were the kinds of thoughts and fool notions that got men killed. But when Lucien died, he wanted it to be having done what he thought was right, at every last opportunity.

Rakkis tilted his head as he regarded the much larger mercenary. ”I never imagined you'd grow so fond of me so quickly. However..." He paused poignantly, studying the man. It was possible that he'd read even further ill intentions in his plan than Sophia had, but that didn't strike him as the truth behind his protestations. No, he had a military bearing, and that meant he likely had a military mindset, however deteriorated it might have been. He simply didn't want to leave a comrade, however temporary, behind. ”I believe that you set out having given your word to see Sophia and dear Saemus back to their father's keep unharmed. As they'll be setting out, very soon, it will be very difficult for you to ensure their safety from here. If you'll forgive my saying so, you may be a sword-for-hire, but your grasp of the Winters' situation is fairly tenuous. Your presence only makes it more likely that they'll choose the bloody course. A single elf, even one as daunting as myself, poses very little threat. Add a lummox in plate with a ridiculous weapon to the equation, and... well, they might feel differently." He shrugged. ”I have no qualms accompanying our charges, if you feel that you might be better suited toward the negotiations." The smile he offered Lucien was deprecating as well... but Lucien was the target of that deprecation, not himself.

"On the contrary, my obligation was to facilitate their safe return, which is considerably easier if I know where their enemies are, and whether or not those enemies will retain their hostility. I think we can both agree that the Winters are a greater threat than an incidental creature on the road, and Lady Sophia is herself far from a pushover. As to my impact upon your success, well..." He cast his eye about, considering the landscape. "I suppose I may be a smidge more intimidating than you, but who expects treachery from 'a lummox in plate'? If nothing else, looking like you have hired muscle hanging about lends some legitimacy to your claims of identity. I suppose if you want to appear alone, I could conceal myself." It would be nothing so stealthy as a puff of smoke and invisibility, but even a warrior could hide behind a rise in the landscape or an outcropping of stone.

"It seems wise that Lady Sophia and Serah Saemus leave, yes, and your choice is yours, but I will remain." He was quite aware of the look he was getting from the elf, but the simple fact of the matter was that he didn't care. He had made his choice, for his reasons, and the relative likelihood of succeeding in adding more ruthless mercenaries to Kirkwall's underbelly was of no concern to him.

The mercenary, Lucien, had made her feel significantly worse about leaving, but also significantly more certain that it was what she needed to do. That he was staying for honor, well... the feeling was something akin to the wound in her side. She couldn't help but feel she was abandoning these two, certainly Lucien moreso than Rakkis, by leaving them to persuade the remaining Winters against further violence. But as it was, the way she could best ensure his safety was by, in fact, leaving. Were she willing to let Saemus return on his own, things would be different... but she couldn't.

"You don't make this easy for me, Serah Lucien," she admitted, "and were I willing to allow Saemus to return home alone, I would stay as well, but I must see to my family's safety, and I can best ensure your own survival by leaving with my brother." Saemus rolled his eyes. "I'm so glad for the vote of confidence, sister." At this, Sophia sighed. "I would recount the ways you assisted during the battle, brother, but I can't seem to recall any. You'll forgive me if I want to ensure your safety on the return trip."

He had no reply to that. He actually seemed rather confused by the whole situation, between Rakkis' not-so-noble reasons for remaining behind, contrasted by Lucien's extremely noble reasons, and his sister's conflicted stance. "We must be away from here, then," the Viscount's daughter said, beginning to back away. "May Andraste guide you both. We will not forget your services here. Should you survive, I will ensure that you receive your rewards. They are well earned." With that, she turned, feeling like she was tearing herself apart as she went. The elf had made things so complicated...

"Doing what is right is rarely ever easy, milady," Lucien replied with a more genuine smile. "But protecting your family is nothing to be ashamed of." He inclined his head in a small gesture of deference, then turned back to Rakkis.

"I cede to your superior understanding of the Winters' motives. Without telling me to depart, what would you have me do?"

The elf considered refuting Lucien's points. It was how easy it would have been to do so that gave him pause. There was no point arguing with someone so clearly insane as the Chevalier was. He let his attention drift to Sophia's valediction and her quibbling with Saemus. He didn't quite think that Lucien had seen through the ruse of his willingness to leave so much as he was ignoring it. He'd been hoping the craven notion might lower the man's opinion of him enough that he'd agree to set off... but that didn't seem to be the case. ”I'd prefer that Andraste stay out of this. There are already too many players remaining on the beach as it is. And enough of this 'serah' business. Rakkis will be quite sufficient in the future." He nodded then, and turned to spit Lucien with an insolent stare.

”I would have you do exactly as I tell you to, and say absolutely nothing." He waited for Sophia to depart, for Lucien to give his word of honor that he'd comply, before outlining his modified plan.

Delaying no longer, the two Dumar children swiftly made their way to the horses, and sped off in the opposite direction they had come, Sophia giving one last glance towards the two men who had undoubtedly saved her life before disappearing from view.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

"Very well. We seek a former Templar named Samson. I have some idea of where he might be found." Amalia let the words hang there for a few seconds, then turned, leading the group towards the Dockside entrance to Darktown.

The group made their way downwards, through the maze that was Lowtown. They passed the Hanged Man, bustling with patrons even at this relatively early hour, passed a rather disturbing view of the city's foundry district, a place saturated with the smells of smoke, burning metal, and generations of misery. Their surroundings grew steadily poorer as they approached the sewers and the entrances to Darktown, near the city walls and the stairs leading down to the docks. The streets were lined with refuse, of the physical and human varieties.

There were plenty of beggars and lowlifes populating this part of Lowtown, but one of them was set apart from the others by exactly what he was begging for: the dust. Dwarven dust. Lyrium, the ingredient the Templars used to enhance their trained abilities in combating magic, and also the means by which the Chantry held such a firm grip over their military arm. Lyrium was highly effective, but highly addictive if taken for a long enough period. But only those familiar with the Templars and their ways knew that.

Aurora didn't enjoy the look the elf, Ithilian gave her. It was glare of annoyance and... Hate perhaps? She knew that look. It was the look she had seen many times when others realized that she was a mage, and thus, this look from the stranger irritated her. What did he know of her to judge her so? He had never been in her shoes, lived her life. She returned his stare with a defiant one of her own, her jaw locked and set tight. She would speak out over such a small thing like a look, but it did manage to set her against the elf.

With that, the group descended into Lowtown proper.

As she said before, the streets were known to her. The winding mazelike pathways held no mystery for Aurora. If a templar was to appear and begin to chase her, she knew every sidestreet and back alley to take to escape. Though, this time, she wasn't the one being hunted, she was the one hunting. It was a comfortable change of pace honestly.

Trailing behind the others, Nostariel was likely the last to lay eyes upon the man seeking dust, but she had more reason than most to recognize the signs. Dark circles around sunken eyes, a slight tremor in the outstretched hands... she'd be willing to bet he was also light-sensitive, and found it difficult to sleep. Biting her lip, she toyed with the end of one of her braids. This could go very wrong in a number of fashions, most of them involving the Dalish man who'd apparently decided to extract information from Vincento in the least-gentle of ways.

Maybe this could be brought to a less-violent conclusion if she was able to obtain the information herself. "That man," she murmured to the group of them, "He's addicted to lyrium. If you're looking for an ex-Templar, that's definitely the best indication you'll recieve." Taking the opportunity to step forward, she was the first to approach him. Her smile didn't quite make it past her lips and into anything else about her demeanor, but she supposed it would do. People had to look closely to notice those kinds of things, and in order to do that, they usually had to care first. If he cared about a complete stranger, getting Feynriel's location shouldn't be a problem anyway.

"Your pardon, serah," the Warden began, her tone gracious. "But might you be the man called Samson?"

He was sitting on the ground as the Grey Warden approached, dark eyes scanning the people that passed, likely looking for a potential target to beg to. He had to look up to see her, and the act obviously took a bit of effort, as he squinted, and his hand reflexively went to block the sun from his eyes. Grumbling, he shoved himself to his feet, and peered at the members of the group that had approached him, before shrugging. "Depends on who's asking, I suppose. Why? What do you want from me?"

Ithilian stepped forward beside Nostariel, his demeanor significantly less... polite, than Nostariel's. "A location. An elven boy was sent to you recently, told that you were a friend to mages. Feynriel. Where is he?" Samson seemed to light up upon hearing the boy's name. "Ah, yeah, that was it, Feynriel. Been trying to remember that kid's name all day. Knew it was Fane-something, but I just couldn't get the last part. Good on you. I'll tell you now, though, there's not much I can do for you."

Ithilian had gotten out a good deal of his aggression on Vincento, but an elf like him always had more stashed away, ready to be pulled out on a moment's notice. He looked just about to recreate the scene in the market.

Amalia, having learned the sight of a near-violent Ithilian already and dutifully committed it to memory, flowed smoothly forward, reaching into her coinpurse with one hand even as she gently displaced Nostariel with the other, palming the other woman's shoulder and applying gentle pressure until she stepped sideways or back, whichever she preferred. "I have no lyrium, but I believe merchantile culture allows for the exchange of it for such as these," she said, though there was an underlying note of contempt in her tone. "We have little time, and the Sataareth even less patience. So tell me, basra, what did you do with the boy?" The Ben-Hassrath's tolerance for men who valued material things over other men was incredibly low, but she like her kith in the compound understood the value of using the customs of the bas when necessary. The Qun did not encourage those of her role to use violence, merely pointed out that it was sometimes necessary.

Sataareth were as a rule more militant, but this one, were he of the Qun, would have been reminded long ago that even the Antaam made great use of patience and judicious applications of diplomacy when more efficient.

The ex-Templar gladly accepted the coins Amalia offered, making a point of averting his gaze from the angry elf and holding it instead on the more charitable members of the group. "That's very kind of you. Been hurtin' lately, so this should help. Anyway, here's how it went. The boy came to me, but the Blighter was dead broke, didn't have two coppers to rub together. I don't work for free, you know? Help one apostate for free, and soon I'll have half the Circle banging on my door. Well... if I had a door for them to bang on, that is." Aurora twitched at the word apostate.

"So... what? You abandoned him? Turned him away? Get to the point." Ithilian was indeed confirming Amalia's words. His right hand rested on the hilt of a knife, but it was relaxed. Still, not the best sign. "I was gettin' there, my good man. No, I didn't just abandon him. I pointed him to a ship-captain I know, guy named Reiner. He takes on runaways sometimes. He took one on just last week, a girl I sent him. It, uh... might of gone wrong though. I heard some rumors, that Reiner took the pair of them captive instead."

"To ransom them to the Templars, perhaps?" Ithilian commented, in an unsurprised but disgusted tone. "Perhaps," Samson admitted, "or they could be holding them for someone else. Tevinter slavers, more like. The Templars make for poor businessmen." Ithilian slid his knife out an inch. "You should stop talking now, shem. And if anything's happened to the boy..."

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Something involving lots of blood, right? Anyway, you'll want to head to the Arthuris Private Dock, down on the water. I wouldn't expect a warm welcome, though."

Aurora pinched the bridge of her nose in annoyance. Things were becoming difficult real quick. No longer was it just Feynriel, but now Tevinter slavers were added to the mix. Magnificent. "I don't," Aurora agreed. "Shall we make our way to this Dock then? The more time we spend dallying, the further Feynriel gets," she said, leaving out the bit about wanting to meet this Captain Reiner. Selling mages like animals, she had a few words for the man. And spells. With that, Aurora turned on her heel and headed towards the docks as instructed. She hoped Feynriel was okay.

Ithilian approved of the human girl's need for haste. He locked a last glare upon the ex-Templar, before sliding his knife back into its sheath and turning to follow Aurora towards the stairs that would lead down to the water, and the private dock to which they had been pointed to. He had more than enough for slavers. If this Reiner did indeed plan on selling the boy into slavery, there would be no negotiations. Perhaps there were other paths, as Amalia had suggested, but the path of violence was the only one that would satisfy Ithilian if shemlen slavers were involved.

The docks, perhaps predictably, entailed the scent of salt, fish, and unwashed bodies, mostly human. As Nostariel understood it, though commerce of all kinds ran through here, the area was largely unsafe. The large, rough types that worked them probably didn't have much to worry about, but a youth with no combat experience was another matter. The roads beneath their feet were chipped and worn, large chunks missing from the off-white stone in places where it had fractured and none had bothered with repairs.

The private docks were set a bit away from the others, and as a rule a bit tidier, but given the complete absence of city guards, no more safe than anywhere else. Nostariel hesitated for the barest moment before pushing open the door to the storehouse they were looking for; she had a bad feeling about this. Of course, that was kind of the point, so she completed the motion with one hand, reaching behind herself with the other to grasp her bladed staff. The first room was largely empty, but it let out into an open cargo-storage area, and as soon as she stepped into it, she knew they weren't alone. "Look lively!" she called, an old phrase taken from a friend of hers in the Wardens.

Sure enough, several enemies, most of them rogues, seemed to emerge from the woodwork as she moved aside to allow the others to enter, readying the first burst of magic and letting fly from her stave, catching an archer solidly in the stomach. This just looked more and more ominous for poor Feynriel.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

Reiner's men were obviously not looking to entertain company at present, as they attacked the group on sight when they entered the private dock. There was a high pitched scream of a young woman from the second level, and Ithilian caught sight of a girl being dragged into one of the back rooms by a pair of armed men. The one dragging the girl shouted something to the men, before shutting the door behind him, drowning out her pleas for help.

It was understandable that they would attack anyone unfamiliar entering their dock. Slavery was certainly still illegal in the Free Marches, and the city guard would crash down hard upon those who broke that particular law. Considering that none of these people wanted to spend any time locked under the earth in the dungeons located below the Gallows, it was no surprise that they were willing to commit murder to cover up slavery. A few deaths were more than worth the avoidance of a life rotting in the Gallows.

The group had prepared their defence by placing a trio of archers on the second level balcony, overlooking the door Nostariel had led the way through, with clear shots at short range. Those caught in the open would have a difficult time protecting themselves from arrows. A ramp to the left led up to the archers' balcony, but there were six armed men and women descending it to rush the enemy currently, armed with a variety of melee weapons and light armor, their faces covered by masks. To the group's right lay an open area, with crates for storage piling up on the right wall, and stairs on the left leading up to the second level, where Reiner had dragged the girl he was holding captive. There was no sign of Feynriel yet. More rogues and a few warriors were charging the group from the right, with another pair of archers holding at the top of the stairs.

Ithilian was glad there was no chance to negotiate. These shemlen had revealed their intentions to him, and he was more than willing to kill them all for what they were attempting to do. He smoothly ducked behind a wooden support so as to avoid getting shot while he drew his weapons, a pair of long, curved knives from his waist. He intercepted the first rogue on the left, who had been looking to blindside Nostariel, by plunging his right dagger into his belly all the way up to the hilt. The force of the stab lifted the rogue off his feet slightly, catching him by surprise. The Dalish wasted no time, slashing his other blade deep into his throat. Ignoring the spray of blood, Ithilian ripped his blade from the rogue's stomach, before grabbing him and turning him, pulling him close to his body as a shield just as a pair of arrows thrummed into his chest.

A woman heaving a battleaxe swung downwards at him, and Ithilian backed away swiftly, causing the blow to only crash onto her fallen comrade, splitting him open at the neck at least half a foot deep. Continuing to back away, Ithilian's knives were sheathed in an instant, his bow drawn and an arrow nocked. A swift aim later, and there was a thwack as his shot cracked through skull, and the warrior fell in a heap.

An arrow whistled by Amalia, catching her dress by the sleeve and tearing the thing as it went past. The aggression was all she needed to respond with the same, and she flickered before vanishing from sight entirely, stepping out of the useless garment and leaving only her much quieter fitted cloth-and-leathers beneath. Jogging soundlessly, she placed some distance between herself and the rest of the group, so as to avoid being hit by anything on accident, and half-unwound her chain, swinging the weighted end to build centripedal force. A deft flick of her wrist sent the weapon flying, tangling in the legs of a warrior trying to make a charge for the other three. The Ben-Hassrath yanked back hard, tightening the chain's hold and bringing the slaver crashing to his knees.

Gathering her weapon back up, Amalia held it loosely in one hand, a poisoned needle now resting carefully in each of the spaces between the fingers of her left hand. Still in a lingering shroud of stealth, the Qunari understood what needed to be done, and padded quietly up the ramp, passing by the archers undetected. There wasn't really a way to open a door without being discovered, and so getting into the room where the one barking orders had gone was going to be difficult. Perhaps if she... no. There was no telling exactly what was beyond. Though she trusted herself to handle most things, she was nothing if not realistic, and walking into that room by herself was just as likely to get the hostage killed as it was to save her.

Instead, then, she used her position behind the pair of archers to her advantage, tossing first one needle and then another with pinpoint accuracy, burying the steel projectiles at the base of each man's neck. Qunari poison was nothing to be trifled with, and they each swooned, shots arcing far off-course, then collapsed, the neurotoxin taking full effect very quickly. Choosing to hedge her bets, the now-visible Amalia stooped, taking first one head and then the other into her grip, wrenching sideways with speed that translated into great force. The wet cracks informed her that she had broken their necks, and she glanced back out to the center of the warehouse, swiftly taking stock of the situation.

Why was Aurora not surprised. Everytime slavers were mentioned, violence followed close on it's heels. Much like Ithilian did, Aurora found herself taking shelter behind a wooden support with an arrow thumping into the wood behind her. Suddenly, her lack of weaponry dawned upon her. She had left her staff at her home in Lowtown, hidden wrapped in some blankets under her bed. One couldn't just walk about with a staff slung across her back if she wanted to keep a sense of anonymity. She grimaced. It would have been helpful right now. Still, she wasn't going to let a little thing like lack of a weapon stop her.

She had caught sight of a group of archers above them before she took cover. She knew her target, but in order to get a line of sight on them, she'd have to wade out into the middle of the building. This thought only graced her mind for a split-second before it was decided. She looked to her sides, Amalia had disappeared in a puff of smoke and Ithilian was busily dispatching those who approached. She would not be the only useless one here today. However, the illusion that she was just some ordinary girl was about to be shattered. Still, that was a worry for another time.

Aurora crossed her arms in front of her chest and dipped into the fade, calling upon the natural elements of the world to come to her aid. When she opened her eyes, she was sheathed in a layer of stone. That should hold up against any errant attacks.

With her defenses set, she dropped out of cover and sprinted to the middle of the building, stopping suddenly and pivoting to face the archers above. Her hands danced around each other as she called upon another element, just as the archers were drawing a bead on her. Then her hands shot out, a streak of lightning erupting from her intertwined hands and zipped towards the archers. Upon impact, the lightning split and chained amongst them. The shock caused them to lose grip of their bows and two of the arrows hit wide while the third buried itself into the chest of her rock armor. She could still feel the bite of the tip, but it was just annoying more than painful. If not for the armor, the arrow would have surely pierced her heart.

She could hear the calls, "She's a mage! Try to take her alive!" Aurora frowned and echoed,"Try."

The group dispersed at once, each member going about their affairs as though trained for nothing more than this moment. Or at least she would not have put it beyond the ones called Ithilian and Amalia. She had no idea how the two had come to be working together, but they were both her comrades now, they and Aurora alike. Nostariel was only glad that her fellow mage had the sense to cover herself in rock armor before going after the archers.

Drawing upon more experience in the thick of enemies than she was truthfully comfortable having, the elf pulled protection from the Fade, draping both herself and her allies in the violet glow of an arcane shield. Where armor sought to protect, magic would help divert, and hopefully the both would be enough to do some good. The ranged combatants taken care of between the efforts of the clandestine Qunari and the bold human, Nostariel was forced to focus her attention on the more immediate problem presented by almost a dozen incoming melee combatants. Ithilian seemed to have a fair number in hand, but the two of them would not be enough on their own, and the Warden figured it was a good time to seed some chaos in the slavers' ranks.

Pulling a deep breath in through her nose, the mage released it in a whispered exhale, the rune of an infamous misdirection hex lighting the ground beneath more than half their tightly-clustered enemies. The insidious magic crept into the crevices of consciousness, and for a bare moment, Nostariel could feel the confusion fog taking hold of their minds, before the spell slipped from her grasp and sealed itself to them. The woman closest to her struck out with a knife, only to find that the blade went wide of its mark, whistling harmlessly past the Warden, by means of either her confusion or the shielding, it mattered not.

The chill crept into her left hand, and with a sad sort of smile, the ice arced from her palm in a half-circle, freezing four in place and making their flesh and bones brittle as crumbling ash. She did not relish in this, but she would not hesitate, grasping her staff in both hands. Twirling it with a cry, she brought the bladed end down on one frozen man's shoulder, and he shattered, nothing but shards of ice falling to the floor. Their efficiency was deadly, their ability to confound and enrapture and disappear more then men such as these would be able to handle. It was something she knew, down in her very bones.

Ithilian's mouth curved into a wicked grin as his companions did their work. The human girl revealed herself to be a mage. He suspected she'd had something hidden up her sleeve, if she were so willing to come into a base for slavers. She risked herself quite willingly, making herself a target for the archers into order to get at them. Amalia had disappeared, and moments later the archers on the stairs fell. And the elven Warden, Nostariel, had unleashed her own brand of magic on the close combat fighters of this Captain Reiner's. A hex and a well cast ice spell that effectively held off those coming from the right. Ithilian would continue his work on the left.

He switched back to his long knives, leaping into the air over the mercenary he'd shot in the head, and plunging both knives into the chest of the nearest mercenary, his weight taking the man to the ground. The merc had managed to get a knife stuck just under his rib, but the Dalish ignored the wound, snarling in his anger. A mercenary with a greatsword slashed horizontally, looking to lop off the elf's head as he rose, but Ithilian had the good sense to roll forward under it, getting a position at the merc's side while his momentum still carried him forward. He rose swiftly, one hand finding the top of the merc's head and pulling back, the other drawing his knife sharply across the throat, before pushing him forward, where he stumbled to the ground, clutching his throat.

He turned to catch the blow of a sword and shield armed mercenary, the sword getting caught in his blades, giving Ithilian an opening to kick the man backwards. The last of this group, a smaller female rogue with dual knives much like his own, flanked him from the right, scoring a slash across his thigh, and driving him back with swift blows which he parried madly, before finally seeing an opportunity to counter, blocking a strike that had been too slow to the side, and launching a kick to the side of her knee, twisting it at a wicked angle and sending her to a kneel, allowing him to get a firm grip on her head, and twist violently, snapping the neck.

The shield armed mercenary had returned by this point, blindside Ithilian with a slice across the back of his leg, causing him to roar in anger, and fall to a knee himself. Rather than waste any time down, however, Ithilian pushed hard with his good leg, and launched himself into a tackle, driving his shoulder into the man's gut and surprising him, causing him to drop his sword. They hit the ground with Ithilian on top, and he drove his first blade down, then the second, both burying themselves in his shield and getting stuck. Thoroughly frustrated by this one, Ithilian pulled an arrow from his quiver, shoving the shield aside with one arm, and then driving the arrowhead directly into the man's face, repeatedly, until there was little shape remaining to it. Only then did he take a breath, rip his blades from the shield, and turn to see the state of the battle.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rakkis Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by throne
Rakkis didn’t tarry watching the viscount’s progeny ride off. The Winters reinforcements would be arriving soon, which meant that he needed to solidify the plan that had started crystallizing in his mind just moments before. There wasn’t time to argue with his large human cohort, either. He had to hope that Lucien would indeed play his part well enough for them to emerge as unscathed as they presently were. The bashing his head had taken was slowly coalescing into what promised to be one of the worst headaches ever experienced. It felt as if a small bird had become trapped in his skull and mistaken the very front of it, just between his temples, for some glass aperture. That metaphorical tiny bird was beating itself against the imagined glass in an effort to escape, and Rakkis had experience enough with drink and head injuries (which, aside from stress, were the two major causes of headaches) to know that the bird would soon transform into a larger bird, and then a flock of large birds.

Rubbing the side of his head gently, the elf waxed thoughtful and still. In a flurry of moment that was both the complete opposite of that stillness and the product of it, he sprang into action. First, he went to Ginnis headless corpse; he’d rather liked her smoke trick, what he'd seen of it from his vantage point, anyway, and decided to liberate a few vials of the compound that enabled it for later playing around with. He secreted them up his sleeve for a later transfer to his pockets; he didn’t need an argument from Lucien on the ramifications of duty when it came to robbing the dead. He had a different purpose, and snapped his head up to regard the larger mercenary.

”Well don’t just stand there like a lackwit. Start arranging the bodies in a more dignified fashion. It will minimize their initial reaction. I doubt they were all boon companions, but a few of our arriving guests may have had friends in this lovely boneyard we’ve made.” His hands kept patting searching. Most mercenary companies had books of sorts, or at least contracts which their members would mark (since most of them could not in fact write). He’d known a few leaders to keep them on hand, but Ginnis must have had better control of her lot. It was probably back in the city. Ah well. He let her body fall to the ground indelicately, and then arranged her into some semblance of repose: limbs flat, body straightened. There was, of course, the matter of her head, which had bounced several feet after Vesenia had cleaved it off. Grabbing it by the hair, Rakkis frowned slightly at the body, then at Ginnis' deathmask. ”You really wound up being troublesome to the very end, didn't you?" He stooped, and made a sort of mound of sand just where her neck ended. Pressing the decapitated head into that mound until it more or less lined up with the larger part of her remains, he wiggled it a bit until it sat right, then stood to inspect his work. So long as no one looked too closely, it might seem that her throat had merely been slit egregiously. A shrug; it would have to do.

Lucien gave a shrug; providing the corpses of his foes with a little more dignity was not something he was against by any means, and if he was offended by the fact that Rakkis saw fit to insult his intelligence at every opportunity, he made no sign of it. Lifting or dragging several corpses, he arranged them in a neat line, closing open eyelids and moving hands to clasp together over abdomens in the classic picture of repose used at funerals and cremation ceremonies both. He was no great believer in the Maker or his human bride, but all the same he silently said a few words for each of the departed, nonspecific and directed at any supernatural being fool enough to have some kind of interest in mortal affairs.

”For the purpose of this exercise, try to imagine that you are not an idiotic man of honor gone to seed. Imagine, instead, that you are some idiotic-if-very-loyal hired muscle.” He paused and appraised Lucien for the span of a breath. ”Thresh,” he declared, his eyes on the man’s unusual weapon. ”You go by Thresh. Now, it’s quite possible that I may need to kill one of them. If I do, do not take that as a signal to attack. If I want you to attack…” He trailed off thoughtfully, remembering the smoke bombs he’d just inherited. ”Well, you will know if I want you to attack.”

When the Winters arrived, moments later, Rakkis and Lucien would just be finishing tidying up the dead. If the mercenary band valued their comrades, they would appreciate the gesture; if they were a pack of psychopaths, they’d see it as a sign of weakness, and the elf did enjoy being underestimated. Setting his hands upon his hips in jaunty fashion, he wished that he hadn’t gone and ruined his cloak. He looked much more impressive in a cloak.

It was obvious that there was a reason these particular Winters did not make up the vanguard. Their armor and weapons were obviously less impressive than their compatriots’. Most mercenary companies kept the best steel in the best hands, and Rakkis had actually been hoping for that to be the truth. As they saw the results of the battle, some of the Winters looked angry or concerned or even slightly sad. An equal number were greedily eyeing some of the fallen weapons and coin purses littered about. Rakkis didn’t find it hard at all to grin, and splayed out his arms theatrically to encompass the area.

”As you can see, you’ve rather botched the rescue mission. My condolences on the death of your co-workers and of your group’s reputation within Kirkwall.”

Hands fell to weapons. The mercenaries looked to one another. Rakkis hoped that Lucien was in character enough to react to the potential hostility. It would have been a nice detail to support their charade.

Lucien, for his part, understood the value of good acting, and assuming for the moment that Rakkis was his employer, the natural reaction was to take a step forward, grip the scythe at his shoulder a little more firmly, and simply loom. He did not speak of course, but body language could be plenty expressive, and the fact that he was a good head taller than most men and heavily-armored would not go to waste in this situation. His jaw was set into a scowl, but he was careful to direct the majority of his attention to the elf, as though awaiting orders.

One of the Winters came forward. He was the best armed of them, with a long sword in his hand and some light leather armor hung about a very respectable physique. He would have been very handsome if it were not for his hawkish nose. It was twice as large as his face would otherwise have required and possessed of a decided curve, as well as some knobbiness that indicated its having been broken at least twice in the past. His eyes were hard, but the hate in them was mired with confusion. ”Who in blazes are you, elf? Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you where you stand.” Now, weapons slid from sheaths; the mercenaries tightened up, but not into anything reminiscent of a respectable formation.

Rakkis was more preoccupied with the man’s nose than the danger. He’d been given a description of just such a nose back in the Blooming Rose, by a pretty young man who Rakkis finally remembered was named Silas.

”For the purposes of this discussion, I am the Coterie.” More looks were exchanged between the mercenaries, and Rakkis continued before they could say anything else. ”But you may call me Rakkis, and regard me as a friend until given reason to do otherwise. As for why you shouldn’t kill me? Well, you couldn’t. There’s one reason. More importantly, I have a proposition for you. All of you.” He pulled his eyes away from the man’s monumental proboscis in order to regard each of the mercenaries with his panning gaze. The Nose bristled at the truth that he perceived as an insult, but seemed willing, at least, to listen. Opportunism was one of the few common denominators in his line of work.

”What you see here is the inevitable.” He tilted his head toward the laid out bodies. ”We took no pleasure in it, Thresh and I, but your former leader was the one who pressed the attack.” Technically Saemus was ultimately responsible for the bloodbath, but they didn’t need to know that, and judging by the lack of shouted objections, Ginnis’ aggressiveness was quite in character for her. None of the Winters looked surprised at all. ”You could, I suppose, carry on. Perhaps with this fine fellow taking up the onerous mantle of leadership?” He singled out The Nose with an inclination of his head. ”But your numbers are halved, and your power considerably moreso, I’d wager. There is another option, though. The Coterie has need of men and women like you. I could see to it that you have a fair chance at joining our august organization, provided that you don’t see the need to make Thresh and I upset. We do terrible things when we’re upset, you see.”

Lucien was still not exactly pleased that 'success' here was adding to the volume of Kirkwall's already-swollen criminal underworld, but he did have a certain kind of respect for Rakkis's skill with words. The elf would have made quite the Bard, he was willing to wager. Really, there was little difference between that job and the one he was doing right now, save perhaps for the fact that Bards were seldom so direct.

The Nose looked back at his companions, gauging their reactions to the proposition. Rakkis meanwhile asserted his grip on a throwing knife, ready to silence any rallying cry that the man might choose to make. The elf smiled when he saw the point of the man’s sword lower toward the sand. Rakkis used his other hand instead, tossing a small bag of silver pieces, each of them blemished with an “X” marked by a dagger. The erstwhile Winter opened the bag and inspected it, making a sound of derision. ”You talk better than you bribe, elf. This is a pittance.”

”If you could see past that beak of yours, friend, you’d notice the markings,” Rakkis drawled. ”Distribute the coins amongst you. Use them to buy a drink in Lowtown. You’ll no doubt be contacted by the end of the night.” He shrugged. ”Or put them toward a whore and make your own way. It’s no matter to me. Rest assured, though, that you will find more profit and bloodshed with the Coterie than you ever would have found as Winters.”

The mercenary took another long look at one of the coins. He turned in toward the others, and they conversed in low tones. Rakkis’ keen, knife-like ears picked up a few murmurs of dissent, urges to kill them and have done with it, but then more murmurs came. The two of them had killed everyone else. One had even heard about a tattooed elf killer with a nasty reputation who worked in the Coterie’s employ. The overall tone of the caucus was that they’d really rather be with the Coterie than against them with Ginnis and so many of their peers dead.

”Very well, Rakkis. If this is some sort of trick, you won’t have seen the last of us.” Keeping one coin for himself, The Nose passed the pouch around. His words elicited a delighted laugh from Rakkis.

”Oh, it’s most assuredly a trick, but quite beneficial to you, I avow.” Rakkis tilted his head and regarded him. ”I like you. You’re very droll. If you have half the potential that you do nose, I could use you. Come to the Weeping Violet after sunset. I intend to take a more personal hand in your continued future in Kirkwall.” His tone was unctuous, flattering, even seductive. There was no mistaking the brazenness of that proposition for anything but what it was.

To his credit, the man didn’t blush, stammer, or shout. ”The Weeping Violet, after sunset,” he confirmed, keeping his voice neutral. ”I’ll see if I can arrange to be there.”

”Delightful.” Rakkis clapped his hands together and looked to Lucien. ”Thresh and I will be off, then. We’ll leave you to caring for your dead and whatever else it is that you’d like to do. You’ve made the right choice.” He nodded to Lucien, then started back toward the road.

Rakkis said nothing as they walked. He’d once again veered to amble along in Lucien’s blindspot, and was smiling with prodigious self-satisfaction. ”Do you know what I’m going to do with my reward money, first thing?” he asked in abruptly, picking up his pace enough to come into Lucien’s view.

Lucien knew he was doing that intentionally, walking in his blind spot, but it didn't really bother him. He had no reason to expect aggression from Rakkis; he was rather penniless as far as mercenaries went, and the likelihood was that someone working for the Coterie knew better than to expend the effort that would be necessary to attept to kill him for the pittance it would earn. Such sorts tended to live and die by the sovereign, and not the kind that sat on a throne, either. The question was actually a tad unexpected; he had thought he earned enough ire to be ignored for the rest of their mission, but apparently 'twas not the case. "I can't say I have that knowledge, no. What does a Coterie man spend his coin on?" He asked out of politeness and some trace of regard; he did not want to automatically assume that it would go to whores and booze, but he would have guessed as much if absolutely forced to hazard one.

”Interesting that you would classify me as such, don't you think? You can learn so much about a man by the answers he gives to innocuous questions." It was less a matter of ire or lack thereof than a means to banish boredom for the length of their journey back to the city proper. "Since you asked, though, I will be buying a new cloak. You may have noticed that I ruined my old one. I'm thinking perhaps something lined in fur this time, a color suited to my complexion." He curved his mouth into a broad grin. ”Of course, you've likely no taste for the sartorial. I'm probably boring you." Which of course, turned into a very involved lecture regarding what the length, color, and make of a cloak said about its wearer. It may have been insipid at times, or actually quite fascinating. Whatever case, short of gagging his companion, it was the sort of thing that Lucien would be subjected to until they parted ways.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar

Earnings

0.00 INK

Saemus paced about nervously on the far side of the road, not wishing to look at her sister as she tended to her wounds, sitting on a rock on the other side. The Viscount’s son had mostly averted his eyes during the fight, as he had always been squeamish around blood. It was perhaps surprising, then, when it had been Saemus that had suggested they stop and she treat her wounds, at least temporarily. He brought up a fair point in saying that Sophia was leaving something of a trail that the Winters could potentially follow by the occasional drop of blood falling from her side. Sophia had been glad for the excuse to stop. The horses were in need of a rest, and if she were being honest with herself, so was she. She wasn’t keen on losing any more blood than she already had. Thus, the royal children had come to a stop, Saemus keeping an eye out, and Sophia doing her best to halt the bleeding. She expected the remaining Winters had reached Rakkis and Lucien by now.

She could only hope that they would see the elf’s reason, and not attack them. If she returned to Kirkwall and then heard news of their deaths, well… she didn’t want to think about that. They had both risked their lives for her and her brother, with the promise of reward, of course, but still, the deed still stood, and Lucien at the least had seemed an extremely honorable man. To leave them so that she and her brother could live, even if it gave the elf’s plan a better chance at working, just felt wrong. She had felt so much confident with the situation when things had been simple. The Winters had been an enemy that needed to be defeated, a straightforward life or death conflict in which there was no choice, other than to kill or be killed. The Maker would forgive her for defending her own life, and that of her brother’s, and the cause that had driven them to conflict. Leaving an honorable man to perhaps his death, as well as allowing another to turn these mercenaries to a life of further crime, however… was more questionable. She had no doubt she would be debating this one with herself, and likely Elthina, for a while to come.

“They aren’t the brutes you think they are, sister,” Saemus said rather suddenly, revealing that he had been thinking about his fallen Qunari friend while Sophia had been continuing to battle her conscience. She had no immediate answer, having not given the matter much thought. She finished fashioning Saemus’ torn off sleeves into a bandage of sorts, and began unstrapping her breastplate. “Saemus, I never said anything about—” He cut her off. “No, you didn’t. I don’t think I’ve heard you say two words about the Qunari to me since they arrived. I know you well enough to know that when you avoid a topic like that, it’s because you disagree with me, and you just don’t want to anger me.”

Sophia grimaced, and not because of the wound. He had her there. She’d avoided bringing it up with him, mostly because she knew he had taken an interest in them, an interest she couldn’t help but see as dangerous, both politically, and for Saemus himself. It was no secret that the Qunari’s arrival had caused a good deal of unrest within the city, and there was already pressure on the Viscount to do something about them. She respected Saemus’ idealism, his kind heart, and his open acceptance of other cultures, but if this got out, which it probably would eventually, it would only make things worse. The idea of the Qunari having such a strong influence over the Viscount’s son reflected an inability on the Viscount’s part to maintain control over his own family. “If things were different, I would not object. You have every right to want to find your own path… but surely you can see that this will fall back on Father.”

“Maybe when it does, it will make father see what I see. Ashaad never lied to me, never coddled me. You were worth his time, or you were not. He was one of the few people I’ve ever met who saw me as simply Saemus, and not the Viscount’s son.” Sophia could understand that. She was the Viscount’s daughter, his eldest child. She dearly cherished those places, and those people, who could see her as something more than a title, a noble to cozy up with and ensure preferable treatment in the future. “I know the feeling. But there is considerable pressure on Father to do something about the Qunari presence in the city. Individuals with considerable sway. Even the Templars have expressed their discontent that the heathens were allowed to stay in the docks.”

Saemus turned to face her. By this point, Sophia had removed all of her armor from the waist up, and even she herself had been somewhat alarmed by the state of her tunic underneath. It had been entirely white upon setting out, but now was a dark crimson color more or less from her ribs down. She had carefully eased the arrow out, and was currently binding the wounds with the makeshift bandage she had fashioned out of Saemus’ sleeves. He swallowed. “Is that all you see them as, then? Heathens? You’re taking the Chantry stance on this?” Sophia averted her eyes for a moment. It wasn’t as though there was another stance she could take on them. They blatantly denied the Maker. That alone guaranteed that prolonged coexistence with the Templar Order was not likely, and certainly dampened them in Sophia’s mind. “It is an unkind word, but they do deny the Maker openly, and thus it applies. I would gladly see us able to live alongside them in Kirkwall, and I will do my best to ensure that father acts within reason, but the forces arrayed against them are numerous.”

Saemus sighed slightly. “Father won’t go against the Templars, certainly not on an issue as big as this. And neither will you, it seems.” Her wounds bound, and the bleeding stopped effectively enough for now, Sophia stood, gathering her armor and organizing it into one of her warhorse’s packs, before slipping her arm back through the strap of Vesenia’s sheath, letting the sword rest across her back once more. “You also know me well enough to know, Saemus, that I’d do anything to protect you and Father. If there’s a way to convince the people that the Qunari are more than they see them as, while also protecting Father’s well-being, I will find it. But I would not see him take on the Order without chance of success. It would destroy him, just like it destroyed Viscount Threnhold.”

Her brother shrugged somewhat, seeming to see her point, and accept her stance for the time being. He gestured with his head towards the horses, indicating that they should get moving again. Sophia’s thoughts drifted back to Lucien and Rakkis. Assuming the Winters did not attack them, they still only had one horse between the two of them. Being the honorable man he was, Sophia imagined Lucien giving the horse to the Coterie thug, and walking back to Kirkwall. The thought actually made her smile for some reason.

“Father’s going to fly into a panic when he sees you like that, you know,” Saemus commented from atop his horse. Sophia’s smile did not waver as she mounted her own. “I’ll tell him what I know: I will be fine.”




The clattering of hooves on the stone courtyard of the Viscount’s stables announced their arrival. Several guardsmen came to meet them. Sophia and Saemus dismounted as they reached them, their horses swiftly taken by the stable hands and led away. A guardsman offered to take Sophia to a healer in the Gallows, but she refused, intent on being there when Saemus confronted their father. She too had a few words for him, though she was certain Saemus would speak them as well.

The pair made their way swiftly through the Viscount’s Keep, ignoring the rather surprised gasps from the nobles who happened to be in attendance at the time. Bran met them at the front of his office, shaking his head. “Did it really come to violence, then? Was this the Qunari’s doing, or the Winters?” Sophia waved him off. “I’ll explain to Father. You’re free to listen in if you want the details, Bran.” It was obvious that the Seneschal had every intention on being present for the conversation, or at least the beginnings of it, as he led the way into the Viscount’s private quarters, closing the door behind them.

Viscount Marlowe Dumar was pacing by the window behind his desk. Sophia noted that he was looking older than ever as of late. Wrinkles were forming around his eyes where they had not been a mere year ago. He had all but given up on his hair, electing instead to shave what white strands had remained. But there was still some amount of shine in those bright blue eyes of his, eyes that Saemus shared with him, along with the black hair he had once possessed in far greater amounts. According to her father, Sophia was a mirror image of her mother, with her flowing golden hair, light brown eyes that gave off a sense of warmth, and that same inner fire. She wished she could have known Vesenia Dumar better.

He turned, and his eyes widened upon seeing both his children in their current states. She supposed Saemus must have looked quite unlike himself, with the experience of the morning, and his sleeves all torn off as they were, but of course it was for Sophia’s injuries he showed immediate concern. “Maker, Sophia, that can’t all be your blood? We’ll send for a healer immediately. Bran, if you would.” Sophia waved him off. It was getting rather tiresome. “I’m fine, father. The healer can wait. I would speak to you about what occurred on the Wounded Coast first.”

At this his turned his frustration upon Saemus. “It seems clear enough to me. Your foolish decision to traipse about the coast like you do nearly got your sister killed trying to rescue you!” Saemus responded in kind. “You hired thugs for a task Sophia could have performed herself! I was never in any danger until the Winters arrived.” The Viscount turned to his daughter with a heavy sigh, at least understanding that his decision to hire just anyone to have been a mistake. “Bran told me the Winters were involved. What happened? Are these wounds not from the Qunari?”

Sophia struggled for a moment to word things tactfully, but it seemed there was no way. “No, Father. They murdered Saemus’ friend. Saemus could not let them receive a reward for such an act, and neither could I. I requested that they leave Saemus in my care, and return to Kirkwall. Intent on claiming their bounty, they attacked. If I recall correctly, their plan was to kill me and the two companions I traveled with, and cast the blame for my death at the feet of the Qunari, either the Tal-Vashoth bandits in the area, or on the Arishok’s warriors themselves.” The Viscount seemed somewhat dumbstruck, and so Bran took the opportunity to step in.

“If I might ask, what became of your companions? Did they fall to the Winters?” he asked. Sophia paused for a brief moment. “No, they… stayed behind. Both to allow Saemus and I to escape, and to attempt a solution without further bloodshed.” Bran raised his eyebrows. “That was very noble of them. I must admit, I would not expect such behavior from Lowtown mercenaries.” Sophia nodded awkwardly. Saemus said nothing, waiting to hear from his father, who seemed to have collected his thoughts enough to pose a question.

“It was my understanding, Saemus, that you were captured alone. What’s this about a friend being murdered?” Saemus took a rather strong step forward. “And here is the root of the problem, Father. I was not captured, I was with Ashaad. The Qunari. They are not monsters to be feared.” He calmed himself, or at least tried to, understanding that an aggressive tone with his father here would certainly help nothing. His next words were rather pleading. “If you would just try to understand, others would see as well.”

His father put a hand to his forehead upon realizing what the true nature of the situation had been. He shifted his thin silver crown upwards so that he could rub his temples. “Better that you were thought abducted than to have their influence suspected in my own family… benign or not, it’s too much.” Sophia pushed a sweat-caked strand of hair from her face, strongly disliking the ever so common bickering between her father and brother. “Father… there must be some kind of middle ground that can be reached here. Father, surely you can see that Saemus means no harm. He seeks to understand and accept the Qunari. If the city is to coexist with the Qunari, than certainly an understanding of their ways will be necessary. We need not all join them, but we can at least respect their views, if they can respect ours.”

Her brother stood beside her, and seeing them both, she knew her father would not be able to keep this up. For better or for worse, he relented. “Very well, Sophia. There is a great deal of resistance in the city to the Qunari presence… but I will try to keep them at bay. For the sake of maintaining peace, if nothing else. And I’ll likely be needing your help with this, my girl. Changing the mindset of a city is no easy task.”

Sophia nodded, understanding the effort that would be required to get a group like the Templar Order to coexist peacefully with the Qunari. “I understand, Father. I am always willing to help, you know that.” He smiled, placing soft hands upon her shoulders. “That I do. Now, the healer. I’ll not stand to see my daughter injured a moment longer. Bran, if you would…” The Seneschal bowed slightly. “Of course, Excellency.” He turned and swiftly removed himself from the room, to summon a healer from the Circle. Feeling glad that the day’s events were finally over, Sophia allowed herself to be guided to her quarters, and eased herself into her bed with a more or less contented sigh.

Perhaps a healer wouldn’t be so bad, now that her task for the day was complete. Then perhaps it would be best to head to the Chantry. She needed a calm, quiet place to think about everything that had happened.

The Chanter’s Board has been updated. The Unbidden Rescue has been completed.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia Character Portrait: Numerai

Earnings

0.00 INK

Another blade came down upon Aurora's head, which she intercepted by throwing her rock encased arm in it's path. The sword bit deep, cracking the stone off from her elbow to her hand, Before the swordsman had time to lop off an entire arm, Aurora balled her other hand into a fist and placed it an inch away from the warrior's chest. A sudden flash of magic and the man was being rocketed backwards with a heavy fist of stone, catching those who were unfortunately caught in it's wake as well.

The stoneskin was beginning to flake and crumble around her, it wouldn't be able to take many more blows in the condition that it was in. Though luckily, thanks to Nostariel, chaos was sown into the Slavers' ranks and what her stoneskin was losing was made up in her wards. Some were fighting against each other, and others looked confused as to what was going on. Two rogues however did not have reservations and advanced on the soft, squishy mage. Aurora held her ground, waiting for her moment to strike, if she telegraphed her spell, they could easily escape it. As such, Ithilian's roar was a blessing as it drew their attention elsewhere. Aurora didn't take the time to look at what was causing the cry, her hand already weaving for the next spell. When the rogues turned back around to face the little poppet of a mage, they recieved a fireball to their faces.

The force of resulting explosion sent both rogues cartwheeling back before their scorched bodies stopped short on the cold floor. Breathing heavily now, Aurora figured it was best that she escaped the heavy fighting and began to backstep. She came upon Nostariel and her statues of ice. Feeling particularly helpful, she reared back and shattered one with her heel before looking at the Warden and then back to the fray.

Nostariel methodically worked her way through the small enclave of fighters she'd been left to deal with. One more ice-sculpture fell to the shattering force of a staff-blow, and two confused rogues were downed with a fireball. A feral yell drew her attention momentarily to Ithilian, and she paid for it when a rogue slipped into her pacticed guard and scored a slice on her upper thigh. Wincing, Nostariel smacked him over the head with the blunt end of her staff, dropping him to the ground, then reversed direction, plunging the bladed end into the exposed skin at the back of his neck.

Aurora stepped in then, her rock armor a little worse for wear but otherwise apparently unscathed. Now at a point in the battle where she had to ease off a bit and allow her reserves of magic to recover, the Warden cast a simple heal in Ithilian's direction and went about smashing the remaining ice-statues before they could regain movement and control. There were a few more to go, at this point, but the majority of the foes in this area were down, and they wouldn't be getting back up again. Firing off a couple quick bursts of magic to keep two incoming warriors from closing on her, Nostariel carefully backed away, seeking to preserve that precious distance between herself and the end of the pair's weapon-range. Rogues, she could usually deal with, but warriors were simply too well-armored to take on up close and personal.

Sharp eyes took in the details of the battlefield with an apparent lack of concern. Combatants were frozen in ice, reeling from pulses of lightning, and falling beneath the press of anger and sharpened blades. Sizing up the remaining threats, Amalia determined that her best course would be to deal with the remaining archers first, and let the other three terminate the two remaining warriors. To this end, she did not bother cloaking herself once more in stealth, instead taking advantage of the siezing achers' distraction with the erratic movements of their own bodies. Pulling herself up onto the railing, she calculated the distance of the jump she'd ave to perform to get to where they were efficiently and nodded. It was well within the realm of possibility.

Lowering her body into a crouch, Amalia bunched her muscles beneath her and jumped, clearing the distance in a rush of motion that registered as little more than a sensation of weightlessness and the whistle of air past her ears. Flipping over once in midair, she landed lightly on her feet. Her last presently-held needle was nothing more than a glint in the air before it punctured one man's eye. She did not stop moving, shoving him back with a palm into one of his fellows, who stumbled but did not fall. No matter. Her chain lashed out with all due celerity, this time winding around the man's neck. The last vesitges of electiricity ingled her palms through the metal of her weapon, but what remained was weak enough, like the energy that built in rich carpets and tapestries, only to be surprisingly discharged on door handles.

A sharp tug pulled the man forward, and she caught most of his weight on her shoulder, in enough time for the arrow of the third archer, a female, to thud solidly into his back. Wasting no time disentangling her chain or withdrawing more needles, Amalia took the archer's dagger from her present corpse's hip and hurled, sending the knife flying end-over-end until it sank into the woman's chest cavity. Discarding the body with callus disregard, she unwound her chain and decided she might as well retrieve the knife also. The man who'd taken her poison to the eye was still writhing slightly even as the paralysis took hold, but she jammed her heel into his neck, producing yet another snap and stillness. Setting all her weapons back in their places, Amalia hopped the railing, jogging back over to the others, who appeared to have killed the ones that remained.

"There appears to be a door at the top of the stairs, but I do not think it leads outside. I suspect there will be an ambush on the other side."

The healing spell Nostariel had cast in his direction was invigorating, and expertly executed. She clearly had experience with such spells. He ripped the arrow from the mercenary's skull for a final time, surveying the battle. Amalia was gracefully crossing over to deal with the other three archers, and two warriors were approaching the pair of mages, who were visibly tiring from their spells, and would likely need assistance. In a smooth motion his bow was in his hands, the arrow drawn back, dripping with blood already.

His turned his shot towards the ground, noting the warrior's lack of armored boots, and loosed the arrow, sending it punching through the nearest warrior's foot and causing him to howl in pain. More important, it caused him to remain still for a moment, giving Ithilian's second shot a target that was not moving. A twang of a bowstring, and a sharp whistle of an arrow, and the projectile cracked through the eye slit of the helmet with a crack of metal and bone, causing the merc to collapse onto his back.

The Dalish drew his knives for the last one, armed with a greatsword and directing his attention towards the elf after he shot down his ally. Ithilian sprinted forward, covering the distance between them while the mercenary still had his sword raised over his head. He scored the first hit by slicing deep across his abdomen, sidestepping as he did so in order to not run into the man. The mercenary took the hit well, to his credit, and swiftly turned to attempt another strike, this one more diagonal than the first. Ithilian caught him by the wrist with his left hand, before slicing down hard with his knife, taking the mercenary's hand clean off at the wrist. The Dalish then slid his left knife into a soft spot in the warrior's armor at his side, burying the knife under his ribs for a short moment before he ripped the blade out, and the man fell to his knees.

Ithilian actually paused for a moment, standing over the shem and peering down as he cradled his stump of an arm, before placing both of his knives in an X in front of the mercenary's throat, and slicing across with a snarl. His helmeted head tipped over backwards and clanked onto the ground before the body tipped over on its side ath the Dalish's feet.

Amalia was saying something about an ambush in the next room. Ithilian shrugged, his blades dripping at his feet. "If they fight us, they die. If they run from us, they die later. Let's go."

With the last enemy dispatched, Aurora finally allowed herself to breathe. Her stoneskin flaked off and fell to the ground as she let out her first long exhale. She hunched over with her hands on her knees as she breathed, obviously tired. It hadn't been the first time she had been thrown into a fight-- Lowtown was full of unsavory sorts looking to prey upon a hapless-looking girl. Though she had never been in a scrap of that size, and if what Amalia had said was true, then she wasn't done yet. A fine layer of dust left over from her spell still graced her skin, but she brushed this off revealing only a couple of nicks from where a blade or an arrow bit too deep and pierced skin. Still, she was hardly in bad shape. She hoped it would stay that way.

Ithilian on the other hand... The man looked like a demon, his blades still dripped with the blood of his enemies. He fought like one too from what Aurora witnessed. He cut deeply and without feeling or remorse for his enemies. Truly, this man had frightened her, though she would not let it show. He was dangerous and lethal and she was merely glad that he was on their side. She made note not to do anything that which may set those blades of his against her. She was brave, not stupid and that surely would end her quicker than any Templar. Aurora averted her sight from the bloodsoaked man and to the flight of stairs and subsequent door Amalia had spoken about. Ambush or not, they needed to get past those door if Feynriel had any chance to survive.

Aurora took a couple more deep breaths and straightened up. Satisfied that she could continue and face whatever may be on the other side of the door, she nodded. "Yeah... Let's go. Talking about it isn't going to help Feynriel," she said, obviously lacking the blood and guts reply that Ithilian gave. With that they ascended the stairs

Ithilian led the way up the far stairs with the group at his back, sheathing his blades and drawing his bow. From just outside the door, he could hear the sounds of a struggle inside. Perhaps just a one-sided struggle, but a struggle all the same. He'd only seen two men go back there with the young girl as a hostage. Nothing they couldn't handle, nothing they hadn't handled already. Not delaying any longer, the Dalish pushed the door open, and the voices from within sounded out loud and clear.

He went in, an arrow pulled back and ready to be fired, to what appeared to be the captain's office. One man was struggling with their young female hostage, whom he had forced into a kneeling position on the far side of the room. The second was looking on, pacing back and forth slightly. "What in the blazes is going on out there? Dammit, bind her hands already, you fool! I heard they can't cast anything without their hands." The girl looked up to see the group having just entered, and she screamed out. "Help me! Please!" The next few things happened very quickly. The captain turned around, and Ithilian loosed his arrow into his chest, sending him staggering backwards, at the same instant the other slaver soundly smacked the girl across the back of the head.

She began to shake violently in her kneeling position, and not a second later flames erupted from her skin itself. An explosion with her as the source caused a blinding flash of light, and sent the man who had been restraining her flying backwards in a charred heap. Where the young mage had just been now rose a creature of nightmare, contorted flesh and warped appendages, bristling with magical energy and unchained power. The captain stumbled back into its reach from the arrow protruding from his chest, and the abomination made short work of him, burying fingers that were like knives into his back and literally ripping him open, before turning its attention on the four that had just entered the room. It cast a single spell, hands glowing with a dark energy, before charging.

The dead mercenaries outside stirred, before rising once more, weapons in hand, and making their way up the stairs with the singular purpose of death and destruction that the abomination had given to them.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera

Earnings

0.00 INK

The Gallows represented everything Sparrow hated about Kirkwall, bundled up in a sordid assemblage of stone walls, chains, faceless monsters and the act of stripping your freedom away, forcefully, mercilessly. The hunchbacked statues, slaves heaving themselves forward against their bindings, remained vigilant at the Gallow's entrance. Clearly illustrating what occurred in time's past. Even still, it smelt of despair, clinging to your clothes if you wondered too close. There was an oppressiveness of the very architecture. With it's stone buildings pressed inwards like domineering, nameless Templars bending over you, plucking the hemline of your skirts and pulling at your collar as you passed. Promising that soon they'll strip away everything you've ever come to love. Those buildings, in particular, were symbols of despondency. She did know know if she cared whether or not a Templar was missing – better yet for the untested apostates if there was one more whoreson missing.

There was nothing beautiful in the Gallows. No ghostly smiles or birds fluttering from the underbelly of canopies, wings stretched wide to hide slivers of the sun. No magnolias or climbing cartels of ivy or yellow daisies. If you were looking for certainty and something to lift your heart, then you'd turn back and walk far, far away. It's tepid air often felt like a noose strung around your neck, pulling it backwards like a tethered horse. The magic hung as thick as cream, leeching all comforts. Everything was sharp and unfriendly. How could they say that they protected the inhabitants of Kirkwall? They didn't. The lot of them were worse than rabid dogs, worse yet, then Darkspawn. How could anyone feel safe? It cataloged darkness. If she could, Sparrow would've pissed on the gates long ago. She glanced in Rilien's direction, noting the slight change in demeanour. Hardly noticeable to anyone who didn't share the same household. It was gone, quick as a flash of sunlight before it buried it's head in the clouds. Sometimes, she wondered whether or not she imagined these things.

The Gallows. Rilien had never been partial to the location. He understood the intimidation factor involved of course, the statues of prone and suffering souls to be seen upon approach to it. The themes only seemed to continue inside, more bronze and stone and spiked iron trellises. It was an open, partially outdoors, completely spartan prison. He'd used to think that he'd do anything whatsoever to be free of the Orlesian Circle, but considering the circumstances under which his... liberty had been returned to him under, it was hard to tell if that was the case any longer. The magic here was contained, but palpable: he could very nearly taste it on the air, electrifying the atmosphere like the salt-sea before a thunderous monsoon.

It made him... feel. Not much, and not often, but just a little more than usual. His impassive expression tightened slightly, a flash of what might have been wistfulness or nostalgia flickering like a candle-shadow in the dim light of Darktown. But then it was gone, ephemeral as a child's passing fancy to some ill-made trinket, and it was as if nothing had occurred at all.

Wisdom dictated that a young Templar would be friends with young Templars, and though he knew nothing of Wilmod or Hugh, he supposed anyone he spoke to would point them in the appropriate direction. Moving decisively, he swept through the courtyard and made eye contact with a group of three recruits who appeared to be speaking in hushed whispers. "Sers and madame," he greeted with a bob of his head, the slightest hint to the far more extravagant manners that had once been his trade, "I seek the young Templar Keran. His sister bade me locate him. Might you know of his location?"

The madame Rilien greeted crossed her arms upon being spoken to. "We cannot speak to you, messer," she said, narrowing her eyes at the elf. The man next to her, however, was not nearly so strict. "To the Void with that! Keran and the others are missing." The third, a shorter man, seemed almost physically hurt by the other recruit so blatantly disregarding their apparent agreement of silence. "But our orders, Hugh!" he hissed. The middle Templar, Hugh, seemed undeterred. "The Knights aren't doing anything to find them. Maybe it's time to ask for outside help."

Ashton had been picking his teeth with his arrow once again. That blasted morsel still hadn't budged from the gaps between his teeth. He followed behind Rilien, still holding the neck of his bottle as he swept through the courtyard and before long they found their intended targets. Or target. They had found Hugh, but he wasn't completely sure Wilmod was there as well. Ashton shrugged and stopped picking his teeth with the arrow, and instead began to spin it between his fingers. He glanced between Sparrow and Ashton then said, "Looks like this is going to be a bit more difficult than a simple lost and found deal. Meh, it's not like it's unexpected, things can never be simple. Though I suppose that's half the fun..." Ashton trailed off, realizing now was not the time for his brand of philosphy.

Instead, he opted for a bit more helpful approach. "Orders huh? While I don't know about the orders of you Templar types, I do know how to find things," he was a hunter after all, this was just a different type of hunting, "If the knights aren't doing anything for your Keran, then we are your best bet. Instead of asking us for help, why not skip that and tell us what you know now? The longer we wait, the loster Keran gets. So chop, chop," Ashton said snapping his fingers. The mouth of the bottle found it's way to his lips before the arrow did this time. Perhaps some liquid would help dislodge the annoying morsel...

Ashton, most likely, was right. This would not be as easy as Sparrow had thought. Hugh had been entirely unhelpful. Her shoulders dropped exaggeratedly, before she flicked Ashton's swaying bottle. It pinged solidly, sloshing it's contents. “Hopefully, we find the bludger far, far away from the Gallows. Might be he's just passed out on a heap of apostates.

The shorter Templar next to Hugh stroked his mustache for a moment, his eyes shifting about suspiciously, looking for perhaps any high ranking Templar that would overhear him. "I hear that Knight-Commander Meredith has some new initiation that recruits have to go through. And if you're not strong enough, or fervent enough in belief, you don't make it out alive." At this, the female Templar rolled her eyes and sighed. "And you honestly believe that?" she asked. Hugh shrugged. "Recruits do keep going missing. The Knights aren't saying anything about it."

"Wilmod came back," she responded, as if to prove that there was nothing wrong. Hugh obviously had been unaware of this. "What?" She nodded at him. "He did. I saw him this morning. You see?
No crazy rituals or initiations. Keran will show up soon, too."


"Then perhaps we should speak to Wilmod," Rilien broke in. Their argument, while interesting, wasn't really getting himself and his two companions anywhere. Rumors without substantiation or specfics were like more powerful versions of fairy stories: gripping, useful for manipulation, but otherwise entirely pointless, especially when one was concerned with actually obtaining concrete results. "Do you know where he might be found?"

"Wilmod told me he was headed out of the city for a bit, to clear his head, he said," the female Templar explained. Hugh jumped in. "Why didn't you tell us any of this?" Now it was her turn to glance around and ensure no one would overhear her. "Knight-Captain Cullen ordered me to stay quiet, right before he went and chased after him." She turned to the group offering their aid in finding him. "That wasn't too long ago. If you leave quickly, and hurry, you might catch the Knight-Captain before he catches up with Wilmod. He took the main east road out of the city, the one that passes by the Bone Pit. Just... if you see the Knight-Captain, please don't tell him who sent you, okay?"

Instead of puffing like a forlorn fish, Sparrow's outer conduct reflected a swashbuckling lad who hadn't a care in the world. Certainly, she didn't appear bothered that she was going to be traipsing in the Gallows, surrounded by slobbering Templars with their troublesome ilk. As long as they kept their hands to themselves, kept their flapping tongues where they belonged, then she wouldn't be necessitated to forcefully remove it. She'd enjoy that, really. She followed Rilien, alongside Ashton, and took the chance to look around. Nothing had changed. She doubted that anything really did in the Gallows. Perhaps, that's what made it so foreboding, so obnoxiously alarming. It's immutable status, unchanged with time. The thumping instrument in her chest mocked her, irregularly thrusting against her ribcage. She'd have to bathe after this. Or get bloody well too drunk to walk properly. They approached a small group of recruits – or well, she wouldn't have known what they were either way, but supposing they were dawdling in the Gallows, that's all they could really be. Whispering like children from what she could see. Her mouth twisted, sourly. Rilien was far too polite.

Why the bloody well not?” Sparrow suddenly hissed, stepping forward to prod her in the shoulder with her fingertips. It was to her advantage that she was taller. More likely than not, the Templar-woman would be astutely offended that an Elvish man had touched her so. She did not care. Her short-lived annoyance flapped away like a discarded token when the second Templar spoke up, and she promptly ignored the woman's undignified expression. At least, Sparrow knew when to stop harassing someone – at least, long enough to extract information. Ashton approached with a more aristocratic method, stroking their sense of helplessness. They hadn't found Keran by themselves, so it'd be best to rely on someone else. Preferably someone who was actually willing to tarry out of the Gallows and get their hands dirty, if need be. It seemed like this wasn't the first instance of a missing Templar without the aid of the Knights: useless as tits. Ashton's logic was sound. If they twiddled their thumbs any longer, then their dear Keran might get even more lost, or even closer to dying by some Templar-hating individual. Surely, there were many runaway apostates or sympathizers who'd want one dead. She chuckled when Ashton drew the bottle to his lips, balancing the arrow between his fingers.

Templar's going through a shifty sort of initiation? It sounded sorely like the trials untested mages had to endure: the Harrowing. It was either the Harrowing, death, or Tranquillity. She nearly laughed. She didn't like Knight-Commander Meredith, but she could've commended her for applying such a justified, if not ironic, tribulation for the Templar's to go through. Her empathy could've danced a jig in front of these apprehensive recruits, because she dearly hoped, for a moment, that they didn't solve this little ditty. That they'd remain huddled in the Gallows with all their fears and their bewilderment and the small feeling of anticipation that one day Meredith would evaluate them. But, gold was gold. “That sounds dreadful.” She emphasized, nodding her head like a clucking hen. She nearly flicked the shorter man in the nose when they started arguing amongst themselves, clearly at odds with what was actually happening. Then, the woman spoke up. She'd seen Wilmod. How hadn't Hugh heard of that? She was beginning to think that the ever-so organized group were like scattered children grabbing at straws, festering conclusions when fearful. Like always, Rilien cut through their nonsense and Sparrow smiled, eyes flickering.

Enough chit-chat, then. Let's go find Cullen and... whatever his name is, Keran. We won't dirty your little secret, miss. Not unless you prove to be naughty later on.” She pursed her lips, then blinked. “To the main road!

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

Nostariel gasped sharply as the abomination's hands darkened with fel magic. It was, unfortunately, not the first time she'd seen it used. The trick was a favorite of maleficarum and the occasional Darkspawn Emissary, and she knew exactly what it meant. For one, this had to end quickly or it would end badly. Well, worse than it was already, at any rate. A glance at the shambling corpses rising from the ground outside, snapped necks, gashed bodies and all, was enough to confirm her guess, and the Warden swallowed thickly past the bile in her throat. Oh, how she hated the undead... "She's raised the others!" The elf warned. "I'll hold them off as long as I can, but as long as the abomination lives, they'll keep moving!"

Well, until they had nothing to move with, anyway. Renewing the arcane shield, she kept it contained to herself this time, knowing that if she was going to hold out long enough, she'd need all of the magic available to her, and every advantage she could muster. On the plus side, undead were slow and awkward. On the downside... they had incredible endurance. Bracing herself in the doorway, the Warden opened fire on the closest targets first- the incoming archers from the top of the staircase that Amalia had put down early in the confrontation.

She concentrated her fire on the legs, hoping, quite frankly, to blast them right off. They'd keep crawling forward with their arms alone if they had to, but these ones wouldn't be able to do that and attack at the same time, and all she had to do was survive until the others were done. Why... why does it always come to this? Can none say no?

Several events occurred in quick succession, and before any of them could get a word in edgewise, there was an abomination in the middle of the room, yet one more victim of this society's inability to control itself. Everywhere was excess, and everywhere was poverty. Of dignity, of duty, and most importantly, of anything resembling order. Like so many squalling children, crawling blindly toward the glitter of gold as though it were the only thing that mattered, as if freedom could be bought or experienced by sloughing off all restriction upon its acquisition. Utterly ridiculous.

The Grey Warden had moved to the door, informing the rest of them that the dead rose once again, and this too, was an unnatural symptom of their rot. A body was a dead husk, nothing of what it had once been, and it was not supposed to move again. But even corpses were drawn forth by greed, by that lust for power that inevitably overtook people who lived without understanding. When the blond elf informed them that she'd be blocking the door and staving off the undead, the Qunari realized the greater implication: to drop this corrupted creature would end the farce outside as well. "Merevas, Warden. So shall it be," she spoke quietly, the faint echo of the enclosed space sounding as if from nowhere when the woman vanished once more from sight.

The twisted thing was dominating the middle of the room, and she did not much like the chance of slipping past its flailing limbs without sustaining great damage. To the left side, however, was what appeared to be a shelving unit, little more than four long poles on which were braced slats of wood. Taking a grip on one of the supports, Amalia began to climb, ascending to the top by pulling herself up with her arms alone. The top shelf was about even with the abomination's head, and it was onto this that she stepped, pausing in her motions when the wood creaked softly. It was not a sound easily heard over the din or the creature's own roars, but it forced her caution all the same. Giving away her position would crush her advantage, and if they wanted this done quickly, she would need to be hidden and take advantage of the distraction that the Sataareth and the Saarebas were bound to provide.

The archer's knife slid noiselessly from its sheath, and Amalia perched herself on the edge of the wooden slat, waiting for her opportunity.

“This is why we are persecuted!” Aurora barked. However defiant she may have sounded, deep within the pit of her stomach, she was afraid. That Abomination in front of her was a very real reminder of what she would become if she ever faltered or her willpower lagged even briefly. For her, it was like she staring right into a twisted mirror. It made her sick to see what she might become one day. She didn’t want to fight this thing. Sure, she had seen abominations before, but she never liked them. They all made her feel the same way. Afraid, weak, and sick. Now she had to kill this thing, she just had to. Both for Feynriel and for the mage. She just couldn’t let the poor mage suffer like that.

Nostariel’s words and Amalia’s vanishing brought her back into the realm of reality and out of the realms of what-ifs and what-mights. Undead behind and an Abomination in front. They had to kill the unfortunate beast before they were overrun and snuffed out… Else she may end up like the creature in front of them. She shuddered but pushed it out of her mind. Now was not the time to dwell on such weakness, now was the time to act.

With quivering hands, Aurora once again dipped into the fade, though now with a bit of apprehension. An icy haze engulfed her hands as she readied her spell. She drew back her hands on either side of her and then suddenly pushed forward with both as if earnestly pushing the wall of ice at the Abomination. The Winter's Grasp barreled towards the Abomination and struck, slowing the creature down and causing icicles to form across the creature's body. It was a temporary thing, and it wouldn't be long before it broke out of the ice.

As she coiled her hands in wait for her next spell, tears ran down the corners of her eyes. "Not all of us are like this... Not all of us..." she murmured. Was she telling that to her companions... Or to herself?

Ithilian certainly didn't care for the human mage's murmuring, and he certainly wasn't going to have a debate with himself about the dangers of magic or what this situation signified. To him, it was a threat to be dealt with, nothing more. The shemlen had given in, lowered her guard, allowed the demon to take control of her. What was done was done. She was gone, and this abomination was her new form. And with Nostariel volunteering to hold off the undead on her own, with Amalia disappearing into stealth, and Aurora being physically inferior as she was, it fell to Ithilian to take this thing head on. They needed to work together to bring it down, and it that meant Ithilian had to face its claws, so be it. Nostariel had proven her capability as a healer. Perhaps she would need to demonstrate it once again in a moment.

He drew his knives, steeling himself for the briefest of moments before charging. He had never actually fought one of these creatures before, but surely they were not immune to mundane attacks? There was only one way to find out at present. He sprinted forward and leaped with a roar, his blades backwards in his hands and raised above his head. The abomination burst from Aurora's ice an instant before Ithilian's attack landed. He plunged both blades into the creature's back, the weapons sinking into corrupted flesh right up to the hilt, but the abomination had made attacks of its own, its knifelike claws stabbing into Ithilian's chest on both sides, dangerously close to the heart.

All became pain and chaos. The abomination had him lifted into the air and abruptly slammed up against the wall, his feet perhaps a foot off the ground. In such close proximity to each other, any of Aurora's spells would have hit them both. He reacted with instinct, lifting his feet up to the abomination's chest, and pushing with all the force he could muster. With a terrible shredding sound, the knives ripped free from the creature's back by carving their way out, and the abomination's claws retracted out of his chest, sending him sliding down the wall to a sitting position, leaving a smear of blood along the way. The abomination stumbled backwards into the center of the room, wounded, but not dead, and there was little Ithilian could do but sit on the ground and try to breathe, which was proving remarkably difficult.

Amalia's breath left her in a muted hiss when Ithilian launched himself at the abomination. From her vantage point, she could tell that it would likely end well for neither combatant, and furthermore, the proximity was such that either of the saarebas launching a spell was just as likely to kill the elf as it was to end the abomination. Still, she could not act too soon, lest she spoil what little advantage she had been able to gain by dent of silence and precision. Her eyes narrowed and her weight shifted in her crouch, from her forefoot to the one bracing her from behind. If she were visible, she even so would not have seemed so real, more like the most lifelike of carvings in stone, apparently unmoved even by the stirring of breaths.

Ithilian hit the wall, and that was as much a signal as anything. Perfectly tactical or not, if she refused to act now, he would die, and while that was technically no concern of hers, the baseline will she possessed was that others survive where they might, and so she leapt, her hard stare never leaving the abomination as her body twisted midair to hit where she intended. She was not incredibly strong, and when training against her kossith comrades, she had learned to compensate for that. Height and the resultant force of gravity were a particularly useful way to do this.

Her feet, together and knees locked, collided with the abomination's shoulder, and Amalia kicked off as though the creature were just one more platform, bouncing a bit back into the air and refocusing, this time striking with the dagger she'd acquired, unsure how needles would puncture skin not of ordinary consistency. An experiment for another time. A blade, as she'd already observed, bit deep, and hers slid smoothly into the opposite shoulder, her body weight serving to drag it further down, parting flesh like roughened leather, crisscrossing with one of the wounds the Dalish man had carved. The abomination cried out, as though many voices converged in a single syllable, and gave a great heave, bucking the now knife-less Amalia off. Without enough time to land on her feet, the Qunari tucked into a roll, hitting the ground safely but with more force than she'd anticipated, and she kept right on rolling until she was unceremoniously smashed into the same wall the elf presently occupied.

Red and black dots fought for dominance in her field of vision as she struggled to inhale. By the Qun, that thing had better be dead now or within a few seconds, because otherwise she was going to have to stand up again, and that was going to be difficult. At last, she managed a shuddering inhale, coughing several times as the dust stirred up by her slightly-undignified crash filled her lungs, and she braced herself against the stone with both forearms, pressing her back to the cool surface as she gathered shaking legs beneath her. She'd be a mess of mottled bruises in the days to follow, and the telltale twinge in her ankle was probably a break. Maybe just a sprain, but given the pain involved, that was unlikely.

The first two undead fell under Nostariel's magical onslaught, but she didn't have time to bother being relieved about that, because there were about a dozen more at various stages of 'on the way.' In stepping forward to launch a cone of cold at the first wave of melee fighters, she inadvertently exposed herself to a tricky flank attack from one of the three archers most distant from her, and the twang of a bowstring was the only warning she received before the head of an arrow buried itself in her left thigh, causing her to gasp sharply and nearly drop her staff in the process. Swallowing past the lump still in her throat, she decided to leave the arrow be for the moment, lest removing it cause her to bleed far too much before she could find the time to treat it.

Stepping back so that the doorframe and angle offered her temporary protection from more projectiles, Nostariel tried not to panic when the undead broke through her ice, continuing their shambling march to her location. Biting her lip, the Warden knew she needed something bigger, and quickly, so she sank into that peculiar mindspace that related to her magic and calmed her haggard breaths, drawing upon a wellspring of flame somewhere in the Fade to summon large globes of it into the sky above her enemies. The first crash of the firestorm missed, but the second impacted a corpse dead-on, the creature flailing helplessly as it was inexorably cremated. Ashes we were, and ashes we will become. She was not by any means a devotee of the Chantry, but that line had always held a particular kind of truth when stacked beside the events of her life.

For now, the corpses were delayed enough that she could turn her attention to the battle raging inside the small room. Thus far, the abomination had been distracted enough that Nostariel had not taken any spells or claws to the back, which she considered to be a good sign, but some of the things she'd been hearing...

Nostariel chanced a glance and murmured something unintelligible, blue irises rimmed with pristine sclera and her eyes grew wide with shock. Ithilian appeared to be struggling to breathe against the far wall, and Amalia was just now rising to trembling feet, looking more dazed than the sharp-eyed woman she'd been before. This left Aurora alone against the heavily-injured but still moving Abomination, and something that sounded suspiciously like a string of Starkhaven oaths tumbled over the Warden's tongue. Without another thought, she gripped the arrow still in her leg and wrenched, unable to prevent the jagged groan that accompanied it. Switching tactics, she pulled the healing energy from the Fade spirits with as much speed as she was able, pushing it outward to encompass the whole group. Her leg wound stopped bleeding and closed seamlessly, but without further treatment, she'd be limping for a while.

Aurora's allies were being thrown about like ragdolls from the onslaught of the fade beast. Her ice spell did little to even phase the Abomination, much less even slow it down. It even seemed to shrug off Ithilian's rage fueled slashes before picking him up with it's razor-like claws and slamming him against the stone wall. Aurora could not attack for fear of hitting both the abomination and Ithilian. The fade around her hands weakened as she began to feel more and more helpless.

Next to attack was Amalia, flying from the shelf across the room. While her acrobatics were impressive, the abomination bucked her right off and she too hit the stone wall hard. The roar the abomination gave caused Aurora to step back, frightened and hesitant. A groan behind her indicated that Nostariel too was wounded. They were being crushed and if the abomination didn't fall soon, they would all meet their end at the claws of the fade beast. If it was to fall it would be up to her. What could she do to this creature that the others could not? How could she hope to vanquish her own nightmare given flesh? She was weak before them... And weakness in a mage invited disaster. No. She could not be weak. For the price of weakness lumbered right in front of her. She could not afford the weakness, she could not prove the templars right for locking mages up. If she wanted to truly be free, then she had to have the strength to make it so.

She shut her mouth tight and set her jaw. She had to defeat this beast, else they would all perish. The fade around her hands strengthened again as she balled them into fists, ready to face the beast. For the second time, she charged forward, magic gathering around her hands. The abomination was ready for her, waiting to plunge it's claws into her neck. Then Aurora jumped into the air, right hand drew back in a heavy fist of stone. However, the abomination caught her in mid-air, driving it's claws deep into her back. It would snap her in half if she tarried. So with a cry of pain she crashed down with her fist and with a heavy stone burst, drove then beast into the ground.

Still, the abomination lived, prone on the ground with Aurora sitting on it's chest. Without thinking, she drew back her left hand, now encased in a blade of ice and plunged it into the beast's face once, twice, and then she hesitated before burying it for the third time in the beast's face. Panting heavily and with an excruciating pain in her lower back, she allowed the bloody ice around her hand to fade away, leaving her victorious over the creature.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

Amalia watched with poised composure as the mage-girl charged the abomination. Once she was fairly certain the one called Aurora would not die, she was free to observe the woman’s hand-to-hand technique and cringe inwardly. Thankfully, the abomination was no expert either, relying on its unrestrained strength to dominate its foes… much as it had carelessly tossed her aside. A frown marred her visage; that would not happen again. That she as a combatant was so wantonly discarded by a foe, any foe, was a sting to her pride. Had it occurred under other circumstances, she might well have been obligated to admit she had failed her sacred task, and failure was not to be taken lightly.

The soothing warmth that mended the delicate bones of her ankle did not go unnoticed, and Amalia inclined her head in tacit acknowledgement of the Grey Warden- she at least had performed her task admirably, as not a single unliving corpse had wandered into the room as the confrontation dragged into its twilight moments. Knowing that Nostariel would also tend to Aurora, she made her own way to Ithilian, just a few feet from where she’d fallen.

Lowering an outstretched hand into his field of vision, she said nothing, merely waited. Whether he took the hand up was his business, but it was there if he wanted it. There was a chest over on this end of the room, but unsurprisingly no Feynriel. The Qunari was beginning to wonder if the boy was still in Kirkwall. Like as not, this room would contain any answers they were likely to get from the raiders’ warehouse.

Ithilian regarded Amalia's hand evenly for a moment, before he made his own way to his feet. He felt annoyed for some reason. Perhaps because a human had just offered him a hand, or perhaps because he was confused as to whether or not he should still have been regarding her as a human. She had still done nothing to imply that she had some kind of hidden agenda beyond simply offering her assistance. The human mage he understood. Mages looked out for each other, in order to prevent situations like the one that had just occurred. But Amalia he still couldn't figure out. For the moment, it seemed as though she was helping simply because she was capable of doing so.

He wiped his blades clean before sliding them back into their sheaths, his lone eye watching the mangled form of the abomination. He hoped to avoid fighting too many of those in the future. He and Amalia had heavily wounded it, and it was still managed to injure the human girl before she finished it off. The battle likely would have gone much worse had Nostariel not thought to hold off the corpses from attacking them from the rear. And her healing spell had Ithilian functioning again, his wounds healed enough to overcome. He certainly intended to learn more about her when this business with the slavers was done. She'd already proven to be a valuable ally.

Wordlessly, the Dalish moved past Amalia and made his way to where the abomination had torn Captain Reiner to pieces, callously shoving a half of his torso over with his foot to see if he had potentially had anything useful to them on his person, but that appeared to be a lost cause. He then moved over to the chest in the room, kicking it open, and rummaging around inside for a moment, shoving papers aside, before snatching one that interested him.

Sold:
- 2 barrels of fish, Viscount's Keep
- 3 barrels of rum, Hanged Man
- 1 male half elven mage, Danzig (Undercity. Exchange to occur at southernmost entrance to the sewers.)
- 25 Rivaini furs, Helton's Clothiers


He almost wanted to laugh. "The shem was fool enough to keep records of his slavery. Our Feynriel is being sold to one Danzig, the exchange occurring in Darktown, by the southernmost entrance to the sewers, it says. There's no time given. It may have already taken place. Regardless, we should leave before the shemlen decide to get back up again."

As soon as the abomination fell, so did the corpses outside, and the Warden straightened from her half-crouch, relieved that it was over for the moment. Shoulders slumping, she turned back to face her comrades, but froze when she caught sight of Aurora, still astride the corpse of what had once been as much a mage as they, apparently in some form of shock and bleeding. Of course. The poor thing has probably not often seen such horrors. Sympathy turned the elf's mouth downward, and she approached her fellow magic-user cautiously. Laying a hand on Aurora's shoulder, Nostariel knelt at her side and glanced briefly at the abomination. Several stab wounds to the facial region told her everything she needed to know.

The Warden's hands glowed with a soft blue light as she cast a concentrated healing spell on the redheaded Antivan, and it was not the first time that her sorrow had made her feel more than twice her meager years. "Aurora," she murmured softly, nudging the girl with her free hand. "Are you still with me?" She needed to know that the shock hadn't set in too deeply, or she'd be sidelining her companion here, no 'ifs,' 'ands,' or 'buts' about it. She'd seen more than one fellow Warden succumb to the psychological pressure of intense fighting with things so foul they must surely be unnatural.

Ithilian spoke then, and Nostariel rose, her hand still upon the apostate's shoulder, mouth compressed into a thin line. "Yes, we should. Lead the way, if you will."

Aurora looked down at what had been once a mage and shook her head. She felt terrible, she had killed another fellow mage-- No, it was no longer a mage. What she did was mercy. She had to keep telling herself that. Why couldn't the mage have resisted this? Why couldn't she had held on for just another minute? Why weren't they a minute faster? It wouldn't do, all of those what ifs were doing nothing for her mental state. She had to keep strong. Else... She averted her gaze away from the the lifeless fade beast.

Just as Nostariel's hand touched her shoulder. She jerked away at the sudden sensation of touch, but relaxed when she realized who it was. "I'm fine, mother," she said in a distinct Antiva accent, a sure sign of her fatigue. Despite her sarcastic emission, it was clear that she would need time to come to terms with what happened. Though she was strong. She had earned her dues as an apostate and as a circle mage. She had taken her harrowing, she had escaped the Antivan circle, and she had survived the most inhospitable place for a mage at that time-- Kirkwall. It was just another test, and though shaken, she was determined to come out stronger for it.

Ithilian's voice drew her eyes. "Let us hope he is still there... And let us hope he is still himself," Aurora said, her gaze lingering on the abomination before she rose. Either way, she needed to get out of that room and out of that building. Though haggard, she now had a spark in her eye. It was all the slavers' fault. All of it was the slavers' doing. She would see that this Danzig would come to pay for his crimes...

Shrugging when she was rebuffed, Amalia stood by patiently and waited for Ithilian to sort through the items in the chest, then raised an eyebrow. Truly a strange thing to do; she was under the impression that, backward as this place was, slavery was illegal. Why keep records of such things in plain sight? Then, of course, she looked around and realized that most curious interlopers probably would never have had the chance to read them, so perchance this was not so inexplicable after all.

At the Warden's behest, though perhaps it had been meant for another, she nodded succinctly and led the way out. Darktown was not the most familiar of locations to her, but she knew where they were going, anyway. Rolling her shoulders, Amalia resisted the inclination to render herself unseen, as it would rather defeat the purpose of leading anyone anywhere. Her life, her role, was by nature often a clandestine one, but there were many ways to achieve a single directive, and understanding this subtlety was even more important than any skill in her repertoire. Today, she walked in the sunlight. Tomorrow, she might well be called upon to slip into darkness again, but until that happened, she would make the most of what was, and not concern herself with what might otherwise have been.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

Ithilian was no regular visitor to Darktown, but he'd learned the layout well enough during his brief forays into the depths. The weight of the city above them seemed to crush down upon the district, the weight of the shemlen elite in their lofty nest overlooking the scum of their own kind that they spat upon daily. It was the perfect example of human depravity, that they would allow even their own kind to be trod upon in such a manner. There was truly no compassion among them, no desire to see the entirety of their race thrive. But, disgusted by it as he was, Ithilian had made note of its usefulness. The shemlen law enforcement had little power down here. The Templar Order even steered clear of Darktown, for the most part. Down here the power was the Coterie, and the dozens of gangs that wanted to be like them.

It was the ideal location for slavers to make a deal within the city. Slavery was illegal in the Free Marches, but it was not so in the Tevinter Imperium to the north, and many of the gangs saw the potential profit in selling valuable individuals to a magister. The city guard would have a difficult time interrupting an exchange in Darktown, and the Tevinters could easily make their way back home with a new slave in hand.

Cold needles of apprehension pricked at Nostariel's spine; places like this reminded her of the Deep Roads, only the residents forced to live in such squalor were not unfeeling Darkspawn but living, breathing people. Human, elf, even the occasional dwarf, such distinctions had ceased to mean anything to her when she realized how each bled exacly the same way when cut, wept exactly the same way when they knew they'd never again see the surface...

The Warden shook herself, abandoning the memories to someplace deep in her consciousness that she could ignore for now. Usually, the numbing sensation of drink helped, but she had no such luxury right now, and there was no use wishing for it. Something more important than her comfort was at stake, and if there was anything that this life, that wearing this armor and its attendant crest had taught her, it was that the preservation of innocence and life was the greatest undertaking she could ever assume. She would not fail it again.

Her discarded garment slung across one shoulder and her harp tucked under the same arm, Amalia seemed unconcerned by her surroundings, flanking Ithilian and only occasionally casting her eyes over this or that dirty peasant human. The smell down here was offensive, but her passive expression remained untouched by the realization. In truth, the entire situation was offensive, and she did no understand it. Had she never been to Darktown before, she probably would have hammered at her compatriots with implacable questions, demanding an explanation for that which she could see plainly before her. No Qunari would ever have to live like this; the very notion would be considered a shameful failure of the entire society. Waste, waste, always with the waste. It was enough to stoke her temper, and in an attempt to bank the slow-burning flames of it, she resorted to reciting the words of the Qun mentally. Shok ebasit hissra. Meraad astaarit, meraad itwasit, aban aqun... and so on it went, the familiar syllables helpful for her focus if nothing else. She had been taught to solve problems; it was difficult to refrain from that tendency even in impossible circumstances.

So instead she walked, one foot after another, gaze straightforward and unwavering. Anger would solve nothing here, and so she abandoned it to the natural ebullient rise and fall of emotions inside herself, allowed it to slip away with nothing so ceremonious as a farewell. It had no use, and so it woud not remain. The dust would coat her feet, the grime slick her tracing fingers, and still she would walk. This was simply the way of things.

They made something of an odd group compared to the typical Darktown residents. A Grey Warden was among them, her clothing identifying her as such. Amalia had removed the simple dress she had been wearing during their previous battle, and was garbed in a manner Ithilian had never seen. The mage, Aurora, was the least conspicuous of the group, though she certainly didn't have the look of a Darktown rat to her. And Ithilian's own clothes were of Dalish make, making him look more fit for a hunt in the woods than a trek through Darktown.

The Dalish led the way with an urgent stride, not really caring for the group's appearance, but rather the haste they needed to make in order to interrupt this deal, if it had not yet occurred already. He had noted the southernmost entrance to the sewers on his first trip through the Undercity; it had been an excellent route to take if one needed a quiet entrance or exit from the city, so long as one didn't mind a bit of a stench. As he grew closer, he pulled his bow into his hands, slowly sliding one arrow out of his quiver and calmly preparing what would be his first shot.

Indeed, they weren't too late. The first indication Ithilian received was the direction all the nearby people were looking: away. No doubt questionable activities were a common occurrence in Darktown, and it only made sense for the locals to turn a blind eye, so as to not get pulled in. Looking in the direction the others were looking away from, Ithilian spotted the group he was looking for, at least twenty men, all armed, gathered in the small clearing before the sewer entrance, a view of the channel leading into the city behind them. One of the Twins, as they were known, the two massive statues of slaves covering their faces, overlooked the scene from afar. How fitting, Ithilian mused momentarily, before analyzing the threats.

They had a height advantage, as there was a single flight of stairs that led down to where the exchange was taking place. The enemies themselves were of course broken up into two groups: there were Reiner's men, a dozen or so of them, making the deal, oblivious to the fact that their leader, their comrades, and their base had all been torn to pieces moments earlier, and then there were perhaps fifteen or so men and women accompanying a single robed man. Ithilian was willing to bet that was Danzig. Probably a low ranking Tevinter magister looking for a useful slave, or perhaps an apprentice. Those that accompanied him were better armed and armored than Reiner's thugs, as they actually possessed a decent amount of chainmail or scalemail armor, and longswords that didn't appear as though they were forged in the Divine Age.

And there in the middle, held by the arm by the largest of Reiner's men, his hands bound behind his back, was Feynriel. He looked, for the most part, unharmed, though his clothes were filthy by this point, and he looked terrified. The slight point to his ears, and the slightly altered facial structure, were all that evidenced his race, half-elven. Ithilian drew his arrow back slightly, his mind working quickly, and certainly not waiting for input from the others. Danzig gestured for the boy to be handed over. The man holding Feynriel piped up.

"Not until we see the sovereigns, magister." The others of his group looked tense, uncomfortable. Danzig's men looked imposing, confident stances, greatswords resting casually on shoulders, hands resting comfortably on the hilts of longswords. None of them had seen Ithilian or the others yet. The Dalish decided he'd take the opportunity to sow dissension among the shemlen. They did so enjoy killing each other, and these two groups were primed to do just that.

Without waiting for any sort of agreement, Ithilian pulled his arrow back and loosed, sending a shot directly into the throat of the large man holding Feynriel. He staggered backwards, clutching at his neck, releasing the boy. There was a moment of confusion before it happened. "Shit! We had a deal! Swords! Kill them!"

The call had come from one of Reiner's men, and they clearly thought they were being double crossed by Danzig. The magister looked back at his archers in the rear, but all of them were preparing to defend themselves. Reiner's men clearly didn't intend to just be killed, and with that, the two groups attacked each other. Danzig roared in frustration, before hurling a fireball into the ranks of Reiner's men, sending two smashing against a wall, setting their bodies alight. He then cast a quick teleport spell, and appeared by the edge, with his group of five archers. Ithilian readied a second arrow. Whoever went down there would be attacked on sight, no doubt. It would turn into quite the bloodbath.

"Someone grab the boy. I'll cover," Ithilian growled. Feynriel had dove to the ground, covering his head in the center of the fight.

"Right," Nostariel replied quickly, though figuring out exactly how she was going to manage that task was considerably more complicated than agreeing to take it on. Chewing her lip, she decided it really didn't matter, and she was going to have to rely on the others to protect her no matter how she chose to approach it. Her customary shield rose into place, and she headed down the stairs, ducking around one large man who took a stray swipe at her with his axe before he was engaged by one of Danzig's men.

Dodging and weaving wasn't going to serve her so well forever, though, and she threw a fireball at another couple of rogues who'd broken off from the fray to pursue her. This was not going smoothly, but then she hadn't really expected it to. 'Run in, grab a scared and possibly dangerous young man, then run back out without dying' wasn't exactly going to go into the history books as a marvel of tactical briliance, but as long as it worked, it didn't need to. A stray arrow shaved a few hairs off the side of her head, and Nostariel swallowed. Right. Okay, just keep going. It was right about now that she was wishing she'd asked Amalia to do this; stealth would probably have been smarter than running about in the open like this. All the same, she was about halfway there now, and barring any major mishaps-

As it happened, a major mishap was waiting in the wings, and she almost ran smack into the incredibly broad chest of one of Danzig's men. Her jaw worked for a second, almost as if trying to produce some kind of greeting on reflex, but the words simply wouldn't come, and she settled for backpedaling quickly, nearly stumbling over her own feet in her haste to avoid certain death from a mighty swing with that lohengrin he was carrying. Most unsettlingly, the man let her go, smiling the whole time as though he were privy to some secret she did not understand. Well, there was little time to dwell upon it, and if she had, she might have remembered that she had quite a bit in common with Feynriel and had wandered onto the field like a rabbit into a trap, but as it was, she went for launching an ice spell at his legs instead.

Amalia was not entirely useless at range, but she had more versatility when confronting her foes directly, or indirectly as the case may be, but either way, she decided that the most useful thing she could do would be to shadow Nostariel. To this end, she set down her burdens and padded down the stairs after the Warden, chain in one hand and three needles in the other. It crossed her mind that she'd have to consider upgrading to lethal venoms if she was going to continue in this sort of work, and she found to her own surprise that the thought of doing more tasks of this nature was not entirely displeasing to her. Certainly, she would prefer that they were unnecessary, but as long as they were, completing them did not seem to be an untoward idea.

The axe-man that first swung for Nostariel met his end by point of two needles, the combined toxicity more than enough to shut down his nervous system permanently, but the better-armed swordsman he'd been engaging managed to avoid the third, and so Amalia stepped back, putting some distance between them and swinging her chain for his legs. Smarter than he looked, he jumped over the throw and landed on the weapon, which provided her with no small inconvenience. Shrugging, she drew her knife and approached with rapidity, ducking under his fist swipe. His shield clipped her hip, and she spun with the momentum of it to minimize damage, stepping forward so that they were side-by-side, facing opposite directions. Her blade bit into the shoulder-joint of his plate, greatly weakening his shield-arm.

While he was distracted by the obvious pain, Amalia took the opportunity to pull with her other hand, the sudden jerk enough that his foot lifted from her other weapon, and she slid the knife out of the man's shoulder even as an arrow pierced the eyeslit of his helmet. The Sataareth really was quite the exceptional shot. Without so much as a hitch in her movement, the Ben-Hassrath was moving again. The Warden Nostariel had run into trouble, but she was not going to be able to both help there and keep additional opponents from closing in on her position, so she went for the latter, disappearing on order to make her saboteur's intent less obvious.

It all happened so fast, but Aurora was quick enough to discern what was going on. A look over to Ithilian proved that he was the one who fired the first shot which broke the uneasy truce between the factions. With that one arrow, the magister, one Danzig teleported away from the front lines. Such use of magic put a thin frown on her mouth. "That's not fair, I can't do that..." She muttered. However the magister did provide a way for her to use her own magic to sow even more chaos among the battle and perhaps take the heat off of Nostariel, who had bolted after Feynriel. She didn't expect that out of the reserved Warden, as she was the one most likely to rush headfirst into battle. Though, recent events managed to change things. She hoped that Nostariel got to Feynriel before he suffered the same fate.

For her part, Aurora focused her attention on Reiner's men. Once more she allowed the fade to flow through her as she readied her spell and sent the force of magic up above the main body of Reiner's men. Moments passed as a supernatural cloud formed around the blast of magic and before long began it's purpose. A crack of thunder signified the first bolt of lightning that fell from the Tempest. Hopefully, the men would believe it was the doing of Danzig instead of the inconspicious girl standing beside the Dalish.

By this time, Nostariel had run into a road block of a man. Trying her best to help out her fellow mage, Aurora conjured another fist of stone and fired it off above Nostariel's head aiming for the man's head. She was completely unaware of the effect of Nostariel's ice spell had on the man's legs. With luck, it'll put the man down in order for Nostariel to continue her trek to Feynriel.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

A short time after the battle was rendered even more chaotic by bolts of lightning descending from the sky, a stonefist whizzed by overhead, missing Nostariel's assailant's face by a few inches, but colliding with his shoulder at about the same time as the Warden's ice hit his relatively underprotected legs. Because he was so heavily-armored, there was no telltale snap indicating that the bone had been broken, but she was willing to bet it had hurt anyway, and the ice successfully hampered his movements, which helped considerably when he raised his sword and attempted to strike.

The swing went a little wide to the right, a result of one arm packing considerably more force than the other, and Nostariel blocked his attempt to compensate with the steel end of her staff, deflecting the sword off rather than trying to engage in a contest of strength that she was sure to lose. Aware that she was making a target of herself and putting a great deal of pressure on Amalia to pick up the slack, Nostariel knew she had to act fast. A few blasts of magic from her staff forced the warrior to take a step backwards, and she pressed her advantage, following up with a nasty hex of torment and a fireball. The Warden only just held back a sigh as she watched magic reduce another physically-strong man to a trembling mess of apprehension and confusion. It wasn't even difficult to slide the blade of her weapon up into his chin, and that scared her more than anything.

Feynriel wouldn't wait for her fears to be assuaged, however, and she jogged to where he was on the ground, covering his head with his hands, apparently. She knew she needed to be careful with him, as his psychological state was likely incredibly fragile at the moment, but this had to be weighed against the urgency his predicament demanded, and she crouched at his side, gentling her tone even while she tugged- not roughly, but insistently- at his wrist. "Feynriel, you have to get up. We're here to save you, but we can't do that if you won't try to be strong for me. Stand up, we must get away from here." Please, child, be strong. I know it's hard. Rising to her feet, Nostariel attempted to bring him with her, though he was grown enough that her success would largely depend on him.

Nostariel was perhaps the perfect person to be persuading Feynriel to move, from the combination of her soft touch, gentle tone, and the fact that she was an elf who looked like she knew what she was doing in situations like this. He took a glance up at her, before seeming to decide that she was his best chance out of here. He struggled to his feet on shaky legs, and allowed himself to be guided by the elven Warden.

Ithilian sent an arrow whistling past them into the throat of one of Danzig's men, who had been looking to blindside Nostariel. The battle had quickly decimated both sides, between their vicious attacks against each other, the combined efforts of the mages Danzig and Aurora, Ithilian's arrows, and Amalia's agile tactics. The last of Reiner's men fell to a blow from a Tevinter mercenary, and with that, one of the sides had been obliterated, meaning that the group looking to see Feynriel safely out of here would receive much more heat.

Danzig himself was still remaining with his archers, two of which had fallen to Ithilian's arrows. With an angry scowl he watched Nostariel drag his prize away, until an arrow from the Dalish hit him, deflected slightly by the arcane shield he'd erected around him, but still burying itself in his shoulder. He snarled in pain, before launching a fireball in Ithilian's direction. He and Aurora were forced to dive away from the vantage point, the blast exploding behind them and temporarily enveloping Ithilian in an intense heat, though he suffered no real damage. However, it gave Danzig the necessary time to prepare a powerful telekinetic bolt, which he aimed at Nostariel, hoping to literally blast her away from Feynriel.

Amalia had been making swift work of the more lightly-armored and quick among the slaver's forces, but truthfully, she was really hoping Nostariel could get the boy up an moving towards the exit as soon as possible. Endurance was not her strong suit, and this battle was about to become considerably more pitched, as the last of the pirate's men hit the dirt. It seemed that her thoughts were answered, as the youth rose to his feet, shielded by the Warden, and the two began to make headway back across the area to the stairs. She was not unaware that this left her the sole acceptable target in the pit, and it was perhaps only because of the wariness this realization brought her that she was able to catch on to what Danzig was trying to do.

The exact nature of the spell was beyond her, but she knew enough of magic to know that it wasn't something as casually-ducked as the swing of a knife. It was considerably more inexorable than that, and she didn't trust the boy to know to get out of the way in time.

The decision was a split-second thing, one that perhaps she should have made differently. But she didn't, and so even as the Tevinter mage loosed his attack, Amalia jumped. "Move," she hissed emphatically at the pair of mages, a hand on each back shoving them forward with little ceremony. She was in no position to tell if the action had even succeeded in any measure, for all she knew was that she took the brunt of the telekinesis in midair, which in turn slammed into her with the force of a Tal-Vashoth at full charge, and she barrel-rolled at dizzying speed until she smacked bodily into the wall behind her. A wet, sickening crack informed her that two of the ribs on her left side were broken, and a thin line of blood trickled from the corner of her mouth as she slid the moderate distance to the ground, trying to keep her breathing even. Injury was a reality of what she did; fighting past it was rarely easy.

She didn't have much time to consider that; an arrow embedded itself in the wall about half a foot from her right eye socket, and Amalia forced herself to her feet, ignoring the screaming agony in her abdomen. One hand gingerly tested the wound, and she winced. If that was hit again, she was likely to pass out from the pain alone, but at least she could still move. Out came the needles, in both hands this time, because the use of her chain demanded far too much movement from her injured torso, and she needed to remain conscious.

The heat was intense on her back and the only thing that Aurora could hope for is that she did not catch fire. She laid prone for a moment, hands over her head hoping that she wouldn't feel the flames licking her back. Luck was in her favor as she did not catch fire and the fireball was gone as fast as it appeared. She looked up and saw that Danzig was preparing another spell, this one aiming for Nostariel. She opened her mouth to cry a warning, but the spell struck before she could find her words. However, Nostariel had a guardian angel in the form of Amalia who shoved both the Warden and her charge down taking the blow herself. She took the blow with all of its force and slammed into the wall. From the way she slid the rest of the way to the ground, Aurora just knew she hurt. She grimaced and got back to her feet.

The mage summoned a fireball of her own and chucked it at the magister, looking to give him a taste of his own medicine. At the very least it would occupy the man long enough for Nostariel to react. Then she approached the fray herself, erecting a partial rock armor around the length of her arms. Trying to erect and hold a full rock armor spell would take a lot more energy and she didn't want to risk it crumbling on her on an inopportune moment. As another of Danzig's men was trying to salvage the situation by trying to approach Nostariel and Feynriel, Aurora appeared, greeting the man by slamming a heavy armored fist into his belly, causing him to double over. Using her armor like a club, she bashed the man over the head and he was out. She called back to Nostariel, "Get him out of here! I'll keep them busy!" she said as she drew her armored arms over her torso.

A hissed monosyllable and a hand roughly upon her back were the only signs Nostariel had of the impending danger. Reacting instinctively, she wrapped her arms around Feynriel as they were shoved bodily forward, successfully cushioning his fall. Of course, there was no time to register the fact that she herself had landed none-too-delicately; the time that Amalia had bought them was ticking away already. Pulling herself to her feet, the Warden positioned herself to the boy's ouside flank, moving in step with him so as to keep her person between him and the still-raging combat. With a weary sigh, she summoned a healing spell and fired it off at Amalia, but her concentration had to remain on what she was doing, else something would catch her off-guard again as it just had.

Aurora appeared then, arms coated in stone, and Nostariel suppressed the agitated maternal fluttering that this would ordinarily have triggered and accepted that the young woman knew how to take care of herself and would do so as well as she could, with or without the elf's nagging. Besides, she presently had someone much less-able to care for, and she couldn't be everywhere at once, no matter how she wanted to. Within another half-minute, they were at the stairs and ascending. Of course, what they were going to do when they got there was not immediately clear. She wasn't sure they could outrun the slavers and give them the slip, and dragging this much violence all over Darktown was hardly warranted. Like as not, it would have to be a full rout, one way or the other.

The Tevinter mage threw up a powerful shield against Aurora's fireball, the blast enveloping him and yet harming him only slightly. The archer that stood next to him was caught in the blast, however, and found himself on fire, stumbling about and howling in pain. Danzig was looking more than a little frustrated at this point. "You fools! Perhaps your blood will be more valuable than your skills!" He took the blade end of his staff and plunged it into the chest of his fire-stricken archer, silencing him. He then outstretched his hands, consuming the man's life force to heal himself.

Aurora had come down to cover Nostariel's retreat, and Danzig watched angrily as the elf began her escape up the stairs. He quickly cast a tormenting hex in Aurora's direction, before preparing another teleportation spell. Four of his merncenaries remained. The two with melee weapons, one dual wielding, the other with sword and shield, made to attack Aurora, while the two remaining archers looked to take shots at Amalia, who had visibly slowed after taking the brunt of Danzig's telekinetic attack.

Ithilian had fired off an arrow at Danzig, but he disappeared just a moment before the arrow would have struck his skull. An instant later he appeared at the top of the stairs, to block Nostariel's exit. As the fight began to spread away from its once contained area, the nearby residents began ducking for cover, or running entirely. Ithilian turned to fire a point blank shot at Danzig, the arrow already nocked, but the mage deftly smacked his aim aside with his staff. He dropped his bow, drawing his knives instead. His staff sent two bolts of spirit energy into Ithilian, but he underestimated the degree to which rage dulled pain.

Ignoring the injuries, Ithilian charged forward, slashing furiously at the mage, scoring hits on his legs, arms, chest, abdomen, before finally Danzig collapsed to the dirt, crawling away and holding up a hand. "Enough, elf! I yield! Take the boy, I don't care!" Ithilian walked forward, lips curled in a snarl. "Tell it to your Gods, slaver." He then reached down, grabbed the top of Danzig's head with one hand, and drove his knife up under the slaver's chin, nearly up to the hilt. Danzig had long since been silenced by the time he ripped it back out again.

The magical rejuvenation was a welcome thing by this point, and though it did little more than set Amalia's bones and allow her to breathe more comfortably, that was at once more than a fortnight of natural healing and more then enough for what remained of her task. The melee fighters had diverted for the present, and the mage was encased in some kind of barrier, readying himself to teleport again, perhaps. Either way, that meant the pair of archers remaining fell to her to deal with. A burden she would carry gladly.

Ducking out of the way of a second arrow the second she heard the twang of its release, Amalia started forward, the slinking nature of her walk eveloving until she gained enough traction to propel herself forward in a half-bent sort of run, minimizing the size of the target she presented. Whatever the archers had been expecting, a direct charge was not it, and though one more arrow sliced a rent in her shoulder, it was not an apt-enough shot to remain lodged anywhere upon her person, and with that, they had lost what advantage remained to them. "Ebost issala," she hissed vehemently, abandoning caution for the moment and exploiting surprise instead. With a sharp motion, she pounced on the rightward archer, bringing him to the ground, her feet planted firmly in the center of his chest and her right arm cocking backward as if for a direct sucker-punch. The needles caught the incoming sunlight, and he threw up both arms to defend, which allowed her ample opportunity to insert the three needles in her left hand into vulnerable areas.

In the meantime, his friend had regained his wit, and perhaps sensing that taking on the Qunari up-close and personal would be a bad idea, had drawn an arrow back and aimed it point-blank for her face. Amalia raised a brow, tilting her head to one side. "I believe the word is...fire," she pointed out, diappearing even as it passed her tongue. She reappeared behind him, the long-bladed knife she'd acquired hilt-deep in his spine. Just in time, too, because the adrenaline fueling her movements dropped off just then, leaving her acutely aware of her unfavorable physical condition. Her shoulders sagged visibly, and she withdrew the knife, wiping it on the dead man's pant leg before sliding it home into the sheath. Breathing ragged and shallow, she turned back towards the staricase, hoping to discern the fate of her comrades.

A weakness washed over Aurora's limbs as Danzig cast his spell and teleported letting his cronies handle the apostate and Qunari. Her arms drooped and she felt a sudden tiredness envelop her body. "Damn.. Those hexes," Aurora muttered. She hated entropy magic, a vile distortion of nature. She prefered the pure magics of nature, of rock, ice, fire, and lightning. These curses were an affront to the world. Alas, complaining about them would do little to slow the blades of those approaching with murderous intent. She had to have faith in her companions to be able to deal with the threat of the magister on their own. She'd try her best to keep these goons out of that fight. WIth a huff of irritation, she lifted her armored limbs back into defensive position.

The first to strike was the quicker dual-wielder. The first blade bit deeper into the rock arm than she expected, the curse probably having a hand in that. Instead of trying to right out block the next blade, she batted it away. The rock armor felt heavier and she overcommited to the block, throwing her behind her block. From behind another of the fighter's blades came in a relentless assault. She contorted her body to get her arm up to block the blade with her rock arm and did so just in time. But the contortion took it's tool on her weakened body and she was driven to a knee. Fighting with the dual-wielder allowed the sword and board fellow to approach her from behind and then suddenly a shock rocked her entire frame and threw her face first into the ground. The shield bearer smirked as he recoiled his shield from the bash.

Aurora's head was spinning but she knew she had to get out of there, she had to move. On instinct alone, she rolled over to her back just missing a strike from one of the dual-wielder's blades. Now prone, Aurora did the only thing she could think of. Lifting both of her feet, she empowered them with her magic and thrust, sending two stone fists into the bellies of both warriors. The attack didn't have the power she had wished behind it thanks to the curse, but it bought her enough time to get to her knees. Panting heavily now, she quickly targeted the dual-wielder. His blades and speed would wear her out far sooner than the shield barrier. A small fireball to the face incapacitated him as he dropped his blades and reached for his face. It would serve as a distraction until she could finish him. Then she turned to the shield bearer...

Who had advanced quicker than she had thought. By the time he garnered her attention, he had his sword reared back and had committed to a pierce. She did all that she could think off, put both of her rocky hands infront of the blade. With little resistance the blade pierced her hands and entered her shoulder. It wasn't the kill blow he was looking for, but it still hurt like hell. She let out a injured howl but quickly searched for her next spell. While the warrior's blade was incapacitated by her flesh, she could attack without worry of him dodging. A blast of fire surged in her injured hands and flew up the blade and scorched the warrior whose shield could not stand the heat. He fell backwards dragging the sword with him. She let out another wail as the blade ripped flesh and she fell forwards, bleeding heavily, scrabbling for what little healing magic she possessed.

Nostariel scarcely avoided falling backwards when Danzig materialized in front of her, but she did step protectively in front of Feynriel, shielding the boy with her presence. Of course, that turned out to be unnecessary, as within the space of moments, Ithilian had him reduced to a surrendering mess, and then just to a dead one. Judiciously, she blocked the half-elf's view of that, but she had a feeling the boy had seen enough of this whole thing that it wouldn't even make a difference. The thought made her chest ache with a familiar heartsickness, but she pushed it away immediately when a pained yowl sounded from below.

Leaning over the railing, the Warden caught sight of Aurora, on her back and with the cold steel length of a sword driven through her hands and shoulder. Amalia looked on the verge of collapse not too far off, and she knew Danzig had gotten in at least one or two good shots on Ithilian. Nostariel's face morphed into a scowl, and she knew what she had to do. Firing off spells in quick succession was not particularly good for your stomach, should you be a mage, but it hardly mattered right now. The first was simple: a chilly shot of winter's grasp hurtled downwards, thunking into the dual-wielding fighter's torso and spreading like some kind of parasitic ivy, crushing his chest cavity and puncturing his lungs with his own ribs. The second was a mass healing, and the third was a smaller, more directed one, aimed for Aurora, who was far more in need of it than the other two.

The fact that these things all came within seconds of one another was enough to twist her innards a bit, and a thin line of blood trickled from Nostariel's nose. Heedless of it, she leaned heavily on the railing and climbed the rest of the stairs, Feynriel at her side. It was only fatigue; she'd dealt with far worse before, and probably would again.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera

Earnings

0.00 INK

The group was indeed fortunate enough to catch the Knight-Captain on the road, though not before he had first caught Wilmod. The pair of Templars could be seen in a small clearing just off the road, deep in heated discussion about something, though the vast majority of the heat came from Cullen, identified by his superior Knight-Captain's armor. Compared to the recruit, he was quite impressive in appearance, both in armor and in simple physical stature. There were few travelers on the road today, and that was perhaps fortunate for the Order; the scene looked more like an interrogation than a simple chat by two men who had wanted to get some air.

As Rilien, Ashton, and Sparrow grew closer to the Templars, Cullen's voice sounded out loud and clear, conviction and and quite possibly aggression sown into his tone of voice. "Andraste be my witness, Wilmod, I will have the truth from you. Now!" He stepped forward to seize the smaller Wilmod by the shoulders, and the recruit visibly shied away. "Mercy, sir! Mercy!" The Knight-Captain shook him. "If only it was that easy." There was fire in his eyes. Wilmod's voice trembled mightily. "Don't hit me!"

So Cullen did the exact opposite, kneeing the recruit in the gut and sending him to his knees with a pitiful cry. "I will know where you're going," the Knight-Captain demanded, drawing his sword and leveling it downwards at Wilmod, "and I will know now."

The mountain trail was littered with gravel, well-worn and better-travelled than most. Rilien's feet disturbed very little, but he made no attempt at silence, and so the occasional scuff was added to the ambient noise of the wind overhead and the occasional bird-cry. His head cocked to one side when something else became evident in the soundscape, and the voices belonged to neither Sparrow nor Ashton. They were both male, and both wholly unfamiliar to him. When they rounded the corner, however, it was not difficult to guess who they were. Both were in Templar plate, the flaming sword of Andraste etched ever-so-subtly into the worked steel. One of them had more decoration and heavier pauldrons, which Ril had learned long ago designated that he was somehow more important. Had he attacked a mere recruit those years prior... but now was not the time for such idle reflection.

Had Rilien always been so quiet? Light-footed as a bloody panther, all softly padding feet and magnetically avoiding fallen leaves that may crunch underfoot. As they walked along the mountain trail, Sparrow couldn't help but admire his elegant decorum, nearly tripping over fallen branches, stumps, and jutting rocks in the process. From her point of view, it seemed as if he were gliding a few inches above the beaten path, disturbing nought a pebble or earthy flake – until he suddenly kicked up a small dirt devil, scuffling small lumps of gravel in a spray of powder. The magic was lost. She turned her attention elsewhere, cupping a hand to her forehead to admire the birds flying overhead. Fine feather's tickling the air as they flexed, dipped, and eyed them from their vantage points. Everything was interrupted when Sparrow's stubby ears twitched, once, then, twice, as they picked up pieces of a heated conversation through the thick, dry underbrush. It wasn't until they rounded the bend that the voices gave way to their owners. Two Templar's wholly consumed by their own affairs, obviously intent on escalating the situation further – well, one was, anyway. The less decorated Templar reminded her of a quivering rabbit thrashing in a barbed trap, sorely attempting to make himself smaller and smaller.

"I do not believe, Ser Templar, that he is going anywhere presently." There was something, something about Rilien's tone that was not quite perfectly flat, but perhaps only Sparrow would recognize it. For all that, he stood as unperturbed as ever, hands folded into his sleeves, sunburst brand plain as day upon his forehead. It was as if he wanted the man to think himself mocked, then be forced to countermand that assumption once he realized the elf addressing him was a Tranquil and thus incapable of mockery. In fact, this was exactly what Rilien intended, and it was about as close as he allowed himself to humor, because the glint of amusement in his eyes was easily filed-away as something else. It was a bit of a risky game he played sometimes, but he remembered in his distant way that he had never liked Templars, and once believed that they all needed to be led about by the nose on occasion.

Andraste's insignia flashed greedily, blinding in the sunlight. How did the bludgers not cook like shelled fish in those tin cans? The logic eluded her. She, at least, had the common sense not to wear her armour unless she absolutely needed it. The Templars seemed to relish stamping around in their shiny plates like puffed up roosters, extending their feathers like peacocks in heat. Is that what was happening? It surely didn't appear like Wilmod was going to scamper away with the Knight-Captain's sword pressed so intimately close to his throat, jolting wildly against his Adam's apple. Her mouth twisted sourly as if she'd plopped a particularly tart apple in her mouth. She did not like this. When Cullen's knee sank mercilessly into the recruit's exposed gut, successfully sending him spluttering forward, eyes bulging, mouth gaping like a fish, Sparrow's fingers immediately hovered over the heavy mace swinging at her hip. Rilien's calm, decisive words brought her back before she chose to do anything foolish – kept her from charging forward and forcefully removing the man's fingers from Wilmod's shoulders, prying them off with a particular blunt object. It was in Rilien's tone. In his own peculiar way, her companion was leading the Knight-Captain by the ear.

The Knight-Captain's sword remained in its threatening position over Wilmod's head, but at the sound of Rilien's steady voice, he turned his head. "Stand back. This is Templar business... stranger..." His brow narrowed upon seeing the Tranquil brand upon the elf's head, and he immediately looked rather confused. "What is this? Who sent you, Tranquil?" Wilmod continued to tremble slightly at the Knight-Captain's feet.

Rilien was well aware that he needed to handle this situation delicately. Nothing other than the literal truth would work for an answer, becuase any suitable lie would be discoverable as such, and the implications of that were far greater then one Templar's ire. The Tranquil could not lie; it required far too much imagination. All the same, the fact that he was not a mindless Chantry drone was a piece of information that he did not desire to be generally known. Not illegal, but inconvenient, and bound to invite more scrutiny upon him- Sparrow by extension, and her secret was just as dire as his.

So, he did what the most masterful Bards had made a fine art of long ago: he misdirected with the truth. "I have been sent seeking Keran. This Wilmod is the last person to have seen him alive." Naturally, the implication followed, I have come seeking the same thing as you.

"Tranquil, huh? That explains the complete lack of humor," Ashton remarked, bottle between his lips. It explains a lot actually. Ashton guessed that the sunburst mark on the man's forehead was like a badge or something, something like those brands the dwarven outcasts wore. Ashton shrugged, Rilien was an alright guy even if he was tranquil, if not particularly a blast to be around. He could have done worse for a companion on this little trip though.

At Rilien's last remark, Ashton's eyebrow raised. That was quite the subtle jab for a tranquil. Was this man really a tranquil or was it some game he played? A lingering gaze upon Rilien vanished with a shrug of his shoulders. Only one way to be sure, and that was to make the so-called tranquil laugh. With that firmly lodged in Ashton's mind, the game had begun.

Hadn't it been for Rilien's interjection, Sparrow's methods would have been far bloodier, with less tact. Her fingertips slowly eased away from her mace, idling quietly, non-destructively, at her side. Her words were only smooth and charismatic when she liked someone – and she certainly did not like Templars and their ilk. Especially when they behaved this way. She regarded the Knight-Captain like a cat who'd been kicked across the room, full of hissing spite and bristling heckles. Too many questions would bring down unwanted attention. If they were interested enough to know why someone rendered Tranquil was seen wandering around the mountain trails, then they'd send wringers through Kirkwall searching for them, plucking piggish fingers into their affairs. Sparrow glanced in Rilien's direction and exhaled through her nose. Those who thought that Tranquil were sluggish in response were bloody well wrong. To ease the tightness binding whatever lied behind her ribcage, the half-breed casually wrestled the bottle away from Ashton's lips, took a swig herself, and returned it to it's rightful owner. "What are you talking about? He sings and dances in his spare time. It's practically like the Blooming Rose.”

Cullen seemed annoyed more than anything. "Tell whoever sent you that this investigation is being conducted by the Templar Order, and that the matter of the missing..." His voice trailed off as the recruit began to laugh. It grew to hysterical levels, as though there was something truly outrageous occurring. Cullen made no move other than to look thoroughly confused as Wilmod pushed his way back and to his feet, an unnatural certainty in his tone. "You have struck me for the last time, you pathetic human." With that, a flash of light exploded from within him, and where Wilmod once stood now was a twisted creature, a mockery of humanity, encased in the Templar recruit's armor. It cast a hand outwards to the dirt, and from it sprung a group of shades, five to be exact, flanking the former recruit on each side, as well as a fiery rage demon behind him, scorching the ground where it traveled.

The Knight-Captain pulled his shield from his back and prepared himself for battle. "Maker preserve us..." he said as he took in his opponents, who wasted little time before attacking Cullen as well as the others.

Ashton dropped the bottle and grabbed the bow on his back. He had an arrow in his hand before the bottle even shattered on the stones. "Templars aren't supposed to become demons!" He wailed. It was cruel irony really and surely after the battle there would be many quips to be had, but as it stood, a demon and a few shades had need of being dealt with. The idea that Keran may have met the same fate hadn't had time to cross Ashton's mind. Instead, all that encompassed Ashton's mind was the hunt. The silly grin painted on his face melted into a stern grimace as he brought an arrow back to his cheek. His eyes glinted with anticipation and the thrill as he drew a bead upon the former Templar's feet. Then he let the arrow fly, looking to bite deep into the feet of the demon and pin it to the ground so as too give his partners more time to plan their own moves.

He had another arrow nocked and he started to pelt the shades and abomination indiscriminately with arrows-- whichever painted the easiest target at the time recieved an arrow for it's trouble. To be honest, Ashton didn't know the effectiveness his arrows would have on such twisted monsters of nightmares, but he was trying his damnedest to put an end to the threat. On his third shot, he fitted a bursting arrow which snaked through the air to hit the pinned demon once more.

Sparrow's lingering gaze raked back across Cullen's face. “We've come to help. Seems like there's shady business going on—” She was rudely interrupted by hysterical laughter, bubbling from seemingly nowhere. It took her a few moments, a few blinks, to realize it was coming from the man kneeling at the Knight-Captain's feet. Wilmod's lips shuddered with the effort, wracking inappropriate bouts of amusement. Hadn't he been crying moments before? She watched idly, glancing at Rilien, then to Ashton, as if to confirm what was happening. She wasn't just imagining this. The crooked voice crowing from Wilmod did not belong to him. It echoed hollowly, as if he were speaking through many tunnels. This time, Sparrow's hand was occupied with her flanged mace. Bursts of sunbeams temporarily blinded her, like fragmented glass. What came out was worse. Wilmod's flesh was patchworked and stretched, cracked and bloody, an overly sick purple colour. An abomination. She'd only heard stories, hushed tales to scare children. Things that could happen to her if she wasn't careful.

The creature's hand dug into the dirt as if it were butter, clearing a large hole. Shades sprang out, sprightly, determined to devour them. Another creature, one she was much more familiar with, hissed wildly, flinging flames and sparks from it's gaping mouth. The Maker would laugh at the absurdity. Ashton had the right of it – Templar's weren't supposed to become demons, what had become of them? Surely, this had to do with the initiation. Surely, this involved Commander Meredith. This couldn't be just coincidence. She didn't believe in those, anyway. As soon as Ashton's bottle shattered on the stones, Sparrow sprang into action and cried: “I've got the fire demon!” The half-breed dipped away from Ashton's range of fire, dragging her mace through the dirt as she charged in the fiery demon's direction. Magic channelled inward, expanding and pulsing through her veins. Mumbled half-whispers slipped from her lips, before a streak of light splayed from her open fingertips, sending an arcane bolt in it's direction, followed shortly by a heaving swing of her mace.

Where she lacked in speed, Sparrow relied on Rilien. She always had.

"None are immune to temptation," Rilien replied tonelessly. It was something that had been repeated, parroted really, back at him from the time he was a small child in the Circle to the time he'd left the service of his Bardmaster. It was spoken in many different voices, with inflections as varied as colors on a spectrum, used to burden his spirit and then by him as a weapon most insidious, but always the truth of it seemed to follow him about, a gossamer string tied to his smallest finger, reminders, reminders.

He watched the transformation as though he'd been expecting it the entire time, though with a background like his, suspicion served well at every turn. So, perhaps he had been. He was inscrutable enough, even to himself, that it was hard to say. He felt no stirring of pity, nor anger, nor much else, even though the Fade called to him at this distance, and the faintest whispers of Pride promised him what he had lost. He was still inured, and Pride went ignored as easily as Rage. Such had never, he supposed, been the case for Sparrow, and as Ashton fired, she leaped, and Rilien at last drew his knives with the faint rasp of steel-on-steel and the slight ring of sound as they were freed. It was as good a pitch as any to begin. "When spring, to woods and wastes around, brought bloom and joy again, the murdered traveller's bones were found, far down a narrow glen..."*

The words to bardsong never mattered, only the power behind them, and this one was intended to fortify, mostly speed and endurance if he'd got it right. The effects on himself were relatively instantaneous, and he spent no more time contemplating his attack. Taking advantage of the fact that the abomination was pinned, Rilien drifted apparently without care to its side, flaying into the flesh coating its ribs with a decpetively-light flick of the wrist. Destruction was an art form all its own, and he the perfect practitioner. No empathy, no regret, no anger to mar his handiwork, and when he remembered himself, it was the cleanliness and clinical nature of his deeds that horrified him the most. Perchance it was to his benefit that he rarely recollected his former persona anymore.

At a maximal ratio of damage to depth and time, the blade was withdrawn, and he pivoted neatly on one foot, bringing himself behind the abomination to trace an equally-precise line vertically along the spine of what had once been Wilmod. Flesh split open to bone, and yet again Rilien was gone and elsewhere, never lingering in one location for a split second longer than necessary. One eye was, as it ever was, figuratively upon Sparrow, lest her impulsiveness land her somewhere she could not quite escape.

Even amidst the heat of the battle, the Knight-Captain was able to take note of Sparrow's arcane bolt launched at the rage demon. Of course, that would be a matter for another time, as the outcome of the battle was far from decided. Ashton's arrows were indeed doing a good deal to damage the shades, and a few of them dropped already. His bursting arrow blasted at the feet of the abomination, scorching the already mutilated flesh, and banishing two shades, but where they fell, the abomination conjured up three more to take their place. Cullen was putting his skills with a shield on display, holding off three shades at once, and even occasionally getting in a blow of his own. A blast of holy energy exploded from within him, stunning the shades and damaging them heavily.

Wilmod's abomination was heavily wounded already due to the combined efforts of Ashton and Rilien, but it still stood, and the shades seemed to draw strength from it. Several more left to engage the Knight-Captain, and he would likely soon need assistance. The abomination finally ripped the arrow from its foot, and set off towards Ashton, hoping to end the pesky archer. The rage demon had taken up the arcane warrior's challenge, releasing a gurgling laugh or sorts before it raised both of its hands and unleashed a stream of magical fire in Sparrow's direction.

*Taken from "The Murdered Traveller" by William Cullen Bryant

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

Darktown suddenly seemed rather quiet, now that the lightning strikes, exploding fireballs, and clashes of steel had halted altogether. The slaver and his men were dead, as were all of Reiner's mercenaries. And due in no small part to the elven healer, none of the group that had come to free Feynriel had fallen. Ithilian had wiped his blades clean on Danzig's robes, before sheathing them and heading back to the scene of the battle. Nostariel had healed the group at large before tending to Aurora more exclusively. None had gone through that fight entirely unscathed, though Ithilian had perhaps taken the least damage. He'd seen Amalia volunteer to shield the Warden and the boy from Danzig. He would have to speak to her about that, and this whole assignment... later. For now, there was the matter of Feynriel to attend to. Their search had not been in vain after all.

The half-elven boy stood at the top of the stairs, Ithilian arriving by his side. He initally flinched away from the Dalish elf, but upon recognizing him as one of the ones who had saved him, relaxed somewhat. Relaxed was perhaps a kind word, however. He gazed about in no small amount of incredulity at the carnage the three separate groups had wrought in this little pit of Darktown. He shifted about nervously as those below got to their feet.

"Who are you?" he asked. "I mean, thank you, of course, but who sent you? Was it the Templars?" Ithilian crossed his arms, watching the others get up beside Feynriel. "It was your mother, actually." He scoffed at that. "Hardly a difference. I can't believe her. My whole life, it was all 'I'll love you, and protect you.' Then I have some bad dreams, then it's off to the Templars!" Ithilian didn't have much of a comment for that. Magic was not something he dealt with in detail very often. He had not grown up with magic, other than of course the Keeper and his First. But he'd never really observed their struggles from anything but a distance.

Aurora inhaled as she threw herself back into a sitting position. The pain wasn't entirely unbearable thanks to Nostariel's spells, but she was still very tender and very weary. The Hex of Torment still hadn't completely wore off but there was nothing that could be done about that. She sat for a moment, trying to collect herself before looking down at the hole in her shirt. If she hadn't caught the blade, that surely would have hit something more important, like a heart or a lung. Nostariel could apparently heal a lot of things, but she had her doubts about her healing a serious case of death. She looked back to her companions at the top of the stairs and was relieved to find that they had escaped safely-- safer than she did at any rate.

Amalia approached and offered a hand to the Apostate to which she graciously took and managed to rise to her feet. It had been a hard day, but at least there were a lot less slavers in the world and one more mage relatively safe now. That alone made her feel like it was all worth it. She approached the rest of her companions at the top of the steps and arrived just in time to hear the comment Feynriel made about his mother. Aurora's pale lips turned into a thin frown as say weakly slapped the back of his head. "Don't give me that you dolt, she only wants the best for you and she's doing what she can for you. These nightmares aren't something to trifle around with," Aurora reprimanded in an Antivan accent. She wouldn't have this boy speak ill about his mother like that. She hasn't seen her own mother since she was taken to the Antivan Circle, at least this fool boy knew how she was doing. Though the idea of sending him off to the Templars didn't sit too well with her either...

Speaking of the nightmares, Aurora wondered. Nightmares were a common thing, sure, but what kind of nightmares was this boy suffering from to warrant sending him to the Gallows? Aurora looked to Nostariel for some kind of hint but then shrugged. "I don't like the idea of sending him back to the Templars for... Obvious reasons.. What should we do with him?" Aurora asked.

"I'm not going to the Circle, I know that much. It's different in other kingdoms, but here? You do one thing wrong, and you get the brand! There's no way I'm doing that." He looked to Ithilian then, noticing the markings upon his neck. He seemed rather enthralled by them. "I had been trying to get to the Dalish. That's why I ran away. They wouldn't be afraid of my magic." He looked to Ithilian as though expecting support, but he did not seem inclined to give it. He held his gaze on the boy, as though studying him, but did not give an answer. After a rather awkward moment of that, Feynriel looked to the other elf in the group, hoping to find support there.

Nostariel's expression was all soft lines and tenderness when Feynriel turned to her as if in appeal, and she nodded. "If the Keeper will have you, I'll take you there myself," she offered with resolve. She did not desire to impose upon them, but surely they would see the plight of the boy and agree to help. If they did not, well, she might well be forced to take other measures. She would not see him taken from everything he knew and locked away in a cage, not after knowing exactly how terrifying that was for someone like him. She was actually surprised that the dreams had only started to truly torment him now, and wondered if there was something more going on here that she did not understand.

"I promise you, Feynriel, one way or another, you will not have to go to the Circle if you do not wish it." This boy still knew his mother's face, and her affection, however much or little she understood of his plight, and she would not see him forget these things as she had forgotten them. She looked about at the others, as if to see if any would offer protest, but on this much, her will would not be moved, and she shifted uncomfortably at the thought of any protracted arguments about it. Aurora simply nodded approval at the plan. The boy would not go to the Templars on her watch. Amalia offered no words, nor even a hint as to what her opinion might be, shrugging as though it did not concern her in the slightest where he went, now that he was not going to slavers.

Ithilian frowned. Of course the Warden and the apostate wouldn't see him go to the Circle. It wasn't as though Ithilian wanted that, either. It was an installation of the shemlen religion, and he had no love for it along with anything else the humans had created. But Ithilian suspected he was the only one here who truly saw that this boy had no place. He would not go to the Circle. He could not remain in hiding, not with Templars searching for him. The part that annoyed him the most was Marethari. She would accept, he knew she would. She had too kind of a heart not to. That wasn't the issue. His blood was the issue. He would have no place among the People. He would be only a step above an outcast, and that only because of Marethari's word.

"Your blood will mark you among the People. You would have a lesser place there for your humanity, not your magic. As it should be. Marethari will take you in, this I know. But you will be alone, even among the clan." Feynriel seemed bolstered by Nostariel's support, however. "Compared to being imprisoned, or made Tranquil? I'll risk being lonely." Ithilian sighed, placing his hands on his hips and directing his gaze away from the group. "Since it has been made clear to me by the Sabrae Clan that my opinion is meaningless to them, I suppose I have little choice in this matter. Go with the Warden. Marethari will do what she thinks is best."

Though it certainly wouldn't have changed his mind one way or the other, Feynriel seemed relieved to have the Dalish's permission, even if it had been more of a grudging relent than a blessing. "Thank you! All of you, thank you for coming after me!" His thanks seemed rather directed at Nostariel and Aurora, however. "I will never forget what you've done for me."

Nostariel looked vaguely troubled by what Ithilian was saying. If it were true (and she had no reason to believe that he was lying), then the next few years of Feynriel's adolescence might be particularly troublesome. She resolved to do what she could to ease the burden of transition, but for now, she needed to get him to the Dalish emcampment. "Coming?" she asked lightly of Aurora, then turned to the other two. "You have my thanks for allowing me to assist, Ithilian, Amalia." With that, she grasped Feynriel lightly by the elbow, guiding him from Darktown with lighter step than she'd known in too long and Aurora followed close behind.




The Dalish, she knew, were camped at the base of Sundermount, apparently unmoving due to an accident that resulted in the loss or death of their halla. She did not know the exact circumstances, being aware of any of it only through rumor and the grapevine, so to speak. She had been to visit a Dalish settlement before, but not this one, and there was still much she did not understand of their ways. She might have even been Dalish, but it was just one of many things she would never know about herself. As ever, she was restrained by the fickle nature of a child's memory, and by a future wrought with far more tangible, dangerous things than journeys of self-discovery.

The trail itself was relatively clear, and the encampment, unlike the other she'd seen, was not at all difficult to find. They must really be stranded out here, she thought, a twinge of pity strumming an idle note on her too-vulnerable heartstrings. At their approach, however, they were stopped by a pair of guards. "Hold there, strangers," the one on the right, a male, began. "What business have you with the Dalish?" His accent was that odd lilt she had observed before, and her own Starkhaven brogue felt clumsy in response.

"We've come to see the Keeper," Nostariel began, inclining her head respectfully. "This boy is of Dalish blood, and he seeks her help to learn control of his ancestral magic."

Apparently, this was about as close to the right thing to say as she was going to get. "Very well, you may enter," the first guard's feminine counterpart replied, though there was no small amount of haughtiness to her tone, and she eyed Aurora with distaste. "But make your business here quick. There are Dalish arrows trained on you." Frankly, Nostariel thought the threat was highly unnecessary, but she did not reply to it, simply nodding and stepping past the guards, leading the other two into the camp. "Are all Dalish so... Hostile?" Aurora whispered to both Feynriel and Nostariel, noting Ithilian's own demeanor from earlier. Still, she kept her mouth quiet and her head down. She was already afraid of Ithilian's wrath, she didn't want to provoke a whole tribe of his kind. That seemed like the quickest way to an early demise.

Aurora followed closely behind her two companions as they approached what she imagined to be this Keeper Marethari that Ithilian had mentioned. She felt out of place here, in this encampment. She could feel the eyes of the entire tribe on her shoulders. She felt like she was an outsider-- and in truth she was. It was the story of her life really. Being an apostate tends to sow those feelings after a while. However she shouldered those feelings herself and tried to make herself seem cheerful, hoping that would make her seem less of a threat to the Dalish. She even ventured a smile at the Keeper.

Marethari was rather easy to pick out among the elves, due to her clothes. She wore not the hunter's garb, but rather a very ceremonial-looking robe. Every Dalish clan typically had just two mages, the Keeper, and his or her First, or apprentice. Marethari was Keeper of this particular clan, and just her eyes seemed to convey the wisdom necessary to hold such a title. She was a very small woman, not imposing in the slightest, and her face gave off a kind, warm, almost grandmotherly aura. But there was indeed a certain hardness, perhaps simply from her age, behind those eyes.

"Andaran atish'an, strangers. I am Keeper Marethari. You are a Grey Warden, are you not?" she asked of Nostariel, though the way the question was posed implied she already knew the answer. "You honor us with this visit. What business might you have with the Dalish, I wonder?" Aurora frowned as she was overlooked.

"Andaran atish'an, Keeper," Nostariel replied, the words unfamiliar on her tongue. Still, it was best to be polite whenever possible, and what she was asking was no small favor. "The honor is mine to be welcomed here." Welcomed was definitely an overstatment of their reception, but she'd had worse greetings before. Her smile was genuine, if a bit strained, and she stepped aside so that Feynriel was plainly in front of the Keeper. "I'm afraid I come with a favor to ask. This is Feynriel, and he seeks refuge among his mother's people, to learn proper use of his magic. I would be more than willing to help however possible, but... my posting is in the city, and right now, that's no place for one the Templars would call apostate and hunt so avidly." She glanced knowingly at Aurora, then fell silent, allowing the Dalish woman to ponder as she needed to.

"His mother's people, you say?" the Keeper asked, before looking to Feynriel. "Ah yes... it is starting to become clear to me. Da'len, you are aware that the path you wish to walk will be a difficult one, yes? I will not turn you away, but I must first know that you are prepared for this." Feynriel, nodding to assure her. "Yes, Keeper, I understand. The Dalish hunter who helped rescue me explained. I know my human blood will mark me here, but this is where I want to be."

Marethari nodded her approval. "Then you will join the People. To the pair of you," she said, looking towards Aurora and Nostariel, "I would ask a small favor in return. Feynriel's mother is welcome here should she wish to visit, or rejoin the People, and she should know such. And... this hunter Feynriel speaks of. He should know that the road he travels leads only to further despair. His mind may be decided already, but perhaps a friend could alter his course."

Aurora shrugged, "He's not the friendliest man I know and I know he doesn't count me as one," she said. Though her gaze did shift towards Nostariel, "Perhaps she would have more luck getting to him than I would. Still... We will take your message to his mother. Thank you for taking him in... Circle life is not for him," Aurora said, the hint of experience evident in her voice. "We'll also send your mother your goodbyes Feynriel," She added. She of all people understood the preciousness of a goodbye to a mother... Then she nodded and tapped Nostariel on the shoulder. "Let's get going yeah? I'm sure his mother would want news of her son," she said. Though unspoken, she also wanted to get out of range of the "arrows" that were trained on her.

Nostariel simply nodded, not trusting her voice on this particular topic of conversation, and followed her fellow mage from the encampment.

The Chanter's Board has been updated. Wayward Son has been completed.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon

Earnings

0.00 INK

Lucien,

I was relieved to hear that you returned from the incident on the Wounded Coast. If it isn't an inconvenience, perhaps you might be willing to speak with me in the Chantry today? There was little time for talk, and I must admit, I have been troubled by how events unfolded.

-Sophia


Lucien, presently reclining his chair against the wall of the tavern, a tankard's worth of decidedly-suspect brandy in one hand and the sparsely-marked parchment in the other, raised his single uncovered eyebrow and read it over again, just to be sure. This was probably highly irregular. Usually, when mercenaries did a job, they were paid for it and ushered quietly out of the way, to hopefully not be heard from again until their services were, inevitably, required once more. There was always a chance that this situation was exactly that, but something about it suggested otherwise. "Can't say I understand why the Chantry, but I suppose I'm less likely to track Lowtown dirt where there are no carpets," he mumbled wryly to himself. It was not so much a reflection on what he assumed of Sophia so much as it was his general experience with nobility, and he thus discarded it.

"Well, no time like the present." He'd been here more in hopes of finding something to do than because he enjoyed the atmosphere, and it seemed all of the people he usually spoke with were out, which was especially unusual for the Warden. Nevertheless, he'd managed to find himself the intended recipient of a missive, and so he set his half-empty mug back down and paid the barkeep before sliding his gauntlets back on and slipping out the door.

The walk to Hightown was the same as always, and he took a slight detour to enter through the market instead of the red-light district, which was ironically closer to his destination as he was travelling. The merchants up here were a bit more passive-agressive and a little less in-your-face, but he wasn't usually a target. Just as well; it'd be a waste of their time on what he managed to bring in. He raised a hand to the guard on duty, a man by the name of Donnic, and ambled his way to the Chantry Courtyard. The Chanter's Board seemed to have a few new missives on it, and he decided to see about having a look on his way out. He'd always been taught that it was impolite to keep a lady waiting, however, and he pushed open one of the grand double doors, stepping inside with as much reverence as he could bring himself to muster.

The Lady Sophia was not immediately visible, so he ventured further in, feeling distinctly out-of-place amongst the robed brothers and sisters.

Sophia had almost jumped when Elthina gently touched her shoulder, deep in thought as she had been. "Your mercenary has arrived, Sophia," she said, the slightest hint of disapproval in her tone. Sophia knew that Elthina tended to have a distate for those who fought for only coin, but from what the Viscount's daughter had seen of Lucien the other day, there was likely more to him than that. All Elthina saw, of course, was a man who would probably encourage Sophia to go risking her life for this reason or that. Not that Elthina thought fighting for a noble cause was necessarily a bad thing. She simply recognized that Sophia's willfil nature could often land her in situations that were more than she could handle. That would have been just the case had the Seneschal not had the caution to send men to assist her.

"Thank you, Elthina," she said, rising. The Grand Cleric nodded before taking her leave. Sophia had been before the great statue of Andraste in the center of the Chantry, a raised platform that overlooked the entrance. She turned to see Lucien cautiously venturing forward, looking quite like he didn't belong. Sophia wasn't sure what to make of that. Rakkis had made it quite clear that he hadn't cared for her faith, but she didn't recall hearing a word on the subject from Lucien. Perhaps it had been a mistake to ask him to come here. She would just have to find out.

She made her way down the stairs towards him. Her appearance was a rather complete turnaround from the first time they had met. She looked significantly smaller today, not wearing her armor as she was. Lucien already had quite the height advantage over her, and the fact that he was wearing his armor still emphasized the man's already impressive build. Sophia was dressed in a simple, albeit well-tailored dress of a soft grey, belted at the waist and leaving her shoulders bare. Her thick golden hair was no longer tied back out of the way, but rather falling in droves to rest on her chest and shoulders, and down her back a short ways. The only accessory she wore was a simple, thin silver chain necklace.

"Lucien, thank you for coming. Forgive me if the Chantry is not an ideal setting. It's... well, one of the few places where I don't feel quite so much like the Viscount's daughter."

Contrary, perhaps, to what most people would have assumed of a man like him, Sophia could not have been more intimidating right now if she were in full Templar regalia and surrounded by fifty more of the same. Battle, and the business of it, were what Lucien was comfortable with. Go here, kill that, help these innocent defenseless peasants... that sort of thing was easy, as far as the Chevalier was concerned. It was... this, the socializing and the finery and the elegance, that had always been unnatural. It felt rather like being an enormous bear in a room full of glass figurines. One false step, one miscalculated move or ill-planned word, and he was liable to break something important. Or crush somebody's toes. Figuratively, of course; he did at least know how to dance.

But his mind was wandering, taking him to faraway places that were not here, and it really would have been much easier were she in armor still and they standing just about anywhere but here. But she was not, and they were not, and it did him no good to desire otherwise. Her words filtered through his brain in sepia-tones, making him aware that perhaps what custom dictated here, that he sweep a refined bow and kiss her knuckles, was perhaps not what she'd prefer either. Of course, that left him in the even more undesirable situation of not knowing what to do at all, but inaction would condemn him as surely as anything, so he simply inclined his torso in a deferential motion witout excess. "I suppose," he ventured by way of reply, thankfully absent of social anxiety at least in his tone, "that such duties would grow burdensome after a time, and I certainly cannot blame you for taking sanctuary where you find it."

He truthfully supposed nothing, and knew better than just about anyone exactly how she felt. His own solace was to be found in the barracks and on the practice field, but he understood at least the nature of the problem, even if the solution was different. The knowledge in hand, he forced himself to relax, consciously easing the tension in his back and shoulders and for the moment content to ignore the movement of the Chantry folk and visitors around them, though he could never lose that awarenss of them. "Let it trouble you not. Your missive indicated that there was something of the other day's occurrences you wished to speak of?"

"Yes," she said, and it was her turn to look uncomfortable, though she buried it away quite swiftly. She wasn't exactly sure how she wanted to word her concerns, now that he was here. "Perhaps we could sit? If you follow me," she gestured gently before turning and leading Lucien up the stairs on the far right side, a short climb to the upper level. She hoped this a more comfortable area. A cozy fire burned in the hearth, a table beside it with several free chairs. More importantly, the sisters remained on the lower level, and this area gave far less of a feeling that they were being watched. Sophia knew the sisters meant no harm, but they overheard what they overheard, and she could understand how that might bother some.

"I never actually received a detailed account of what happened after Saemus and I left," she said, lowering herself into a chair, "Did Rakkis get them to join his organization, as he intended?"

The former knight inclined his head and followed without protest, indeed rather relieved for all that he was still in the Chantry. He knew, of course, that he was unlikley to be attacked here, or perhaps worse, spied upon, but such places were no sacred ground for Bards, and it was a constant effort to remind himself that they did not dwell here. It didn't suit him to stand in the middle of an open space; an ingrained caution had him placing his back to a wall as soon as he was able, the measured discomfort he felt at sitting in the presence of someone of rank here outweighed by his desire to be accomodating as he was able.

Ah, but of course. The question made sense, and it was hardly a surprise that the Lady Sophia wished to know if the ranks of her city's criminal underbelly had swollen considerably practically overnight. "I believe he was mostly successful in his aim, yes. For what it's worth, I doubt the Winters will assimilate wholesale. It is not in the nature of every mercenary to capitulate to an organization with such a repuation as the Coterie, even if the reason is simply that they prefer choosing their contracts freely." He understood that this was the case at least with the Red Iron, a group he'd had some contact with. Not of sterling reputation, that lot, but stubbornly proud of their independence.

"As for the rest, well... there isn't much to say. Our comrade-in-arms may well achieve more by means of gilt tongue than sharpened knife." He raised his shoulders slightly, as if to shrug, but then thought better of it, reminded once again that he was not in the presence of another mercenary or even another tavern patron. It was not a barrier easily overcome even in the most relaxed of nations. He might once have belonged in this situation, but now... well, he wasn't in Orlais anymore, and sincerely doubted he ever would be again.

"His gilt tongue certainly made things more complicated, didn't it?" she asked rhetorically, getting to the heart of the matter. Everything had worked out, save for the few new criminals that Kirkwall would have now... so why did it feel like something was gnawing at her insides? She had to try and explain. "Everything had been so straightforward before his proposition. The Winters had needlessly murdered my brother's friend, and it was only just that they not receive a reward for that. I stood by my brother, prepared to defend him when he was threatened. I gave them the opportunity to leave without bloodshed, which they did not take. They gave us no choice but to kill them. I have since prayed for their souls, that the Maker might forgive them and they may find a place at His side..."

Sophia crossed her legs, tilting her head over slightly to rub her forehead in one hand. "I had half a mind to try and stop Rakkis. I wanted to avoid further bloodshed, yes, but I've also always wanted to see this city a safer place, and allowing an organization like the Coterie to grow does nothing towards that end. The issue of fighting or avoiding it aside, I also fled, leaving two men who had certainly saved my life to potential deaths. I couldn't trust my brother to get back to the city. I couldn't even trust myself to survive the fight. It feels like I left out of desire to save myself."

She was silent for a brief moment, before flushing slightly red and looking down at the table. "I apologize. I'm not sure what I expect you to say. I just... well, you seem so certain, both in your abilities, and in your beliefs. It's admirable."

Lucien leaned forward slightly, resting his chin on the thumbs of his clasped hands, elbows braced on the armrests of the chair he now occupied. He was not one to interrupt a person while they were speaking, especially not when the words were coming thick and fast enough so as to almost constitute a confession. I would have thought one of the sisters here would be more suited to hear it than I, he thought, just a touch of sardonic self-reproach tinging it. Still, it wasn't the first time he'd heard such things, sentences dredged up from some troubled part of the mind or soul. He never minded.

The end of her ruminations, however, drew from him a chuckle, a quiet thing, more a slight shaking of shoulders and a crinkling at the corner of his eye than any booming sound. He smiled behind his hand, caught somewhere between sheepish embarassment and easy amusement, then sat back again, rubbing at his stubble with one hand and letting the other drape loosely on the armrest. "Certainty, is it?" he echoed, his tone slightly distant. Was he certain? He supposed that, in most situations, he had a grasp of what he felt was right, but the real difference between himself and the people he tended to encounter in his work was that he simply had no problem aligning his actions with his thoughts. Consequences were relatively unimportant to his considerations, but it had not always been so.

"Perhaps I am fortunate enough to count a certain degree of assurance mine, but... I also do not have the fate of an entire city to consider, nor is my life so important that its loss would deal any great blow to anything, and so I simply act in accordance with what mine own honor demands." His tone was less instructional and more contemplative, as though he were unused to putting his thoughts to words. "It... is not always a clear mandate, and I will admit that what came about was of trouble to me also, but, well. The increase in Coterie thugs is a problem, and in time, one or both of us may find ourselves dealing with it. If, however, that later trouble is the result of something I did that was at its core the right thing to do, than I accept those consequences and will bear their burdens when the time comes. Not all the good in the world can be done at once, and I do not relish living only in the future." He coughed into one hand and rubbed at the back of his neck, clearly a little uncomfortable with how much he'd just said.

"That... well, it's only one man's opinion at any rate, milady, and a rather penniless vagabond mercenary at that."

Sophia gave him a close-lipped smile at that. "And your wealth makes your opinion less meaningful how? Wealth is certainly no virtue. I fear if I spend any more years in Hightown, they'll rub off on me, and I'll spend the rest of my days complaining to the merchants that they have no silks to match the color of my eyes."

She thought for a moment. Not all the good in the world could be done at once. That was very true. She had been presented with a choice, and she had taken the route that seemed the greatest good. Or perhaps the least evil. Either way, there had been a choice. Perhaps it would have consequences. She could deal with those when they presented themselves. There was still the feeling that she had taken a choice solely benefiting her and her family, but for now...

"I think I'd like to start doing good more regularly, Lucien. I am capable of helping, and I don't see why my future as Viscount should prevent me from doing so. No doubt my father, and Bran, will fly into panics at the mere though of me traveling about Lowtown, but they've never been able to stop me when my mind is made up before. And I think the people wouldn't mind seeing the Viscount's daughter doing what she can to help those typically beneath the notice of us Hightown types." She seemed to relax somewhat at the idea. Of course she would not abandon her father and brother to deal with the storms while she ran off doing good deeds, but it would certainly be refreshing to get out of the shadow of the Keep once in a while.

"Perhaps we will work together in the future, then? Maybe if one of us finds a cause worth taking up, they could call on the other?"

"Ah, well, let us hope it does not come to that," he answered with humor, tilting his head to one side. "Though... I think I may have seen that shade just today. You might want to lodge a complaint; where I come from, such things are blatant mockery." The rest of what she said was a good deal more serious, and he nodded solemnly, recognizing that the conversation was drawing to its close. Standing, Lucien really did bow this time, as there was something of a promise attached to it, and such things were to be taken seriously, always.

"If you should find that my... scythe-arm would be of assistance in this, all you need do is ask, and it shall be yours."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera

Earnings

0.00 INK

Ashton's deft feet dug into the smooth gravel as he began his back step to play a game of keep-away with the demonized Templar. All of Ashton's arrows were now focused on center mass, drawing the demon away from the main body of fighting. Things would go smoother for all involved if they didn't have to worry about a demonized Wilmod blindsiding them. Another arrow whistled through the air as it struck true, though Ashton took no pleasure from a simple hit. Pleasure would be derived from the kill, not the process of killing. When Ashton stopped and assumed a nonthreatening stance, baiting the creature. It didn't take much to send the demon carreening into a mad charge towards the foolish Archer. It would surely crush his feeble bones into a fine dust.

But the creature had sprung Ashton's trap. At the last moment, Ashton evaded to the side and in mid-roll vanished in a puff of stealth. The monster had fallen for Ashton's game, taking it's eyes off of the Archer for just a moment would prove to be a dire mistake. Now like the shadows around them, Ashton silently stalked his prey. A single pebble shifting, a blade of grass bending was the only clue to the hunter's whereabouts. Now the roles were reversed, Ashton was the Predator. During his little episode of stealth, Ashton had quietly circled around the beast to gain a fantastic angle on it's vulnerable back. He had an arrow nocked as the shadows around him faded, and before he was fully tangible, the arrow struck.

The sudden and surprising blow disoriented the foe, allowing Ashton to pump more arrows one after another into the vulnerable back of the creature. After every arrow he shot he took another step forward towards his prey so that when he finally stood over the demon, it looked more like a pincushion than a former Templar. Ashton drew back on his bowstring once more and sent one last arrow into the creature's head. just to be sure they wouldn't have a nasty surprise later. With his prey defeated, Ashton turned to see where he could best aid his companions.

To Rilien's (very mild) surprise, Ashton was able to goad the once-Wilmod into charging him, leaving the snowy-haired elf very much bereft of something to kill. Well, perhaps 'bereft' was too strong a word for the situation at hand, as there were still plenty of shades and at least one rage demon wandering about. A cool sweep of the situation indicated that if the Templar did not recieve assistance soon, he would probably die. While the thought as such was not at all troubling to him, the bard was very conscious of the usefulness of an extra pair of hands, especially ones attached to a body capable of wearing heavy armor and taking hits for the sake of people with less heavy steel plating encasing their persons. As such, it was to their advantage- his advantage, even, for the man to live.

Very well, the Templar would live. Rilien was off like a shot, his momentum carrying his rght-hand blade across the arm of a shade, which, as they tended to do, spewed a blackish ichor instead of blood, the jet of which he was certain to neatly avoid. Having to clean it from his garments would be... inefficient at best. Repeating his earlier maneuver, the elf pivoted and turned the motion into a backstab this time, suppressing the tiniest of satisfied flickers when it howled and sank back into the ground.

The next was upon him in short order, turning from the Templar upon hearing its fellow's call. Rilien caught the obvious telegraph of its swing and ducked, switching grip on both knives simultaneously and plunging them into both of the shade's shoulders, severing the muscles that allowed for the beast's control of its arms. Stepping back, Rilien flicked his wrists, sending most of the ichor flying off his knives in two wide, spattering arcs, watching with apparent nonchalance as the shade shrieked an unholy cacophony and attempted to charge him bodily. A neat sidestep and a ruthless slice later, and the thing's head was nearly parted from its shoulders.

In the distance, someone was screaming. It might've been the gurgling notes spewing from Wilmod's swollen lips, pitching forward in such a way that it sounded like a scream, but more or less, it was a malformed creature's spitting squeaks, blatantly hitched to sound like the relentless hiss of a geezer releasing it's fumes. The catcalling whirr swam through her ears as she hustled past the abomination – she didn't spare it a single glance because she didn't want to see all of it's disgusting features up close, patched, wickedly hobbled with eroded pocks. It served as an ugly reminder that she was not immune to the coaxing whispers of Pride, nor Rage's enchanting promises of retribution. Even if Rilien could renounce his half-remembered feelings into tidied, allocated blocks, Sparrow, admittedly, could not. Those promises, those feverish pledges, sat there in the dark, patient, watching and waiting for it's turn to surface again and again. Like chokedamp creeping in your lungs to chortle just a little bit of venom into your lungs, spreading it's corruption like a sordid sweetness that was all too familiar.

“When spring, to woods and wastes around, brought bloom and joy again, the murdered traveller's bones were found, far down a narrow glen...” Whether or not Rilien sang the words, spoke them in soft hushes, or merely parroted the words in his accustomed intonation, composed, effortless, mattered not. It was the conclusive strength bellying those words, rippling through the stratosphere and fortifying her backbone, igniting her energy, sending her sluggish alacrity to acceptable levels. And so they both stood so tall, so accomplished. Renewed, rejuvenated, Sparrow's muscles tensed. The fiery demon's presence gave off malice in hot, angry waves. It might've brought a lesser person to their knees, but not her. She thrived off those feelings, absorbed and whittled them into little sculptures she could produce at will. It was as malleable as clay. She knew, without a doubt, that she needn't worry for Rilien's safety. Her companion was an art form of measured destruction, designating the appropriate amount of cleaving damage in the most undoing ways, rendering his victim's prostrate. This wasn't the first time she'd witnessed his cutthroat mastery, and it certainly wouldn't be her last.

Foolishly, Sparrow did not care if the Knight-Captain witnessed her flashy use of magic – though, she honestly hadn't thought much about it. Engagements such as this rendered her hopelessly reckless: a flashing muse of grating teeth, swinging mallets and glistening peepers. Someday, it would be her undoing. She would not be controlled. She would not be stripped of her freedom. She would not. Even if she had to crawl into the dirtiest, most repulsive, hole that Darktown had to offer to elude capture. It certainly was an option. She'd never, willingly, bring any undesirable attention down on Rilien. How hypocritical. Templar's utilized their holy magics, expatiated by their frequent use of lyrium. From the corner's of her peripherals, Sparrow caught sight of the Knight-Captain's blast of light, sending the shades scampering away like rats. If Cullen asked for assistance, she'd wryly remind him that Andraste stood vigilant at his side. With her, he needed nothing.

A gust of sweltering heat startled her attention back to the fiery demon in front of her. The strong-armed sweep of her mace was met with titian flames, bellowing out from the creature's claws like dangerous fireworks. Sparrow's initial charge faltered, ever so slightly, before she pitched her weight in the opposite direction. Fortunately, Rilien's bardsong greatly aided her reflexes and momentum. Still, Sparrow smelled the charcoal-like stink of burnt hair. Her left arm hadn't tucked close enough to her body, leaving it vulnerable to the creature's jet of magical fire. She immediately pulled in inwards, grappling, one more, with her flanged mace. “Bloody bastard.” She rasped, clearly upset that it'd even landed a blow. Her eyes flashed, imperceptibly. Then, the mace shuddered and, as if it were growing new skin, covered itself in a thick sheen of ice. If her companions looked at their own weapons, they'd noticed that, theirs too, appeared the same. She bolted a few paces to it's side, then lunged forward to slam the mace into it's charred skull. Sparks exploded. It's mouth snapped shut, driving it backwards. She did not stop. Rage demons' were best fought relentlessly, feverishly, savagely. She did not stop until it fizzled up into a neat pile of ashes, sifting away with the wind. Her chest heaved, once, twice, before she wiped her brow with the back of her hand and regarded the others, levelly. "You Templars are terrible."

Cullen was able to turn the tide on the shades, in no small part due to Rilien's help, as well as Ashton's dispatching of Wilmod, who seemed to have been the source of the incoming demons. The Knight-Captain bashed one soundly with the shield even while lopping the head cleanly off another one, before plunging the blade into the one he'd just stunned. Moments later, it was done, as Cullen ripped his sword from the last shade, sending the creature howling back into the abyss. The Knight-Captain looked very grave as he surveyed the fallen corpse of what had been Wilmod. he sheathed his sword, shaking his head.

"I knew... I knew he was involved in something sinister. But this... is it even possible?"

As Ashton approached, he realized that the rest of the fel demons had been dispatched by his companions and Messere Templar. With that realization firmly in mind his muscles loosened their grip on his bones and he stood straighter, allowing his taut bowstring a rest. He replaced the arrow intended for another foe back into the quiver, but given the day's circumstances and his luck, it would bound to find another home in the warm skull of another soon enough. He arrived just in time to catch Cullen's disbelieving comment. With the hunter's work finished, Ashton replied with this gem, "I would say... Yes. Yes it is possible," he said, prodding a pile of ashes with his foot, "Else I'd still have my bottle and an Abomination wouldn't have a score of my arrows lodged in 'em," he said, none too smoothly. He then pointed a finger accusingly at Cullen and added, "You owe me a bottle, Messere Templar."

The Knight-Captain sighed tiredly. "You have my thanks for the assistance. I am Knight-Captain Cullen. I was not expecting a force of demons to deal with. As for you," he said, looking towards Sparrow, "I realize that you and your companions may have just saved my life, and I am not unreasonable. I would advise you, however, to not cast any more spells in my presence." "I didn't see any spells. Did you?" Ashton asked Rilien in mock surprise.

"Anyway, Messere Templar... Do you have any idea why Wilmod went all... Demon-y on us?" Ashton asked, leaning on his bow. He hoped that it wasn't a portrayal of what to expect with Keran...

"I have been conducting an investigation of some of our recruits who have gone missing. Wilmod here was the first to return. I had hoped to confront him quietly, out of sight." He shrugged, noting how poorly that plan had gone, before turning his gaze on Rilien. "You, Tranquil. Forgive me, I do not have your name, but you said you came seeking Keran. Who sent you?"

Rilien had in fact seen Sparrow cast a spell, and as such, he remained wisely silent on the subject. When it came to being addressed by the Templar directly, however, silence was an unacceptable method of answer, and so he instead fixed the man with his most unnervingly-blank stare. "Recruit Keran's sister was alarmed that his letters have ceased. Given the sensitive nature of goings-on in the Gallows, the best course of action was to rectify the problem as quickly and efficiently as possible." The agent of such a decision was not mentioned, of course. Free will was not absent from his sort, but independent motivation often wound up so sorely lacking that it might as well have been. For all the world knew, Macha had presented him with a problem that he automatically set about solving. Better yet, someone else had determined that he should solve it and let him do so.

Without allowing the more subtle implications of what he'd said too long to sink in, the elf continued. "In the interest of that efficiency, may I inquire as to what you have discovered, Ser?"

"His sister recruited you, then? That certainly doesn't explain how you knew to find me here... but I suppose I should question you no more. Your assistance was certainly appreciated. And perhaps my role in this investigation should come to an end. A more deft touch may be necessary. If you three are looking for Keran, you might try the Blooming Rose. Keran and Wilmod were last seen there. I had no luck interrogating the... uh, young ladies there." He shrugged. "I doubt they know anything of magic and demons, but it could be that they did not wish to speak with me due to my being Knight-Captain. They fear I'll try to shut them down for serving our recruits, or some such nonsense."

Ashton's prospects brightened considerably at the mention of the Blooming Rose. Perhaps the day wouldn't be full of wanton death and destruction. The humorous glint returned to Ashton's eyes as he opened his to add his comment for the Templar, "Well Messere Templar, if they know nothing of magic it's only because they have yet to meet me," he said with a smirk and a wink. Then he turned to Sparrow all smiles, "Looks like we get to see these buxom ladies you had promised me. Well let's not tarry then, these women aren't going to want to wait all day for myself. Maker knows I wouldn't... And I suppose Keran needs finding as well," he added as an afterthought. With his day looking considerably less grim he spun around on his feet and headed back to the city of Kirkwall and the Red Lantern District within with a certain spring in his step.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega

Earnings

0.00 INK

It occurred to Ithilian the next day that he hadn't ever really seen the Warden, Nostariel, around the Alienage. Their meeting and subsequent cooperation in rescuing Feynriel had been the first time he'd ever seen her. It crossed his mind that she may have been a newcomer to the city, or that perhaps she was merely passing through, and got caught up in events. But she'd seemed to have known her way around the city well enough. Ithilian had never met an elven Warden before, or many Wardens at all.

It was not long then before he began to make inquiries about her among the elves who tended to get out of the Alienage more. Ithilian didn't qualify in that category. He was too likely to do something very illegal if he spent too much time among the hordes of shemlen that pervaded every level of this city. He passed by Amalia several times during his inquiries. He meant to speak with her... but not yet. He needed some more time to think before that conversation would happen. Eventually, he determined that Nostariel spent a great deal of her time at the Hanged Man, the tavern here in Lowtown. Ithilian had frowned at that. He supposed there were worse places, though. Like Hightown. Still, for every worthwhile person that passed through that tavern, there were no doubt a few shemlen that would tempt his wrath if he spent too long around them.

Not having anything in particular to do at the moment, however, the Dalish decided it wouldn't hurt to pay her a visit. He left the Alienage, armed as always, keeping his head down as he worked his way through the bustle of people. He passed a shem hawking what was apparently a pouch of Andraste's ashes to a crowd, demonstrating their magical healing effects on a woman of suspect illness. His frown grew as he went by. Beggars lined the streets, mostly human, by Ithilian's estimation. In his experience, the dwarves typically joined up with the Carta before resorting to begging. And the elves went to the Alienage, where they actually looked out for one another. The shemlen were content to let themselves rot, it seemed.

The Hanged Man eventually presented itself before him, rather busy as it always seemed to be. He waited for a pair of drunk mine workers to clear out of his way, overhearing them mumbling about opening up some new passage at the Bone Pit, before pushing through the door and entering. With the variety of types that passed through the Hanged Man, it was difficult for anyone to look out of place, but Ithilian seemed to be trying his best to do so. A woman approached him to see if he needed something to eat or drink, but he waved her off with an annoyed flick of his hand, scanning the patrons instead.

He spotted Nostariel in a corner of the room, a table to herself. Ithilian found it puzzling how at home a Grey Warden could look in a tavern. Nostariel definitely looked as though she had been here many times before, and would be here many times again. It was... angering, in a way. He moved forward, weaving between tables, until he had reached her corner. "Marethari took the boy in, did she not?" he asked, not taking a seat, or appearing as though he wanted to. "Did she object at all?" He felt he already knew the answer to the question, but it was worth asking, anyhow.

Nostariel was, much to her own surprise, not really in the mood to get drunk on this particular day, and so her cup was filled with watered wine, the safest beverage of choice in Lowtown, where the water itself was far from non-toxic in large doses. She was presently enjoying a light lunch, and rather simply pleased at the fact that her salad wasn't even rotting. It was, as far as she could tell, as good a day as she ever got for free, and she was resolved to enjoy it. Lifting a green-laden fork to her mouth, she was halfway through taking a bite when the door to the tavern opened.

Normally, this would scarcely concern her, and she was quite content to ignore the influx of patrons just as she ignored the egress of anyone still sober enough to walk. Those that couldn't, well... there was magic for that.

As it was, however, she would not be ignoring this particular entrance, completely obvious as it was. Her eyes found Ithilian seconds before he located her, probably because she was far less obtrusive... or curt, for that matter. Her frown was a fledgling thing, small and rather tame compared to the scowls he seemed to sport nearly-constantly, and she calmly chewed over the rest of her mouthful before gesturing that he could sit. He probably wouldn't. His question was direct enough, and she answered it in kind. "She did, and she did not, in that order." A small pause. "She requested that I relay a message to you, though. The Keeper seems concerned for your welfare, and would deter you from your present course." Her composed neutrality contained faint echoes of melancholy, but they were subtle and might well have simply been the natural tenor of her voice. They certainly rarely left it.

The Dalish crossed his arms over his chest. "She said that, did she? I've heard it before. Many would deter me from my course, though few have deterred me so politely. I'll take the Keeper's words under consideration." The way he said it implied that it was most definitely a no. Ithilian's beliefs and Keeper Marethari's conflicted far too greatly for one to ever fully see the other's side, he knew that. But as of yet, nothing had changed since he had left her clan for Kirkwall. He saw no reason yet to accept a life of being pushed from one area to the next every time the humans decided to do something about them. Reclaim. Not remember.

"Do you live here?" he asked, glancing about the place as he changed the subject. The look on his face as he surveyed the other patrons, and perhaps simply the atmosphere was... not quite disgust, but perhaps disbelief. "It hardly seems a fitting place for a Warden."

"I see." She didn't, really, and she had half a mind to ask him exactly what this course of his actually was, but his question was quicker, and she accepted that for now, the conversation, such as it was, would proceed in a different direction for at least a short while. Nostariel followed his glance, smiling faintly when she saw Varric about to depart, that crossbow of his slung over his back as usual. She raised a hand to bid him farewell, but she was unsure if he saw it or not. Either way, she had to think for a second about how to answer that one.

"Perhaps not, but it is surely a fitting place for me." Sipping her wine, she set the tankard back down and leaned on her elbows, cupping her face on both hands. "Do not the drunken disgraces always end up in such places?" The question may as well have been rhetorical, for she answered it herself, after a fashion. "But I suspect you have no desire to hear the story, and I'm far too sober to tell it anyway." Shifting her grip, she traced one finger absently about the rim of her mug and shrugged.

"If I may ask, what is the nature of the disagreement between yourself and the Keeper? I had gathered the impression that such folk were revered leaders of the People, that conflicts of such... devisive nature were uncommon, and tended to cause quite the stir." She couldn't decide if she expected him to answer, or growl like a threatened wolf and tell her it was none of her city-elf business.

Ithilian watched her finger for a moment as it circled the rim of her tankard. "I do revere the Keeper. That doesn't mean I can't think her a cowardly grandmother. Or have a differing opinion. I am not Sabrae, nor was I ever. I was of Clan Mordallis for much of my life, in Ferelden. Keeper Felaris had differing ideas, and I shared them. But that clan is no more, and now I am here. I'm far too sober to tell the rest of that story, as well."

A drunken disgrace, huh? The Sabrae no doubt thought him a disgrace to the People. He'd faced his fair share of misery in his lifetime, and he was willing to bet that it matched the Warden's, though of course he could not be sure. He hadn't turned to drowning himself in taverns. Not yet, anyway. "If you don't mind me saying, you did not seem a disgrace yesterday when we fought through slavers, mercenaries, and abominations. I don't see why you should let yourself rot in this pit. Not with the gifts you have."

It was annoying, almost, and he wished he knew her reasons for whatever disgrace she had brought upon herself, for then he would know whether or not to be truly angry, or... well, less angry. He didn't see how he could sympathize with this. "Do I need to buy you a drink for you to tell me how you joined the Wardens? I have only ever met one, a shem, though I have not encountered a worthier human."

His sullen echo of her own words had tugged the smile further up her face, flashing teeth for the briefest moment, but it was short-lived. "If I did not, then perhaps it is simply because the world has a sense of irony," she replied dryly, shaking her head slightly and dislodging a few blond hairs from behind her ears. She replaced them carefully, considering the next question, though perhaps not quite so seriously as it appeared. "You should be careful, Ithilian. If you continue to say such things, people might come to believe there is compassion somewhere in that vengeful soul of yours." She wasn't sure exactly how she'd struck on the word vengeful, but nothing she was observing told her it didn't fit, so she didn't bother to correct herself.

"Hm, no. I don't think I have to be inebriated for that one, but you do have to be seated. I'll not speak to someone so much taller than myself if he insists on looming so." The last person she'd told that to was actually a good deal taller than Ithilian as well, but it applied all the same. "Of what would you like me to speak? The Joining itself is a rather interesting process, I suppose, but usually people are looking for the circumstances that lead to it, or perhaps the valiant tales of first battles with fellow Wardens." A single eyebrow arched gracefully, and it was clear that she really was going to insist that he sit.

Seeing that he might actually get something from the Warden, Ithilian was willing to take a seat. He pulled his bow from his back as he slid down into a chair, placing the weapon across his lap and settling into a somewhat slouched posture. Her comment about compassion had almost gotten a guffaw that would have been dangerously close to a laugh, but not quite. At the word vengeful, he had almost wanted to trace the lines of the vallaslin decorating his neck, the symbols for Elgar'nan, the God of Vengeance. It was indeed all that was left in his soul. Occasionally, on days like yesterday, he yearned for something more meaningful to devote himself to... but until such a thing presented itself, vengeance would have to do.

"Let's start with the circumstances. You are from a city, are you not? A Circle mage, then, or rather, a former one?"

"Hm. You're either entirely correct, or only half so. I couldn't tell you which." Nostariel chewed absently on her lower lip, free hand now occupied pushing her salad around on her plate with the fork. "The Circle is the first thing I remember. I couldn't tell you who I was, who's child I was, before that. But you are right that the Circle eventually found me, or I was given up to them, whichever." It was among the reasons she so vehemently did not desire Feynriel to be pushed into that life. He was long old enough to remember his mother, remember what he'd had, but he would have been subsequently without it even so. "I'm not sure if that's worse or better then being able to remember, to tell you the truth."

"As for the rest, well, I suppose I was the sort of person who had dreams a little too big for that tower in Starkhaven. I'd always wanted out, and the Wardens offered me that chance. I'd have been a fool not to take it."
Particularly when the other options were tranquility or death. She wasn't quite comfortable talking about it, though, as the inevitable next question would have been what did you do to deserve that? and the answer was incredibly painful, a wound in her very soul even now. "I... can't say it turned out exactly how I expected, but... what ever does?"

"Indeed, nothing ever does," Ithilian agreed. What she said hadn't bothered him, though. She hadn't been given a choice at birth, but rather was forced under the heel of the Chantry and their Templars. It seemed only natural that she would want to escape, that anyone would want to escape that, and yet many of them willingly allowed themselves to be caged by their shemlen jailors. Their talents were wasted in such a way, when they could be used to help their people.

"We take advantage of the chances given to us. We have to. If we don't, the shemlen will. They'd see us all forever under their heel like the Templars would to the mages. That is my present course that Marethari would deter me from, in a sense. To wait for a chance to be given to me, and then to take it. Elgar'nan, vengeance, was branded into my skin. I can take no other course." He looked down at the bow in his lap. Thought for a moment on the number it had claimed. More had been added to that tally yesterday. It would never be enough, and he knew that... but he didn't know what else to do.

If Nostariel had flinched slightly at the mention of Templars and shemlen, she did not acknowledge it. Instead, she simply watched him as he spoke, reading into the silences as much as the words. She wasn't always right about these sorts of things, but she liked to think she could guess at what he was thinking, and it was uncomfortably familiar. "Grey Wardens know a thing or two about lost causes," she demurred. "I can't say I share the thought that humans all desire us beneath their feet, though I won't contest that it happens. Circles are.... a bit different from the outside world, as are the Wardens. I'm a captain, you know. I suppose a few humans have had a problem with that, but by and large they're a little more scared of my magic than my ears." She shrugged lightly.

"Even so... I'd like to think that there's always hope for a better world, no matter how futile it seems to work for it." She could not condone killing your way through humanity as a means, but surely what Ithilian seemed to desire was not just the violence and the vengeance, but rather the world wherein his people could be free of their chains. That much, she understood without reserve.

Ithilian certainly would not argue with her about the subject of humans and just how much they oppressed his people. He suspected both of them were far too sober for that discussion. And from what history he had learned of her... being elven was not what she considered the most impactful on her life, but rather being a mage, or being a Warden. She'd lived in a Circle, and then she'd lived with Wardens. As of now, he did not believe she had experienced the state of their people as he had.

"There was a better world," Ithilian said, rising to his feet, and returning his bow to his back. "It was called Elvhenan. It is gone now. Whether or not it can be recreated in a world with the shemlen, I don't know. I intend to take the All-Father's vengeance just the same." He gave Nostariel a respectful nod of his head. "Ma serranas for your time, Nostariel." With that, the Dalish took his leave of the Hanged Man, headed back for the Alienage.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

The day after Feynriel's rescue, the group had since dispersed, and Amalia had made her way back to her home in the Alienage. Even she would not deny that the process of integrating herself as much as was warranted into the place had been no easy task, but after a while, the majority of the residents seemed to accept that the bizarre human with the harp was to be a fixture in their run-down corner of the city, and life now tended to proceed around her like a river around a particularly tenacious stone. Sometimes, she was even included in the ebb and flow of it, though always as an entity distinct, unusually proud and tall among a people whose eyes were most often downcast. Her viddethari were the bridge, those few women and children who had accepted the Qun and now required her instruction in it. They sought a way to live by its words without losing everything that did not, and at this, she was adept.

The midafternoon was usually a time of rest for the Alienage, especially in the summer, when the sun's hot rays struck just a little too harshly. People tended to take small respites in their homes, but being a creature more inclined to the outdoors than anything, she preferred to rest under the great boughs of the vhenadahl. Presently, she had assumed a crosslegged posture, hands resting loosely upon her knees, eyes closed. She might have been asleep, save that nobody slept in quite so upright a position. Indeed, she was more aware of her surroundngs than most, allowing her ears and nose to funnel her the information she needed about her surroundings. Active mediation, an excellent way to ponder reality and unreality, and think upon the words of the Qun.

Aurora on the other hand was a bit more... Active. While she wasn't in the process of running from Templars at the moment, she stode about Lowtown with an energy that she always had about her. It was another day spent not dead or in the Gallows, so what was there not to be happy about? She was a bit sore though, particularly her hands and shoulder. It could have been worse, yes, not many can take a sword through both hands and shoulder and still be as chipper as she was. The last day however... It did make her think. It made her think about a lot of things. Feynriel being abducted by slavers, a mage becoming an abomination before her eyes, and a magister using his magic for his malintentions. It was people like him that the mages were locked up in circles. Her thinking had kept her up most of the night until she fell asleep from the exhaustion. She realized she walked a fine line as an apostate. Between the Templars, the draw of demons and their promises of powers, and even magister slavers, every day was dangerous for her.

She had to become stronger. Mentally as well as physically. She could take the odd roving band of ruffians, sure, but her experiences yesterday proved that she could not stand toe-to-toe with trained warriors or another accomplished mage. She had to become stronger in order to survive, in order to keep her freedom that she cherished so much. She would not let becoming an abomination be the only option, she would never let that be an option. That wasn't freedom, that was a monster. It was what brought her on her sojourn that day. She didn't walk around Lowtown without purpose, she had a destination in mind. The Alienage in particular. She had a Qunari acquaintance on her mind. She had asked around Lowtown about her whereabouts and the unanimous answer was "The Alienage". Seems it wasn't hard to pick out a single Qunari among the depressed citizens of Lowtown.

As she descended the stairs opening out to the Vhenadahl, she couldn't help but look up into the branches. It truly was a magnicent tree, a glowing spot of green in the desolute browns and greys of the innards of Kirkwall. Her eyes fell down the tree examining the writing and drawings with a sense of wonder until she reached the roots. There sitting at the roots was who she was looking for, Amalia. She seemed to be in some sort of meditation or trance. Aurora hesitated about interrupting her, but forged ahead. She needed to do this. For herself.

"Hey. Amalia? I'm not interrupting, am I?" She began, "I want to.. Ask you something."

Amalia was aware of the fact that someone approached, and the tread struck her as vaguely-familiar, but she did not ponder much on it. If she was required, she would be sought. If not, she would remain undisturbed. The steps stopped within her proximity, and the voice that followed pegged her visitor as the mage from the previous afternoon, though not the Warden. Curious. Humans did not often tread here, especially the ones that knew of Ithilian's presence. Amalia cracked an eyelid, looking up at the girl with a light-blue ocular. "You are," the Qunari replied evenly, opening her other eye and rising to her feet in a smooth, controlled motion. "But this is not unacceptable. Shanedan, Imekari. I will hear you."

Aurora had forgotten how curt the Qunari was and it caught her offguard. She also noticed Amalia's eyes as she rose from the roots of the Vhenadahl. First was the sky blue orb, then the crimson one. It too surprised her, as she had not looked Amalia in the eyes the previous day. She had just met this woman and she was already proving to be extremely unpredictable. One could only imagine how she would handle Aurora's request. Odd, how readily she threw herself into the fray for the sake of another yet how awkward she was trying to ask a simple question. Though, it was a question that needed to be asked. Though how to put it in words... That eluded Aurora. She hesitated for a moment before measuring her words, "You are... You're strong. You are so sure of yourself. So... In control," she began.

"I'm... Not so. The sight of that... Creature," She avoided use of the word abomination, "Yesterday. It sent me into a spiral. I thought I was strong. It made me realize that I'm just as susecptible as any one else," She said, feeling as if she was finally gaining momentum. "I don't want to end up like that. My abilities are a potent force, but without the strength to back that up, they are more a liability than a boon," Feeling as if she was rambling, she decided to issue her request now, else the Qunari send her away for her longwindedness, "I suppose the question is- Will you help me become stronger?" There it was. She watched Amalia in the fight. She seemed so in control, so sure. She didn't hesitate when she fought, she didn't even pause when she saved Nostariel and Feynriel. Of anyone, Aurora felt she could help her become stronger. The only thing she needed was the Qunari's answer.

Amalia fixed the girl with her stare, hard enough that it might have seemed as though she were trying to pin Aurora into place with nothing but a look. Perhaps it was not so fanciful a guess, given wat she was, and that the kossith in the compound seemed to be capable of something similar at times. The child did not realize it, but she had presented the Ben-Hassrath with quite a conundrum. None would fault her for refusing point-blank, but the fact remained that this was not necessarily what Amalia wished to do. A conscious recognition of weakness, and a desire to correct the problem were both admirable traits, encouraged by her Qun and demanded of her as surely as any.

Yet. Aurora was also saarebas, and that made any intervention on Amalia's part highly subject to scrutiny. Crossing her arms, the woman leaned back against the vhenadahl, still silent and unwavering in her scrutiny. She was not one to speak wihout due deliberation, and when her words came, they would be exactly what she meant. "My strength, you call it. That certainty is not me. It is the Qun itself, and drawn from that is everything else I am." Her eyelids dropped, half-obscuring her irises. "Sometimes, I do not think bas can understand. The simplest way to give you what you seek would be to bring you to the Qun. But... there are always other paths." The blond rogue tilted her head slightly to the left. She seemed to be waiting for something, and would apparently not speak further until Aurora said or did something. What that something was, she gave no clue of.

Even under Amalia's piercing glare, Aurora did not recoil. She couldn't show weakness in front of this woman, not after asking her to teach her to become strong. Aurora took her stare on the shoulders and continued to maintain eye contact with the woman. It was then, she realized the height difference between then, Aurora had to look up to Amalia, a fact that did nothing to lessen the imposing figure Amalia painted. Aurora listened to her words, waiting for a forthcoming answer, but none came. Only a riddle. She spoke of the Qun, of differing paths, and it all confused Aurora, though she couldn't afford to let it show on her face. The only hint she gave was a simple tilt of her head. "Other... Paths?" Aurora said, more to herself than Amalia. "Always other paths, she repeated, nodding her head.

"If these other paths can help me become stronger, I would happily take them. I don't want to end up a monster, and I don't want to end up a slave-- To the Templars or to Tevinter Magisters. My gift, my curse, is meant to serve man. But if I am not strong enough, I'll only end up serving it. I need these other paths," she said with conviction.

"To struggle constantly against the danger from within is the burden of us all. Saarebas bear that more directly than most. Self-mastery is the noblest cause, for it is the only way to serve the Many." If it was an answer, it was an oblique one, but Amalia seemed satisfied enough with what Aurora had said to speak again, which was as good a hint as any that there was some connection between what the mage had said and what she was saying now. "Merevas, Imekari. My role is to teach, and yours shall be to learn. As I understand it, saarebas become demons because they become desperate. You must discipline your mind so that this desperation is never yours."

This was always particularly difficult even for viddethari, and she suspected that for Aurora it would be even more so. "What would you say," she asked, settling back down under the tree and assuming her former crosslegged repose, "If I told you that the turmoil you feel when the Fade calls you, the struggle you feel to not beome an abomination-" the word was not of her language, but she did not hesitate for the barest second to use it- "Was all an illusion?" She gestured for the girl to sit across from her, seeing no reason to move their conversation elsewhere, though they were drawing a fair few curious looks by this point.

"... An illusion?" Aurora posed as she took a seat in front of Amalia. She was entirely ignorant of the stares they were recieving, as she was too focused on Amalia's question to pay attention. Even so, she wouldn't ask for a change of scenery, Amalia seemed to know what she was doing, even if she was guided by this Qun. "It'd be... Hard to believe. The whispers, the promises, they all seem so real. The tug is always there, always wanting me to forsake myself and promising me their power," she said. "Sometimes they are hard to drown out," she added. It was hard to explain all of this to a nonmage, though Amalia seemed to know more than she let on. She had seen abominations before, and knew what she would become if she gave in to the empty promises... Ever since she was a young child, she had been afraid of abominations.

Amalia inclined her head; an acknowledgement. Though of what, it was hard to say. "I understand that to be often the case. Your Chantry does nothing to dissuade this opinion, this reality. In the beliefs of the humans here, the Fade is the world of the Maker, and even those who do not adhere so closely generally accept its reality. The Qun is different. Look around you. What you see is the Truth. The rest is only an illusion, and it is lies that corrupt." This was one thing non-Qunari had difficulty accepting, and she imagined that a mage would be even worse, in a sense. "Understanding that usually takes time. For now, it will suffice that the disciplined mind is much less vulnerable to the machinations of demons than the unfettered one. Take a phrase that means something to you. It can be anything: a motto, a piece of a song, I suppose even the Chant would do, if you must. When all else fails, repeat it, aloud, to the exclusion of everything else."

"A phrase..." Aurora repeated. "Well.. The Chant won't work. I'm not particularly.. Religious for obvious reasons," Of course, she never faulted people for their own beliefs. Having something to believe in did make life easier to live. However, the Maker has certainly shown her no kindness and the ideal of an uncaring God seemed silly to her. No, the chant wouldn't do. Neither would a motto, she would seem unhinged if she walked around chanting "Live free" repeatedly. No, it had to be something else. Something from her past. Her eyes lit up as she remembered. "Rosaline. It's Rosaline," she muttered. That would do nicely.

Amalia paused for a moment, growing thoughtful again and receding into silence. It was different, working with someone who had no understanding of the Qun. "Parshaara, but I have given you enough to think on already. Were you Qunari, the meanings to be understood from these things would be your task for the next weeks, if not months. You may return tomorrow, if you wish. You may linger, if you wish. There are many paths, after all." There was the barest ghost of a smirk on Amalia's face as she said it, but it disappeared so quickly it might well not have been present at all. She closed her eyes and resumed her earlier meditations, though she made no move to banish Aurora or speak further to her.

Feeling as if she wasn't going get anything else out of Amalia, she nodded. Sitting around meditating was not something Aurora did, but she was not going to fault the Qunari for it either. Instead she stood and bowed deeply. "Thank you Amalia, for the lesson. I'll think on what you said." With that, Aurora turned and left, her mind opened just a little bit wider for the experience.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rakkis Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by throne
The sun had not yet begun its descent, though it might have seemed ready to. Its light still spilled down into Hightown, but almost reluctantly. The posh district was for the most part humming. It was nearly time for dinner, a time which held little distinction in some segments of the city where food was eaten almost immediately upon acquisition for fear of incipient spoilage or even more timely theft. There was a notable exception to the late-afternoon furor- the Blooming Rose. It wouldn’t be until the shadows stopped simply shifting and actually joined together into darkness that the upscale whorehouse would see its share of activity. The most talented and most beautiful of them likely weren’t even getting ready for work yet, though some were, since that sort of thing could indeed take hours. Those who were on the premises were not unpretty, not without skill, but they were hardly the headliners of the staff.

Rakkis was fairly bored. After he and Lucien had made it back into the city, he’d opted to traipse into the very establishment that had set him on the viscount’s brat’s trail once more. Maeve was still there, and had reacted to the rough-and-tumble appearance of her former co-worker not at all. It wasn’t so strange for him to turn up, in need of stitches and high-proof anesthetic, given his new line of work. With the amount of coin he’d spent there, his boss owning half of the venue, and his many friends in the flesh-stables, he tended to be welcomed regardless of his state of dress.

At the moment, his state of dress made him look like a very strange whore. He was seated at the bar, leaning against it, really, with his body at an angle that let him look out over most of the main room that dominated the first floor. The dining tables were very sparsely attended- mostly by die-hard regulars who had no families of their own to eat with. His expression, which probably wasn’t the first thing that anyone would notice about him, was a compound of boredom and tipsiness that came off as mostly-annoyed.

The first thing almost anyone would notice was the robe. His breeches and torn shirt were being laundered and mended, and so he’d been forced to borrow something to wear in the meantime. With no male elves on the current rosters, there was something of a shortage of masculine garments that came even close to fitting him. He’d instead been offered a satiny pink robe reminiscent of a kimono, imprinted with blush-colored floral vines. He wore it open, revealing the clean white bandages that were wrapped tight around his chest, and had been kind enough to pull on some loose, drawstring pants that, fortunately, almost matched the darker pink of the flowers on his robe. The dainty outfit only served to provide stark contrast to the scars on display, the lurid tattoos, the anything-but-feminine jewelry studding his ears. He was not visibly armed, though that meant little when it came to Rakkis. There were no less than a half-dozen throwing knives secreted about his person.

He took a long draught of amber liquid and let his eyes slip to the entrance. As it burned its way down his throat to flood his small gut with warmth, he willed something interesting to happen. His last impatient query about the readiness of his clothing had been answered with ”When it’s damn-well ready, ye’ an’sy elf!”, which he estimated to be at least twenty minutes. He’d already checked to see what sort of company might be available upstairs, but none of his preferred young men were working at the moment.

”Something,” he muttered, still staring at the door. ”Anything.”

As if right on cue, the door swung wide with one Ashton Riviera doing his best to swagger in the whorehouse like he owned it. In his mind, he was doing a damn fine job of doing just that. The first thing Ashton's eyes were drawn to was, of course, the main reason he went to the establishment with such a giddy enthusiam. The women. The promised buxom women. They may not have been the prime choice that would undoubtly come after hours, but Ashton wasn't one to complain about the sight of pretty ladies flaunting their wares. He looked back to his companions like a child would to his parents in a candy store. "I wonder if we have enough time to... Uh," A wicked grin was beginning to etch it's way across Ashton's face, "Well.." His eyes were now trained on Rilien, "Tranquil my mage," And with that, in his opinion, the shining gem of cleverness that day, he burst into a fit of laughter and snickers.

Once he finally managed to suck the air back into his lungs he pointed towards the bar, "Oh Andraste's ass... Still, first thing's first. We need to see the book keeper before anyone gets their jollies. We still have to find this Kerin or Carol, or whatever his name was," Ashton added with increasing forgetfulness. Something else entirely different must have been occupying his mind at the moment... But what could it possibly be?

With hippy swaggers and pinned elbows, Sparrow's light-footed steps kept in pace with Ashton's, nearly sweeping through the doors as if she belonged in this place, as if she were just coming home – because, honestly, she too had been overly excited to be heading to the Blooming Rose. She liked the fine establishment as much as she enjoyed the Hanged Man. Both had prospects she held in high regards, including buxom women with fluttering eyelashes, slender shoulders, and plump lips. Of course, she'd promised Ashton that buxom women would be present, and whether or not they'd been sent this way simply because of propriety, she would've made a point to swing by, anyway. Nothing could put a stopper on her earnest appetites. Thankfully, Ashton's admirable desires did not conflict with her own. Fragrantly scented ladies crossed their legs, dragging fingernails across their thighs in such a way that could've been called elegant, delectably appropriate given their environment. Loose curls floundered across exposed necklines, breathing soft waves over their pulse lines. Intricate designs of ivory lace, subdued silks, and simple robes were very much the fashion. Everything smelled strongly of rich oils and perfumes, all lathered in the heavy scent of sweat. It was appealing.

The half-breed waggled her eyebrows imploringly, before smirking, wickedly. Exposed breasts strained against tightly laced bodices, threatening to spill right over as clients were served goblets of vintage wine or morsels of food plopped into their open mouths, served from pinched fingers. Madame Lusine was always fond of Sparrow, often subtly offering a position if she so wished to try something adventurous, though that would've meant shedding the layers of identity she'd so carefully built over the years spent in Kirkwall. She'd told her that it wasn't just her handsome – sometimes, she was pretty – face, but her skills with a flattering quip. Still, it was not an option. For as much coin she spent gambling at the tables of the Hanged Man, Sparrow spent just as much contenting herself in the Blooming Rose, contributing to Madame Lusine's graceful mistresses, and impressive gentleman. Her tastes varied. She was not so set in her ways that she would not enjoy either gender, either persuasions. Both had qualities that she enjoyed. She did not, however, often completely satisfy her needs, because that would involve revealing her secrets – and if she knew anything, Sparrow understood that whores gossiped just as much as the snobbish bourgeois residing in Hightown. "Of course we've got time to—" She began theatrically, then faltered, eyeing the beauties waiting the tables. Oh yes, they had a job to do. She glanced in Rilien's direction, flashing another grin. Simpering like a shark swimming around a floating carcase. "After we've dealt with the matter at hand, yes?"

Sparrow often wondered what Rilien's opinion was on the subject of whores, on their subjective roles, or on the Blooming Rose as a whole. Did he find it repulsive? Had he ever gone to a brothel before he underwent the Tranquil procedure? She did not nip at his heels with these questions, as much as she wished to know, because she understood that they both enjoyed their privacy and would only share what they felt like sharing. It was a mutual, unspoken agreement. This didn't mean that she didn't fastidiously push Rilien in the direction of magnificent, compatible creatures. He needed love, too, didn't he? Chortling softly with her own bouts of laughter, more out of the fact that Ashton's laugh was contagious, Sparrow wheedled her way past towards the bar. “I'll be glad when this is done. Honestly, this is too much trouble for a Templar. What if he's already gone all abomination on us, chewing on a bar stool somewhere? He better not be accosting any lovely ladies here.” Finally, Sparrow reached the bar stools and slapped a hand on the counter. Murky eyes observed a nearby Elven's sauntering strut before slipping towards the barman. It took her a few seconds to process who was standing in front of her, entirely oozing boredom.

Maker's dimpled ass. Is that you, Rakkis?” She squinted at him, hard, before leaning across the counter and plucking the rosy robe's sleeve, letting it fall from her inquisitive fingertips. Sparrow straightened her posture, rubbing her chin thoughtfully. “That really looks good on you, y'know?

One was perhaps a strange person indeed if one managed to look rather exotic in a brothel, but the three of them traipsing about, still covered in shade-spume (well, actually, he wasn't, and Ashton had fought at a distance, so perhaps it wasn't so bad after all), visibly armed and dangerous, and at least on his and Sparrow's parts, of extraordinary coloring and construction respectively, somehow managed it. The first thing he noticed upon entry was how the demeanors of his companions changed. Saunters became swaggers, and they might has well have spread their arms and invited the world to wait on them like a pair of cormorant royals. Then again, he figured that this was supposed to be the mindset that one entered a brothel with, as that was rather the point of the exercise.

His subsequent realizations were about what he expected. Rilien was accustomed to using his nose to divine the nature of certain ingredients he crafted with, and as a result, it was laborious if not difficult to sort through the substances used to scent the place. Crushed rose petals, wisteria blooms, violets, vanilla bean extract (which incidentally would have to have been imported from Antiva), Orlesian sandalwood, and in a move most ironic, Andraste's Grace buds. He could actually appreciate that one, and for a moment he wondered if it was a private joke they played on their Templar patrons, who were apparently many. He also smelled sweat and old sex, which frankly would have repulsed him had he enough presence of mind to be repulsed. Even as he was, he did not like it in the slightest, and would have preferred to step back outside.

As for what he was seeing, well... he was Orlesian. It was all relatively tame comparitively, especially if he counted some of the places he'd been forced to visit as a bard. Neutrally as ever, he folded his arms into his sleeves and trailed after Sparrow and Ashton with reserve and as much dignity as one could muster when one was walking into a den of whores. The conversation they exchanged mostly passed right over him, though a reminder of their purpose was halfway-formed on his tongue before they seemed to recall it between themselves. Fortunate; he had no wish to taste the air he was smelling. Ashton's innuendo earned him a flat stare. It was almost, almost enough for Rilien's eyebrow to ascend his forehead in a clear question of the man's sense, but not quite. "Do be careful about that," he commented tonelessly. "You will find it quite counterproductive to acquainting the women here with your magic. It is also rather painful." The subtlest of jabs at the hunter's parting remark to Cullen the Templar, but of course for the way it was delivered, it may be no jab at all, but a mere literal interpretation of his words then and now. Instead, it was Ashton's eyebrow which raised. His mouth worked, trying to find the word What? but alas, his tongue could find no footing for his surprise.

Sparrow's exclamation diverted Rilien's attention, and he observed that indeed, the Coterie's racketeer and his own 'debt-collector' was in fact seated at the bar of the establishment. Not being most people, Rilien noted his expression first, his peculiar choice of garments second, and then decided that Sparrow had said enough and there was no need for him to contribute. Instead, his eyes ficked disinterestedly over the goings-on, and through this, he became aware that their promenade of an entrance was garnering them a fair amount of attention in return. He wished to simply acquire the information they needed and be gone from the overwhelmingly-perfumed air, but unfortunately he had very little recollection of how brothels were run, and Orlesian knowledge may not be all that transferable to the Marches when it came to this.

Rakkis was grateful that the clerical sorts present were otherwise engaged; it would be unseemly for one of them to witness his prayers, if they could be called that, being answered. His eyes had flicked to the door when it opened out of habit, and he was fully expecting to see the gut of some privileged pomp leading him in. Instead, he was greeted with a small and perplexing parade. First, the handsomest scarecrow in the Marches. A note of interest flickered to life on the elf's once-handsome features, but guttered and dwindled when he followed Ashton's gaze to a particularly large pair of bosoms. The perplexing bit was the fact that the human was outfitted as an archer. An image of the scrawny fellow drawing, nocking, and loosing played through his mind, only rather than propelling the arrow, the bow's string sent Ashton flying backward instead. That trifling amusement was interrupted by the second entrant, or rather, by Rakkis' recognition thereof. Sparrow was always slightly perplexing. When he was sure... she?... wasn't looking, his gaze would often linger on certain areas of the body that were usually the tell-tales of gender. Hips, throat, groin, chest. He could never quite make up his mind, but he'd decided, for the sake of simplicity and his lack of desire to bed... her?... to regard her as a female and have done with it.

The last of their little trio was the most confounding of all. It was rare enough that he came across the emminently neutral Rilien outside of the little shop that he'd been paying monthly visits to. Encountering him in the Blooming Rose of all places was somewhat akin to misplacing the a piece of a puzzle only to have it turn up in one's sock drawer several days later. He took a measured sip of the potent drink that had been lazing in his hand while he mused. All of them seemed battle-ready. That fact seemed to accent a sudden draft that occured in the wake of their opening the door, sluicing a bit of cold air across his thighs to make him all-the-more cognizant of his ridiculous robe. He remained inert as they approached, washing away anything resembling an expression save for bemusement, and then trilled laughter at Sparrow's remark.

”You say that as if anything might not, little bird." Glass met lips once more, and he glanced askance to Rilien and then Ashton. He nested his chin in the palm of his free hand, elbow braced on the counter, and smirked at Sparrow after swallowing. ”What brings you here? I can't imagine that dear Rilien has finally worked out what his cock is for, and you're hardly dressed for patronage." He tapped his thumb against his cheek, considering Ashton. ”You should introduce me to your new friend. If he's at all as interesting as he is attractive, I daresay I'd like to know him." He straightened to stand, wincing slightly at the slight protest from the wound on his flank. Perhaps it was the influence of the girly robe, or perhaps it was a bit of posturing meant for the presumably heterosexual Ashton, but Rakkis stood with his left hip jutted out just a bit, and his left hand resting upon it. It was a decidedly feminine way to stand, and the profundity of pink on his person only made it that much moreso.

Thus, their little game bloomed. If there was anything Sparrow enjoyed more than a healthy pair of bouncing, buxom bosoms, it was the possibility of settling two individuals in a heated embrace. It was more puzzling than anything else, but she still enjoyed it. Once she'd sidled up to the counter, she leaned backwards with her elbows braced on the counter's lip, so that she could still watch the comings and goings of the women tending to needy, beady-eyed clients. This was a more masculine stance if anyone had ever seen one, bellying the rich, unimpeded inclination dancing in those abysmal eyes. Two coins of burnished coal with an imperceptibly muted polish, effectively hiding her pupils. It was difficult to tell where, exactly, she was looking. Her lips parted, considerately. Would Ashton be a good sport about this or slap her across the head at a later time? It was tempting, tempting. “Forgive me.” Sparrow cooed over her shoulder, feigning having made a terrible blunder. Of course, Rakkis looked good in anything. It was necessary for his line of work, though she suspected he did not dress out of necessity. Perhaps, something had happened to his usual garb? Rilien had always been weary of tarrying in Rakkis presence – not because he made him uncomfortable, but because he didn't like the environments Rakkis surrounded himself with, acting crudely as he did. Most likely, Rilien would ignore any jibe made to his person, or react with his monotone quips, that were as sharp and keen-edged as any of her own.

Unfortunately, we're here on business.” The half-breed traded a passing glance in Rilien's direction, as if being gently led in the proper direction by guiding hands. Always there to remind her that she needed to finish the job at hand before prancing off to play. If it weren't for him, she believed she'd most likely be dead in the gutters, floundering like a fish whose fins had been cut off. Before Sparrow could explain their reasons for being in the Blooming Rose in the first place, Rakkis' keen eyes immediately turned towards her, equally, rapacious companion, Ashton. How enchanting. Her lips fluttered like a butterfly in flight, fracturing into a pleased smile. Her jingling laughter could not be contained, spilling forth. “Oh.” She began, purposefully slow, between bouts of amusement. “Rakkis meet Ashton, Ashton meet Rakkis. I'm surprised you haven't met before.” She introduced wryly, expectant eyes twinkling, while she swept her calloused hands in their direction. Again, Sparrow's gaze lingered on Rilien. Her companion did not wish to dally. Even if he didn't outright propose that they wasted time talking, she knew well enough by the subtle hints. It might've been what she saw in his eyes. “Ah, and we're searching for a man, a Templar, to be exact, named Keran. D'you know if he's in the ledger, lovely?

In further extension of his current costume, Rakkis, rather than coming forward to shake Ashton's hand or anything so subdued as that, offered a curtsy that was likely as uncomfortable to watch as it was to enact. His left leg bent at the knee just before his right crossed over to touch the very tip of his toes to the ground. His free hand came up limply, palm upturned and elbow crooked, and that was that. ”Charmed," he drawled at Ashton. His voice emerged from his throat, deep and somewhat edged, and he steered his drink upward one last time, finishing it off in a single admirable swallow. Setting the glass down on the bar with a clunk, he listened as Sparrow outlined their reason for being there rather than saying anything that he found interesting.

Sensing that Rilien was the cause of his fun's cradle-death, Rakkis treated the not-bard to a not-playful scowl. ”A Templar, hm? I don't believe the Rose employs any at the moment, that seems like something I'd be distinctly aware of. It seems we have similar tastes. The gear is of course a nice touch. A bit of role-playing, eh? I believe they abolished the group rates, unfortunately." His eyebrows lofted ridiculously. He was, of course, being an ass. He knew full well that they weren't looking to get their jollies- at least, not until they'd found this Keran and likely done him some harm. ”You'll want to speak to someone who actually works here, about that. I certainly haven't seen any such person since I arrived."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

Ithilian's morning had been entirely unremarkable until Elren came to him. He'd attempted to finish carving that halla he'd been working on, only to end up ruining the horns. He'd need to start over after a mistake like that, so his left the remains of the carving for one of the kids to find. No doubt they'd still find it interesting. He then decided to do something he was far more skilled at, and had far more experience in: fletching. His arrows were without match, a skill he had developed over close to thirty years. There was something about using solely one's own arrows that helped with his accuracy. He knew the way the weapon would feel in his hands before he even pulled the string back, knew the weight and balance by heart. Every arrow was the same. There was nothing left to chance, leaving only the skill of his shot remaining.

He had just finished his twentieth arrow of the day when he was interrupted by a middle-aged elven man, light red hair pulled back behind his ears. Ithilian had learned his name to be Elren. He was as city elf as any of the others, but Ithilian at least had some respect for him. He wasn't blind to the fact that elves were stepped on constantly in Kirkwall. He wasn't in a position to do anything about it, but at least he didn't close his eyes while the shemlen oppressed him. Were he in a better mood (not likely) he might have tried to convince the man to join the Dalish and find a purpose, but as it was, he couldn't help but feel he'd be of no use. Too old, too set in his ways. Extra weight for a clan to carry around.

"I... heard about what you did the other day for Arianni, Ithilian. How you butchered those slavers to get her boy safely to the Dalish. My name is-" Ithilian cut him off, not looking up from the arrow he was currently working on. "Elren, I know. Is there something you want?" He tentatively continued, obviously intimidated by approaching Ithilian. "It's my daughter, Lia. There's a shem who has been kidnapping elven girls. And... murdering them. My Lia wasn't the first. He targets us because he knows the authorities won't do anything about it. No one cares if a few elven girls go missing."

Ithilian paused his work, peering up from his chair in front of his home at Elren. He studied him for a moment before speaking "Go on."

Elren picked up speed. "But he slipped up after taking my daughter. The city guard was able to follow him to one of the old abandoned mines outside the city. They cornered him there." Ithilian shrugged. "So he'll be caught and dealt with. Where do I come into this?"

"He took my daughter into that mine, and he killed her. But the guards won't go in after him. I tried to find out why, and they said they got attacked by some kind of creatures when they went after him. And now there's a city magistrate trying to recruit people to go in and bring the killer out alive and unharmed. There won't be any justice for my daughter if he lives. No one cares if a shem kills a few elves here. We're nothing to them." Ithilian gave him a rather blank stare "You say that like you know better than I. Why not let these creatures kill the shem if they're so dangerous?"

"I think they're protecting him. I think he's controlling them somehow to keep the guards out. Please, Ithilian, you could go there, pose as a hired sword for this magistrate, and then go inside and get vengeance for my daughter. The man who took her is a despicably sick shemlen who deserves nothing more than death at this point."

Now there was something Ithilian could get behind. Vengeance. Retribution. Removing a twisted shem who would soon realize that murdering elves was the worst mistake he ever could have made. City elves or no, the murderer deserved death... and apparently word of his actions was spreading somewhat, if Elren was actively seeking his help. He certainly hadn't been spreading tales about his daring rescue of Arianni's boy from the slavers. Arianni must have spoken of him to others. Perhaps with more time and effort, he could get this Alienage behind him after all.

"Consider him dead, then," Ithilian agreed, rising, and sliding his just finished arrow into his quiver. "I will bring Elgar'nan's wrath to this shemlen." Elren looked mightily relieved, and he clapped Ithilian on the shoulder, to which the Dalish made no response. "Creators, thank you! I know it won't bring my Lia back, but getting vengeance will be enough." Ithilian fixed him with a hard look. "No, it won't. But we'll take it just the same."

With that, he pushed his way past Elren, slinging his bow across his back, and buckling his quiver at his hip. His two long knives were sheathed at his waist, as ever. He didn't plan on getting his vengeance for Elren alone, however. He'd meant to speak to the human, or rather Qunari, girl usually sitting beneath the vhenadahl before now, but hadn't been able to force himself to get around to it. Apologies typically weren't his strong suit. And so he looked more than a little uncomfortable as he approached her now.

"Aneth ara, Amalia," he began. The informal, perhaps even friendly greeting, and the usage of her name rather than shem, were both things Ithilian had not expected himself to say. "There is something I would ask of you, if you are willing to hear. And... I feel I must also apologize."

Amalia had spent much of the morning inside the home she presently shared with a fair few viddethari. Though it was her preference to be out-of-doors when conditions were suitable, she was aware that dragging a full assortment of alchemic equipment out in front of the dwelling was impractical, and she had no wish to inadvertantly teach the basra anything of the manufacture of Qunari poisons, nor expose them to the fumes. So she'd been working under a cloth "hood" of sorts for most of the pre-noon hours, mixing ingredients in various bottles, labeled only in Qunlat, then preparing a new assemblage of needles by coating them in the quick-drying substance, which was successfully double the concentration of the ones she'd used last time. The results were recorded meticulously in a book she had acquired for this purpose, as she was certain the Ariqun would have some use for the improved formula. Craftsman she was not, but the Qunari were a much more pragmatic people than most outsiders assumed, and things which had a use were welcomed.

The needles so made were stowed carefully in small pouches, which she strapped to the cloth-covered thighs beneath her disguise, and she'd needed only to clean and sharpen the knife she'd looted from the dead archer and slide it into a boot before she had successfully adjusted for the damage to her supplies caused by the last fight. The noon hour, she'd occupied with further tests on a different weapon, a spring-loaded blade designed to be disguised by an ordinary gauntlet. The triggering mechanism wasn't quite right yet, but she trusted firmly enough in her ingenuity to know that it would come to her in time.

By the aftenoon, she was outside again, in the same location as always, but one more set of extra eyes on the entrance to the Alienage. She watched without concern when the one calling himself Elren walked by. A merchant, she understood. As was strangely-common in this place, he had to her knowledge but one family member, though she'd never met the girl herself. He moved out of her range, and Amalia went right back to her business, which right now was nothing more complicated than transcribing a copy of the Tome of Koslun into a language her viddethari could actually read.

Apparently, she was not meant to finish the task upon this particular afternoon, however, for a shadow, darker than that cast by the vhenadahl, fell over her work, accompanied by the sound of footsteps she recognized. For a moment, Amalia said nothing, finishing the sentence she was working on before marking her place in both books and closing them carefully, with something approaching reverence. She looked up, then, and nodded. "Shanedan, Sataareth. I will hear these things, if it please you to say them." She noted the unease in his carriage, and though she did not show any signs of the feeling, it amused her. This ought to be rather interesting.

He still needed to figure out what that word meant. He hadn't heard her use it with anyone else. He also didn't know if that was a good or bad thing. Perhaps it was some kind of taunt in her Qunari tongue, that she hung over his head, knowing he could not understand... but she didn't seem the type to taunt. He'd ask her later, it was far less important than the current matter.

"I've taken up another cause for the Alienage, and I would not object to having another blade at my side, so to speak. There is a shemlen that has been taking elven girls captive. He kills them. The city guard cornered him in a mine beyond the walls, and have him a trapped, but creatures of some sort prevent the guards from retrieving him. A magistrate would see him brought out of there alive, no doubt to be put through this city's putrid system of justice. He would no doubt walk free in a small matter of time if the decision is left to the shemlen. Elren's daughter was the last to be taken. He would have me go to this mine and see to it that the shemlen does not leave it alive, so that no more of my kind might be murdered by his madness."

He looked about the deep roots of the vhenadahl, as if consciously making an effort to avoid looking at her. "I don't need your help, but I would like it all the same. Which... brings me to the apology. I assumed that you were acting on selfish impulses that I could not see when we tracked down Feynriel, and I was proven wrong. You even voluntarily sacrificed yourself so that the Warden and the boy might escape. I still don't know why you're here or what motivated you to put your life at risk for a boy you had no ties with, but... if more shemlen acted as you did, I wouldn't mind."

She wondered if it hurt, to carry around such pride everywhere one went. The anger was sure to be uncomfortable on occasion as well. For her, this was not a subject of mockery or something to judge, merely a question she did not know the answer to. Either way, she accepted that because of these things, asking for her assistance was likely difficult, and apologizing even moreso. "I wouldn't mind if more humans acted like me either," she replied, the faintest edge of wry humor coloring her tone. Standing with both books in her hand, she gestured over a passing elf.

"Viddethari, would you please return these to the house?" The boy, probably not more than twelve, nodded his consent and took them from her, darting off to his residence. Amalia, for her part, dusted off her hands and stood. "I will assist you, Sataareth. Your apology is accepted. Is Elren certain his daughter is among the deceased?" She took a moment to check over her equipment again, ensuring that her newly-treated needles were present. The chain was a solid, comforting weight on her back, and the knife less ponderous in her boot. Grasping first one ankle, she lifted the foot behind her and stretched, repeating the motion with the opposite side before she nodded. Making ready was never a long process for her, after all.

"No. He does not have her body, but the killer has not spared any of those he's taken so far." Again she was easily willing to help. She was important to some of the elves here, though certainly not all, and it seemed they were important to her, too. Her Qun was not something Ithilian understood, but from what he saw, it was... impressive. Such a certainty of purpose. He had wished to learn more even before meeting Amalia, but the Qunari at the compound in the Docks always kept their gate closed to outsiders, and none seemed interested in speaking with any not of their kind.

Elren approached the pair then, looking anxious to be off. "You are departing now, then? I will be coming along, if you don't mind. Not inside the mine, of course. I am no warrior. But I want to be there when the task is finished." Ithilian did not object. He was still trying to decide if he was doing this to prevent the deaths of any more city elves, or simply to take vengeance. "Let's go, then," he said, and Elren led the way from the Alienage.

The Chanter's Board has been updated. New quests are available.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rakkis Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera

Earnings

0.00 INK

Sweet, innocent Ashton took Rakkis' curtsy as a joke, as the man was wearing a pink robe and matching pair of trousers. The circumstances behind the outfit though, was a mystery to Ashton and he figured it had something to do with either a bet, or had a hell of a story behind it. But first, introductions. When Ashton was introduced, and when he realized that the two of them weren't going the normal route of shaking hands, Ashton opted to play along with the man's sense of humor and curtsy as well... Well, as best as his slender, lanky build would allow. He looked like a fool, but Ashton had no fear of playing the fool if it allowed for a good joke at the end. Once his sad act of a curtsy was done, Ashton listened with arms crossed as his new acquantance spoke. As he explained that the Rose employed no Templars, Ashton could help but chuckle, "That's be a strange sight. All that armor and religious fervor... It'd be a wonder nobody got hurt afterward. You'd have to issue helmets first."

Sensing that they wouldn't be able to fish the information they needed out of this aimble fellow, Ashton deciding to hunt down someone that would.
"I'll see if I can't find someone who can direct us to our Templar fellow," he said and began to look around for someone who might look like they worked there. His search rewarded him with one lady tending after a thick book at the corner of the bar. "Aha!" Ashton said as he approached the book keeper. "Excuse me Madame," he said with his patented grin gracing his lips, "If you would be so gracious as to entertain a question or two, I'd be forever in your debt."

The book-keeper, a short human woman with a rounded cut of dark red hair, raised an eyebrow at Ashton. "Forever, huh? I can think of a few uses for that. Alright, go ahead and shoot, archer."

Oh, he'd found a clever one. He let out a soft laugh at the woman's pun and asked his question. "Do you perchance have any records of a couple of Templar lads named Wilmod and Keran. This Keran's sister is dreadfully worried about her dear brother and we kindly offered to search for the boy. Any aid you could lend us would be much appreciated," Perhaps his charm was good enough so that the woman would humor his request. If not, well, he'd happily entertain some of this woman's lady guests in return for this information. Perhaps a little bit of Ashton wished for that particular outcome.

"Templars?" she asked, though her tone didn't darken at all. "We had one of those come through earlier, asking for those same boys. Handsome fella, though he wasn't quite on your level. He also wasn't interested, being the Knight-Lord of some such nonsense. Anyway... we happen to get a good amount of business from nervous Templar recruits looking to relax once in a while. I couldn't help the nice Templar earlier, but so long as you'd be willing to give your word not to spread this back to them, I suppose I could take a look through the books..."

"My lips are sealed Madame," It wasn't like he had planned to go around flaunting these kids' private business all around Kirkwall. Everyone was entitled to a little downtime every now and then, and who would Ashton be if he faulted them for it, considering his own urges? No, these Templars and their whore of choice would be a pretty little secret between them, one which he had no part in. As he waited for the most gracious lady to finger through her book, looking for the desired information, Ashton turned towards Sparrow and Rilien and shot them a thumbs up. Things were going well so far, though really, how could things go wrong in a place as magnificent as the Blooming Rose?

She flashed Ashton a pleased smile before turning to the large book behind her. "Let's see... Wilmod, Keran... ah, there we go. Wilmod came in here a lot. You sure he had time to be a Templar?" She ran a finger horizontally along the page. "They last saw... Idunna, The Exotic Wonder from the East. Seems they were regulars of hers, actually. You might try her, then. She's just up the stairs, the first door on the right. Oh, and you didn't hear any of this from me, okay?"

"Of course milady. Thank you again," Ashton said with a bow as he backed up. He needed to get this news to his companions and then decide where to go from there. He approached the bar where he left them and Rakkis, "Right, we got a lead. One certain Exotic Wonder from the East, Idunna up them stairs there. Said that she was the last to see our buddies Wilmod and Keran. Say what you want about our Templars though, they do have good tastes..." Ashton trailed off as his eye caught the wares of a pretty young lass.

Her mouth twisted bemusedly. Already, Sparrow could tell that Rakkis and Ashton, together, would make an interesting pair to be around. She scoffed, snorting loudly when Ashton attempted his own curtsy, though far less graceful then Rakkis' alluring display. She scratched idly at the back of her neck to cover up her amusement, smirking behind her extended elbow. Sparrow watched as her companion swept away from the group, swaggering towards the woman shuffling, nonchalantly, through an open book. She'd, obviously, point them in the right direction. She made no move to follow him. Surely, with both of them ogling the Blooming Rose's women, they'd only distract each other. When Ashton returned with news, Sparrow laughed bawdily and prodded him softly in the chest to remind him why they were here. “Let's see this Exotic Wonder from the East, then.” Both of her hands sailed forward, as if to get them moving towards the stairs. Her lips pressed into a line, before a wily grin appeared. Her eyes shuttered at half-mast, decisively saucy. “Perhaps, this was one of the tests Meredith put them through. Test their wills. If you fail, then you she gives you the old boot.

Rilien, neither directly addressed nor attacked, took his present circumstances as leave to let his mind wander. He was not interested, for the most part, in the pleasures of the flesh, though this had not always been his nature. Certain things, however, were ample deterrent from the environment he now found himself in, and Tranquility was not the only one he could claim. So instead he thought of other, more complex things, such as the potions and poultices left stewing in the Darktown hovel memorable only for its cleanliness and the bunches of dried herbs hanging from the ceiling, and he reminded himself that he'd have to add the mugwort to the batch of restoratives he had going in the back room...

Drawn from his musings by Ashton's return, the former bard wasted no time discussing the relative merits of brothel naming conventions or the tastes of Templar recruits. Brushing past several patrons and employees without actually touching any of them, he ascended the staircase to the upper level of the establishment, stopping dead in his tracks as something twinged faintly in the back of his mind, a small niggling sensation that reminded him too easily of things lost and things still hidden. "Be wary," he pronounced evenly, and then his stilllness shattered as he moved efficiently to the doorway behind which he'd felt the magic. He stared at the door but made no move to open it, though he'd proceed through normally when one of his companons did. It was situations like this that reminded him most acutely of what he had lost. He could sense it, quite nearly taste the magic on the tip of his tongue, much like he felt in the Circle, only this... this carried some tinge of bitterness to it, a metallic taste that he swallowed as if he'd bitten his own tongue.

He didn't like it.

Illustrious colours seemed to blend together into a sludgy kaleidoscope of lace and silk as she walked, never focusing on one long enough to discern which colours attracted her more. She tunnel-visioned her way towards the staircase, a few paces behind her companion, Rilien. Even if she often got distracted, and even if beautiful eyes and long eyelashes and delicate fingers could sway her over into unmindful thinking – when Rilien got that look in his eye, like he'd rather not be where he is and that, perhaps, it would just be best to deal with this thing quickly, silently, pleasantly, then Sparrow could not, and would not, ignore it. He'd done more for her then she could ever admit. More than she could ever repay. A silent buzzing provided her with an empty slate, a vacuous background noise to focus her thoughts on, much like the murmuring cicada's hanging from the trees outside of Kirkwall. It was enough to drag her attention, forcefully, away from those sprightly patrons, weaving their way between tables, giggling between grubby fingers. They certainly didn't deserve their attention, anyway. Piggish Templar's and pug-nosed aristocrats.

And so, Sparrow followed Rilien, idling towards the railing so that she could steal a glimpse of his current fluid expression. Those, infrequent as they were, passed as quickly as a thoughtless blink. It was not in the way any normal individual would express themselves. It was not shown through an inquisitive waggle of an eyebrow, the flash of a smile, or the intuitive wink of the eye. She wasn't even sure when she'd discovered that Rilien expressed a lot more than you might've originally thought, given that he was Tranquil. It made no difference to her, so she was always attentive to the little clues. The small, nearly transparent, indications that something was askew. From her vantage point, Sparrow could only perceive a few eyelid clicks and a placid nothingness. It was only when Rilien verbally cautioned them that she took a breath, inadvertently nodded, and pushed past him to open the door. Her movements were brisk, unhurried. Her shoulders imperceptibly tensed, tightening into ready knots. Those who knew her best could tell she was preparing herself, coiling her energy as tightly as a cork being pressed into a bottle of wine. She too could taste something.

The three were greeted by a lavishly decorated room upon entering, a blast of color and wealth that quite literally exuded from the very furniture. The room had but one window, and only the one entrance. Curtains covered the window, leaving the only light remaining produced by the candles dotted about the room, giving the whole area an extremely seductive and romantic aura.

Which was no doubt amplified by the woman lounging on the bed. Dressed in a wispy dress of loose silks that seemed to fall perfectly around her curves, Idunna smiled rather welcomingly, peering at them with her striking green eyes as the group entered. She pulled some of her thick, dark hair back across an ear before greeting them. "I wasn't aware my next client was bringing friends, but I suppose the more the merrier. I'm afraid this will cost you a little extra, of course."

It was an extremely tempting offer. Tempting enough that it caused him paused and made him debate the issue. He turned to his companions and realized that it may not be so good of an offer. He wasn't sure of Sparrows persuasion, only that he hoped that she was indeed a she. He didn't quite feel like answering that puzzle anytime soon. And then there was Rilien. He did not like that idea, seeing how he was undoubtably a fellow-- and a tranquil at that. He didn't think that they would too fun to begin with. No, that settled it, this would not be a group party. "I apologize my fair lady, but this is a business calling. Pleasure can come later," and if I have my way, it will, "We have it on good authority that a couple of Templar types favored your services, and for good reason I expect. My companions and I are hoping you would be able to help us? One of their sisters is terribly worried about her brother."

Sparrow blinked her way into the chamber, then sidestepped. She teasingly swept her arm like a foppish nobleman, allowing her companions to pass her, bowing low, before gawking quietly at the woman lounging across the lavishly decorated bed. Her features certainly were of an exotic flavour. It was a pity she was human. Her mouth parted, then closed. Something was wrong. Carnal pleasures – how wrong was that? She couldn't quite put her finger on it. Overwhelming scents of faraway places teased the nostrils, indubitably coming from the Orlesian herbs hanging from the rafters in lovely bunches. A simpering pout graced the woman's ruby lips, deliberately unruffled by their numbers, by their sudden appearance in such disheveled states. Dim candles, lush fabrics, pillows liberally placed. “Ah,” She mouthed, softly, then reconsidered. Ashton was already filling in the pieces for her. For that, she was strangely thankful. What was wrong with her? Her words clambered on top of each other, pushing their way back down her gullet. "Two naughty boys by the name of Wilmod... or Keran. Sound familiar?"

There was an ever so subtle narrowing of her eyes at the mention of the two names, but that was soon replaced with a thoughtfulness. "Wilmod... Keran... no, I'm afraid those don't sound familiar." She sighed, her breath blowing a lock of hair away from her face. "But... with a body like mine, men rarely have time to give me their names, busy as they are with... other things."

Her eyes wandered about the three before her, traveling up and down the lengths of their bodies, seemingly seeing through them, or perhaps simply seeing through their clothes. Her eyes locked with Ashton and she gently patted the bed beside her. "Come now, darling... questions are so utterly boring. Why don't we have some real fun? Just thinking of the things we could get up to is almost too much." Her tone was decadent and seductive, and there was now unmistakably some kind of air about her, an aura of attraction that was incredibly difficult to resist, and perhaps unnoticeable to someone who didn't want to resist.

"They may be boring madam, but they are... Necessary. I think," Ashton said in a melancholy tone. Why was he helping these Templars? He had no stake in this, he owed nothing to this Keran. Spending some time with this woman, with this Exotic Wonder of the East seemed like a better use of his time than finding a Templar he knew nothing about. "Are you... Sure you don't know anything about this Keran? All that armor... It's kinda hard to miss. Surely you would remember all of that crashing it would make," he said, trying his best to keep his eyes on the task at hand. But the curves of the woman.. The pretty face, the whispers of flesh and carnal desire. It was all too much to bare.

"I... Suppose Keran can wait... He's bound to be... Alright. Right?" Ashton asked Idunna as he approached the bed she sat on. Somewhere deep within him knew this was wrong, knew that something was off. But he was far too bewitched to fight the pull, the urges. The only hint of resistance that Ashton had was his slow, deliberate steps-- a farcry from the spring in his step had a mere moments ago.

Her eyes turned on Sparrow and Rilien next, after delivering Ashton an approving smile. "Listen to your handsome friend here. Surely you'd rather enjoy your time here at the Rose than spend it inquiring after Templars. No charge, either, just this once."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

The journey to the mine was longer for Elren's presence, but Amalia made no indication of aggravation at this. It was clear that he was not intended for such treks, but he did not complain, which was more than could be said for many. The Qunari was content to follow a pace or two behind Ithilian, no longer seeing any need to make a point of presenting her back to him. If he didn't know she wouldn't slide a knife in his by now, then he never would, and she wasn't going to perpetuate a fruitless battle of that sort. Peace-of-mind was not something she generally went out of her way to provide for others, though it could perhaps be said that she was capable of gentleness when it was most required.

The three of them rounded a bend, and the mine came into view on the other side of it. Set deeply into the hill, the opening was little more than a person-height opening in jagged brown stone, perhaps two armspans in width. She had little doubt that a kossith would have trouble fitting through without considerable stooping. The Arishok's horns would catch unpleasantly on the rocky shelf, if he tried. The conjured image of this was something she'd do well not to remember when next she saw him, else she smile and ignite his famously-volatile temper. She was not his subordinate, but it was unwise to anger the powerful.

A few guards ranged about the outside of the mine, though even the closest were a conspicuous distance from the entrance, and she suppressed the derisive snort that threatened. And these men called themselves warriors. Were they of her people, such cowardice in the face of danger would ensure their demotion. Here, it was likely to be viewed as proper discretion. From the looks they were giving Ithilian and Elren, this was going to be unpleasant. Perhaps if she did the talking, they wouldn't all end up dead in the sand. Unnecessary death was a waste, after all, though some wasted more by living. She wondered which sort these were. "You may wish to wait here," she told Elren flatly. She raised a single eyebrow at Ithilian and tilted her head sideways, as if to signal him forward, though perhaps any entreaty to that effect would be wasted. He was unlikley to stand around as these guards did.

Still, she maintained her initial thought and spoke first, once they were within earshot of a guard. Close-cropped red hair, the stocky build of a native Marcher... and the closest thing to an air of authority that any of these men possessed. It would have to do. "This is where the fugitive has taken refuge?" She had nearly called the criminal vashoth before she remembered that the word would likely only earn her blank stares. Besides, one was only vashoth when one defected from something worthy.

The guard stroked his chin for a moment, sizing up the two that had presented themselves before him. "Huh... so you're the reinforcements the magistrate promised?" Ithilian gave him a sturdy glare in return. "We were sent to collect the fugitive that you cornered in these ruins. You have a problem with that?" The guard shrugged. "No, I suppose not. The fugitive's holed up in this mine, though I doubt he's still in one piece."

"It makes little difference to me. I'm going in to collect him, or to collect his corpse. You just keep cowering out here, and I'll have your job done for you soon enough." At this, the guard took a step forward. "Watch yourself, elf. You're speaking to a member of the city guard." But Ithilian was already heading off towards the mine entrance. "A fine example of the best the shemlen have to offer."

Killing them would have been to his liking... but it was inconvenient and unnecessary. He was here to kill one shem in particular. Also, murdering members of the city guard wouldn't get him far in the city, certainly. He didn't need the kind of scrutiny that would bring. As the daylight dimmed around them and they entered the mine itself, Ithilian slid his knives slowly from their sheaths at his waist. "And they call themselves protectors of their city. I wonder how many receive coin from the Coterie."

He took a glance around the interior. This place was largely collapsed, fallen into disrepair since the Tevinters had been driven out, which had been some time ago. Slaves, largely elven ones, had worked mines such as these, mercilessly whipped into servitude by their Tevinter magister overlords. Creators only knew how many deaths occurred down here, hidden from the light of the sun. In places like these, any number of unearthly horrors could present themselves. "This place reeks of death. These creatures Elren spoke of must be shades, undead of some sort. Restless souls of dead elven slaves. Our fugitive seems a fool to flee here."

"About half, if the sampling from lowtown is statistically average," Amalia replied, though she knew the question was largely, if not entirely, rhetorical. She tended to make it her business to know the business of her charges, and more than one had been harassed by the Coterie before. Not so much now, with a most unusual soul occasionally standing guard in front of the place at odd hours, but still it was important to know. The Qunari mind was designed for logic, for science, at least compared to the ones bent in the direction of gods and magic.

The first thing she noticed about the mine, interestingly enough, was the way it smelled. Sulfur, brimstone, and wet rot. It was enough to twist her face into a grimace, and she resisted the urge to pinch her nasal passages shut. She did wrap her scarf around her nose and mouth though. While it would muffle her voice to some extent, she didn't often use it anyway, and the lack of an olfactory distraction was well worth the price. Her hand slid into one of her leg-pouches, the slipped out to rest at her side. Her needles, longer and slightly thicker around than the ones she'd used before, rested loosely in her grip for the moment. Tempted as she was to take to the shadows, she realized that she was not working by herself, and it made more sense for the moment to remain where her companion could see her. Her steps still made no noise.

Rounding one of the ninety-degree corners in the mine, they were faced with several doors. From the rubble surrounding one of them and the hinges rusted over with age, it was likely immovable and certainly not a route recently taken. Of the two that remained, the one in the center looked serviceable, and the one on the left was set back at the end of a short hallway, filled, incidentally, with giant spiders. "I suppose that way is our best bet," she pointed out nonchalantly, indicating the door to the left with a quick jerk of her head.

Ithilian did not cover his face any more than it was already covered, but instead his features molded into the frown that they wore so well. He grunted assent to Amalia's suggestion, taking the lead on the way through the door, stepping over the remains of the creatures without much care. He'd seen far larger and far more sinister beasts in the Brecilian Forest. And far bigger spiders. The largest one he'd encountered was actually as big as some of the homes people had in Lowtown. That had been an interesting occasion.

Torchlight lit their way from braziers placed along the wall at various intervals, another indicator that someone had passed through this way. It wasn't long before Ithilian's shoe cracked down upon the rounded surface of a skull in the earth, the first visible skeleton they had encountered. Elven, by the shape of the ear holes. He frowned. Or rather, continued to frown. "There could be dozens, hundreds even. The magisters were not careful with their workforce in the slightest. Half of their lives were likely taken by their overlords themselves. Hopefully whatever force lurks in here cannot raise them all at once."

And right on cue, there was a creaking of bones from further in, and a pair of mangled skeletons rose from the dirt, beginning to shamble their way towards them. Ithilian was quick to sheath his daggers and draw the bow, pulling the string back and loosing an arrow into one, and then the other, the force of the arrows taking the heads right off the spines and sending the rest of the bones clattering to the ground. Silence returned, but only for a moment. After listening for further threats, Ithilian spoke again.

"The Qunari fight the Imperium, on Seheron, don't they? Is it purely territorial?" There was genuine curiosity in his tone. There were few shemlen as vile as those of Tevinter, and anyone who fought against them deserved at least some of his respect, regardless of the reason.

Amalia as a rule had little use for hope, but she understood that this turn of phrase was more idiom than anything and left it unanswered. At the skeleton, she cocked her head, examining it this way and that. The bones were, upon close inspection, slightly charred. With no braziers in the immediate vicinity, she'd have said, were she asked, that this elf had met her (for indeed her pelvic bones and skull were shaped in the manner of a female) end via fire spell. The lava flows that flanked some of the paths here would not have left even bones behind. In fact, the presence of them at all placed the most recent active use of this place far later than she would have expected, long after slavery had been legal in this part of the world. She chose not to mention this to Ithilian; chances were, he already knew, and if he didn't, she saw no need to make him angrier for no reason.

Moving on, she trailed a little ways behind, quickening her pace slightly to catch up. "Yes," she replied to his first question. "And no. Land is of no consequence to the Qunari." Her people were efficient enough to control populations and resources well enough that they would never overtax their designated areas, regardless of how small those became. They were more skilled at bare survival than those who aimed always for more, for decadence and wealth, but neither were they content to merely subsist. She thought, perhaps, that this was something Ithilian might understand, if he thought about it properly. She did not elaborate, however, because this was not the thing she had been asked.

Ithilian did not seem satisfied with the answer, but he did not press, instead choosing to focus his attention on their surroundings, another arrow nocked into his bow, his fingers pulling it back slightly, prepared to fire at a moment's notice. Amalia was as to the point as ever, not answering any more than was asked. To be honest, the Dalish had been looking for a condemnation of the ways of the Tevinter, some kind of indication that the Qunari fought against them for simply being the despicable and depraved things that they were. She gave him no such answer, only more questions. She was a frustrating one... but it was certainly better than the snake-tongued shemlen who told the elves only what they wished to hear in order to keep them in line.

The two eventually came to another door. Slipping past the Sataareth, Amalia pressed her ear to it, brow furrowing in concentration. She heard a piece of rubble hit the ground, and then echo for some time. After that, everything was silent, or else beyond her capability to detect. "The room is large, and mostly open. Nothing moves inside... yet."

Ithilian watched their backs while Amalia listened for signs of threats. There was an angry presence about, and not just himself. Perhaps he was imagining things, but it was as though the very walls seemed annoyed that anyone would tread where so many had died. This place was a tomb now, and they were disturbing it with the intention of adding yet another corpse to its earth. They needed to press further in, and would undoubtedly run into more resistance, and whatever force was raising the dead within. He wondered how useful those needles of the Qunari's would be against creatures that had no blood or flesh to speak of. Poisons were not the best choice against those already dead.

But the Dalish had learned (slowly) that it was not a wise decision to underestimate her. She'd likely had as much training as he had, if their previous exploits were any indicator. "We've already disturbed this place," he commented, "the dead know we're here. All that's left is to let them rest once more." He gestured with his head for Amalia to step aside, before lowering his shoulder into the stone door and pushing. It was large and heavy, but with force it moved.

Amalia was correct in her educated guess about the room. It was large and square, with a very high roof, being built into the mountainside as it was. This was perhaps a main chamber of sorts for the mine, no doubt a place where the magisters could convene away from their hordes of slaves. Here the darkness felt the thickest. It echoed about the chamber like the sounds echoed off the walls. The cause of this was clear, as Ithilian gazed towards the far corner of the room. A pride demon had possessed the corpse of a magister, creating an arcane horror. The bloodless, skinless corpse currenly floated about a foot off the ground, wrapped in tattered mage robes that the human had been wearing when he died. The dead rose around it, elves enslaved even in death. It seemed as though the horror had made this room its home.

"Fine by me if the magister wants to die a second death," Ithilian growled, drawing an arrow back and loosing it into the skull of the nearest corpse. He was aware that the floating form of the arcane horror was not a Tevinter magister but rather a demon, but it didn't hurt to think of it that way. It summoned forth its magic as the Dalish began his attack, throwing up a powerful shield around itself while the dozens of its skeletal minions advanced on Ithilian and Amalia.

Amalia scoffed gently beneath her breath at the sight, stowing her needles and for the moment remaining unarmed. She had thought the presence of the spiders indicated that more were ahead, but apparently she was to be dealing with the walking dead. Any moral reservations that she might have considered regarding the wastefulness of taking life vanished abruptly; for a Qunari, a corpse was scarcely of greater value than refuse. There was nothing here to be slain, only automata to be dismantled.

So thinking, Amalia took off in a dead sprint, veering abruptly to the left and very much intending to make a more tempting target than Ithiian for the ranged fighters among the dead. She noted from the corner of her eye that several archers were indeed tracking her with their heads, followed swiflty by their bows. This would have to be timed well, or she would very likely end up a pincushion. Waiting for the moment when they committed to their shots, she doubled back suddenly, altering her angle by a bit more than ninety degrees. The arrows whizzed by, aimed for where she would have been, though one of them caught her upper left arm. It didn't embed there, merely left a shallow cut in the region. Now, though, she was drawing closer, and the seconds the corpses spent aiming would have been long enough for her companion to drop two or three with well-placed arrows of his own, which was rather the point.

As they readjusted their aim, Amalia wavered from visibility and disappeared entirely, costing them yet more time if they wished to fire at a visible target. A few loosed in her general direction anyway, but firing blind yielded them nothing, and she was pouncing upon the first before any could shoot thrice. Knocking the once-slave back onto the ground, she crouched on his ribcage, grabbing either side of his head in a hand and twisting abruptly, snapping his neck with a much drier sound than would be expected of the living. Something- vitality, perhaps, or whatever foul magic kept it moving- seeped out of the creature, and it fell still beneath her, giving her just enough time to roll out of the way of a hammerblow from another. Drawing the knife from her boot, the Qunari rose and stabbed in a single motion, twisting the blade embedded in this larger foe's throat. It, too, sagged against her, and she concluded that what would have been fatal (physically) to a live person worked well enough on these possessed clusters of bones and rotting flesh. It might have been a comforting fact, even, had she thought comfort a notion that applied to these situations at all.

She didn't, really.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera

Earnings

0.00 INK

His warning had apparently been ignored entirely. Rilien could not say he was unused to this; people rarely bothered to pay him much mind when he spoke. Perhaps it was the monotone, perhaps it was the fact that they were too busy staring. Either at his brand or the elf himself, depending on the person. Maybe he was just too creepy. He recalled being called so, on more than one occasion. He was personally inclined to liken it to an old expression: damned if I do, damned if I don’t. Have magic, that was.

Not being much for the effects of mood lighting, and not paying much heed to scent beyond dissecting it mentally, he was entirely unmoved by the room itself. He did, however, catch a flash of irritation passing over his mind, even as he felt a peculiar twinge in the back of it. Emotional states that pronounced were sure indicators of powerful magic being worked in the vicinity, and as he knew Sparrow was not presently casting and Ashton was as amagical as the average Mabari (and perhaps slightly less conscientious when it came to heeding advice), it left the woman.

The Tranquil's eyes narrowed, lips pursing faintly, and he ignored the swooning archer in favor of directly addressing the whore. “Release him, mage, and answer our questions.” it was an actual struggle to keep his tone flat, though he did manage it with effort. If he had his guess, he’d say blood magic. The Fade was close here, and this woman was no spirit healer. They felt different, brought out his more gentle emotions, or what was left of them. This situation produced a frustrated flex of his fingers and something dangerously-close to indignation at the fact that she thought she was being clever, playing such base games with defenseless minds.

He… disliked it.

Idunna's delicate brow furrowed in frustration as Rilien did not seem affected by her magic. At least, not very much. At the tone of his voice, however, she appeared somewhat surprised. She had not noticed him for a Tranquil, perhaps simply assuming that it would be ridiculous for a Tranquil to enter the Blooming Rose in the first place. It presented a problem for her. She could not simply will him into obeying her commands. He wanted something from her, something involving the Templar recruits Wilmod and Keran. She did not let up the spell that Rilien had called her out on, instead narrowing her eyes at the Tranquil.

"And why do want to help them? They're Templars. They did that to you," she said, gesturing with a flick of her hand towards the brand upon his forehead. "What I know is that I'm fighting for mages, and that the recruits are playing a part. I'm helping make sure no one else ends up like you. Isn't that something that's worth a little sacrifice?"

It was peculiar. She'd never been the victim of a blood mage, let alone such a convincing one. She'd found herself moving forward, albeit at a much more sluggish pace, towards Ashton and Idunna, nearly tiptoeing. Her thoughts dragged along like murky molasses, sucking her down like quicksand. It offered no refuge for clarity. From within, Sparrow battered at her glass walls, unsuccessfully. She was aware what was happening. There was no room for any thoughts beyond inhabiting the closest space possible to this woman she knew nothing about – and perhaps, taking her up on that offer of carnal pleasures. Her usual guardedness, mutely whispering that shedding any clothes would be detrimental to her health, had already laid down it's weapons, undermining itself through the means of ignoring her survival's instincts. She might've proposed, in hushed tones, that it was a good idea, that they should treat this beauty a little better, that perhaps they'd been mistaken. Most notably, Sparrow's eyes were dull.

"What is the point of doing so if in the process, one becomes exactly what they said? You would make them right for what? The illusion that you could topple an institution that will outlive all of us?" Rilien appeared vaguely nonplussed, but it passed quickly. "My motives are none of your concern. Release the archer and the other, or I will kill you." From the way his right hand drifted to the hilt of the correpsonding knife, and the complete lack of anything resembling confusion or hesitation in his words, he meant what he said, even if he did inflect it as though he were idly commenting on the weather. Maybe that made it worse.

"It isn't an illusion," she responded, perhaps as though trying to convince herself, "sometimes change has to be forced. The Templars will only outlive us if we let them. We've found a way to sow chaos in their ranks like never before. We could destroy them utterly if only our own kind would quit helping the enemy!" She followed with her eyes as his hand drifted to the knife hilt. "There can't be peace with the Templars. Some people just can't see that yet. But... I cannot fight you."

And with that, the aura was dispelled from the room, and the perceptions of Rilien's companions would return to normal. Idunna stood, looking perhaps frightened by the Tranquil's cold manner, and she averted her eyes, for the most part. "There, they're released, and I am at your mercy. If I tell you what you want to know, will you let me go?"

"So... No fun time is it? Suddenly, that sounds okay. Surely there are others who won't kill me for it," Ashton said, now of his own free will once again. He took the following moments to quickly step backwards-- particularly behin the two mages, Rilien in particular.

Rilien did not desire to have to raise his voice to be heard over another person, and so he waited for Ashton to regain his bearings, though his fingers did loosen from their grip on the weapon at his back. He tracked the human's movement with his eyes until the tall archer was behind him, and resisted the sudden urge to roll them skyward. The magic had ceased, so this was no longer particularly difficult, though he could still sense the ambient Fade in the area. "If you tell us everything you know about the situation, I will no longer have any reason to harm you," he replied honestly. He, after all, was not a Templar. It was certainly none of his business whether mages consorted with demons or ran about freely in Kirkwall, nor indeed if they had particular kinds of liasons with Fade-blind recruits.

He did glance sideways though, to make sure Sparrow was still with them, so to speak, before he allowed himself to make that statement. It would not do to lose either of his companions, to this blood mage or to their own startling lack of self-control.

Everything seemed to fall back into place, like puzzle pieces shifting in the correct order. The room's details brightened, contrasted, and appeared less hazy. Sparrow glanced at Rilien, sucking back an impatient, if not annoyed, breath. How hadn't been she been able to clear her head, or at least, break the mage's seductive spell? Something in her mouth tasted bitter – the Fade, no doubt. Her chest heaved, as if trying to expel what had just occurred. The serpentine whore had been trying to harm them. Her enticing beauty fell away like pockmarked curtains, heaping around her bare feet like a snake who'd finished shedding it's skin, revealing an ugliness she could not ignore. Just as bad as any abomination. Her mouth twitched, and her expression transformed. She did not have her companions lenience, nor did she have any of Rilien's controlled impassivity. Her fingers imperceptibly flicked, once empty, now occupied with a jagged, ornately decorated, dagger. Ironically enough, it'd been one of Rilien's offhanded gifts, probably given out of sheer necessity. The distance closed immediately between them. Sparrow snatched a handful of the woman's flowing hair, close to the scalp, and dragged her forward, tipping her chin with the blade's tip.

You heard him, didn't you? Answers, now.

Idunna's breathing quickened as Sparrow grabbed a fistul of her hair and dragged her closer, the knife sliding up under her chin. She swallowed, eyes averting her intense gaze. "Yes, of course, everything I know... you're looking for a woman named Tarohne, she's the one that recruited me and taught me the spell which I used upon you. It's blood magic, given to her by a demon of desire, which she in turn taught to me." She realized that they had probably already figured out she was a blood mage, but it seemed worth mentioning. She didn't want to seem dishonest in the slightest anymore, not with the tip of a blade pressed up against her throat.

"Her goal has been to create chaos among the Order, from within. She found a way to allow demons to possess nonmages, and we've been using it on Templar recruits. I've been directing them to her, enthralling them with blood magic, and then sending them to our sanctuary in Darktown. There's a secret entrance near the western staircase, a door marked with an amulet like the one I wear." It was rather nondescript, a silver pendant with a small, ruby colored gem set into the center. "That's all I know, I swear. I don't how she does it, I just send her the recruits. The Order would collapse from within if cases like these continued to pop up. Abominations within their own ranks... they wouldn't even be able to trust themselves! Please, don't kill me, don't turn me in to the Templars. I only want my freedom."

Ashton's fingers intertwined and rested on top of Rilien's snow-like head as his chin rested upon his fingers, peering at the blood mage from the relative safety behind the tranquil. He listened quite intently to the Exotic Wonder's words, looking for any more hints of bewitching or anything even remotely that smelled like magic. Despite his distance from the blood mage, and the fact that his bow stood unstrung in the quiver on his back, he wasn't completely defenseless. If she expressed anything but repentance or a willingness to talk, then one of Rilien's knives would find her heart.

However, such violence wasn't necessary as she squealed like a nug in heat-- At least he imagined nugs squealed. He never actually laid eyes on one before. Either way, she gave up the information with relative ease. The knife under her chin probably had something to do with that. "Right. Well. Now we have our heading. Let's go and get this over with. Blood magic tends to sour my appetite as it were," Ashton spoke, head bobbing above Rilien's.

"A shame really. A blood mage has such potential in a brothel-- if you know what I mean," Ashton teased as he playfully tugged at one of Rilien's pointed ears, "Alas, if only she used her powers for the good of man instead of evil. That is one of the tenants, no? Magic must be used to serve man?" He said, chuckling. Sure, she might have just tried to ensnare him, but Ashton was nothing if not curious. He couldn't help but wonder what a... Sampling of a blood mage would be like.

"Sparrow." The two syllables, dully-spoken as they were, may have carried many connotations. They might have been an admonishment, a caution, a warning, and, if his fellow elf listened closely enough, almost strangely affectionate. Of course, perhaps that was only the case if one read too far into the situation. Perhaps it was only a fancy of the imagination that would make Rilien into a caretaker, a guardian, and something vaguely protective. He was, after all, supposed to be a creature without feeling. But Sparrow, he understood, was given to flights of fancy and capricious whim, so she might well understand some or all of these things by his singular word.

He was aware of the archer looming behind him, and though he did not expect to be touched, neither did he react to it, the flattening of his smooth-textured hair, and his carriage remained entirely vertical even with the additional weight of Ashton's leaning on him. His face did not change for the duration of the undignified incident, not even when the human manhandled his ears. Rilien did not understand the reasons for it, but as he had no particular claim to discomfort from it, so he saw no need to correct it. It was, as so many things are, simply what it was. He folded both arms into his sleeves again, and the thought crossed his mind that this probably only added to the absurdity of the image.

Without futher prompting, Rilien walked out from under Ashton, heedless of whatever damage he might do to the archer's balance in the process, and headed for the door. "Then we are headed to Darktown. I doubt I need remind anyone what will happen if this Tarohne is prepared for us." The answer was simple, and one or the other of his companions was sure to punctuate it anyway. He doubted this Idunna was brave enough to attempt to warn her fellow blood mage, besides; not when she gave so easily under the limited pressure they'd applied. Thereafter, he drifted out of the brothel, though the motion was perhaps with too much purpose to be given such an errant label. He expected that the other two would follow; surely they also could feel that their task neared its end.

Had it been Rilien's admonishment, or his quiet suggestion, that idled the blade's tip a little lower, a hair's breath from the woman's quivering chin. It might've been something else. Either way, Sparrow's sooty eyes narrowed ever so slightly, reflecting two shady mirrors: the Exotic Wonder's dismay, spilling out. Where was her confidence now? Where was her bravery? Big doe-like eyes, soft skin, pouty lips – as if those things would warrant any sympathy from her, as if what she'd nearly done was worth forgiving. Where Sparrow screamed and hissed, Rilien merely cocked his head to the side, and where Sparrow was filled with a reckless courage, Rilien was calm-collected common sense. Surely, Ashton agreed that this woman wasn't worth another moment of their time, regardless of any fleeting fancy involving her long eyelashes fluttering against their collarbones. She sang like a bird hanging from a cat's mouth, dangling between teeth and a lolling tongue and a hungry stomach. “Lucky girl, you are.” If he hadn't been here, would things have ended differently? Probably. Sparrow finally released her grip on the woman's scalp, tapping that blade's tip against her cheek before sighing softly. The half-breed squared her shoulders and rubbed at the jewel hanging at her earlobe, regarding Ashton silently, then down at Rilien. They'd be good friends. She could already tell. The anger she'd felt at being so easily tricked melted away, sifted through her fingers like sand.

Sparrow pointed her dagger in Ashton's direction, laughing, and motioning in a quick circle before replacing it back in it's hidden sheath. “Much more fun when you're a willing participant.” She added with a cluck of her tongue. Things hadn't panned out accordingly, but at least they'd seen the Blooming Rose's wares before things went sour. She didn't need to tack on her own threat. It was unnecessary. If Idunna did not think her capable of hunting her down, crawling around Kirkwall like a bloody bilge-rat, then she did not know her at all. Unspoken promises lingered. She offered one more lingering glower before following suit, hot on Rilien's heels with Ashton following close behind.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega

Earnings

0.00 INK

Nostariel woke that morning with something of a headache, having apparently consumed a bit too much the previous evening. Sometimes, her own tendencies disgusted her, but in this way, she was only driven deeper into her surprisingly-endless well of self-hatred, which of course tended to result in more drinking. She held no illusions that this was a healthy way to live, and in order to ensure that she remained aware of this, she refused to cure any of the symptoms of her own hangovers, though she was not so stupid as to fail to cleanse her body of the worst of the toxins it acquired. It was like curing any other case of poisoning, really, and it was a procedure she practiced not only on herself, but on a few of the bar's other most adamant patrons as well.

Her mouth tasted lke it had been stuffed with cotton, and she sat up blearily, the clean straw of her mattress crinkling softly beneath her. Picking individual pieces of it out of her hair, she advanced to the mirror-glass braced against one wall and frowned. Is it any wonder you don't have a family? She thought to her reflection with a liberal dose of bitterness. What soul would ever wish to spend time in the company of the likes of her, that pitiable (but not likeable) soul in the mirror, staring at the world with baleful eyes? Sighing softly, she put the questions and their invariably defeatist answers from her mind and set about repairing the damage. Vain she was not, but she had no desire to wander about looking like she'd had a fight with a large bird and several goats (and lost). Thankfully, there were ample provisions for hygeine in her adjoining room, and when she emerged, hair damp and back in another set of armor (apparently in case someone or something needed her after all), she looked much less worse for wear and at least somewhat presentable.

Perhaps it was time to see about breakfast... or lunch. It was hard to tell from in here which was more appropriate to the time of day. Disabling her ward, she pushed her wooden door open with the flat of one palm and stepped out, replacing the spell with a quiet murmur. She really did have to stop torturing herself like this; perhaps she'd grown into one of those people who embraced pain to an unhealthy degree. What were they called? Masochists? Yes, maybe she was one of them now.

She walked with eyes to the floor, which was perhaps helpful in instances like this one, as it stopped her from running into her neighbor of sorts, the dwarven storyteller Varric Tethras. Offering him a wan smile, Nostariel dredged up the effort to speak. "Hello, Varric. Good to see you."

Varric's smile was much more enthusiastic upon seeing Nostariel. He kept his voice rather quiet as he spoke, however, understanding that loud noises were probably not the best way to greet the Warden at the moment. "Nostariel, dear. A pleasure. I'd been hoping to speak to you, actually."

The dwarf scratched at his stubbled beard for a moment. It was a rather rare sight to see Varric Tethras struggling to come up with words, but he'd actually been putting this conversation off longer than he should have. Here he'd expected it to be difficult to get a hold of a Grey Warden, and the Hanged Man just happened to get one living in it! But he had to admit, she wasn't what he was expecting. It wasn't often that Varric considered encouraging someone to drink less, but he'd certainly thought about it in Nostariel's case. In addition, her current state made asking for favors potentially problematic.

"If you're feeling up to it, I was hoping we might share lunch in my room, on me. You look like you could use a meal." That was true enough. She was a skinny thing, and while Varric wouldn't go so far as to label her as delicate, he was willing to wager he had at least twice the width she did. And he wasn't a fat dwarven merchant by any standard.

"Is that so?" she asked of him, though mostly rhetorically. She wasn't really sure why Varric wished to speak with her, but the suggested location clued her in to the fact that it wasn't likely to be idle chatting. She blinked exactly once, but needed no more time than that to think it over. "Lunch sounds lovely, actually. You have me all curious, now," her tone was warm as she followed him inside the set of rooms next to her own, though she decided that she didn't really understand how he got by without a door. Hers filtered out noise and served as protection (not to mention privacy), should she ever need it. She supposed Varric's reputation and his silvered tongue were enough guard for him; even the Coterie shut up and listened when he spoke.

His quarters were rather richly-decorated for Lowtown, though not so much so that they seemed too ostentatious. The long table in the center of the front room was perhaps admittedly more for someone of his height than hers, but she was not so large that it would be a problem. For a moment, she tried to picture some of her more notble acquaintances sitting here. The Qunari was so agile and flexible she'd probably just fold herself to fit. Ithilian might refuse the indignity. Lucien, though... he'd feel obligated to be polite, and wouldn't that be something to see? The mental images chased away some of her gloom, and she settled herself comfortably-enough into a low chair.

"So, Varric, what is it you'd like to talk about?"

Varric took his seat at the head of the table, as always, delicately resting his peculiar-looking crossbow against the side. Without him even asking, one of the serving girls brought in a variety of food for them, and another brought some choice of beverages, wine and ale among them, though there were non-alcoholic drinks as well. The display implied that Varric had indeed planned this, and gone so far as to preemptively alert the serving girls that he'd need some food. After settling into his seat and thanking the servers, the two were left with privacy, the only sound the faint music echoing from the main hall.

Varric dug into some chicken and took a swig of wine before beginning, clearing his throat. "I don't know how much you've had your ear to the ground lately, but you might have heard something about a little expedition my brother and I have been planning." He took another bite. "Well, my brother mostly just shouts at people and does a lot of chest-pounding, that sort of thing, but I've been planning the expedition, and... well, we've hit a bit of a bump in the road, so to speak."

He sat back in his chair, one hand around a cup of wine, the other arm resting on the end of his crossbow. "As I'm sure you know, the recent Blight presents those with... an adventurous spirit, let's say, with a window of opportunity. An expedition to the Deep Roads in this area could produce untold riches, considering how long it's been since anyone's really explored down there. Bartrand's got his ways of funding a trip like that, but there's still the problem of where exactly to go. Maps of the Deep Roads and their entrances aren't easy to find."

He shifted slightly in his seat. "But I figured our best shot at getting such a map would be to ask the kind and lovely Warden living next door. My brother and I would be extremely grateful if you could help with a map... or perhaps even by being our guide." He felt a little guilty just saying the words, trying to drag Nostariel down into the Deep Roads with them, but it wasn't like there was nothing for her to gain. She would share the profits if she wanted, of course. And the guidance of a Warden in the Deep Roads would be invaluable, no doubt.

One pale eyebrow ascended Nostariel's forehead at the rather overdone selection of food and drink to be had, and it didn't take a genius to determine that Varric probably wanted something from her. What exactly that something was, however, she could not guess off the top of her head. Assembling a pile of berries and greens, Nostariel debated taking her chances with the water before determining that no, gout was not really a risk she wanted to take and settling for the milk instead. This early in the day, even she didn't usually reach for the mead, though it was tempting to take the edge off her hangover that way.

She was slicing into some bread when he began to speak, and the Warden paused momentarily in her motions at the word 'expedition.' She chuckled to herself and resumed movement when he managed to turn it (as with many things) into a joke about his brother. At the phrase 'Deep Roads,' however, all humor immediately dropped from her face, and she choked on the raspberry she was chewing, swallowing about half her glass of milk in quick succession to stymie the coughing fit that might have followed. Setting the wooden cup down with a soft clatter, she dabbed her mouth with a napkin, suddenly very much put off the idea of eating.

He didn't mean anything by it, she knew. He wasn't trying to bring up the incident that had brought her here in the first place, but that didn't mean he wasn't succeeding. Nostariel's hands fell to her lap, and she clasped them together tightly enough to turn her knuckles white, staring resolutely at the wood grain of his table as though the knot just to her left fascinated her for some reason. When she spoke, it was very slowly, and with a forced cheerfulness. "It also presents those 'adventurous spirits' with a chance for sudden, agonizing death, Varric." Inhaling deeply, the Warden sighed, knowing that he'd probably convinced himself long ago that this was what he was going to do, and she'd be entirely unable to change his mind. It seemed to be a recurring theme in her life, that people she knew made decisions like that and she was powerless to do anything but try her best to help and watch them die anyway.

Now there was a macabre thought. For all that, it would change nothing, because apparently she was unable to resist a lost cause and born to do nothing but help others attempt and fail. She wondered if this was a property of the people she made friends with, or if she was just that utterly useless at everything. "As it happens, I have maps you could probably use. My last incursion into the Deep Roads took place..." she swallowed. "Well, not far from here, at any rate."

The second matter required a bit more thought, but in the end, her aquiescence was just as automatic. "Since I know I'm not convincing you to try some other way to make money from archaeology, I suppose... no, I will take your expedition down there as well. You're right of course; what use is a Warden that sits in a tavern and doesn't take an opportunity to kill Darkspawn, hm?" She was still smiling, but she'd always been a horrible liar; it wouldn't take someone as sharp as Varric to tell she was uneasy about it. For all that, though, she seemed resolved.

"It goes without saying that my brother and I will be very much in your debt," Varric said. He had certainly taken note of Nostariel's sudden uncomfortability, but made no real reaction to it, maintaining his cheery demeanor. "If there's anything Bianca and I can do for you in the future, you have but to ask, of course."

This had gone better than he'd hoped by far. He'd expected Nostariel to be disapproving of the venture entirely, but she had realized that there was no turning back at this point. She had the maps they would need, and she agreed to come along on the expedition. She hadn't even named a price. In fact, the only thing that Varric felt hadn't gone right was the fact that he still felt slightly guilty about all this; getting the poor girl to come along to the Deep Roads with them for no charge. He had to remind himself that she was a Grey Warden, and quite the skilled mage. She'd probably be the safest one in the group down there.

That, and the darkspawn would likely be in manageable numbers, and it wasn't like they were going down there unarmed. There was the issue of the Warden's reaction to the Deep Roads, but perhaps it was not uncommon. Although he hadn't had the pleasure of knowing any Wardens other than Nostariel, Varric imagined most of them probably didn't enjoy the place. It was filled with darkspawn, and if familiarity did indeed breed contempt, then it made sense for the Wardens to hate the place. "And don't worry. You and I will make this all work out perfectly. This is the kind of trip that can set people up for life. Just this one risk, and we can sit back and enjoy the show. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?"

"Indeed not."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

Ithilian's sharp eye followed Amalia as she took off towards the skeletal archers, his bow training itself on those that began to fire in her direction. He had taken a pair of them down before he noticed a change in the arcane horror's movements. The shield surrounding it had lowered, and it was actively following the Qunari with its gaze. Perhaps all of the corpses in the area were finally raised and on the offensive. Ithilian hoped so, since there were perhaps twenty or more standing in the room they were in.

Strongly desiring to kill the arcane horror moreso than any of the others, Ithilian turned his next arrow on it, sending it into the mage's skull with a thwack of piercing bone, but the attack did not take down the creature as it did the others. The Dalish growled. Perhaps they'd have to hack this thing to bits to put it back to sleep. That was fine by him. He had hardly finished the thought, however, when the former magister summoned forth a spell directed at Ithilian. A ball of energy grew in power just behind him, and Ithilian felt himself immediately being pulled towards it as though gravity had simply changed its natural course. He struggled against it, gripping the corners of stones in the floor to get better leverage, and forcefully pulling himself away.

Too soon, however, the spell exploded behind him, a forceful blast sending him flying to the side, his bow slipping from his grasp as he skidded along the floor a short ways. He'd put enough distance between himself and the spell to significantly lessen the damage, and as such, it was really only his pride that was injured by being tossed about by the mockery of a magister. The corpses descended on him before he could even rise to his feet, hacking down at him with ancient weaponry. He barely drew his knives in time to parry, before rolling away and scrambling to his feet, hacking the head clean off the corpse before him. He ducked under an incoming arrow, slashed an arm off another attacker, moving swiftly to ensure he was not surrounded. The arcane horror seemed content to let its minions deal with the elf, as no further spells came his way. He could only assume it had turned its attention on Amalia, or reentered the shield that had protected it.

Amalia wasn't in much of a position to do anything about the Arcane Horror aiming for Ithilian, as she still had three more skeletons to deal with at the time. Still, even as she parried an incoming swing with her poniard, using her other hand to grab the empty ribcage of the skeleton and yank it forward to break its lower spine over her knee, she registered the sound of a much more substantial body colliding with stone, and the clatter of wood as he presumably lost hold of his bow. Her lips compressed into a thin line, small but obvious evidence of displeasure, even as she caught the telltale dull roar of flames being conjured to life. The former magister was doubtless aiming for her now, and she needed to think fast. The Qunari's odd eyes flicked quickly over her two remaining menaces, and she grabbed the nearest one, earning herself a stab wound to the side in the process when a longsword sliced through her thin armor and into the right half of her abdomen.

Nevertheless, she pivoted, forcing the corpse to come along as she swung about in a half-circle, and as soon as the fireball hit the creature, she stabbed backwards with her knife, wrenching upwards to gut what flesh remained on the last of them. Ithilian, she could tell, was mobbed by many of the others, but they were slow and he was not. Of greater danger was the thing being allowed to throw spells about with impunity, and she was halfway to invisible, tucking her knife-handle between her teeth and drawing her chain, when it teleported, reappearing with a resounding noise perhaps three feet from her person. The disorienting spell it fired off caused her to stagger, unable to slip into stealth, and she was completely visible and at its mercy.

The ice that crawled its way up her left foot was some clue as to what was going on, and thankfully enough the biting chill was all she needed to regain her senses, and Amalia tugged, trying to free herself. The frost cracked, but did not give, and she was forced to the conclusion that unless she disrupted it, the problem would only grow worse. Her first chain toss went slightly wide when her side twinged in painful protest of the motion, still bleeding freely, though not particularly copiously. It would have to be ignored. The ice was up to her knee by the time she threw again, but this time she was much more sucessful, managing to wrap the length of linked chain several times about the Arcane Horror and pinning its arms to its sides. Its motion was now, more or less, hers to control. A precise toss of her knife embedded the weapon in the thing's other eye socket, but the arrow sticking out of the first had been enough to inform her that this alone would not be sufficient.

The corpses of the elven workers could not be simply ignored, even if Amalia had her hands entirely full with the magister, and so Ithilian steeled himself, going to work. "Souver'inan isala hamin," he spoke to the corpses as he tore into them, twin blades a flurry as he dodged, parried, countered, hacked limb from limb without hesitation. "Na melana sahlin." If there was any kind of release to be given to them from this, then he would see it done. At the very least, this demon had made a mockery of their deaths, and what was wrong needed to be put right.

His purpose clear, he blocked out the rest of the room, perhaps the rest of the world, as he tore the unwilling skeletal warriors to bits. If they wounded him, he did not feel it, or did not care. In short time, the last in the immediate area fell, Ithilian breathing heavily, but steadily. Given some room to breathe and work, the Dalish quickly went to retrieve his bow, seeing as the Qunari had gained some amount of control over the arcane horror. He quickly fired off a few arrows, each hitting the creature in a different area, and it struggled viciously against the chain restraining it.

A snarl forming on his lips, Ithilian drew steadily closer, walking towards the arcane horror, loosing arrows into it all the while. It was clearly weakening, and once both of its enemies were in range, electricity bristled from its fingertips, and even with its hands at its sides, it was able to cast the chain lightning spell, directing it at Ithilian. Spells were not an easy thing to dodge, and so Ithilian soon found himself roaring in pain and momentarily stunned as lightning coursed through his body, sending him to a knee before it arced away towards Amalia. Thoroughly annoyed at this point, Ithilian drew both his blades, intent on closing the distance. He wanted to see if this damn thing could keep casting spells without a head.

When the chain lightning rebounded towards her, Amalia had the sudden thought that ancient Tevinter must have been sorely lacking in scientific knowledge. "This is going to hurt you just as much as it hurts me," she murmured dryly, not even attempting to dodge the incoming bolt.

A Qunari scientist had once conducted an experiment involving lightning and metal. She imagined that it must have been much less painful, though perhaps no more informative, than this was about to be. Clamping her jaw shut so as not to bite her tongue off, Amalia tightened her grip on her chain and waited. It was... about as excruciating as she was expecting, give or take a few pins and needles. As it was, she was mercifully spared from the indignity of a very feminine scream by the fact that she was rather prepared for the endeavor. Not so for the former magister, and even as the energy from the bolt traveled from her body up her unconventional weaponry, leaving her numb and her skin tingling uncomfortably, she watched what must have passed for its musculature seize up, locking it in place as it was hit with its own spell.

She was not so foolish, and dropped the chain immediately, just in case.

The magister's spell had rebounded against it, and Ithilian would make certain to take advantage of the opening. He bolted forward, flipped his blades around backwards in his hands, and threw himself into the air upon reaching the creature, the same move he had used against the abomination the other day, but this time it was much more effective. The arcane horror released a shriek as the Dalish's weapons plunged into its chest, and it went down, chains still wrapped around its body. Even still, it thrashed against him, trying to muster up the mana for another spell.

Snarling, Ithilian ripped his right blade free from the chest, plunging it down just above the bridge of the creature's nose, the blade tearing through the skull between where the eybrows had been, to burst out the back end of the head, only stopping when the point of the blade was stopped by the stone of the ground. Still the thing struggled, refusing to die.

The elf was more or less lost to rage at this point, pulling the left blade free and plunging down through the chest several more times. "Ar... tu... na'din!" He shouted at it, the final word accompanying a horizontal slice across the neck, taking the arcane horror's head clean off, leaving it speared and stuck on Ithilian's other sword, and forcing the body to finally stop moving beneath him. Well, that answered that question. Indeed, the magister could not cast spells without a head.

He was still for a moment, breathing heavily, staring down at the arcane horror with his one remaining eye, at the severed head that still remained upon his blade. It was certainly no justice for those that had died here, and hardly what one could call vengeance, but perhaps he had given them some measure of peace. It would have to do. He stood slowly, looking about for any further threats, but the horror seemed to have been the source of them. Amalia seemed well enough, though there was the matter of the bleeding wound she had sustained, but Ithilian suspected she would be fine. He was done underestimating her. Instead, he moved back to the pile of bodies he had created, the corpses of the elven slaves. He gripped the head of the magister with a powerful hand, wrenching it free from the blade, and tossing it at their feet, before crouching down at their feet and speaking quietly.

"Vir sulahn'nehn. Vir dirthera. Vir samahl la numin. Vir lath sa'vunin. In uthenera na revas."

Amalia didn't need to speak Elvish to understand the general direction this one-sided conversation was taking. She couldn't say she shared the sentiment, particularly, mostly becuase she didn't make it her business to deal in sentiment at all, but she also didn't feel the need to be rude about it. So instead, she made herself useful, checking over her wound with a clinical eye. The first few layers of skin were sliced relatively cleanly, though she would not discount infection as a possibility given the amount of time these weapons must have been down here. It certainly didn't give off the impression of sterility, if indeed the ancients had actually known what that was in the first place. Somehow, she doubted it. The cut was about five inches long, and bleeding, though not profusely.

After a minor internal debate, Amalia shrugged and withdrew a vial from one of the pouches at her belt. Pulling out the stopper with her teeth, she downed the red concoction inside in one swallow, replacing the glass in a different compartment. It smarted rather badly, all things considered, but it was certainly better than the mix of yellowish pus and blood she'd be dealing with if the wound was left on its own and did take on too much dirt.

Waiting until she was fairly sure Ithilian was done speaking to corpses, the Qunari cocked her head to the side and spoke. "Injured?" She didn't have too many potions on her at present, but there was certainly one to be spared if he happened to need it. They did no good just sitting there, after all.

Ithilian didn't know what Qunari did with their dead, but he was glad at least that she hadn't interrupted him. Satisfied as he was going to get, the Dalish rose smoothly, sliding his blades back into their sheaths, his face rather devoid of any emotion, which was perhaps an improvement from the typical glare or frown or snarl of annoyance or hatred. "I'm fine," he responded to Amalia. The skeletons hadn't done anything major to him, and though the chain lightning spell was causing the muscles in his back to occasionally twinge in pain, there was little to be done about that but wait for it to pass. Amalia, as he expected, was fine, and the only remaining threat was this fugitive, who Ithilian couldn't imagine was more dangerous than the arcane horror, a pride demon possessing the deceased form of a magistrate.

"Let's be done with this," he suggested, moving onwards. Though the horror had made this room its home, the door was open to them to explore further. Perhaps the creature had simply been drawn to this place for the weakness in the Veil here, and refused to venture elsewhere. Or perhaps the fugitive had somehow controlled it or made a deal with it, and arranged for it to wait here for them. Either way, Ithilian suspected they weren't quite done yet, and he drew his bow, nocking an arrow in it as the pair ventured further into the ruins of the mine.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera

Earnings

0.00 INK

Home away from home. Darktown signified many things to Sparrow, all of which were positive – it was a welcome sanctuary, her personal hidey-hole, and possibly the only place in Kirkwall she felt completely safe. It was a welcome incongruous repartee, truly ironic. In more ways then one, it's downright filthy. The streets were paved with violence, leading into dark corners filled with grubby-fingered, greedy-eyed men and women who'd just love to make a meal out of you, figuratively, and perhaps, more literally. All the world's scrubbing would not clean it's avenues of filth, of corruption, of poverty. It hung in the air like a heavy blanket. Hardly-stable establishments jostled their elbows against brick walls and discarded rubbish, sheltering knock-toothed orphans underneath canvas tarps and sewn cloaks. Everything leans inwards, as if trying to support itself on something else. There's something that can be said about Darktown, there's no emptiness, no place that hasn't already been occupied by someone else; every inch of the street, of the ramshackle buildings, of the alleys, is filled. They each had interesting stories. She thanked her lucky stars for this place.

Idunna spoke the truth about the location of her group's sanctuary. The door was nondescript, what appeared to be an entrance to a hovel like any of the others in Darktown, the amulet she spoke of the only thing setting it apart. The trinket itself was covered in dirt, but still recognizable. It seemed likely that there was some kind of spell cast on the amulet, perhaps to make those not searching for it to simply not see it, as such a thing would no doubt be stolen rather quickly in a place like Darktown, where even the slightest amount of personal possessions were considered luxuries.

The group passed through the door unchallenged, and laid their eyes upon a normal looking hovel, a makeshift shelter with only the barest amount of furniture. There was a trap door, however, in a corner of the room, and voices could faintly be heard from beyond, though it could have simply been passerby from outside the hovel. What they perhaps wouldn't see, however, was the pressure plate buried just under the dirt in front of the trap door, something only the keenest of eyes would pick up upon.

The trip into the slums of Darktown were relatively uneventful. Of course, Ashton witnessed a mugging or two-- but that happened every day or so, so it really wasn't that much of a surprise. He couldn't help but pity those who had to suffer though the day-to-day in that pit of hell. A lot of refugees from Feralden inhabited Darktown, and it only reminded him how lucky he was that he had managed to snatch a shop in Lowtown, where the muggings weren't as common. Once inside the hovel, Ashton went ahead and strung his bow and had it at the ready. For once, they knew what they were getting themselves into. There would be little if no surprises this time, like a Templar going demon, or a whore being a blood mage. No, this time they were after maleficarum.
As his companions moved forward, he reached out and hooked Sparrow's neck with the bow, reeling her in like a fisherman would a fish. "Easy, Sparrow sweetheart" he murmured. His eyes weren't on her, but on the ground in front of her. Something in those eyes had hardened to fit the seriousness of the situation. He released Sparrow from his bow and then took the steps forward himself, before kneeling "They've got traps set up.." He said, gingerly brushing the dirt off of the plate. "Shoddy traps, the plate's raised up too high from the surrounding ground. It would fool ordinary people," He said, throwing a grin back to Sparrow and Rilien, "But not the best hunter in Kirkwall." He said, rising and stepping over the trap. "Careful. I don't want to figure out what any of these traps do. Probably end up with a Shade or two up our asses."

Sparrow eyeballed the plain door critically, smoothing her fingertips across the knotted wood as if it would somehow tell her it's history, or it's inhabitant's. She was the first to move forward, pushing the door slowly, while peering inside, before crossing it's threshold. Her stunted ears twitched. She swore she could hear voices further in. The voices sounded shallow, hushed, and slightly hasty. These voices promised secrets. Her dancing eyes – so usually trained to detect traps, treasures, and tomfoolery alike – were solely focused on the next door, and what it held inside. With the exuberance of a leg-swinging child, Sparrow's footsteps bounced across the cracked rocks, hardly considering what she was getting her, and her companions, into. She wasn't exactly known for her caution. Then, the half-breed jerked backwards, huffing like a dog who'd just abruptly found that it's leash only went so far. Her fingers immediately flew to the bow wrapped around neck, slipping underneath it to regain her composure. Though she was already backtracking towards Ashton, and soon after, released. “Whu—” Sparrow began to say, shuffling her feet awkwardly, and following Ashton's line of sight to a small pile of dirt, shoddily scuffled around the presumed trap. It was a raised plate – and one that she would've missed if it hadn't been for her companion. How hadn't she noticed, again? “How can I ever thank you, oh, greatest hunter of Kirkwall? Might'n I buy you a lovely dance after all this.

Then, Sparrow gracefully stepped over the elevated plate, quickly moving ahead of Ashton. Too late. She'd noticed the second trap only as her foot was descending – it seemed like it took forever to actually press down, to actually apply weight to the plate. Her foot fell in slow motion, stepping into the emplacement on the ground. From the looks of it, it wasn't very well made, either. The dirt around it was lazily chuffed around. Though, they'd at least placed the damn thing on more even ground. To her credit, it was a little less noticeable. Of all the times not to listen to Ashton, this was the worst. Her eyes widened, two pinpricks of light reflecting against the backdrop of her pupils.

Ashton could do nothing but level a dull glare on Sparrow. Of course. Why did he even dare to expect any different?

She glanced back apologetically, though some would've thought she was secretly pleased with the current prospect of bloodying her flanged mace. "They can't say I don't show a lady a good time." It might've been the Qunari in her – the mysterious facet within her that roared in defiance, expressing that this is how it was meant to be, so it must be. Her leather boot immediately extracted itself from the compressed plate, far more quickly then she'd actually stepped on it. It was baffling.

The muted click of a mechanism locking into place reached his ears, and Rilien blinked. More the fools he and Ashton, for assuming that a mere warning would make Sparrow sufficiently cautious. She was many things, and he found but few of them unpleasant, but discretion had never been her stong suit. If one needed a hammer, a blunt mallet to swing at a problem and crack through it with force alone, she was better than anyone he knew. Finesse, though... finesse was assuredly his area, and he exhaled quietly, the merest of sighs. He'd still never think less of her for it.

The trap seemed to do little, at first, but his ears tracked the sounds of shuffling a distance further off, beyond the door, and he decided that they'd just warned the blood mages of their approach. It seemed indeed a suspicion confirmed, when he also heard (and felt) the rise of demons and shades aplenty back there, and Rilien's knives rang free of their sheaths before another second passed. "A blood mage that summons demons... how novel." There would be absolutely no mistaking him for serious when he said that, but as the only people around to hear were Sparrow and Ashton, he didn't mind. Sparrow would never give up his identity, and he supposed that if Ashton tried, he'd be thought a liar. Why believe a lowtown rogue rather than the obvious brand on his forehead. But no, really, he tells jokes! Hardly.

Ashton raised his eyebrow from the surprising burst of sarcasm from the Trainquil and then curiously tilted his head like a puppy would. He then gave the Tranquil an applause with an approving nod. "I know right. If only they'd summon other things. Nicer things. Cuter things... Like kittens. How could you hate a mage who summons kittens?" Ashton rambled, but shut his trap as Rilien approached the door. Now was serious time.

Advancing towards the door, he waited until both of his companions indicated that they were ready, then shouldered it open, stepping through soundlessly, which was useless considering that every eye in the room rested on the three of them. Nothing was attacking... yet.

The room wasn't particularly large, but it did consist of lower and upper sections, and looked to be perhaps a meeting place, where a speaker could hold a group's attention from a raised platform at the end of the room. The blood mages were currently in this position, guarded by what was perhaps an eight foot elevation and a railing on top of that, the stairs on the left that led up to them currently blocked by a group of four shades.
The blood mages themselves, four in number, were all hooded and masked, though only one of them was female, and it could be assumed that this was the Tarohne that Idunna had spoken of. Their staves looked to be of Circle-make; no doubt they had fled from one Circle or another before seeking revenge against those they saw as their jailors. At their side they had summoned a desire demon, her hands bristling with entropic energy, preparing a first spell. "Kill them," the woman commanded, "they will not make for suitable vessels."

Perhaps what was most interesting was the human form floating in the back of the room, behind the mages, seemingly caged by some kind of magic that was creating a golden aura around him. He was a young, strong man, but looked significantly worse off in his current state, stripped down to his underwear and covered in bruises and cuts. They wouldn't have much time to think about it, however, as the shades moved forward to attack, two more assuming their place at the foot of the stairs, while the desire demon and the blood mages launched their first spells from their elevated and protected position.

Rilien's mentality, devoid of things like delay for surprise, presented to him immediately several logical solutions to their predicament, but he was nobody's commander, and so he said nothing. Zipping forward, he veered to the right even as a fireball crashed into the wall behind him. He'd have been obliterated if he remained still, and it was obvious that diplomacy was not an option here. He couldn't be sure, but he might actually like it better that way. Conversations tended to produce multiple possibilities, ones that he had to weigh against each other with probabilities and behaviour patterns and observation. Interesting, sometimes, but also often tedious. A fight was simple: kill until nothing but you and yours remained standing.

An elegantly-simple directive. Darting between two of the four shades, he flipped his knives so that they lay back against the outside of his forearms, edge out, and in this manner sliced the arm of one and the abdomen of the other on his way past. This drew the attention of the two, and caused them to leave the cluster. Before they had much chance to do anything else, however, he disappeared, reappearing behind the first and stabbing with his left-hand knife. The right-hand one, still laid for maximum leverage against his arm, blocked an incoming strike from the one with the gimped arm, biting into its good hand. Drawing the other knife out of its flesh-sheath, he kicked that shade away, sending it forward perhaps a bit more than it would have intended and whipped the newly-freed knife across the throat of the other, dropping it in the time it took its partner to turn around.

What should have been a rather simple manoeuvre to dispatch his remaining shade was interrupted when his muscles locked up, freezing him in place. A glance to the mages atop the platform revealed the likely culprit: the female blood mage had sliced into herself and was presently holding her hands outward, fingers hooked into claws, clearly struggling to puppet the Tranquil's body. Rilien jerked forward most ungracefully, as though pulled forward by something in the center of his chest cavity. He registered that he was in pain, but discarded the sense-data as irrelevant. Even if this mage was unable to control him fully, she was still making it incredibly difficult for the elf to move, and the second shade was approaching fast. His breath hissed between his teeth in a frustrated exhalation, and Rilien flexed his grip on one of his knives. It would do.

He relaxed, causing the mage to overcompensate and hurl him towards the shade with too much speed. They were bound to collide, and Rilien counted on it, focusing all his effort on angling his right-handed dagger just so. As expected, he smacked bodily into the creature, and his blade slid into its heart like a hot knife through butter. Apparently spent, the mage's hold on him slackened, and the Tranquil stood with much more dignity, eyeing the woman with something oddly approaching hostility. He did not, as a rule, enjoy killing, but he knew how to make a death very slow indeed.

With a battle cry, Sparrow unleashed her flanged mace from her hip, whirling it in a lazy circle, before slicing through shadow stuff in wild arcs. Undistinguished black ink sloughed through the air, spattering the walls in what she could only assume was the shades blood, or gooey body parts. Several noises assaulted her – from the grating shrieks of shades dragging themselves from the cobblestones, branch-like fingers clutching the lip of whatever abyss they'd come from, and the irritating squeals coming from the dying, banished back into whatever realm they belonged. She did not fear shadows, even as they whispered pleasantly between their orchestra of squawks. It was the Fade-promises that called to her, willing her to lay down her weapons and simply allow them to rake their ephemeral claws across her face. The devilish spirits descended on her in droves, as she willingly stepped forward but she preferred it that way, it was her fighting style; more for her to hack and bludgeon, and more freedom for her friends who were undoubtedly dealing with their own pair of nasties.

"What, no pillow talk first?" Ashton mumbled. Despite his enthusiatic upbeat nature, all of the recent blood magic and subsequent demons trying to kill him seemed to begin to wear at the silly Archer. He was sick of all of the mages playing with the very fabric of nature like a cat would a ball of yarn. Making just as big of a mess as one too. One that somehow he'd ended up having to clean. His eyes, once bright with boundless humor, once again sharpened into the hunter's gleam. Just a couple more nasties and the day would be won, they could deliver the boy-- or news of the boy-- to his sister, the he forget about the blood mage business. Finally, then he could go bury his face in a bottle of something with a kick.

But first thing was first. The nasties sitting in front of him. Without a word of encouragement or direction (not that he expected one from the Tranquil) Rilien darted off with the guile of the aforementioned cat and likewise Ashton too departed from the targeted area. The racket of a fireball colliding with something filled his ears, though he was grateful that he wasn't that something. While Rilien darted to the left and engaged two of the four shades near the stairs, he took off to the right, hoping to divide and conquer the mages. Ashton grabbed a handful of arrows out of his quiver and nocking all of them simultaneously. Pulling back the mass of arrows he aimed up and gauged the angle at which to fire. With his mind now firmly in the hunt instead of finding a joke to crack or a pun to make, the calculation was easy thanks to the allocation of more of his grey matter. He drew back and released, causing a hail of arrows to fall from the skies and rain down upon those who stood on the platform.

The arrows would be only mere annoyances as they lost most of their power during the ascent, but he hoped that the act would draw attention away from the quickly approaching Tranquil rogue and if he was extremely lucky, would cause the mages to vacate the platform entirely. He drew his next arrow and kept light on his feet in case the need arose for either quick footwork, or quick fingers.

Sparrow took a deep breath, allowing the power of the magic to flow through her body. Her fatigue stretched, moulding itself into energy. It flowed outward like a channel, swirling through her veins and wiggling out her fingertips like a pleasant shudder. She could feel its tingling in her mind, and her heart soared at the pleasure it bestowed – something like heavy-petting, or a particularly good kiss. Sometimes, Sparrow agreed that it was no wonder that some mages fell into the abomination category, voluntarily accepting a demon's heady promises because it felt like the Fade, the magic, and everything it entailed, would simply carry you away to paradise. It was a sickness. Her hands twisted in the air, casting quickly, and soon enough Ashton's many arrows were engulfed in flames as they pelted the platform. Instead of lobbing arcane bolts at the remaining blood mages, Sparrow stepped underneath the platform and swung her mace, striking the wooden stilt until it splintered and shook. She struck it again, and again, until the damned thing buckled and tipped precariously forward. If the mages didn't want to become living pincushions, or fall flat on their faces, they'd be forced to move away.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera

Earnings

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The air a fair distance in front of him, atop the platform, was rent by the passage of a dozen or more arrows, the wooden shafts forming vertical bars by a trick of the eye, imprisoning the mages and the Desire demon under their pinning hostility. Behind them, faces, expressions, flickered in and out of visibility, all worn with a mixture of surprise and grim determination until the faint whistling was overlaid by the slower, much more powerful sound of muscle and steel banding together against a support beam. Rilien's gemstone eyes were turned from the spectacle of Ashton's hail of projectiles to the most unusual sight of Sparrow, attacking the platform itself with gusto. It shivered under the assault, then buckled with a splitting crack, and finally, just as she hauled herself out of the way, it crashed to the ground, pitching those atop it forward to stand on even ground with their assailiants. Just like Sparrow, he thought. Was she aware of the symbolic nature of her justice? Probably. She was much smarter than most people gave her credit for, including, on occasion, himself. The symbolism did right fly over Ashton's head however, as he was too busy yelling "Timber!" on the other side of the platform.

The Desire demon maintained its uprightness, though the rest were pitched to the ground, scrambling to their feet with various degrees of efficacy. It didn't matter: he had his sights set on only one, and though this did not blind him to the others, it certainly made them less relevant to him. A kindness, in one way, though it wouldn't save them from his companions, so a completely useless mercy at that.

Tarohne was behind one of her cohorts, still prone on her stomach, but Rilien did not subscribe to notions like fair play and honor or mercy. They might have been in his nature, a very long time ago, but any shred of them that would have survived his imperfect Rite was stamped out entirely by the Bard's trade. Applying his speed to his advantage, he shot right into the middle of the group of them. The one foolish enough to distract him in his path by raising a staff to fight close-up was swiftly reminded of exactly why mages were generally considered safer at range. His clumsy swing was simply leaped over, and a glimmering knife greeted his gut with a wet sliding sound, exiting in much the same way before the elf was at last brought face-to-face with the woman who'd thought to puppet him like a marionette.

Nobody had that right. Not the Chantry, not their Templars, not even his Bard-master. He'd seen to these things in the only ways he knew how, exactly as he would see to it now.

Tarohne had used the delay to regain her feet and lobbed a winter's grasp spell for Rilien, who translated his momentum into a swift roll, feeling the chill of the ice spell zip by just above him. Unbroken in movement, he reached her before she could lob another spell, abruptly vanishing from sight.

Now that the playing field was even, he'd no longer need to adjust his angle and trajectory in order to even have decent accurarcy. Physics was never a favorite of Ashton's and only comprised of basic elements such as: Things fall down and fast things hurt. Seemingly too enthralled by the speeding Tranquil dancing towards their leader, that left all four-- three, seeing how Rilien had just gutted one with little fanfare. Sucking out all of one's emotions would logically dictate that once one's mind was set to it, they would only become a killing machine. Not for the first time, Ashton noted not to get on Rilien's bad side and only tease him as far as a Tranquil's limits allow. Though first, he'd have to gauge those limits... An experiment for another day perhaps.

As it stood, Ashton drew a bead on a single mage who thought himself clever as he weaved a spell no doubt aimed towards Rilien. He decided to do the roguish tranquil a solid and fired. The arrow flew through the air and struck right where Ashton aimed-- the right asscheek. Ashton cackled madly as the intial strike jarred the mage about four feet into the air before he commenced running around in circles trying his damnedest to rip the bloody arrow out of his ass. A puff ceased Ashton's laughter as he realized that Rilien was no longer among the mages. Which meant that there was no one else to target... Which meant that he drew all of the heat from the Mages, due mostly in part to the vehement swearing and pointing by the mage with a recent additional assholes.

His grin was wiped off of his face as three mages turned their sights on him and readied their spells. "Well shit. Y'alls can go to hell," Ashton said before flipping them the bird and promptly vanishing from sight as well. Just in time as the spot he was just standing in erupted in a symphony of magic. Surely there were better vantage points than right bloody across from them. Perhaps the highest point of the wrecked stage would provide a better view?

The uncanny symbolism feltright. She did not have Rilien's finesse, nor his easy grace with any blade. The man's swift fatalities were to be admired, and were nearly impossible to mimic. The same could be said about Ashton's deft fingers, plucking arrows and scoring hits on his targets, or purposefully missing to attract the attention of his opponents. With each mighty blow to the wobbling pillars, superseded by grunting cuss words and the cracks of splintering wood, tremors rippled down her forearms and threatened to disarm her mottle-white fingers from her mace. She did not falter. Her dark eyes shone brightly whenever the wood buckled in, then out, then back in, leaning a little farther each time she heaved herself towards the precariously leaning mass. There was no doubt in her mind that the mages who'd been so confidentially casting towards her companion, safely planted on the platform above them, were now scrambling to gain a better foothold and trying desperately not to pitch forward across the jagged rocks, jutting up from the ground like stalagmite-stakes. It was almost beautiful. The last sound of the platform's last creaking breath, followed by hasty shouts of retreat, announced that it was now time to get the hell out of the way, lest she be crushed under the pillars she was so lovingly destroying. She threw herself forward, tucking herself into a somersault before springing back to her feet. Her mace clanged clumsily behind her, though it was already thrown out wide to face her new combatant.

She glanced towards the Desire Demon, eyes flitting to half-mast, and took a withering breath through her nostrils. Those damned things deserved no quarter. They'd steal your soul blind with offers of your greatest desires, of wealth, of ambition, of fixing something that plagued your thoughts. They alwaysknew what you wanted, whether or not you were aware of it yourself. Already, Rilien's light footed steps were weaving an astonishingly complex path through the cohorts, who were doing a pretty bad job of protecting Tarohne, if that was their intention, since the Tranquil easily sidestepped away from their gawking faces, and even vaulted over a staff before planting his knife between the man's organs. It shimmered through the air, glimmering moment's before it slipped through the man's exposed gut. The man seemed trapped in time, unaware, or unable to process, that he was dying. Blood sputtered from his lips as he tipped forward, catching feebly at the air. The other mages spun away, as if they were shuttering the curtains on something they didn't want to see behind them, and focused solely on the grinning archer. Rilien would not need help dealing with that bloody woman. She'd seen him battling many a foe one-on-one, and it'd be terrifyingly quick depending on his mood. She backpedalled towards the mages, madly rushing towards the one who was hysterically holding his asscheek, shrieking like a banshee. The arrow jutting from the man's rump indicated the perpetrator. Her grip loosened until she held the very end of her mace in one hand, while she threw the other in front of her and nearly sang another incantation.

When Sparrow got close enough, and when the mage had finally turned away from Ashton to regard the flash of dark flesh barrelling towards him, it'd been to late for the poor bludger. She swung her mace like a baseball bat, striking the man's open face, and nearly lopping it off, if she could so proudly say, before spinning away. If it'd been any other situation, and if the time permitted, she might've stopped to examine the damage. The ugly crack was enough. Her wild run hadn't stopped. She barely slowed before she wound her arm around the second mage's shoulders, successfully pulling him down and swinging her in the opposite direction. Sparrow's puffing steps took her towards the splintered wreck, still inhabited by the Desire Demon, though it's attention was drawn towards Rilien. She'd have none of that. Peddlers of lust. Disgusting wretches. She leapt across a fallen beam of wood, landed solidly on the slanted platform and continued running until she was able to swing her mace. Unfortunately, the damned thing was quick. Her swing seemed almost clumsy, or sluggish. It whipped past the demon's wicked face as it bent backwards, fingers brushing the ground, before it merely back flipped back to it's feet and away from imminent danger. She cursed, then swung again, and again. Each swing was met with wily, impossibly flexible evasions. The half-breed finally stepped forward, dropping her weapon and throwing out her arm to clutch the creature's thin throat – enticingly thin, sensuous even as it's tendons strained against it's assailant.

It smiled even as Sparrow squeezed, digging her fingernails into it's skin. Then, an unforeseen tremor shivered down her spine, numbing her fingers, and draining her of energy. Beads of sweat trailed down her forehead, strangely reminiscent of serpents. She nearly slumped forward into the creature's breast, but kept her feet firmly planted. Inquisitive claws tipped her head backwards, then gently guided her chin so that she'd be forced to stare into it's spinning eyes.

Make a deal, sweet?

Within seconds of his disappearance into faint wisps of smoke, Rilien was at Tarohne's back. The mage had the presence of mind to anticipate this by just a moment, and there was enough time for her breath to halfway fill her lungs in what might have been either a gasp or an incantation, it was hard to say. The passage of air was forcibly stopped when the rogue appeared behind her, his right hand firmly blocking her mouth and nose in a familiar motion. His left drove a dagger between two carefully-chosen ribs, rupturing her spleen and spilling bile with blood. The knife twisted, the mage's cries muffled by the expanse of his callused palm. Rilien blinked, slowly, timing the damage, then removed the blade with steady, agonizing slowness.

Tarohne's knees buckled, but Rilien was hardly concerned, simply adjusting his grip to brace the woman's back against his chest. Inclining his head forward just slightly, he spoke softly enough that only she'd be able to catch the words, murmuring his admonishment into her ear. "I," he pronounced deliberately, still without anything resembling feeling, "am not a tool for your use." Abruptly, he removed all support from her, stepping back and letting her drop as though vaguely disgusted, though only the speed of the motion gave that impression. Her wound was very intentionally nonlethal, and he watched with cold disinterest as she struggled to pull air once more into her body, coughing weakly and bracing her hands on her knees. The fight to regain her feet was fought valiantly, and she met the flat stare of the elf with hatred and vehemence, summoning fire to her fingertips and thrusting her hands outwards at him, scorching the floor between them with flames that flew true, right for-

-nothing. Rilien was already gone, and in his passage, he scored a shallow cut into Tarohne's arm, aimed to cause bleeding and pain without too much inhibition to her movement. The process repeated itself several more times, and with each new injury, Tarohne's aim and reaction time grew worse, until the danger she presented was clearly more to her fellow blood mages than her expressionless tormentor. By contrast, Rilien was as calm and unruffled as ever, a marked counterpoint to her mussed hair, red-rimmed eyes, heaved breaths and dozens of small cuts. She'd even tried blood magic again, but found that she simply didn't have the needed reserves to puppet his body and drive one of those agonizing knives into his heart. He placed one index finger beneath his chin and let his head list sideways, as if her battle to stay upright was merely an object of intellectual curiosity. "Is there a problem? My understanding of blood magic is that it requires lacerations in order to function. This number is sufficient, is it not? By all means, then. If it is powerful enough to justify all manner of sins, surely the slaying of one Tranquil should not prove so difficult?"

Tarohne screeched, a somewhat-inhuman sound that more than likely came just as much from the demon she'd contracted with as from herself, and drew upon all the resources remaining to her. Her own blood rose in thin tendrils from where it had pooled on the floor, undulating like the boneless limbs of some sea-creature, and her eyes flashed with malevolent red energy. Hooking her fingers into claws, she charged him bodily in her desparation, her blood turned into acidic, stinging whips. The technique was one he'd never seen before, nor even heard of, and he looked at the new hole in his sleeve and the corresponding caustic mark burned into his forearm with genuine curiosity. Glancing back up, his eyes zeroed in on something happening beyond the charging woman, and narrowed considerably. That required his attention, which meant that this farcical charade would end now. The thrust of her first arm was caught by the wrist on the sharp edge of one blade, and he used it to lift the offending limb up, opening her virtually nonexistent guard to his second weapon, which found her throat with little ceremony. Tarohne fell, finally dead, and Rilien scythed through one of the other extras, attention fixed on Sparrow.

Fast as he was, it wouldn't be enough to reach her in time. A deal could be made in an instant, and though he was not lacking surety in Sparrow's mental fortitude, everyone was vulnerable to something. If his physicality could not reach her, then something of the rest of him still might. And so he sang, the normal tonelessness of his voice melting away, replaced with a honey-smooth bard's tenor. He was not as a rule one for the Chant, but it was a reminder in this case, infused with strength and resolve as only bardsong or magic could be. "They watched/ And grew jealous of the life/ They could not feel, could not touch./ In blackest envy were the demons born."

During all of this, Ashton was busy of work scaling the fallen platform. The nimbleness of the hunter came into play as the vertical plane may as well had been horizontal for all the good it was doing at delaying Ashton and his goal. Even despite one hand clutching at his bow, he made short work of the incline, using powerful leg muscles to lunge himself up and latch on to a hand hold with his free hand. It would be an intricate and interesting sight if he hadn't been invisible the entire time. The showman in him mourned the loss of a audience, but the hunter in him applauded the lack of eyes directed at him. The only trick that needed to be seen was the first arrow tearing into the first unfortunate target he could find.

Before long, Ashton's grace brought him to his chosen perch, the top of the ruined platform. The footing was awkward and unstable, but proved firm enough for the agile and surefooted archer. He looked over the battlefield with hawkeyes trying to discern his first choice of prey. That was when he first heard Rilien's song. It wasn't the lyrics of the song that caught him first, but the fact that a Tranquil could muster the emotion to sing a song to begin with. Tones other than tonelessness flew from Rilien's mouth, and for a moment Ashton wanted nothing more than to sate his curiosity and listen to the entirity of his song. He could not do that, not right now. The hunter had to hunt his prey first. Afterward, if he still feels up to it, he'd ask the Tranquil for the song. But now was business.

From the sound of the chosen verses, it seemed like a bit of the Chant. Part of the Chant directed at demons. What dem- Oh shit, Ashton just remembered the Desire demon floating around earlier. How could he miss a sight like that with her... Bits with hardly a napkin convering them. Stupid, stupid Ashton. His eyes scanned the area in search of the forgotten prey, and soon he came upon his target... And Sparrow. Ashton was split, he was jealous of Sparrow's position inside the demon's bosom, but worried about the danger she was in. It was only exacerbated by the fact that she was a mage. Quickly, Ashton knocked an arrow and fired the shot off, right into the heel of the creature, pinning it. With the shot, the cover of shadows he was enveloped in shuddered and dissipated, leaving one irritated looking archer.

Hearing that Rilien's song was finished, he added a verse of his own, "So don't give that bitch a damn thing!" Still, the deal could be made, and then they would be in even more trouble.

The demon closed it's spinning eyes, shuttering them to half-mast so only a sliver of her yellow irises were peeping through, and she actually purred – full of seductive, full-blown promises. She was smiling smugly, like a cat who'd just pulled a rat from it's hovel by it's fat tail. Far too pleased for it's own good. Her clawed fingertips tugged Sparrow's chin up, imploringly. She laughed at her feeble attempts to shudder away. If Sparrow had been in the right state of mind, then she would have admired the demon's state of undress; the way the creature's bosom was completely bare save for two squares of golden cloth, hardly concealing her naughty bits, the way her hips swayed to a secret beat she could only hear, the way her claws tenderly flitted across tendons meant for pumping blood. Her voice resonated beautifully in the hollow of her ears, though her mouth hadn't even opened to speak; four very different intonations that managed to sound sultry and elegant all at once. Sibilant, hypnotic, irresistible. The sweat beading on her forehead and neck were sending wisps of steam billowing around her head, slithering into misty puffs. Around them, the room flickered and destabilized, colours and shapes shifting sickeningly. Backdrops sloughed off like thrown sheets or discarded curtains, revealing hazy sepia tones. In the distance, as it'd always been, lied the smoggy silhouette of the Black City. The Fade. Surreal ships sailed past, while lengths of rope-bridge swung between floating islands. Colour bled from each object, leaving it lifeless and dull. Familiar objects hung limp against the background of things she did not quite recognize. Everything was wrong.

So, what is it you'd like, sweet? I can give you anything. The demon's presence was too close, close, like morning mist, like a shadow across her soul, as if it could take one step further and disappear through her chest like an open doorway. Sparrow's eyes widened, desperately flickering on the unfamiliar environment. These things could conjure unfortunate encounters. Things that were best left buried and forgotten, safely hidden away in holes she'd dug long ago. She'd planted them deep enough. I can take it away, you know. That pain, all of it. I can find them for you. Wouldn't that please you? Not woman, not man. I can take your weakness away, all of it. Poor little girl, sweet thing.It's whispers echoed in her very being, ricocheting through her thick skull. Perhaps, they were being imprinted on her mind, because he thoughts were broken, desperate things that answered without consulting her. Her mouth quivered with all the no's she wanted to scream, but they'd already stuck their tiny hands against her oesophagus and refused to meet her lips to form anything besides a pathetic mewl. There were iron pellets anchored in her mouth and acid spreading sickness through her stomach, but she couldn't even bring herself to focus on those things. She felt out of place, as if her skin didn't fit the same way it did when she was awake. As if it belonged to someone less foolish. From the very corner of her peripheral vision, Sparrow spotted the inevitable. Desire Demons dipped through your thoughts, your memories, and always plucked the most unpleasant things to dismantle your already trembling will.

There's one thing to be said about the younger, more palpable, version of Sparrow – of the young girl who dipped her fingers in ponds to scatter the tadpoles. She'd had a pure, unblemished outlook on the world she could no longer claim to have. It was taken away in those very moments. The little girl who had sticks in her hair instead of flowers, with words that weren't pretty nor wise, and rosebush thorns stuck in the pads of her feet, lost something important: her identity, her trust, her gentility. The demon's taloned fingers guided her chin, keeping it in place, so that she would be forced to watch the spectacle reenacting itself in the clearing. She smirked, forked tongue tracing Sparrow's jawline and clawed hand gliding over her curves. It disgusted her with every form of the word disgust. It'd been the tiny fireflies fluttering from the ramparts that'd drawn her way from the camp in the first place, skittering across blades of grass and billowing branches. Sparrow watched, wide-eyed, as her much smaller self thrashed her bird-boned legs and gnashed her teeth at her assailants; bawdy men with calloused hands, black eyes, and flashing teeth. The Fade had a funny, not-so-funny way of making everything incredibly, horrifyingly real, right down to the small speckling of freckles on her left shoulder. Skin variegated by bruises. It was sick. It was sick. “No! No!” Her voice sounded distorted, a sheep's cowardly bleat, hardly her own.

I can fix this, if you'll let me. I can take that away.

Had she even agreed? Her mind flung itself wildly, and already, the Desire Demon knew how well she'd done in swaying this one's heart, this one's soul. It was fetching itself against a fence, destroying itself. Sparrow felt nothing. Nothing like it'd been described. The Desire Demon's ethereal fingers released her chin and dipped low across her chest, idly plucking fabric, before resting below her sternum. Sparrow's mouth gaped open to sputter anything to rid herself of the heavy blanket of Fade, though she only managed a sharp intake of breath. Sharp talons parted her ribs, plunging into chambers she didn't know existed. It is done, sweets. Darkness fell like a blanket over her head. But, she could hear, from the distance, a familiar voice: singing. Or shouting something vulgar. Like a child, Sparrow reached towards it.

In reality, or to those who had been watching their bodies, it appeared as if Sparrow was knocked unconscious, rolling off the Desire Demon's shoulder and tumbling back down the leaning platform. The demon hissed when Ashton's arrow sliced through it's ankle, successfully pinning it to the wooden platform, though it seemed nonplussed by such violence. Now that she'd found a host, it didn't matter what happened to her body. It'd turn into ash, and she'd return to the Fade: to wait. “Oh, look at that, you've put her to sleep.” She teased wryly, slowly bending to wrench the arrow from her foot. She offered Ashton a sidelong wink, tittering long enough to showcase her assets. “Ah, and you're certainly a strange one. Tranquil – you poor, unfortunate man. You could fix most of your mistakes with those abilities, couldn't you? Do you even remember what it was like, or has the Rite already addled your brain? You must miss it. I certainly would. Practically half a man, now.” Her slow, methodical steps found herself back in front of Sparrow, where she nonchalantly toed her shoulder blades. Her eyes were solely on Rilien, as if she were flipping pages of a book. Her smile faltered, twisting into a feigned pout. I know it wasn't your fault... One has to wonder what happened to the girl.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

Picking her chain up from where it had fallen on the ground, Amalia wound it around her hand and elbow until it rested in an even coil, then fastened it to a quick-release leather loop at her back, adjusting the strap that cut diagonally across her chest from shoulder to hip. From the horror’s head, she extracted her poniard, wiping the blade relatively clean on a scrap of fabric from its beheaded body before stowing it in her boot-sheath.

But a single door stood open before them, the other possible exit blocked by too much rubble to have possibly seen recent use. “Convenient,” she murmured, a hint of a sarcastic drawl coloring the barely-muffled syllables. As Ithilian had expressed his desire to move on, she wasted no time inquiring further, and covered the intervening distance in long strides. She could not shake the feeling that they were drawing close to the end of this endeavor, and also that her role in it was even closer to a termination. She had not come here to kill the fugitive, after all.

The door led them into another hallway, the earth-red tiles running in between more streams of lava, the heat these released causing sweat to bead at her brow and between her shoulderblades, where it trickled slowly down her back. Looking for any length of time over to either side brought about a shimmering effect in the air, as the warmth radiated ever upwards. They must be deep underground, for the magma to be present. Why anyone would want to mine anything here was beyond her; all one was likely to find was porous stone and occasionally those compressed ones with little practical use but much aesthetic appeal. Diamonds- the Qunari made scarce use of them, and even then only for their durability.

Another two turns, and at least these rooms were moderately cooler. They seemed almost to be spiraling inwards, but they encountered no more hostility. What- or rather who they did meet caused the Ben-Hassrath’s eyes to widen just marginally for a moment, and underneath the covering on the lower half of her face, her lips pursed. Sataareth.” drawing his attention, she pointed at the half-prone form some distance away on the floor, what appeared to be a small female elf.

Amalia herself remained slightly behind, watching the area with wary eyes. She was more than satisfied leaving Ithilian to do most of the talking. It was not, expressly, what she associated with her inner determination of his closest Qunari analogue, but even she realized the name she called him was not perfect. Besides, the alternative was to do it herself, and she sometimes encountered… difficulty when communicating with people unsure of her due to either the shape of her ears or the carriage of her stride or else her relatively-impressive height, to say nothing of her brusque mannerisms.

Ithilian looked more like a deer catching sight of a hunter than a Dalish upon seeing the elven girl, but he managed to set his face quickly. He hadn't expected this. This hadn't been a rescue mission; it was simple vengeance, clean and clear. The girl before him was a beautiful child, just at the beginnings of growing into a woman, perhaps no more than twelve or thirteen, with short, dark brown hair pulled into ponytails behind her. She opened her eyes upon hearing the two approaching, big blue orbs that widened further upon seeing visitors. Ithilian sheathed his weapons, well aware that his appearance alone could scare her, as it had scared some children back in the Alienage.

The girl rose, taking a few tentative steps towards them. Though Ithilian did not distinctly remember her face, it was possible that she remembered seeing him about the Alienage, as she spoke towards him rather than Amalia. "Please, can you get me out of here? I just want to go home." Ithilian was unsure of himself for a moment. How was he supposed to handle this? It had been so long since he'd truly interacted with a child of his kind. Most just steered clear of him. "Lia?" was all he could think to ask, to confirm what he was seeing.

She nodded. Ithilian found his eyes falling to her feet. "Your father believed you were dead." She took a step forward at the mention of Elren. "My father? Is he safe? Kelder said that he'd hurt my family if I didn't come with him..." Upon hearing that, Ithilian was reminded of his purpose here. "This Kelder is the one that took you?" he asked, slightly more harshly, though his anger was obviously directed at the human, and not the girl. She nodded again.

Was she injured? It didn't appear so. She seemed alright, if a little shaken, which was certainly understandable for a small girl having just been kidnapped by a murderer. In fact, Ithilian was somewhat surprised she was functioning at all, given what he assumed she had been through. "Are you injured?" he asked bluntly, at which point she averted her eyes. "He hit me, told me I was nothing. I begged him to stop hurting me. I didn't think he would, but out of nowhere, he pushed me away and just... started crying." She paused, before meeting Ithilian's eyes. "Don't you see? He didn't mean to hurt me! He told me! There are demons, they make him do these horrible things!"

Ithilian crossed his arms, narrowing his gaze at her and studying her. She seemed to believe what she was saying, but that was hardly a deciding factor. And regardless of whether or not this human was in control of his actions, he was killing elven girls, and for that he had to die. Ithilian would not tolerate attacks like that. "Is he a mage? Are these demons with him now? Do you know how many?" It was purely a tactical question. Demons were dangerous enemies, as the arcane horror had just demonstrated. Lia shook her head, however.

"I... don't know. I didn't actually see any of them. But Kelder told me to run, to get away so they couldn't make him hurt me anymore. Please don't kill him, it's not his fault! Please..." Ithilian slowly shook his head. "I can't, da'len. The shem has killed others before you. Demons or no, vengeance is demanded. It will... protect you, and others. He can't be allowed to hurt anyone else." She shook her head. "No! He won't fight you, you'll see! Don't just kill him!"

"You'll understand someday. It has to be this way. The way out is clear, and your father awaits at the entrance. Go to him." his tone was... surprisingly fatherly. Stern, strict, carrying a sense that he was not to be argued with, and yet still retaining some sense of caring. Lia looked as though she wanted to resist further, but gave in under Ithilian's gaze, pushed her way by him, and made for the exit. Ithilian watched her go, before looking to Amalia, who had remained silent throughout the discussion. "That was... unexpected. You still with me? The way it looks, our killer is either a possessed mage, or an insane madman."

He was looking forward to slitting the shem's throat. Something to clear from his mind whatever memories that little girl had dredged up.

Though she kept her distance, ostensibly occupied with staring into space, there was a telltale crinkle at the corner of Amalia's eyes that on anyone else would have signified a smile, minus the actual tilt of the mouth. She watched the girl pass without comment, raising a golden eyebrow at Ithilian's inquiry. "You still need ask? Nothing has yet changed my mind about assisting you, and I am not here to kill the man as you are. What he is or is not doesn't concern me." She shrugged lightly, but added another observation, simply because it had occurred to her. "You are more Sataareth than you realize."

Ithilian studied her for a moment before speaking. "Perhaps I was once... but nothing of that time remains save for memory. It seems that's all my people are destined to do. Remember." He turned away, his face settling into a more familiar scowl, something between annoyance and anguish. He thought he was starting to figure out what that word meant. If he was correct, then it had indeed been true... in a time that felt like another life at this point. "Let's go," he said darkly, setting off again. "A shem needs a blade in his eye." They moved further in, encountering no resistance, but even still, Ithilian found himself sliding one of his blades from a sheath.

He found his quarry not far from where they found Lia, sitting on the ground, leaning against a pillar in the room they'd entered. A hood covered most of his face, but from the way he was dressed, Ithilian instantly recognized him as nobility. No man from Lowtown could afford such lavish garb. As Lia predicted, he did not immediately resist, but rather simply cast a glance Ithilian's way. He seemed to have resigned himself. "I knew someone would come eventually. I was hoping the beasts down here would get to me first." Ithilian studied him for a minute, narrowing his gaze at the sitting human. "We had to carve our way through them to reach you, shem. You must have had to run from them to reach this place. Why not simply let them kill you, if that was what you wanted?"

"Killing oneself is not so simple, I'm afraid. I... couldn't do it. But it's what I deserve. I should be torn apart, forgotten down here. Not protected by my father." Ithilian ran a finger along the edge of his blade, viewing the human before him as so much meat. "This would have been a lot simpler had you just knocked on my door. Or Elren's. Or any of the fathers of the girls you've killed. I'd have gladly ended it for you then. I'm still going to kill you now... I'd just like to understand first."

He stood at Ithilian's words. "Wait... my father didn't send you? He didn't send you to rescue me? Then... you came to kill me?" The Dalish nodded. "I am an instrument of vengeance, shem. It's what I do." It was unclear whether Kelder looked relieved, or frightened. "I had thought for certain that my father would drag me out of here. He's a magistrate, and he sought to cover up what I've done for years now." Ithilian almost snorted at that. Typical of the shemlen in this city. Charged with the protection of all within the city, including the elves, and yet he allows a killer to remain free and hidden because his exposure would make him look bad.

Kelder turned and took a few steps away. "Father is a good man. He tried to help, to stop me. But he can't... no one can. That elf girl. She had no right to be so beautiful, so perfect. The demons said she needed to be taught a lesson, like all the others. The Circle was supposed to help me, but they lied! They said there were no demons, that I was mad. This isn't my fault." To say Ithilian was looking skeptical at this point was quite the understatement. "Can even a shem be so blind? Your demons are the callings of a sick mind. You're simply broken." He sighed tiredly. "I'm not mad... but I suppose it doesn't matter what you think, if you're going to kill me regardless. Just... can you tell my father that I'm sorry? For everything?" Ithilian looked at him for one long moment before speaking.

"No."

His blade stabbed upward in a heartbeat, piercing under the chin and stabbing up through the brain, out the top of the skull, the way he had executed Danzig. In an instant Kelder was still, and Ithilian ripped the blade out, allowing the body to topple to the ground. He wiped the blade off on the man's Hightown made pants, before turning to leave. "He deserved worse... but the Dread Wolf will have something waiting for him, I'm sure."

"If it suits you to think so," the Qunari replied neutrally. She frowned lightly, looking down at the body with something approaching curiosity. Madmen, truly mentally unsound individuals, were rather rare as far as she knew. At least she had not run into many. Given that her job often consisted of reeducating those that strayed from the Qun, she suspected that she probably had some authority with which to proclaim as much. She briefly entertained the thought that the man was under the influence of something like saa-qemek, but discarded it nearly immediately. The Arishok had no reason to do so, and it was only on his authority that the stores the Qunari presently possessed could be distributed. She alone of those in this city joined the Antaam's craftsman in understanding the process of its manufacture. Perhaps, then, it was simply a natural defect.

The product of inbreeding among the classes of nobility, like as not. It was something of a problem in unregulated human populations, or so she was given to understand. Aware that her examination would have to be left incomplete, she pivoted neatly and followed after Ithilian, tightly-bound braid swishing steadily behind her.

The two exited to the beginning of twilight outside, but it seemed that all of those who had been present when they entered were still so, and she was expecting opposition. Truthfully, she could not say she thought the guards courageous enough to try tackling a strangely-dressed woman and someone as obvously-hostile as her companion, but who could say? Ithilian's oft ill-chosen words could spark a confrontation for all she knew; humans and elves were moved to violence in ways she still did not fully understand.

Ithilian's eye narrowed against the sunlight, and the sight of the shemlen guards. There was clearly some confusion among them, likely caused by the fact that a small elven girl had emerged from the ruins only moments ago. Elren was still checking his daughter for the life threatening injury he was certain she had somewhere, while a few of the guards were looking to their leader for some kind of direction. All eyes turned to Ithilian and Amalia as they appeared, however. The leader among them took center again, approaching. "Where's the fugitive?"

That was indeed the question. Ithilian had not been honest about his intentions upon arriving here, caring little what these men thought or did, or even caring if he had to carve his way through them to reach his quarry. His lip curled into a snarl as he was about to lash out verbally at the man, but catching Lia's eyes just before had a clear effect on him. He could not risk a confrontation, not here. These men posed little risk to Amalia and himself, but the girl and her father were another story. He forced his anger to cool; it was an unusual feeling, one he hadn't felt in some time.

"The fugitive lies dead, slain by my hand. His body is located in a chamber not far from the central room. You may collect it if you wish." The look on the guard's face was first one of incredulity, that Ithilian had killed the fugitive himself, rather than the monsters within the mine, but also that the elf was honest about it. Ithilian would have lied... but he wanted Lia to know the truth, if no one else. He would see to it that she understood this someday. "You care to explain your reasoning, elf?" The guard spat, clearly dissatisfied. Ithilian crossed his arms, keeping his temper under control.

"He had a broken mind. He was incapable of preventing himself from hurting more innocents. He wished death for himself, and I granted it to him. No more elven children will be taken by his insanity." The guard shook his head. "True as that may be... well, I feel as bad about the death of one of your kind as much as the next man. But going against the magistrate's direct orders? That's true madness, right there."

"My task here is done. If you'll excuse us," he said, moving around the guard and towards Lia and her father. It was clear that the Dalish was struggling to keep his blades sheathed at this point, particularly since the man had just valued following the orders of a politician over stopping a murderer. He gestured with his hand for Elren to follow him and Amalia. The girl followed Ithilian with her eyes, clearly shaken by his actions and the ordeal altogether. But there was still a certain... admiration, there. It wasn't often elves were shown a display of strength of the likes that Ithilian could perform.

The Chanter's Board has been updated. Magistrate's Orders has been completed.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera

Earnings

0.00 INK

The taut bowstring holding Ashton’s next arrow suddenly slacked as he watched what transpired. To him, it all happened in mere moments. Sparrow just up and… Fell unconscious. Seeing the normally solid Sparrow just give in that easily caused him twitch in his skin. Worry was the first sensation to work its way into his thickhead, then anger, then caution. What could he do? Risk hopping down from his vantage point and running to her aid? What’s to keep that demon from doing the same thing to him? No, no, a clear and level head was only thing that would ensure that they would all leave her alive… If Sparrow was even

Dammit, there was no point in thinking like that! Fight, live, survive, then worry. In an instant, the bowstring became taut again and the bead was drawn up on the demon again. The piercing arrow seemed to do little more than annoy her—what effect would his next arrow have on it? Ashton grimaced as doubt crossed his mind. Would petty arrows really be able to hurt this thing? And what about Sparrow? How was she. The hunter’s mind was serious for the first time in a long while.

While Ashton was busy being mentally conflicted, the damnedable beast opened it’s mouth and began to speak to Rilien. Surely the Tranquil could resist the false promises… Right? There wasn't enough emotion in the man to even consider being tempted by the harlot demon. Though... Ashton did observe enough emotion from the man during the day to render that thought wrong... He desparately hoped that the man was tranquil enough to resist. Even from his distance Ashton heard the uttered promises. His eyes grew wide as saucers as it became a very real possibility that he might be playing field might soon just consist of him and a demon. Then the demon played with Sparrow's unmoving body like a toy. Somewhere deep in Ashton, a vein of long unused anger was struck. The bowstring gave a loud twang as the arrow hurtled towards the demon, followed by a very serious shout from Ashton, “I’ll see my boot on your neck first!”

Rilien's eyes narrowed precipitously; his irises were nothing more than bright slivers of color peeking out from beneath snowy lashes. He didn't need to see it clearly- he could feel what was done to his live-in companion, his feckless bird, sitting at his window and trilling her song to anyone who would listen. The Fade had wrapped around her like a wet blanket, seeping into her skin, dampening her lungs and stifling her song. Everything felt damp, heavy, ponderous, as though it were pressing against him, too. It prickled his flesh, sending ripples of feeling along his arms, down his spine, teasing at his scalp, the tips of his pointed ears. His breath hitched in his throat; it was as though the fog that had fallen over his every feeling was lifting, carrying that feeling of sodden linen with it, and he knew without asking that this was what she promised.

Everything he had once held dear, returned to him, if only he were willing to make the bargain, to trade to her what Sparrow had traded. Sparrow, lying unconscious on the floor, was this thing's new, truer vessel. What they did to the disgusting, pitiful form before them was of no consequence. If they were to kill the creature forsooth, they would have to run blade or arrow through the prone mage's heart. It was a precise, logical formulation of the facts. It made sense. It was necessary; this one had shown no compunction about harming them, and bearing its black burden upon her soul would kill Sparrow slowly, but surely. Doing the deed himself, quickly, would be a mercy upon her.

So why couldn't he? He ignored the seductress' purr, senses fixed firmly on the erstwhile gambler and vagabond who'd taken up residence in his home and his life as though it were the most natural thing in the world. As though exchanges like theirs were commonplace, everyday, easy. As though he were nothing to be reviled, to be feared, to be wary of or avoided. She knew he didn't have sentiments. She knew he allowed her to stay because he saw no reason not to, and with no other justification. She knew he killed that which he judged it most expedient and efficient to kill.

Were she awake, would she have expected it?

What had she done to him, that he hesitated now to do what was obviously rational?

He couldn't look at her any longer. The demon was still speaking, but he was even now coming to grips with what he was feeling, or rather that he was feeling at all. It was the Fade-presence here, there was little doubt of that. It connected again what had been severed, and the horned beguiler offered him a permanent return. His magic... he'd felt so acutely the absence of that thrilling power, sparks of raw energy racing to his fingertips. His had been force and finesse in equal measure, when he'd had it, a talent that rarely went unacknowledged by peer or senior. He'd had not only the skill to manipulate the world to his will, but the flair to do it well, to create flickering mirages in the air, to make the flames dance and form shapes as he desired, fickle and capricious as his smiles and quixotic mannerisms. He'd been dazzling grins and quick-steps, hoodwinking the Templars with no real malice, but frightening alacrity. He could be all of that again, if he accepted the bargain.

The bird on the windowsill wasn't the first he'd failed to save. If anything, it was the mention of that, his oldest guilt, that put the final nail in the demon's coffin. She'd never really had him, but at least he'd been distracted. That though, that was a mistake on her part, to assume that he'd react like an ordinary man, accept sympathy as his due and power as his right. That he'd take it as a way to rectify a wrong, to make up for what he'd been too weak to realize before. She was probably incapable of understanding just how far off she was. He caught the flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye- Ashton's arrows accompanied by a shout.

"Then you do not understand this half of a man," he replied. His voice was glacier-cold, not quite the normal tonality. Then again, he wasn't much himself at the moment, and he didn't much care, taking advantage of the precision of Ashton's arrows and sweeping low, swiping a dirtied blade across the backs of the demon's knees. This combined with the projectiles brought her low, and Rilien did not hesitate- his next slash was precise, angled just so as to cut through the delicate neck like so much meat. The resulting gore spattered his face and darkly-clothed chest, the first time he'd actually stained anything but his steel in months, at least.

The feeling of the Fade's presence at hand subsided somewhat, and the Tranquil easily reined in his emotions. Granted, even just then, they'd hardly been what a normal man would call outrageous, but for him the matter was another thing entirely. Something still clenched tight, wrapping cold fingers around his heart and lungs, settling there in a way that convinced him it would not be easily banished. Their foes were slain, but at what cost? He inclined his head towards Ashton, an acknowledgement of demonstrated skill and a thanks besides, but he knelt beside Sparrow, a dark shadow flitting behind his eyes before vanishing. Turning her over, he noted that she appeared to simply be unconscious, but he could still sense it- the demon.

Glancing askance at the archer, he spoke. "She has been possessed." Rilien said nothing more, instead waiting for the other man's reaction. If Ashton was observant, he probably would have noticed that the elf had positioned himself in such a way as to block Sparrow's prone form from immediate attack by the hunter. It was as clearly as Rilien was ever going to communicate on the matter. He would not attempt to rationalize for her, or excuse what she had done, but if Ashton chose to attempt the mercy he himself could not perform, the ex-Bard would act to stop him- violently.

Rilien proved him right, something deep within the fibers of the man refused the demon's seduction. Relief filled him to know that he wouldn't have to watch another ally fall to this demon's foul promises. Ashton followed up his single arrow with another, and another, doing everything in his power to aid Rilien in banishing the creature. The deadly tranquil accomplished the deed, and once again, they were alone, victorious in the face of their enemies... Victorious? It didn't feel like much a victory to Ashton. Pyrric or otherwise. He slowly lowered his bow and scanned the area for anything else that dared him to raise his bow again. Satisfied that nothing would interupt them, he slung it across his back and began to descend the wreckage. As he picked his way down-- which proved much more difficult than the ascent-- his mind wandered. His chest was heavy and his breathing erratic.

Now that the danger was over with, all the caution and anger Ashton felt suddenly turned itself into worry. Was Sparrow okay? What happened to her? Will she survive? Has she changed? All the questions sucked the cheer out of his soul until his lips set into a grim frown and his eyes lost the ever-present "Ashton cheer". He was worried, afraid, and it was written as plain as day on his face. There would be no more jokes, no more humor, or anything of the sort for Ashton. For first time in ever, Ashton was solemnly somber. He had never felt this way before, not that he could remember. He always had a strong sense of optmisim, like everything would turn out for the best. He never had a care in the world except for what kind of meat would be for dinner that day.

Now that was all he thought about. When he fled Ferelden away from the blight, he wasn't worried. He'd rebuild in Kirkwall. The Blight could never reach that far without the Grey Wardens ending it. He had never even seen a darkspawn, much less had to worry about them. But this. This he saw in front of his own eyes. The demon beckoned to her, and she fell. He didn't know what happened... He wasn't sure he wanted to. As he approached Sparrow and Rilien, his fears was confirmed. She was possessed. He grimaced as he covered his hand with his face. "How can you be so sure? She could have just fainted from the pressure. That doesn't mean she's possessed," He argued. Futilely. He knew it was the truth, Rilien wasn't the sort of man to just lie about that. He had an odd habit of sensing magic and knowing what to do. He had to know what to do now. Rilien simply looked at him, allowing the hunter to read the answer in the Tranquil's silence.

"Is there nothing you can do for her?" he asked with dread in his voice. Sparrow seemed like she was stronger than that. A few poisonous promises could corrupt her... Obviously that ideal was dashed against the wall. Perhaps... Perhaps she was weaker than Ashton gave her credit for-- No, not weak. Sparrow was not weak. Sensitive perhaps. Fragile. Like a rock, if one presses on a weak spot, it will all come crumbling apart. Ashton looked past his hand, past Rilien, and to the woman laying on the floor in front of them. He took a step forward, closer to the defensive tranquil, and he too knelt. He pushed a hand past Rilien, uncaring what the tranquil thought of the action and simply brushed a couple of hairs out of his friend's closed eyes.

Even if he didn't know whether she was a man or woman, Sparrow always seemed so solid. Yet in her current position, she didn't look nearly so. It was breaking his heart. "What do we do Rilien?" he asked in a somber tone. He wished the Tranquil had an answer, for he had none. All he wanted to do was to leave that place, leave it far behind. Yet he would not do so without Sparrow.

Rilien's posture relaxed, just infinitesimally, when the archer moved not to attack, but to crouch beside him. That was fortunate. He hadn't desired yet another conflict to arise from this. Placing his arms beneath Sparrow, the Tranquil hefted her onto his shoulder in a rescue carry, picking up her mace in his other hand. "There is no known way to separate a demon from a person once a possession has taken place, but demons are also individually variant in the frequency and.... severity of their vessel's usage." He answered blandly. What he did not say was that he was almost certain there was more to it than that. He could, perhaps, recall reading something on the subject, but it was long ago and not exactly Chantry-sanctioned subject matter, so he may be remembering imperfectly.

Still, if it were true, then there might be some kind of serum or tincture that could produce the necessary effect. As it happened, Rilien was quite talented in the preparation of such substances, but he was not going to do something as futile as hope, and it would be counterproductive for Ashton to do so as well, and thus the elf remained silent on the matter. It was presently no better than rumor and legend, but it would not go unexplored. "For now, we should see to that Templar, and return her home." He paused, the nature of the hitch in his speech almost deliberative, and stared hard at the hunter for a long moment. "Also, we should behave as though little has changed. Demon or no demon, she is Sparrow." She would doubtless be in need of emotional support, and this was something Rilien knew he could not provide. In this sense, Ashton was necessary, and bound to be more useful than he himself could ever be. The thought brought him no relief, but he would have to trust the man with her secrets, and perhaps one or two of his own, in time.

"Of course." Ashton answered blandly. No cheerful undertone, no humorious inflection, just a flat answer. She was still Sparrow... Just Sparrow plus one, and that plus one was what worried him. Still, like Rilien said, there was little else they could do besides provide support. Ashton tilted his head and looked towards the Templar hanging suspended in his magical cage. "You... Don't think he's possessed either?" Ashton asked more to himself than Rilien. Though, there was still a poignant hint of worry in his voice. One he just couldn't quite shake, and perhaps wouldn't until Sparrow woke up and personally told him she was alright. Without his novel jokes, Ashton picked his way around the crumbled platform and towards the caged Templar.

The cage was a strange thing, it looked more like bars of light than bars of iron. Plus the bit that he was floating an entire Rilien off of the ground managed to add to the effect. Again, Ashton found himself at a loss of what to do. He stared at the contraption for a bit before taking an arrow and poking it. "How... Do we get him down from there? You seem to know more about magic than I do. I would've thought it would have released Keran when we killed the blood mages," he said, tilting his head again as a puppy might. All he wanted to do was get the man down, get him out, and go home. It may be boring there, but at least the threat of getting possessed is zero.

Rilien, apparently not much bothered by the burden of the woman over his shoulder, followed the hunter up to the configuration with the Templar inside, unconsciously mirroring the inquisitive head-tilt. He'd never seen the like of this before, but then that didn't surprise him. Despite his brief span of time in a Circle and the fact that he'd passed his Harrowing, he knew relatively little compared to proper mages, and most of his knowledge was from books and theory rather than successful spell-casting. "He is not," the Tranquil elf asserted, completely void of doubt. Aside from this suspension, there was no magic hovering about the youth at all- he was even willing to bet that the young man's personality was scarcely more dynamic than his own, if it came to that.

As for the second question, well... lifting his free shoulder slightly, Rilien swung Sparrow's mace, the steel passing through the light without resistance. Whatever the reason, that seemed to do the trick, and there was a warping sound as the magic faded, depositing the young recruit on the floor of the underground passage with little ceremony. "Keran, I presume." It wasn't inflected as a question.

Clearly still trying to collect himself, the young Templar, who had been stripped down to his underpants for reasons unknown, struggled for a moment to move, the imprisonment clearly having taken some toll on his body. He did, however, understand that he had been spoken to. "Yes, that's my name... Oh, thank the Maker. I thought He had abandoned me." His voice was weak, and he was clearly parched from a lack of water. He looked rather beat up, but no injuries were very serious. "And you freed me. Thank Andraste, and thank you. Who are you? How did you find me?"

Putting up a false facade, Ashton looked down at the Templar with what could best said as a nonchalant manner. He didn't want this man to know about Sparrow and her... Issues. He was still a Templar, and despite just saving his life, Ashton didn't know how he would react to someone in her condition. Instead, Ashton tried to play it off cooly-- which managed to seem more serious than previously. "We're just a group of people fufilling a favor. Your sister's worried you know? Asked my associate here to find you," he said, nodding towards Rilien. "I'd say mission accomplished, wouldn't you?" He asked hypothetically. "As for finding you? Don't you know you are talking to Kirkwall's best hunter? How couldn't I find you? Killed a couple mages, exorcised some demons, you know. The usual." Ashton said, crossing his arms and taking on a bored stance.

Keran rubbed his hands along his temples, perhaps trying to deal with a headache caused by the imprisonment. "My sister asked you to find me? In that case, you have my sincerest gratitude. I had assumed the Templars had sent or hired you. I hope your friend there will be all right." It was genuine concern, as he could safely deduce that if these people were helping his sister, they were doing so with little thought of reward, as there was not much that Macha could offer them. "Speaking of Templars, I will be needing to return to them. Could you lead me out of here? I'm... not exactly sure where we are, to be honest."

Rilien was not much inclined to speaking. Indeed, at present, his focus- intense as it could be when one was able to exclude everything else, seemed to be (mercifully) fixed on neither Keran nor Ashton, nor even Sparrow over his shoulder. For once, it had turned inward, and though his eyes found some point over Keran's shoulder and lingered there, they were lacking their usual clarity. His thoughts were moving with rapidity, which was nothing so odd, but they seemed currently to be unable to leave a certain eddying circle, a pattern that simply cycled itself on repeat endlessly. His jaw tightened, and though he moved off towards the exit at around the same time as Keran spoke about leaving, it would have been impossible to say whether or not he'd actually heard the words at all or just met with lucky timing. As though he were ever lucky at all.

He was tempted to split off from the others when they emerged back in Darktown and carry Sparrow to their home, but he justified his continuing tread towards the Gallows with the thought that a) Sparrow would heal much faster if a trained mage saw to her and b) that Cullen would probably need him to confirm that the young man was not possessed, which would probably secure him that beneficial service that he would otherwise have to ask for, a thing that might seem odd for a Tranquil to do. So instead, he led the others to the old slave barracks, ignoring the obvious stares that their party accrued and making straight for Cullen. A Tranquil carrying a mace in one and and an injured person over the other shoulder, accompanied by a bloodied, scarecrow-tall hunter and a half-naked Templar recruit was bound to be a once-in-a-lifetime sight, after all.

Indeed there were quite a few eyes on them as they entered the main courtyard of the Gallows. The Templars displayed a variety of responses, many of the recruits nervously whispering to one another out of earshot, some of the older veterans simply crossing their arms, staring at the developing scene from behind the slits of their helmets. Cullen himself took front and center among the gathering watchers, perhaps hoping to head this off before it got out of hand and the entirety of the Order learned of it. It was probably too late for that already.

Keran's sister Macha emerged from the crowd with a shout of her brother's name, and he staggered backwards momentarily as she flung herself onto him in a hug. In the meantime, Cullen approached the two coherent members of the party, the Tranquil and the hunter. "I admit, I did not expect you to bring our recruit back at all. Well done. The mages can see to your friend's injuries, if you like. Tell me, what did you learn? Has the threat passed?" He spoke in a low voice, so that his words would not echo about the Gallows. Still, there would be some that could hear him.

Rilien nodded slowly, catching the eye of an elderly woman he knew to be a healer, but otherwise refusing to budge. She correctly interpreted this as an indication of the fact that Sparrow was not leaving his sight, and so she approached the group to begin her work instead. The Tranquil set his friend down carefully immediately beside him, and spoke to Cullen without seeming to divert much of his attentions from the goings-on there. The Fade was being opened up again, and it was distracting, but he let no indication of this fact slip. "There were blood mages kidnapping Templar recruits to allow demons to possess them. The boy is clean. The mages are dead." He gave some consideration to volume, and it was probably only Ashton, Cullen, and the working healer that had heard him.

"Explains the deal with Wilmod," Ashton mused, Eyes firmly on the healer working on Sparrow. He hoped that the woman would be able to feel the... Other presense in her. Though, he wasn't sure it was a thing that one could feel-- Except Rilien. He was a special case though, with his tranquility. Though, he kept a watch over the healer, even as he spoke. "I'd keep an eye on some of your recruits Ser Templar. Don't want the Order getting a nasty surprise, now do we?" Because that would be a bloody shame. Though there was sarcasm in his tone, he was serious. No one should have to go through that. Much like Rilien, when he spoke, he too kept his volume down. He didn't want to spook the Templars assembled.

"Sweet blood of Andraste..." Cullen whispered to himself upon hearing Rilien's report. "But you say the mages are dead, and that Keran here is not as Wilmod was. There's that, at least. And the Order will compensate you for your work, as I believe the boy and his sister will have a difficult time as it is. If he does not show signs of demonic possession in ten years time, he'll be eiligible for a full-knighthood. You have done the Order a great service. We will not forget it." With that, the Knight-Captain took his leave.

She could not taste, or touch, or feel anything. Her being ebbed and flowed somewhere between an ocean and river, drifting against the rocks and slowly, perhaps even gently, began eroding itself away. Moulded like beach-combed glass. If anything, it felt like she was drowning without the unpleasant effects; of water surging up her nostrils, into her mouth, of her lungs beating in a lagoon of liquid, of her heart beginning to slow. She was floating... up, or down, she couldn't really discern the direction. Through the thick of wherever she was, Sparrow could feel something plucking at her, as if it was a particularly bothersome child pulling at her sleeves, wanting her attention, trying to tell her something important even though all she wanted was to be left alone. She couldn't pinpoint the feeling. It felt like a vague throbbing behind her eye sockets, or an awkward leaden weight in the pit of her stomach. A tightness in her chest, in her throat, that felt awfully like she was about to cry – but she didn't, and couldn't, and instead reached her fingers in front of her, grabbing for the faint disturbance above her. She reached and reached and reached.

Kitten.

Sparrow's entire body jerked forward, struggling in the old woman's arms, as if she was spluttering out a mouthful of water or heaving her first breath in a long time. Her eyelids shot back, opening fully. Nothing could erase the shame and regret that came with the pain. It was immediate. It was quick, and dirty, and unforgiving. In lieu of awakening, she wished she'd forgotten that she was a mewling mess, a coward, and a weakling. As quickly as she'd sat up, Sparrow's shoulders bunched together and she fell back against the woman's lap, staring up into her wrinkled eyes. Did she know? Could she tell? The look that was returned was sincerely worried, insisting that the healer had no ill-intentions. Better yet, Sparrow wasn't sure where she was. Her dark eyes, red-rimmed from forced sleep, skittered across the cobblestones, up the familiar statues, and towards the back of Ashton and Rilien's legs. She spotted an unfamiliar man retreating in the background. She wasn't sure why, but her breath hitched in the back of her throat, troubling itself into tight knots. Her hands lifted to her face and she exhaled through her fingers, past her knuckles, temporarily blocking out the world.

Surely, Ashton would jest about having her head nestled in an old woman's lap.

She dropped her hands away, then took another deep breath to steady herself. Still, Sparrow made no move to stand. She laughed weakly, then glanced at her companions long enough to see that they were alright. “We save the day, and I miss the best part. He paid, right?”

"Mm," Rilien confirmed with an even hum, though exactly which of her sentences this was supposed to verify was not immediately clear. He offered his hand to help Sparrow pull herself to her feet. Glancing at Ashton, he would have almost shrugged, except such a gesture wasn't really in his repertoire. To the healer, he inclined his head, but his next words were for his companions. "I think it's time to go home. You are welcome if you wish to be, Ashton." Ashton nodded and provided his own hand for Sparrow. Between the two of them, surely Sparrow could make it to her feet and stand proud once more. "I suppose I'm welcome then," He said, flashing that old cocksure smile of his. "Let's get out of here then. Templars give me the heebie-jeebies."


The Chanter's Board has been updated. Enemies Among Us has been completed.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera

Earnings

0.00 INK

Inside the Hunted Stag, things were, as always, boring. Though, luckily, the shop wasn't empty. There was a lovely elven lass looking through his selection of fresh venison (he had gone hunting the evening after the... Templar business). She was taking her sweet time, and Ashton was happy to give her all the time in the world. It would be a shame for such a pretty face to leave his shop with too much haste. Ah, Ashton. He sat on top of his counter, kicking his legs back and forth as he was fletching some arrows. The foray into the deep and dark world of Templars, demons, and maleficarum had severely deminished his supply. His attentions weren't completely on the work at hand-- perhaps a fraction of it was. Most of it was on the lady.

Unlike many humans, Ashton held no bias against the elves, especially the lady elves, naturally. Word had managed to get around that his shop was the only one which wouldn't try to cheat them out of their hard-earned coppers. He enjoyed the business of just as many elves as humans, which in itself was good for business. Copper was copper, no matter whose hand it had been in. It also provided ample chance to get to know the elven people. Ashton always did have a fondness for the sharp corners of the elven ear.

Of course, elven ears aren't the only thing that were sharp. In a momentary lapse of attention, an arrow head he was affixing to a shaft slipped and slid right into his thumb. The pain was instant and sharp. "Andraste's flaming tits!" He cried, dropping the unfinished arrow and clutching his thumb. He sat for a moment, rocking back and forth cradling his injured thumb. It was only then he remembered the girl still in his shop. He looked up to meet the eyes of the lady, who was staring at him with something that was akin to a grin. She was laughing at him. Well enough, he'd cut his finger numerous times just to see the extravagance that was the smile of a woman. He returned the smile and asked, "Apologies for the language. The heads are sharp so that the animals don't suffer,". He hoped this explanation would win him points with the pretty lass.

She nodded and approached the counter with her pick of venison. Ashton put his injured thumb in his mouth to stem the bleeding, and spun around on the counter placing himself behind it in order to ring the girl up. With one hand, he deftly ripped a length of paper in order to wrap the meat in and began to wrap the order-- making mental note of the weight and what to charge. Once tied with twine (which was a feat which caused further laughter from the lady) and placed it in front of her and began to calculate the price of the meat. "Right. So, around say... A pound. Normally this would be seven coppers-- But!" Ashton quickly interjected before she had time to withdraw the payment. "We have a sale today! If you would so kindly give me your name and a smile, I'll knock it down to four coppers," he said with a flirty smirk. And he wondered why he was having trouble paying the taxes on the shop.

Rilien's left ear twitched; he stepped to the side in a smooth motion, in just enough time to avoid the headlong charge of a spooked horse, merchant's carriage attached, of course. He didn't bother looking where it went after it passed him; the telltale crash was enough for him to conclude with reasonable certainty what had actually occurred. Just another minor disaster in Lowtown, which of course wasn't unusual in the slightest. The string of Orlesian oaths that drifted across the market would once have brought a salacious grin to his face; truly, the wine merchant (and what else could he be if his cart smelled like that?) had some considerable color in his vocabulary. If the way his syllables slurred into one another was anything to go by, he also enjoyed sampling his own wares.

Hearing his mother tongue reminded him briefly of something; a debt he had yet to repay. For the moment, he filed the information away and let it be. He hadn't forgotten, precisely; the last few days had simply been unusual enough that even his perfectly-regular routine was thrown off considerably. Sparrow had taken more time to recover than he would have expected, but she was finally up and about today, meaning that he was free to have a conversation a little past due.

A miraculously-intact bottle of Monrenny vintage rolled just past his heel, apparently lost in the carnage, so to speak. Blinking slowly, the Tranquil stopped its passage with his toe, then dug the point of his foot under the bottle and kicked upwards, catching the neck of the darkened glass vessel in his right hand. With nobody any the wiser, he simply continued along his path, winding around a few corners until he reached the familiar storefront. Pushing the door open without hesitation, he stepped over the threshold just in time to hear Ashton's 'offer.' "He is being dishonest," Rilien asserted in his most flat of intonations, "He offered it to another lady for three earlier, but her bosom was larger." Odd. It would seem that he had just lied for no reason whatsoever.

A chime of bells over his door signaled the arrival of another customer. He seemed exceptionally busy today, but when he looked up to regard the customer, he realized that it was instead the Tranquil. A twist of his eyebrows betrayed his surprise and had just began to open his mouth to welcome him to his store when his own mouth beat him there. The befuddled eyebrow then sank down into a scowl directed at Rilien before vanishing as quickly as it came. He looked back down to the girl with the most innocent puppy-dog smile he could muster and explained, "Not by much though." The resulting slap surprised no one.

"Right. Three coppers was it?" He said without turning his head back to it's original position-- it was harder to slap at the angle it was in. The sound of three coppers hitting the counter and one huffy elf leaving the store came next. Ashton watched, enthralled, as the lady left his store, slamming the door behind her. "I hate to see them go... But watching them leave? That's an entirely different story," he explained to the Tranquil. Then Ashton glared at the him, "You owe me a copper and the name and smile of a pretty woman," He said pointing accusingly. With the sale made and the shop consisting of only him and Rilien, Ashton hopped back on the counter and resumed his bored-like demeanor.

"So, what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? Looking to buy something? Or more likely is there a gang of blood mages and demons that severely need one of my arrows in their face?" Ashton asked, picking up an unfinished arrow and went back to work fletching them.

Rilien looked down at the bottle in his hand and shrugged just slightly, setting it on the counter with a soft thud. "The approximate market value of that vintage is measured in sovereigns, not coppers. I expect any sufficiently comely woman you gifted it to would smile at you and return the favor with a name. Consider my debt settled, if you will." Divested of his negligible burden, he folded his hands back into his sleeves and stood silently for a moment, the shop quiet save the sounds of Ashton's work. He really should get back to his, as well, but he had come here instead.

"Sparrow has recovered physically from her... ordeal, though of course the larger problem still stands. I understand the two of you are given to indulge in certain mutual hobbies. I would request that you call upon her for this purpose some time in the near future." Having said his piece, the Tranquil took half a step back, intending to leave the man to his business.

With the mention of Sparrow, the air in the shop quickly turned serious. The work Ashton was doing on his arrows ground to a halt and even the whispered promises of the bottle didn't seem to lighten the mood. Ashton placed the unfinished arrows back on the counter. He leaned forward, cupping his chin with his hands as he thought. "That's... Good. That's she's alright. I've been worried about her," he said with surprising solomnity. He then tilted his head once again and nodded, "Perhaps I should. I'm going to investigate the promise of a job soon, but afterward... I'll see if she wishes to join me for a drink," with a surprising amount of solemnity in his voice.

"Hey. One more thing. Do me a favor and keep an eye on her, yeah?" He asked.

Rilien paused in his step, looking back over his shoulder at the hunter. "That..." he hesitated for a moment, a rare shade of uncertainty creeping into his tone. It was just enough to hint at what his voice might have sounded like before the Rite, the timbre of the tenor belonging to something closer than he to a person accustomed to lighthearted verbal riposte and cascading notes as soothing as the sounds of reeds in a quiet wind. Of course, it was showing some strain just then, so perhaps not quite. He swallowed, causing a pronounced movement in his thyroid cartilage, but smoothed his face over, correcting the flaw before it became any more obvious than that. "I will not fail again."

There was a moment, stretched longer to his perception than it must have been in reality, during which he entertained a few brief, too-sharp stabs of feeling, but he brushed them aside with the ease of natural dispostion and years of practice, and inclined his head, just a bit. "Thank you."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

There was no music coming from beneath the vhenadahl today. Ithilian was somewhat surprised that he found that odd. He'd become rather used to the Qunari woman's presence, something he wouldn't have imagined when he'd arrived in the city. She had been a simple shem then, nothing more than a nuisance to be removed from their pitiful home. Several eventful excursions later, however, and he had a new view on her, one he had not developed of a human in... well, a very, very long time. But, he supposed that was because she wasn't human. She was Qunari, as she said. And perhaps that really did make the difference.

Lia appeared from behind the great tree when the Dalish approached. He hadn't seen her. They met eyes for a moment, before the young girl looked down, and proceeded to scurry off towards her home. He thought for a moment about calling out to her, but thought better of it. It was still too soon for her to understand. She needed time. He had needed time as well. Far more than Lia would, he hoped...

Feeling as though the lack of music in the center of the Alienage was a problem that needed to be dealt with, Ithilian let his eyes fall on a small wooden instrument that had been left there, a communal item belonging to the village as a whole rather than any one person. He had played the flute once, and been quite good at it, in fact. Perhaps the talent still remained. Easing himself down to lean back against the solid support of the tree, Ithilian took the flute in hand and examined. It was certainly not of the kind of quality that the crafters in a Dalish clan could create. No ironbark, no detailed engravings, and yet it was created by skilled hands, that much he could tell.

He felt a small breeze pass under the tree, carrying as always the stench of the factories rather than the scent of the wild, but he paid it no mind, put his lips to the flute, and began an old song he knew, one his Keeper had taught him personally, in a time that Ithilian was quite certain was another life entirely...

Amalia was presently doing her best impression of a stone statue, standing unmoving in the middle of a Darktown hovel belonging to a too-large family of Ferelden refugees. Normally, she would not have bothered being here at all, for the plight of expatriots was not her problem to deal with, but as it happened, the oldest son of this particular brood had converted to the Qun. As he was still counted a child, he was exactly her problem.

His family was insufferable.

Her long fingers clenched slightly about her upper arms. She'd been maintaining the diffident cross of both limbs over her chest for the better par of half an hour, while she waited for the angry and hysterical parents to stop sniveling and get to the point. Her questions had been met with only incredulous stares or hateful remarks followed by more needless emotional displays, and so she'd simply ceased to ask them. If they did not come around to the actual reason for calling her here soon, she'd instruct them on the merits of brevity the hard way. Until then, she made the honest effort to leave open as many alternatives as possible.

"None of this would have happened if it wasn't for you damn Qunari and your heresy!" This was the father, and it was about the seventh time he'd said that. She'd stopped counting after five. He clenched his fists ineffectually, looking very much like he wated to strike her, but the fact that half her face was obscured and the eyes remaining to his sight were narrowed and completely without fear was enough to stay him. The wisest decision he'd made in a while, she suspected. "Our son, our boy Finn, he's gone!"

"And where did Athlok disappear from?" Amalia repeated, pointedly.

"That's not his name!" The mother shrilled, and the Qunari felt her legend-worthy patience giving way.

Her next words were clipped, thick with condescension of an angry kind, and razor-edged. "You can scream and wail and correct me, or you can do the only useful thing you bas seem to be capable of and tell me where he went. It is I who will track him, I who will find him, and I who will bring him back to this cesspool of filth you dare to call a home and praise your uncaring hissra for!" Though the words were scarcely above a hiss in volume, they had a notable impact. The male's face grew ever redder, fading into a shade of purple, and the woman flinched as though each iteration of the first-person hit her like a lash. Just as well it would have; Amalia's knife would have stung more painfully, and she would not hesitate if that was what it took to find the viddethari.

At this, a younger woman- girl, really- piped up. "Brother went to work in the Bone Pit," she said, the name of the place dropping from her tongue wth what seemed great difficulty. "He said... he said his role was to work, and that Hubert was the only one who would take him."

"Hubert?" The Qunari's mouth dropped, unseen, into a scowl Ithilian might have appreciated. She knew of the man, and now understood the family's emotional state. Athlok had misinterpreted his directive, and sought to find work anywhere he could get it. She met evenly the glares of the parents and spoke slowly, her equanimity regained. "The Qun would not codemn its greatest criminal to work of that kind." She'd know; she'd see many a Qunari work camp. Nodding to the girl, she ignored the others and left.

There were dark rumors about the Bone Pit; she had a feeling deep in her gut that she'd be in need of assistance. She considered asking Aurora, but the young Saarebas was not quite yet ready, perhaps, at least not for Amalia to feel comfortable calling upon her. That left exactly one person, and she smiled beneath her muffler. Ithilian may not care for her 'shemlen' charge, but he was bound to feel inclined to rid himself of a debt she'd never bother calling upon. Maybe, in a way, that meant she was.



She found him under the tree, in her usual spot, apparently whiling away the time in her preferred way, though his instrument of choice was one she left alone. She approached moderately, but with purpose in her tread. Stopping a good few feet from him, she inclined her head and waited, leaning back against the vhenadahl a few feet from where he was sitting.

The song wound its way down to a low, melancholy final note, finishing its tale. Ithilian had drawn no spectators as the Qunari was often able to do. Valued as he was becoming among the elven community, he was still certainly not on a personal friendship level with the majority of the people. It was partly his fault, of course, as he did not see the point in getting to know the many meek and helpless elves here, those he still couldn't help but consider to be wholly lost. He gave Amalia a nod of greeting, lowering the flute into his lap.

"Aneth ara. It's been some time since I've played. I had thought for a moment that I would not remember the song in its entirety, but it came back to me as I played. Seems the People do not forget easily." But forget they do, eventually, he thought to himself. Setting the flute aside, he rose smoothly to his feet. "Something you wanted to discuss?"

"The mind oft forgets, but some say it is best left to the soul to remember." She was paraphrasing, really, but it was an embedded thing, a piece of her childhood encapsulated in a phrase. Whether anything of it was relevant or understood was beside the point; it was an offering, even if only she knew so. Of course, for all a Qunari could be obtuse, she could also be direct, and his question was given a short nod. "I would ask something, were you willing. Ordinarily, the task would be undertaken with the asistance of another Ben-Hassrath, but here, there are none. A Sataareth is not so far. Might I request this of you?" She pushed herself off the tree, letting her arms unfold. This was not the collection of a debt- she hoped he would understand that.

Collection or no, however, Ithilian felt the need to pay. Especially with how... surprisingly well their last foray had turned out. He wasn't sure why he felt rescuing Lia from that mine had been so important, but he was starting to forget that he'd gone there not to save her, but to rid the world of a sick-minded shem. And he liked forgetting that part. Perhaps it was just the novelty of it. No doubt it would wear off in a few days time, and he'd go back to fletching more barbed arrows rather than remembering to play the flute.

"Is there some trouble? The Alienage has been quiet." His thoughts had immediately gone to the guards from the trouble earlier. Ithilian had realized that perhaps he should have thought his entrance through more thoroughly. He had humiliated them and caused them to fail in the task their superior had given them. And while the Dalish cared not for their feelings or their pride, when it potentially put someone other than himself in danger, it made things more... complicated. It was something he hadn't had to worry about for some time.

"Yes," she replied, answering both the question and the statement with the same syllable. "The matter concerns Athlok, one of the viddethari, our converts. He dwells still with his human family, in Darktown. They came to me because he was missing and they believed me responsible." At this, her brows drew together, a faint line forming between them. As though she would stoop to something as dishonorable as kidnapping, and for what? They'd produced no motive other than her simple existence. "Under questioning, his sister finally admitted what she knew: he has gone to seek work under Hubert, an Orlesian merchant who hires Fereldan refugees. He sends them to work in the Bone Pit."

She paused a moment, both because she suspected that name would hold some significance for him and also because she was trying to decide exactly how to say what she wished to get across. "Athlok misinterpreted his imperative. I... If there is anyone to blame for this, it is I, as his teacher. He did not return from his shift several days ago. I intend to find him, and this will most likely involve confronting Hubert. If I know anything about him- I do- it will probably also mean a visit to the mine."

The Qunari exhaled softly. Speeches were not her strong suit, but she'd felt it necessary to lay out as much of the information as she had. He may not wish to assist one he saw as human, even if the distinction meant nothing to her. He also might not care to visit a place so steeped in ill history for his own people, though the previous trip into danger quite nearly dismissed that concern entirely. Still, she would not let it be said or thought that she misled without reason, or for her own ends only. Amalia fell still then, though her silence was expectant. What she expected was as inscrutable as ever.

Ithilian was not familiar with every merchant that operated out of Hightown, and even though this Hubert and the elves with which Ithilian tried to concern himself with did not often cross paths, even still he had heard of the man. He'd heard of the Bone Pit first, the supposedly accursed mine outside of the city, one of the many in the area. It was rather big news when the Orlesian merchant had finally built up the guts to buy it, something no one else had been willing to do. He had filled up his workforce by taking advantage of the desperate Ferelden refugees fleeing from the Blight in the south. It could have been seen as charity, giving work to those that sorely needed it, or possibly as greed, giving work to those that would demand the least coin in return. Ithilian was willing to wager it was the latter.

This Athlok they were to retrieve was a concept he was still struggling to wrap his head around. It was difficult to learn a culture by simply observing one of its members, not even in her homeland. But he was able to gather that they were seeking a human, one who had converted to her Qun, or at least desired to. From the way she described him, it seemed to Ithilian as though he was still more shem than Qunari. No wonder, with the family she spoke of. Perhaps Amalia would be able to turn the human into something more useful if he were to survive under the Qun. It was preferable to his existence in Darktown, no doubt.

"We should drag him back, then, so that you might educate him better. I... would like to get out of the Alienage, anyway. It's been long enough since I've threatened a shem." He didn't really know why he added that other justification at the end. Helping her was enough, wasn't it? Certainly a good enough reason to get out of the Alienage, which he did want to do. He wasn't sure how much he would care for threatening more shemlen. Perhaps it would just be tiring at this point. In any case, he was willing to find out.

Amalia hooked her index and middle fingers over her muffler, tugging it down until it rested against her collarbones like any other scarf. The gesture revealed the wry twist to her mouth, and she shook her head just slightly. "You can certainly glare death at him if you choose, but Hubert is no madman nor Lowtown merchant. Indiscretion will be our enemy here, and if there is to be any, the ire will be drawn by the mighty army dockside, not by the innocent denizens of the Alienage. It is only fit that we defend our own, and bear the blows we must for doing so." She had no desire to draw the ire of the wealthy Hightown humans at all, but actions did not always carry the consequences one intended them to have. If there was backlash, it would be much more softly-leveled against her people than the ones hidden away in this dank corner of the city. She might not be a Kirkwallian in any sense of the term, but Amalia was no fool- she knew the score. The Qunari scared these weak-willed noblemen half to death already, whereas the elves they consigned to these corners were little more than refuse beneath their feet.

"Ma nuvenin, Amalia. Discretion it is. Perhaps you should do most of the talking, in that case," Ithilian said, the corner of his lips twitching upwards for a moment. He of course still remembered their encounter with the merchant Vincento. Apparently the approach of threatening to gut the subject wouldn't be as effective here.

If she'd been pressed, Amalia would have been forced to acknowledge an inconsistency. In accordance with her present logic, she had no reason to involve herself with Feynriel's disappearance, nor with the case of Lia and the magistrate's son. There was an answer to that charge, but she was much less certain of it than she was of other things. By extension, it made her uncomfortable, and even as it flickered across her mind's eye now, she straightened, the surprisingly-gentle amusement vanishing from her features as though it had never been there at all. "Meravas," she murmured, as if to herself. "My gratitude, Sataareth."

Ithilian nodded, not really sure what to do with the thanks. This conversation was... so much different from the first one they'd had, when assisting Feynriel's mother. He gestured with his head towards his home, eager to be off now that they had agreed on a course of action. "I'll just grab my gear, and we'll go pay this shem a visit."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega

Earnings

0.00 INK

Immediately upon entering the Hanged Man, Sparrow was forced to quickstep away from a stumbling miner who'd obviously had too much to drink, successfully dodging his flailing elbows and ducking casually underneath his arm to reach the bar stools, half-accidentally bumping into a barmaid in the process. She offered a sly grin and an equally questionable wink before snatching up her proffered hand, that might've just been trapped midair just in case she had to push someone away. She twirled the barmaid around her as if they were in a dance, finally releasing her by the fingertips, and gracefully lowering herself into a bow, murmuring a soft: “Fancy meeting you here, Darcy.” Her eyes twinkled mischievously, as if it hadn't done so in a long time. She was long overdue for a drink at her favourite institution. From her peripherals, Sparrow could already see that a sizable crowd was gathering – or else, an interesting cluster of patrons gathered off to the side, cheering loudly, stomping their feet, and clanking their goblets together as if they hadn't a care in the world. Must've been nice to feel that way.

The woman hadn't missed a single beat, quipped with her own: “'Get off it. Yer' always here, Sparrow.” The lithe man in question merely shrugged her shoulders, smiling all the while, and slipped into her designated stool. A moment later and a mug swilling to the brim with ale swept in front of her, speckling droplets across her knuckles with it's unceremonious halt at her extended fingertips. She cupped it in her hand and hunkered over it. How many times had she lied in the past two weeks? Too many times. Far too many to even begin counting. It left a sour taste in her mouth, and certainly didn't feel right. Her tongue felt thick, swollen, and her elbows ached. Nothing felt certain. She'd lied to Rilien, even though she had an inkling that he'd known all along, each and every time she'd told him she was feeling fine, that he shouldn't worry about her because she could take care of herself, and why-the-hell-was-he-looking-at-her-like-that-anyway? Those taboo words hadn't even been spoken, and already, Sparrow was desperately trying to cover her tracks and make it seem like nothing had happened: Desire Demon, possession, dirty apostate. If Ashton had asked her anything, would she have lied to him, too? Most likely. It was less painful that way. She was swallowing her spine, but at least they didn't have to feel wrong when they looked at her. As if she'd suddenly grow wings, talons, blue skin, or needle-point teeth and rip them
apart: an abomination – ugly things, really.

Her lies were like soft footfalls, tiptoeing across eggshells. Pretty much innocent. Like pebbles clicking against someone's window. Like her frequent assertions that she wasn't that drunk. She didn't want to paint herself a monster, or even acknowledge the fact that she'd made a mistake – didn't want Ashton, or Rilien, or anyone else painting her that way, either. She brought the iron cup to her lips, tipped her head, and chugged it down until the last drop slithered down her gullet, then gingerly placed it where it'd first appeared, softly, gently; with none of her usual clattering gusto. She traced the cup's rim with a finger, letting her head list to the side. Had Rilien seen her the past few nights, while she thought he slept? Her arm's felt as if they acted on their own, twitching to life at her sides, filling her with thoughts that turned her stomach; to hurt, to kill, to tear.

In her present frame of vision, Nostariel could see only the table in front of her, her tankard, the identical one across from it, and a single, blood-red gauntlet. It was a surprisingly-ornate thing, considering who it belonged to. Lucien was... unusual, by even her reckoning of normalcy, which was admittedly rather skewed. A self-professed Lowtown stomper, he nevertheless managed to carry himself with such dignity she was sure he would comport just as well with courtly knights and ladies as with the assorted rabble, riffraff, and vagrants one found here, in this tavern.

The worst part was that she was certain the suggestion would gently offend him, that he would still be the consummate gentleman and inform her that her company and that of those around her was no less desirable (or mayhaps more so) than that of the Queen of Antiva herself. It was... disconcerting. To be treated so much like some precious thing, to be in the company of someone who treated everyone like they really mattered, no matter who they were or what they'd done. She found that, most days, she was unable to muster the courage to even look someone like that in the eye. The other sinners, the others who make mistakes and wore them on hunched shoulders or in troubled eyes, these folk at least she could understand, could bring herself to know without too much guilt festering in her insides for it. But this man was another matter. For all his scars and the battered testaments to experience and bloodshed etched into that gauntlet (they were on the rest of his armor, too, she'd discovered on a braver day), he was still so untouched by those things that muddied her at every turn that she almost didn't know what to do with herself when he was present.

Yet it was impossible to begrudge him this, and she still managed a smile when he sat across from her, mug in hand, and told her that there was someone he wanted her to meet. Their lives had not really intersected in such a way before, and though she could guess at the reason, she wondered if all was as it seemed. In the end, did even he want something from Nostariel the Grey Warden? (What could she even offer?) Was nobody content with Nostariel the person? Not when she's like this, they aren't. At least the title means something. The melancholy thought had dropped her gaze to its current position, but it was dragged back up and over by a slight commotion at the door, which soon evolved into a full-fledged showman's entrance. There were at least three of those a night, though, so it was not her first instinct to pay attention, at least not until she saw who it was.

"Sparrow?" Her musing was soft, just a bit surprised. It had been an uncharacteristically long time since she'd seen the slight man inside the bar; she'd almost begun to suspect that he'd simply left town without a word. He seemed free enough to do that kind of thing, and it was a freedom she at once coveted and feared. Nostariel had no real idea what she'd do with it if ever she won it, but the idea seemed rather enticing all the same.

Would Rilien have told her even if he had? The dreary thought settled like a stone, heedless of any damage it did on everything else that flowed through the river; her mind. Remaining in Darktown, safe and tucked way, hadn't seemed like an option. She wanted to distance herself from her companions for their protection. They wouldn't understand, so she casually tossed her grins, heckled with winks, and announced that she'd rather be spending her hard-earned coin at the Hanged Man. Rilien had only looked at her, all too knowingly, and said he would be visiting Ashton. She balanced her goblet, tipped over, barely on it's lip, before settling it back down and pushing it towards Darcy, only to have it filled again. Her growing loneliness – her self-inflicted sentiments – was a bleeding wound, only festering with dark thoughts and a near-constant purr whispering just behind her ear, blowing soft kisses and promises and things she'd rather shut her ears against. It was enough to drive a lesser person mad, but she'd already decided that she would fight tooth and nail, before that creature, that thing, that demon, would control her. She was afraid of herself; afraid of what she might do if she let her guard down. Gloomy ideas were becoming a bad habit, uncontrollable, unwelcome. She didn't have a paperback spine, addled with burdens, because she was free, wasn't she? She'd always been free in her mind. Apostate-chains, Qunari regulations, and Elven racism hadn't slowed her progress. It'd been a long time since she'd cast her chains, shaking them off like the last remnants of rain.

It was a familiar thought that drew her away from her somber musings. She'd been mid-gulp when she stopped, eyeing the woman over the brim of the cup, nearly snorting into the frothing liquid – it wasn't a pretty sight, but at least it was amusing. Sparrow finished her second drink and pushed it away, casually leaning on her elbows so that she could better talk to the Grey Warden. “Bella-luna! It's nice to see you. It's been awhile, hasn't it?” She mooned thoughtfully, scratching at her beardless chin. They both drank like they were always thirsty, for vastly different reasons, but in the end, it all boiled down to their own sad stories and how much they wished to change things. For Nostariel, Sparrow had shared the hardships she faced as a runaway apostate, as an erstwhile Qunari warrior, as a misunderstood half-breed, as a race who'd never been treated properly. However, she hadn't told her what had happened that day in the woods, all those years ago; the day she'd become Sparrow. It was too early, far too premature. Perhaps, someday, she'd be as frank with Nostariel as she'd been with Rilien. “Aye. You look like you've had a few more adventures since last I saw you.” Her eyes, like two cesspits eating away at the stars, shone willfully. They couldn't hold themselves together, but they could still find comfort, if only a little, in relaying their stories. Then, just like that, the not-man, hardly a woman slipped from her stool, as slippery as a gentlemanly eel, and joined Nostariel at her table.

A marked contrast to Nostariel, Lucien was the very image of relaxed ease in the Warden's company. Well, perhaps not relaxed in the sense that most people would picture it. His posture was flawless and his manner genteel, even in a place where most of the more 'relaxed' patrons were slouching over benches and tables, yelling or laughing at great volumes, filling the entire establishment with the clamor of voices and the clinking and thunks of money and tankards changing hands, of fists banging tables to emphasize a particularly evidential point in some grandiose tale or another. Varric might well be able to hold attention with his voice modulation alone, but not everyone was quite so fortunate or skilled.

She wasn't looking at him again. She rarely ever did, and at first he'd thought it a rather amusing symptom of the vast difference in their height. He had to be a foot or so taller than the elf, and this sort of thing really wasn't all that unusual for him. The few times he had made eye contact with the lady Warden, however, he'd been quite certain she wore an inexplicably-guilty face. So he'd talked to her of inconsequential things and people he used to know, switching names and omitting titles so that the yarns were about ordinary Olesians doing normal (outrageous) Orlesian things, and he'd felt a small spur of satisfaction when a few of those anecdotes had chased away her apparent misery for just long enough that she'd smile or laugh. This was the way of things for them.

When Sophia had spoken to him about making a difference in Kirkwall, however, he'd had the thought that it would be beneficial for her to meet Nostariel, just as much for the Warden's sake as for the future Viscountess'. No, that wasn't quite correct. Just as much for Nostariel's sake as Sophia's. He may well address them by titles when the situation called for it, but it was best to think of them differently. He was almost certain that the both of them had a desire to do good things here (even if Nostariel was not yet aware of hers), and they would be of mutual assistance to each other, probably a great deal more than he'd ever be to either of them. So, here they were, waiting for the lady to make her appearance, even if he'd divulged to neither who the other party was. He was Orlesian after all, and a little suspense was just one of life's many rich flavors.

He did not suspect that the loud entrance belonged to Sophia, though he looked up anyway just to confirm. It was indeed not, though he was quite certain he'd seen this patron before. Androgyny was common and sometimes even fashionable in Celene's court, and so most of the time, Lucien didn't even bother assigning gender to such individuals unless they did so first, but he was also pretty good at guessing. His initial suspicion had been that his immediate instinct towards 'female' had been some lingering and unfortunate enculturated bias towards thinking that elves were delicate and women were too, but when he'd considered it the second time, he'd been relieved to discover that this was not the case and he really simply did surmise that the patron was female. It was good to know that even the notions brought into prominence by your childhood could be overcome with sufficient time and practice.

Nostariel's utterance brought his attention back to her, and he was finally supplied with a name for the person he'd never yet spoken to. "Friend of yours?" He asked mildly, raising his good eyebrow just slightly.

It was only then, looking at Nostariel, and glancing over her left shoulder, that Sparrow noticed another peculiar individual. How unusual. The man looked as if he'd fit in a ballroom just as well as he did in the Hanged man; with all of his gentlemanly posturing – but, not the rooster sort of posturing with it's tail feathers splayed, because he seemed modest. Her eyebrow raised, inquiringly, with a dash of a feline's curiosity. “Strange companions who bond over ale, more like. I still don't know how she puts up with me.” As she always did, Sparrow was teasing. Lilting her words like poetry. Dragging them out with veiled intentions. She folded her fingers over each other, twining her index and middle across her knuckles. Her smile simpered, then faltered. “Any friend of hers is a friend of mine. My name's Sparrow.” She would've held out her hand to shake, but it would've required reaching over Nostariel – and for the moment, she had enough control to resist such actions.

Sophia had to admit, she'd been hoping to hear from Lucien again, but was actually surprised to hear from him so soon. She had quite quickly accepted his invitation to meet someone in the Hanged Man, certainly believing that Lucien's connections in Lowtown would serve to be beneficial to her. What she hadn't quite thought over was the fact that meeting someone in the Hanged Man required actually going to the Hanged Man...

The few hours before she was due to leave, she had discovered how sadly little time she'd spent in the lower parts of Kirkwall. At least, time spent there as just a denizen of the city, and now in her capacity as the Viscount's daughter. Quite frankly, she had no idea what to expect in a place like the Hanged Man; she'd heard stories, some of which fascinated her, others which were more of the mortifying sort, and she really had no idea how to pick the truths from the falsehoods. Perhaps it would simply have to be a case of leaping before she looked.

After far too much internal debate, she'd settled on wearing the plainest dress she owned, one of a pale green color, skirts flowing about her ankles, elbow-length sleeves. Slightly more low-cut than she would have preferred, but she was willing to wager that there'd be more than a few women in Lowtown that would outdo her in that regard. She chose a pair of worn leather boots, which she had used more for traveling with her brother or her father than for social calls, but they were more fitting here than a pair of her more expensive shoes meant for court would be. Because she did not consider herself a fool, she slipped a knife into the right boot, and had assured Bran that she was fully capable of using it. The Seneschal had, as usual, sniffed out her plans, and she had, as usual, enforced her will over him, convincing him that an escort of two city guards was wholly unnecessary, and would just attract more attention than she wanted.

In the end, Sophia figured she looked more or less like the poorest woman in Hightown, meaning she still looked far better off than all of Lowtown. If she wanted to truly fit in down there, she would probably have to starve herself until she was mildly emaciated, and refuse to bathe for several days (or weeks? She wasn't sure, and didn't really want to ponder). Aware of the several eyes that followed her as she left the Vicount's Keep, but not really caring, Sophia set off towards the steps down to Lowtown.

She moved quickly. She fully expected word of her visits to Lowtown to spread quicker than a wildfire, but to be honest, didn't really mind. If she kept her composure, and did what she set out to do, it would probably only improve her standing with the lower orders. The nobles would perhaps raise an eyebrow or two at her, but she could handle them. She'd been handling them since she was but a young teenager. As she approached the Hanged Man at last, however, her thoughts left the bickering nobles and their greed, and fell to Lucien and whomever this person was he wanted her to meet.

She'd been about to open the door when it figuratively exploded in front of her, causing her to jump back slightly as an absurdly drunk man stumbled forth, not even seeing her as he shambled past. She stood rather still for a moment, aware that her heart was beating nearly as fast as when she'd had to defend her brother from the Winters. She would have to think on that later. Her second attempt at opening the door was successful, and she carefully slid inside, using her spatial awareness as though she were maneuvering through a melee.

Lucien was easy enough to spot, in his armor as he had been on both occasions she had met him previously. She made her way through the varying levels of chaos to his table, noting midway the garb of the woman he was seated with: a Grey Warden. Indeed, she had known Lucien would not have brought her down here for nothing. She'd met a few Grey Wardens some years ago, when she'd been much smaller, and had always valued the chance at meeting another. And to not do so in the environment of the Viscount's Keep was especially enticing. The prospect helped her overcome much of her uncomfortability at being in such a den as the Hanged Man.

"Good evening," she said, arriving at the table and curtsying slightly to the Warden. She wasn't sure to what degree the elven woman expected, or wanted, formality, and meeting in a place like this seemed to give Sophia the answer, but it never hurt to be safe. "My name is Sophia Dumar." She wasn't sure if it was necessary to add anything else, admittedly expecting the Warden to recognize the name, and so she gently seated herself in an unoccupied chair, curious as to where this would lead.

There were strange tides today, it seemed. Sparrow's flint-like eyes flit past Nostariel and Lucien, focusing solely on the newcomer. The kindliness and good manners were almost stifling. She'd never been one to hold her tongue or display unusual amounts of etiquette – she'd rather stomp on eggshells than tiptoe past them, and if anyone was offended, then she'd clear the air with crude jokes. She chuckled softly and leaned back in her stool. No doubt, Sparrow hadn't been noticed, so casually looking about as if she didn't truly belong anywhere, and all at once: everywhere. She had to peek over Nostariel's shoulder to catch a better look. “Now you look like you need a drink.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega

Earnings

0.00 INK

Sophia hadn't been aware that Lucien wanted to introduce her to two people, and to be quite honest, she wasn't quite sure how to answer the elven... half-elven... the second person's greeting, which consisted solely of a recommendation: drink. Truth be told, that was one thing Sophia hadn't come to the Hanged Man to do, both because she had heard less than ideal things about the tavern's refreshments, and also because she wasn't much of a drinker in the first place, and figured a unusual trip to a potentially dangerous part of town for her a poor time to start.

She did note that the Warden and this other had certainly come here to drink, but made no mention of it. "I'm... thank you, but I'll pass. Not drinking tonight." Was her face reddening? Maker, she hoped not. It certainly didn't help that she couldn't tell what she was talking to, neither race nor gender. Her eyes darted away from the... man, she had to go with man, and towards Lucien and the Warden.

Nostariel was prone to gentle head-shakes whenever Sparrow was present, and now was no exception. Taking pity on Sophia, she backhanded her fellow mage (gently) on the arm and tsk'ed softly. "You leave the lass alone, you rake," she admonished, but there were faint traces of amusement clinging to the words. There was the head-shake, and she turned slightly to face the Viscount's daughter. "Don't mind Sparrow; that's just the way he is. My name is Nostariel Turtega. It's nice to meet you as well. I must say, if Lucien here had told me I'd be meeting yourself, I would have chosen a slightly less... harrowing location." Her glance focused briefly over Sophia's shoulder, where a pair of men (both completely pissed, by the looks of it), tried to support each other on the way out of the tavern. Nostariel's brows furrowed; those two worked at the Bone Pit, she was sure of it, and while they were quite often inebriated, she didn't think it was so bad usually.

She tucked the thought away, having more pressing matters to attend to at the moment. "Another friend of mine is essentially Kirkwall's rumor mill, so I'd heard whispers of the Viscount's daughter out and about in the city. May I ask the purpose of such ventures?" Nostariel raised her tankard to her lips and took a draught, setting it back down with perhaps more grace than a drunk properly deserved.

Sophia was quite certain she'd reddened more once the Grey Warden, Nostariel Turtega, as she introduced herself, stepped in to rescue her from Sparrow. An excellent first impression, no doubt. She'd probably looked more confident the last time she had met a Warden, and that was when she had been twelve. Of course, that was also in the Viscount's Keep and not the Hanged Man, but still. She might have agreed with Nostariel's sentiment about the location, but showed no sign of it. "It's quite alright. It's an interesting change of pace, I'll give it that."

And apparently rumor traveled faster than she herself did. Were her daily affairs such common knowledge? She supposed they would be, given her future as Viscountess. She sensed genuine curiosity in Nostariel's question however, which was far preferable to the accusatory tones she would no doubt get from Father the next morning, when he found out about this. "If I may be frank," and Sophia actually felt like it would be strange not to be frank with someone in a place like this, "there's a good deal about the city that doesn't sit right with me, and I want to fix that. It's hard just to know what the problems are, let alone fix them, when you spend every waking moment concerned only with the affairs of Hightown. So... I guess I'm branching out, and seeing what I can do to help. I don't have much actual authority over anything quite yet, but... I'm capable of helping people, so I think I should."

She hoped her ideal would resonate with the Warden, although she was aware that joining that particular Order was not always by choice. Her gut told her that Nostariel was a good person, though. Lucien wouldn't have introduced them otherwise.

“Much simpler to feel at ease with a warm belly.” She added flippantly, arching an inquisitive eyebrow. It was only when Nostariel playfully thwacked her arm, hardly knocking the simpering look off her outlandish features, that Sparrow mouthed a silent apology and dropped her hands from her chin, gesturing with one as if she were waving a white flag – surrendering neatly, politely. It wouldn't do to disobey a pretty lady. Surely, Ashton would agree. Her smile widened, ever so slightly, with her teeth peeping between her lips. This woman, who's name rang like seashells and bells, was adorable. Sparrow feigned an affronted pout, dipping her chin into her upturned hand, elbows already finding purchase on the table's chipped contour. She waggled her fingers. Her eyes rolled back towards her fellow mage. This was just the distraction she needed to keep her head out of the water, to keep herself from drowning. It would be enough for now.

“Sunshine – the Viscount's daughter?” It came as a soft whisper; a breathy intonation of surprise. She'd already given Sophia a fitting nickname: Sunshine. There was something pleasant, almost unscathed, in the woman's eyes. As if it hadn't been touched by outside influences. As if it hadn't been torn apart in the most unpleasant ways. It was refreshing and uncomfortable, all at once. Honestly, Sparrow wasn't used to anyone who wasn't remotely broken, or injured, or battered from earlier experiences. Her hands sidled at the table's edge, gently drumming to an invisible beat. This conversation was better left to those who's goals extended far beyond living day-to-day, drivelling in hovels and scurrying in the comfort of darkness. Hadn't she helped a group of Templars only weeks ago? A group so hellbent on stripping her freedom away. It was almost funny, and perhaps it would have been if it hadn't turned out so badly. Her hand was beginning to ache, interrupting the steady rhythm of her fingers. She couldn't stay. So, finally, Sparrow scrapped the wooden chair back, tipped a ghostly hat at Nostariel, Lucien, and Sophia.

“Good to see someone's trying t' change things.” Her voiced dropped to a conspiring whisper. “If it were me, I'd start at the bottom. Help the one's that don't have the coin to help themselves.” The Elves, the poor, the apostates. When did Hightown need for anything? Without another word, Sparrow threw Sophia a wink and swept past her, shouting her goodbye's to the barkeep and it's servers.

Almost as soon as she'd appeared, the rambunctious woman was gone, leaving Lucien blinking his good eye slowly, as if to make sure it was working correctly. He needed it to, given the state of his other one. There had been something uneasy in her demeanor, though subtle, and covered rather well by the flapping, strutting flashiness of a peacock proud of his feathers. If that hadn't been entirely standard where he came from, he probably wouldn't have noticed it. Still, it was none of his business, and he did not inquire after it, returning his focus intead to the two women that still remained.

Of course, he was hoping that Sophia's frank mannerisms and obvious good intentions would earn her some help from Nostariel, because the woman was undeniably a good ally to have; a hell of a healer, not to mention someone with real (and very unfortunate) experince in achieving what seemed to be impossible. While the elf didn't necessarily know it, he'd wager she was close to the ideal voice for city eles, mages, and large groups of other unfortunates who may or may not recieve due attention elsewhere. At the very least, she knew a great deal more than he about all of those things, and it was infomation Sophia needed to have if she was to succeed. Conversely, well... it was fair to say that if his initial estimation of the Viscount's daughter was correct, then nobility was not to be given up on quite yet, and his Warden friend could use some reassurance of that.

He understood, however, that it was not for him to baldly assert any of these things, no matter how certain of them he was. Some things would only ever show their value when unearthed one step at a time. So Lucien faded into the background of the conversation, present if he was needed but otherwise as unobtrusive as a six-and-a-half foot man in plate armor could be.

Sparrow had a way of making the atmosphere around him lighter, as though some of the oppressive, miasmic weight of it cleared for just a little while. His childish expressiveness and silly gestures were welcome interruptions to the monotony of her misery, just as Lucien's unfailing politeness and gentle, coaxing manner of conversation and Aurora's stubborn optimism were. Too soon, the lanky man was gone, and she was left to face something she wasn't quite sure how to answer.

This woman, Sophia Dumar, reminded her quite acutely of Lucien, only... well, the fact that she was dressed more richly wasn't important, but she was blunter, in a way. The same feeling of essential goodness was there, though, and it was easy to see why the two got along well enough that he'd invite someone from Hightown down here, and why she'd acquiesce and appear without visible armament. (Not, of course, that Nostariel believed she was unarmed). The Warden appraised the Viscount's daughter with genuine curiosity. "I know the feeling well," she demurred, propping her elbows on the table and clasping one fist in the opposite palm. Setting her chin atop both, she sighed softly.

"Our mutual friend is no fool; I may very well be able to assist you. But... I would ask one thing in return. There will come a time when what you want to do seems impossibly difficult, when the right choice isn't clear to you. When everything you've been raised or taught to think pulls you in one direction, but some little part of yourself that wasn't there before makes you unsure. When that time comes..." The Warden trailed off and swallowed, her voice thickening with something not quite nameable. "Well, I won't tell you what to do, but I'd ask you to listen to that small thing. Its power is not indicative of its truth." Blinking rapidly several times, Nostariel straightened her posture slightly, tilting her lips in a self-effacing smile.

"My apologies; I may have just convinced you of my strangeness rather than anything else. But I would ask it of you all the same. By the nature of our world, the decisions of some matter a great deal more than those of others, and I have a feeling that yours will mean a great deal, Sophia."

Sophia had been quite absorbed in the words of the elven Warden, enough so to forget that she had just felt a fool from the encounter with Sparrow, enough to forget Lucien was silently observing their conversation, enough even to forget that she was in a place like the Hanged Man, noisy and chaotic as it was. Her words made her feel... strangely uncomfortable, though. The idea that what she had been taught, or led to believe, could possibly be... not false, but not true either. Grand Cleric Elthina came to mind. There was perhaps no one who had taught her more in her life. She couldn't see herself ever going against the Grand Cleric.

"Strange? No... I find the lack of any caring among many nobles to be strange, not this. But... I've had teachers that I have always aspired to, Andraste and the Maker above all. I haven't felt doubt in..." Not so long ago, she had to remind herself, brought on by that troublesome criminal and the man sitting right next to her. Sophia became aware that she was looking at him, or his gauntlets, rather, and pulled her eyes back up to meet Nostariel's.

"I can speak only for myself, of course, but I have to believe in the rightness of many of those who have taught me. I'm certain I'll be tested far more in the future than I ever have, but their guidance has not led me astray yet, nor do I believe that it will." Quite suddenly, she found herself wishing she'd worn her armor, or at least some kind of armor. She felt rather small compared to Lucien next to her, and even the Warden, who she was certain had seen far more than the little Hightown Sophia had grown up in.

Oh, the things I could tell you, Nostariel thought to herself, but she recognized that assurance, that confidence, well enough to know that nothing she said would make a difference. So instead of asserting herself, she backed off without a fight. "I used to think much the same. I suppose I can only ask that you trust yourself as well as trusting them. At any rate, perhaps it was presumptuous of me to assume. I will offer my assistance when you require it, provided I am not occupied with anything for the Wardens. I can also keep my ear to the ground, so to speak. You might be surprised what one can learn in a place like this."

"I would greatly appreciate it," Sophia said, nodding her head in thanks. She was also grateful Nostariel did not choose to push her point further. Perhaps it was unwise to discard advice from a Warden, but Sophia thought it far more dangerous to discard advice from Elthina, a woman she had known far longer, the wisest soul she had had the privelege of being taught by. Pleased, however, with at least making the acquaintance of a Warden, and the possibility of future cooperation, Sophia stood, and bowed once more, though it felt unnecessary. "I should probably return to the Keep, lest Bran send out a search party," she said, smiling slightly at Lucien. "Thank you for inviting me here. It was a pleasure to meet you, Nostariel."

She then made her way cautiously from the tavern once more, careful to avoid more stumbling drunks and other assorted dangers of Lowtown at night. Yes, she definitely would be wearing some armor next time she came here.

"Likewise," Nostariel murmured politely, but she wasn't sure there was much truth in it. It was not that she disliked Sophia, or even that she thought the woman was doomed to fail. It was just... taking on such a burden, no matter how apt her allies, was going to bring her much pain and sorrow, and some of it probably self-caused, if she was unwilling to veer from dogma and really see the things that her eyes would show her, if she spent long enough in places similar to those Nostariel had dwelt. Looking morosely into her cup, she took several deep swallows and glanced at the large man across from her. She made it to one of his ears this time, though eye contact was still impossible.

"I hope she winds up more like you than me," she said simply. They'd both suffered, but his had made him better, and hers had only sunk her, like a swimmer weighted with too many stones, drowning, drowning.

There was an underlying current to this conversation, one that was almost enough to cause Lucien to break into it. With what, exactly, he couldn't have said. The line of tension was relatively easily identified. Sophia was devout, Nostariel was a mage. He had thought the similarity in their intentions would have made it less of an issue, and to a certain degree, perhaps it had. The problems, however, had not simply vanished into thin air. He liked to think that he was in some way privileged, to know a fair deal more of Nostariel's woeful history than most, but there was still something there, underneath the general air of melancholy, that wasn't quite explainable with what he knew. She did not fight Sophia's assertions spitting like an alley cat (and he knew quite a few who would), but neither did she roll over and demur.

In time, the conversation itself was over, and their guest was departing. Lucien offered a nod, making sure Sophia successfully maneuvered her way out the door before glancing back to the Warden. He didn't exactly flinch at the amount of ale she was intaking, but the inward sentiment was about the same. He hadn't meant to depress her further; that had actually been the opposite of his aim.

When she spoke, he sighed, unheard over the din of the bar, and leaned his head into one hand, the drop in his height quite effectively forcing eye contact for at least a moment. "You shouldn't," he replied seriously. "There is nothing wrong with you, Nostariel."

The woman stilled, looking for a moment much like a doe staring down some form of very large predator. It wasn't that Lucien frightened her, but the sentiment was so... something. Surprising, perhaps. She shook her head slightly and swallowed, looking back down at the table. "...it's generous of you to say so." She replied at last.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

It seemed her meeting with the Grey Warden was paying off already.

Sophia had received a brief missive from Nostariel, suggesting she speak with the owner of the Bone Pit mine, Hubert. An Orlesian setting up shop in Hightown among the nobles, looking to make his fortune by salvaging one of the old and lost (and rumored to be cursed) mines. Sophia certainly wasn't interested in helping the man become rich, as he had certainly already taken care of that if he had bought out the Bone Pit, and filled it with workers. According to Nostariel, however, it was the workers who were in need of aid. They were missing. Apparently they were, for the most part, refugees from Fereldan, desperate for work, and willing to stoop to the undoubtedly awful wages Hubert offered them. Sophia had to admit, it seemed possible they'd simply abandoned the man and his mine, but she was willing to investigate nonetheless. She trusted the Warden wouldn't send her on a needless errand.

She'd slipped out of the Keep unnoticed by Bran this time, glad to avoid his disapproving head shakes, dressed in a somewhat lighter set of armor this time, light plating over a suit of chainmail, a crimson skirt flowing down to her knees, Vesenia sheathed across her back as ever. She'd had the foresight to bring a few other weapons this time, considering the near disaster on the Wounded Coast, when she'd momentarily been disarmed by the mercenary leader, Ginnis. A shortsword was sheathed at her waist, and the dagger from the trip to the Hanged Man still sheathed in her boots. Her hair was once again pulled back into a ponytail.

The Viscount's daughter made her way to the market, where she had been directed. Hubert was not a hard man to find, and Sophia had more than enough experience to pick out his strong Orlesian accent from the crowd of merchants. He did seem so intent on selling his wares today, as well, no doubt preoccupied by his troubles as he was. She strode directly towards him until she had his attention.

"I hear you've been looking for help," she offered, coming to a halt, "something about the Bone Pit?" He appeared as though a physical weight had been lifted from his chest when she mentioned help. "Finally, someone comes to help me," he gave her a look-over, then, and appeared somewhat less relieved. "You... look a bit unseasoned, but I hope you will do!" It occurred to Sophia that this man did not know who she was. He likely hadn't been in Kirkwall for long. She found it immediately refreshing, and planned to keep it that way.

It was just a little bit apalling, how easy it was to mark the wealth of a certain area's residents just by the look of the buildings. Oh, there was no denying that Hightown was possessed of beautiful (if austere) architecture, but Amalia was more preoccupied by the fact that this was allowed to exist at the same time as Darktown. Within a mile, no less! Humans confused her, there was no denying that. They'd just climbed the stairs to the Hightown market, both looking about as unsuited to be there as it was possible to look. Amalia's manner of dress was probably scandalous, and Ithilian was a scowling, one-eyed, armed elf. This was more satisfying than troubling to her, anyway.

She'd been told that Hubert was an Orlesian who ran a stall here, though exactly what he sold, she did not know. As long as he didn't attempt to tell her exactly what she wanted as the Antivan had, she didn't really care, either. A breeze carried the sound of voices to her, and Amalia paused, cocking her head to one side. That accent... the male was Orlesian, the female local. He might be exactly the one they were looking for. Passing a dwarf with a small enchanting table, Amalia wove past a couple of pillars and emerged into both the sunlight and the market proper. Able to see the speakers now, she noted quickly tha one appeared to be midle-aged and indeed the proprietor of something, while the woman was substantialy younger, dressed in armor but still clearly of this area. It was irrelevant.

Some observation about the woman was made, but Amalia had no time to stand and wait patiently for her turn. There was a life at stake, a life she was responsible for. "Bas. You have information I require. Where is your Bone Pit, and what has happened there?"

Hubert at first looked slightly startled by the woman's tone, and then rather offended. Sophia had raised her eyebrows and crossed her arms, and Ithilian stayed a pace or two back, consciously reminding himself to keep his hands away from his weapons, and looking about to identify the positions of all the guards in the area. No doubt they would take offense to his presence if he remained here too long. Amalia would likely be politely asked to leave, being human, at least by their standards, but he had a gut feeling they wouldn't be so gentle with an obviously armed and clearly disgruntled elf.

"What happened?" Hubert said, raising his voice ever so slightly. "I had to suspend my operations, that's what happened! My workers are lost, or... have run off, or something! Serves me right for hiring Fereldan refugees." Sophia was clearly still maintaining her patience with the man, and her tone was not nearly so demanding as Amalia's. "So you have no information on what's gone wrong at the mine?" He shook his head. "I sent others before, but no word. Perhaps they are putting me off... in any case, I need someone competent to figure out what is going on."

"And you can think of no reason your miners would want to abandon you, I'm assuming?" Ithilian offered from practically afar. It took a moment for Hubert to realize who was speaking to him, but he shrugged at the elf upon locating him. "I am at a loss. No miner has reported in, and no one will take me seriously. They fear local superstitions about the mine, but the Bone Pit is harmless, I am sure."

"I'll go to your mine then, and see what I can learn about your workers," Sophia offered, before turning to Amalia. "It seems you've some reason to investigate as well? I know the way, and I would welcome the assistance, if you would like to work together."

Amalia spent a moment or two longer than was strictly polite in silence, contemplating the offer. Heterochromatic eyes narrowed, contemplating Sophia as though she were some curious specimen under a magnifying glass, and the Qunari was looking for something in particular. From the fact that Ithilian hadn't immediately (and obviously) made his opinion known, she inferred that much as he would dislike it, he was going to leave the decision to her, something the Ben-Hassrath appreciated. She could not afford to waste resources in a situation where her enemies were as yet unknown, should there be any at all.

At last, she broke her moratorium on speech. "Merevas. If you know the way, I will follow." She did not speak of her purpose, nor did she speak for her companion. Even if the same could rarely be said of those that lived in this place, she at least respected boundaries. To Hubert, she offered only a cold stare. Harmless, indeed. Lying basra. She wasn't exactly surprised that this well-dressed woman didn't know the rumors surrounding the Bone Pit, nor what the working conditions were supposedly like, and she wasn't going to bother enlightening anyone. All of those things would be clear soon enough, after all.

"Ahem," Hubert tried to break in, holding up a hand slightly, "The reward would be split three ways if I'm to have a team investigate, not tripled. You should be aware of that, of course, and that you'll be paid based on what kind of troub--" But Sophia cut him off. "You may keep your coin, Hubert. I'm interested in the miners, not the mine." The Orlesian looked somewhat shocked, but wiped it away quickly enough. "Very well, then. Please hurry, though. Each day the mine is not running costs me more than those miners make in a year, after all."

Ithilian chose a rather interesting time to speak up. "I'll take my share of the reward, actually. The shem does not speak for me." Hubert sighed. "Yes, yes. We will discuss rewards upon your return, is that acceptable?" The elf nodded, clearly not wishing to deal with him further. "Take us to this mine then, len'alas. Like the man says, quickly now."

Not appearing intimidated by the heavily armed Dalish, Sophia gestured with her hand for them to follow. "This way, then. And you may call me Sophia, should you wish."

Ithilian almost smirked. He didn't. Len'alas would do.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega

Earnings

0.00 INK

Lucien,

There's a merchant making a lot of noise in Lowtown about the Qunari, Javaris something. Says he's offering quite a bit of coin for anyone who'll help him. If the horn-heads are involved, it probably won't be easy, but that's kind of your speciality, isn't it?

-Mirren


Admittedly, when he'd woken this morning to find the note affixed to his door with a red-handled dagger, he'd rolled his eyes (the bad one could still do that, after all) and wondered when the Red Iron had picked up such a flair for the dramatic. Nevertheless, he was grateful that they were passing work his way, regardless of how they chose to go about informing him of it. So here he was, going through the daily ritual of strapping on his copious amonts of armor and tying his patch over his scarred eye, thankfully about to be gainfully employed once more. Lucien's home was fairly typical of Lowtown, save one thing: it was incredibly neat and free of clutter. The rooms were scrubbed to Chevalier-barracks standard, which was to say that dust was treated as a mortal foe, and everything had a place. It wasn't exactly clinical, but it clearly lacked the touch of someone who hadn't lived a military life.

Buckling his last gauntlet into place, he removed the scythe from its hook near his bookshelves and places it in its accustomed place at his back. There were no mirrors in his home, so he made due with a quick inspection, ensuring that his cleaning of the plate and chain the day before had not missed any errant blood spots or debris. It hadn't, of course, and so he stepped outside, locking the door with a brass key, kept on a ring with only one other. Looping this through his belt, he set off towards the market, which was for him a fair distance, given his location just a few streets over from the Alienage.

As was usual even this early in the morning, the place was fairly abustle, and he had to scan the heads of the merchants he was used to seeing for the ones that he wasn't. Javaris was not an elf's name he'd ever heard, meaning that he was looking for a human or a dwarf, probably the second. As it was, he pulled over to the clothier's stall to inquire about it and recieved his answer. "That blighter? Won't shut up about Qunari or explosions or something. Yeah, he's over there." Lucien followed the trajectory of the woman's arm and smiled politely, dipping his head in thanks.

The smell of ale and old vomit had been a little too much for Nostariel to handle just then, and it occurred to her that she hadn't been out of the Hanged Man since the last time she'd gone to check up on Feynriel, which was at least a week ago. That was long enough, and after bathing, she'd taken up her staff and decided to go walking, to make her pesence known if nothing else. The absence of a Blight didn't excuse her from her duties as a Warden, however much a "retirement" this posting was supposed to be. Admittedly, she felt a little more motivated right now than she had in a while, partially because of her promise to the Viscount's daughter, and partially because of what Lucien had said to her. She hated disappointing people, which was why she often tried to remind them (and herself) that it was unwise to expect much from her. But the man didn't seem to understand the hint, and he'd gone and said there was nothing wrong with being her.

She still disagreed, but it couldn't hurt to find out if there was some truth to the statement, could there? It was unlikely, but she might surprise herself.

The elven woman had reached the Lowtown markets, lost in thought and her face firmly pointed towards the ground, when her trajectory crossed the Orlesian man's. Unless he noticed and moved, she was actually going to run straight into him.

Lucien was trekking towards the indicated merchant, an old bard's tune escaping him in the form of a low whistle, when he noted a familiar face. Well, really it was more the body language and clothing that gave it away, for her face was turned, as usual, downwards. She did not seem to have noticed him, and the Orlesian neatly sidestepped her determined path, his tune ceasing mid-note. Ever decorous, he did not touch her shoulder to stop her as another might have, but he felt it would be rather inconsiderate of him to pretend he had not noticed her presence at all. "Ah, Nostariel. It's quite the surprise to see you here, I must admit." He smiled kindly, stopping in his forward motion so as to speak to her properly, if that was what she wished. People that needed to pass him simply went around; nobody was going to complain to a man so tall and clearly well-armed.

The sound of a familiar voice snapped her right out of her reverie, and she looked up sharply. How was it that everyone she knew was so much taller than her? Clearly, she needed to befriend more dwarves. It was worse when they were standing, and it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that Lucien loomed. Not that she believed he intended to. The lady Warden blinked, her mouth opening and closing a few times before her words finally caught up with her thoughts. "Oh, Lucien. What are you doing here?" She winced; that had sounded somewhat impolite even to her own ears. Had it really been so long since she'd needed to socialize without the aid of ale or brandy?

Lucien's smile grew, and he chuckled lightly. "I do have to earn my keep somehow, I'm afraid. I'm here on a bit of business. Apparently, there's a merchant here who needs some help involving the Qunari. I'm told the coin will be lucrative, but I came to discover the nature of the task first." After all, he was not the Red Iron. He didn't take anything that would pay well outside of slavery and assassination. Still, however suspect this seemed, he was at least willing to speak with the client before making a decision.

"Ah, of course. Sorry." Nostariel felt the faintest hint of color rising to her skin, which only made things worse. She should have guessed that he was here for his work. Even if he hadn't been, what right did she have to inquire? She paused for a moment, considering simply making her goodbys and departing, but something made her hesitate. She recalled the way she'd felt upon Feynriel's rescue, as well as Sophia's words in the pub the day before. Biting her lip, she gave it a bit of thought, then took a deep breath. "Can I come? That is, I won't ask for any of the profits, I just..." she exhaled, at a loss for how to explan her desire to be active to actually accomplish something again.

Lucien shrugged, the corner of his visible eye crinkling with faint good humor. "I don't see why not; I'd be happy to have some help, in fact. And you're welcome to your share of the payment, whatever that might be. Shall we?" He gestured ahead of himself, and the two approached the merchant identified as Javaris Tintop. "Pardon me, sir, but I'm of the understanding that you're looking to hire help of a certain kind. My friend and I were here to inquire about the circumstances."

The dwarf fiddled with his rather short and well groomed beard as he sized up his potential help. "So that's how it works, is it? Gotta put out a load a coin before you get anyone with some muscle on them? Can't get a decent blade at a bargain anymore, that's for sure," he finished, half-mumbling the last bit. "You two, though! You might be what I need. The name's Javaris Tintop, in case you didn't already know, and I need skilled help in order to pacify the Qunari."

He leaned forward on the little stall he was set up at, to speak more directly to Lucien and Nostariel, even though it was unlikely many of the other Lowtown merchants would hear him as it is, or even care if they did. "Those horn-heads in the Docks have a... powder, and it explodes! Just dust, no lyrium, no magic, no demons. Anyone can use it! Problem is, that Arishok said I wasn't worthy or something, then he said something about how not even their outcasts, those Tal-Vashoth as they call 'em, are that mercenary. Made me think... if I got rid of something that bothered the horn-heads as much as those Tal-Vashoth do, maybe he'd bargain with me! Therein lies the job. You up for hunting some outlaws, my good man?"




Today was not a shop-sitting kind of day, as Ashton locked the door of the Hunted Stag behind him. Sure, he may have had gotten some customers over the course of the day, but that really wouldn’t help pull him out of the bind that he was currently in. While he was a shopowner, that didn’t exactly mean he owned his shop. He still had massive payments to make out to the Viscount’s Keep—and he couldn’t shake the feeling that they cheated him. Hard. Ridiculously so. So that meant every now and then, on days like this, Ashton would have to venture from his lowly shop and try his hand at freelancing once more—though he’d rather stay away from the type of freelancing that got him into the city. Smuggling would leave a bad taste in his mouth.

Luckily, due to the prime location of his shop (in the heart of the Lowtown bazaar) that meant that if he kept his ears open, job opportunities would just up and appear. This was one of those times. There was word of a dwarven merchant looking to hire. From what he had gleaned the job wasn't anything illegal-- though that wouldn't have stopped him in the first place. He already associated with mages and tranquils, it's not like breaking a little law here and there would weigh too heavily on soul. The dwarf, a Jarvis Tin-something or another, was actually nearby where Ashton had his own shop. He reached behind him to make sure he had his bow and an adequate number of arrows (he once left his bow at the shop... When he went hunting. Throwing arrows at animals didn't quite pan out.) he began to make his way to where he believe this dwarf was set up.

True to his name as a hunter, he came upon the dwarf in spectacular time. Even so, it seemed that two others had already beaten him to the punch. It was a good thing Ashton wasn't shy. He coyly rubbed his hands together as he realized that one of the party was a very pretty elven lass. "Seems like it times to make some friends," Ashton said to himself as he approached the group. He arrived just in time to here the bit about exploding powder and Qunari. Dammit. The Qunari were intimidating creatures, and hunting them sounded... Suspect. Though, he did need the money. Else, his shop may not be his for much longer. Besides, he couldn't call himself a man if he let the elven lass attempt something this dangerous by herself could he now? So with his mind firmly set, he opened his mouth.

"Explodes you say? Surely something that dangerous would never be used for something grisly," Ashton deadpanned. "Though, hunting these outlaws sounds like something I could do. For the right price," He said with a wink to the elven girl.

Nostariel's mouth was set into a small frown. The way the merchant spoke conveyed absolutely no care for anything but the money he could make off the enterprise, and that did bother her to a degree. Still, what they were actually being asked to do seemed a decent-enough task. She was about to speak when she was interrupted from behind by someone unfamiliar. Turning to see the newcomer, she sighed inwardly. He was nearly as tall as Lucien! One of these days, she was going to end up with neck problems just from looking at the people she spoke to, she just knew it. For all that though, they seemed otherwise completely different. This one wore what seemed to her a friendly face, but considerably more open than her friend's.

She coughed slightly and looked away when he addressed her. People were sometimes forward with her, but they were also usually drunk at the time (as was she) and that did quite a bit to reduce her embarassment. Not so presently. "Erm... indeed not," she replied as much in kind as she was able, though her tone grew more serious when she continued. "Varric tells me that these Tal'Vashoth, they often prey on travellers and merchants trying to make their way into or out of the city. On the Wounded Coast, mostly. It seems they've displaced many of the other bandits with, well... bigger bandits." It seemed like reason enoughto do what Javaris was asking, even if the results might be... less than entirely savory if he successfully claimed credit for it. Someone purely merchantile likely wouldn't bother all that much with caring who he sold such a substance to, as long as they paid well enough.

Maybe they'd get lucky somehow, and it wouldn't become an issue. She glanced briefly in Lucien's direction, trusting his judgement a good deal more than her own.

"I'll admit to not knowing as much as I'd like to about the Qunari," Lucien pointed out, "But it seems like the Arishok's word is not something commonly overturned." Still, it appeared that this hadn't dissuaded Javaris from his resolution in the slightest, and he was about to decline on the grounds of insufficient reason to simply further the ends of a money-seeking merchant when a stranger joined the conversation. He seemed to be primarily intent on addressing the Warden, and the once-Chevalier had to work very hard to suppress the amused grin that threatened. Few people in this country were quite so direct; it was almost like being back home.

The thought fled quickly enough when she spoke though, and her words gave him reason to reconsider. Bandits... perhaps there was some merit in taking the task. An outlaw was one thing (he probably qualified as one where he was from), but a bandit was something else entirely. There was the matter of what Javaris would do with this powder if he gained it, but Lucien suspected that, opaque as they were, the Qunari were not simply going to hand it over to him. If they made to do so, perhaps he would be able to convince them otherwise. "Very well, Javaris. It looks like you have three pairs of hands where once you had none. Are we to assume that these Tal'Vashoth are indeed on the Wounded Coast?"

"Exactly so, my friend!" Javaris responded, considerably more excited now that he had a team of able individuals agreeing to help him. "Hell, loads of travelers and traders have been avoiding the Wounded Coast road just because of the damn oxmen. They hide in the hills, so I've heard, just off the roads. You probably won't have to look too hard to find them. Come find me here when the job's done, and we'll go get the powder from the Arishok, and you'll have your reward, all three of you!"

Ashton's answer was a wide grin to first the dwarf, and then second to his newfound companions. "So we just need to find these renegade Qunari, get rid of them, and get back just in time to get paid. Sounds like a simple job," He said sarcastically. Obviously, this wouldn't be easy as he made it out to be. He wasn't that stupid. The straight laced Qunari were already frightening, these renegade Qunari sounded like they had no qualms about splitting his head like an overripened melon. However, that just meant that he just had to stay out of their reach. The tall fellow with the armor could worry about that, he'd just hang back. Ah! Which brought him to his next point. He pivoted on his feet, coming face-to-face with the elven lady... In a manner. She was strikingly shorter than him, which he readily remedied by leaning over and taking her hand in his own. He gave it a light peck and then looked back up to the elf's hazel eyes and introduced himself, "I am Ashton Riviera, hunter extrodinaire, at your service Miss..."

"N-Nostariel," the Warden stuttered in reply. More than a little irritated at herself, she cleared her throat and tried again, this time with considerably more composure. "My name is Nostariel Turtega, Captain of the Grey." She hadn't used the title in a long time, but a present, she felt like a little distance might not be at all unfavorable. She couldn't remember the last time someone had so much as touched her except on accident, so this was... very strange, and more than a little uncomfortable. Taking a quick breath for fortification, she plowed onwards. "It's... nice to meet you. This is a friend of mine, Lucien..." She threw a glance at the aformentioned warrior, as though pleading with him to step in and smooth this over. She was awkward enough around people like he and Aurora and Ithilian. This was... another step away from even that.

Lucien decided that it would be best to do the lady a small mercy and get the task underway at the same time. "Lucien Drakon, at your service," he finished smoothly. "As fond as I am of both conversation and knowing my allies, I think it might be best to be underway as soon as possible, perhaps." He raised a brow at Ashton and smiled, just slightly, at the other man over the Warden's head. It was, mostly, something sympathetic, as though to point out that the Warden's reticence was universal and not his fault.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

"I don't believe I ever got your names," Sophia offered, if only to break the silence. How these two could stand it, she didn't know, but the walk to the Bone Pit had been more than long enough and more than quiet enough to become rather awkward, in Sophia's opinion. That and, well, it wouldn't hurt to get some basics down, right? If they were going to be working together on something that could potentially become dangerous, they should at least have something to call each other by.

"That's because I never gave you mine, shem," Ithilian shot back, eyes off the road as ever, searching for other threats. "But if you must, call me Sataareth. It apparently suits me." He didn't so much as glance in Amalia's direction, and certainly didn't intend to speak for her. It had been enough of a challenge for Ithilian to accept that he'd be working with this len'alas. He supposed another blade would be useful in the event that they were attacked, but that was about as much use as he could think of for her at the moment. He had his doubts she was even competent with the hunk of metal strapped across her back.

Sataareth. Sophia rolled the word around in her mind. It was certainly no word she'd ever heard before, but she would be the first to admit that was not too difficult to accomplish. To her shame, she had little understanding of the languages of other races, only those spoken by humans. She could tell by his appearance, however, that the elf was Dalish, or at least had been. She had never seen an elf so... well, confident, before. Also well armed. And the tattoo along his neck was something she was certain was a Dalish thing. Perhaps it was a Dalish word, then. It would work as well as any real name he had. The woman, however... Sophia didn't have the slightest clue who she was or where she came from. She could only hope she'd be willing to enlighten her.

Amalia's tread did not waver as Sophia's voice dropped words like stones into the stillness of their silence, but upon hearing Ithilian's response, the Qunari did something most unusual: she smiled. It was not an overt thing, and she flashed no teeth, but there was a definite, perceptible shift in the set of her mouth, as though she were contemplating some small, but complex secret and wondering slightly at its depth. On another face, it would have almost been a smirk, but not so here. Her eyes shifted almost slyly in the Sataareth's direction, but he was still looking about in that way the vigilant (or paranoid, but it was a thin difference to begin with) were inclined to do. He was playing games with the human woman, and she knew that, but it didn't seem to bring her any displeasure that he was using her words to do it.

"I am Ben-Hassrath, and I have need of no other name. It pleases some to call me Amalia, and you may do so if you are among them." She had not so much doubt as Ithilian did about Sophia's competence; she rcognized a warrior's tread when she saw (and heard) one. It continued to confound her that humans saw fit to place their women in such positions, but that itself was no mark against any one of them in particular. Anyone could, with proper work and training, become skilled in just about anything- this itself was not something the Qun denied.

The mountainous incline was beginning to level out, presumably as they approached the mine. The ground here was well-worn and gritty with the passage of countless feet, though it took them precariously-close to dropoffs that would likely kill if fallen from. Amalia was not naive, and she had no doubt more than one unfortunate had met his or her end in this way. Likely most of them were not accidents, either, but beyond a certain point it was all conjecture, and she wasn't about to bother when there were more concrete matters to be taken care of. There was, she noted, a rotten smell on the air, faintly but certainly. She suspected it might be coming from the mine passages themselves.

Instead of focusing on how she'd been randomly saddled with perhaps the strangest pair in all of Kirkwall, which she certainly could have, Sophia decided to focus on the road ahead. They had nearly reached their destination. The Viscount's daughter had not actually been here in such small numbers before; she'd had no reason to. It had been a desolate, abandoned place up until not so long ago. Still, she knew the way, as perhaps any local would who had been in the city long enough. It was located not far from the city walls, and its infamy insured that all knew of its whereabouts if they listened long enough.

The skies had clouded over by the time they arrived, leaving the haphazardly paved stone roads and venturing onto the rough dirt path, which eventually became little more than sand beneath her boots. She took a single glance off the side, enough to know that she didn't care to do that anymore. There was an ill feeling in the air, one couldn't help but feel it. The land itself seemed to protest to being tread upon, but Sophia was not one easily deterred, nor did she suspect her companions were. Still, the fact that there was hardly a bird chirping in the trees was slightly unnerving.

After a sharp left turn and a small rise, the entrance to the mine itself came into sight. Sophia was immediately greeted by the stillness of the scene, for the most part. There was, as Hubert had predicted, not a worker in sight, and the equipment was strewn about the ground in a careless manner, implying that whoever had been here before had quite hastily made a departure. It didn't appear as though there had been an attack, nothing was burning or destroyed, but the state of the entrance seemed to imply some kind of flight on the part of the workers.

The movement that did catch her eye, however, came from directly in front of them, down the little hill, at the start of the abandoned equipment. A few people were poking about through the dirt, searching through abandoned sacks and pouches, looking for perhaps valuable left behind in the haste. Sophia's gaze narrowed in disgust. Looters. The first to be on the scene, no doubt Darktown dwellers who had heard from a miner why they'd left, and thought to brave whatever dangers there were in order to pick up a few easy coins. Sophia called out them, but made no motion to draw her sword.

"Hey! You there! Stop!"

It had quite the opposite effect. A looter's head darted back to where the trio of unnanounced visitors had appeared, before slapping his fellow on the shoulder, and the pair bolted away. A few others further in dispersed as well, far out of the group's reach. Ithilian made a lightning quick motion, his bow in his hand and an arrow drawn back before the humans had so much as ten paces from where they'd started. He aimed for a brief moment, steadied his hand... Before his bow was pulled down hard by an outside force just as he released the string, sending the arrow twanging awkwardly away into the dirt. "What are you doing?!" Sophia shouted at him, having interrupted his shot. "We don't need to start killing anyone just yet, regardless of how lacking in morality they may be."

Meanwhile, Amalia, who detested wasting time, had moved at just about the same moment as Ithilian, with precisely the same thought. The only difference was an operative one: she was not quite so obvious in her intent, and rather than drawing a weapon, she simply disappeared, vanishing from broad daylight. The sand, she took as sufficient disguise for the sound of her motion, and so she did not bother slowing for stealth, instead sprinting dead-on for the nearest pair of fleeing looters. She stayed out of the elf's most likely arrow-trajectory, and though she was puzzled when it landed far short of the goal and much closer to her than she would have expected, she did not pause, using her momentum to leap into the air, launching herself into a scissor-kick that caught one of the looters about the neck. All three of the parties involved hit the sand, but Amalia was (as she had expected to be) by far the first one to recover, and rolled over on top to the back of her intended target much faster than either of them regained their breath.

Twisting one of his arms behind him, she ignored his feeble struggling and leveled a glare at his friend, flickering back into view. "Leave," she commanded in a flat, almost-bored contralto, and the man shot a glance at his companion. Amalia hissed faintly, the exhalation of annoyance whistling past her teeth. "Now, basra. I will not ask twice."

Apparently, that was enough, and the second man turned tail and fled once more, though he did look several times over his shoulder, as if to confirm that he was not being followed. The one beneath her was whimpering slightly, and she loosened her grip just enough to relieve his pain. Removing her knee from its spot between his shoulderblades, Amalia stood, bringing the looter with her. "This way, bas. Cooperate and you will leave intact." So saying, she walked him over to where Sataareth and the woman Sophia were still apparently arguing about something. Amalia and her quarry approached the two from behind, and the Qunari cleared her throat, loud enough to be heard, but not obtrusively so. "This basra will speak, and he will start with anything he knows of a human boy named Finn." She gave the man in question a meaningful look, and then released him, dusting off her hands and crossing her arms over her chest. If he ran, he would be pursued, and not nearly so gently as the last time, either.

The elf looked as though he'd just been told by Sophia perhaps the stupidest thing he had ever heard, and took a moment to overcome his own incredulity, before he looked over the scene again. The majority of the looters were gone now, save for the one that Amalia had managed to ensnare, her approach having been much more subtle than Ithilian's, and thereby avoiding Sophia's attention. He quite forcefully pulled her arm from his bow, shoved it away, and moved forward to retrieve his arrow. "Len'alas. I aimed to cripple, not kill. They could have told us something." He flipped the arrow about in his hand, before sliding it back into his quiver, and glancing back over his shoulder. "Do not do that again."

The looter Amalia had captured, a young man of scrawny stature, freckled face and shaggy brown hair, cowered slightly before his attackers, breathing heavily from his futile attempts to struggle away from the Qunari woman. Having been released, his eyes flickered about left and right, possibly looking for a quick escape, but upon taking a better look at his captors, made the smart choice, and remained still. He held his hands out before him as to show her that they were indeed empty, or perhaps clean of whatever she thought him guilty of. "I dunno nothing, miss! I mean, I may'a seen Finn 'round the Undercity once or twice, but we wasn't friends or nothing! Haven't seen him since the miners started coming back to town, raving 'bout monsters in the mine or something."

"Be specific, shem," Ithilian suggested, his free hand resting on the quiver of arrows at his hip. Not deterred by the elf's earlier wrath, Sophia stepped forward, perhaps attempting to calm down the young man somewhat. "Any information you can give us will help. We're trying to make sure the miners are safe, that's all." Though she wasn't quite sure that was what her companions were doing. Apparently they were looking for someone specific. She wondered what for.

"Right, right," the looter said, nodding to himself, "I was jus' hanging about the Darktown, and I overhear some workers sayin' the whole crew ditched this place, 'cause they didn't want to get eaten or nothing. I asked 'em about it. They said there's some kinda monsters in the mine, they didn't know what. I asked if they was coming outside, too, an' they said no. I figured I'd go poking 'round the equipment out here with some others, seeing as they're not using the stuff no more. That's all I know, I swear. Haven't seen Finn, or any of the miners since I got here. Maybe the monsters got him, I dunno. Can... can I go now?"

That made things more complicated, Sophia thought. She was glad for the company of these two, seeing that they were at least skilled, although she still wasn't sure as to what their motives were. Monsters was such a broad term. She didn't like going into the mine blindly, but it seemed they didn't have much choice. They had to get rid of whatever was making the mine dangerous, and her two companions would no doubt want to go in to search for their lost person. She nodded to the boy. "Yes. Thank you for your help. Try to stay out of trouble, would you? Not everyone will be forgiving."

He took a few cautious steps away, as if waiting for one of the others to make a move, but when they didn't, he bolted like the others, taking off and out of sight. Ithilian scowled (or continued to scowl), but made no comment in regards to Sophia's mercy. The woman herself had turned to Amalia. "If I might ask, who's Finn? I'm just curious if we all have the same purpose here. My intent is to make sure these miners will be safe when they return to work. All of them."

"Their affairs are not mine to be concerned with," Amalia replied levelly, "but his are. Finn is Athlok, viddethari. A child, and so my responsibility. If our actions help others, then so be it, but such considerations are irrelevant." Her words were blunt, their tone factual, but all the same there was nothing patently unfriendly about either. It was as though she were simply commenting on the weather. So having spoken, she turned without further comment and headed for the mine's entrance. The basra's story had troubled her, though she would not allow this to be apparent. Her fingers twitched for just a moment, the motion curiously-simliar to the one she'd use for flicking a harpstring.

"Come. We are wasting time and breath this way. If we are to speak, let us at least move simultaneously."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega

Earnings

0.00 INK

"So, what brings a beautiful Captain of the Grey out to the ass end of Kirkwall anyway?" Ashton asked Nostariel. "I haven't seen a darkspawn in... Well.. Ever," Ashton said, his face scrunching into something of a quizzical look as if he just asked himself a question. "Hmm... Wonder if I have the Wardens to thank for that. Certainly have to thank them for saving Fereldan. Archdemon business, you know? Of course you know. I was one of the refugees from Fereldan. Thanks to the Wardens, my Aunt and Uncle aren't some headpiece for a 'Spawn," Ashton rambled, unaware to how the lady warden would feel about it. To be fair, Ashton was just enamored with the fact that this woman was a Warden. He'd never met one before, he was only told stories about them. Grand, fantasical stories of warriors of great renown and strength, mages with the power of the fade in their hands, rogues that flirt with the shadows themselves. He found himself wondering which category this woman belonged to.

"So. What does bring you to our Kirkwall?" Ashton repeated, this time leaving room for Nostariel to answer.

The Warden was accustomed enough to being spoken at that she knew she didn't really need to do much besides nod and smile faintly, though she was listening. This Ashton seemed to enjoy the sound of his own voice, but that had ceased to annoy her long ago. It was funny; she would have thought his name Rivaini, but his appearance and accent practically screamed 'Fereldan,' and his words confirmed it. He was also trampling through tender ground (unintentionally, no doubt) without much self-consciousness at all. It would have been enough to depress her further if he didn't whisk by every sentence too quickly for the feelings to really set in. At the end of it all, she was perplexed, mildly overwhelemed, and still a smidge embarassed (Beautiful? Really? Who just said things like that so casually?), but surprisingly not upset.

"Well... I've been in the Free Marches most of my life, with a few exceptions here and there," she replied, casting her glance around as though trying to find something to fix it upon. Seeing as how the landscape was mostly rocks and sand, 'something' amounted to either the occasional shrub, Lucien's back, or her own feet. She went with some flitting mix of all three, which was perhaps mildly vigilant but mostly just served to keep her distracted enough to speak freely on the subject. "I grew up in the Starkhaven Circle, but Warden service takes one strange places, sometimes. I'm here now because... well, it's considered wisest to have Wardens in major cities during peacetime, and this is where they put me." That wasn't quite a lie, but it was certainly not the whole truth either. Lucien would know; she just hoped he wouldn't say anything about it.

Lucien didn't feel any particular pressure to contribute to the conversation; he was content enough simply letting the man called Ashton talk his tongue off and smiling to himself when Nostariel seemed a fair mix of confused and unusually open in response. The bowman had the "disarming" quality down quite well, he would readily admit. As he was presently leading, he didn't see the need to disguise his amusement as anything else, so he didn't try. He was considering pushing his female friend just a little further, but he knew her omissions were very purposeful, and he had no wish to make her truly ill-at-ease. Besides, they were here to do a job, and he was by his very nature focused on that until it was through.

Which was, perhaps, why he heard the shouting first. The voice was barely audible, and sounded like it was comng from atop the low cliffside to their right. "Terribly sorry to interrupt," he broke in, and quite genuinely remorsefully at that, "But it appears we have company already." He did not take his scythe to hand, for thus far, all he was hearing was a warning, which seemed a civil-enough sort of thing to be hearing, though it was sadly wasted on the likes of them. They hadn't come here to avoid the danger, after all; rather the opposite.

"A Mage huh? I suppose that walking stick of yours would have given it away." Ashton said with a wry grin. Another mage. He wondered why they flocked to a city whose circle is called the "Gallows". Even so, the mere admission of her... Mageyness drew immediate comparisons between the Warden and Sparrow. He wasn't able to get too far into it however, as the fellow leading the way-- Lucien was it? Called attention to someone shouting a warning. Just in case, Ashton had his hand on his bow, waiting for a reason to draw.

A large, gray-skinned form appeared before them, dropping down from the low cliff to their right, a spear in hand. He gripped it casually however, and did not clutch it as though preparing to strike. He was kossith, the horned people that made up the majority of the Qunari population. Short black horns curved backwards away from his head, ending over shoulder length white hair. He wore nothing above his waist, which revealed that he, like perhaps every Qunari in Kirkwall, was in excellent condition, a powerful combination of strength and speed. Bronze bands lined his arms, a larger one encircling the base of his neck. He held out a hand to the group, both as an offering of peace, and as a warning. His voice rang out strong and clear.

"Go no further, if you are wise! Tal-Vashoth control these passages. They will show you no mercy."

"I confess I wasn't expecting much," Nostariel replied. She didn't know enough about the Qunari to fill a book or anything, but if their treatment of their mages was anything to go by, mercy didn't really enter into the equation. Amalia had seemed not at all discomfited by her presence, but she put that down more to the fact that Amalia hadn't seemed discomfited by anything than any cultural tolerance. Glancing up the path from which he'd come, Nostariel placed her hands on her hips and looked up at the kossith with an expression best classed as underwhelmed, but curious. "How is it that the Arishok allows this? Surely, the Tal-Vashoth are not simply allowed to roam as they please?"

This was something that had been bothering her about the situation. The Qunari sat there at the docks, presumably largely inactive (and probaly bored out of their minds), and just sort of allowed traitors to their incredibly militant order to gallivant about the Wounded Coast, probably causing no small amount of diplomatic pressure and trouble? It just didn't make sense.

"It is not my business to know Arishok's mind," he answered evenly. "Perhaps we are beneath his notice, and we are to be insulted by being ignored. We have turned our backs on the Qun, and as such we are no longer Qunari. Perhaps it is no longer within his role to deal with us. We have become bandits and highwayman. A problem for the city guard moreso than the Antaam, wouldn't you say?"

He took a few cautious steps forward, to better examine those he had come upon. "I expected to see another caravan passing through, the usual pickings for the Tal-Vashoth, but you three appear well-equipped. The path ahead is littered with my kind. If your skill matches your arms, it would please me if you killed them."

"A cheerful sort, wouldn't you say?" Ashton quipped as he removed his hand from the arch of his bow. This Qunari-- or was he still a Qunari, since he had abandoned the Qun? Hmm. A curious question for another time perhaps. As it stood, this Qunari was asking them to slay his companions. "Is it usual for Qunari to ask others to kill their kind? Or is this a one-of-a-kind deal that we were fortunate enough to be a part of?" He asked, doing the head tilt that was usual for him. Perhaps his words wouldn't have been so sarcastic if the mass of man that was Lucien wasn't currently standing between him and large horned devil creature.

"I have turned my back on those I formerly belonged to. The second time I have done this in a short time," he explained. "I did not like my role, so I left the Qun. I do not wish to be a murdering thief, so I left these Tal-Vashoth to warn their victims. You are clearly no victims, if you have come seeking blood as I suspect, so now I will take my leave." He turned to go, no longer seeming to care about the three he had just come to warn.

"Right. That was weird," Ashton deadpanned.

Lucien raised his brow as the Qunari- well, Tal-Vashoth, most correctly- walked off, apparently not that concerned after all. "You obviously didn't grow up in Orlais, my friend. That doesn't even begin to reach the level of 'weird,'" he replied mildly, reaching back to clasp the haft of his scythe and loosen it from its bound position against his back. It gave without trouble, and the warrior hefted the thing to rest casually across the broad line of his shoulders.

"It appears to be about time to be at business, I suppose." The chances of bandits simply giving up and dispersing, he had learned some time ago, were slim to none, and so he didn't entertain much hope that they'd agree to stop raiding and killing people. Still, he'd offer them the chance. Everyone deserved that much, regardless of the circumstanes in which he'd found them. Casting a glance back at the other two, he shrugged nonchalantly. "Ready?"

Nostariel sighed softly. She probably ought to accept that she was never going to get the Qunari. They were just so... obtuse. That was probably the right word for it. Still, for all they made no sense to her, she had always believed that they operated on some kind of honor-based system, which was a good deal more than she could say for these Tal-Vashoth. Pursing her lips, the Warden mirrored Lucien in motion if nothing else and loosed her staff, planting it into the ground for the time being and nodding resolutely.

"Ready," she confirmed, her grip on the smooth sylvanwood tightening. "Bandits, I can certainly deal with." Bigger bandits just meant she had to avoid getting hit as much as possible. It occurred to her then that it might be beneficial for the other two to have some form of information about her talents, which were less obvious than a scythe bigger than her person or a well-kept bow and arrows. "Oh, and... if it comes up, I happen to be a healer, so the magical explosions will be on the smaller side." Her lips twitched for a moment, but it was time to go, and so she shook her head minutely and followed.

"Small explosions? Well that's no fun," Ashton said as he pulled his bow out of the quiver. In a single deft movement, he strung the bow as if he was tying a bootlace. He had a deftness about his fingers that his nonchalant and silly demeanor belied. With his bow strung and ready to use, he swung it over his shoulders until it rested nicely over the back of his neck. "Orlais you say? I had you pegged for a chevalier type. And I must admit, I wasn't so blessed to be born in Orlais. Highever more like it. Have many Qunari in Orlais?" Ashton said with a wry grin. He found himself rather fond of Lucien now. Still, there would be more time to talk when a band of roving horned demon bandits weren't on the road. He nodded and added, "Yep. Ready."

The group had just climbed a rise and crested a small hill when the first of the Tal-Vasoth came into sight. From the looks of things, there were quite the number, a mix of melee combatants and javelin-throwers. Lucien blinked his good eye and returned his comrade's grin with a faint smirk.

"Oh, scads. Qunari everywhere," he replied offhandedly, the double-meaning of the words quite apparent given what they'd just stumbled onto. "Simplifies our problem of finding them," Ashton grinned as he reached back for an arrow.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Aurora Rose

Earnings

0.00 INK

The contrast was striking. From Hightown to Lowtown, one would be surprised to learn that it was one city-- if she didn't already live there, Aurora would have been surprised herself. Even then, when she went on her walks around Hightown it felt like she was walking somewhere else entirely. Lowtown was, well, as the name put it, Low. Dusty streets and grungy alleyways, unsavory sorts staring as people walked by. Muggings and thugs were rampant. Though all of the negatives were there, there were a couple of positives. A silver lining of sorts that those optmisitic enough to look would find.. It felt real. There were no facades, no gilt to hide the dirt and grime. It was all out in the open, written plainly on every person who lived there. They were real. Their intentions were clear.

Hightown however did not have the decency to hang it's dirty laundry out in the open. It was hidden, under layers of gilt and gold. Still, Aurora had to admit, Hightown was pretty. Large mansions, immaculate stonework, wide open areas, and even the grim statues had a certain majesty about them. Plus, she didn't have to worry about getting mugged near about much as she would in Lowtown. The people living in Hightown however... Left something to be desired. Sneering nobility, entitled men, pompous women, and pride just because someones great-great-ancestor made their fortune in the city. She became used to a noble sneering at her like she didn't belong, she certainly looked like she didn't belong. A farcry from the robes and silks of the Nobles, she wore a pink shirt and leather pants with her red scarf. The majestic city hiding the ugly within the people's hearts. Much like Lowtown's dirt hiding the pride of her people.

But who was she to condemn and parade those she didn't know? There had to be real people in Hightown, kind people looking to just make their city that much better. The same for Lowtown, people who look for more than just to survive, but to live and thrive. Eh. Perhaps she was just that optimistic. Aurora tilted her head as she pondered the mysteries that were Hightown and it's sister, Lowtown. She had found a bench in one of the open areas and sat about meditating. She looked around, reflecting on what Amalia had said. All that she saw was the Truth. She could touch it, feel it, and know it. Everything else was an illusion. She had been pondering those words ever since Amalia presented this to her. In a way, she understood, yet she did not. She did understand one part of what Amalia had said. One word, which meant something to her. Keep it close to her heart and repeat it when all else fails. That, she understood. "Rosaline," she murmured to herself. To remind her of where she came from, somewhere far away in Antiva. A name she remembers from her childhood, and if the need arises, the name that would save her.

She shook her head and arched her back, stretching. A number of pops told her that she had been stationary for far too long and demanded that she move somewhere, anyway. Anything to get the blood flowing. So she stood from the bench and began to walk. The destination didn't matter, it never mattered. Only the journey counted. And her journey was bound to lead to some strange places yet. Something caught her eye as she walked through an arch. A poster of sorts, with the words "Help Wanted" printed in large letters at the top. The sudden appearance of the poster caused her to stop Aurora in her tracks and draw her in. She was a curious sort, and always helpful. Pity that it tended to get her into trouble.

Reading the poster, it seemed that one Ghyslain de Carrac, was the one looking the help. She chewed on her lip for moment before shrugging. She had nothing else planned, and all this meditating was dull. Perhaps a good deed would help with that. So Aurora spun on her heel and headed towards where the poster pointed.

Rilien, impeccably (if not richly) dressed as always, led their lightfooted path through Hightown. It was something at which he'd had much practice, the ability to shift back and forth from unobtrusive to downright distracting. It was something Sparrow could stand to learn, especially given the new development in their lives that he did not much appreciate. That morning, he'd simply handed her a parcel of his wares and taken up the other two himself, leading the way out the door. Any hand-flapping or flighty prostestations were silenced with a single flat look, one that telegraphed, plainly as day, it's not as though you have something better to be doing. Truth be told, this sort of presumptuous, overbearing (but subtly so, if indeed such a thing was possible) behavior was the direct result of the fact that he was both worried and protective, two things which he never had been before where she was concerned. This, he put down to the presence of the demon itself. The disturbance its presence caused, the ripple in the Fade that he could feel as acutely as water on his skin, was opening him to a (slightly, but even so) wider range of emotion that that to which he was accustomed.

It was, in short, uncomfortable. His understanding of the phenomena did nothing to diminish it, and things that most others would have dismissed as slight disturbances or errant thoughts were for him consuming to the point of a mild fixation. He needed to find a way to exorcise the demon from his friend, else he might never return to his state of equanimity. And if he was ever to feel emotions properly again, it would not be until he had flung the door to the Fade wide open and regained his magic along with it. For now, he tolerated his worry and his unbidden hunting-cat awareness of her predicament as unavoidable, and acted accordingly. Less disruptive was the concern when she was nearby and he could observe that she was not getting herself into trouble, and so for today, she was accompanying him to business and making herself useful in the process. He would not, could not smother her, and this would not be a matter of new routine, but for his own peace of mind, it would have to happen at least occasionally.

He wondered if Sparrow understoof this. It seemed unlikely; even he only comprehended it in the most abstract sense.

His present lack of focus meant that his orders were coming along more slowly than they used to, and he found himself often unmotivated to make the lesser potions and balms people came to him for. Motivation was not something he'd ever needed before, but now he felt its lack distinctly. The Tranquil huffed a breath silently through his nose. There was rent to be paid, and Coterie racket dues, and what was more, he was saving as much as he could for rare ingredients he'd need for experimentation if he was to ever develop his (formerly one, now two) most vital concoctions at all. He was very good at what he did, but nothing paid quite that well when you were working below peak efficiency and had a friend's stacking gambling debts to deal with also.

Which was perhaps why when he overheard a voice thick with the tones of his homeland, apparently arguing with someone in a position of authority, he stopped abruptly, listening acutely to the confrontation. From it, he gathered that there appeared to be a missing person, and the City Guard were refusing to deal with it. Given their present location, it was perhaps likely that the complainant would be willing to pay for something not given for free. Turning to Sparrow, Rilien simply raised one frost-hued eyebrow. Thoughts? From the corner of his eye, the Tranquil caught a flash of red, and his eyes flickered in that direction for just a moment- mage, female, auburn hair- before he returned them to Sparrow.

On the other hand, Sparrow hadn't bothered dressing any differently, meaning she looked very much like she'd stepped off the docks; a dishevelled, exotic mess of bright fabrics, elusively strong cottons, and pastel knee patches. Always appearing as if she'd just stepped out of the brothel or a particularly rowdy bar, which starkly contrasted against her well-dressed companion. Hightown would not steal any of her bluster, nor force her to dress any differently. What would she wear? Coattails, frilled hats and petticoats? They'd have to drag her kicking and screaming into those contraptions. Hopefully, and it wouldn't have been hard to imagine, Sparrow looked as if she were accompanying her master as a mocha-skinned apprentice who was aiding him in carrying his wares. Or at the very least an unusual hireling. There had been slight disharmony between the two – though she would never have admitted to noticing. Ever since returning from the Gallow's that day, from that rickety shed searching for that damned Templar, she'd had trouble looking Rilien, straight-faced. He'd always known. She couldn't figure out what was worse: not speaking of it, at all, or him looking at her in such a construed way, murmuring through his eyes that there wasn't a thing she could do to bury her mistake; to sweep it under the rug and simply forget that it existed. It would've been easier, and much kinder. The ghouls and monsters and demons had their talons slung over her shoulder like a cape, exuding the Fade as if it'd become a thin, translucent layer of skin. Imperceptible to those without magical intuitions – and to people like Rilien, no doubt it carried its own stench, its own sting, its own uncomfortable weight.

She'd wanted to put as much distance between them as possible, but with one levelled look, Sparrow couldn't have denied him. What else did she have to do today? Nothing besides wandering Darktown, clenching her hands into ineffectual fists so that she could still feel like it belonged to her alone. She'd tucked Rilien's parcel neatly under her armpit and followed him without a word, occasionally lagging behind to peer into neighbouring shops. Her cheeks puffed, then blew out in a long, exaggerated sigh. Would he kill her if she turned into an abomination? It was a nagging thought that frequently rested on the harried premise of her mind, never dissolving long enough to be completely forgotten. They didn't last long enough before they were replaced, slapped away like insignificant gnats: unproductive to the vessel. Her voice was soft, and soothing and beautiful. It's own orchestrated melody filled spine-chilling suggestions, coated to appear sweet and tempting. It beckoned with clawed fingers, a smile that boasts fangs. She'd dredged up enough strength to resist, to remain in control, and to leave everyone in the dark. These were her problems to face and defeat and solve, even if it meant clubbing it, viciously, with her mace. Cleverly puzzling the pieces out, shifting them in analytical order had never been her style; that belonged to silver-tongued Ashton and Rilien. The expression that simpered on her face was one of pure, unadulterated tedium, as if Rilien were dragging a child around by the scruff of the neck, minus dragging her feet and wailing like siren.

She did not walk in tandem with her companion, preferring to lag a little behind. It was easier to avoid his gaze that way. The weight of the responsibility he carried was too much to share, grinding down on brittle bones that threatened to give way beneath her – she was stubborn, so instead of whimpering like a sopping wet kitten, she picked a spot in the horizon, above the indelicately decorated balconies, and stared. Some nancy from Hightown this time? Bludgers hardly appreciate anything.” She scoffed sourly, squinting in the sun. “Bet it's some lass who's sick of her husband.” She added as an afterthought, rattling the parcel under her arm. Before Rilien could flatly remind her that those things were fragile, Sparrow balanced it on shoulder, tucked into the curve of her collarbone. “Unless it's not actually what I think it is.” With an inconspicuous twitch of her ears, she'd already skipped ahead of Rilien. Coin, Ril. Good, honest coin.” The remark was shaded with sarcasm, because she didn't really mind dancing around questionable lines to fill her pockets. To certain degrees, she was still Darktown-minded. Survival of the fittest. Clanging pockets by any means – almost. She'd almost missed the brief flash of auburn hair in her peripherals, and if hadn't been for the equally vibrant scarf flung around her neck. A half-whispered coo later and Sparrow's attention was directed elsewhere.

“Ah, yes. Good honest coin, right?” She repeated, softly. The light, which was infrequently present these days, danced in the dark pits of her eyes, before she snatched up Rilien's sleeve and tugged him along until she was sure that he'd follow her. They still had the parcels to deliver, too. Her free hand clutched the corner of the poster, quickly peeling it off before tittering forward. “Interested, ducky? I'd say it'd be much easier looking with a group of three. Wouldn't you, Ril?”

His amnesiatic dreamer was a full-blown gypsy dancer again, if only for a moment, and he wouldn't have denied her whim, however absurd it was. This was the push and pull between them, the tidal forces of her exuberance and his stillness. She gave, effusively and without direction, and he simply let it wash over him without damage, a reminder of what he was and what he once had been instead. This exchange, which had shaken her in some odd way from whatever somnolent half-parade she'd been putting on, still dressed like a flighty exotic bird or festival token, all flash and no fire, brought that familiar pattern to the fore once again, and for all it was bizarre and odd and fantastically strange, for them - these two friends, unlikely as they may be- it was normal, and Rilien could not deny that he had missed it.

Unsurprisingly, her renewed enthusiasm, the dampening in that foreign influence and his own return to something more like himself, was brought on by a complete stranger and an opportunity. She was embedded in the world that he stood apart from, and the rising and falling of their collectives tides was as much a matter of her reation to what occurred around her as it was anything else. He, as ever, was affected only vicariously, through that transferrance of dynamism that denied him any kind of permanent inertia. What happened when an unstoppable force met an immovable object? Sparrow and Rilien knew. They were what happened, in a way.

And so he deftly plucked the package from underneath her arm, stacking it on top of the one he still carried, and handed both off to the Hightown clothier, who'd asked for an infusion of dyes. Not the Tranquil's usual stock and trade, but a simple-enough thing to know. He was deliberate, in the time it took him to secure the man's payment, and he finessed the silvers into a smaller, separate coin-purse, the drawstring of which he drew tight, pinching the satchel closed. With an equiniminous nod to his customer, he tossed the little bag to Sparrow. "If you wish." His tonelessness betrayed none of the difficulty he had in maintaining it. He was, as ever, the consummate actor, and he would be whatever it was he needed to be. Besides, it would be of no good end to him if she understood the degree to which her whim could presently shake his footing. That would lead to questions he could not answer without blame, whatever his intent.

The capricious bird was already off again, flitting in the direction of something new, which in this case turned out to be a young woman- the same one he'd briefly noted a short time before- and she was making presumptuous suggestions before he could get a word in, not that he tried that earnestly. Walking up behind her, he blinked slowly at the woman and continued his friend's thread of conversation in perhaps more sensible terms. "What Sparrow means to say is that she believes you are about to go talk to that man-" here he briefly indicated with a gesture the raised terrace above them- "and that is our intention as well. We seek employment. If it is not objectionable to you, it may be of benefit to go together." He made no indication of his own opinion on the matter, and fell silent immediately afterwards, clearly waiting for some form of response.

"Eh... What?" Aurora asked the fellow. Or was it a fellow? His broad shoulders suggested yes, but there was something feminine about him... Was it because he was an elf perhaps? Perhaps not, he did not look the part of the elf, he was much thicker, much more... Filled out. Strange, his words and his appearance had already seemed to throw Aurora off. If given the inclination, she would have probably taken the time to ponder on what and who this man was. Hmm... Perhaps meditating would be the better word-- No, she was not going to meditate again. She was done with that. She would go with her gut instinct and consider this being a male. And if she could help it, she'd try to keep pronouns out of the equation. She had had enough of meditation under Amalia's tutalege, she would not find herself navel gazing on her free time.

Helpfully, another fellow-- for this one was clearly a man, if elven-- interjected and clearified what his partner meant. Though she found herself dwelling more on the delivery of words than the contents thereof. The tone he used was... Flat. Aside from that, he looked like a bright man-- literally. Snow white hair, tangerine eyes, sun-kissed face, and a nifty little sunburst tattoo on his brow-- Oh... Oh! Oh... Poor fellow. That explains his delivery. The man was a Tranquil. Though, something wasn't quite right with this one. He seemed to possess a great deal more free-will than the Tranquils she knew back in the Antivian Circle. Not to mention that he was out gallavanting about without an Enchanter. Unless the other man was an Enchanter, though she doubted that. He certainly didn't look the part. And she didn't know of Tranquils forming attachments with others as he seemed to have done with this... Sparrow. Great. Even his name wasn't indictive of his gender.

However, she did find herself suddenly not the only oddity in Hightown this afternoon. Sweet serendipity perhaps. Plus, it seemed like this pair was looking to assist de Carrac as well. Though from what she gathered from Sparrow's words they were in it more for the coin than the good deed itself. Still, she couldn't fault them for that, they all had to make a living somehow and apparently delivering parcels didn't tend to make enough to put the food on their tables. So where was the harm in assisting this pair if their goal was the same? Many hands make light work as they say. Besides, perhaps it would give her enough time to... Study this Tranquil and the walking question mark that was his partner. She was a curious sort after all.

With her mental calculations done she nodded in agreement. "Sure, why not? I'm up for it. Another pair of eyes would make the work easier after all. My name is Aurora Rose," she said with a mock curtsey and a wry grin on her face. Of course, only Sparrow would find the humor in this, the Tranquil being, well, Tranquil.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

Anger and frustration had become the norm for Ithilian, and so he did not feel that the day was going strangely or unnaturally at all. The human girl was wearing on him, but it wasn't as though he'd expected any different. She was a Hightown type, that much was obvious. He could see it in her, smell it on her, practically view her history from a glance. She'd never been made to feel low or beneath anyone, never been taught anything other than her superiority. She was still but a child. She'd soon find out that the rest of the world would not bow before her simply because she walked past.

But the len'alas was not his concern here. She'd swing at things with that sword of hers, possibly be of some use to them, and then go on her way, and Ithilian would have to deal with her no longer. He was here to help Amalia. She had found his own causes worthy of fighting for, and proven herself an ally at the very least. This was the first time he'd been asked for help by her, and as such he could only assume this was something important to her. Debt or no, he would be willing to repay the favors.

Making their way into the mine, it became apparent just how much the place had fallen into disrepair over the years. There was clear evidence of Hubert's workforce putting the place back together, but for the time being, Ithilian couldn't image much actual mining was taking place here. It looked as though they were still just trying to get set up. They didn't have to go far to locate evidence of the trouble. There were bodies scattered about the ground, most of them torn into several pieces, the skin of others charred either a bright red or an ashen black. The sound of snapping jaws and tearing meat reached Ithilian's ears.

The three entered a more open, cavernous area, before Sophia stopped quite suddenly, her face set as stone, if perhaps a little pale from the half-eaten corpses they'd already passed. Her right hand slowly reached upwards and back, closing around the hilt of her sword and sliding it from its sheath. Ithilian nocked an arrow and slowly pulled the string back. Across the open area from them were perhaps a dozen or more scaly creatures about the size of a mabari each. Little wings were tucked back against their sides, sharp claws digging into the flesh of miners, razor sharp fangs ripping and tearing away at their meal.

There was little time to discuss how they should proceed, as before they could do anything further, a shriek came from their immediate left, and Sophia turned just in time to see one of the little dragons leaping through the air at her, having been crawling about on the wall to their left. The Viscount's daughter was just swift enough to get her blade up in front of it and whack it to the side, where it tumbled hard into the ground. Quickly regaining it's feet, it lunged again, right into a downstroke from Sophia that cleaved its face down the middle, sending it back to the dirt in a heap.

The other dragons all looked up from their feast to see the three fresh bodies before them, hissed in greeting, and then moved forward to attack, some rushing headlong at them, others taking more indirect routes to come around the sides. Young as they were, it seemed they already knew how to fight as a pack. Ithilian loosed his first arrow into the head of the nearest dragon, but they were far too many to hold off in that way, and he quickly decided to switch to his dual blades. "They did not lie about the monsters," he commented, his remaining eye trying to keep track of all the separating dragons. It was a futile endeavor. This was going to get messy.

"Mm," Amalia replied noncommitally. From a pouch at her thigh, she extracted a small, breakable vial. Miasmic flasks, they were called. Nothing so dangerous as saa-qamek, of course, but useful all the same, especially when their foes were swarming in such a way as they were now. With a flick of her wrist, the Qunari deftly tossed the flask into the center of the group of tiny dragons (and that did not bode well- there were no tiny dragons without larger ones somewhere in the area) and it shattered with a soft tinkling sound. The broken glass issued a purplish cloud of smog, which had the rapid effect of halting the motion of many of the little reptiles, causing them to swoon back and forth as though intoxicated, which, strictly by definition, they were.

This motion was followed up with several barrages of needles, as a weapon like her chain would be of little use when the the creatures were so small. Thin steel projectiles glinted in what little light filtered in from cracks in the mine ceiling, embedding themselfes in necks, spines, throats. A half-dozen fell this way, before Amalia withdrew her singular knife from her boot and waded in among the rest, kicking the nearest one over and stepping with one foot onto its tail and the other just beneath the chin, at the start of the serpentine gullet. A clinical slash gutted the creature, even as another sank its teeth into her ankle, drawing blood. Frowning, Amalia hacked into it, rending it in half just above the shoulders.

Testing the foot, she found that it was still perfectly serviceable, if a little tender, and made a note to monitor her condition. Wyvern saliva was poisonous, but she did not believe the same to be true of these. A shame; for it would have made quite the exotic toxin indeed, and one not easily remedied.

Ithilian had entered the fray alongside Amalia, focusing his efforts where she could not see. Even one so skilled as Amalia could not account for all directions at one time, as evidenced by the bite to the ankle she received, and so the Dalish more or less put his back to her, dual blades a flurry as they cut through the numerous dragonlings that endeavored to surround them. One slipped between them, jumping onto Ithilian's back, claws digging in a short ways as it bit down hard where the shoulder met the neck. He growled, reaching up to grab the creature and throw it to the ground before him, before driving both knives down through the dragonling's chest.

A more resounding thud and a deeper shriek alerted them to the presence of a larger dragon. Sophia whirled about from her most recent kill to see the mid-sized Drake, surpassing her own height by a foot or more, armed with wicked claws as well as teeth that looked as though they could rend steel. She hoped she wouldn't be testing that guess shortly. Seeing that her two companions were cooperating very well on their own, and were rather preoccupied with the horde of dragonlings, Sophia determined herself to be the best candidate for tackling the larger dragon. She was the only one wearing armor that was at least superior to leather, after all.

A single smaller dragon got in her way while she closed the distance to the drake, but Sophia was able to lop its head cleanly off, her stride uninterrupted. The drake itself appeared outraged at the slaughter of the smaller ones, which was rather unfortunate. It wasn't as though they had given them a choice. The thought of Bran's horror stricken face at the current scene crossed her mind for the briefest of moments before Sophia and the drake were close enough to begin their battle.

She'd never fought a dragon before, nor had she really studied the best kinds of ways to combat one, but Sophia assumed the usual tactic of hack it to bits could also apply here. Glancing at those claws, she also figured speed would be of the essence here, given that she wasn't willing to bet her armor would stand up to those. Moving in, the drake snapped out towards her head with its jaws, an attack that Sophia was quick enough to duck under, before darting forward further and cleaving upwards with Vesenia. The drake was forced to lift a front leg up to block, and the blade sunk deep into the flesh, vibration shaking the weapon to the hilt when the blade hit bone. The drake shrieked in pain, smoke puffing out from its nostrils.

She withdrew her blade, dodging backwards when the next strike came from the claws, slashing horizontally, their tips missing her by inches. She used her next opportunity to lunge forward with her blade and attack at its exposed side, the sword plunging a foot into the drake's abdomen before she was forced to withdraw again. Death by small cuts would be how she'd have to take this thing down, since going toe to toe, so to speak, was not an option.

There wasn't much of a way to prepare for the fire, however, as she would find out. She'd put distance between them to avoid a melee attack, but the move had also made her an easy target when the drake extended it's neck forward, opened its jaws wide, and a blast of fire spewed forth, a short burst all it was capable of producing, but dangerous all the same. Sophia had just enough foresight to turn her face aside before the flames hit her with surprising force, sending her stumbling back, and then tripping over a rock. It was perhaps fortunate that she had, as the immediate roll she performed as a result served to put out any fires on her.

It did not favor her, however, when a dragonling took the opportunity to jump on her. With the creature literally on top of her, her two handed sword was virtually useless. Her arms immediately went to protect her face, and in short order she felt teeth bite into chainmail on her forearm, while claws tried to scratch at her chest and stomach. Having occupied the dragonling's teeth, Sophia slammed her arm to the side, throwing the relatively little enemy off her, before she yanked the knife from her boot and stabbed down hard into its chest. Determined to regain her feet before another dragonling got the same idea, Sophia scrambled up, tucked the knife under her belt, and grasped Vesenia once more.

Sometimes, being right was more troublesome than being wrong. Now was probably one of those times, but honestly, Amalia was willing to deal with it. The appearance of the drake was exacly the devlopment she'd been expecting, which was not to say that she relished the idea of being set on fire. As it was, however, she and Ithilian still had dragonlings to work through. Her knife was hardly visible, flashing in a quick series of movments that flayed open a series of the tiny reptiles, though the cries of the larger one overlaid any noise they might have made. It was only after she'd lunged in at the last one before her, tightening her fingers around the base of its head and slicing open its windpipe, that Sophia was thrown backwards by a brief gout of flames from the larger one.

The Qunari straightened from her half-crouch, necessary to combat creatures so low to the ground, and shot Ithilian a knowing sideways glance. If they didn't step in, it might well choose to press its advantage. She was not sure how intelligent such creatures were, but she certainly had no reason to believe they were any more foolish than the average predator. As if to question whether he was coming or not, she raised a brow and shrugged, tossing the knife at the drake, where it embedded itself in the delicate, membranous tissue of one wing. It wasn't going to be much use against something with a hide like that, anyway.

Vanishing, Amalia unwound her chain, swinging one end of it in her left hand so as to generate centripedal force, then loosed, aiming for the dragon's neck. The metal links coiled several times around the base of the esophagus, which would doubtless grant her some level of control over a beast whose strength was without qualification much greater than hers. Pulling back, she tightened the noose and, still holding the opposite end of the weapon, began a rapid circle around her foe, intent on reducing its mobility and ability to block anything the other two should see fit to launch at it. Preferably soon.

Deciding to view his next actions as attacking the dragon rather than saving the shem, Ithilian replaced his blades with his bow, seeing how the drake was preoccupied with Sophia, as well as the chain wrapped about its neck. The maneuver appeared to be royally pissing it off, but moderately effective for the moment. He began to loose arrows at a rapid pace, targeting mainly the body, but he switched his aim to the head whenever it held still enough, which was not often. It's breathing was becoming ragged, both because of the constricting around its throat, and because of the several arrow shafts that had now pierced its ribcage and likely its lungs as well.

Sophia waited for the right moment to strike, not wishing to time this poorly and run into naught but the dragon's claws. The dragon had seemed intent on her up until Amalia had chained it around the neck, and now it looked to be caught between the two, with the Dalish a serious annoyance, but otherwise out of reach. At last the drake reached up with a powerful claw and tried to pull down hard on the length of chain running away from its neck, giving the Viscount's daughter the opening she needed.

She moved forward swiftly, her sword leveled to the ground, and plunged into the drake's chest, just under the front leg it had raised. It looked about to snap down at her, but soon gave out entirely, toppling onto its side. Sophia withdrew her sword, slowing her breathing as she glanced around. That appeared to be the last of them, for the moment, anyway. "You two alright?" Ithilian came forward to inspect the corpse of the drake, grunting in answer to Sophia's question.

The sudden jerk on the chain pulled Amalia from her feet, but she'd been rather expecting that, and neatly flipped herself over, allowing just enough slack in the links to accommodate the drake's movement. It didn't much matter, it seemed, as her purpose had been fulfilled, and the other two were able to finish it off between them. The Qunari joined them at the corpse, crouching beside the head and lifting one of the reptilian lips with her free hand to inspect the teeth. She might have a use for those, or the scales. Still, her priority was not the collection of reagents, but finding Athlok, and so if it was to be done, she would come back afterwards. Rising once more, the woman plucked her knife from the creature's wing, along with several of Ithilian's arrows which were in the proximity and unbroken. These, she offered to the elf, absently wiping the blade of the knife on the edge of her scarf.

"Fine," she replied to Sophia's question. "You were hit with fire. Do you require a restorative? I have several." Even as she said this, the Qunari glanced in the direction they had yet to go, clearly of a mind to be moving as soon as possible if not.

Ithilian slid the unbroken arrows back into his quiver, while Sophia shook her head. "I'm alright. Skirt got burned worse than I did. Let's keep moving, see if we can't find any survivors. Or the source of these dragons."

They moved on, further into the mine. At this point, Ithilian was wondering if they'd even be able to recognize Finn if they found him. Some of these bodies weren't in good shape. As for the dragons... to be honest, Ithilian didn't really desire to kill them. They hadn't done anything to him, only to these miners. They were few enough in number already. But if it was necessary to help Amalia complete her task, he'd put them down.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega

Earnings

0.00 INK

The Tal-Vashoth were clearly prepared for, and rather experienced with, ambushing their targets. Large as they were, they seemed to simply appear from behind foliage and rocks, spears and javelins in hand. They came forward with startling speed, given their size, each of them having arms that looked as though they could rip the arms right off a smaller person. Strong and swift as they were, however, they wore little armor, with most of them covering themselves only in tattoos from the waist up. It would be an uphill battle for Lucien, Nostariel, and Ashton, with spear armed warriors charging down the hill towards them, with momentum enough to rival a charging bronto, all the while javelin throwers waited behind the front line, looking for openings to launch deadly ranged attacks.

The ambush, insofar as there was one given their forewarning, was well-planned. The slope of the ground meant that the Tal-Vashoth were bearing down upon the three of them, and without hesitation at that. Still... Lucien had certain obligations to fulfill before he could swing his scythe in order to defend himself. They were often counterproductive and certainly abnormal, but neither of those considerations was proof of their superfluousness. Fixing his eye on the foremost charging kossith, he spoke with considerable volume, more than enough to be heard even over the clang of metal and the roar of battle-cries. "It need not come to this," he pointed out, a slight note of (sincere, but very very dubious) hope tinting the words. "Cease your onslaught and-"

It was just then that the front of the pack reached him, and the former Qunari swung, aiming to take the man's head off. Lucien sighed and ducked, fully aware that this was how things were likely to end. He wasn't a fool, despite frequent assertions to the contrary. So he had been prepared, and brought his scythe around in a full-fledged counterstrike, the arched blade connecting with the kossith's midsection and tearing through it with an ease that belied the sheer force of the blow. The Tal-Vashoth fell with a heavy thud to the sand beneath his feet, and Lucien braced himself, shoring his defenses and preparing to play large, solid target, hopefully blocking most of the javelin throwers from getting a clear shot at either Nostariel or Ashton.

The next two rushed towards him, another pair not far behind. The former Chevalier dug his feet into the sand, bent knees and soft ground absorbing most of the shock of impact as one of his assailants slowed himself too late and collided bodily with the tall man. A quick glance upward revealed that the ranged kossith appeared to be sizing up possible throws, and Lucien called back to his allies. "Don't worry about these; just make sure those spearmen don't have a chance to hit us." He could handle the melee for now; the narrowness of the rock-edged incline meant that he'd probably only have to deal with two or three at a time. A rain of javelins, however, could do all of them some serious damage.

For all the times they'd spoken, Nostariel had never had cause to observe Lucien in a hostile situation. She was a bit... puzzled by his insistence on giving the Tal-Vashoth a way out- it was obvious that they weren't going to take it. At the same time, she felt her respect for the man increase yet again. Certainly, it wasn't the wisest tactical move and he had lost himself precious seconds, but... he'd presumably been at this for a while, and he was still alive. She wondered if his chivalry had cost him that eye. Either way, it didn't seem to lessen his effectiveness afterwards, as one of the bandits was down before she could even find the target for her first spell.

His advice, she took to heart, locking on to the presently still-searching spearmen and dipping onto the Fade. The misdirection hex was an insidious thing, like creeping fog at one's ankles, and she grasped it, pulling the magic into reality and launching it, arching the spell over Lucien's head and for a cluster of three Tal-Vashoth, one of which was just about to release his first projectile for Ashton. The javelin flew harmlessly to the side, but the Warden didn't stop to breathe a sigh of relief, gripping her staff in both hands and channelling ice-energy from it in quick bursts, aiming to overwhelm the leftmost ranged fighter and succeeding when he fell back, encased in a growing sheath of ice. Nostariel's face was set in a grim line, her work almost methodical, as though she could do this sort of thing in her sleep.

Perhaps she could. A globule of fire gusted past the Chevalier, a few feet from his head, and hit the two enemies behind the ones he was currently engaging, burning both but felling neither. Still, it would weaken them, and she turned her attention back to the four throwers that remained.

"Surprised that they didn't take you up on your offer Ser Knight," Ashton teased as he trained a bead on a spearman. "They seemed so civilized too. Pity," Ashton finished, punctuating his own sentence with the twang of a bowstring. Much like the ball of fire that flew past Lucien's head, Ashton's arrow whistled past the opposite side and dug deep into the pectoral of a javelin-thrower, causing the weapon to fly harmlessly to the side, instead relaying it's deadly point into the side of a rock. Ashton grinned, this wasn't going to be much sport if things didn't become a bit interesting. Despite the ground advantage the Qunari had, their tactics left something to be... Desired. Rush the enemies and chuck spears at them. A flawless plan against trading caravans... Too bad they weren't a trading caravan.

As the tagged Qunari ripped the arrow out of his flesh and threw it away, Ashton delivered another present post-haste in the form of another arrow, in the other pectoral. The Qunari must not have liked that, as it let out a howl and left the arrow in and reached for a javelin, probably looking to shove it down the playful archer's gullet. Instead of retrieving one arrow this time, Ashton grabbed a handful of white fletching and nocked them all at once. He aimed up and fired the mass of pointy instruments of death into the atmosphere and let them all fall around the four javelin throwers. The arrows raining down at terminal velocity wouldn't outright kill any, unless they were stupid enough to look up at the rain of pointy objects, at which point it'd just be natural selection and he would have ended up falling on his javelin any way. Good riddance.

They were not so lucky for that to be the case as the throwers began to try and escape the sudden pointy change in weather-- Mostly by stumbling thanks to Nostariel's hex. "You've got time Ser Knight, why don't you ask and see if they wish to surrender this time?" Ashton asked, followed by a cackle and a nocking of another arrow.

As if in response to Ashton's teasing, the Tal-Vashoth shouted commands to one another, and most of the frontline warriors fell back, trying to create more openings for the ranged attackers to return fire against the pesky archer and his companions. The javelin-throwers shouted upwards and out of sight, towards the mouth of a cave just in their line of sight. More warriors came to reinforce the current group, and they took up a more defensive posture, responding to the ineffectiveness of their initial attack. They'd clearly been expecting a target that was not adequately capable of defending themselves, not a group of skilled combatants, a mage among them.

Lucien's fourth Tal-Vashoth, this one already sporting nasty burns, fell atop the pile of his brethren, and the knight took a moment to straighten his posture and survey the field. A hail of arrows was quite successfully pinning down the magically-disoriented throwers, but reinforcements were arriving, and taking a much more defensive stance at that. Lucien loosened his feet, pulling them from their entrenched position in the sand. "To ask once is a professional courtesy," he replied to Ashton's jibe, smiling wryly. "To ask a second time is just insulting. If it's a fight they want, it's a fight they shall recieve. Shall we press the point?"

He shrugged, as if to say he planned on it anyway, and advanced up the hill, at proper march pace. He perhaps would have run, but keeping his footing was more important, and he was wearing more than forty pounds of armor, after all. A javelin flew from somewhere beside him, but Lucein spotted it in enough time to knock it from its trajectory with a broad sweep. They did not travel so fast as arrows did, after all. He alighted at the top of the slope, the flat area containing the reinforcements. The advantage was still theirs, in that they were more numerous and several were now free to attack him at once, but they seemed to be much more cautious than their once-allies.

Well, perhaps it was time to remedy that. "And here I'd heard the Tal-Vashoth were mighty predators. The likes of you are scavengers, carrion birds feeding on the weak. Look at what happens when the prey bites back..." Granted, it wasn't typical of the sort of hurled invectives that most people used for taunts, but the Chevalier's tone was thick with disdain and condescension, to the point that he seemed almost... disappointed.

It had the desired effect, at least on some, and Lucien felt the slow grin spreading over his face. It was true, courtesy was paramount. But no true knight abhorred the feel of battle. It was, after all, what they lived and died for.

After the Chevalier fellow taunted the horn-heads in such a fashion that it would have caused him to clap if he did not currently have his hands full, an idea struck him. A subtle bit of genius. Ashton tapped Nostariel on the shoulder with his elbow and jerked his head to the side. "Let's flank 'em, Milady," he said with a wink. It was a trap of a sort, something the hunter knew quite a bit about. In order to get a clean shot at a deer or such, one had to get around to the broadside-- the flank of the creature. He figured the same applied here, though tactics of warfare were a stranger to them. Though if the same tactics used for hunting were the same for small scale battles, then perhaps it would do the trick.

He was a bit touchy, wasn't he? Perhaps not egregiously so, but when you weren't used to it (and she certainly wasn't), it seemed... odd. Nevertheless, she kept her focus and nodded solemnly. The plan seemed good enough; they might as well capitalize on the fact that Lucien was tall and broad and inclined to draw attention, right? "All right," she replied with a businesslike nod, indicating with a gesture that she'd go left. She wasn't really sure what his thought was, but to her, it made sense to scissor from both sides. It was a tactical maneuver that had served her well in the past, and she had no reason to believe that that would change, anyway.

Circling around, she stuck to the fringes of the fight, avoiding letting off any flashy magic as she went. Stealth was certainly not her forte, but she was fairly good at not being noticed if she didn't want to be. Invoking a couple years of lingering in dark corners of shady establishments and many more of sidling along half-ruined walls in the Deep Roads, Nostariel emerged from the sparse undergrowth behind and to the side of the reinforcements, specifically the javelin-throwers. Sucking in a breath, Nostariel felt the familiar chill of supernatural ice in her palms, gooseflesh stippling the pale skin beneath her armor. With a sharp gesture, she swept her hand out in a powerful cone of cold, freezing the Tal-Vashoth in their tracks.

From there, she stepped forward, swinging with all her might at the nearest one. The first blow, placed at his shoulder, took that arm off, but it took three more to shatter him completely. By the end of the exercise, Nostaril was panting slightly from the exertion, but there was much more still to be done. Sighing softly, she moved to the next, counting out the strikes in her head in a toneless whisper. One, two, three, break this body. Four, five, six, stake your life on me. Seven, eight, nine... take my heart with you when you go.

Right. Split up. That would make more sense than for both of them to go in one direction. The idea was genius, perhaps too genius. He didn't like the idea that he'd have to part with the pretty Warden. Perhaps it was just a pretty face... Perhaps he just saw a bit of Sparrow in her. Either way, it seemed seemed he'd have to part company with the Warden for now. As she struck off to the left, Ashton took to the right. Unlike Nostariel, stealth was his forte, his strength, and his meal ticket. One doesn't survive as a predator if they were clumsy fools. His foot steps were silent, not even the brush beneath his feet betrayed his prowl.

Deft feet picked their way around the side of the Chevalier as Ashton's expression changed from the silly grin into a focused stare. Eyes to the ground, eyes to the side, eyes on the prey. The Qunari didn't even suspect a thing... Of course, the fact that a mage was now currently smashing them in the face with her staff. Hm. To be fair, she did possess a lot more stealth than he could see Sparrow possessing. With the Qunari's attentions now turned completely on both Lucien and Nostariel, Ashton figured it was the best time to make his own entrance. Without a sound, he nocked an arrow and fired, driving it through the back of the head of one of the Qunari who managed to approach too close to the little Mage for his comfort. He just hoped that he didn't spatter her with blood.

While Ashton and Nostariel wreaked havoc on the ranged Tal-Vashoth, Lucien had his hands full with the others. Quite literally at present, as he'd somehow wound up with a handful of chitinous black horn when one of them, disarmed, had decided that headbutting was a solid plan of action. To be fair, he wasn't wrong- if the blow had connected as it was intended, then the former knight had no doubt that he'd be laid out on the sand, either very unconscious or very dead, so there was that to consider. Unfortunately for the bandit, Lucien had reacted on pure fighter's instinct, dropping his scythe by his feet and meeting the attack... well, head-on wasn't the right phrase. Instead, he'd used his arms, and presently he was locked in what approximated some odd kind of barehanded wrestling match with a kossith. He'd have to write his father about this one, he decided absently, wrenching his arms in an attempt to take the somewhat-larger being to the ground.

The others were waiting, presumably because at this range, they'd just as likely hit their comrade as their enemy. He was glad of that, and of the fact that this situation was either interesting or ridiculous enough to warrant their attention. The maneuver sort of worked, and either way, both combatants were on their knees within a few seconds, which was not the way the Chevalier had planned it. The strain to his muscles was enormous; made only worse when the bandit gripped either of Lucien's forearms in a hand and squeezed. Gritting his teeth, the mercenary realized he was not going to win an outright contest of strength this way and shifted to the side, rotating his entire person three hundred and sixty degrees. The barrel roll crossed his forearms over one another, but it also forced the ex-Qunari to relent his hold and move with it, lest his neck snap.

His biceps were quite nearly screaming at him to let go, but he wouldn't, not before he took advantage of the temporary reversal. Still holding on, Lucien planted his knee in the kossith's back, leveraging his weight to stop his opponent from getting up. At last moving his arms, he swiftly uncrossed them, not relishing the decisive snap that followed. With labored breathing, the Orlesian man rose to his feet, retrieving his scythe from the sand and hefting it a bit more slowly than before. For whatever reason, he wasn't attacked until he looked back at the Tal-Vashoth, but once he did, all bets were off.

The first of the remaining three went down with a swift blow to his unarmored side. The second might have met the same end, but his weakened arms were not providing him with the same precision as they usually would, and he scored a bruising hit to his abdomen for the failure. Reversing his grip, Lucien hit the one responsible in the gut with the blunt end of the scythe, replacing it with his knee, then stepping back just as the other made a sweep for his neck with a claymore. Ducking, he shifted his feet, spinning with the pole of his scythe braced against his back to make up for the stability he was presently lacking. The maneuver left one of them with a broad slice to the midsection, gushing blood at an alarming rate, but probably not fatal.

He had just enough time to block the next incoming swing, and stepped closer to his assailant, an armored foot arcing for the bandit's knee. It hit, and the kneecap shattered with a wet squelch, decreasing his mobility considerably. Not that he much had to worry about it; his distraction with the injury was fatal, and the next swing took off his head. The injured one remaining scored a damaging blow to Lucien's hip, finding a joint in his armor. The blade of the axe he carried wasn't quite small enough to pirce the chink completely, but the force with which it was swung made up for that, leaving the Chevalier with a bloody gash there. Given that the whole-body rotations needed for decent swings was now denied him, Lucien drew back and punched, gauntleted fist landing in the kossith's face with considerable force. His left heel smacked into the back of the other's knee, forcing him down. Lucien drove the point of the scythe into the back of the man's neck, pushing it home with both hands applied to the base of the blade.

The iced Qunari laying in shattered pieces on the ground, Nostariel turned, about to be met with a spear at close range. Bracing herself, she called the magic back to her fingertips, only to blink rapidly when the Tal-Vashoth responsible collapsed at her feet, an arrow sticking out of the base of its neck. She could't see Ashton, but she nodded in what she believed to be his general direction, turning back to her work with her grim frown still set in place.

This was nothing like the Deep Roads. She was grateful for that; it was probably this singular fact which kept her sane in the present moment. She aspired to no consummate grace when wading through her foes; it was not in her nature to turn killing into a fine art. For her, as for any Warden with sufficient experience, killing was a business, a trade, one whose greatest virtue was efficiency. The Darkspawn did not end. This, she knew all too well. So used to fighting against odds insurmountable, she strode for the nearest cluster of ranged bandits, a pair lodged in a corner, their backs to a rocky outcropping for protection. There was no way to sneak up on them, and she lacked the strength to make anything of a charge, so she ducked behind a small deadwood log, taking what little cover it could offer her.

The sound of a javelin thudding into the wood was reassurance that it had been the right move, and just to be as sure as possible, Nostariel surrounded herself with an Arcane Shield, which had the added benefit of similarly-protecting both Ashton and Lucien. poking her head up over the log, Nostariel launched a barrage of spells, starting with another fireball and following up with several bursts from her staff. The concentrated fire took down one of the throwers, but a lucky shot from the second hit her shoulder, drawing a sharp cry from the Warden. Biting down on her tongue to stifle it, she yanked the heavy weapon from her muscle and threw it to one side, using her opposite hand to hurl an icy blast of winter's grasp at the second bandit. He fell, his body frostbitten and brittle, to join his fellow.

What she failed to see was that the third of four had targeted her, and was preparing to throw even as she stood, moving her staff to her left hand to compensate for her injured shoulder.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Aurora Rose

Earnings

0.00 INK

A pair of Kirkwall city guards had come to see the man asking for help, Ghyslain de Carrac, outside of his manor in Hightown. In appearance, he was not uncommon for the richest part of Kirkwall's society, nor was his home. In his current state, however, he did not look nearly so composed as an Orlesian-born nobleman would aspire to. The guards themselves looked somewhat tired through their body language, appearing eager to leave.

"What do you mean you can't help me?" Ghyslain asked with no small amount of incredulity. His tone carried urgency as well as distress, but the lead guard returned none of it with his reply. "This is a domestic matter, serah. If your wife has chosen to leave you, there's nothing we can do." The nobleman scoffed at that.

"Ninette is my wife! She's legally bound to me. Bring her back!" To this, the guardsman just shook his head, gesturing for his partner to follow. "We're done here." Ghyslain watched them go for a moment, before throwing his arms up into the air in frustration. "Useless! Why are we still paying those sluggards?" he shouted, asking no one in particular.

Rilien, hands folded demurely into his sleeves, passed the city guards on their way down the stairs, but did not pause. Reaching the top with a whisper of sound, he glanced dismissively at Ghyslain and approached. A poor nobleman he would have made in Orlais, to wear his true intentions so openly. His attitude was not uncommon, but in Val Royeaux it would have been expressed in saccharine, poetic declarations of love and suffering, meant to move crowds and inspire sympathy. Equally pointless, but aesthetically much more acceptable than bare possession and fret.

The former bard knew a thing or two about wordplay. "Perhaps it would be more fiscally responsible to pay us instead," he asserted blandly, indicating the two women behind him with a slight tilt of his head. "It will doubtless run you more, but surely this is a small thing compared to the future well-being of your dear wife?" The Tranquil's tone might have been tinged with sardonic irony, and in fact he was well-aware of his exaggeration of the man's concern for the lady herself, but as usual, he was not overt enough for most to catch, and plausible deniability was the name of his game, so to speak.

Ghyslain looked to initially think the elf was mocking him or something of the sort, but when he at last digested his words, he looked nearly overwhelmed with relief. "Finally! Someone who's willing to do something. I assure you, I will pay well for my wife's return. That foolish woman has caused me nothing but embarrassment. She needs to be dragged home. Ah... but dragged home quietly, I should say. Her family is getting suspicious. They think I might have... done something to her. Even if -- well, I just want to make sure they know I didn't do it!"

He looked at least somewhat aware that what he was saying might not go over well with most people, but that was mostly wiped out by his sheer enthusiasm for getting these three to bring his wife home quietly.

She inclined her head a little, conceding the point that, perhaps, Sparrow was indeed of the avian variety. Full of flighty, colourful feathers, and puffed up peacock tails, and iridescent plumage that nearly blinded you; in many ways, it was almost like staring full-faced into the sun. An ardent disposition fanning out to attract, or at the very least, confuse the hell out of anyone who chanced a look in her direction. It was the reticence of birds, the very essence of carelessness and riding along the overturning breeze; she regretted nothing. Well, until that fateful day. Rilien held their torch and she remained impassively perched on his shoulder, digging her talons and constantly on the verge of flight. The correlative connection they shared was astonishing. Her head bobbed in agreement. Of course, Rilien was far more sensible with his words, as if it were a dance he practised often. Her two right-footed steps found themselves, repeatedly, treading over toes, stumbling into buckets, and generally making more trouble than it was worth. Stark differences that made them irrefutable companions.

Her sleep-bowed eyes, glossy, and as black as a raven's underbelly, watched Aurora expectantly. This woman with hair like peonies and roses and a mixture of paint swirled across a painter's board; green eyes like moss, amassed in curtains of fire. She'd always liked red hair – there was something about it, something familiar. Sparrow resisted the urge to snatch up the woman's hands when she accepted their proffered suggestion. Instead, Sparrow offered her own flourish-of-a-bow with waggling fingertips, mockingly throwing an imaginary cape over her shoulder as a snobbish denouement. She wasn't overly fond of Hightown's residents, particularly because they didn't seem to give a bloody damn about anyone outside of their small circles. As if nothing occurred beyond their sights, which tarried no farther than the border between Hightown and Lowtown. She clapped her hands together, then slid them casually behind her head, extending her elbows. “This'll be a lot more fun now that we've got a pretty lady with us.” She casually mused, rolling her eyes towards the sky, before glancing sidelong at her companion. If it'd been anyone else, other than Rilien, other than Ashton, then they might've been embarrassed at such outspoken forthrightness. Her left hand slipped down, purposely dropping on the Tranquil's shoulder. “And this is Rilien. That's not the stink eye he's giving you, so don't worry.”

Painfully frank.

Sometimes, it was as if it didn't occur to Sparrow that Rilien was Tranquil. She certainly treated him no different. Her gregarious temperament sidled to a standstill, perking it's ears at the event unfolding above them. Any attempts at keeping their affairs private was hardly enacted. The man, who she presumed to be Ghyslain, was shouting at the guardsman, obviously distraught that they'd chosen not to do anything. She brought the flapping piece of paper back to her face, studying the poster. This was all about some petty marital concern? Certainly not a gallant rescue, snatching this woman away from this creature. She folded the paper and slipped it into one of her many pockets. It was only when Sparrow followed closely behind Rilien that she felt the first tendrils of anger trembling down her spine, warming her ears, throwing it's macabre beat against her heart. Everything felt much too tight. Her ribs, her chest, her throat. Legally bound to him? As you were to them. Isn't it the same, sweets? Her muscles tightened, clenched, tensed across the shoulders. Errant tendons contracted near her jawbone, thrumming it's own rhythm.

“Cerass Va!” It came out unintentionally, a vibrating yawl. Even if it wasn't understood, it's intonation was clear – Sparrow thought this was man was a wretch, hardly worth having any dealings with. If it hadn't been for the missing woman, this man's wife, then she would have walked away without any misgivings. Usually, coin would, or could, have swayed her, but this was different. Women weren't objects. They couldn't be owned, or bought, or possessed; not in her eyes. An overwhelming sense of disgust twitched across her fingertips, which dawdled dangerously close to the weapon swaying at her hip – one strike, one well-placed swing would finish him. He wouldn't suspect it. Then, at least, his wife would have a chance. “Your wife deserves better.” Sparrow prodded him in the chest, hard. “She deserves to be treated like a queen, you wretch. We're finding her, but not for you. We'll take her back here so yer' names cleared.” Another harsh prod.

Sparrow and Rilien. An odd pair to be sure, a flittery man and a Tranquil. A pool of emotion and a dry riverbed. Perhaps that was the reason they were together. They evened each other out. The fact that Sparrow was just full of emotion as his body language suggested was further proved when he took a deep bow in front of her. Aurora had to stifle a laugh. Apparently she wasn't the only one who found humor in the noblity's pompous ways. Of course, she managed to blush when Sparrow called her pretty. It wasn't that she was shy, it's just that she didn't hear it all that often in Lowtown. In fact, compliments were rare in that park of Kirkwall. Just as well, seeing how she was currently trying her best to keep a low profile.

Then the party's attentions were turned to the point of this temporary partnership. Ghyslain and his missing wife. Or rather his property. Aurora furrowed her bow and gave the man a tight-lipped frown. While she wasn't an especially hateful or confrontive person, Aurora hated the way the man talked about his wife like she was some kind of furniture. The reason why his wife went missing became suddenly became crystal clear and she even contemplated not even returning the woman back to her husband if they found her. Though her own anger and irritation was bottled up inside her in order to be let free elsewhere and not into the face of the mind via her fist, Sparrow seemed to take it even worse than she did. This first word out of his mouth-- even if it was a word. She couldn't honestly tell if it was, or if it was in another language. It certainly wasn't Antivan, that much she knew. Curious, she could tell this little venture would be extremely... Interesting.

Sparrow continued to give the man a tongue lashing, putting to words what Aurora felt. She gave him her approval by simply nodding along. It was unlikely that anything she said would be taken serious by the misogynistic man. Luckily Sparrow managed to chew him out before she had to. Aurora found herself liking this Sparrow, despite only meeting him mere moments ago. Sweet serendipity indeed.
"Give us a name and a lead so we can get this over with," She added behind Sparrow. The faster they could find this man's wife, the faster they could get it over with, and the faster Aurora could help the woman.

Ghyslain looked extremely offended at this point, and moderately furious, but it was rather apparent that Sparrow had intimidated him somewhat. He prodded back with words rather than jabs. "A queen? This is her own doing, gallivanting about with men half her age." He looked about to spit in disgust, before deciding that would likely be too low an action for someone of his status. "Bah. She's just trying to show me I'm tied to her purse-strings."

He shrugged then, obviously tired of this ordeal. "It wasn't always like this, you know. We were in love once. She defied her parents to marry me. Sometimes I wonder if I dreamed those years." He managed to shake off the reminiscing quickly enough however, at Aurora's mention of a name. "Jethann, at the Blooming Rose. You should speak with him. I didn't know she visited whores, not until Jethann sent a letter, to our house, no less! He even sent her flowers once. Lilies -- her favorite." The thought made him throw up his arms in anger again. "Bah! Talking about it makes my head hurt. Good luck to you. I will meet you here when you return."

Rilien recognized the hissing syllables of Qunlat, expelled from Sparrow's mouth like the spat invectives he assumed they were (Qunari, she'd told him, had almost as many oaths as Orlesians). He did absolutely nothing to stop her tirade, mostly because he didn't care but also partially because she was at least somewhat right. He had no time for sentiments about queens and love, but that did not mean he was inclined to agree with Ghyslain's assertion that anyone could belong to anyone else. The Chantry had once thought he belonged to them, and he'd wasted little time disabusing them of the notion. Then, his teacher had thought it, and she too was corrected. It was rather a recurring theme in his life, actually.

The young mage- Aurora, she had called herself- was apparently equally-incensed, but more subtle and direct about it; two things which he appreciated. The combined heckling earned them a name and a location, along with a few other miscellaneous tidbits of information that Rilien filed away for potential later use. The thought that he would be going to the brothel again produced a small flare of irritation, but he suppressed it quickly. What he should be more concerned about was how someone possessed by a desire demon was going to manage another trip into that particular den. Perhaps the matter would be important enough this time that diversions would be less likely; they were, after all, looking for a woman and not a missing Templar recruit, which would probably (and perhaps should probably) inspire more generosity.

"The trail seems cold already," Rilien pointed out mildly, "We should not let it ice over entirely." That was as much a warning as he was going to give, and abruptly, the Tranquil turned on his heel, descending the stairs and heading for the Red Light District. Not that he particularly wanted to go, mind.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia

Earnings

0.00 INK

The Qunari examined the blade of her knife as she walked. The drake's hide had given it quite the beating, and in all fairness it hadn't been top-quality to begin with. She was going to need something to replace it with at close range for those situations where bare hands simply wouldn't do the trick. Still, it wasn't broken yet, and she like most of her kith despised waste, so back into her leather boot it went, and she returned her attention to the path they were taking. Those bodies that weren't scorched beyond recognition were easily identified as not-Athlok, and she did not linger on the faces of the dead for any longer than necessary.

As they wound deeper and deeper into the mine, the bodies grew generally more disfigured, and she noticed also that the level of burn occurrence was increasing steadily the further they walked, suggesting the possibility of running into another drake, or perhaps something worse, it was hard to say for sure. This, she noted without any real foreboding. If they ran afoul of some creature, they would kill it. If they did not, it would remain as it was now: none of her concern.

The group of three rounded a corner, to be met with a most interesting sight: a young man was driving the point of a pitchfork into the body of another dragonling. He, and a few others, formed a rough back-to-back circle, several of the miniscule corpses strewn about them. None were without injury, but aside from the corpse of one unfortunate, this little group was all alive. From the looks the older men were giving the younger one, he was obviously in charge, and indeed he nodded solemnly at them all as he slung the mining implement over his shoulder with a heavy sigh. He was perhaps Amalia's height, though still in the lanky way that adolescents had, and aside from a bit of sparse fuzz, he had no facial hair to speak of. One of the other men pointed at the three newcomers, and the lad glanced over, blue eyes lighting with the spark of recognition.

He grinned broadly, raising a hand in greeting and approaching the group. The others were equally-relieved, but less outright cheerful about it. "Amal- er... Ben-Hassrath! But am I ever glad to see you! Of course, I knew you'd come if you heard, but this lot didn't believe-"

He was cut off by the harsh glare Amalia leveled at him, her crossed arms and aggressive body language clearly not what he'd been expecting to see. "That is... uh... I messed up, didn't I?"

Amalia's nod was sharp. "Yes," she replied bluntly, and he winced visibly. Sighing through her nose, she relaxed her posture slightly. "But the fault for that is not wholly yours." She glanced at the pile of dragonling corpses, and then back at Athlok and the others. "You led them to this?"

"Well... yes. I'm, um... well, I'm sorry about that too. I know it's not my role and all, but it was that or die, and there's an even bigger dragon inside and I-" The Ben-Hassrath cut off the rambling flow of words by placing one palm flat on her viddethari's head.

"You still speak too much," she said, the words almost gentle. "The Qun does not demand of you your death. I ask because a re-evalutation of your role might be in order. Now, we must leave before that other dragon finds you." He looked vaguely troubled by the statement, and she waited patiently for him to find the words he was so obviously looking for, aware that their time may be growing short.

"But... if we just leave it there, Hubert will send the workers back and they'll get eaten all over again! Even if he does believe us, it could get out and kill more people! Can we really just let that happen?" His plea, such as it was, was certainly earnest, but Amalia appeared unmoved.

"We can," she replied evenly, but she could tell he wasn't going to let it go.

"Maybe you can, but I'm not that good a Qunari yet! If I go, you'll have to go, right? It's your role to protect your viddethari, and that certainly means you can't let me get eaten by a dragon, right?" He seemed rather proud of this line of logic, and she pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and index finger. This was what happened when the only people brave enough to fly in the face of their traditions and convert to the Qun were, well... brave. Sometimes to the exclusion of intelligence. She might well have reminded him that nothing in her duty bade her save him from his own suicide, but whatever the reason, she chose not to. It was nothing more than a vague inclination, perhaps something born of the base principles of her way of life (those that demanded service to the whole above all else), but whatever the case, she didn't want to let him die, nor let the dragon eat too many more of the workers.

"We are wasting time. If I go, you will not, Athlok, so take your companions and leave. Now." The irritation in the words was enough to bid him to immediate action, and they left posthaste, returning the three actual combatants to their solitude. Shaking her head, Amalia glanced askance at Ithilian. "I did not bring you here to slay dragons, Sataareth. If you wish to leave, I'll think nothing of it."

Ithilian had maintained a respectful distance from Amalia and Athlok as Finn was now called. He'd actually been hoping for this chance to observe her with one of her own, although from the words exchanged he wondered just how much this Finn was Qunari. With Amalia he had managed to look past her race for once, something he hadn't thought previously possible, but for this one, the miracle did not repeat itself. Perhaps it was the presence of the len'alas that had him annoyed, but his thoughts on Finn kept falling into the category of shem.

Sophia, on the other hand, had been in the process of a small flood of understanding. The woman was Qunari. She... had never really considered that as a possibility, mostly due to the lack of horns and... sheer muscle mass. But once she thought about it, she supposed it was completely possible. After all, following the Qun was a religion in the same way as believing in Andraste and the Maker, was it not? With that knowledge, the Viscount's daughter could safely assume the purpose of the pair's mission here: to rescue one of their own, this Finn, or Athlok as Amalia called him. Rescue him, and no one else. The idea seemed immediately selfish to her, and her disapproval showed on her face when the Ben-Hassrath stated her willingness to simply leave the danger unresolved now that she had her target in hand, even though she could certainly have made a difference otherwise. Had her pupil (as the relationship seemed to her) not convinced her otherwise, Sophia was left to assume she'd be about to face the dragon on her own. Her own morals were far too strong to allow a massacre like the one that had happened here to occur again.

"I'm with you, if it makes any difference," she said, planting the tip of her sword in the ground. "It's what I came here to do, after all."

Ithilian didn't really care for what he'd walked into. They'd accomplished their goal, saved Athlok, and the way out was clear. He didn't see why they shouldn't take it. He hadn't agreed with Finn's logic, either. The dragon was an intelligent creature. It would not attack unless it felt threatened, or unless it thought it had the advantage. For it to leave its home to attack the city or something of that sort would be suicide, and if Hubert felt the need to send more shemlen workers to the mine to die, it was of no concern to Ithilian. It wasn't his task to prevent the humans from making mistakes.

But Amalia was going to remove the dragon, and that carried some weight. He hadn't come this far in repaying her kindness to let her be killed by a dragon now. He didn't think of much of their chances if just the len'alas accompanied her. Especially considering their difficulties against the drake, which had likely been a relatively small threat compared to whatever dragon was at the head of this movement. He had no intention of letting his best ally in the city (and perhaps only one) slip away from him.

"And I did not come for the boy's sake," he said, pushing himself away from the wall. "Let's get this over with. Sophia's eyes flitted back and forth between the two. An odd pair, indeed. The elf she didn't think was Qunari like the woman, at least he didn't seem to exude the same qualities. There was a lot more an