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Sparrow Kilaion

"Love, friendship, selfishness. They all go hand in hand, don't they?"

0 · 1,185 views · located in Kirkwall

a character in “The City of Chains”, as played by Yonbibuns

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"Seems like there's still a lot I have to learn."



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Name: Sparrow Kilaion
Pronunciation: Sp-ARE-oh Key-LAY-on
Age: 32 (As of Act Three)
Race: Half-breed Elf
Height: 5'8”
Build: Whip-lean; broad-shouldered.
Sex: Female
Sexuality: Pansexual
Class: Arcane Warrior

Appearance: You might've been expecting a slender representation of Elven lineage, all willowy angles and slender limbs. Sparrow was spared of those beautiful features, she's much rougher. She's not a small wispy thing. She has squared shoulders, built for carrying heavy burdens. Elegant in motion? Perhaps. However unintentionally, Sparrow walks and runs and treads with a harrowing predatory gait. There's a coiled spring in her step that promises immediate action, as if she's holding something back.

Often content to throw about smoldering looks and wretchedly wicked smiles. Hardly anyone is spared from her vivacious expressions. She's the handsomely dressed man idling in the doorway, twining her tapered fingers across the bejeweled bracelets jangling around her wrists. She's the unambiguous woman kicking her feet into the air, balanced across the wooden scaffolding above your head, like a little girl who's just so damn amused at what you're doing. Angled, swarthy features are paired with distinct, serious eyebrows, which shroud murky green eyes. If she were a horse, then Sparrow would have the flesh of a muted-brown bay. Ethnically bronzed: a wayfaring exotic prince. She will tell you that she can be anything and anyone you desire; female, male. It never mattered before, so why should it matter now?

For the most part, Sparrow appears deceivingly human, though you'd be ill-advised to make any note of that in her presence. What with the lack of general leanness and sad-looking ears. You see, they've been sheared halfway down and bear puckered scars along the soft, bowed ridges of cartilage. Crudely sliced off like knuckles of bread. Someone tried to remedy the situation by stitching them up. Now, they're about the size of an extended forefinger. Thin white scars run down her back and a hefty handful of sunspots freckle her shoulders.

Act Two: As of note, Sparrow has lost an alarming amount of weight, rendering her little more than a flighty bag-of-bones with sallow cheeks and sunken eyes. Battling an internal war with Rapture, who could care less about her vessel's well-being and health, Sparrow's struggled to keep herself from withering away to nothing. With her companions constant encouragement and support, she's managed well enough. Numerous scars and markings have appeared on her body, including a variety of burns on her inner thigh from Rapture's brief bouts of boredom. Her smiles seem a little forced, if not subdued. Glance her way, and that shit-eating grin will blossom like a weed. Her misadventure in the Deep Roads, however, have served her well. No longer does she wear tattered, mismatched outfits seemingly compiled by Kirkwall's sailors and street-dwellers. She dresses as well as she can afford to (in the conventional sense): but tends to be simplistic in it all, not one for great grandeur (because it isn't safe) though she does appreciate the boldness of colour. Her cloaks are always fastened by a cast-iron bird in flight. Unfortunately, her plates of armour have ceased fitting properly.

Act Three: With the help of her companions, Sparrow has regained her health and no longer looks like a shambling corpse. She's been given back what was hers. However slow her progress may be, she's come to accept that the persona she created is not, and cannot be, everything she is now. She is smaller than she was before, but still vibrates with an irrefutable strength. Given the weight she's lost, Sparrow's eyes appear larger and her face much sharper. Ironically, perhaps now that she's less masculine, she appears more Elven than human. Recently fitted with handmade Dragonhide armour, crafted by none other then Amalia... partially out of pity, she supposed, but nonetheless, she's found it surprisingly comfortable. She's allowed her hair to grow somewhat longer and has begun dressing in a less androgynous manner. She's still somewhat handsome, and definitely less alarming (and confusing) because of the frame she'd once had. She supposes that she's satisfied with how she looks, but it's still jarring whenever she passes by reflective surfaces. Looking so unlike herself.



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Demeanour:

Obnoxious little birds hardly perch for longer than a few moments, and Sparrow is no different. She walks a fine line between flightiness and a complete disregard for serious circumstances. Things that may shake up normal people may not affect her much at all. Her recklessness knows no bounds. She treads lightly on no one's feet. She stomps (and sometimes apologizes). While she generally lacks common sense in situations that call for it, she behaves as if she's always lived on the streets. Particularly if said situation involves planning beforehand. And what a loudmouth she is! Nearly unmatched when flapping her gums: her tongue is as sharp as a warrior's whetted blade. As thick-skinned as an elephant, she's capable of sloughing off insults with ease. Her retributions are often far more hurtful. She's a fighter. She's a survivor. She's an inventor, a dreamer, a creature who's muses never crumble.

The woman, not-woman is, and will always be, incredibly flawed.

She's a lofty grenade thrown through the gap of your car window, as you desperately try to wind it closed, landing squarely in your lap. She's a thundering concussive blast. She's collapsing buildings and debris falling from the sky like comets. She's a paroxysm. She's outbursts. She's the frothing bubbles shaking a pot's lid clear off, straight across the kitchen floor. She's fingernails digging straight through the ridges of your spine: shaking shaking shaking. She's unsymmetrical tiles driving your obsessive compulsive tendencies insane. She's a muddy, stick-infested nest huddled between the lining of your home that drives you absolutely nutters because they won't shut the hell up but there's something preventing you from knocking it down. In a way, it's beautiful. She's rusty nails being beaten, crookedly, into the knots of a wooden plank. She doesn't fit correctly. She's not a proper puzzle piece. She's a challenge to everything and everyone—mostly to herself.

Sparrow relies on her natural charisma to capture sympathy and praise. She's perfectly capable of acting pathetic or clowning around in a bid to get what she wants. It's not obvious that she does this and only the most perceptive spirits could catch onto her wily games. She's not giving anything up, so even if you did confront her, she'd probably lie straight through her teeth. Her independence is contagious, glorious, admirable. It might even appear a little sad if she weren't so goddamn cheeky all the time, so evidently not lonely. She wants to splash a little limelight across your feet and she will willingly open her world to you: all you need to do is grab her hand and cross whatever fears you've been idling with. She says that she's discarded hers across the ocean like ash, which isn't exactly true. Her fears are many, though she would admit to none.

Act Two: Over the span of Rapture's presence, Sparrow's brightly-colored, hefty personality has lost its girth. There are no more rainbows. She's grown bitter. Very, very bitter. She's become quite the little actor, as well. Divulging her unhappiness to others would be beyond selfish, even for her. Living with an unwelcome guest scrapping its talons through her thoughts like it was pea soup has been increasingly difficult. Without her companions, she's sure she would've been done for long ago. Ever so, it feels as if her life means less and less as the days pass. She's become a danger to those she cares about and the mistakes she's made have been piling behind her. In her most personal times, she's prone to extreme mood-swings. A weepy, crying mess, and as soon as Rapture grapples the reigns from her fingers: frigid, cool and mercilessly cruel. She has distanced herself from her friends as best as she's able to. For now, that's all she's capable of doing for them.

Act Three: Much has changed since losing Sparrow's toxic sycophant. At the cost of Rilien's last prospect to retrieve everything he'd lost, Rapture was extracted from her person and killed by her own hands. Surrounded by her companions: faces she's come to know as friends, she did not have to face any of her sufferings alone. This has been a reoccurring theme in her life, as of recent. She is not alone, as she'd once believed herself to be. With each passing day, she grows physically and mentally stronger and given far more chances to right her wrongs. It's possibly the most difficult thing she's had to face—moving on and accepting things as they are, including herself. For once in her life, she's swamped by experiences she has no clue how to deal with.

Fears: What Sparrow fears most of all is losing the things she's come to care about: including people. Once you've acquired important things, friends, people you love. They become weaknesses, and tie anchors to your feet. Her companions has become a perch she does not wish to fly from. She wishes that things would remain the same: it's a cloying, childish feeling that she hates. Change, loss, abandonment.

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Opinions:
    The Chantry: Even if she has no solid reason to hate them, Sparrow simply does. If not for Rilien's sake, and what they've done to him. But she suspects it's truly because her own guilty conscience is screaming that she's done the same to him. Even so, it is easier to blame them.
  • Mages: There's not much to say. They are now a part of her she's chosen to embrace. Primarily because of Aurora and her lessons, Sparrow has come to accept her abilities, and made many friends in the process. Her opinion of them is rather high.
  • Templars: She has too much to say about them. Dirty blighters, skulking through the Gallows. She dislikes hiding from them, but understands the consequences of confronting them.
  • Elves: Pointy ears, pointy elbows, pointy everything. As far as she's concerned, they're pretty creatures who often have no sense of humor. Certainly not the kind she's used to—dark, and full of sneering snarks. The Alienage, and all of it's inhabitants have taught her more than she's cared to know about Dalish culture. She still feels no kinship towards them.
  • Dwarves: Honestly, the only Dwarves she's been exposed to was Varric and his associates. She likes him well enough and if they're all like him, she supposes she'd like them too.
  • Humans: If they have sticks shoved up their arses, she doesn't like them. If they're like Ashton, Sophia, Aurora, Amalia, and Lucien, then they're alright. She's choosey about the people she likes, and it's no different with humans. Shorter ears, is all.
  • Qunari: She has mixed feelings about them. Part of her wishes that things could have ended differently in Kirkwall, but she knows better than to delve on what could have been.
  • Kirkwall: Nice sometimes and awful in other instances. If it weren't for her chosen anchors, her companions, she would have left long ago.



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Weapon of Choice: Sparrow prefers weapons used for brutality and savage strength. Something that could crush skulls, dent armour and rend arms limp and useless. Even if her movements are impaired with it's sheer size, Sparrow has found her lady-love in a large mace. It's particularly useful when affording direction to mighty blows capable of tearing through armour during combat: the flanged mace she uses has an eight-pronged steel head. The bottom of the shaft is wrapped in black leather for to improve her grip: it is also decorated with sea shells and various kinds of feathers.

Armor/Apparel:

Act One and Two: If we're not talking about her Qunari-crafted armaments, Sparrow appreciates metals and gems of all kinds, but her special fondness for gold shows in the many baubles wrapped around her wrists. She wears mismatched clothes belonging to gypsies and pirates and wayfaring travelers in her downtime, when she's not expecting to bloody herself up in combat. Her armour is something entirely different. It makes her appear larger, more imposing: frightening. It had been gifted to her by her Qunari kinsmen upon returning from her first battle, and it became her tool. Without it, they said, she would be soulless. It's steel had been folded several times over, giving it an opaque sheen. She wears a pair of loose-fitting navy trousers underneath. Her helmet is reminiscent of a Qunari's horns.

Act Three: No longer does she cling to her old Qunari-remnants, not that it would fit anyhow. Whether or not Amalia did it out of kinship or pity, she crafted her a set of armour unlike anything she's ever worn. Dragonhide leathers. Like segmented scales, light and flexible, and startlingly effective against errant blades and deflecting blows. Not to mention it fits her perfectly. She's thanked her before, but she can't imagine simple words will ever describe how many times the thing has saved her from certain death.

Combat Overview: How much damage does Sparrow inflict? You'd be surprised to know that she doesn't just bumble around, swinging her mace around like a drunk man totting a broken bench. She knows exactly where to optimize her brutality: to crush lungs, to burst livers, to suffocate you within your own armour. In close combat, Sparrow can be terrifying. Her speed derives from her physical structure. Her nimbleness comes from her elegant lineage and harsh upbringing. Her strength comes from within. Now that she's unbound by the Qun and it's regulations, Sparrow has become increasingly foolhardy when utilizing her magic, heedless of whose eyes watch her.



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Place of Birth, Nation of Origin: Elven Alienage, Tevinter Imperium
Social Status: Previously, among the Qunari, Sparrow was a basalit-an "honored thing." A warrior specializing in infiltration, her unit name is "undisclosed." Now, she's little more than a gifted thief, smooth-talker and residential trouble-maker. Slowly but surely, she's been making a name for herself in Kirkwall. Those who seek a warm-eyed companion, a hardy bodyguard or a substantially knowing information-hoarder need not travel far to find her tailing you.

Personal History:

If you haven't already guessed, Sparrow had never been her true name. It's unambiguous, unsuspecting, and prevalently androgynous in its origins. Sparrow could belong to a traveling man who's fluttering eyelashes could make women swoon after him. Sparrow could belong to a snarly woman kneading bread between her knuckles. Her name, originally, had been Papyrus. Named after an exotic blend of parchment paper from the furthest reaches of Rivain. So, even if Sparrow does not remember living in Tevinter's Alienage: she remembers her name. It is important to her.

She will not speak it to anyone and refuses to buy into conversations begging to know of her true origins. To anyone curious enough to ask, she was a traveler, a gypsy, a mystery, a beggar, a lover, a man, a woman, a person who came from nowhere. Her parents are alive and well, though she hasn't contacted them in ages. She can't recall why they had left the Alienage initially, but she can guess why. The threatening blanket of oppression had finally grown too heavy, too wearisome to carry. Their knees were buckling and the community was faltering under the weight as well. It was too difficult to carry on living in a cramped house, too hard to slither their way out of sight. She understood.

The years spent with the Dalish were magical. They treated them well enough. Though she still remembers feeling like a stray dog. It was in the way they were looked at. Pity bled there, in their eyes. Almost as if they were tiptoeing across eggshells Impish and naturally curious, Sparrow's insatiable appetite for the unknown took her into the woods past the Dalish encampment she'd come to know as home. Without her father's protective eyes roving over her, making sure she was present to wash up her hands for lunch. And without her mother's twinkling gaze, bright as the summer skies, willing proud butterflies through her stomach. Only the buzzing insects and anxious creatures scuffling in the underbrush accompanied her fastidious steps.

And they were her only companions in the dark, offering her consolation when she suffered. Silently, quietly. Hadn't it been for her owlish eyes peering from within the shrubs, she might have been overlooked. Luck hadn't been on her side that particular night. The humans, those dirty shemlen with their clubs and swords and leathers. They pulled her from the forest like they were extracting a tick from the back of their heels. Grasping thick swirls of her hair and pulling until she squealed and begged and cried—they didn't let her go. For the longest time, Sparrow would never speak of what happened in those woods, and if silence could somehow swipe her memory of what occurred, she sorely wished it would.

Fate would have it that a band of Qunari stumbled onto their path. Or so Sparrow had thought at the time. She would never know whether or not they had been stalking the caravan—if they even cared that raggedy bandits were traipsing around in the woods, but they had blood on their minds and apparent intentions as to what they would do with them. With an ease that shook her to the core, the Qunari slaughtered half of the band and scattered the rest off. They moved as one: moving cogs all belonging to the same machine, eyes like the pieces of steel they held. Why they took her along with them remains yet another mystery she will never know. Even now, she doubted it was from sympathy. Perhaps, they saw something there. In any case, she was brought to the glades and given a new name: Meravas. Apparently it meant so it shall be. The irony would only strike her as she got older.

After years of molding a suitable persona, Sparrow became increasingly good at something intangible: lying. She possessed magical abilities. More so then that, an insatiable wanderlust. She tired of the Qun. It threatened to box her in. It placed limits on where she might go and even though she owed them everything and how come to know a new family—it wasn't enough to keep her there. With a heavy heart, Sparrow left in the dead of night. Knowing that they would seek her out and paint her off as a traitor, expecting her to face execution with honor and dignity. That was something she would never do. Sparrow fled into the belly of Kirkwall, into a place called Darktown.

Act Two: The past three years have been interesting for her. She's made more friends in Kirkwall and somehow even managed to maintain them. In the same breath, she was boarded by the most dreadful, sadistic, super-bitch because of a mistake she made while hunting down a group of apostates. A small slip of the tongue that she can't seem to undo. It isn't something she cannot run from. For once in her life, Sparrow is unable to flee the country, flee until everything settles again so that she can start over. And she isn't so sure she'd want to given the choice. In the sordid city she's come to call home, Sparrow finally had finally been given the chance to renew an old friendship, and grow closer to the ones she's just made. Not to mention the fact that she's received news from Viscount's daughter, Sophia, that her childhood defilers are in the vicinity. Her monsters. Vengeance is tangible now. Dancing a jig in her palm. She can see it, it's close enough to touch. Somehow, she believes that it will make her problems disappear, and possibly dampen Rapture's hold on her.

Act Three: For someone as flighty as Sparrow, it surprises even herself that she hasn't flown the coop. With all of its flaws, Kirkwall, and it's residents, have become the closest thing she's been able to call home. The bonds she's made, retained and gained back are stiflingly complex. She's gone through great changes. Developed into a much better person. As small as her world is, it's growing at a startling rate. Her sights are on the horizons, though for once in her life, she's hesitant to leave the one's she's formed those bonds with.




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| Amalia |

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Esmeralda
Glassy Sky
Obstacles



Image| Ashton |

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Sunshine
Take Yours, and I'll Take Mine



Image| Aurora |

TEXT

My Boots
Mountains



Image| Ithilian |

TEXT

Take Us Back
I Am Mine



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| Lucien |

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I've Seen It All
My Favorite Things



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| Nostariel |

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I Know You Love to Fall
[url]Song[/url]



Image| Rilien |

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The Wolf
Go
How You Remind Me



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| Sophia |

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Bandida
Winter Solstice


So begins...

Sparrow Kilaion's Story

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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

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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: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega

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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

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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: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Aurora Rose

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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: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Aurora Rose

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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: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Aurora Rose

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Blooming Rose, indeed. He was fairly certain that the only things blooming in the place were the bruises on the boy's face when one of the whores smacked him a good one for getting underfoot. He'd seen similar displays a million places, been subject to more than a few, before he was of appropriate size and skill to hit back. That he was to find himself here again after the passage of such a short time irked him, though it was manifested only in the steady pace of his march, breezing through the entranceway as he did, moving right past all the men and women on display to the second level. He'd read the name 'Jethann' on the brass nameplate on a door next to Idunna's room the last time he was here, which saved him the indignity of needing to stop and ask for the man's location.

The sooner they left this place, the better, and not just because the smell of it irritated his nose, either.

Rilien did the courtesy of knocking, but only once. Frankly he didn't care if he happened to intrude upon a conjugal visitation- it would be nothing he hadn't interrupted before, usually for much less pleasant reasons even than seeking out a missing woman. After that, he simply opened the door and strode directly in. "Jethann," he inquired (though to be fair, there was so little rising intonation to it it may well be mistaken for a declarative).

Perhaps luckily, Rilien did not interrupt anything he shouldn't have. Jethann was alone in his room, and for the most part, didn't even look annoyed at having unexpected visitors. In fact, a grin revealing a rather inappropriate line of thought spread across his face when he laid eyes on the trio, giving each of them a look over, and seemingly approving of each one. There was some recognition in his eyes at seeing Sparrow; the two likely knew each other to some extent, though if they knew each other was not readily apparent.

"I'm afraid today's my rest day," the elf said, before giving the Tranquil a more thorough inspection with his eyes, "but I'll make an exception for you. What do you say, want to see if we can make you feel something again?" His grin perhaps doubled in size as he shrugged. "What can I say? Why work if you're not working hard?"

The look Rilien gave Jethann was perhaps something Ashton would have described as 'priceless.' The usual flat stare took on the barest edge of incredulity, and he crossed his arms over his chest, shifting his weight slightly. "If I had the desire to feel anything at all, I would not ask you," he deadpanned pointedly, blinking once, slowly. He was planning on asking directly where Ninette was, but there was a rather perspicuous danger of being misinterpreted if there were not some form of transition, and while he didn't care, exactly, he also didn't want to deal with the extra superfluous commentary.

"As it turns out, we are here to work, unlike yourself. We seek Ninette de Carac, who has gone missing. I understand she was a customer of yours."

Jethann looked disappointed for only the slightest of moments at Rilien's rock solid rejection of his offer, but seemed intent on remaining lewd with his visitors. It was also possible that that was just his personality. "Ninette? Why yes, she is a customer of mine, but I haven't seen her for several weeks. A shame, really. I enjoy her company. I heard that she finally left her worthless husband. Good for her, right? She's probably out of the city by now. I just wish she'd said goodbye."

He turned towards Aurora, perhaps because he thought she would be more pleasing to speak with, now that the Tranquil had proven unsurprisingly cold. "Did you meet him? Surely no one can blame poor Ninette for freeing herself from that awful man."

Unlike Rilien, Sparrow wasn't displeased at the thought of returning to the Blooming Rose – it would've been an atrocity if she had been, and very unlike her. There was a certain wariness riding on her shoulders, tickling her earlobes. She was uncharacteristically uncomfortable. Exposed flesh made her fingers twitch, drumming tunelessly against the pommel of her mace. For once, Sparrow didn't want to be here.

“Bloody bastard, more like. Wouldn't be worried – she won't be with him again, once we find her.” Sparrow interrupted, crossing her arms across her chest. She couldn't hide the slight grin from her lips, tentatively pulling it's corners at the horrible attempt to seduce her companion. She'd often wondered what Rilien's type was, before he'd been affected by the Rite of Tranquillity. Surely, there'd been someone in his life: the apple of his eye. It was difficult imagining him alone, though she'd heard of the restrictions tendered on all individuals of the Circle. They weren't allowed to have relationships. They weren't allowed to do much of anything. Anchored by the wrists, and by the ankles, to something much more restrictive and cruel. They weren't allowed to live proper lives because everyone feared them. She understood that more than anyone, unless one was to compare him to other confined mages. Freedom was the only fortunate thing she was allowed to have as long as she turned tail and ran, as long as she was willing to part with her stubborn pride, jabbing it's fingers into her ribs because it was displeased at the thought of bowing out.

When she woke up that morning, Aurora surely hadn't expected to end up at the Blooming Rose of all places, looking for a man's (if one could call that a man) wife. When she entered, her eyes darted around, a little bit wary, but entirely curious. However, the Tranquil seemed to know where he was going as if he'd been there before. That of course raised an entire slew of questions. Mostly why. As he led the way, Aurora couldn't help but stare at the back of the man's white mane and just wonder what went on under that hair? What was it like being a Tranquil, to be cut from not only the Fade, but all of one's emotions as well. She winced inwardly as she thought about it. It wasn't the cheeriest thought, and one she tried her entire life to avoid. That and becoming an abomination.

She followed him right into Jethann's room. The elf was... Cheeky but then again what did she expect from someone working in a place such as the Blooming Rose? That kind of attitude came with the... job probably. Still, despite herself she couldn't help but chuckle at Rilien's frankness. Then the elf turned his attention's on her. At first, she was at a lost, the sudden change being so... Well, sudden. She opened her mouth to answer, but before the first syllable left her mouth, Sparrow answered for her. Aurora nodded right along and added, "He's not... Pleasant, to put it lightly," she said, agreeing to an extent with Sparrow's words, though not so vulgar.

"Do you know anything that could help us find her? Not for Serah Carac's sake of course, but ours. We'd like to make sure she's okay," She said, putting emphasis on the word. Sarcastic emphasis.

"Okay? But... who would want to hurt Ninette?" the elf asked, as though the idea simply made no sense to him. He suddenly seemed to get a bright idea, however, and another lewd smile made its way onto his face. "Everyone loves Ninette. Sometimes twice a night." He chuckled a bit at his own joke, before becoming significantly more serious. "Ghyslain's the only one who might hurt her, and he doesn't have the balls for it. He came here and yelled at me when he found out Ninette had been seeing me, called me a dirty knife ear, among other things, and accused me of corrupting his wife. We had him thrown out."

Finally getting around to the point of answering Aurora's question, Jethann continued. "There was, uh... one other person looking for Ninette. A Templar, I believe his name was Emeric. He wouldn't sleep with me, either. I can't see why a Templar would be interested in anyone who isn't a mage."

Templars. Again. If Rilien had been the kind to entertain such useless conspiratorial fancies, he would have sworn the world was out to get him. Out to get them, really, because he was in a much better position to be dealing with Templars then either of the two women with him. How was it that in recent weeks, he'd been sent twice to Templars, and twice to this den of... well, filth was too strong a word. There was a decided lack of cleanliness, though, and he a rather fastidious sort who did not revel in that in the slightest.

Choosing not to comment on Jethann's implied question, Rilien instead took it upon himself to hurry the matter along. "One final question. Did you ever send Ninette anything? Flowers or a letter?" He asked largely because that detail had seemed odd to him. Arguably, it was indeed a whore's job to keep his or her customers coming back, but from the sounds of things, Ninette was already a regular, and such measures were thus firmly in the category of 'excessive.' Perhaps the absence of any of his own had turned Rilien into a poor judge of emotion, but he didn't think so, and Jethann wasn't showing enough distress at Ninette's vanishing for the Tranquil to suppose that he'd done something so foolhardy as to actually love the woman, so something about the entire situation was off.

That said, he wasn't at all certain he'd be chasing down the lead anyway. In the end, he needed the funds, but he did not relish the thought of accompanying two apostates, one of them a maleficarum, no less, into the Gallows. If ever he decided he needed a compelling reason to flee the city and never come back, doing so might put enough Templars on his tail to ensure he made it all the way to Anderfels.

Marvelous. Templars. Just what she wanted to see that day. Despite herself, Aurora couldn't hide the displeasure written on her face. A twitch of nose there, a wrinkle of the eye brow here, and the flittering of a green iris spelled it out to anyone keen enough to be watching. Even as careful as she was, she didn't like the idea of being thrown in front of another Templar... However, this wasn't for her, but for another woman. Which brought to mind a myriad of interesting questions. What did a Templar wish with Ninette? Ghyslain, jerk that he was, didn't make it sound like his wife communed with the fade. Nor did this Jethann offer any suspicions otherwise. Indeed, this woman sounded completely normal, if burdened with a venomous husband. The wrinkle in Aurora's eyebrow found itself raised as she considered these... Questions.

Sparrow mouthed a silent apology for getting ahead of herself, nodding her head to Aurora's question. It was hard enough trying to keep her sailor's mouth in check, but more often than not, she'd forget who's company she was in – presumably, this was what made Ashton so desirable compared to herself. He was all sweeping bows, and chivalrous actions. Chock-full of gentleman flattery that would make the shyest lass blush. In comparison, Sparrow wasn't much of a catch unless they liked brusque men with theatrical movements, and straightforward tactics that involved wringing her arms around their waists and nearly mopping their hair against the floor in an undaunted act of passion. She didn't feel bold, right now. Her nerves were skittering like insects, bereft of anything that made her feel comfortable. Nerves overtaken, overwhelmed by demons. Or one, in particular. Her whispers were feverish against her neck, her earlobes, in the sensitive cavities of her mind, while Aurora and Rilien bartered for information.

She frowned ever so slightly, arching an eyebrow. She refused the urge to reach forward and tug the man's ears, reprimanding him for such a poor joke. Instead, Sparrow's foot tapped impatiently, indicating that he'd better get to the point. Her rhythmic footfalls finally stopped at his next words. They were dealing with Templars, again? From her recent experiences, and awry exploits, they only brought more trouble than they were worth. The crease between her eyebrows softened when Rilien asked whether or not he'd ever sent her flowers, or letters, or anything of the sort that might indicated that his relationship with her went beyond portly business arrangements. There was nothing indicating that he was genuinely upset at Ninette's disappearance. He was nonchalant, and a little more concerned about why none of his recent acquaintances would sleep with him. It left a bitter taste in her mouth. For some reason, or another, they were in agreeance.

Discarded just – like – that.

"Flowers?" Jethann said, as though it was a strange question. "I mean, apostate or no, Ninette certainly cast a spell on me, but the thought never crossed my mind to do something like that. It's not as if I wanted Ghyslain to come here and shout at me." He shrugged before returning to the subject of the Templar. "Anyway, Emeric said he'd continue his investigation in Darktown. He wasn't moving too quickly, though. You might still be able to catch him before he disappears down there, if you're quick enough."

Rilien's eyes narrowed, lids half-masted over his irises and sclera, and he simply nodded curtly. There was something to this, but if the investigation was to proceed in a logical manner, he would have to leave that thread alone for now. Darktown. That would be less troublesome than the Gallows. One Templar did not a Chantry army make. One Templar, he could kill without excessive difficulty if he needed to, and furthermore, he would not likely need to worry about retribution for it. Walking into Darktown anything less than fully prepared for confrontation was practically suicide anyway.

That in mind, he decided that, at least for himself, finding this Emeric would not constitute any excessive risk. Sparrow and Aurora were, as ever, free to make their own decisions regarding that. "Then I am headed for Darktown. Thank you." He inclined his head reasonably politely in Jethann's direction, since that was relatively ordinary Tranquil behavior anyway, and then took his leave.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Aurora Rose

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A Templar wandering alone towards Darktown was not a very common sight, and the old man in shining armor acted as something of a beacon as he descended down a suitably dark road. A beacon for those who dwelled in the Undercity, to be specific. Typically, Templars did not dare to travel down so deep into the underbelly of the city, and certainly not alone, and Emeric was currently proving why. He hadn't made it far before a small group of common thugs beset him from behind, four in number, armed with makeshift weaponry, and certainly not warrior-like in their carriage. The first struck him from behind, a blow that took the old Templar to a knee.

It was this sight that Rilien, Sparrow, and Aurora came upon as they hurried after him. The common criminals would no doubt be easy prey for them, if they chose to respond in a wholly violent manner. It may be necessary, as one of the thugs was currently sizing them up, clearly seeing only Sparrow as a potential threat. They were bigger, but simply had no idea what kind of individuals had just come upon them, and so they continued their work of restraining the Templar and forcefully searching him for valuables.

Rilien decided several things upon coming to the scene of the mugging: one, these criminals were entirely amateur. Two, this Templar was incredibly stupid for coming here in the first place. Three: Aurora should probably sit this one out. Given the fact that he and Sparrow both had nonmagical means by which to deal with this problem, it wasn't going to be an issue. Four unseasoned fools were not going to pose them any real threat. Rilien made a peculiar shrugging motion, a bit of sleight-of-hand producing a glass vial with a cork stopper from somewhere in his billowing sleeve. This, he pressed into Aurora's small hand until her fingers closed around it, jerking his head towards the Templar even as he drew his knives.

Clearing his throat just loudly enough to be heard, Rilien made directly for the nearest mugger, the amount of effort needed to draw the sharpened edge of his knife across one carelessly-exposed throat truly pitiful. It had, of course, occurred to him that it was not strictly necessary to kill the criminals, but this was Darktown. If you showed anyone a hint of softness, you'd be hounded by too many ne'er-do-wells for the rest of your days. Besides that, he really didn't much care. The second actually showed some initiative, attempting to use the first as cover for a motion to attack from the side. A Rilien from many years in the past would have rolled his eyes, certainly, and perhaps even sighed dramatically. The person he was now didn't waste the time, disappearing in a puff of smoke only to reappear from behind, both knives stuck in the fellow's back.

Sparrow was sure to be done with the other two in short order as well. He trusted that it was obvious that she shouldn't use her magic, of course. She was far from helpless without it.

Christmas lights exploded in the depths of her eyes, dancing along like thrown confetti, like bright streamers, like children scrambling to open up their presents. There was always something happening in Darktown, whether or not it was a fight to be had, or an unfortunate lesson to be taught. It was alive, and thriving, and free. Fighting was subjectively better than gambling her money away and drinking herself under the table – it was the only thing that required no giving. She always told Rilien that she could smell discord from miles away, and even though she'd remained quiet the entire walk, occasionally throwing quips Aurora's way, Sparrow could've told him that their merry little mission would start, or end this way. She took another breath, letting it out slowly again, feeling more centred, more in control. But, slightly less. Her energies felt different, amalgamated in her core, releasing like poisoned mushroom spores. Like the toxic wastes inhabiting Darktown, corrupting those who were unfortunate enough to cough and wheeze and hack in the alleyways, waiting for poor fops like Emeric to stumble down into them. Serah Templar.

Sparrow didn't need to be told twice – it wouldn't do her any good to allow two Templar's to know what she was, who she was, or where to find her. She offered Aurora a quick wink. Then, she threw herself forward, solely focused on the thug who sized her up earlier. Her flanged maces remained swinging, unsheathed, at her hips. What use were they against petty muggers? She closed the distance, quickly, and spun into a series of gut-busting punches. Small parts, indescribably formed, sifted away, eroded with her dogged focus. Shesmiled. She gripped her talons on her mind, squeezed. She punched and spun and kicked and blocked. Taking their hits and returning them ten-fold, relishing the baritone beats of her heart hammering in her ears. Rilien was precise, methodical in his killings. He wasted no time. Sparrow had always done things the hard way, recovering pieces of her that were best forgotten. If it gained her relief, then she would fight. Pain was temporary. She swayed as the last man fell, bruised, but revitalized, listing her head back, with her eyes closed.

It was only when her eyes opened that she truly felt herself, as if the talons had released, as if she was satisfied by the results. Her mouth pursed, then softened into a rattled frown. “Emeric. Templar Emeric? Are you still breathing?” Sparrow enquired, seeking a response, as she approached. Hopefully, the muggers hadn't just finished him off in the process of dealing with two nosey Elves.

His first response was a cough that had interrupted any words that may have come out. At a glance, anyone could see that he was old for an actively serving Templar, his gray hair growing slightly wispy, his face drawn and tired from years of hard service. After taking a moment to collect himself, he managed to rise. There were no bleeding wounds on him, merely a dozen places that would be extremely sore the next morning from the beating he'd received.

"I am, thanks to you. It's good you came along when you did." He took a moment to take in the slaughtered thugs, who had clearly not understood what they had been getting into, before he looked back to Rilien, Sparrow, and Aurora, who he couldn't be sure was part of the group, or simply a bystander. "I'm not sure it was necessary to kill them, but regardless, I'm in your debt. I am Emeric, Knight Templar." He regarded the Tranquil with some amount of interest, as though he had perhaps heard of him already, but he made no mention of it. "Might I have your names? I could see to it that the Order rewards you for saving my life."

Aurora looked at the vial in her hands and then followed the Tranquil's nod to the Templar. It didn't take a much to get what he was getting at. Sure, they were only bandits, and she could probably handle them easily... If there wasn't a Templar watching over the whole ordeal. She was wary enough about using her magic in front of strangers, using in front of Templars was just stupid. She nodded at Rilien and accepted the vial, and made her way around the oncoming melee. And a quick melee at that, by the time she reached the injured Templar, the two men had finished with the bandits, which gave Sparrow the chance to address the Templar. Aurora herself sighed, feeling a bit useless as she handed the Templar the red vial. "My name? It's Maria." she said nodding, before shooting a glance at Sparrow and Rilien. She wasn't comfortable about giving the name she used to Templars. She was either paranoid or careful. Probably both.

Rilien didn't even flinch when Aurora gave a different name. He assumed that this one was false, though that could easily be true of her first as well. Sparrow had not been born a Sparrow, either, from what he'd gathered. Of much more interest than a birth name was what one chose to call oneself. Naturally, his were one and the same, and he had no fear in saying so, though he doubted the utility of the act. "Rilien." Sparrow merely shrugged her shoulders, offering no name, and no other response beyond a flinty gaze. Surely, the Templar didn't need to know her name. Safety came in the lack of knowledge. It was something Rilien stood strongly for, and what she'd learnt from living with him. She was not as subtle, or graceful, as her companion in the ability to simply disappear. Thankfully, it was Aurora who saved her from Emeric's patient expectance.

"You can reward us now Serah Emeric," Aurora began,"We've come looking for you in order to ask about Ninette. We had heard that you were looking for her as well. If I may be so forward, may I ask why?" she asked.

Emeric gave his thanks as he accepted Aurora's, or Maria's as she would have it, healing potion. After drinking it, he seemed significantly more... well, energetic was not the word for it, since he did not seem the sort to ever be energetic, but more alert. "Ah... Ghyslain de Carrac's wife. Her disappearance interested me, and so I tried looking into it. The investigation, however, has been a waste of time thus far."

He sighed tiredly. "Most people just say she left her husband. Forgive me, I should explain... this all started when Mharen -- one of our Circle mages -- disappeared. I found it odd. She was a bit older and hardly adventurous. Then I heard about Ninette and two other missing women. I think the disappearances are connected, and I suspect foul play is involved."

Rather than simply assume that the Templar was operating on suspicion and inadequate evidence, Rilien pondered the comment for a beat before picking up the obviously-dangling conversational thread. "Why? Their ages may be similar, and their genders, but does anything else link them?" He held his tongue about the flowers for the moment- if Emeric had not come to that conclusion independently, it wouldn't have figured in his suspicions. If he had, he'd mention it with the open question anyway. One thing the Tranquil had learned long ago was never to tip one's hand before it was strictly necessary. If this man went away with the impression that they were looking for Ninette with no more reason than personal inclination, it was certainly of no concern to the elf.

Absently, Rilien flicked his blades to rid them of excess blood, though there wasn't much there. He'd slashed rather than stabbed, for the most part, and they both slid back into their sheaths without a sound or difficulty. He was perhaps fortunate that those like him were occasionally trained as bodyguards as well as merchants, enchanters, and personal assistants. The thought of ever being the latter was mildly replusive to him, but of course the average Tranquil would feel neither here nor there about it.

"The manner in which they disappeared is too similar, I believe. The guards tell me there's no proof they're connected, that these women simply left home, that it happens all the time. But all of them have simply vanished, not a single one leaving evidence behind as to their whereabouts. At first, I was merely tracking down Mharen, or at least attempting to. I had heard there were mage sympathizers in Darktown who sometimes transport mages from the city, and so I thought to bring my search here."

His gaze fell slightly, a tinge of sorrow coloring his voice. "But as you can see, my inquiries have made me unpopular. But I do believe the disappearances are connected. Mharen had received lillies from a suitor a few days before her disappearance. We thought she had perhaps gone to meet him. I then heard that at least one of the other missing women also received flowers before disappearing. We tracked Mharen's phylactery to a foundry in Lowtown, but it proved to be a dead end."

He shrugged tiredly, looking dejected. "You may investigate if you wish. Perhaps you can find something I could not. I need to give up this investigation. I'm getting too old to being doing this kind of work."

Sparrow took a backseat to the conversation, idling on the sidelines. She had to admit that Aurora had an uncanny, much appreciated ability to gain information in gentler ways. As a person made of rough hands, callous words, and frothing emotions, it wasn't difficult to see that there were different, much more prudent ways of handling situations. She licked her lips, and absently wiped her bloody knuckles on the back of her sleeves, smearing the fabric. She'd clean it later, when it was convenient. She didn't even bat an eye when Aurora offered an alternate alias – for she was Sparrow, as much as Aurora was any other name she chose to give to anyone she didn't trust. For vastly different reasons, all the other parts of her, along with her feminine name, died in the woods, tucked against moss and twisted vines. She listened, intently. If the Templar could give them any leads, then perhaps they could actually find Ghyslain's wife, Ninette. Perhaps, then, they could right a small, significant wrong. “A killer of women?” She mouthed softly, as if she were chewing bitter herbs. Her inclination towards men hadn't changed, hadn't been salved or calmed by reason or experience. Her shadows were far too long, strung up like gloomy curtains on her windows. It might've been the extra inhabitant chewing at her thoughts, dragging her fingers across her spine, but she still hated them. She still blamed them.

The information was disheartening. No longer were they chasing a woman who'd willingly ran from her bastard husband, but now they were facing a possible, if not probable, homicide. A particular killing focused on an innocent, soft-skinned individual. Her eyes immediately sought Rilien out, attempting to steal some sort of secret sign that he was piecing everything together while they spoke to the Templar, or at least something that would give her peace of mind. If this wasn't just a case of a missing person, then it might turn into something much more grave. Something similar to hunting apostates, blood mages, demons and sickly cultists. The measly hope that these seemingly unconnected murders were just that were violently quashed, buried into the back of someone's heel when the Templar mentioned lilies – flowers, flowers, flowers. This wouldn't be an easy job. This wouldn't be anything like they thought they'd been walking into. “We'll do just that. Might'n be better for your health if you find some place to rest, and avoid any treks down here.” She implored, gesturing wide towards the alleyways. As if remembering her manners, Sparrow tipped her head and mumbled a curt, “Thank you, Serah Emeric.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Aurora Rose

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Lowtown’s foundry district always smelled of sulfur. It hung there, thick and toxic, in the air, and Rilien’s nostrils flared, his nose crinkling just slightly in distaste. For someone sensitive to changes in his olfactory sensation, it was not at all pleasant. He imagined it wasn’t much better for people who usually didn’t bother paying attention to what they were smelling. It was overpowering that way.

The buildings here were run down, plaster and stone chipped, peeling from the facades of buildings like the skin could from an orange, or the papery outside of an onion. None lived here, for what foundries were still working operated day and night, and even Darktown was preferable to living in one of the derelict, hollowed-out shells that had died here. Their passage kicked up a fine layer of dust, mixture of chalk, crushed stone, and ash, he was willing to bet. The building Emeric had indicated as the endpoint of Mharen’s phylactery’s trail appeared to be one of the old shells from a time long past, but unsurprisingly, the dust on the way up the stairs to the door was disturbed considerably.

The Tranquil’s eyes narrowed. From the patterns in the dust, something heavy and reasonably-sized had been dragged through here, recently. Shooting a glance behind him, he made sure both of his companions were still present and alert before padding up the stairs. His knives made no more than a raspy whisper of sound as he drew them from their sheaths, putting his back to the wall and approaching the door. It was just slightly ajar, but there was no way any of them would be able to get through without moving it still further. A quick scan of the area indicated no other acceptable method of entrance, and so the Tranquil bit the arrowhead and nudged the door open with his foot, entering as soundlessly as he was able.

Not soundlessly enough, it seemed. The metal door gave a squeak as it was nudged further, only a small thing, but enough to give them away. The three of them would be able to get a glimpse of a human presence within the foundry, a robed man fleeing their sight on the second level of the interior, towards the back, leaving naught but a small bag behind him. Not long after, the entire foundry began to rumble beneath their feet, a blinding flash of light erupting from the center of the ground floor.

A pride demon was left in its wake, a massive creature of thickened flesh and claws, beady eyes gazing down at the intruders, clearly with hostile intentions. It was safe to say that Emeric had not encountered this on his trip into the foundry.

For once in her life, and perhaps the only time in it, as well, Sparrow decided to lag behind, watching Rilien's movements, and acting accordingly, to direct whether or not she should continue moving forward or remain where she was. She'd learnt her lesson the last time she bumbled into an apostate's clumsy traps, strewn across the cobblestones as apparent, and noticeable, as a prostitute's exposed bosom. It might've seemed unusual, but she did learn, sometimes. Her collected weaknesses were small, insubstantial things, that pushed her to greater, reckless heights. Or else, it might have been the asserting voice whispering against her collarbone, or into the contours of her earlobes, that kept her impulses in check, as if it was protecting her property from any further compromise. It would do her no good if she had to fight another needy demon's promises, scrambling for a better hold on Sparrow's body, on her mind, on her thoughts. Her fingers finally conceded to holding the flanged mace in her grip, tightening with each step closer to whatever it was they were going to face. Someone had obviously been through the Foundry before them. Sparrow glanced towards the doorway, slightly unlatched, then towards Aurora, who she shared a capacious smile with, mouthing a silent ready? Ready.

A recently prepared mantra repeated in her thick skull, resounding against her temples, trying to drown out the singing of her blood. The loud, echoing drumbeat of her heart, impatiently waiting for Rilien to signal them. She must be patient. She must be disciplined. She must be hopeful, shedding off whatever weary thoughts that might hamper her ability to protect, to fight. Sparrow was none of those things, and so she watched intently as Rilien's foot slowly lifted towards the door, easing it open with a rusty, unexpected squeak. She inwardly cringed, stepping forward. Through squinted eyes, Sparrow spotted a departing man with his robes flapping behind him, quickly scrambling up the stairs to the second level of the foundry. You! Stop running, fool—” She called after him, gritting her teeth and slamming the door open with an open, ball-faced kick. She hadn't even noticed the small bag he'd dropped in the wake of his haste. Instead, Sparrow's hands pinwheeled from the sudden quakes, flinging down onto the wooden railing to keep herself from stumbling into her companions.

“Always with the demons.” She cursed loudly, eyeing the creature who'd erupted from the centre of the foundry. It was quite clear what kind of individual they were dealing with – a cowardly mage who wasn't so keen on letting them walk away unscathed, and this particular mage was running instead of facing them himself. They'd have to give chase after dealing with his lackey. She whispered again, pressing her to move. She looked over her shoulder, towards her companions, and added a quick, “No need to hold ourselves back, now.” Directed towards Aurora, because she needn't hide her abilities when not in the presence of any Templars. Sparrow threw herself down the rampart to her right, nearly hopping down the entire case of stairs, while ripples of rock created a thick protective structure, more akin to armour, that enveloped her chest and joints. If she needed to, then she would distract the creature while Aurora cast her spells, and while Rilien sunk his daggers from the shadows. Her arms tensed, and then she closed the distance between her and the pride demon, swinging her mace towards its midsection.

The first thing Aurora did instead of berating the fleeing mage or quip about the pride demon was stumble backwards in surprise. First abominations then straight to Pride demons? No middle ground? No hunger demons, no desire demons, just a pride demon. Marvelous. At least it was only one of them right? And three of them? Though, the thing was big enough to count as much as three of them... Her breath hitched as the creature looked at them with disdain, as if they were trash. There was no positioning or bravery from Aurora, as the creature was easily thrice her size. Instead, now backed up against the wall, she crossed her hands in front of her breast and dipped into the fade, drawing a sheath of ethereal rock armor around herself. She mentally steeled herself as she repeated the oft recited name in her head once more. Rosaline.

So intent she was on the chosen word and the hulking pride demon, she nearly missed Sparrow's words. She offered no reply in her own words, just a curt nod. It seemed like these people already knew she was a mage. Strange. She thought she was very careful about that. Though with Sparrow's own rock armor spreading across his chest and joints, she figured that her secret was safe with him. Now it made sense why he was so stand-offish with the Templar. As Sparrow darted towards the pride demon, Aurora couldn't help but be impressed and envious of the man's bravery. Head first into battle, mace in hand ready to fell all that stand in his way. So sure, he was, it even gave Aurora strength to step forward, and ready her repertoire of spells. A sidelong glance at the Tranquil Rilien and she strode up to the railing and readied a spell.

She called to the fade with her hands, drawing upon the natural forces of the world. The air around her hands shimmered as the warmth was sucked out and replaced with cold, the skin of her hands taking on an icy texture. Then she pushed into the air with her frigid hands, casting out a cone of cold and caused a fine layer of frost to build up on the demon's head and shoulders. Pride always was a hot-headed emotion, so why not cool it down?

Sizing up the Pride demon with a cool, appraising stare, Rilien was perhaps the only one in the room who could have matched it for haughtiness. Not, perhaps, in the same way, but he appeared as unimpressed and unruffled as ever upon the conclusion of his inspection, and possessed neither the apprehension that belonged to Aurora nor Sparrow's drive to attack as quickly as possible. Flipping one of his blades so that it lay parallel to his forearm, he kept the other as it was and calculated his attack. Unimpressed with the result, he shifted his tactics, and instead chose to part his lips and sing. An Orlesian ditty, translated into Ferelden for the sake of a wider audience. It was a lively thing, and the way the words rushed over his tongue, infused with that certain something that only a bard could manage, he was quite certain that his allies would benefit from it.

"And she shall bring the birds in spring, and dance among the flowers. In summer's heat her kisses sweet, they fall from leafy bowers." The result was immediate to his own reckoning, his reflexes and strength enlivened, and the next verse shifted, focused instead on slowing and befuddling the demon itself. "She cuts the grain and harvests corn, the chill of fall surrounds her. The days grow old and winter cold, she draws her cloak around her." If the Tranquil had still smiled, he would have done so when the mighty demon seemed to hitch in its stride just a bit, as though its body were no longer to move perfectly-aligned with its thoughts. As it was, he chose the moment to join the fray, heedless of the light coating of frost that fell from above like snow, dusting his head and shoulders. Sparrow's blow connected with the creature's midsection, forcing it to a temporary standstill, and Rilien took full advantage of that, ducking in towards its other side and drawing his knives over the skin of its arms and legs, angling and applying pressure so that the blades bit deep into tendon and muscle, leaving eerily-precise, bloody lines in their wake.

Before the demon could so much as raise one of its massive arms to crush him in retaliation, he simply vanished, forcing it to redirect and try to bat simultaneously at Sparrow and Aurora, both of whom would by now be well aware of its intent.

Had it been Aurora's choice words, or her elusive fib towards the Templar? It might've been Rilien's subtle exclusion in Darktown, but if anyone asked, then Sparrow would have shrugged her shoulders, professing that she just knew. The Fade did not taste as bitter as Rilien described and she wasn't as compellingly in tuned as he was, but still, there were quiet whisperings, and a heaviness that pressed against her skin. She'd whispered to her, nudging her in the proper direction, indicating that she wasn't alone. Her methods were mysterious, unknown to her. It burned pleasantly on the back of her tongue, leaving no compromise. The last remaining bits of rock-ribbed armour encased her cheekbones, head and mouth area, appearing uncannily like a horned mask. Perhaps, if one looked close enough, a lapidarian Qunari. Her eyes were nothing more than two nebulous slits within the craggy crown, occasionally catching glints of Aurora's glacial stream and quick flashes of Sparrow's gritted teeth, bared like a beast.

It had always been his voice – her Tranquil companion who seemed more alive, more animated than anyone else she'd ever known while singing. Unusual, unexplainable. Like long forgotten memories of violins howling through the night, painting temporary pictures across boulders with damp fingertips, dipped in water. Watercolour paintings made up of oyster tones, washed away by the sunlight. He was a shadow with a morning dove's voice. Even now, Sparrow's breath hitched in her throat, momentarily struck by how he sounded. Rekindled spurts of energy wound it's way across her arms, warmed her fingers, and tightened the muscles corded in her shoulders. She was able to pull back her mace and strike again, slightly lower than her initial swing. This was not a song of hushed lullabies and codling whimsy – it breathed fire in her belly, extorted it into something wild and uncontrollable. His voice was copper. Utilizing the Pride Demon's disjointed movements, Sparrow swung again, and again, before careening to the left to gain a better vantage.

Rather than exert itself moving towards the mage that had cast ice all over its upper body, or struggle to locate the vanished bard, the pride demon instead called upon arcane magic that would affect a large area around, enough to encompass all three of them, and likely hit the bard as well, invisible as he was. Its hands lit with magical energy, shimmering airwaves twisting around its feet as the spell activated, an altered form of the crushing prison spell. In addition to inflicting considerable pain on the joints, the spell also carried with it a powerful pull, a strong force to bring the pride demon's enemies into very close range. Regardless of any damage suffered, the demon laughed as though enjoying itself, a deep, rumbling, throaty sound echoing about the interior of the foundry.

When the spell was complete and the magic released, the pride demon immediately lashed out with backhanded strikes towards both Aurora and Sparrow, the two that it could still easily locate, and the two most visible threats.

The spell caught Aurora by surprise. The day was just chock full of surprises. Aurora hated surprises. One doesn't normally expect a creature the girth of a pride demon to also be able to cast spells, and she paid the price for her ignorance. At first, she tried resist the spell by grabbing on the railing in front of her and holding on for dear life. That helped her from diving off the edge and to a painful drop below, but it did nothing to the screaming pain in her joints. Her elbows, knees, ankles, and even fingers felt like they were being poked repeatedly by red hot needles. It was an annoying, and painful experience, she tried to push it out of her mind. It was all an illusion. There was no pain, no real pain. It was just an illusion of pain. Rosaline.

Her heart was not docile. It did not slow, or stutter in fear when the Pride Demon conjured arcane magic, alighting it's proffered claws with raw, unholy energy. She had never been frightened every time a blade came too close to ending her life, leeching her lifeblood. She merely laughed and moved on to face and conquer another danger or obstacle in her way, heedless of how reckless she was becoming. This was another battle, another fight to be won. Weren't they all equally dauntless when facing such disgusting creatures? Creatures better off left in whatever damned hole they'd crawled out of. She disagreed.The Fade felt heavier, much more potent. With a war cry springing from her lips, she suddenly lunged towards the Pride Demon with her mace ready to batter flesh and spill blood. However, Sparrow didn't exactly follow through her wild swing – instead, faltering when her joints seized, as if they were tying themselves into awkward knots. The creature's rumbling laugh echoed in her chest, hollow as an empty chamber. It rang through her ears, temporarily muzzling her unwanted occupant. Her teeth chattered noisily, grinding against the sweltering pain prickling across her skin.

Her mind thrashed against the disillusioned agony. Deep fissures crackled down her armour, rattling her concentration. Fear clung to her skin, coalesced to her being. Unfortunately, Sparrow was already in close vicinity, digging her heels in the dirt to keep herself from falling face-forward. She still felt the uncomfortable pull.The throbbing in her joints beat in time with her heart, rising to a crescendo, then to a low roar. Two seconds of hovering in a borderland between triumph and despair. And while immeasurable agony spread from a point just below her ribcage through her whole body, into shoulders, arms, hands, fingertips; hips, legs. toes; into her scalp, into the tips of her hairs even in her fingernails. It was the remnants of Rilien's song that kept her from tumbling straight against the Pride Demon's knobby knees, and forced her limbs back into movement.

Then the railing began to creak. Then it began to creak again, although louder. Aurora wasn't even able to coax a single complete Antivan curse out of her lips before the railing gave away and dropping her to the ground below. She landed with a hard thump, and though no cracks or pops resulting from broken bones were heard, it still hurt. She felt every single stone that comprised the back of her rock armor in her back, and it was uncomfortable, if not painful. Even if the pain she had experienced before was an illusion, this pain, illusion or not, felt very real. She laid on the ground breathing deep and hard trying to force the air that had escaped her lungs back. It was not the time to be lounging around, not while a pride demon still stomped around. There was an urgency, but she just couldn't find her way back perpendicular to the ground. She lay, unawares of the demon's back hand strike, scabbling about trying to force the ground beneath her feet once more.

Rilien grit his teeth as his feet left the ground, drawn towards the manifestation of Pride like a moth to flame, entirely against his own will, and inexorably. The situation, and all others like it, was one of a scarce few things that managed to stir the Tranquil's irritation, and even as he went still, not bothering to fight the gravatic force pulling him in, his eyes narrowed to slits, his hands tightening around the hilts of his knives until his knuckles were pale. Pain was inconsequential like everything else, and he bore scant thought for the pressure inflicted upon elbows, knees, fingers, vertebrae, too intently focused on his whirring thoughts.

It was a funny thing, what people thought about the Tranquil. It must seem, on the face of it, that his stillness of emotion was somehow reflective of a stillness of mind, as though he didn't think just as he didn't feel. On the contrary, it was as if the cognitive capacity required to feel anything was now free for his use, and he at least put it towards thought. Constant calculation, the ticking away of some inevitable time-bomb, the explosion of which was action. Always decisive, always focused. Nothing was extraneous, nothing went to waste. Which was why, even now as he was thrown unceremoniously to the ground, he was observing, thinking, planning. The noisy protests of the stair railings alerted him to Aurora's predicament, and even as he picked himself up off the floor, still invisible and unnoticed by the demon, he observed that she was having considerably more difficulty doing the same.

His next sequence of thought was quick, which was just as well, for her anyway. Even as the demon's arm headed towards the mage-girl, Rilien applied a burst of speed, made all the easier by his own quasi-magical bardsong, to stand a good few meters in front of her downed person. His arms, he crossed in an 'x' over his chest, the points of both knives upside-down but outwards, blades facing the ceiling. The creature paid the price for ignoring what it could not see, and even as the massive hand swept towards the redheaded woman, it was forced to a paintful halt, the momentum from its swing now working against it and forcing it further onto the Tranquil's weapons. Rilien dug his feet into the ground as well as he was able, trying to preserve his traction as he wavered into view again, but the effort was about as useless as he would have expected it to be, and his boots tore furrows in the ground as he was lifted, effectively tossed from the area as the Pride demon snarled at great volume, sending the elf flipping end-over end and into the nearest wall of the foundry, only one of his blades still in his grip. The other remained staked in the creature's hand, both wounds now oozing ichor at an impressive rate, and it aborted its attack on Aurora, that hand now dangling more or less uselessly by its side, clearly a source of considerable agony.

Perhaps the pain it was under approximated something like the amount he was feeling now, slammed bodily into stone and mortar, the breath leaving his lungs as he slid to the ground. He'd avoided hitting headfirst only with some tricky midair acrobatics, which accounted for his present state of, well... life. Even so, he heard with a distant sort of antipathy the sound of one of his own ribs snapping, then another, then a third, in a quick succession of popping cracks. He landed with uncharacteristic heaviness in a crouch, pulling breath into his lungs evenly, minimizing the pain as much as he was able. Pushing off with his free hand, Rilien regained his feet with a wobble, his perfect composure for once disappeared. For all that, he still looked as though nothing was wrong, at least if his expression was anything to go by.

The blood trickling out of the corner of his mouth spun a different yarn, perhaps.

Her head whipped around to see where her companions had wound up, and whether or not the Pride Demon's magic was effecting them too. Drawing them in like mice pulled unceremoniously by their tails, except they weren't scuffling into holes to hide. It was the Pride Demon's greatest folly. Even though she couldn't see him, Sparrow imagined Rilien gravitating towards the creature, daggers held tightly in his hands, irrefutably poised to rip the creature's advancing legs into something less than limbs, and a little more like skewed beef. It was almost like tugging a wild animal's chain towards you, instead of back-peddling away, with its killing intent clear as day. Surely, the Pride Demon underestimated them. Pride, the deadliest sin, in her opinion, was going to be his downfall. It was predictable, ironic. This was nothing like the sweet promises the Desire Demon relayed, near constantly, reaching out to her with promises and waving it's propositions in her face like a banner that couldn't be denied. Where was Rilien? Probably whirring possibilities and probabilities and possible solutions through his mind. In these moments, even in the midst of pain tingling through their limbs, it was difficult to imagine that Rilien felt nothing at all. He felt nothing, and it wouldn't scare him because she didn't think he remembered fear. In his world, there were no emotions, no wrath, no loss of control. Nothing to dampen his concentration. He was unhampered by tedious responses, unaware of the startling acidity that crawled it's way from her throat, throttling her with violence.

The penetrating shriek of metal, as if a force were pushing against it, snapped Sparrow from her thoughts. Her eyes flew away from Rilien, and caught sight of Aurora as she was falling from the first level of the Foundry, toppling along with the broken railing like a sack of potatoes – certainly not like a monarch butterfly, because she hadn't landed on her feet, or rolled away from the Pride Demon's scaly limbs. Her mouth hung open like a hinge, as if ready to call out. Sparrow's reflexes were stunted, riddled with energy she couldn't seem to harness. She'd been too far away, hadn't she? It still didn't stop the quick pang of guilt, tasting coppery in her mouth. There was a brief thought of splintered bones and empty sockets before Sparrow's entire body was swept from underneath her.She caught a quick glimpse, already listing to the side, of Rilien appearing in front of Aurora, arms crossed, and both knives glinting like two pieces of transposed objects. Like quicksand, like a sucking swamp, like damp dirt, Sparrow's vision blossomed, then contracted in a spray of pinpricks and slithering worms. The Pride Demon's scaly fingers, knobby knuckles, had felt like anythingbut a hand hitting her – it was a brick wall, or a horse trampling her. She was ungracefully thrown across the chamber, past Rilien and Aurora, and past the initial stairway she'd hurdled down. It'd been her stoney-armour that kept her mobile, kept her from suffering the same fate Rilien had experienced. She flipped over backwards, into an awkward somersault, and teetered to a stop when her shale-like plates shlepped off like snake skin, pebbling across her feet. Her mace clattered on the ground.

The Pride Demon's guttural snarl jarred her back to her senses, as did the horrific scene of Rilien slamming against the furthest wall, slithering down the brickwork like a broken puppet. “Ril!” It came out like a nervous, crackling croak. She had already regained her composure, revelling in the fact that her limbs no longer hurt as they did before. The needles had stopped. Rilien was shallow-breathed, and sluggishly moving. Obviously, something was wrong. He was hurt. It seemed an impossibility, as if he were an impenetrable force – but, he wasn't immortal. It was certainly something that Sparrow needed to constantly remind herself of. The slight wobble awakened her voice, her anger, her weaknesses. The dribble of blood threading down his chin, starkly contrasting against his temperate repose. Unbeknownst to her, Sparrow's mace was back in her hands.It felt as if molten lava was spilling from her lips, bubbling past her clamped teeth. Like a hurricane swirling in the midst of an ocean. She erupted. Shedid not try to brush the crags away, or push her impulses back into a sea shell. She did not pacify as Rilien could. Inhale, exhale. Her heart paced, erratically. Her pupils dilated. Shereleased the reigns, whispering lies. Her awareness expanded. Sparrow darted forward, and threw herself around the creature's knurled elbows, only to come back up swinging her mace, utilizing her momentum, straight into the creature's jaw.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Aurora Rose

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Aurora wheezed a heavy cough as the needles in her joints subsided and the world around her ground to a halt. She had managed to come out of her daze sore, but alive. She could still feel the pebbles and rocks that comprised her armor still digging into her skin, but they provided her the protection that perhaps shaved her bones splintering from falling at the upper levels. She rolled over on to her hands and knees and coughed again, as the shattered railing and awkward landing lifted up a fine layer of dust around her. But something was off. During all the time that she spent immobile on the ground, the demon could have easily taken the opportunity to crush her. What stopped it. She shot a wayward look to her side, and there her answer lay. Rilien was on his feet, yes, but something about him was off. The dribble of blood at the corner of his mouth and the way that he no longer possessed a feline agility told her something was wrong.

She shoved herself to her knees and looked for Sparrow. He too was apparently knocked away, though he seemed to have suffered less though than the Tranquil. Perhaps due to his own stone armor, or perhaps because he hadn't hit suddenly decellarated against a wall, he seemed to be alright. That was good. At least they were all still alive. She couldn't help but resent the fact that a demon was getting the better of them. It was a pride demon, but a demon still. A perversion of nature, of a mage. Rosaline she steeled herself once more. With that, she rose to her feet once more and dipped right back into the fade, allowing it to envelop her like an old friend. She began to look for a weakness, and almost immediately, she came upon one.

Something in the creature's hand glinted, something metallic and sharp. It was Rilien's blade, probably stuck him when he lashed out, throwing Rilien into the wall. The thought brought her eyes to the man himself and realized he would probably need healing... Eventually. Aurora was not as well-versed in the healing arts as Nostariel, though she was satisfactory enough. She would need time to concentrate and will the bone, blood, and sinew to knit back together, not something she could do in the midst of a fight with a large demon. As much as it made her feel guilty, she would have to make Rilien wait until the demon was dealt with. All that much more reason to kill it quickly.

Her eyes darted back to the demon with purpose in her eyes. The blade would provide the perfect conduit for what she had in mind. While She summoned the natural energies in the air, weaving them between her hand like a true artist. As she weaved, sparks arced between her hands and fingers, dancing a mesmerizing ballet. She couldn't help but think how marvelous and graceful lightning was as it flew from her fingertips and struck Rilien's shining blade. The lightning arced from the blade and ran rampant through the interior of the beast, causing internal damage and frying the nerves in its hands. The voltage of the lightning would stun the creature, allowing one of the others the perfect opportunity for a follow-up.

It was an opportunity that Rilien would not let go to waste. Seeing Sparrow making a running jump, followed by a swing for the right shoulder, he went left, darting by Aurora even as the lightning left her hands. It was a motion that his body violently protested, but Rilien showed it exactly the same regard as he paid other inconsequential difficulties: absolutely none. Mind over matter was a much easier affair when you no longer possessed things like pain aversion. The glistening bolts of electricity homed in on his already-planted blade, and there was a flicker of something like appreciation for the cleverness of that tactic, one which he ignored in the same fashion. Sparrow's mace dug furrows in the Pride demon's shoulder thereafter, and the creature gave a great howl of rage, shaking itself in an attempt to rid its limbs of the offending half-blood.

Rilien was having none of that. Aware that he was currently severely lacking in upper-body strength, he decided that his remaining blade would need to go somewhere with little resistance, and he knew exactly where. Taking advantage of its inability to move much and its preoccupation with his cohabitator, the ex-Bard gathered his legs beneath him, bunching his muscles and launching himself into the air, sailing forward and landing in the crook of one simian elbow. The force was enough for the creature to pitch forward slightly, but he did not linger, pushing off again. This time, he focused on his arms, and found that, with the proper calculation, his remaining knife slid home into the Pride demon's left eye socket with little resistance. Letting it remain there, the Tranquil flipped over the massive monster's shoulder and landed, harder than he would have normally, but otherwise still as unruffled as he'd ever been.

"Lightning to the brain will do much more damage than to the hand," he pointed out blandly, his glance flickering from Sparrow to Aurora. Something warm and wet filled his nose, and he brushed one callused thumb over the smooth skin between his nose and his lips, apparently undisturbed when the digit came back smeared with red. He'd expected a maneuver like that would make the damage worse. Assuming the battle ended with the next pass (which it surely would if they did as he'd suggested), he'd be able to remain conscious long enough to take the requisite potions, though his ribcage and lungs would be at suboptimal capacity for several days.

The half-blood's absolute, unmitigated focus was centred in swinging the bulk of her mace in savage arcs, allowing her momentum to be thrown in the direction of her swing to avoid any of the Pride Demon's flying elbows, or whipping horns. It was doubtful that Sparrow even noticed the supreme conduit, Rilien's glistening dagger, anchored in the creature's hand. Her thoughts were elsewhere, so hellbent on barbaric, unrestrained destruction, which might've worked in Aurora's favour, anyway. He would have to face her, or she'd constantly assuage him with blows until he was forced to deal with her. There was a quivering tension set in her square shoulders, shadowed bruises beneath dulled eyes, a reckless soul striking out with abandon, without acknowledging that she had companions that could help her fell the beast. Her magical abilities seemed a moot point, as if they'd suddenly been forgotten, as if it weren't even a possibility in such a maddening state. The Fade, it seemed, had momentarily abandoned her. Left her to her own devices as she darted to the left, then the right, only to dive under the Pride Demon's extended elbow – an irritating gnat buzzing around the creature's eyelids, unrelenting in it's assault.

She wouldn't even have noticed Aurora's plan, electrocuting Rilien's dagger, if it hadn't been for the Pride Demon's spontaneously sluggish movements, as if he'd been dunked into a vat of molasses. Sparrow did not slow, did not stop to wonder at the creature's puzzling posture, frizzling and twitching. Flecks of something spattered her cheek. It wasn't raining, was it? The thought had no foundation, so it shook apart with her mounting acrimony. An ear-shattering roar came from the Pride Demon, and Sparrow squeezed her eyes shut, willing the sound to be blocked from her senses, but to no avail. She backpedalled enough to avoid the swinging arm, momentarily receptive of the wind kicking through her hair, pushing white locks out of her eyes. It did nothing to rattle her nerves. The Pride Demon was desperate to dislodge her from bombarding his limbs, in impetuously futile attempts,from another mindless onslaught, which she achieved with renewed vigour, or vicious stubbornness. It was a perpetual rage that could not be quailed, or extinguished, until the creature was nothing more than a sifting pile of ash, and they were free to leave the foundry alive. Brief flashes of another figure blinked in her peripherals, launching into the air, at considerable speed.

Sparrow did not falter in her steps, or relent her ferocious swings; one high, one low, then another sweeping across as if she were brandishing an axe rather than a blunt weapon with it's star-flanged knobs. She demanded it's attention. She issued another battle cry, grunting with the effort it took to swing the bulk of her two-handed mace. Her muscles twitched with each impact, rattling straight through to her bones. Another speckle of blood rained down across her forehead – not her blood, she wasn't bleeding. Each time the Pride Demon manoeuvred away, possibly towards Aurora, Sparrow stepped in it's path. Lightning to the brain... Rilien's voice.

When had she stopped hearing them? When had she stopped whispering?

Mage as he was, Sparrow didn't seem to rely as much on the fade as Aurora did. Sparrow seemed rather inclined to hammer the demon with relentless blows from his deadly mace, looking to make the creature bow in the face of martial prowess over magical arts. Not that Aurora found fault in it. Everyone was different in the way they did things. She actually envied the man, having the strength to protect himself with only physical power. Yes, she was well versed in the art of the fade, but that counted for nothing out in the day, where one ill-timed spell could send to the Gallows for the rest of her life. This man did not have to worry about that. She did. She was small compared to these men-- even if they were elves. She didn't have the aclarity that the Tranquil had nor the strength that Sparrow possessed. All she had was magic, which was both a blessing and a curse.

However, that did reveal one thing. She wasn't going to count on Sparrow halting his assault in order to fling a lightning bolt the demon's way. That was seemingly left up to her. Sparrow did give the demon enough of a hassle to draw attention away from her as she prepared her second lightning bolt. Strange it was, how the Tranquil calmly implied her next course of action, despite him not being in the best of shape himself. It always surprised her how calm and... well.. Tranquil the Tranquil were. It only made sense that that mindset should carry over into combat. Though, to be honest, she had never seen a Tranquil fight before... It was a learning experience. One she could analyze after the demon had fallen.

Lightning cracked the air as it began to dance around her arms once more. The air around her became dry as the lightning evaporated all moisture around her immediate vicinity. The time it took her to prepare this spell was longer than the other, thanks to the time afforded by Sparrow. It was with that bolt that she was going to end it. She didn't want to risk just mildly damaging it with a weak spell, no, she was going to ensure the demon fell. The cracks and pops around her arms sang a dangerous symphony, begging to be released. Which she did with a forceful throw of both arms.

The lightning ripped through the air as it streaked towards the blade lodged in the creature's eye. The air ruptured with the heavy thump of thunder as it struck the blade and fried the brain and nervous system of the Pride Demon. The beast uncontrollably convulsed for a few moments, foam spewing from it's mouth, before it went limp and fell to its knees. Smoke rose from the husk of the demon as it's glazed eyes rolled to the back of it's head. It fell forward, issuing forth a tremor as it landed and nearly causing Aurora to topple from the force. But the creature lay dead, and the battle was won. Which left one more issue to be addressed. Aurora ran to the Tranquil, already working on her next spell. A Healing Spell.

"Where does it hurt?" She asked between pants.

Only when the Pride Demon had toppled did Sparrow regain her senses, shaking her head as if she'd suddenly awoken from a particularly nasty dream. The Fade seemed more prevalent, thrown across her shoulders like a cold bucket of water. It was strange how she hadn't relied on her magic this time around – as if it weren't so important, though she knew she would've been better off using both her physical prowess, and her array of spells. Sparrow scrutinized the sizzling demon at her feet, splayed across the ground with it's tongue lolling out. Her gaze didn't linger long. She found herself looking back over her shoulder at the smaller, unassuming magelet, Aurora. Underestimating her would surely be someone's downfall if they so chose to judge her weak, for she was anything but. There was a cleverness there, more akin to her wayward companion, Rilien. “You're strong, you are.” She mouthed softly, more to herself than anyone else, though she'd stated it loud enough for both of her companions to hear. Her smile soon faded, replaced with an expression of singular concern. She nearly dropped her mace, though it only slid in her palm, dragging against the ground as she half-jogged, half-ran towards her companions.

The flecks of blood. The wetness against her cheek, her forehead. She quickly swiped her fingers across her face, eyeballing the sticky smears on her fingertips. His blood. How hadn't she noticed? Her mouth hardened. Any childish thought that her friend was invincible, or beyond any afflictions, was quickly swept away, hidden under a metaphorical rug. She was pleased. For her, it would be easier if the nosey, troublesome Tranquil was injured, less likely to present any offers to distract her husk, her vessel. “You're bleeding?” She queried stupidly, resisting the urge to swipe away the blood from his chin. When Aurora enquired about his injuries, and where exactly did it hurt, Sparrow sat back on her heels, resolutely focused on Rilien's feet. It hadn't even occurred to her to stop and help him – all that mattered, at the time, was destroying her opponent.

Rilien blinked slowly, then moved off to retrieve his second knife from the Pride demon's hand. With a sharp gesture, he cleared it of most of the blood and grime, then resheathed both, returning to his companions, both of whom were regarding him with some concern, which he took to be sentimental and rather unnecessary. All the same, he lifted a hand and prodded carefully at his ribcage through his leathers. "The second and fourth ribs on my right side are broken, and the third on the left is shattered," he reported blandly. Before he could say anything else, he was forced to turn on his heel, a wracking cough spattering a significant quantity of blood onto the ground beside the fallen corpse. Pausing to catch his breath, the Tranquil dabbed at his bloody lips and chin with one long, flowing sleeve.

"It would appear that one of them managed to puncture or abrade my left lung," he concluded. He was more concerned with the shadow of a person they had seen disappearing deeper into the foundry, but realistically, he knew there would be little chance of being effective against the mage that had summoned this demon unless he could move about properly, and so he would simply have to spend the time. More properly, he supposed Aurora would, as he had never seen Sparrow to use a lick of healing magic. He'd never been terribly interested, either, in his prior life. An odd shrugging motion produced several vials of liquid from his sleeve, one of which he immediately held out to Sparrow, who'd also taken something of a fall. One, he left aside for Aurora, as her injuries were not as severe as his own and could probably be attended to afterwards, and one, he drank himself, to assist her healing process.

Truthfully, he was not fond of having magic worked upon him, as it tended to draw the Fade into close proximity. In this case, that meant the pain was going to get much worse before it got better, and admittedly the potion was partially an attempt to mitigate that somewhat. If the situation were any less dire, he probably would not have allowed the assistance. As it was, he still could not say Aurora had the full measure of his trust, but he was willing to allow her this much, which was startlingly-fast acceptance for him. If Ashton had been a mage, Rilien would have put off any such attempt. Logic had its own rules, however, and he did make an attempt to conform to them. Loosening his muscles, he half-closed his eyes and set his jaw into place, as close to a signal as the mage with the healing spells was ever going to get from him.

Aurora felt the caress of the Fade once more, though this time not for a bolt of lightning or a dusting of frost. Rather, she dug into the little used area of herself that held the power to knit flesh and bone. It had been a while since she had performed a healing spell on something so severe. Recently, it'd only been used for a stubbed toe or a mere flesh wound. As she rooted around, grasping for that knowledge, the rock armor she had summoned around herself cracked and crumbled around her, the hardened defenses no longer needed. It freed up a bit of reserves to better cast the magics.

The way she healed wasn't the same as Nostariel's, hers required a bit more effort and time. A mage, her mentor, in the Antivan Circle once likened her skill "Rapid natural healing". In essence, she used the body's natural drive to heal itself and enticing the process to do it faster. It fit in with her own inclinations to use the magics of the natural world like ice and lightning, only this time it applied to the body. She lightly placed her hands on the left side of his ribcage, targetting the most damaged rib first. Her hands began to a light bright green aura enveloped her hands as she set about willing the rib back together.

Aurora had never had to fix a rib in this manner before, so she didn't know what it felt like. Her guess was a ticklish, itchy feeling sparces by brief pinches of pain. That's the way her toes always felt when she stubbed them-- minus the pinches of pain. That was an educated guess. Knitting bone couldn't be comfortable. At least with this he could breathe. Such as it went for the next couple of ribs, and then finally stitching the lung back together. She stopped and took a step back. Drained was the word, she felt drained. Never before had she needed to call upon her healing arts so intensively, and the lack of practise left her winded. Even then, she believed that Rilien was still tender.

"Let's... See if the mage is still here, yes?" She said, hints of her Antivan accent slipping between pants.

There was an uncomfortable grinding sound as Rilein's bones rearranged themselves, trying to fit back into place to accord with the will of the mage. This was considerably more difficult with the shattered one on his left side, and Aurora's estimation of the amount of pain this caused was quite considerably under-done, especially since the presence of magic so near to him was disturbing his Tranquility. It didn't amplify the sensations themselves, but it did make them harder to ignore. A muscle in Rilien's jaw jumped as he clenched his jaw, still stubbornly refusing to make his discomfort evident.

With time, she finished, and he repeated the process of checking his ribcage, satisfied that though they were considerably weaker than normal, they were now simply bruised rather than broken. Since the block was sliding over his emotions again, it was nearly completely inconsequential to him. Turning the last vial about in his fingers a few times, he offered it to Aurora. The liquid inside was blue rather than red, with a strange pearlescent quality to it that marked its potency for those who knew to look. "My thanks," he said simply. Rilien did not leave debts unpaid, and this time would be no different.

After that, he shot Sparrow a glance, double-checking that she was in passable condition, then headed up the stairs to where they'd seen the mage disappear. As he'd suspected, there was nobody still present and visible, and a slightly-ajar door leading out a back exit explained that well enough. What he did find, however, was far from nothing.

It didn't take too much guessing to figure out what was in the smallish sack, judging from the way it was seeping blood. Rilien sniffed the air quietly. Oh yes, that was most certainly blood, and though his nose could do no such thing as differentiate between species, logic provided him the conclusion that it was probably human. Withdrawing a much smaller knife from his boot, the Tranquil knelt beside the sack and deftly cut the twine holding it closed. The bag fell away, and his eyes narrowed as he stowed the knife again.

Inside the burlap lay a severed human hand amid several older-looking bones, an ornate-looking ring still attached to one finger. From the make of it, he'd hazard that it was from the same location he was; Monrenny was famous for producing fine jewelry from the nearby diamond mines. He did not move to touch the hand or the ring, instead rising to his feet and folding his hands into his sleeves. "Mharen was unmarried. It would seem this belonged to Ninette."

He was so methodical, so precise, when numbering off his injuries, that Sparrow winced, lowering her head as if to examine the offending ribs. As if they were laid open, spread open like puzzle pieces. She very nearly sprang forward, hands extended, when Rilien coughed off to the side, flecking the dirt with bloody constellations. Her knuckles dug into the ground, halting her forward momentum.Again, Sparrow needed to remind herself that even though he couldn't feel distraught, or upset, over his bodily nuisances, that he could still feel pain all the same, right? She wasn't so sure. It did nothing to dampen the worry blossoming in her chest, spilling over like an overflowing sieve. He was just a man made up of cells and muscle tissue and nerves wrapped around bones – broken bones, shattered bones, cracked bones. This Tranquil didn't need any emotional balms, or comforting words, needn't be asked whether or not he was okay, because his responses would come out levelled, assured. He didn't need to be glued back together.

Sparrow followed Rilien's gaze, settling where they'd last seen the mage, robes a'flapping. It was typical that he wanted to give chase, follow the man until they solved this increasingly challenging mission. It suddenly struck her as strange, and perhaps a little more to Aurora, then to herself, that she wasn't making any movement to offer any healing spells. She may have been a mage, too, but she could never heal. She'd tried before—everything between closing a paper cut to trying to mend a blistered sunburn. Instead, Sparrow was anything but a healer: she was a devastating killer, she could make things freeze and burn, or harden her defences so that her opponents' swords rang off as if they'd struck a brick wall, much like the one her companion had ricocheted off. She was a barbaric warrior, a wily thief, a woman, a man. An apostate, on all accounts. She accepted the proffered vial of whatever-it-was-that-Rilien-created and gulped it down. How many times had Rilien created some sort of potion, or vile concoction, that had helped her survive in Darktown, in the less pleasant parts of Kirkwall? Far too many times. How many times could he have poisoned her, done off with an inconsequential nuisance? Far too many times.

She watched as Aurora's hand gleamed anew, pressing with a light tenderness she could only admire. An accomplished herbalist, and a noteworthy healer. She'd only prove useful when it came to breaking things, not setting things back together. Sparrow settled her hand on Aurora's back, thinking she were about to topple over, then dropped it as soon as it was apparent that she was fine, if not a little tired. It appeared as if she were about to say something. Forming her own words of thanks seemed appropriate, on both their behalves, but she concerted with a sly grin. “You're amazing. You know that, right?” She glanced sidelong at her companion, flitting gaze meeting her own, before pushing herself to her feet, hands planted on her knees. They weren't finished yet, so they'd continue on their way. Neither Rilien, nor Sparrow, were particularly inclined to leaving anything unfinished. It was an unspoken acquisition between them. More likely than not, and without even truly knowing for sure, Sparrow felt that Aurora shared the same dedication. There was a certain goodness in her that she hadn't encountered in a long time.

Aurora looked at Sparrow gratefully before shrugging skeptically to her compliment. "Not that amazing, there are others who could do so much more than me," she stated, gaze lingering on Sparrow. The warrior-mage was bold, bolder than she was. To streak straight for the demon without a moment's hesitation, gleaming bravery the entire way. And to top it all off, he was a mage too, yet, he seemed unfettered by that fact. While her true identity hung over her head like a dark cloud, Sparrow accepted his strength seemingly with the same boldness and bravery exhibited. No, there were others more amazing than she was. It was sweet serendipity though that she had the chance to meet them.

Following closely behind, nearly double-hopping the steps, Sparrow let out a puff of disappointment. The likelihood of the caped gentleman sticking around to meet them face-on had been next to nothing. But even still, she couldn't help but feel as if they'd just missed him by a hair's breath. She'd almost stepped on the bloody sack Rilien had been scrutinizing, drawn towards the exit-door, which had been thrown wide open. It was Rilien's kneeling, in close proximity, reaching underneath her foot, held aloft, that caused her to move backwards. Her nose crinkled. “Uh—gross. What was that mage doing with those?” When Rilien rose to his feet, unmoved by such disgusting things, all gathered up in a neat pile, Sparrow took his place and stooped down to inspect the slim fingers. A soft sigh escaped her lips, “I was hoping she'd escaped. Not this. We'll have to report back, in any case.”

Upon finding the hand, Aurora did neither what the Tranquil nor what Sparrow did, inspecting it and acting nonchalant about the whole thing. It was to be expected from the Tranquil of course, but still seeing the way he acted when faced with the bloody stump was disconcerting. However, for her part, Aurora gasped loudly and took a step back. A hand was not was what she was expecting. Truth be told, the ever smiling optimist in her believed that she would find Ninette alive and no worse for wear at the end of the excursion. Instead, she was reminded of the harsh reality of the world. There were no fairy-tale endings, and the truth of the world was a bloody thing. She quickly averted her gaze and began to study a loose brick on the wall.

"We-we should go... We should bring the news to... Ghyslain," she stammered, still shaken up.

"...Indeed," the Tranquil replied, stooping to slip the ring from the clammy finger it rested upon. He took perhaps more care with the action than would be expected of one so unmoved, and he couldn't exactly say why he'd even bothered in the first place. He reasoned that the article would help them confirm that the hand belonged to Ninette, and that was the sole motive for his retrieval of it. Sentiment fit ill upon him, like a cloak made for a man much smaller. Or perhaps, one much broader, who wore his armor like it weighed nothing and spoke always of honor and dignity.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Amalia

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Everywhere Sparrow turned, it seemed as if there were Shades and Pride Demons and particularly relentless baddies who were just waiting in Darktown's dingy corners, whispering foul things, stringing her along like a badly-wound puppet. Fallible noises transformed into approaching footsteps, always encroaching on her privacy, nipping at her heels. Scrummy elbows belonging to Darktown's denizens appeared pronged, fabled with growths reserved for Fade-beasts. Only for a moment before her eyes adjusted, blinking away the delusions. It didn't help that Rapture seemed hellbent on perusing her most intimate thoughts, sorting through them with circumscribed boredom. There was an undeniable curiosity in the way she was scrutinized, as if she were a flickering candle cupped in the hands of a naughty child. It was all she could do to distract herself by wandering outside of Rilien's safe-haven, shake her head like a dog with fleas. Sitting still for long periods of time pained her, filled her with an itching anxiety – if that wasn't enough, it took her down an unfamiliar path, sending her into bouts of teeth-gritting mood-swings. Her companion didn't deserve to bear the brunt of her affliction.

She was tromping on her chest, playing fiddle on her heart, squeezing her lungs, and generally making everything incredibly uncomfortable. Sparrow ground her molars, murmuring soft-spoken curses between set teeth. Instead of collapsing against the wall, clutching at her head like some kind of abomination, she decidedly rolled back her shoulders, straightened her spine, and climbed up the steps, heading towards Darktown's rickety lift. If she didn't leave the hovel, with it's dark streets and vulnerable wretches, then she'd end up doing something that would get herself in trouble. She doubted that Rilien would want to clean any of her messes, or smooth out any ruffled feathers for her sake. She breathed deeply through her nose, in controlled breaths, as if the smoggy clutches of chokedamp could strengthen her foundations, and filter out her unease. She'd found out the hard way that no amount of intoxication, or merry dancing, could silence that kitten. If she wanted something, then she made it clear as diamond.

With a wayward, resigned sigh, Sparrow huffed strands of streaked hair from her eyes, trailing her fingers across cobblestones, iron railings, and whatever inanimate object she walked along. It helped a little. She felt grounded touching something that wasn't moving or capable of anything beyond a little give, a little push. Her eyes closed, then creased when her fingers brushed against air, clear of it's craggy touch. Somehow, somewhere along the way, she'd taken a wrong turn. Nowhere near the Hanged Man, Sparrow found herself blinking up at the gnarled tree, bridled with twirling colours, mainly in rich reds and soft whites, painted carefully along roots. The Tree of the People, so it was called. Familiar and unfamiliar all at once – it baffled her more than anything that something beautiful and green could grow in the heart of Kirkwall; a city renown for it's oppressive weight, it's shackles and chains.

Even if it was mysterious, and even if she didn't really feel acquainted to the Dalish ways anymore, Sparrow felt an unforeseen quiet; a strange reprieve from her systematic cleaving. As if a sopping wet blanket had been plucked from her shoulders. No more prattling. Her relentless promises were silenced. Her insistent warbling temporarily muted. She stepped forward, feeling lighter than she had for days, and pressed her hands against the trunk, nearly bumbling into it. Her eyes focused on the drying leaves, curled into themselves, and then, onto the rustling leaves, still vibrantly green, hanging overhead. This was alive, and real, and natural. Not cold stone pressing into her back, clipping her shoulders whenever she was too drunk to make it home. If she could sink into the earth, grab handfuls of grass, then maybe she'd be able to take back her one mistake. Saying yes, being too weak, giving in.

On just the other side of the tree, the laughter of small children was obvious, trilling as it did like windchimes, moved to tumbing sounds with the slightest stirring of some unseen breeze, something in their childish psyches or innocent hearts. Amalia was not accustomed to being the focus of such attentions, nor indeed their cause. To be fair, she dealt with children on a fairly-regular basis, and though she was no Tamassran and did not raise them, many of her viddethari were children like these.

None of them had ever derived such delight from her hair. And yet here she was, seated in her spot under the painted tree, harp currently held loosely in her hands, and several girl-children had taken it upon themselves to unwind her plait, leaving the honey-colored mass of it to pool on the stone. One of them was putting tiny braids in it, which seemed to amuse the other greatly, and the slightly-uncomfortable look on the Qunari's usually-stoic face was enough to draw in a few others, who more or less gathered at her knees and feet as they always did and entreated her to play something. Despite the irregularity of the ministrations to her scalp, she accepted them as a matter of course. No harm was being done to her person, and she conceded that there were certain things she would have to endure of she wished to be a proper denizen of this place, as her role demanded.

It was far from the most unpleasant thing she'd ever endured, and she endeavored to keep her head more or less still so that the thin, deft fingers of the elf-girl could proceed uninterrupted, and the others would have their song as well. Her left thumb flicked a string, producing a soft, warbling note, sustained alone until just before it faded, whereupon it was replaced by another. Somehow, this reminded her of a time a number of years ago, in her own childhood, when the silly, pointless things children did were not so far beyond her that she almost forgot how to understand. There was a time when she'd lain awake in the night, exchanging whispers with a friend, demure phrases allowed their release only when the reality of the world, of her impending committment to duty, was temporarily suspended. Magic, she'd called that time, before she'd learned what that word truly implied. Illusions danced freely in front of the eyes of children, things that adults were not allowed to see.

Amalia had been made an adult before most, and in her unguarded moments, she sometimes wondered if she'd lost something in so becoming.

The slow progression of notes evolved into something much more complex; it was a melody she'd written to bring him sleep, on those nights when the quiet murmurs were not enough. She'd known, even then, that his nightmares were somehow worse than hers, but she'd not understood why, and devised him a lullaby for the purpose, she'd asserted matter-of-factly, of making them more pleasant. He'd always told her it worked, and requested it of her periodically, but she knew now that the effect, if any, had likely been negligible. Why then, had he asked? It was illogical, and she no longer comprehended what had been so simple for her childhood self. Sometimes, she wondered what had happened to him. He was Vashoth, now, if he yet lived. The notes, her fingers, the harpstrings, her memories; these were all that remained to her of that time. Perhaps it was best she shared them.

There were no birds tittering in the branches, scratching absently under outstretched wings, flashing their colours for all to see. Several scores, like scars peeled across her knees, were torn across bark, stippled over roots like ruddy birthmarks. Sparrow paused, slowly pulling her hands away from the tree, when she heard small sniggers of laughter, obviously belonging to small children. Though, she hadn't spent enough time in the Alienage to know any of the children, or even realize that she might've not been as alone as she felt – so caught up in her own thoughts, she'd been. She whispered softly to turn about, stalk in the opposite direction because something didn't feel right, as if nasties lurked around the corner. Sparrow sighed a long sigh, blinked and slowly, gingerly, circled around the tree, careful not to kick over the boxes and candles settled around her. A tree in a cage did not stand as tall as a tree in the forest, even if it was as revered as this.

Unwilling to reveal who indeed was laughing, Sparrow suddenly stopped walking, only glimpsing a brief tumble of honeyed hair being released from a braid before back-peddling a couple steps. Her mouth remained resolutely closed, opposed to the idea of interrupting whatever they were doing. It hadn't been, after all, only a few children playing behind the great tree, but rather a small army of the gathered at the feet of some woman. From what she'd glimpsed, anyway. Instead of revealing herself, and explaining why she was wondering around like a sneak-thief, Sparrow pressed her back against the tree, and half-sat down, straining her stunted ears to hear any bits of conversation. Apparently, there was none to be had. The children crowed in amusement, giggling requests for songs to be sung. Her hand was loosely curled, like a child's fist, with her neck bent forward. She was completely lost to this. These willow-dipped, sharp-eared fledgelings lived in such indigent hovels, still regarded as wayward toilers, and still, they laughed loudly, without apology.

How long had it been since she'd laughed like that? Far too long. Perhaps, as long ago as when she'd been adopted by the Qunari clansmen, in the woods, miles from her own clansmen. The unlikeliest kith and kin she could've come across, sallying her in as one of their own. Whether it was pity, or mere duty on their part, Sparrow would never know. The days had long passed where she would've whittled small animals into long slats of wood, describing stories that she could hardly remember to make herself feel a little better. She could spring through the meadows unfettered, as if there weren't stubby-eared shemlen sheltered in the treeline, waiting to clutch at her shoulders again. Where the soft braying of her breathing and the erratic drumming of her heart wasn't dependant on survival, or striking first. Things were much simpler then. Even with the deep-rooted beliefs all Qunari shared, heavy-handed and strict, yet somehow effortless. Everyone had their own place, chosen since birth, but still, they weren't painted as outsiders concluded – as barbarians without music, without art, without beauty. They weren't savages and they laughed loudly, recklessly.

She leaned the back of her head against the Tree of Life, listing her head to the side. Familiar notes plucked skillfully, only three or four feet around the tree's trunk, tightened it's ghostly fingers around her lungs, tickling tendrils of cold down her spine. It was a harp. Those warbling notes, so unlike anything she'd ever heard as a child, were unmistakable, nearly sanctioned in her memory. The instrument needed no accompaniment. It never did. The music sounded so familiar, like Sparrow had heard it once before. Her eyebrow knit, eyes closed in concentration. Most of all, she supposed it reminded her of her first friend among the horned-ones, her silent brethren. Perhaps, she'd been the only one who ever accepted Sparrow, without any further enquiries, and dutifully ignored the ripped remains of Papyrus. Scrawny-armed, bruise-lipped, with knobby, ineffectual elbows. It reminded her of all the nights spent in the valley, arms tucked behind their heads like chickens, leaving behind grassy impressions like imprints left in the snow. The notes, with the wind, curved across the small alcove, like colossal chimes jingling with each pull. It transformed; became something much more complicated, much more intimate. The awareness snapped her eyes open.

It was her song. Sparrow was sure of it. Her heartbeat quickened, thumping loudly in her ears. It was almost too much to take in all at once, far too much to subdue. She cooed softly, urging her to turn away, necessitating the need to make herself scarce, for wasn't Amalia still very much apart of the Qun, willing to strip away her freedom for abandoning the way? In one swift movement, Sparrow pushed away from the tree, quickly circled around until she made herself known. Her eyes flit from the woman's honeycomb hair, plaited in several small braids, but still pooling around her shoulders, to the harp sitting in her lap. Her eyes stung. “Amalia...” It came as a choppy exhale of disbelief, bereft of her usual assurance.

Amalia had taken note of the presence just on the other side of the tree, but initially thought nothing of it. Occasionally, one of the children was too shy or timid to approach her, and this she took as a matter of course. She was aware that she had not the most... tender of visages, and she had cultivated herself to withstand, to endure. It did not, as a rule, dovetail well with softness in demeanor, and she generally relied upon other people to overcome their natural aversions to her if they had them, or otherwise leave her be. Such things were not her decisions to make, and she didn't concern herself with attempting to be other than she was for the sake of others' comfort.

A flicker of movement from the corner of her eye drew her two-toned gaze upwards, and both irises were soon surrounded by white sclera. A small, but sharp intake of breath was the only other sound of her registered surprise, and for anyone else it would perhaps have been quite a scene. For her, it was already too much a lapse of ironclad control, and she smoothed out her face immediately, turning back to her music and finishing the song with a few last tremulous notes before she placed it onto the knee of a small boy and guided his fingers to the strings. He plucked at one experimentally, and the Qunari nodded her approval. That small thing seemed to inspire an entire bout of confidene, because it was not long before he was trilling sequences of them, discordant but getting better as he gained a bit more of an ear for what each strong produced. The others immediately gathered around the new source of entertainment, and Amalia stood, for the moment forgotten.

"Venak hol" she replied, and the words were scarcely more than a soft whisper. There was much in them. Literally, it was something of an insult, but between these two particular people, that was the least of it. A "wearying one:" one who causes vexation or concern, worry. This person, this being before her had had many names, but Amalia had called him ever and only this. A simple enough statement, and one she used to refer to her viddethari when they frustrated her in one way or another, and yet... it was never the soul-rooted worry of their childood, when she'd watched him flit about from this place to that, unwilling or unable to settle as the Qun demanded, one layer of deception laying beneath another. She knew his secrets, inside and out, and always they had worried her. Worry was, for people such as herself, a pointless emotion. It achieved nothing but lowering the efficiency of the one who worried, and it was something she'd near-wholly eliminated from her person.

It was only this, the subject of so many old memories, of sprawling in the desert sands of Par Vollen and laughing at something the Tamassran had said, or else linking pinky fingers quietly before they slept, so that they might be connected even bereft of conscious notice (she'd thought herself guarding his dreams, that way), that could still cause her anxiety in this way. Qunlat had no word for "brother." Sometimes, in her most deridable moments of weakness, she found this to be a failing.

"Why now?" Why appear before her now? It had been years. She'd believed him dead or else so far moved beyond her and her kith that she'd never encounter him again either way. He'd always been capricious, that way, the fluttering breeze to her steady, still pond. He could sweep about, gestures overexaggerated and words careless, and he'd even so only ripple her surface. It was more than she'd ever allowed anyone else to do, if she'd allowed it all. Perhaps it had simply happened, like a happenstance, a coincidence, luck. It was too bad that she'd never believed in those things the way he had.

She knew her friend well enough not to expect any fierce embraces, tender moments, or anything of the sort, but still, Sparrow was shocked at the expression on Amalia's face, a brief wink of surprise – so astutely different from the calm, collected child she remembered, wiggling daisies between her toes, while remaining completely tranquil. There had always been an almost laughable contrast to her gregarious personality, though, she believed, they still complimented each other. How long had she been without her anchor? It was Amalia who'd dutifully dug in her heels whenever Sparrow chose to flit about as breezy as the wind, halfheartedly reprimanding her for not acting accordingly, for not falling subserviently into her chosen role within the Qun. The feelings swelling in her gut was overwhelming. Small smiles, simple handshakes, and simple greetings. They'd never done that, either, so she stood, expecting something for certain, but unaware how she would react to seeing her after all this time. This woman's thoughts were composed of complicated things, whirring in directions she couldn't follow, much like trying to decipher Rilien's frame of mind – impossible, like scrawled hieroglyphics. How much had she changed?

Her heart dropped when Amalia's mismatched eyes fell away from her own. She turned back towards the gawking children and resumed her song with steely determination, plucking at the resounding strings to end her lullaby. A few of the children turned to regard her, eyeing her with inhibited interest before swarming around the boy who'd been handed the harp, already begging for another song that the boy could not possibly play. Even without knowing what Amalia had been up to, or where she'd been, Sparrow could already tell what role she'd adopted from the manner she treated the fledgelings, as tenderhearted as the ones who rehabilitated, or re-educated, new converts and those who stubbornly went against their established roles. For her, it'd been different. Her days had always been heavy with the shrieks of terrified people, heavy with the smell of smoke, heavy with blood. It had certainly become a simple way to live when one was living by the sword, or by her mace, as it was. Her days had slowly drifted away from her companion. She hadn't had any time to warn her, to tell her of her plans to escape and live her own life freely. Chains, it seemed, did not suit her well.

Venak hol. That was something she could not forget, and wouldn't have chosen to forget even if she had the choice. There were many things in the Qun, in the oppressive way of life they managed to live, that Sparrow disagreed with, but her days among the Qunari were some of the best, especially with Amalia's endearing nickname. She was, after all, the only one who knew her true name. When Sparrow had initially come to the Qun, as bedraggled as a ruffled bird, they were the ones who had picked another, more suitable, title to begin anew, to create something out of nothing. In more ways than one, Amalia had aided in putting her back together. She had puzzled out her pieces, struck out the old and strengthened her foundations so that she didn't shake so much anymore. It was one of the reasons she pestered her to play her harp when the nights were far too dark, or when her hands refused to cease trembling, even if it didn't truly still her nightmares. Her mouth wouldn't peel back into a smile. Another sharp intake of breath whisked through her lips. She was speechless. Speechless and vulnerable, stupidly mute.

She offhandedly observed that those two-toned eyes had hardened. They didn't properly belong to the one she'd linked pinkies with, nor did they seem intent on welcoming her with open arms, as if they were merely wayward companions who'd traded letters from afar. Sparrow had always known that Amalia was alive, for the Qunari had always been great protectors of their own, solid walls that were almost impenetrable. It hadn't occurred to her that Amalia might've thought she'd perished. Her mouth felt parched, nearly like the sands of Par Vollen. It took a few seconds for those two individual words to sink in – why? Why now? Why hadn't she come to find her before? Why had she left in the first place? Why here in Kirkwall, in the strangest of places? So many unanswered questions bellying between two simple idioms. Her feverish tales of exploits and adventures, of freedom and excitement, suddenly tasted bitter in her throat, hardly capable of rationalizing her decisions, her choices. Time had never stopped, time never waited. She'd chosen something else without Amalia, her greatest friend.

Any witticisms she'd planned beforehand had already withered and died. They were far too inappropriate at a time like this. She hadn't thought this through. Had she been thinking at all? She didn't know what to say, how to react. There were gaps spun between them like disagreeable spiderwebs, mitigating an unexpected tension. She remained unhelpfully quiet for once. The question had caught of her guard. There was somebody precious standing there, a woman (once a small girl), frowning at him, not holding her hands out towards her to reconcile any hurts or worries, but standing at a regulated distance. No amount of hand-flapping or sweeping bows could placate any wrongs she'd done by running away, by leaving everyone behind who'd ever meant anything to her. “I never meant—,” she began awkwardly, taking an uneasy step forward. She hadn't cared back then, if she disappointed anyone, if she hurt anyone because being free had taken priority. Now though, after coming to Kirkwall, after letting down her guard and letting people in, things hurt a lot more. “I would've told you...”

"Your tongue is as unhelpful as it has always been, Venak hol," Amalia replied, tilting her head to one side. A forearm slid just behind her neck, catching the hair that had spilled over her shoulder and tossing it behind to lay flatly against her back. Despite herself, her lips just barely turned upwards at the corners. For all he lamented of being caged, it would seem that, in his own way, her friend was still playing the same role as he always had- he was certainly dancing to the same tune. The Qunari had a catch-all idiom: Merevas. 'So shall it be.' The phrase, like everything the Qunari said, was meant to encapsulate many things. Inlcuded in it was the notion that nothing ever truly changed. New facets of things were revealed to the world, and new forms of being could come to take prominence, but everything was at its core the same, forever and always.

Perhaps this made it simpler for Amalia to accept that what was not now was again. Venak hol had left, but he had never been truly gone, by one reckoning of things. She would not lie; the girl she had been had felt quite betrayed at her best friend's disappearance, nearly inconsolable for some months afterwards. This had, eventually, manifested a stronger will to see the Qun's promise fulfilled, it's directives spread to all corners of Thedas. When there was nowhere without the Qun, she had thought, there would be no chance that he would remain gone, beyond her reach. That selfish thought had been tempered, and while she would not deny that she was surprised to see him, she would not begrudge his past absence. This was to be the way of things- then, and now.

Merevas.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Amalia

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Since his work at the Bone Pit was still paying his way for the moment, the Alienage's resident Dalish hunter saw no reason to overly stress himself with mundane matters this morning. Lia's father had required her to stay within the city walls, and more specifically the alienage, since their little run-in with the human hunter in the woods. No doubt she had spoken of the encounter with him, and Elren had been displeased. Rather than confront the elven warrior with the two vicious scars running down one side of his face, he simply demanded his daughter stay away from the man.

It bothered him somewhat. That he would coop her up within these dreary walls, when she so clearly desired more, but also that he himself now felt different kinds of uncomfortability when either with the girl, or away from her. He was still naturally averse to the reminders of his former clan, and his own history, for the pain that it brought, and yet, he was beginning to think it was necessary for him to move forward. Confront the past in order to move on. Something like that. Perhaps it was something a knife could solve.

Deciding to test that line of thought, Ithilian grabbed one of his shorter knives, resting next to his bed, and slipped it under his belt. He threw on a simple tunic of a dark green color, before sliding over to a bucket of water in the corner, sinking his hands into it. He ran them through a shaggy mess of black hair, pushed back away from his face, reaching the base of his neck. It wasn't every day he left the cap inside the house, but seeing as he wasn't planning on leaving the city, or the alienage, for the day, he saw no reason to wear it. Grabbing the antlers taken from the hunt, Ithilian pushed out the door.

His eyes usually went to the great tree upon first exiting, as did anyone who entered the elven part of Lowtown, and so he immediately noticed the crowd of children, the one attempting to play the now familiar harp, and Amalia herself, risen from her usual spot and speaking with an unfamiliar elf. Well... half-elf, judging from the ears and general body type. Ithilian had previously thought he was already acquainted with mostly everyone who came to the Alienage seeking out the Qunari woman, but perhaps he was wrong. Setting the antlers down outside his door, he made his way towards them, surveying the half-elf with the eye that was cleaved through by a claw. "Friend of yours?" he said somewhat lightly, bare feet padding to a stop near them.

Amalia's glance flitted sideways, and she found herself interestingly-positioned. It was almost like looking at a figment of her past alongside a representation of her present. She found it... humorous, in a way, and nodded gently, her reply a reflection of his address in tenor. "So it seems. Sataareth, this is Venak hol, and Vashoth." The last word was tinged with something unusual for Amalia, what would be characterized in a human as regret. Nevertheless, she did not linger over it as humans were so wont, and continued without effort. "Venak hol, this is Basra Sataareth, Basalit-an," the extra edifications were certainly far too long to use in informal address, but to her old friend, they would say something important about her new one.

She did not provide anything further, however, as she found herself rather without anything else to say. It was one of those situations in which there were so many things that could be said that the tongue choked on all of them. Where would she even begin? Perhaps it was simply better to let them decide for themselves. She held no illusions that they were all that similar, but even so, there was nothing about either of them that would, to her knowledge, offend the other's sensibilities, a rare enough thing, especially in Ithilian's case, she was certain.

Ithilian knew not what the first name Amalia had given to the stranger meant, but the term Vashoth he was familiar with, at least to a basic understanding. This was someone who had once been a part of her Qun, and had since left it behind, for whatever reason. He had not had cause to deal with them, but Ithilian was aware of the bandits that preyed in the cliffs along the Wounded Coast. The Tal-Vashoth. No doubt the extension to the word was meaningful, and thus the Dalish could confirm that this half-elf was not one of them. He found himself viewing... her, with a similar feeling that he had for Feynriel. There was no place for a half-blood, certainly not in a society such as Kirkwall. Apart from her unfortunate blood, there was nothing inherently wrong with her, at least as far as his eye could tell.

"If you prefer to no longer use Qunari words, Vashoth, then you can call me Ithilian. I see to it that these elves are not trod on as they have been in the past, that they might remember some part of the strength that is our race." Perhaps there was no reason to explain what exactly his intent was, but Ithilian was not yet sure how to treat the half-elf, and would have it known that threats to the elves did not last long under his watch.

Sparrow couldn't possibly recreate the meaning of things already gone past, and even if she floundered with her words, was Amalia actually expecting anything more from her, or anything less? Wasn't that what “so shall it be” meant in the first place, whatever she so chose to be had already been written, almost expected by the Qun and its kith. Perhaps, that had been the reason they hadn't stopped her from leaving. It would've been all too easy to identify her unease, her unwillingness to encompass the Qun's teachings as if it were as easy as breathing. Those shackles, however imagined, were strangling things that pulled her back into the clutches of rough-handed men. Or maybe she was, after all, just an unrealistic dreamer, a liar, and a traitor. She hadn't changed much, aside from the fact that she'd let down her guard more than once, allowed herself a little reprieve from her loneliness. Her tangled thoughts were interrupted when another man, presumably one of Amalia's acquaintances, or friends (it came as a surprisingly bitter thought), approached from around the tree, moving away from a crooked set of antlers. Dalish? Tired, lined eyes told her different stories altogether, as well as his bare feet, bereft of leather boots. Grizzled and raw, scarred. Reasonably more Dalish then she'd ever had the opportunity of being.

The temporarily abated tension between them was a welcome thing, briefly disengaged with something as simple as a question. Still, Sparrow was somewhat disappointed at the fact that she couldn't solve her own problems with long stories or fabulous fables or a mouthful of cheap ale, hunched over the Hanged Man's dirty counter. Somehow, she'd imagined something like that, rather than this. Ever the optimistic blighter, Sparrow turned towards the stranger, dipped her head slightly and flashed a welcoming smile that felt awkward and forced given the current situation. Inadvertently, Sparrow might've bowed a little lower when the introductions were made, because being an honored one demanded respect. Her Qunlat was not so rusty that she didn't understand the meaning of the titles, and why Amalia so chose to introduce him this way. It was almost humorous how those titles could still evoke, still stir, something within her, when she thought she'd already sloughed off those teachings long ago. Apparently not. Venak hol brought on a small smile, simpering, one that mirrored her childhood self, while vashoth slowly pulled her expression apart, curling into an unaccustomed frown. The truth, however honest, had ways of needling itself into the chinks of her armor.

“My respects, Ithilian,” Sparrow greeted breezily, eyeing him as if for the first time, with renewed understanding. Old habits died hard, but she was thankful that he wasn't opposed to being called something that was less of a mouthful, less of a reminder of her own failings within the Qun. Somehow, it didn't surprise her that Amalia had befriended such a rugged individual, for she'd never been adverse to necessary violence or severe personalities. “And you may call me anything you wish. Maker knows I have many names. Vashoth, Sparrow, wearying one.” The half-elf counted them off her fingertips, curling them in towards her palm when each was named off, though with only a small spoonful of joviality. It seemed the rest had already scrambled away with her useless tongue. It came as a surprise when Ithilian mentioned the elves in Kirkwall, and of protecting them. There was a flicker of recognition, of mutual agreement. Dirty, useless shemlen. Amalia had always been the exception – in her opinion, disregarding her biological race, she was not human, but Qunari. “You're a guardian, then? A protector. In the city of chains, we're all in a little need of strength, seems to me. I hope that goal is met.”

Rilien had not expected his tracking of Sparrow to lead him to the Alienage. Perhaps the singular practical benefit to her present condition was the fact that she lit up in his senses the way a campfire did in the night, or perhaps more accurately the way a Tevinter Candle exploded in the sky, scattering multicolored incendiary sparks everywhere. A piece of technology invented for sheer decadence, stolen from something the Qunari had thought of, no doubt. He was surprised the Orlesians hadn't done it first. They were certainly the primary market for anything unncessary and frivolously beautiful. He would know.

Of course, he hadn't been able to sense her from all the way in Darktown. No matter how familiar she was to him, that was an impossible feat. There was simply too much magic in this place to differentiate from that distance. Even the Veil itself was weak here, one of a few reasons he'd intially chosen to settle in this area. But once he'd led the other two to the Hanged Man, she'd been close enough to recognize, and it was only a few more winding turns before they were descending the steps towards the elven ghetto. The sounds of quiet conversation and the occasional oddly-struck harp note did not produce any change in his expression, nor did the fact that the air was a little fresher here for the tree's presence. Sparrow was not too far off, visible from this distance. The party or parties she was speaking to were not, and he approached cautiously, quietly.

She seemed... melancholy, and that did not often happen. If someone was trying to shake her down for coin again... He rounded the tree and observed that in addition to several children, happily distracted and oblivious to what was going on, there were present a Dalish man with heavy scarring on one side of his face and a woman, human from the looks of it, with the air of someone more accustomed to moving through the dark without sound than standing in the middle of a sun-dappled patch of stone. There was a lapse in the conversation, and Rilien slipped his own word into it. "Sparrow." He said nothing else. Sparrow, in turn, whipped her head around to face the caller of her name, though in all technicality, she already knew who it was by the monotonous tone. Her name. Perhaps, she preferred Sparrow most of all. It didn't stop her from gawking like she'd been caught with her trousers down. In the Alienage of all places. He wasn't alone, either.

Nostariel had been following behind the Tranquil, still faintly uneasy in his presence, but walking next to the overtly-cheerful Ashton was probably the zero-sum of a balanced life in this respect. She would not have supposed that Sparrow spent much time in the Alienage, but Rilien had led them here without hesitation, and that in itself was strange. He'd not given the impression that Sparrow had been lingering somewhere, which suggested that he was on the move. Yet, he'd known exactly where to find him. The Warden recognized all three parties at the gathering, and while she might have supposed that running into Ithilian in the Alienage was a live possibility, Amalia's presence here was... unexpected. Both of them were somehow different than she'd recalled, too. They seemed more... at ease. Ithilian wasn't scowling for once, and seemed to be without his cap, and Amalia, though her face was harder to read than just about anyone's, appeared as much at home as Nostariel could imagine her to be, and there were fanciful little braids in her loose hair.

"Amalia, Ithilian," she greeted, looking from one to the other. They also seemed more relaxed around one another, or at least Ithilian wasn't glaring at her sideways like she could have sworn he'd been doing when they rescued Feynriel. "It's good to see you. Our mutual acquaintance is doing well, and passes his greetings to both of you." She hadn't really expected to get the opportunity to convey that to them, as they did not cross paths, usually.

"The Alienage is a busy place, today," Amalia commented dryly, shooting Ithilian an aside glance. She recognized the Warden among them, and inclined her head in acknowledgement of Nostariel's presence, and her comment regarding Feynriel. The male elf, she was certain she would have remembered, had they ever had cause to meet before. One did not regularly encounter beings shaded with such a palette. His movements and tone were immediately evocative of iron control, without losing a certain capacity for grace. This in itself was admirable. The other man was tall, and stood out sorely from the others because of this and also the fact that he was clearly the only human in the gaggle of people. There was something loose about his posture, the set of his elongated limbs. It was the opposite impression from the one the elf gave, and something much more like Venak hol, for all their physical differences.

“I wouldn't know – first time I've been here myself.” Sparrow put in, knowing full well that the statement wasn't exactly directed at her. However, it was only the truth. A moment of weakness, of faltering reflection, had brought her down here. If she hadn't wandered into the Alienage, then she wouldn't have been reunited with her childhood friend. Fancy coincidences, lady luck flipping her coin, and spiralling turns of events had always been her cup of tea – or ale, actually, but it still surprised her that after all this time, if Amalia had been in Kirkwall for that long, she hadn't bumped into her in other parts of Kirkwall. Did she have anything to do with the Qunari occupants inhabiting the ports? Somehow, Sparrow doubted this. She looked sideways, regarding her companions. It was almost as if pieces of her past were directly colliding with her future, with what she'd become over time, with gentle, intrusive prodding. Freedom had a funny way of shaping someone. Funnier yet was how friendship had shaped her.

"I presume these people are here for your sake, Venak hol," she ventured without much risk. It seemed that he was calling himself Sparrow these days- fitting enough, as names in this tongue went, for what was he but a flightly little bird? He, or whomever had named him thus, was not without awareness. She wondered if the jewel-eyed elf had done so, and if he had assumed her role with regard to him as he was now. The Bas-Ashaad surely had not. "Perhaps it is best if you depart." She was aware of his oversensitive nature, and it struck her that she should say something further. Where he was transparent, she was opaque, and it was in his nature to flit about and cause himself undue stress. Were it anyone else, this would not be her concern. But it was not anyone else, it was Venak hol.

“Ah, yes. Rilien, Ashton. Bella-luna.” She rattled off, much like she'd done when recounting her many names. If they wanted to specify who they were exactly, then they were free to do so. Sparrow had never been in the habit of revealing too much, too quickly. Like a magician or a particularly nasty swindler with predisposed deceptions, her life thrived on people not knowing who she was, or where she'd come from, or where, exactly, she was headed. There were too many in Kirkwall, particularly Templars, who would be all too glad drag her off to the Circle or simply lop her head off to forgo the troubles of bringing her in. Likewise with Rilien. She realized long ago that she was willing to cheat, lie, and kill to keep both of their secrets under guard, under iron-clad protection. Sparrow looked around at the sandy walls, at the children still hunkered by the great tree. So, this was where Amalia stayed. The reason was not immediately apparent, though she'd already guessed that she had initially been sent here to do something other than look after fledgelings. Perhaps, they were to be new converts? Rescued from a bleak, unforgiving environment. They had no future within the gates of Kirkwall, anyway. When Amalia suggested that she take her leave, Sparrow blinked, then flicked her gaze away from the amalgamation of stacked boxes, of unlit candles. Her shoulders sagged momentarily, stricken by such an immediate disuniting. “Uh, I see. If that's best, I guess I should.”

"If you wish it, I shall visit your dwelling-place next time." Even so, she could not say that the current volume of strangers in the Alienage was amenable to her, and she perhaps betrayed herself when she turned her head the barest fraction to make sure the children were still busy. A few had glanced up, but immediately turned back to what they were doing when they became aware that she had noticed. She was not... territorial about this place, but... the Qunari crossed her arms, hands grasping her biceps. Perhaps she was, just a little.

She recovered in slivers, small bits, when Amalia offered to visit her. Like the flighty bird she was, it didn't take much to smooth out the ruffles in her feathers, calming whatever harried thoughts she had in her brief moment of distress. “I'd like that. That better be a promise.” How strange it would've been to offer her pinky finger, waggling it like she always did before making an impossible agreement. It was symbolic of their friendship, locked between fingers. Locked with a thousand promises and wishes and dreams, beheld by the Qun and the night sky. She looked back up at her friend, as if waiting for some kind of affirmation. She didn't raise her hand, because she couldn't. There was a moment where her hand twitched, before the movement snapped up to clap Ashton on the shoulder, pulling him closer into the circle they made of acquaintances, old friends, and new, alike. "Now, I'm guessing that we're not all here for several rounds of ale at the Hanged Man, eh?"

Ashton's eyes, instead of turned to the percularity of how Sparrow and the woman apparently knew each other, were turned to something familar and yet just as strange. He leaned forward, hovering over Rilien (Whose shoulder he used to prop up his elbow) and looked at the elf. A badly scarred elf. One could never forget that face, even if half of it had been hidden the last time they met. And apparently, from what Nostariel had said, he gathered that they were all acquainted. How quaint. "Ithilian, hmm?" He said, "Funny seeing you down here with our little birdy," he followed with a bright-- stupid grin directed towards his Sparrow. The fact that the woman had called Sparrow Venak hol merely rolled off of his mind. If he didn't understand, might as well not bother oneself. He could always ask later.

"How's your daughter doing? Becoming quite the little huntress I'm betting," he said, easily making small talk with the intimidating figure. "Which reminds me. You still haven't come into my shop for your share of the deer," he finished.

Ithilian had been rather neutrally approving of this Sparrow's response, save for her mention of the Maker, when others arrived, apparently looking for her. An odd looking group, led to the Alienage by a white-haired elf, a Tranquil. He was the only one Ithilian did not recognize of the three, and the only one for whom the Dalish had no real thoughts. His experience in dealing with the Tranquil was minimal, considering that it was a Chantry practice and that the Dalish would never consider doing such a thing to their own mages. More than that, he did not know why he should care, at least until the elf showed himself an ally or an enemy of the Alienage.

The other two he knew somewhat. The Warden Nostariel was among them, and he offered her a respectful nod of greeting. The news she delivered, that the boy Feynriel was doing well, had little effect on him. The half-elf had not really been his concern so much as helping Arianni had been. If Ithilian had had his way, the boy never would have joined the Dalish. The elves needed less human blood among them, not more. But of course Marethari's decision had been hers to make, and there was little Ithilian was willing or capable of doing to influence the choices of a clan that was not his own.

The third was the human hunter he and Lia had run into, and that alone was enough to make Ithilian feel significantly more uncomfortable about all of this. Amalia had suggested that if they had come for Sparrow, they should leave with her immediately, and Ithilian found himself agreeing. The human did not belong here. Sparrow and the Tranquil likely did not belong here. Nostariel had seemingly chosen not to belong here. This shem's voice had an instantly irritating effect on Ithilian. It was the sound of what was most likely arrogance or stupidity. Either he thought himself invulnerable, or he simply wasn't aware that his words could easily be construed as a twisting threat, given what many city elves had experienced under human oppression. His hand twitched, resisting the urge to rest on the hilt of his knife.

"The deer is yours. You made the kill," Ithilian said, voice tinged with irritation, "and we're more than capable of feeding ourselves. You should remove yourself from our home now, before you say something that gets you into trouble." It was as kindly as he was willing to put it. He would get no response about Lia, as Ithilian was not in the habit of delving into personal affairs with strangers, shemlen no less.

Nostariel cleared her throat, discreetly tugging on Ashton's sleeve to indicate that perhaps he should take Ithilian's advice and stop talking. She wasn't sure exactly how they knew each other, and the fact that the former had a child was definitely news to her, but obviously not something she had any right to inquire after. Not really sure what to do, she spoke to the most neutral party in the group, fixing her gaze on Amalia, perhaps just because she wasn't really sure that she felt entirely comfortable looking at anyone else. Large social gatherings were hardly her forte, and she needed to center herself and attempt to be diplomatic. Whatever the reason, it seemed like the Qunari of all people was the best choice for that. Nostariel wasn't sure if that said something about Amalia or the incredibly-strange combination of people present. "Ah, actually, yes. There's something I would like to request your help with, Sparrow, and your friends have already generously agreed to assist."

Actually, she had no idea if Rilien had ever agreed to anything, but the point was to get them all out of the Alienage (and consequently Ithilian and Amalia's hair), not to be technically accurate, so she continued. "It's perhaps best discussed elsewhere, if you would be so kind?" The Warden had to admit that she really had no idea what was going on, so hopefully that wasn't rude. Edging away from the gathering slowly, she maintained her gentle grip on the archer's sleeve, assuming that his gregarious (and apparently also oblivious) nature would make him the hardest to convince otherwise. "Good day to you, Amalia, Ithilian."

Rilien, for his part, seemed completely uninterested in any of the goings-on, though he would have had to be an idiot not to notice the tension infusing not one, but two of the threads of conversation being exchanged. The Tranquil was many things, but he did not consider himself an idiot by any means. Of course, knowing a thing and taking it into consideration were entirely different, and had he been inclined to stay, he would have stayed, regardless. Perhaps fortunately for the tense truce that seemed to be occurring here, he was not inclined to stay, and so when the tall woman, the scarred man and the Warden-mage all suggested that the group leave, he left. Catching Sparrow's eye, he gave a miniscule lift of one brow, tilting his head towards the stairs. The message, subtle as it was, would be to her obvious. You are coming, aren't you? Sparrow followed Rilien's gaze to the stairway, inclining her head in a curt head-bob of acknowlegement. Perhaps, her past wasn't ready to meet her future, but she still hoped that things would pan out and become more agreeable. She quickly offered Ithilian a nod, affirming that they would be leaving, though she made no promises that she wouldn't return to the Alienage just because he was uncomfortable with her, or her intentions. If she wanted to see Amalia again, then nothing, not even the threat of Ithilian's knives, would stop her. Turning to go, she glanced once more over her shoulder, trying to piece out where exactly the innocent conversation had gone sour. She had her guesses, even if the details remained unknown. When they finally reached a safer distance, where none save the one's being shooed could hear, Sparrow arched an inquistive eyebrow at her companion - the one who was just as prone to snuffling out trouble as she was, and scoffed softly, pursing her lips. "Seems like you've been making friends. Don't tell me you slept with his daughter or something."

"If I had, I doubt I'd made it out of there alive," Ashton answered. Though he played the part of the fool expertly, even he felt the sudden air of hostility. In the woods, he misconstrued this Ithilian's attitude as simple caution and irritation, though now back in the city, it was clear that there was more to it than simple irritation over a stolen kill. Though whatever it was, Ashton had nary a clue. He had not seen the man before the evening in the woods, and he felt that there had been no slight made between the hunters. Just him speaking to his child like... Well, a child. What was stranger still, was that he didn't see the child, even among the children playing behind the woman, this Amalia. His eyes were sharper than he let on, and when pressed, could notice even small details... When he wanted to.

The keen instincts of the hunter told him that he was to blame for the sudden change of tone in the conversation, in what he thought was innocent enough small talk. Was it some subtle accidental insinuation that the elf had picked up on? Curious. Perhaps it was by some blessing that he had arrived in the company of friends, else he feared that thing would have turned sour. He also posted a mental note in his head. Do not head into the Alienage alone-- at least without one of his elven companions. Ashton wished to attempt to smooth things over by admitting that he meant no offense-- from one hunter to another-- and that his shop was open to any and all. It was by Nostariel's hand that the words died in his throat. whereas he allowed her to lead him away. Perhaps that was a good thing-- else it may not had been the only thing that died.

Well, at least the powder keg of a situation was defused and they were all alive. That was good. That was always good. "Besides, she was like... twelve or something," he said furrowing his brows. "I was just hunting, and I accidently shot this deer who they were hunting too. Though I never thought it would delve into murderous eyes-- eye rather," Ashton said, scratching his chin. He then shrugged, putting it all past him. He never was the one to hold grudges. "Anyway. Disaster averted and such," he said slipping behind Nostariel. Obviously the next whiplash subject change would focus on her. "Now on to current business. Miss Nostie here has a mage issue-- of sorts. I guess," he began as he rubbed her elongated ears from behind. "Something, something, mages, threat of violence, something. Apparently a Templar fellow needs help defusing a situation," He said, shrugging, hands never leaving Nostariel's ears.

Nostariel was mostly minding her own business, halfway through a sigh of relief and quite content to allow Ashton to... sort of... explain their business to Sparrow, when she was subjected to a rather tremendous shock. Apparently, someone- and there was no way it was the Tranquil and Sparrow was too far away- touched her ears. To say that this was a matter of some surprise was to do a disservice to the startling nature of the incident, and she let out a strangled sound that sounded vaguely like a meep, jumping no less than a foot and some in the air, an unwelcome shudder coursing down her spine and prickling the flesh of her arms. This was apparently insufficient to dissuade the culprit from his actions, and as she regained her bearing, attempting to slow her rapid and shallow breaths, an obvious flush of embarrassment heated her face and neck, turning her ordinarily rather pale complexion a dark shade of red.

The Warden was entirely out of her element and not at all sure what to do. Should she be offended? Angry? Amused? All she could really manage in this state was bewildered, well, aside from the embarassment. It seemed like a rather... personal place to be casually touching someone, but here her knowledge of how people conducted their everyday business was just completely lacking, and for all she knew, she could be reading far too much into this. Or not enough. Swallowing thickly, she decided to be direct. "Um, Asht-ton... w-what are you d-doing?"

If it were possible for Rilien to look wearied, he probably would have chosen that moment to arrange his features in the suitable fashion. Instead, he shook his head minutely, floding his hands into his distended sleeves and picking up where the explanation left off, for Sparrow's benefit if nothing else. "More Templars," he elaborated flatly, given that Nostariel seemed presently unable to do so. He wasn't sure exactly why she appeared so flustered by this; certainly it wasn't normal human behavior, but she had to have discovered by this point that Ashton was hardly what one would describe as a normal human. Perhaps she was a tad slow? It was unlikely they'd have made her a Warden if so, so he chalked it up instead to some kind of staggering naievety. "Apparently one of them actually prefers to avoid bloodshed, and has requested assistance."

The idea that anyone would look to them to prevent a gory mess was incredibly ironic, and that fact was not lost upon him. He doubted the Warden had any idea what she'd just gotten herself into.

The reaction Nostariel had wasn't surprising, but rather cuter than what he had expected. A small victory in turning the recent terse situation into a rather light-hearted and humorous one. The fact that Rilien wore a unsurprised look on his face was only the icing on the cake. For his part, Ashton too wore and unplussed expression to further sell his antics. When Nostariel asked quite reasonably what was he doing, he merely shrugged and said, "Your ears looked stressed so I decided to give them a massage," he said. The expression on his face positively screamed What else would I be doing?

Nostariel found that she didn't really have a response for that.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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The letter had asked her to show up at the city gates, and so it was there that Nostariel led the oddest group of misfits she'd ever had the... fortune to encounter. If anyone had told her that morning that she'd be spending her day with a Tranquil, a cheery, androgynous half-elf and an incredibly confusing (and touchy) hunter, she probably would have thought them drunk or insane. Yet here she was, approaching the portcullis that led out onto the Wounded Coast, that warren of sand and caves and long stretches of beach over aquamarine water. If there weren't bandits and raiders and Tal-Vashoth and now apparently Templars crawling all about, it might have been a scenic sort of locale. Now, though, she was trying her best to be as businesslike as she could, as if to make up for the lack of it in her companions.

Well, all right, the Tranquil probably couldn't have been more efficient and solemn if he'd tried, but Ashton and Sparrow were quite the opposite.

The scuff of her leather boots on flagstones would have tipped off Thrask to her approach of the general ambient chatter of the others had not, and she drew up to a stop a polite distance from him, staff in hand. It was a subtle thing, but it would not do for either of them to forget that he was dealing with a mage here. It was a line that had been firmly drawn in her perception from the moment she'd started her lessons, and though she had once labored with fervor to blur it, she was no longer sure this was possible. Whether that was tragic or all for the best, she had yet to decide. "Good morning, Ser Thrask," she greeted politely, inclining her head.

Even if she'd been opposed to running face-first into another confrontation with Templars, who seemed duly incapable of dealing with their own problems as of yet, or magical baddies and particularly nasty demons who had a penchant for appearing whenever she rounded the corner, Sparrow had always been unable to turn down a pretty lady in need of aid. She busied herself by throwing quips Ashton's way, ricocheting them into something that involved Nostariel, quickly ascertaining that Ashton touched her ears because he liked her – it was in his nature, if they wiggled, then they'd be pressed into the folds of his palms regardless of how she reacted. Her own were nothing to throw a stone at, as they were stunted, half-formed things that barely reached halfway to any elven normal ears, compared to Nostariel's elegantly shaped ears, or Rilien's, for that matter. Still pointed, but indubitably significant when singling her out as a half, as something that didn't quite belong here, nor there. It had probably been the main reason why Ithilian was so wary of her presence, or why he'd even allowed her into the Alienage in the first place. A fusion of disconcerting thoughts; of whether he should hate, or tolerate, her...

Her hands slowly stretched above her head, accompanied by a cat-like yawn, before resting at the nape of her neck, fingers intertwined. The Wounded Coast, in all it's barren glory, with it's expanse of ocean and gritty terrain, homed the ones who called themselves tal-vashoth. Those who rejected the Qun, much like herself, albeit in a more congregated, specific way. They sawed off their horns, terrorized the countryside and adopted a role more suited to petty mercenaries than proud Qunari. If she weren't in such a cheery mood, in good company, then she might've been disgusted at the thought of chancing an encounter with them – though, she'd do what any arvaarad would do and cut them down without any forethought, or hesitation. She found herself in step with Rilien, though her heavy, horse-clopping gait certainly did not exude his effortless grace. If one looked at them, they'd notice that they couldn't have been more different. He moved with the shadows, as light as a feather. She stomped, scuffed pebbles, and was, generally, the loudest of the group.

Nostariel had explained Thrask's intent beforehand, so that Sparrow did not jump to any conclusions regarding his objective. A Templar who supported mages? It seemed, for lack of a better word, questionable. A Templar who wasn't sniffing at Meredith's boots like a faithful hound? That seemed even stranger. She stood at a reasonable distance, though she was far less cautious than Nostariel, crossing her arms over her chest as if to scrutinize him – how would the Templar even know whether or not any of them were mages, with the exception of their wayward Grey Warden and her staff, and Rilien, with his sunburst marking. She'd always passed off as a brute swinging a mace. This time, it was no different.

Thrask surveyed the group with a look that was hard to read. It was possible that he was confused at the assortment or Tranquil, human, elf, and half-elf, and the glance he gave to the mark on Rilien's forehead implied he had perhaps heard of him from a certain Knight-Captain the Tranquil had run into. Regardless of what he knew, he revealed little, greeting Nostariel in return instead.

"Thank you for coming, and for bringing others. This would be a difficult task for any one man or woman. Please, if you'll follow me, I will take you to them, and explain on the way. I'm afraid haste is important in this matter." He immediately led them through the gate and out towards the coast. "Before you ask, the Templars no longer directly seek the boy Feynriel. We regret that he could not be returned to safety at the Circle, and we are aware of his presence with the Dalish. It is obvious to us that any attempt to extract him from there would be pointless, and thus we leave it in the elves' hands to ensure the boy is taught properly. I contacted you because I thought perhaps you and friends would be willing to show mages another kindness."

After some time it became apparent they were not heading directly towards the coastline, but rather up into the cliffs above it, where a number of caverns and old mines were located. Their trek was notably simple, and notably free of Qunari outlaws. "There are a number of apostates hiding in one of the caverns up ahead," Thrask explained. "I was hoping you might speak to the group, and convince them to surrender peacefully before my fellow templars arrive."

Nostariel caught on to Thrask's urgency, as well as a near-palpable undercurrent of worry in his demeanor. Her mouth turned down at the corners, and she gripped her staff a little tighter, but she did not speak until he was through. Whether that was mere politeness or a more insidious reminder that some habits were hard to break was indeterminate, and she hardly gave it passing thought. When the group came to a stop, she shifted her weight uneasily. This had the ring of something very clandestine about it, and she wasn't exactly sure why.

"I am given to understand that the usual practice is for the Templars to enter these negotiations themselves," she enunciated slowly, cautiously. "Is there a reason the matter must be settled before they arrive?" Of course there was; there was always a reason. She simply wanted to know what it was. The automatic assumption was too easy, too commonplace, and she wanted to hear it confirmed from his own tongue before she allowed herself to mourn the moderateness that had been the hallmark of the Templars in her childhood, lost to the extremism of blood magic and Andrastean zealotry.

The fault lay with both sides, but there was no mistaking who suffered more as a consequence, and this situation was looking to be no different.

"Isn't it obvious my little magelet? Ashton began, tearing himself from the various quips thrown between himself and Sparrow. He had just the one too! About Templars no less. But alas, his tongue got ahead of him, "This Templar's grown a heart while we weren't looking and he'd like us to shepherd his lost lambs for him, before his fellows come around and lead them to the slaughter," While the analogy was certainly... colorful, it did it's job of explaining what he had born witness to. The treatment of the mages in the city wasn't very... nice, to put it mildly. His fine white-haired friend at his side spoke of what would happen to mages who do not comform. True, it seemed that he had slaughtered his own share of mages recently-- but they did start it. Bloodmages and their crazy demony rituals... He then turned back to Sparrow in order to throw the joke at her, but found that he had forgotten it. Dammit.

"Templars are not without hearts, Ashton," Nostariel replied quietly, each syllable drawn a little longer with something almost unidentifiable to those who hadn't heard it from their own lips. A faint tremble in the words, weighted down by gravity and the deep blue melancholy only the past seemed capable of producing. It was, to those who knew it, the barely-perceptible razor edge of grief.

Rilien ignored it, rather more interested in discovering if Ashton's conjecture was indeed the case. "You fear the mages will be killed if the other Templars are forced to extract them," he concluded, much less sarcastically than Ashton had. "Why?" That was not, as far as he was aware, Kirkwall Chantry policy, though he had little doubt that if it did happen, it would be properly excused and apologized, changing nothing. What were a few more dead people in a city like this? Much less a few dead mages. In this, they and peasants were alike; if there was nobody important to miss you when you were gone, you simply didn't matter. This was a lesson he'd learned the hard way, long ago, and it had merely been repeated to him in different guises ever since. Only one person had ever given him reason to believe that it could ever change, and even that was a vain hope in which he did not often allow himself to indulge.

"Why?" Thrask repeated, seeming slightly offended by the question. "Because I do not revel in the deaths of mages. That is not what my order stands for, what it was built upon. True, there are zealots among us, and a zealot leads us, but many Templars still desire a relationship of cooperation with the mages." He had expected a certain level of antagonism from the help Nostariel had brought, considering that he expected them to be favorable to the cause of mages. The realization of just how much some despised his order was still something of a shock.

"Though your wording was less than eloquent," he said towards Ashton, "I suppose you have the truth of it. A knight-lieutenant of the Templars by the name of Ser Karras leads the Templars on their way here. He is a great crony of Meredith. Should he find apostates hiding from pursuit, Meredith will consider him justified in murdering the lot of them. Since these mages escaped following the destruction of the Starkhaven Circle, they have been known to attack Templars on sight. There will be a massacre here if Karras is the one to meet them. I'm hoping a group more kind to the mages might be able to make them see reason."

Ashton merely uplifted a palm in order to wordlessly indicate that he, in fact, told them so. Though quite unlike him he did not punctuate that with a rambling series of words, instead keeping his tongue within its pearly white cage. He felt that he hit upon a sore spot with pretty little Nostariel, and it wouldn't do to exacerbate that. However, he would thoroughly investigate the matter at a later time. Perhaps somewhere where the ale flowed like a river. And a grotty, pissy river at that.

Sparrow's fingers drummed soundlessly against her forearm, as she weighed the possibilities that this Templar wasn't just jerking them around for his own amusement. Or trying to lure said mages, including herself, in the group to some sort of sick slaughter on Templar holy-ground. Her mouth pursed slightly, then drew itself into a tight-lipped scowl. Why were they dealing with these blighters again? Couldn't they deal with things themselves? It seemed like every corner they turned down, or every mission they partook in, had heavy involvement with runaway apostates, grisly details, and Templars who couldn't keep any semblance of order themselves. It was obvious that Thrask wanted them to be on their way without explaining much of anything. If they needed to scamper along in the darkness, in the wake of another danger, then she wanted to damn well know about it. As if to accentuate her unvoiced opinions, Sparrow threw her arms out wide, shrugging her shoulders in exasperation. He might've wanted to help whatever mages lied below-ground but he still spoke as if they needed the Circle's help to maintain their twisted methodologies; as if they were wayward beasts turned out to another pasture. The Dalish took care of their own without oppressive measures.

Her patience was waning. Like a string pulled taut until it couldn't stretch out any longer. He sought to remedy the situation with words before the Templars came to take them away like dogs. What kind of person would be convinced back into shackles? She had been hearing about these things ever since entering Kirkwall. Apostates were never to be treated like you and I – they were creatures that went bump in the night and if they weren't smothered with a justly pillow then they were better off dead. Hadn't that always been their opinion on the matter? Anger flashed in her eyes for a moment, before being wrestled into submission. These days her composure was a sickly, wavering thing. Prone to brief bouts of insecurities, of helplessness and relinquished power. It seemed as if she was in accordance as well. She agreed with Ashton. Perhaps, if given enough thought, she'd proposition the fact that she hated the Templars nearly as much as she hated the shemlen who'd ruined her in the first place – no, no, Papyrus. Not Sparrow, but Papyrus. The analogy was sound enough. She didn't trust Thrask because he was a Templar and he'd probably done things to innocent people while serving Knight-Commander Meredith. Things that couldn't just be swept or washed away. Things that stained his hands indefinitely.

Even as Ashton turned to look at her, Sparrow found that all the merriness, all of the elbow-jesting they'd done earlier had filtered from her toes. All she felt was a lean, sour anger. "It's a choice being a Templar." She said through her teeth, eyeing Thrask. They were heartless. Or worse, yet. How could someone continue doing what they knew was wrong? If Thrask actually wanted to help runaway mages, then he'd deal with these things himself or simply leave the Templar Order to do some good with his life. Sparrow understood that her own hands were no cleaner, but at least she knew that she hadn't hounded a disconsolate people for simply being born with abilities they couldn't control. They needed guidance, not chains and shackles and promises of death if they didn't obey. Her fingers twitched at her sides, then clenched into her palms. She'd heard Nostariel and it almost sounded as if she were defending the Order. It made no sense to her. “One Templar with a heart – one sot who cares? If Templars desired cooperation with mages, then they'd leave them the hell alone. What would you have us do?” Her hand opened, then flashed upward, palm towards the sky. “Talk them down, and they'll be arrested. Punished?” Again, Sparrow opened her other hand as if weighing the outcomes. “Or allow them to be slaughtered.” They certainly weren't doing this for him. To her, it was always for them.

Kill the Templars.

"I'd rather not discuss the entirety of the magic issue here and now, as we do not have the time and I do not have the patience," Thrask said, looking tired. "I can only ask you to judge the situation as it stands: if any Templar goes in that cave there will be blood and death until all of these mages are slain. You are the only ones who can prevent their deaths now. Regardless of how any of you feel about me or my order, surely you can see the good that can be done here. I will say no more."

"And you need not, Ser Thrask," Nostariel cut in, for once sounding every bit the authority figure she could be. "I will go. Whether my companions choose to follow me is their business, but the longer we wait, the worse the chances will be for the mages in the cave." The look she shot Sparrow might have been reproachful, but if so, it was only that way in the gentlest of manners, as a mother might look at a child which has spoken out of turn but done no real harm. If she'd realized she was wearing it, she would have been a little bit abashed at herself, but it was not a face she knew she had in her repertoire. Gripping her staff firmly in her right hand, the Warden approached the cave entrance, ducking into it without anything further. She hadn't always been able to be as good as her word, but she was going to be now, if she had any choice in the matter.

Ashton propped an elbow as he usually did to his elven friends, right on top of Sparrow's head. A simple hook around her neck, all buddy-buddy like would have also sufficed, but he felt that it didn't have his brand of nonchalance about it. Though the move seemed to be typical Ashton fare, perhaps there was another intended effect. Perhaps playing his silliness to diffuse the suddenly tense situation. Or perhaps more likely the situation completely flew over his head and he was merely acting as Ashton would, silly, out-of-touch, oblivious to all that surrounds him. He leaned his walnut shaped head on the propped arm and issued a large sigh. Maybe this conversation was getting old for him. Maybe not. Ashton was either a man of many mysteries and enigmas, or he was merely a simple fool. Chances were, the second. Though who knew but the silly fool himself?

"So, mages, Templars, Tranquils, so on, and so forth," he issued rather boredly for himself conducting the list with his free hand, "Tis an adventure and since we walked all the way out here why not see this errand to it's eventual end?" Ashton said, upraising his other palm in a shrug. "I'm in. I love mages after all-- Wait! I said I was coming too! Don't leave me like that! Come on now!" Ashton whined behind Nostariel as her distance between them lengthened. "I'm supposed to be the one to jump headfirst into these things!" He wailed as he jumped into the cave behind the pretty little mage.

Perhaps, it'd be best if Sparrow started with this Templar. Her approaching footsteps had an ungainly spring to them, completely unlike her usual graceless gait. Her lidded eyes seemed glassy, beaming uncharacteristically. Even her joints felt wooden, as if they were attached to swinging ball-joints – with distinctive decorum, without any jostling elbows or wriggling gestures. Bereft of anything but a prodigious poise that did not belong to her. The mages-in-hiding would not be free unless the Templar's were dealt with. Why would they wish to have shackles and chains slapped on their wrists? Would they prefer a life endured beneath a heavy blanket of oppression or a chance to fight for their freedom? She knew what she would've chosen in their position, even if the chances in her favour were slim to none. Her shoulders straightened, ceased the nervous energy that buzzed angrily in her chest. Justice would be served today. Compromise? How could they. She wondered idly what Thrask would do if the Templar's simply refused to accept their interference, if they simply accounted the mages as too dangerous and decided to prematurely end their lives. Execute them in a cave. What would Thrask do if they fought in their honour, slaughtering their captors? Sheushered her encouragement with a smile, sidling a ghostly hand at the small of her back.

It was Nostariel's reproachful expression that caused her to pause in her steps, halting completely – it might've made her laugh if it didn't stop her in her tracks, so entirely was she taken aback by her words, her look. The expression was one that was reserved for a mother she no longer remembered. It was almost as if someone had thrown a bucket of cold water over her, ending her anger far too early. She was not satisfied, hissing in her ears as if someone had tried to take her pet away. She knuckled her eyes, feeling suddenly exhausted. What had she wanted to do, anyway? Drive her blade through the Templar's heart. The notion seemed alien to her, as if appearing from nowhere in particular. As flighty and unreal a thought as diving headfirst into a cave in order to pacify terrified apostates, to watch as they're lead back to the Circle where they would be watched and possibly prosecuted for defending themselves against monstrous shemlen. An awkward silence stretched between them, until Nostariel resolutely turned away and ducked beneath the cave's lip.

Some sought forgiveness through their actions, while others made excuses for what they'd done in the first place. Sparrow believed that this was the case with Thrask. Hadn't he already killed mages in their Harrowing? Something force-fed unto fledgelings to control them. Her hands were no cleaner, but at least she had the comfort of knowing that she wasn't ruining any innocent lives. Her thoughts ended abruptly when she felt Ashton's elbow prop atop her head, wriggling fingers obscuring her view. In one simple motion, Sparrow's anger sieved through her fingertips, hollowed out her toes and anchored her. A switch had been pulled. Her frigid expression had already been replaced by something much like herself; a curtain had been dropped. She flapped her hands at him, ducking underneath his armpit with a breathless grin, inquisitive eyebrows raised. “Fine, fine. Let's get this done. Never leave a job unfinished.” Sparrow chirped brightly. She'd never been very good at lying. If it came down to it, and either parties were threatened, or the opportunity presented itself, she would hurtle into the only option that felt right.

She automatically kept pace with Rilien, watching absently as Ashton scampered after Nostariel. She felt none of their determination, only an adamant cold that extended up her forearms. There was impending danger nipping at their heels, and a difficult decision that had to be made that went far beyond simply calming down mages, or making a deal, or trying to convince them that it was better to lower their heads and give in. She felt justified in her anger, but still, even so, she felt as if she needed to apologize. To who – Nostariel? Why had she defended them? Because one sot felt as if he were finally responsible? In passing, Sparrow regarded Thrask, “You might've grown guilty for what you've done, but we will always hate what you stand for.” It came curtly, soft enough for none to hear but her taciturn companion.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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The cave reminded Nostariel of the one they'd found the Tal-Vashoth in, and she wondered if perhaps all bandits had the same interior designer. Presumably it had been a bandit stronghold at one point or another, since it was dubitable that runaway mages would have bothered to construct all these wooden platforms. It was coming to be a dangerous time to be a bandit outside Kirkwall, she supposed, what with the Qunari and the apostates around to run you out of your damp caves and suchlike. Then again, maybe they were just old mines. The smell was just as unpleasant either way, though she couldn't identify exactly why.

Rilien could, and he was quite aware that the stench of rotten eggs was due to sulfur, which meant that either one of these mages was using a very crude flame-based staff or there were natural pits about somewhere. These platforms were also of dubious structural integrity, and his eyebrows drew together nearly imperceptibly. "Watch your step," he said aloud, though he did not bother elaborating the reasons for this, instead picking his way carefully through debris and loose stone as a housecat might avoid puddles of water, minus the verbal indications of displeasure. The ground gradually sloped downwards, and without being asked, Rilien overtook the Warden, treading at the front of the group both to look for traps and because he was conscious that he and Sparrow were the most equipped for dealing with confrontation up close. Ashton was more than capable of guarding the rear against ambush.

That particular precaution turned out to be unnecessary, admittedly. They soon approached a more cavernous space, and as they did, the predominant odor transitioned from rotten eggs to putrid, decaying flesh. More than a few weeks dead, if the smell was already hitting them. Indeed, as they emerged into the opening, they quickly found themselves surrounded by fetid corpses, and in the presence of one very nervous-looking mage. The man (though perhaps he was closer to a boy, all told) appeared to be eyeing his surroundings with great trepidation and that was enough to put Rilien on edge. One of his knives slid from its place on his back with a quiet hiss, causing Nostarial to turn to him immediately.

"What are you doing?" the Warden hissed softly, reaching for the wrist that clasped the weapon. "We're here to avoid bloodshed. Don't you think that pulling a knife might just goad them to needless violence?" She'd seen too many mages resort to awful things when they felt threatened, and if she could forestall that here, she would.

Unperturbed, Rilien neatly avoided her reaching hand and drew his other knife, flicking his eyes to the corpse nearest the group. Confused, Nostariel gave up trying to speak to the obviously-reticent Tranquil and followed his gaze. Her own landed in the same place just as an unearthly howl filled the cavern, startling the poor mage standing by himself, but growing far too loud for her to hear anything he might have been saying. The air shifted, the stench growing only worse, and slowly, the corpses rose from the ground, taking up arms and apparently intent on the small group. Whatever words left her then were thick with her brogue and indesciperable over the fel sound of necromancy. Gritting her teeth, Nostariel summoned ice to her hands and threw it at the first three corpses she could see, falling back behind the Tranquil, who had already taken the hint and decapitated the first frozen body and moved on to the next, more mobile one.

Ashton for his part was relegated to the rear of the retinue, despite being second into the cave. T'was his lot in life, he supposed, always behind the ladies. Chivalry was not dead, no matter how many people said that it was. Seeing as caves weren't virtuous escapes from the danger that seemingly lingered all around Kirkwall, he had drawn his bow and nocked an arrow, but he left the string slack and carried it nonchalantly. The sulfur smell didn't seem to perturb Ashton, though as the scent shifted from that to something of a... darker flavor, his nose wrinkled in protest. This was not going to end up as any old simple meet and greet, he could have seen (or smelled rather) that right then.

However the party proved to be no longer alone in the caverns with a mage seemingly fidgeting nearby. The poor guy drew pity from Ashton and almost made him put up his bow... At least until Rilien drew his knife. While there wasn't much Ashton knew about the man for a fact, he seemed to have a penchant for sensing things like that. So instead of putting his weapon away, he drew the arrow back and awaited whatever the Tranquil had sensed. The scuffle between Nostariel and Rilien would have normally been turned into the subject of a joke for Ashton, but his own hunter's instincts had been ignited by the tranquil's wary ways. Instead he issued a calm, level, "Nostariel," devoid of any hint of jolly or silliness that was like him.

Right then, whatever had set off Rilien was made aware as a howl echoed throughout the caves and the corpses made their way to their feet. His arrow shot through the air, impaling one of the corpses with a dusting of ice in the chest with enough force to throw it down-- but it remained to be seen if that simple shot would be enough to finish off a creature that was already dead. He settled into his stance, knees bent, legs loose as he drew his next arrow and targeted the same, downed corpse and planted another one in it. If that did not outright kill it, then it certainly wasn't getting up, what with it being pinned to the ground.

What the hell was that smell? Sparrow's nose wrinkled receptively, though she fought the overwhelming urge to pinch her nostrils closed against the peculiar smell emanating from whatever was lurking in the cave. More like, rotting. If there weren't hidden copses filled to the brim with corpses and maggots and writhing insects, then she would've been surprised. She hadn't recognized the sizzling stench of sulphur, but rather bunged it down to animals dragging their prey back to their dens, where the mages also hid. Perhaps, this was some type of bear-cave they'd stumbled into. The wooden platforms appeared questionable at best – it certainly wouldn't take her mace to send one of those things tumbling down. They'd have to avoid walking across those treacherous things if they could help it. Sparrow's mace had been slung languidly across her shoulder, gripped in her hands all the same. It wasn't an issue of thinking that the mages would attack them, rather than simple forethought if they so stumbled onto something dangerous. She would not attack those mages.

She, too, overtook the Warden, but couldn't help glancing sidelong in the process. Had she been angry at her outburst? But, hadn't Sparrow been justified in forming her own opinion? Templars were ruthless individuals, and heartless in every sense she could think of. If Thrask was the exception, then it still couldn't account for all the others who stomped towards their destination in the cultivated hopes of extermination all of the hapless escapees huddled in a stinking grotto. Why didn't she, as a fellow mage, think the same way? Her mouth formed a soft line, fundamentally confused, before she looked ahead, picking her way through the scattered rubbish, much like Rilien had, though without any of his rhythmic dignity. Rather, she stomped, while he danced. He might've been a housecat, while she was an encroaching Mabari hound. Her footfalls slowed. The entire chamber was crowded with rotting corpses, with their arms twisted this way and that, and crumbling jowls hinged permanently open. “I knew it—uh,” She began to say, eyeing her surroundings, letting her mace drop onto the ground. As if the scene hadn't been stranger, there in the middle of the cavern, among all those corpses, stood a trembling boy-man. The familiar hum of Rilien's blades being freed from their hidden scabbards caught her intention, whirring her head around to catch the unusual sight of Nostariel trying to still his blades.

Sparrow hadn't had time to warn her against that, for if Rilien thought something to be wrong then something was assuredly afoot. Ashton beat her to it, murmuring her name. The dreadful howl rang in her ears. Her head whipped back, surveying whether or not it was the lonely mage's doing. Certainly not. The man-boy looked downright terrified. By the time Rilien moved around Nostariel, she'd already thrown herself into action by swinging her mace into a mass of animated ribs, cracking several in turn before throwing it bodily into the nearest corpse. Unadulterated energy pulsed through her fingertips, quickening her heartbeat, and searing hot through her lungs. There was a swift whooshing sound as electrifying pulses zipped from her upturned palm, breaking through bony arms and exposed jugulars – hanging loose from their fleshy cages – with phantasmal bars of heated energy. Just as quickly, Sparrow switched avenues, dropping her hand back to her mace and heaving it into another approaching moving-carcass like a swinging pendulum.

The corpses seemed now to be emerging from the ground itself, buried longer than any of the initial foes, perhaps. It was not of much consequence to Rilien, pivoting from one neat decapitation to the next. It was hard to say what would put them down for good, seeing as they were already dead in the first place, but that seemed to be working. Nostariel had settled back, usually tracking Ashton's arrows with magic, so that each hit with the force of fire or ice behind it as well. She hadn't the time to be concerned with her mistake, though she considered the very real possibility of being placed in a situation wherein she'd be apologizing to a Tranquil. Leaving aside the matter of whether Rilien would even have any feelings about that whatsoever, it seemed like something she should do.

Nostariel's pale eyebrows knit together, and the next corpse she hit incinerated entirely. Exhaling as calmly as she could, she tried to get her emotions back in line. It wasn't the simple matter of misunderstanding Rilien; it was the complex backgrounding collage of issues that underscored this whole venture. Her next blow was considerably more measured, and she could tell that the presence of the living dead was thinning considerably. She did not notice the one rising up behind her until a thin whistle rent the air, and Nostariel whirled in time to see the rotting head, some hair still dangling in greasy tendrils from one side of it, fly past her. She locked eyes with Rilien for a crystalline moment, nodding her thanks, but he turned right back around without any gesture in return.

There were a pair of archers homing shots in on him, but it was a problem he could solve with one word. "Ashton." It was all he needed. He trusted that the archer's sharp eyes would pick out the target he was about to leave behind. Rilien himself disappeared, taking out the target Ashton didn't choose from behind.

The archer had dug his heels in for the long haul and had planted a half dozen arrows at his feet for quick access. Sure and steady the arrows flew, striking each target true, though the effect of simple wood on rotten flesh and decaying bone was still questionable. The way the second body fell to pieces under his pointed assault told him that the arrows were doing something.. Or maybe it was Nostariel's chaser of magic that did it. He'd like to think that it was his arrows, painting a picture of machismo in his head. Or not. Who knew what went on in that warped head. The whole issue of Nostariel and Rilien seemed to be an afterthought to the hunter. It mattered little in the long run, and less in current circumstance as he saw it. She was already in an unusual state, what with being placed with so many of differing ideals. A bit of doubt in such circumstances was expected. But it wouldn't matter if they all ended up dead because of some soon-to-be fertilizer's lucky shot.

He was down to two arrows in the ground when Rilien spoke up with his name. His eyes shot to the Tranquil (his white hair making the acquistion all that much easier) and then they darted to the pair of archers that had eyes only for him. Pity. He'd have to help his buddy rectify that. There were two of them after all. "Left-- My left," Ashton answered, quickly adding an addendum to the answer. As soon as the words left his mouth, his own arrow left his bow, lancing through the air and into the empty chest cavity of the living corpse with a pinning shot-- rather, it would have been a pinning one, had he anything to pin it too. As such pinnable objects were missing, it just meant that the arrow carried an extra "umph", snapping the vertibrae of the undead creature and folding it in half like a piece of paper.

"Next customer?" Ashton called in a bored tone and nocking the next arrow.

Fortunately for Ashton, there were no more 'customers' to be had, as his companions obliterated the remaining skeletons. That left just the mage boy who had seemingly been hiding behind the corpse warriors. As the last fell, however, he came forth, clearly relieved. "Maker's blessing! I thought I was going to die down here in this... this tomb!" He took in the appearance of his rescuers, clearly not immediately placing them, and for good reason. "Are you with the Templars? Please, I need to go back the Circle. I never wanted to get involved in this." He gestured around him to the smashed skeletal warriors. "Not when he started making those... those things!"

"Ah... Necromancy. And here I was thinking that this job was going to be an easy one," Ashton said in a mirthless tone best described as "Rilien" in nature. After his little comment, he refrained from further gracing the conversation with any more of his wittisms, allowing his companions to do all the talky parts.

Nostariel was almost glad that the young man sounded so panicked; it was probably the right reaction to have to this sort of situation, even if she couldn't muster it in herself. Her companions seemed likewise jaded to the horrors of rising corpses and foul magic, sad as that was. "Be still, my friend. Ser Thrask is waiting outside. He will take you back. Before you go, though, I must ask..." The Warden cast a glance about herself at the pile of once again unmoving corpses, several missing heads, arms, or legs from the handiwork of the others. The piles of ash were probably her doing, though. "Who is he? Who is responsible for this, and what are we to expect if we should cross paths with him?"

"Sorry," he said, "I thought you would have known. Decimus... it was his decision. He kept saying the Templars would label us blood mages if we fled, and that in that case we should just use it. He slit his wrist, and the magic... it rose from the blood and woke the skeletons in the cave. I ran." He still seemed unsure of their intentions, even though he was clearly grateful for having been saved.

Decimus is wrong--blood magic is a work of evil, not just a power the Templars keep from us for spite. He's crazy. I think he was the one who started the destruction back at Starkhaven, thinking we would just be free with our phylacteries destroyed. I... I think there might be a demon working through him. No normal man would profane the dead like this, right?"

"Oh, blood magic. Great. Didn't get enough of that stuff the first time." Ashton quipped, sounding rather dejected. There was only the briefest hint of his gaze stuttering between the boy mage and Sparrow and then to Nostariel. Last time Blood magic and demons were involved, things didn't pan out too well for their merry little party. He didn't want to see another friend go through that again. He'd make sure that they'd escape this place, all in one piece. A lingering glance at Rilien made him wonder what was going on inside his own head. Ashton then turned back to the boy and spoke once again, "Think we can... Talk to this fellow? Talk him down or something? Blood magic bodes ill for all involved," and that was one of the more serious statements he had made in a long while.

"Decimus burned down a Circle tower to get away from the Templars," the mage said, "I'm not sure there's any force that could make him go back. But... you're not Templars. That's something, at least."

"I doubt we are to expect much quarter," Rilien concluded flatly. He was aware of Ashton's glance, but knew not what the archer was seeking. "Still, one blood mage does not make a coven." That was probably as close as he was ever going to get to something like mercy, all things considered. "If the rest do not fight, I will do as the Templar asks." That part was directed at Nostariel, who nodded solemnly. Perhaps she had moved too quickly to the wrong conclusion about the Tranquil, but even as she was opening her mouth to apologize, he shook his head.

"Such words are unnecessary. I do not act for the approval of others, and I do not require their assurances." Ah, well. Still quite cold, then. Even so, she nodded and turned at last to the boy.

"We have kept you here far too long. Please, do not hesitate to leave and find Ser Thrask. The way out is clear."

"Thank you," he said, "I never wanted anything to do with blood magic. Decimus has gone mad. I fear he'd kill us all just to take down a few Templars at this point." He departed, making his way towards the mouth of cave, and the Templar that awaited him outside.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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The tunnels grew narrower and more constricted as they went, tightening around them until the group was forced to progress in single file. For the most part, it was also completely silent, save the occasional dripping sound as some liquid- Nostariel could only hope it was water- dripped from the ceiling down to the stone floor beneath. The tunnels were only moderately lit, and she imagined that the mages fleeing in here must have been quite afraid, the spooky ambiance of the place only adding to that heart-pounding fear of being pursued. It was a feeling she knew, though the creatures who had followed in her tread were not Templars but Darkspawn, and their method of tracking her more infallible than any phylactery could be.

It was not something she envied, and even as the tunnels widened again, gradually sloping upwards to more mining platforms, she thought to herself that perhaps, for some at least, the reality of 'freedom' away from the Circle was as jarring and terrifying as it had been for her. The fact that they had burned her Circle was not lost on Nostariel, and she wondered how many of her old friends and teachers had been hurt in the event. Her teeth clenched in her jaw. Harming those who pursued you was one thing- and even that seemed so wrong to her- but harming the inocent so that you could escape? Did that not make them into the very monsters everyone simply assumed they were? Did they not realize how much damage they were doing, embracing their power so irresponsibly?

She was no fool; mages were set up in lose-lose situations all the time. But even so, there were ways to handle that better than killing people. After a while, it became little more than selfishness, still cast only by the players as a brave bid for liberation. Stone changed to wood beneath her feet, and the murmur of voices became audible some distance away.

They were close.

The voices belonged to a man and a woman, the woman a young, pretty thing, dark brown hair tied back into a bun, a notable black tattoo snaking around her right eye. The man was middle-aged, and looked somewhat ragged, his dirty blonde hair grown long and unkempt, a beard reaching down towards his chest. Their Circle robes were tattered and worn from overuse, and so were their bodies. The mages gathered about the cave seemed extremely weary, though a brave few were staying alert, hovering near their leader's side.

It was likely that the party triggered some form of magical wards as they entered, as Decimus was almost immediately alerted to their presence. "They're here! The Templars have come to take us back to the Circle!" he shouted, rousing the boldest of his followers from their stupors. The woman at his side, however, grabbed hold of his arm upon seeing the intruders for herself. "Decimus, no! Stay your hand. These are no Templars." The mage leader seemed conflicted for the briefest of moments, recognizing the Warden's sigil, the Tranquil's brand, the presence of magic. But the blood of his followers was hot, and he needed to direct their aggression now, lest it be lost to him. "What do I care what shield they carry?" he shouted. "If they challenge us, the dead themselves will meet the call!"

He conjured forth more of his dark magic, the power of his own blood, and likely some of his allies, to summon more dead from the ground. They set upon the group from behind, while the mages willing to fight these strangers followed Decimus' lead, attacking from the front. More than half, however, chose not to fight, instead pushing themselves towards the corners, hoping to avoid being caught in the battle.

Another slaughter this was to be then, and for him it was simply passe. Not one to forget, the Tranquil made a beeline directly for Decimus, well-aware what had happened the last time he'd let a blood mage remain too long on a battlefield. Control was essential to someone with Rilien's mental makeup; he existed in a state of perpetual fine-tuning of his control over himself, his environment, and his craft. When one could or would not be able to waste time in more sympathetic pursuits, it was sometimes all that remained. He would be content playing puppet to no one, least of all some spineless mage who had already resorted to the desperate.

Of course, it wasn't so simple as all of that. Not every enemy present was simply going to let him waltz up to their leader and stab him in the eye. In fact, they seemed rather keen on putting more warm bodies in his way. He spent a moment deciding if it would be better to leave them in too much pain to move, but alive, or simply dead. Given that these had sided with a blood mage, he concluded that if he didn't kill them, the Templars would, and decided to save the time. Lethality was a much simpler choice than its opposite, actually, though not even he was so crass as to factor simple ease into his choices. A slight flash; a mage dropped with a stump where his arm used to be. Another hurled an orb of fire at the Tranquil, who ducked in time to recieve nothing but a few singed hairs, though he wasn't sure of the status of anyone behind him. He was in need of a haircut, perhaps.

In fact, the progression forward was the hardest part; these were not physical fighters, and after the first few had tried to be just that and failed miserably, the rest had wisely decided to stick to pelting the group with projectiles. It had been years since Rilien had shot a bow, and he certainly didn't make a habit of it, meaning that he'd simply have to find a way through the barrage and to Decimus. The next conflagration caught his sleeve; he ripped it off at the shoulder seam before it could burn its way to his skin. Ice gathered at his feet, but he skated across it, failing to lose his balance. The hissing of mixing elements was accompanied by a thick cloud of steam and debris- finding his target in this mess was going to be difficult.

"We just wanted to talk!" Ashton cried as he settled into an archer's stance. Even though he'd rather not fight these people, if the choice was the between the safety of the mages over the safety of his companions, he'd choose his friends every time. "Are you so blood drunk that you'd deny even that?!" he pleaded, though based on his recent experiences with blood mages he doubted that mere words would sway their demon addled minds. Speaking of demons, Ashton kept an especially open eye out for anything from beyond the veil, and those such creatures would become priority targets. He would not let another Sparrow happen.

His first shot connected with the shinbone of a mage, thoroughly tossing the man to the ground and interrupting whatever spell he had aimed at them. The next shot he fired cut deep into the outstretched arm of another mage, sending the frost spewing from his hand in a wide arc away from it's intended target-- The tranquil. Ever the efficent one, Rilien had opted to wade directly in towards the leader, and cut the head off of the problem. Ashton wouldn't be surprised to see Sparrow wade in directly behind him either flailing that mace about and casting whatever spells she had in her repertoire either, considering her brusque nature and had began to account for her in the plan that was beginning to fall into place in his mind. What they needed was to stop Decimus, else be subject to what he could summon from the fade, or worse, while at the same time reduce the number of casualities of the other mages. While he may not have been the biggest fan of the Templars on principle, the one outside the mouth of the cave had the right idea about saving these mages. No one's life should just be tossed away like trash.

"Remember where Decimus stands Rilien, Sparrow, I'll cover your approach!" Ashton called, withdrawing the fat shafted arrow that released smoke upon impact. He nocked it and let it fire, directly into the middle of the fray. He trusted them both to take full advantage of the situation. The impact was punctuated with a solid pop, and an obscuring white smoke was beginning to fill the cave and hide their presence. Ashton, however, would not be able to do much more as a large Spirit Bolt cut through the smoke and slammed directly into his chest. It was enough force to take him off of his feet and fling him a good couple feet back, landing ungracefully on his back, trying desparately to get air back into his lungs.

"Ouch... That stung. I think it broke something..." Ashton weezed, coughing a thick gobule of blood out. "Yep... Definitely broke something... Man down. Medic?" He whined, his deadpan tone belying the seriousness of the injury. Looks like he'd have to trust Rilien and Sparrow to this. Though truth be told, he wouldn't trust anyone else more.

Shlepping off the remnants of goo from her fingers, promptly smeared across a snippet of cloth she'd ripped off one of the animated corpses, Sparrow seemed intent on not showing how discontented she was at diving deeper into the cave. It wasn't enough that the caves tunnels were constricting like a snake's belly, forcing them to walk in a straight line. She'd taken the rear, glancing over her shoulder on occasion and gripping her mace all the tighter. Each sound of skittering rocks, disturbed by nocturnal creatures, screwed up her eyes in consternation. She might've been foolhardy enough to appear brave in the face of stumbling corpses, but she wasn't fond of darkness, of not being able to see what was in front of her, or more importantly, behind her. It wasn't her strongest suit. She couldn't help but imagine long-fingered hands slithering from hidden alcoves, ready to pull her in. No amount of squinting could adjust her eyes to the dim lights. The incessant itch demanding to look behind her shoulder – just to be sure, only grew with each step forward.

The flickering lanterns, barely illuminated, cast weaving shadows against the craggy walls. Distorted masses of tantamount-duplications, familiar in their shapes, but terrifying all the same. It was as if the darkness whispered do you fear, do you? And she was afraid. The darkness was all-encompassing, enveloping; an omnipresent thing that promised monsters and deeds she'd rather not carry out, immeasurably vast and unrestricted in its limitless infinity. It was a dreadful, malevolent thing. Whatever happened in the darkness, usually remained gloomy, forgotten-things. She resolutely resisted the urge to grip Rilien's flapping sleeve, ordering her hands to still themselves. Weakness would not do in a place like this. She seemed absent from her thoughts, as if she'd taken a break from her ceaseless barrage of snippy opinions, settling herself on some faraway bench. And somehow, this unsettled Sparrow. She did not search for her, did not reach out her arms like a frightened child, but instead lowered her head and trailed her empty fingers across the nearest wall, allowing her mace to dip low to the ground.

Sparrow breathed a heavy sigh of relief when the tunnels branched out, extending into a much larger chamber. Much like the one they'd found the walking-corpses in. It rattled through her bones, breathed through her lungs, drooped her eyelids a little lower. She didn't need to look behind her shoulder anymore, at least, not unless they'd have to squirm through another tunnel, which didn't seem likely, because they could hear a faint conversation going on in the distance. As soon as they rounded the corner, Decimus and his merry crew of less-than-pleased mages were already moving to intercept them, staves brandished and eyes thrown wide open, wildly alert. Her mouth went dry, hoping wryly that the woman could convince him that they weren't Templar-bastards after-all. “Stop that, idiot.” She snarled, eyes darting to Decimus' fingers, swirling in intricate circles, spewing his own blood force to raise more dead enemies around them. It was Sparrow who first hesitated. She was shaking. She could feel it. “We don't need to do this! We're just trying to help.” Said with little conviction, dying off into a strangled sound when Rilien unerringly amputated one of the mages arms, continuing his way through the throe of warm-bodied people.

She barely dodged the fireball, skittering backwards. Slight fumes of her burnt boot wafted unpleasantly to her nostrils, though she quickly kicked it through the dirt so that she wasn't another ambling corpse, afire, trying to pacify her opponents. Sparrow was not behind Rilien – she hadn't moved, aside from scrambling away from the nearest projectile that'd singed her companions hair. It was Ashton's voice that'd broken her out of her conflicted thoughts, reminding her where she ought to have been and where she needed to go if she wanted to keep her companions alive and well. “R-Right! And watch yourself, no heroics!” Her heart was not in this. How could it be? It'd been left on the precipice that she'd be able to convince them to lay down their weapons and flee from the Templars before they'd even stepped foot into the cave to retrieve them. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen. Instead of hammering through the mages, Sparrow took another more indirect approach, squaring off with the ambling-dead and smashing through, swinging her mace, and inefficiently weaving around those who were still consistently throwing projectiles.

For once, she wasn't directly behind Rilien, but she was coming up beside him, throwing energy-blasts to parry icy-cones and balls of flame, scattering frigid pellets and sparks around them. Sparrow would turn her hesitation, her anger, her despair onto the forerunner of attack.

While Rilien and Sparrow seemed inclined to rush the enemy, Nostariel hung back with Ashton, the group's other ranged combatant.There were enough fierce foes this tme around that she could not afford to simply choose her targets as he chose his, though, and doubtless, the efficiency they produced would suffer for it, but the important thing right now was to keep these mages off the Tranquil while Sparrow smashed through the corpses directly in front of them. All told, it was a sound strategy for such a hastily-devised one, and everything seemed to be going about as well as could be expected until a spirit bolt whizzed by her only to catch the archer full in the chest, throwing him backwards an immoderate distance.

Nostariel had switched tactics before he even made the request. Healing and damage-dealing required completely different mindsets, and it was hard to swap quickly from one to the other. It was a rare mage indeed that could manage both in any kind of swift succession. Nostariel was not yet such a mage, if she would ever be, and it took her a moment to adjust. With a couple of deep breaths, though, she was able to summon the energy to herself, and then direct it towards her fallen comrade. If there was one thing she was good at, it was trauma healing. She was passable with illnesses, but the battlefield was where she shone. Ironic, considering how little she liked them, and how often she had failed at this very job.

Not today.

Rilien, much further afield, had only dim awareness that someone behind him had been hit. What he had noticed was that Ashton's arrow had added to the fog already present, obscuring his target even further. It was more than worth the inconvenience, however, as the mages were no longer firing upon him with anything even resembling accuracy, and he was a much more mobile fighter than they. He would find his quarry, even if he had to stalk it. It was not terribly often that he vanished under the cloak of stealth, though he was capable of it. Mostly, he relied on complete silence to achieve the same result, and this instance was no different. Footfalls normally only incidentally soft lost all noise whatsoever, and he threaded his way carefully in the general direction of Decimus. More than once, he ran into a different mage, but he was much quicker on the uptake, and as a result, each of the three died before they could so much as choke out a warning.

At last, he found what he was looking for. The shroud of smoke was starting to thin, just a little, and the Blood Mage could see him, too, evidenced by the expected half-mad, half panicked ramblings that ensued upon sight of the sunburst resting so obviously over his brow. It was an unusual mage that was not unnerved by it, especially outside a Circle. After a while, it grew repetitive, actually. That Sparrow had not paid it much mind at all was one of the reasons they got along as well as they did. Decimus was nothing even resembling Sparrow, and Rilien had little conscience to delay his action. Surprisingly, his first hit was blocked by a desperate staff maneuver, the metal blades biting deep into the wood of the thing. Ripping them free with exactly no change in facial expression, the Tranquil moved again, this time catching a few shards of stone in his exposed arm for his trouble. Considering that the mage's arm now ended at the elbow, he wasn't very concerned by this.

Predictably, Decimus failed to control his reaction and dropped his stave, clutching at his stump with his still-whole hand and doing quite a lot of screaming. At this point, Rilien was forced away from what would have been the finisher by an incoming jet of flames; the others around them were regaining full visibility, and apparently would defend their leader to the death. He supposed that could be arranged.

Whatever amount of hatred she'd harvested from wheedling out the animated corpses had not been enough to weave into the fray and clock Decimus in the head – which would have been quite easy, since he was already distracted by Rilien's merciless assault, desperately attempting to block the Tranquil's impossibly quick hands with his staff. It was numbingly obvious how the situation would end. Instead, Sparrow stepped in while the fog cleared and slammed her mace into one of the mages stomach. Certainly not hard enough to bust all of his ribs, but enough to debilitate him, to discourage him from throwing any more funnels of flame at her companions. She whipped to the side to engage another, busying her mace against a creaking wooden staff. "Kill him first!" Perhaps, then, the others would lose face. They would give up. They wouldn't need to die. Then, Rilien could stop killing the others.

On the other side of the cavern, after Nostariel's burst of healing magic, Ashton had managed to drag his sore corpse over to one of the many stalagmites that littered the cave and leaned his back against it. Sure the immediate pain was gone thanks to the pretty little mage, but he still felt as if a horse had kicked him in the chest. What little blood that had remained floating around freely in his system was still interfering with his breathing, but all things considered, he could be worse. He could be dead. And not being dead was always a plus in Ashton's book. The hunter did look worse for wear though, left over blood flowing from the corner of his mouth. He looked a lot worse off than he was. He'd try to milk it for all the pity that it was worth.

He wasn't of the strongest constitution, to say the least. He wasn't a strongbacked, rough and tumble individual, like Sparrow. He couldn't take punches, hell, he probably couldn't even take a stiff breeze. Even Rilien, with his Tranquil stoicism, was more hardy than the Archer. At the very most, he put himself on Nostariel's level, and that was if she didn't have that Wardened hardening training whatevers. He knew what he was, and that was why he put himself in the back of the fight, flickering in and out of visibility. Though, he'd not allow a simple magical bolt to hold him back. He wasn't quite out of the fight yet, he wasn't quite done.

Ashton had nocked an arrow, and was beginning to draw before he paused. His sitting position would not allow him to fire his bow upright. He sighed and angled the bow horizontally and drew once again. "That was the plan..." Ashton murmured behind Sparrow's command. At that, Ashton let the arrow slip, and like a bolt of lightning it streaked forward towards it's intended target. Luckily, for those mages that had saw Ashton get hit by the Spirit Bolt, they thought him out of the fight. They didn't expect him to crawl back into the thing. That oversight allowed the arrow fly unmolested, right into the head of Decimus. Well. At least the chance of possession by Blood Mage was down. "Yaaay... Can we go home now?" Ashton whined, his arms dropping limply.

The arrow struck Decimus's forehead at about the same time as Sparrow downed her last one and Rilien disemboweled the remaining antagonist. All those that remained were cowering at the corners, and one flinched noticeably when the Tranquil leveled a dead-eyed stare at him. That was largely a normal occurrence, however, and he paid it no heed. His part of this enterprise was concluded, and frankly, it would have been impossible for him to care any less about what happened to the rest of them. For someone who had been a mage, their so-called plight was of precious little consequence to him, except as it occasionally pertained to what few people ever managed to bumble their way into mattering to him.

He picked up his discarded sleeve on the way back to the back of the ranks, using the deep red fabric to clean his knives before he resheathed them. Blood still dripped in rivulets down his bare arm, and he busied himself removing what chunks of stone he could from the wounds, tossing them onto the ground with apparent disregard for any pain it caused. There were still a few in there, and those would have to wait until he could make his way home and use a smaller instrument to dig them from his flesh. After that, it would be a simple matter of alcohol, bandages, and potions. It would not be the first time he'd gone through that particular routine, and it would doubtless not be the last.

"Not quite yet," Nostariel replied to Ashton. "We have to talk to the rest yet, and see if any more bloodshed might be avoided. I can take better care of that later, too," she added, noting the obvious fatigue under which he still operated. The Tranquil's bloody arm also concerned her, but it did not appear to be bothering him in the slightest, and she wasn't quite brave enough to ask him if he wanted any help. That left Sparrow, who looked fine, and the other mages, who were apparently looking upon them with more fear now that the violent among them were dead.

"Please," Nostariel entreated them, gripping her staff as firmly as she could muster and taking tentative steps forward, "do not be afraid. This is not what we intended, and a peaceful resolution to this affair is still possible." She shifted her posture just a little, so that the insignias of her station were easily-visible, and hopefully that would help. The Wardens were not harbingers of needless violence, and they were also not in the back pocket of the Chantry, which she hoped would lend her pleas some weight. "Ser Thrask of Kirkwall led us here to you. He wishes for you to return to the Circle, peacefully and without anymore needless death, but that window of opportunity will be brief." She waited then, for one of them to speak, or do anything at all, really.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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The woman who had attempted to stop Decimus from attacking the group fell to her knees by his body now that the violently resisting mages had been dealt with. "You killed him!" she shouted, dismayed. "Oh, Decimus, you should have listened to me, love..." She gazed up at the four that had killed the blood mage. "Decimus gave us the courage to face the Templars. Without him, we would be prisoners still. He was our future... Until he came, we never thought to fight back. I told Decimus he was going too far, but he said it was the only way to protect us. To protect me." 

She stood, clearly desiring to look upon the maimed corpse no longer. "Please, we only want our freedom. Without your help, the Templars will execute us all for Decimus' crimes." 

Nostariel's expression tightened, the frown playing at the edges of her mouth and eyes clear evidence of her sympathy, though to the statement itself, she said nothing, at least not until the woman spoke her plea. At that, the elf shook her head, though whether this was from straightforward disagreement or resignation was not precisely clear. "Thrask will not. He sent us here to prevent just that, but you must understand something. He will not be alone for long, and if you are not with him when the others arrive, it... will not end well. Surely, you can see the need to protect yourselves from that. For the sake of those of you that still remain, please, return to the Circle." The words tasted bitterly on her tongue, and something in them weighed tangibly upon her, slumping her shoulders, but... she had seen too much of the world to believe that they were really better off just running away for the rest of their lives. The Circle was a cage, but compared to the fear and perpetual danger of an apostate's life, it was a gilded one. 

With their phylacteries still operational, they didn't stand a chance of remaining hidden for long, and then they really would be executed, or made Tranquil. The latter shouldn't be the case, but anyone with even a shred of realistic undersanding knew that what was supposed to be and what was differed substantially when mages and Templars were involved, and that went both ways.

“We must not.” Again, it was Sparrow who piped in, rolling her shoulders to rid herself of the growing cramps. She lowered her head when she caught sight of Ashton's appearance, blood welling down from his lips. It would do no one any good if they engaged another, tougher, foe in his state – not that she doubted his abilities, but he, for one, would not outright want to do battle with Templars. Her lip stiffened, and her posture straightened. “There has to be another way. Escape through another tunnel.” She added bitterly, whipping her head around to the other apostates. Hadn't they noticed a way out? Or was this cavern doomed to dead ends and disgusting smells? It was by the coast, wasn't it? She spread her hands out wide, then snapped them down. “Lie, or cheat if we must. Rilien can say that we've killed them. Slaughtered all of them because we had to. Thrask might be upset, but, but then they'll be able to go on their way. Leave the Free Marches and go to Ferelden – if not, expect injustice. You've committed crimes, and you're considered dangerous. They will kill you.”

Sparrow made a grunting noise, throwing her hands wide, as if to appease the Maker. She did not want to disobey her companion. She did not want to go against what she was saying. Hadn't Nostariel suffered at the hands of the Circle? But, because she'd been in one, did she think they would be merciful to their crimes? Not all Templars were as forgiving or compassionate as Thrask. There would be Templars within the Circles order who'd want to seek retribution, who'd pull on their own tethers to see these mages burn. Chains and cages were only so good if they were being compared to execution. If they hadn't a say in the matter, then wasn't this all pointless? “The Circle will not accept them anymore. They aren't runaway birds. They've killed Templars, Nos. We're leading them to the Gallows.” However metaphorical that might've been, Sparrow did not want to wring nooses around their necks. Had it been years prior to her arriving in Kirkwall, upon first meeting Rilien, then she would not have cared. Efficiency ran nearly as thick in her blood as it did in her Tranquilian companion. She'd spent years cultivating her nonchalance, her ability to walk away from the poorest souls when she might've been able to help; without a heavy heart. It's kept her alive thus far.

"Nostariel. Please..."

She was silent. She was smiling. 

"Yes," the mage woman said, clearly liking the sound of Sparrow's plan far more than Nostariel's, "We have found no other ways out of the cave apart from the way we came in, but if this Templar can be fooled, then lie to him, say you had to kill us all. You've enough blood on you to prove it. We can escape when they're gone. I hear there are places, outside the Free Marches, where the Templars are not so vigilant. With our phylacteries destroyed in our escape, we could make a go of it." 

She took on a different look then, a hardness in her eyes that hadn't been there before. "If he can't be fooled... surely the death of one Templar is preferable than the deaths of so many mages. Kill him so that we can escape before the others arrive. Please, if you want to help us, then help us."

Rilien, entirely uninterested in the discussion taking place, stepped over several corpses and partial corpses to where Ashton was still half-laying on the ground. With his back turned to the rest of the group, it was safe to assume that the slight lift to his eyebrow was intended for the archer alone, as if to ask what he was doing wasting time on the ground when he was perfectly capable of standing. The Tranquil offered the archer his good arm and helped him pull himself to his feet, figuring that even if he didn't care a whit whether these mages or any Templars lived or died, the loudmouthed hunter was bound to have an opinion of some sort. Furthermore, he wasn't a complete idiot, so it might actually be a worthwhile one, which was clearly not a guarantee where some of these mages were concerned.

Nostariel, meanwhile, had been about to say something to Sparrow when the woman spoke. The Warden's was not a face that appeared as if it could host any expression describable as 'thunderous,' but it soon became clear that appearances were misleading. Her stare matched and surpassed the tattooed woman's in its coldness, and for once, it wasn't hard to guess that Nostariel's favored element was ice. The bladed end of her staff slammed into the ground with uncharacteristic force, and she straightened, every line betraying her utter disgust. "How dare you," she hissed, tones low and glacial. It might have been the imagination, but the temperature in her immediate proximity seemed to drop by a good ten or so degrees, her irises hardening to chips of frost set into a stern face. 

"I understand what it is to feel trapped, but that does not excuse the very suggestion that we murder the man who called us, strangers to him and people far outside of the Circle, for the express purpose of saving your lives. How dare you suggest that his life is so insignificant. He is exactly what the Circle needs, and exactly the reason you will not be killed. Just how do you think he found you at all? Your phylacteries were saved from the Circle you burned. If not him, another Templar will find you, and you would be lucky indeed if that one is half as merciful as Ser Thrask. If you want the attitude the world has toward us to change, then you must be better than this. Better than his blood magic, and much better than the idea that the death of a good man means nothing. I will not lie for you, and I will definitely not murder for you. How you choose to take that is a measure of your own character." She left it unsaid that she already found it to be wanting. That much was clearly obvious.

Ashton accepted Rilien's hand with a nod of approval and thanks, before he put his hand on his back and thrusted, popping a number of bones. Now that Nostariel's magic had enough time to sink in, he was feeling better, if tired. That and the left over blood from his internal wounds was still clogging up his breathing and such. In the long run though, he'll be fine. He patted Rilien's shoulder for an extra show of thanks and then approached the brewing storm that was Sparrow, Nostariel, and the mages. If only he truly knew the depth of the murky waters he was wading in to. Or perhaps he did, and just didn't care or understood. He knew, a blow like that could scramble even the sanest minds, and Ashton's wasn't the sanist to begin with.

"Yeah, we're definitely not going to kill Thrask," Ashton backed Nostariel up, [/color]"Templar or not, he's too good a man to just off like that. So now that that option's off the table,"[/color] he mimed the action of cleaning off a table, "That leaves either letting them go, or bringing them back to the Circle," Now that the options were stated, next came the muddy job of siding on one. Great. Just what he woke up wanting to do today, side on the matters of mages. He pinched the bridge of his nose, still totally unaware of the drying streak of blood dribbling down the corner of his mouth. It gave him a rather serious appearance, more serious than he'd like.

"My kneejerk reaction tells me to let 'em go," Ashton said, again mimicking the kneejerking part. "Though considering that their leader had just tried to kill us and they already show no qualms about killing to get what they want... Maybe the best route is the Circle after all," Ashton said, offering an apologetic look for Sparrow. "Who's to say that they just won't cause more trouble, attack more Templars if we just let them go. Though the lot are machines, some do have hearts inside that armor like Thrask. Some are good people. And who's to say that they won't kill more good people just to keep their freedom?" Ashton said, clearly not enjoying the words coming off of his tongue. "At least it's safe there," He finished, rubbing his head. Then he shrugged, turned his back on the whole quarrel and went to stand beside Rilien. The Tranquil had the right idea.

"I don't care what either of you decide. I've said my piece. I'm not a mage, so I can't pretend this gobble-gook applies to me, do what you will and I'll be right behind you," Ashton said, settling in beside Rilien. "Besides, I just really want to go home now," he murmurred.

Oh great, now the mage was insinuating that Sparrow was on board with killing everyone else in her path to free them. That wasn't what she had in mind, after all. Her doubts about Thrask's ingenuity had been cleared as soon as she'd met him, for he could've taken a different route if he'd wanted the runaway apostates slaughtered. Whatever qualms she possessed against Templars could be momentarily set aside. She wouldn't kill Thrask just because she was asked to. The other Templars were an entirely different matter because they carried chains, false promises, and a nasty tendency to provoke their captives into coercive, inappropriate knee-jerks. Such things could be easily dealt with their blades because the mages were simply too dangerous to bring back to the Circle. If they walked away, and then the Templars rounded the corner to do away with them, without Thrask to oversee their journey, they wasn't it the same thing as signing their death sentences. This would be difficult.

She was slightly taken aback when Nostariel slammed her staff in the ground, galvanizing with unadulterated anger. Nearly bristling and bursting at the seams – if she were that little mage, however beautifulNostariel might've been while staring her down, she would've been shaking in her boots, as well. If she were in the mage's position, fighting for her own freedom, and if she was backed into a corner, then wouldn't she, too, want to kill everyone trying to strip her of her freedoms? She knew she would. Even if it meant destroying someone innocent like Thrask. They didn't honestly know who this Thrask was. He was just another Templar idling outside, waiting for them to convince the mages to lower their weapons and give up before they faced inevitable execution at the hands of more Templars. However stifling, and utterly frigid, Nostariel's disgust was, Sparrow couldn't help feel her heart go out to them, fluttering from her fingertips like two flighty things searching for another, much more pleasant way to end this. They wanted to live freely, much like she did. Would Nostariel have denied her if she had known what she was willing to do in the face of imprisonment?

Sparrow abruptly whipped forward, grabbing a handful of the apostate's robes before shaking her wildly, drawing her near so that she could look her in the eyes. Two pieces of flint meeting rusted copper, dark and darker. “Don't mince my words. Just because I don't want your sorry carcass to rot in the Circle, doesn't mean that we're dirty mercenaries willing to swing our swords around for just anyone. If it hadn't been for Thrask, then we'd be stumbling onto a pile of ash and bones, remember that.” She did not relinquish her grip, only tightened and spun her around to face her companions, her terrified fledgelings that had been lugged along with them. They clung to each other, as if letting go would mean they'd fall. They'd stumble, they'd be finished. Some of them might have had hands as bloody and stained as their leader, Decimus, but some even still might have been entirely innocent in any acts they partook in as they absconded from their Circle, only faltering when it came to the aspect of freedom, fleeing along with the rest of them. They would suffer. She looked at Nostariel, then to Ashton. Her tongue tied into knots, stuck to the back of her teeth to keep herself from saying things they wouldn't want to hear. She eyed the smear of blood on Ashton's lips. He should not have to suffer her pride.

“Condemn them all for the possible actions of a few?” It sounded familiar enough. Her argument was weakening already, like wobbling knees ready to buckle. Sparrow's grip loosened, allowing the material to slither away from her fingers. But, still, her heart felt heavy. It settle down to her heels like silt in the ocean, and no amount of well-wishing could dilute the impending shame. She might have hated blood mages for what they'd done to her, bringing a demon into her mindscape (even if it had been her own doing) but she felt disgusted at the very idea of marching a troupe of runaway mages into their grimy hands. She knuckled her eyelids, averting the sigh bubbling in her throat. “If you think this is right.” It was fine. Let them be done with it. She would drink for them later.

The mage seemed defeated. They certainly would not kill Thrask, and the Warden would put an end to any attempts to lie to him, which had been slim at best. Templars were easier to kill than fool, after all, that she knew. When faced with the choice between the Circle and death, Decimus had chosen death. But she... could not do it. She couldn't make the others do it. "You've made your point," she gave in. "I won't have all of us die down here in this cave. We'll go back to the Circle." 

The Chanter's Board has been updated. Act of Mercy has been completed.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia

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It was perhaps the strangest assortment of individuals Varric Tethras had ever seen in one room. He wouldn't have had it any other way. Off to the side there was sulking Dalish elf Ithilian who he'd tricked into coming, something about a mandatory information session for all the hirelings on the expedition. They had a Tranquil in the room of all things, someone Varric was very interested in seeing after a few mugs of ale. There was the Warden, a regular to the Hanged Man and a friend of his at this point, he felt he could call her such. The lanky hunter Varric had gotten to invest and come along was present... perhaps the most normal of the bunch, which definitely said something about them. Near Nostariel was the redheaded girl Varric had seen in here a few times now, who he always sent a friendly smile, and there was Sparrow as well, who Varric was also familiar with to an extent. Standing over the rest a ways was the mercenary Lucien whom Varric was very glad to have along, for his obvious size and skill. Then there was the two other human women, the one with the mismatched eyes whom Varric actually wasn't sure he'd seen in the tavern before, a Qunari as he'd heard... and to top it all off, the Viscount's daughter herself was in attendance, the increasingly famous Sophia Dumar. Not to mention all the other, less notable hirelings the Tehtras brothers had paid for. In all, the Hanged Man was pretty much packed tonight.

He'd have to have an utter moron not to see that there was tension between some of them; such personalities as their were bound to clash once in a while. It was, of course, none of his business so long as it didn't drag down he and his brother's expedition. Speaking of the devil, Bartrand was nowhere to be found, no doubt stressing over their finances yet again, which Varric had already assured him were in order, to no avail. It was good that he wasn't here, Bartrand had never been good for the life of a party anyway. Considering that their party was already consisting of a Tranquil, the angriest elf he'd ever met, a Qunari, and Nostariel, who he wasn't sure had ever had a drink to celebrate something. Well, there was a first time for everything, wasn't there?

Once the storyteller had their attention, he smiled broadly, situated near the top of the stairs that led to the rooms behind the tavern. "Thank you all for coming and celebrating the fact that when next we drink here, we'll all be filthy rich!" A general cheer went up from the crowd of hirelings, though notably more than one of the more interesting ones didn't react so cheerily. Tough crowd. "Tomorrow we'll be setting out for the Deep Roads. Our destination has been picked out carefully, due to the most helpful maps the dear Warden Nostariel Turtega provided me with," he said, bowing his thanks to her before continuing, "but that's for the next day. Tonight is for celebrating the wealth on our horizons! The drinks are all on Varric Tethras tonight! Enjoy!" The cheer that got was just as loud, and with that, the hirelings got to work.




If there was one thing Ithilian didn't like, it was being lied to, and Varric Tethras had lied to him.

Well, alright, there were quite a few other things Ithilian disliked just as much as being lied to, and to be honest, he'd wanted to get out of the Alienage anyway. His first choice of destination wouldn't have been the Hanged Man on what was undoubtedly its most crowded night of the year, however. The forest would have served better. Less... people, less shemlen. He was getting looks already, hirelings staring at the currently uncovered pair of scars that ran from the right side of his forehead, through his right eye, and all the way down past the corner of his mouth to his chin. At the vallaslin etched into the skin of his neck and shoulder, the long knives sheathed at his belt. His bow was absent if only because it was uncomfortable to sit with, and the tactical value of a longbow in a crowded tavern was limited.

It was an interesting gathering of people here. He'd convinced Amalia to come along if only to prevent him from being completely alone among the shem, an argument he hadn't actually expected to work. There was still the matter of whatever she was planning on giving him, though. The elven Warden Nostariel was here, apparently a key piece of the expedition. He couldn't be sure, but she looked somewhat... different. No doubt she would be surprised to hear he would be joining them on their trip underground, but then again, she understood Ithilian about as much as he understood her. That was to say not very much. They were elves from two very different worlds, and each had never really had a chance to live the other's.

The human apostate that was Amalia's pupil was here, as was the shem that he'd run into in the woods with Lia. For his sake, he hoped he kept his distance, lest his mouth get him into trouble yet again. Ithilian was aware that he would be coming along on the Expedition. He was also aware that jobs could often be completed without speaking. Among the others, the half-breed elf was about somewhere, as was the len'alas, the noble who knew so little of the people she sat atop. Ithilian doubted he would need to try very hard to keep his distance from her.

Amalia had been near him, and so he turned to her. "I'm going to need a drink or ten to get through this." He immediately put his plan into action, pushing his way to the bar to acquire a mug of ale, before retreating back away from the tightest concentration of people and finding his way towards a corner table, dropping rather heavily into a chair and getting to work on the ale. A foul taste, but it would do the trick, surely.

When Ithilian had appeared in front of her that afternoon, she had not expected this. In fact, it was probably safe to say that, the truly absurd possibilities excepted, this was the last place she would have expected him to go, much less with her in tow. It was loud beyond all good sense, smelled like stale... something, and was presently packed to capacity with exactly the kinds of people she was fairly sure he hated the most. Which was to say, boisterous, careless, half-drunk humans. Which in turn was perhaps why the comment went unanswered and she moved over to his table without a word, seating herself with her back to the wall. Qunari did not imbibe except ceremonially, and she was not about to taint her body and mind both with whatever they served here, so she ignored the possibility of ordering anything and instead reached into the smallish rucksack beside her, withdrawing a bundle wrapped in burlap and string.

It was probably best to give it to him now, while there was still no danger of someone accidentally cutting themselves. What happened on purpose was hardly her concern. There was a hilt quite visibly protruding from the wrapping, itself wound with a mixture of a fine silver wiring and black leather cord. She tugged at the twine, unwrapping the parcel and setting it on the table between them. "It was to be one of two, but time was short. I had it enchanted to burn at will." In sharp contrast to the dark hilt, the blade itself was stark white, fitting since it was constructed primarily of the bones of a dragon, reinforced with the Tranquil's lyrium. She'd managed to get ahold of a Dalish dagger for comparison, and had constructed it to have a similar shape and heft. Something was carved into the base of it, a few terse lines of the peculiar Qunlat script.

"It's yours, if you want it."

Ithilian was vaguely aware that he was currently imitating the posture he'd seen Nostariel hold while in the Hanged Man; he held his mug in both hands, leaning relatively forward against the table for support, head angled above the cup's rim so as to limit vision to only the contents. His one remaining eye he kept more or less fixed on the tabletop, where eventually he was able to see Amalia's hands presenting him with the gift she had planned. Deciding he'd certainly not had enough ale as of yet, he downright gulped the remainder of the first mug, turned his head and burped, and then signaled for another, which he began to work on as well.

It was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, that much was certain. Surely on par with Dalish work, and better than most everything he could find in the rest of this city. He recognized the dragonbone, though it looked little like what he had seen the day he'd put out its eye and len'alas had cut it open from beneath. Like the dragon it would burn... he took his right hand off the mug and grasped the hilt, pulling it towards him. He tested the weight, the balance. It felt much like the blades he'd used all his life, though most of those had been borne of ironbark and not dragonbone.

Examining the weapon closer, he spotted the small carvings, in the Qunari tongue, of which he was not familiar. "What does it say?" he asked. He expected the choice of words to be few, and to have far greater meaning than was obvious.

"Parshaara.," Amalia replied. "For the Qunari, it is customary for the craftsperson to name the weapon. It is her way of imparting it with an intention, a purpose, which the wielder may choose to interpret as he likes. It means 'enough.'" She had considered naming it many different things. Shok, Kata, even Ataashi, which would have been unusually literal. But in the end, she had settled on this. "Of course, it need not be of concern to you if you are otherwise inclined. You may call it as you wish." Crossing one leg over the other, she folded her arms as well and leaned until her back hit the wall, ignoring entirely the noisy surroundings. As mental exercises went, it was not a particularly difficult one.

Enough. He looked at the etched letters and said the word in his mind. Ithilian then smiled. He leaned back away from the table, ran his left hand through his mess of hair, and smiled. It was a rather hideous thing, the scars cutting through his mouth preventing the right side from smiling as the left did, giving his face a mismatched appearance, the left side smiling, the right side appearing as it always did: maimed, immovable.

Enough. There were two possibilities: either Amalia could not for once see through him, could not understand the thoughts he tried to forcibly remove from his head every day as he rose from his bed and stepped into the dusty, smoky air of the Alienage... or she understood him perfectly. He doubted the latter, as the number of people he felt had truly understood him could be easily counted on one hand. The number of those people that were still living could be counted by a man with no hands.

He looked at the blade again, tested different grips. Unlike Amalia, he knew not how to drown the chaos of his surroundings with naught but his mind. Alcohol was all he had for that, and so he drank deeply once more, slapping the mug back down to the table and shaking his head when he could take no more in one go. His smile had gone by this point, and he took a brief moment to try and counter the already building headache, closing his eye and taking his head in his free hand, massaging the temples. Enough.

"I can't take this," he murmured, placing the blade back on the table, pushing it slowly back in Amalia's direction. He removed his hand from it, and took another long, deep drink. At this point, it was fairly obvious that he was making a conscious effort to not look at her, as his eyes had remained either at his drink, on the blade, or closed, since she had taken a seat at his table. "It's fine work, fine as any Dalish smith. You'll have more use for it than I will at this point, anyway." He went to take another drink, only to find that he was empty once more. "Shem! Another."

He may have been avoiding eye contact, but there was no mistake that Amalia's eyes were practically boring holes in the side of his head. She made no move to take the blade, nor to do anything else. In fact, for a few moments, it seemed that she might be content to simply sit there and behave as though he still hadn't spoken. Such was not the case, however: a Qunari could selectively ignore many things, she better than most. This was not one of those things. She took the more circuitous route to her point, however. "I will not. Only weapons intended for warriors are named. I could not use it, and it was not given that title for my benefit." She paused, pulling her braid over her shoulder to ease the discomfort of leaning.

"If it does not find its purpose by your hand, it will find none at all, and then it will be merely one more piece of refuse. That is the very nature of it." The obvious question, and the one she deliberately did not ask was why he was refusing. This was partially because she felt she might just understand the reason, and so it simply made more sense to skip to the part where she implied quite heavily that she thought the reason was inadequate. "The choice is yours." Truthfully, what he'd just done was rather insulting to her, but that was not the way it was intended, and she could not expect that Ithilian would understand that. For all that she called him Sataareth, he was not Qunari. This was something that she occasionally managed to forget.

She had given of her time and the labor of her hands to produce something, intended solely for his use. His refusal was tatamount to the invalidation of that effort, because it could not go to another. Unlike a tool she might craft for herself, or for Aurora, that was actually a hard-and-fast rule. She had offered a piece of her culture, and of herself, but perhaps she had offered too much. If anyone beyond the bounds of the Qun could understand or deserve that, she knew it was him. But perhaps it was simply the case that none could.

"The Dread Wolf can take its purpose," he spat, before drinking again. "I am no Qunari, I am no Sataareth, and my choice is to say that I have had enough." He shook slightly in his seat, his hand wavering as he wiped sweat from his brow. He was fully aware that he was being unfair and downright rude, but due to either the ale or the anguish, he didn't care.

He was quiet for some time, the voices and the noises and the madness swirling about him like a horde of darkspawn hounding him through the woods. "I'm not coming back," he at last admitted, still refusing to meet her eyes. "I'm taking the gold from this job and leaving. I don't know where I'm going, and I don't care. It will be far away from here." He sat back, his back thudding tiredly against the rear of the chair, and he sighed before taking another long drink. "You may watch over mine as if they were yours if you feel it is part of your role," he said, the last word falling slowly off his tongue. "I have had enough for one life."

"No," she agreed, "You are certainly no Qunari." The words were quiet, but they managed to sound more like an insult than any that had ever passed between them. "You are a coward." Gritting her teeth, Amalia uncrossed her legs and leaned forward even as he leaned back. "You haven't had enough, you simply believe that you'll never be enough, and with such fearful words, you make yourself right." She shook her head, a muscle in her jaw ticking. "If these are your colors, than I have made a grave error in judgement." Reaching across the table, Amalia took up the knife, examining it with an air of what seemed like intense concentration.

"But I do not think I have, even now. Not once. I name you Sataareth, one who is a foundation, a defender. I name you Basalit-an, an outsider worthy of the respect of all Qunari. From my soul to yours, I give Parshaara, and in doing so, I tell you that I believe otherwise, that what you are is enough. If you cannot believe yourself, you may believe me in the meantime." With an abrupt motion, she flipped the knife and brought her arm down hard, stabbing the weapon into the table with a solid thunk and a clatter of tableware. "Go on your expedition, take your coin, and then decide if that is really enough. If you can really leave them to their fate and run from it yourself. If the things they say about your people, that they are weak, worthy only of yesterday and not tomorrow, are true of they and you alike. If they are, do not return, and I will know." She stood, glaring at him and quite clearly exerting effort to remain as composed as she was.

"I will watch over them because I want to, but I am not you, and I will not be enough." Without so much as a farewell, Amalia turned on her heel, ducking in and out of the crowd with the expertise of long practice, and found her way to the door.

He didn't watch her go, nor did he react overmuch as she spoke. Ithilian just stared at the dagger she'd plunged into the table, watching it sway slightly in his vision. In a better state of mind, he might have realized the honor she had given him, realized the significance of the gift, the weapon made for him and him alone. But he wasn't in a good state of mind, and all he could think of was how there was nothing left for him to defend, how the respect of all the Qunari in the world couldn't change what was done, and wouldn't help him take anything back.

He didn't know Amalia, not really. He didn't know her past, he didn't know if she had endured what he had, and if she simply was stronger than him, better than him, more than him. But as he sat with his head swimming in a storm of noise, the dragonbone dagger serving as his anchor, all he could think about was a forest on fire behind him, and a people around him that could run no longer. He could only think about those he had grown up with and fought alongside as they were cut down or dragged off. His world fell away bit by bit, piece by piece broken off from the whole. His sa'lath they dragged off in the night when their legs could carry them no further, her screams the only thing that woke him. Trying to explain to his da'vhenan what had happened, why she was simply gone in the morning.

One by one they disappeared. The horde, the fires, the Taint, one by one they fell while shemlen nobles betrayed and murdered one another for the chance to rule the land once they were gone. They fought civil war while Ithilian drove a knife into his eleven year old da'vhenan as a mercy, for the Taint had claimed her by then. And when only his legs remained, somehow they carried him further, they carried him through, and away.

The merest spark of that memory in the form of a little girl that did not and would not belong to him had been sufficient to cut the last thread he hung by. Whatever force had guided him out of that forest, bleeding and delirious, while every last one of his kin was slaughtered, he cursed. So while he did not know Amalia's past, he did know what he felt, and he felt like enough was enough. He couldn't see the knife very much anymore...

But when Ithilian left the Hanged Man, it was no longer stuck into the table.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose

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Nostariel was smiling as her friend the dwarf delivered his speech, so very typical of Varric it was. She leaned her chin on one hand, resting her elbow on the table, the fingers of the other curled loosely around the handle of her tankard. For once, she wasn't clutching it as though her life depended on whatever could be found within, and though there was still a tightness in her chest, it was for the moment banished by the lightness of the atmosphere. So many familiar faces crowded the tavern, and somehow it was reminding her that even if everything had been lost to her- thrice, in fact- there was still more to be found. It was... nice, and she nodded graciously at the mention of her name, mirth dancing lightly behind her eyes. No, the Deep Roads were not exactly where she wanted to be, but surely these were the most bearable circumstances for her return.

The partygoers slowly split off into groups, but Nostariel, perpetual wallflower that she was, remained in her seat. Conveniently enough, she was nearby Aurora, with whom she had not spoken in a while. "Good evening, Aurora. It's good to see you." Those words, usually relegated to the realm of mere small talk, carried something of an extra meaning when the person you were speaking to was an apostate. I can see you, which means you're still safe. It might have seemed hypocritical of Nostariel to insist that Grace and her companions return to the Circle while never even hinting that it was the good thing for Aurora to do, but she had her reasons. Aurora possessed a certain strength of character that was absent in the others, and that was just a fact.

"What have you been up to these days?"

Aurora smiled at the question. What had she been up to? Frankly, a lot. A whole lot. Something that maybe one night wouldn't be enough to cover it. Though, she'd have to try her best to do it. Good news though, that Nostariel was in her usual place that night. As was Lucien it appeared, whom she nodded to. Surprisingly Amalia was even there. Even more surprising, Ithilian was with her. She took a seat at Nostariel's table and shrugged, wondering where to begin. "I would say the usual, but we both know that would be a lie," she said, crossing her arms, a smile on her lips. The days were trying, yes, but after every ordeal she felt as if she'd grown a little. Or perhaps that was the optimism talking. It sounded a lot better than getting nothing but a head ache out of the ordeal.

"Let's see... Noble asses, Qunari, Qunari mages, bandits, thugs, homesickness and even a pride demon. Where do you even begin?" That was without mentioning the soul searching she'd been doing recently, though that was a private matter. An ongoing private matter at that. Her head bobbed with a stifled laugh, as from her mouth it sounded like it was an exciting life. A lot more than a trader's daughter from a coastal town ever expected at anyway. Though she waved all of that away as if it was really no big deal. "Never a dull moment, it feels like. Someone somewhere always needs help, and it's never as easy as you'd expect."

"How about you? Do anything special lately?" Aurora asked, continuing the small talk.

"It seems quite the list," the Warden replied, though perhaps not with the amazement it was really due. To be fair, she hadn't exactly been resting on her laurels, either, and perhaps people like them were just meant to be doing things. Taking a draught from her tankard, Nostariel considered how best to explain it, then shrugged and gave a smile. "I had a run-in with the Qunari, too, but mostly the Tal-Vashoth. Oh, but I did meet the Arishok. A rather intimidating fellow, I must say. Other than that... greedy dwarven merchants, Templars, mages, and expeditions, mostly."

The Warden shook her head, dislodging a small braid from behind her ear. Folding it back, she offered a hypothesis. "I'm beginning to think there's much more to this place than I'd thought. I've met some... interesting people, too," she said, glancing over at Rilien and Lucien, then Ashton and Sparrow. Sophia was around somewhere, too, she was fairly sure, and she had thought Ithilian and Amalia were present, though she could not spot them now.

"Interesting is the polite word," Aurora agreed, her own glance following Nostariel's to the Tranquil and the Chevalier. A pang of remembrance struck her at the appearance of Lucien, but the feeling was caught like a piece of paper just floating away, where she then folded it and stored away to be read later. Tonight was a mood of happiness and joy, not melancholy. She wouldn't be the one to sour the mood with such doubts or thoughts. Instead of lingering on Lucien, her gaze shifted to Sparrow and the lanky man that he was with. Both of them seemed happy, joyful, crazy almost. It was infectious and made her laugh. That was better. She had also seen Ithilian and Amalia, and though she saw Amalia leave earlier, she couldn't say the same for the elf, the slippery one he was.

"I think you're right. There is something more to this place. It's... Something else. There's been a lot more... Soul searching and learning that I imagined when I got here.... When I got here, that seems so long ago now," Aurora chuckled before her eyes went alight with realization, "Oh! I'm sorry, you shouldn't have to listen to me drone on like that," she finished.

Nostariel waved a hand back and forth in front of her face, a curious little affectation that she'd picked up from a comrade, some years ago. "No need for apologies. This is a bar. When you're not drinking and making merry like a fool, you're talking about things that you probably shouldn't. It's just the atmosphere." She followed the directionality of Aurora's glance, and again when it switched. "I think some of those interesting people might be mutual acquaintances. I'd be surprised, but this is Kirkwall, city of chains. It seems fitting that we bind ourselves together, does it not?"

The Warden didn't seem saddened by this; on the contrary, she was regarding the others with a mix of gentle affection and slight wonderment. She couldn't say that she had much in common with most of them, but then, having too many things in common with herself was not something she'd wish on any of them. She'd not have picked Lucien and Rilien to know one another, but the Chevalier looked at ease, and the Tranquil seemed less... wooden than usual. Even if she hadn't already known Sparrow and Ashton were friends, she would have definitely picked that one. Their effusive demeanors and common love of fun were similar in the best of ways, and she imagined they got on like two peas in a pod, or however that colloquialism was supposed to go.




"I'm telling you Sparrow, if this expedition goes well, I'm going to be filthy rich. Like, swimming in gold rich," Ashton not-so-subtly exaggerated. He wouldn't be swimming in a bath full of gold anytime soon, but if it was successful, then he wouldn't have to worry about money for a while, at least. He tried to not think about what would happen if the venture wasn't successful. That was a lot more depressing than he could handle at the moment. He could possibly lose his shop, his home, and everything he worked for. Hell, Rilien might even find that he has another stowaway if the thing doesn't pan out. Maybe that's why he was nose deep in whatever swill the Hanged Man slung. If the fact that he was draped over Sparrow's shoulder was any indication, he already had a good start.

He had ran by Sparrow's-- Rilien's hovel earlier and collected the lass with promises of good will, cheer, mirth, and as much ale as she could hold without dying. Before he told her was the celebrations were for. He had told her that he was going on an expedition to the Deep Roads to find his fortune, and he tried to entice her to come along. A lot of words were slung, gold, adventure, fun, adventure, danger, and most importantly adventure. Ashton liked to think he was very persuasive when he needed to be... Besides, he felt like he needed to take Sparrow to the Hanged Man. There was the promise to Rilien he had to fulfill. Well, while not directly stated, it was an understanding for him. He'd watch out for Sparrow as well. For some reason, he felt like... He was partially to blame for her predictament.

Now was not the time for such dour outlooks though. It was a party! One Ashton fully intended to enjoy. There were a lot of people in the bar again, though this time there were a lot of familar faces as well. Nostariel in her corner-- he had offered her a wave and a wink upon his entrance, Rilien, who was playing his role as a bard very well, the mercenary Lucien, Sparrow's friend Amalia, and even Ithilian. He made note to stay a ways from the man at all times. It would sour the mood if he managed to get stabbed after all. Besides, as he understood, the man was tagging along on the expedition as well... So that left plenty of time for his eventual stabbing. He turned his gaze back around to the bar and finally unlatched his arm from around Sparrow's neck. He raised his tankard to her and offered a toast.

"To fun and adventure, wherever we can find it!"

Ashton couldn't have gone to a more willing participant in his endeavours. Like the flighty bird she was, clicking her metaphorical talons across the prospects of filling her pockets with coins (if her companion didn't dump her share into a massive tub to swim in), Sparrow was all but entirely apt to listen to his tantalizing pitch, nearly frothing at the mouth if it hadn't been for the goblet already occupying that area. She swilled the mucky-looking ale in her mouth, swallowed, then slapped her goblet back across the table, splattering it's contents. With a least a small portion of those savings, she'd be able to drink at more reputable locations until she gambled it all away – though, she really didn't mind going to the Hanged Man because there were less chances of bumping into wayward Templars. Her eyebrows raised ardently, as if in wait for more incentives. He'd already secured her attention, hook, line and sinker. It was amusing to play off that she wasn't actually interested, toying with the rim of her goblet before nonchalantly shrugging her shoulders, laden with Ashton's arm. Still, it was her giddiness that won her over and she seemed as excited as her friend was.

“Alright, alright. Let me get this straight.” She began softly, clicking her tongue. She moved several coins, in the effort of exhibiting each party-member, pushed beneath her fingertips, and dragged them forward. She made a tunnel with her free hand. We're all going to the Deep Roads, where there'll be nasty Darkspawn and who-knows-what-else to get filthy stinking rich. Is there a chamber of gold down there I wasn't aware of, or do we have to dig through stomachs like we're panhandling?” Sparrow mimicked holding a pan, shaking it up, then threw her hands to the sides as if gold was raining down on them. She'd certainly picked up his habit of being overly dramatic, pantomiming each ridiculous sentence as if it were happening right that instant. Did he not forget what said Darkspawn carried on them? She, too, was not of the Grey Wardens. They would have to tread carefully and avoid having the creatures blood splatter on them if they encountered them. She did not know much about them, but she did know that they were horrid things capable of overcoming the most plucky adventurers. “If you're going filthy rich, then you best remember me when I save you from getting eaten down there.”

It was strange how full the tavern seemed at that time, as if her past, present and future had all collided into one inseparable thing. She, too, had offered a much meeker greeting to Nostariel, who was sitting in her own corner – one that she'd shared on many occasions, when things like mages and politics and all of that hadn't even been touched on. She still felt a small pang of guilt for trying to supersede her intentions. Immediately following that little adventure, she'd drunk herself silly in the Hanged Man, only to be bodily assisted, nearly hauled, home by her all-knowing Tranquil-friend. She noticed Amalia and Ithilian conversing a couple tables away. Sparrow's shoulders straightened, then hunched forward. The subtle weight of gravity, of all the things she wanted to talk about, weighed her down. Her friends nonattendance in Darktown had meant the obvious. She hadn't wanted to visit, or at least, not anytime soon. Rilien, as ever, was in the background. She would always recognize his voice.

Sparrow laughed loudly, broadly, and raised her goblet alongside his own. “To following good friends into the darkness!”

Ashton banged his tankard with Sparrow's goblet and downed the liquid in one fell gulp. It was better that way, he didn't have to taste the bitter liquid snaking it's way down his gullet. He slammed the tankard on the bar and belched, followed closely by a fit of giggling. "You can panhandle through their guts, I fully intend to keep my distance. I had to leave Ferelden because of the ugly bastards," he said, the alcohol in his blood beginning to take effect. He chuckled at the thought and brought his fingers to his mouth, mocking the fangs he believed the things had. Another fit of giggling had him leaning over the bar, unable to suck the air back into his lungs. As soon as the fit passed and he brushed the tears back he nodded and continued, "Still, I fully believe that there are riches untold in those dank tunnels," he said, placing his arm around Sparrow and waved the other in front of him, trying his best to paint the picture for them.

"You know how greedy the dwarves are? They'd rather cut you than give you your winnings in a card game. Now, imagine that, but hundreds of them. Now imagine all of those dwarves-- hold your nose though, I can't imagine that many beards in one place would smell nice-- now imagine all of them in one place. Now imagine all of their riches in that place. I'd be surprise if we don't get a tub full of soveriegns each," of course, the other option would leave him broke and most likely homeless. "That being said, I fully intend to not get eaten," he added, wagging a finger in front of Sparrow's face. "It'd be hard to spend my share of the money when I'm dead after all. Besides, I don't intend to give them the chance to gnaw on my legs. Pew, pew, pew," He mimicked the action of firing off a bow. "It's you that should remember me after I save your butt," Ashton said, poking her in the collarbone.

He took another dangerously large gulp from his fresh tankard before turning around at the bar and beholding what was happening around him. Good news, Ithilian didn't seem to be around any more, so his chances of getting stabbed were drastically reduced. Rilien and his Chevalier friend seemed to be making friends of the female variety. That would have been considered strange if Ashton had the brain cells to devote to the thought. Even Nostariel seemed to have a friend with her... Another lady. He waved to the table for a second as the gears began to turn in his head. Once again, his arm found itself horse-collaring Sparrow, his other hand gripping his tankard. "Come Sparrow, there are pretty ladies that need our company," he said, dragging Sparrow to Nostariel's table.

As he passed Rilien and his friends, he whistled recognition at him and held up his tankard.

The resounding clang of their swill-filled concoctions rattled through her head like a wobbly tambourine, though she still brought the goblet to her lips, tipping her head back to guzzle whatever she had left. Anyone who knew better, and who'd been frequenting the Hanged Man for any amount of time, would know that it was best to finish your drinks quickly, rather than savour the dirty-sock, spicy-whatever they managed to squeeze in underneath the counter. She did not belch, but she knuckled her sternum, squinting her eyes as if that particular gulp had pained her, then laughed. His laughter was contagious. She'd always been a heavy drinker, knocking back whatever-she-could-get-her-hands on with anyone willing to suffer her company, if only for a few hours before her companions were very much inebriated and desperately trying to claw themselves from under the stools. The only one who didn't seem to be entirely affected was Rilien. She does not drink for absolution, for the hopeless effort of forgetting all she's done or all that's happened to her, like Nostariel, but she still understands the enigmatic pull of momentary drawing a blank. She didn't drink like that, at least, anymore.

She knuckled her eye-socket, then threw them out wide, hooking her arms behind her chair. “Then you've already seen the blighters. I've no wish to dance with them. No thanks, no thanks. I'll be keeping my hands safely on my lady at all times.” Sparrow waggled her fingertips upwards, as if she were plucking them from a Darkspawn's stomach, then she settled them gingerly across her maces length, secured at her waistline. She, too, would be staying far away from those disgusting wretches, all pointy needle-teeth and flaps composed of boils. Unlike Ashton, or their pretty little Grey Warden, she'd never really seen any of them up close and personal and she did not wish to – they were frightening enough in stories, even the monochrome, colourless tales the Qunari had told her as a fledgeling: of what they were capable of doing. Her chuckles sifted into hardly-contained chortles, eyebrows arched incredulously at her companions efforts to try and describe how, exactly, the Darkspawn looked. Now, whenever she'd imagine those wretches, she'd think of several Ashton's running about, fingers wriggling from his mouth, hissing. “Y'know, the smell alone is going to be worse than that little cave we took a stroll through. But, if you say so—”

Sparrow's head lilted to the side, as if she were actually analyzing the pretty picture her archer-friend was describing. Her free hand opened and closed across the counter like a reaching child until the barkeeper smiled, shaking his head, and refilled her empty goblet. Dwarves were pretty damn greedy. If any large assemblage of those stubby, bearded-folk were headed down into the Deep Roads, then there was most assuredly something to be found down there – even if they so chose not to share any information until they were good and already down there. It was a tantalizing prospect. Her mouth pursed, then broke into a wide, charmed grin. “A tub full of sovereigns.” Each syllable was tested on her tongue, stretched out into one sensual sentence. How could she turn this down, anyway? It didn't occur to her what would happen if they found nothing or if they somehow got trapped in some small pocket of the Deep Roads never to return again becausethere was a small, or grandiose chance, that they'd all walk out of there chirping a happy song with their pockets overflowing with gold bits and pieces.

“Ashton Rivera – mighty and powerful God-archer, stopping one cavalry charge at a time.”
She bustled loudly, announcing it to the rest of the nonplussed customers and trying her very best to imitate knocking a clumsy arrow with Ashton's arm wrestling around her neck. She felt a finger prod her collarbone, laughed again. In more ways than one, with he and Rilien both sharing her company, they'd already saved her countless times. Not that she'd ever say so.

She, too, gulped briskly from her goblet, leaning backwards so that Ashton didn't unintentionally drag her from her chair while gawking around the establishment. Sparrow seemed interested in what was happening a few tables over, occupied by Rilien and the familiar-looking knight she'd talked to for at least a few moments. What had been his name again? Er, Lucien. That was it. He'd been mighty proper. For some reason, it wasn't difficult to see how they knew each other, and how at ease they both seemed in each other's company. A small smile, conspiratorially tugged at her lips. She would need to ask Rilien about that someday, if he so chose to share any of his stories involving that particular gentleman. Then, Sparrow was nearly bodily drug away from her stool, though she had enough sense to grip her goblet all the tighter, allowing her legs to work underneath her. Pretty ladies – was certainly enough to coerce her cooperation. She, too, dipped her head at Rilien, offering no such whistling-greeting. She still mock-shivered beside Ashton, attempting to stifle a snorting-giggle at her Tranquil-friends refusal to respond to such a tittering reception. “Brrr, that was cold.”

Then, they were suddenly in front of Nostariel's table and the tickling warmth of alcohol had lent her enough strength to place her goblet on the table, with her hands immediately pressed against the wooden-knots winding across the surface. Her chest puffed inwards, then she leaned forward, far enough in order to not be too intrusive, but close enough so that she wasn't screeching her entire conversation across the Hanged Man. Bella-luna. I never got the chance to apologize for stepping on your toes the last we were together and I thought I should, but I couldn't seem to find any time that wasn't just... out of place, and I—” The onrush of words, however breathy, slowed down when she noticed Aurora to the Grey Warden's right. Anyone with any sense would have known that the Hanged Man certainly was out of place for such a peculiar apology, “Think we should just start over.” This was, as always, accompanied by a sterling smile, and an animated movement that drug both she, and Ashton, into adjacent seats.

She tipped her head, then grinned. “It's mighty nice to see both of you.”

Apologies were always done best when they were accompanied by even more ale.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose

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Nostariel was only too happy to wave off Sparrow's apology and turn the conversation to happier things. Frankly, thinking about it right now was likely to give her a headache, and while unburdening herself on Ashton had doubtless helped, she still wasn't too comfortable lingering there. "Then start over we shall. Please, take a seat, both of you." From Sparrow's words, the Warden took it that he and Aurora were acquainted, but she wasn't sure if the same was true of the other two. So, feeling for once like a proper host or at least a proper friend, she made the introductions.

"Aurora, this is Messere Ashton Riviera, hunter and expedition investor." She'd intentionally paused just minutely between the man's first and family names, as if to tease him with the possibility of sliding Cuthbert in there somewhere. Still, private joke or not, she was as good as her word, and kept mum on the subject. "Ashton, this is Miss Aurora Rose, a friend of mine, if that's not too forward to say." Nostariel thought it was a bit appropriate, but then it'd been a while since she really had friends, so in a way, she wondered if it was maybe too much to hope for, that these people were her friends. "I see you managed to get your half a circus after all, Ashton." She hadn't been sure what he'd meant by that at the time, but now she could guess, and it didn't seem a bad choice to have made. Sparrow was boisterous and opinionated and a little bit lacking on social grace, but then, who among them wasn't at least a little like that? His mace was keen and his magic powerful, and she knew Varric certainly wouldn't care that he was an apostate. Not in the slightest.

"Messere Lord Ashton Riviera," he corrected, tongue firmly in cheek. His eyes went big at the pause between first and surname, as Cuthbert wasn't the most dashing of names. For it to be dropped in the midst of a lovely lady (and Sparrow), Ashton just didn't think his frail ol' heart could take it. Though the incident passed without calamity and he quickly regain his cheer, sliding a chair out and plopping himself in it. Harkening back to when he first met Nostariel, he took the redheaded girl's hand in his own, bowed slightly (as much as sitting in a chair would allow at any rate) and offered, "At your service Milady."

Aurora found this man to be... Rather forward. She twitched when he took her hand, though she was not so rude as to jerk it away. "Er... Right," she said, clearly suspect of the man. Surely the tankard in his hand had something to do with his brazen display. Though, if he was a friend of Nostariel's, then he couldn't be all bad, right? He finally allowed her hand to go and leaned back in his seat, allowing Aurora the chance to reply to Nostariel. "Not forward at all," she shook her head. They were friends after all, fighting through the underbelly of Dark Town looking for a wayward elf tends to do that to people... Though she couldn't say that she was really friends with Ithilian... Acquantiances, more like.

Still, she considered Sparrow a friend as well. Pride demons have the same aforementioned effect as well, as it turned out. "I take it that you know Nostariel as well," she said, the edge of her lips curling up. City of Chains indeed. "How has life been treating you, Sparrow?" she offered, much to the chuckling of the man beside him. Apparently, he was in on a joke that she was not, and caused her eyebrow to raise, though she did not venture to inquire what the punchline was.

The little blighter had already obliged Nostariel's invitation to seat herself. Even if she'd wanted her to mosey-on out the door, and away from her, it wasn't likely that she was willing to accept that suggestion. Sparrow, quite pleased that the conversation had taken a better turn, hooked her arms behind her chair, leaning backwards, as if she were some sort of lounging animal, of the feline variety. Her apology had been successful. She wouldn't have known what to do if Nostariel had openly rejected it – but, it might've involved heavy amounts of liquor and sulking until she finally crawled out of the Hanged Man. Her smile seemed shades brighter, though she'd been having a good time prior to wandering over. A slight burden, however light, had been lifted from her shoulders. Companions, it seemed, meant a lot more to her than they ever did – she wanted to keep them as her own, shelter them under her arms. She did not want to lose any of them.

Sparrow couldn't help but bark out a laugh, quickly burying it into the heel of her palm. “Serrah, Lord Ashton. Mighty, powerful God of arrows, wooing women all over the glade.” Then, she grinned. She was always teasing him, elbowing his ribs as if he were some sort of awkward-brother. His ability to brush things off his shoulders was uncanny, as if it were actually made out of rock armor, without any chinks or weaknesses. Sparrow was sure he'd seen his share of things, and the fact that he was still fighting and doing business in Kirkwall meant that he wasn't willing to settle down as Lord and live a comfy, pompous life. It was humble. Would she have done the same in his position? She wasn't so sure. Already giddy with optimism, and a little more ale than she should've drank, Sparrow slumped forward and listed on her elbows, hands cupping her chin. “Yes, yes. I had to introduce myself when I first spotted her.” Another smile, carelessly tipping up. Ashton's chuckling moved her to jostle him with her shoulder, then sidle backwards, hands intertwined behind her head.

“It's been fine—quiet, but fine.” Her response was purposefully nonchalant, indicating nothing of her internal struggles, or all of that Templar-business. “And how have you been? Keeping out of trouble?”

Rilien, for reasons unknown perhaps except to himself, chose this moment to shift his playing, taking up a tune with a rather merry cadence, all things considered, one that the bar patrons would be surprised to find could equally-well be waltzed to or utilized for less-formal purposes, including but not limited to jigging, cavorting, and generally being ridiculous.

Aurora chuckled at the man's question, just in time to punctuate the merry shift of the tune. "If I said yes, I'd be lying," she said, before adding, "Nothing huge though, I don't expect the Temp--" She caught herself, quickly throwing her gaze at Ashton. This man didn't know she was a mage. Sparrow and Nostariel did, but not this man. She didn't know how he would react, she was too comfortable with these friends (and fellow mages) to even think about it. She hesitated for a moment, her mouth hanging agape, wanting to spill the last syllable, though common sense fought her the entire way. She had thought she had learned to be careful about her powers. It didn't occur to her that maybe the man wouldn't care, considering the friends he kept.

Ashton merely smiled and took a drink from his tankard, and then finished the word for her, " --plars? Don't worry sweetheart, your secret's safe with me," he said winking. He then threw his arm over shoulder and hinted, "I'm good at these kind of secrets after all," He laughed then retracted his arm. "Also, she's lying. Things have not been quiet for us. Though things are never really quiet with that one around," he said, smiling to himself. Ashton too noticed the tune, and had began to tap his foot along with the melody. He looked over in time to see the Chevelier sweep a young woman off of her feet. Always the jovial type, Ashton gifted Lucien with a muted applause before tuning back to his own table, but the seed was sown.

The tempo in his foot never stopped and before he knew it he had a hand extended to Nostariel. "Looks like fun, doesn't it? Come on, join me?" He said, with his ever-present half-joking serious smile.

Nostariel hesitated for a second, unsure that she should really be dancing. She'd never learned how, though one glance at the floor was enough to convince her that most of its occupants hadn't either. With a small sigh, she shrugged, smiling up at her friend. "I hope you're wearing metal shoes," she joked, standing with him and allowing herself to be led into a more-or-less empty spot. "Seriously. I have no idea what I'm doing." She wasn't even sure what to do now that she was standing there. She'd seen people do this before, but whether they'd been doing it properly was a much more contentious question.

"Umm... I don't suppose nobles just inherently know this sort of thing, do they?" The look she gave him was nonplussed, but morphed swiftly into a full-on smile as she processed the absurdity of the situation. Here she was, Grey Warden Captain, healer, mage, erstwhile adventurer, and now expedition guide, and yet so utterly perplexed by something that should have been so simple.

The half-breed's hooded eyes found themselves flitting across the way, noting the shift in Rilien's song and how his fingers expertly plucked away at his instrument. It solicited a small smile on her lips, drumming her fingers along with the beat, tapping away against the wooden knots spiralling across the table. How many times had she badgered him to play her cheerful songs in their hovel? Too many to count, honestly. She wondered if anyone had approached him, wondering whether or not they could have a jollier tune, or if he'd chosen it on his known. Even if he was Tranquil, she had to admit that her companion had a better sense for puzzling out situations, and adapting to them, then anyone else she was acquainted to. Aurora's momentary fumble, and Ashton's easy recovery, brought another soft chuckle sifting through her lips – if it hadn't been for his personality, or his acceptance of others, then they might've never been able to get along. If she were to say that she was secretly some sort of spawn from the deepest, darkest recesses of the Deep Roads, she was sure that Ashton would've taken it in stride, regaling her with tales twice as bewildering.

She snorted, eyeing Ashton balefully. Had she been missing an arm, or soulless, then she would have announced, quite loudly, that things hadn't been quiet. Her life, it seemed, was teeming with horrible missions, and prospects of money, at the expense of her working alongside Templars, fluctuating from condemning mages, to trying to help them in incomprehensible ways. How could she explain that, anyway? Instead, Sparrow was far more content bobbing her head like the flighty little bird she was, indicating that her life had been rather uneventful save for the occasional trip to the Hanged Man. She laughed again when Ashton offered Nostariel his hand, obviously taken with Lucien's graceful dancing – and she, too, accepted his casual suggestion before moving off to dance beside them. Her steps, however clumsy, were charming. “Good company often accepts even the darkest secrets. It's hard to come by.” Such a small musing seemed innocent enough, spoken over top of her goblet – it was the truth of it, for if Ashton, or Rilien, had been anyone different, Sparrow would have been dead long ago or forcibly brought to the Circle. Her wings would not be clipped for anyone.

"I'll let you on to a bit of a secret... Nope. I have no idea what I'm doing," he said. He looked nonplussed about it, though really, who was going to disapprove? Sparrow? Aurora? Rilien? Even if they did judge, Ashton was never the one to care about what others thought. If he did, the he certainly wouldn't act the way he did. Either way, the whole dancing bit wasn't too hard, was it? Just step back and forth while slowly going in a circle, right? He wasn't aiming to dance in an Orlesian ball like the Chevalier after all. He had good enough control over his feet, so he wasn't worried.

"Right. One hand here, the other here..." He said, adjusting his grip on her hand. He then took her other hand an placed it on his shoulder, while his own went to her hip. "Now... Dance." he said with a coy grin. He began to step to the side, followed by a step back, and then a step to the other side all the while slowly turning in a circle. He took... Some ideas from Lucien, but a knight he was not, and form was not the idea. His grip was soft, almost as if the callouses on his hands weren't even there. His own feet were light, airy, as they danced. Once again, the technique of the hunter found itself bleeding into everyday life. He found himself enjoying the moment, like there were no one else but them. It was... Nice. The Tranquil's song, the mages at the table, the pair dancing beside them, they all melted away. If he died right then, he felt like it would have been okay. Everything would be alright. He found himself laughing at the thought.

"Erm... okay..." Nostariel wasn't really sure how dance explained anything, and for the first few steps, she tripped more than anything. Eventually, she thought she was getting the hang of it a little bit, but maybe that was just because she'd given up on trying to decide what direction she should go in and fell into his pattern as well as she could. Lightfooted or not, she did manage to step on his toes once or twice, and winced each time, offering hasty apologies. With a little time, she actually started listening to what was playing, and then maybe things made a little more sense. Still, it was a little unnerving. She hadn't been this cose to another person since... well, honestly probably never. Dancing wasn't exactly something that happened in the Circle, at least not with the person she would have wanted to dance with...

Frowning, she shoved the wayward thought away. That was years ago. This was today, and she should be happy about it. Then he started laughing, and for a second, she thought to be offended, only she realized it wasn't directed at her. How she knew that, she couldn't say, but she did. "What's so funny?" she asked, genuinely curious. Her brows gathered together on her forehead, and she looked at him skeptically. "Or is the ale just catching up with you?"

"Maybe that's it," Ashton said, stringing her along. Moments passed without him answering the question truthfully and when he felt like he'd kept his mouth shut for long enough, he clarified. "It's just funny is all. When I woke up this morning, I didn't expect that I'd end up here-- well, not here. Of course I knew I was gonna end up at the Hanged Man, but... Here... And the twirl... he offered unhelpfully as he lifted her hand and spun her around. Another laugh and he attempted to clear it up, his smile never leaving his face. "Life is funny like that, it's always an adventure, and you never know where it'll lead you. I just enjoy these small things," he said. "Or the likeliest answer is the ale is making it much more funny than it is. At least it hadn't taken my ability to dance yet, right?" He half expected fate to kick in right there and throw him to the floor.

Perhaps, it might've been while watching Ashton and Nostariel spin around, venturing to find their own beat, that Sparrow began to feel strange... Sparrow blamed her ale, mutely accessing whether or not they'd made her a bad batch. The world felt as if it were spinning, painted in a patina of confusion. From how hard she's clenching her jaw, settling the goblet down as if it were actually poison, she certainly felt like her her teeth were crackling against one another. Inwardly, it felt as if someone was letting out a puff of air that would have sounded embarrassed coming from anyone else – to her, it felt like impatience. Like someone had finally riddled their fingers across her squirming spine, shlepping off an uncomfortable coat to step into another. It was every kind of wrong. And then, stranger yet, Sparrow felt separated from herself, like someone had reached into her chest, taken her out and placed her into a metal cage, ruefully patting her head like a hound who'd destroyed the furniture. Rapture brought her own hand across her forehead, knuckling her eyes, and set her sights across the other magelet.

Ah, the music. Her ears were all her own, now. Her eyes nearly closed, lidded in appeased content – very cat-like, very unusual. It had been a long time since she'd felt at home, canoodling amidst living-breathing sacks. She missed the food, she missed the feeling of her fingertips, she missed feeling her own movements. Her eyes swept open once again. She, too, had risen to her feet, offering her hand to the little magelet. “Why aren't we dancing?” It was an offer, a soft suggestion to enjoy themselves. She was already feeding off her own ecstasy, entirely tickled pink with how she'd bullied Sparrow out of her mindscape, commandeering her nervous system. This coat was much more comfortable. The mischievous grin splitting across her face masked any ill-intentions hidden in her hollow chest – and Sparrow watched in horror, throwing herself against those bars and calling after them. The Fade around her was subdued, easily mistaken for her natural abilities as a runaway apostate.

Unnoticed to anyone who wasn't paying very close attention to the music, Rilien's fingers faltered, playing too hastily over the strings of his lute as something in the air spiked. In a way, this facet of his imperfection was the one that intrigued him the most: that sense he'd gained, vague but never wrong, exactly, for rippling disturbances in the Fade. It was how he knew a mage when he encountered one, but it was also how he knew when that thing was troubling Sparrow overmuch. This, though... he'd never felt this. It was as though his companion had receded, somehow, leaving the tang of the thing's presence nearly palpable, like something on his tongue or in his ear. His hesitation did not last long, however, and he resumed right on playing, though it would not be inaccurate to say he watched her motions like a cat watching a mouse. If things went wrong, he would be there in a mere second, ready to pin down the demon and drag her bodily from the crowd, and let people think what they may. It was all he could do for her-- ensure that her choice did not inadvertantly, unwillingly lead her to hurt somebody else.

Nostariel? Dancing? Aurora might not have known the Warden as much as she would like, but dancing seemed like a stretch for her. She could understand Lucien and Sophia, it seemed like something a Chevalier and a Noble would learn in their life. But a Warden mage and a goofy hunter? That was a different story. Aurora watching them for a moment in silence, noting the difference between their styles. She laughed softly to herself. She never imagined the Hanged Man becoming an impromptu ballroom in any stretch of the imagination. Her attentions were brought back around at the man across from her and his outstretched hand. Aurora had never been meek but at the offer she couldn't help but to blush wildly and retreat into her shoulders.

Still, there was no way she would decline and be one of the only ones to sit out. She took his hand and allowed Sparrow to lead her to the dance floor. She had no idea what was going through his head, though that didn't stop her from trying... "You lead?" Aurora asked.

Sparrow's offer was unwavering, entirely assured in the way her proffered fingers curled – as if, in the instance that Aurora refused to dance with her, it wouldn't have bothered her in the slightest. Her voice had an unintended lilt that might've brushed off from her better parts. She moved without her unusually clumsy gait, all full of clomping bluster and cheeky elbows. One might wonder whether or not she'd been drinking at all. She dipped low, arching an eyebrow as Aurora's shoulders raised, clearly surprised by her unexpected offer. Why would they not dance, indeed? Her dance was one of trickery, of lies, of deceit, of promises and of an expected paradise, twinkling in her eyes. This might've not been her body, yet, but that certainly didn't mean she couldn't have her fun. She wasn't necessarily ruthless, just unbridled and relentless in her pursuits.

She would cut them twice, and kiss them once. She would show them how it was done. The lights were low and matched her mood, soft and heady with the steady, rhythmic strumming belonging solely to the bard's merry twill’s. As soon as Aurora's fingers settled into her palm, she lead them both to the dance floor, smiling wryly. As pleased as a kitten with it's paws dipped in milk. “Of course, unless you'd prefer to lead.” Her response was intoned low, scaled sultry. Her hand came up to grasp her own, boldly raising it to shoulder level as she spread her fingers and entwined them into hers. She moved her other hand automatically, extending her arm to encircle her back. Sparrow's inner protests seemed a distant thing now; merely an annoying buzz against a brazen barrier that could not be broken with her weak complaints. Her movements, now, were imploringly gentle but insistent, as if she knew where they ought to be next. Her hands, however calloused, seemed minutely more feminine, and aware of where they were being placed.

On occasion, Sparrow – Rapture looked over Aurora's shoulder, observing their bard-companion. The one who'd so rudely turned down her offer. The Tranquil-man. Hardly a man, after all. She was aware that he was staring at her, and most assuredly conscious of how he probably knew whom, exactly, was in charge for the time being. His ability to taste the Fade had proven uncanny. Even so, her look was one of satisfaction. Tonight, she had won. Her hand dropped from Aurora's fingers, slipping to her waist, while the other guided her into a twirl – and even if she'd stumbled, her hand had already snapped up to capture her hand back in hers.

Aurora was taken by surprise. She had no idea that Sparrow was this good of a dancer. She had never danced before in her life-- except for childish things when she was a girl. Flowing dresses, flower wreaths, spinning in a circle with her brothers and sisters. The dance brought those memories back, from back before the circle. She remembered dancing with her brothers, her sisters watching and clapping along. It was a silly thing, memories of a young girl, but it was nice to relive them, even for just a second. She found herself guided by Sparrow's soft, but sure hands. Then she was spun, and though she felt as if she was falling, Sparrow caught her again. "You're pretty good at this," Aurora said.

Ashton quickly became aware of how full the so-called "Dance floor" was becoming, and though he wasn't surprised that Sparrow had managed to snatch up the other mage, he was surprised that at the skill with which Sparrow dance. He never knew she danced so well. Then again, whenever they danced, they both were drunk and it couldn't even be called dancing at that point... Flopping about more like. He'd have to remember to ask Sparrow where she learned to dance like that. But that was for later, what mattered was his own dance. His own feet (even if Nostariel had managed to step on them a couple of times) had found their way to Lucien and his partner. He tried to catch the Cheveliar's eye and nodded acknowledgement, though another idea quickly popped into his head.

He leaned down into Nostariel's ear and said, "How would you like to dance with a real knight?" loud enough for both her and Lucien to hear. Before he could explain what he meant looked up to Lucien and smiled a cockeyed smile. He gently spun Nostariel towards the Cheveliar and cried, "Switch," as he awaited for his new partner.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose

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Lucien was quite conscious of the other parties on the floor, as several of them were to some degree inebriated, and as a result, he and his friend found themselves forced to navigate around them, but that was not to say he was at all suspecting what Ashton suggested. Well, suggested was perhaps a kind word for it, as the Chevalier scarcely had time to think before Nostariel was more-or-less tossed in his direction, and he wasn't sure she could be relied upon to catch herself. Trepidation and wryness fought a battle for dominant facial expression, but in the spirit of the evening, the latter won by a fair margin, and he shook his head minutely. From where it was lightly resting at Sophia's back, he brought his hand to circle around Nostariel's upper arm, so as to support her if she did in fact stumble.

"My apologies," he told the young noble, rolling his visible eye, "but it seems my friend over there would very much like to dance with you. I hope you don't mind? He's largely harmless, though... well, I won't spoil the surprise." The slight twitch to his mouth sealed the tone as 'dryly amused' rather than simply resigned, as it might otherwise have seemed. Though the gesture was a smidge awkward, he still managed to pull off a rather decent bow, as was custom at the conclusion of such things.

Sophia wore a wry smile as well, taking a look at the pair of dancers that had approached them. She had of course met Nostariel before, but upon their first meeting, she'd hadn't guessed the Warden to be the dancing type. It wouldn't have been the first time her initial impressions had mistaken her, but still, Sophia hadn't thought Nostariel would dance. It was nice to see that she was wrong. The man she dance with Sophia did not know, but apparently Lucien and he were acquainted to some extent. He was not so tall as Lucien, but still a good half foot taller than Nostariel, probably more. Lucien's bow was returned with a brief curtsy. "I'm sure he's nothing I can't handle." She was getting pretty experienced with Lowtown folk, after all.

She flashed a warm smile to Nostariel as they passed on her way to her new partner, taking his hand and resuming the dance. "Might I know your name, serah? I don't believe we've met," she asked with a raised eyebrow. She could only assume he knew who she was, given his initiative in the little partner switch that just occurred.

Ashton chortled deep down in his throat at being called "Serah." That was a new one. Still, he took the new lady's hand as he had done before when introducing himself, cocked a bow and spoke, his words very neatly hiding the slur that waited beneath the surface. Or so her thought. It was hard to tell through the buzz he had going on after all. "Serah? No serahs here milady, only Ashton. Ashton Riviera, at your service," he said, taking a sweeping bow and then engaging in the dance. His mind wandered off for a second as he wondered how his own rudimentry skills stacked up with a full-fledged Chevelier. Oh well, he was about to find out.

"So my lovely lady, what is your name," he asked in almost a purr. The idea that this woman would somebody of import was ridiculous. What self-respecting noble would found themselves in the Hanged Man? Discarded nobles (like himself) aside, of course.

Sophia found herself smiling in a lightly amused manner. It could have been attributed to three things, the first being the man's flattery, which was having a little more effect on her than it would have had she not been slightly intoxicated. The second possible cause was that this Ashton Riviera did not in fact know who she was, or at least claimed not to. It was utterly refreshing to not be recognized, especially so when one was not looking to be the center of attention for a night. It could have also just been the wine, the warm feeling that was most certainly not the heat of the packed tavern.

"I'm Sophia," she said, quite deliberately leaving out the family name. If he wasn't too far gone he would have a chance of figuring the rest out, assuming he opened his ears to local gossip at all. Her dress was no glittering Orlesian creation, but it was slightly too fine to be of Lowtown, and she looked a little too clean, her hair a little too well done. No, she still very much had the Hightown look about her. It wasn't something that could simply be taken off in a day. Not to mention that she seemed able to dance without so much as thinking about it, even while speaking to him and having been drinking. Beyond that, her name had been on more than a few lips lately. "So, Ashton, what is it you do? Besides flattering and dancing with women in taverns, that is."

"Ah, but milady, if I told you that, then that would kill any mystery I may possessed," Ashton teased. If he seemed to recollect Sophia's title based on a first name basis, he certainly didn't show it. Her names might have been on the tongues of common rabble, but then again Ashton wasn't quite the normal rabble. He never did have an ear for loose-lipped gossip. Not to say he didn't sling his share of mouth nonsense, but it was more of nonsense nothings. Anything of substance would roll down his shoulder. He did have his ear to the ground. The hunter never really got out much. He smiled though and looked down at the woman, dipping her.

"I'll tell you for a smile," he said, the phrase returning to glory. Smile or not, he continued and explained what exactly he did. "Oh, well, you know. I'm a hunter. I hunt. I sell the meat and skins that I don't use. It's not this fine," He said picking at a bit of fabric at her shoulder, "But I digress. If I say so myself, I'm still a damn fine tailor. Or something. How about you milady? What do you do in life-- aside from entertaining dashing rogues like myself?" Ashton said. He'd made the realization that she was of obvious higher class.

“Of late, I’ve been battling brigands, bandits, and dragons beyond the walls of the city,” Sophia said rather honestly, since it was entirely true, regardless of how unlikely it may have currently looked. “A woman can wield a blade as well as any man if she puts her mind to it. Better, even. Many men lack a certain… finesse.” Ashton didn’t, she could see. He was not so elegant a dancer as Lucien, but he was clearly not clumsy, though she had no knowledge of whether or not he could handle a blade. He was obviously no brute, something that could not be said for many in the tavern at the moment, and perhaps she would even consider his use of the word dashing as accurate.

“But really, most of what I do on a day to day basis is trying to keep my younger brother out of trouble and my father out of the stress his work puts on him.” She gave him the smile he was looking for on the other side of a twirl, golden locks whipping about momentarily. “Truth be told, I think I don’t get nearly enough opportunities to just enjoy a night among good company. But… we do the best we can with what we’re given, right?”

"Dragons? Sounds like an adventure. Hate I missed that," Ashton said, tone ambigious to whether it was a tease or geniune belief. Still, there had been weird going-ons recently, and he wouldn't put the idea down. Though, they were talking about work while dancing, and Ashton found it incredibly dull-- even if dragons were mentioned. Had the story included griffins, she'd have his rapt attention. "Ah, keeping your family out of trouble. So you're a family lass. That's good. Family's always good," he rattled off, though family wasn't terribly interesting either. It might have been if he had actually known who the girl's family was. Or maybe he did and just really didn't have an opinion either way. Ashton liked to think of himself as a mystery. Ladies loved mysterious men.

To her last statement, Ashton shrugged and responded plainly, "Nope." Now he was just being oblique. He gave her a dashing smile and put kept his lips sealed for a time, leaving her in suspense about his meaning. Ladies loved suspense too. Feeling that he had let her stew enough, he answered, chuckling. His answer was as nonsensical as usual. "Never settle only for best, take everything you are given, and then some and then stake your claim. Only settle for perfect, and never stop working to that end," he said, mischief and something else glinting in his eye. The something else, of course, was the alcohol. It had a delay effect apparently.

"Sounds like you need to make a little bit more you time sweetheart. Make every night you own one you can enjoy."

Sophia had known that Ashton wasn't presenting her with enough for her to get a good sense of him, but she still hadn't expected that. Maybe he was speaking more freely because he didn't know who she was? Or maybe he did know who he was, and simply didn't care all that much. To be honest, that would have been a refreshing change of pace. Alas, it seemed neither of them were willing to really speak to each other, which was not a surprise considering that this was their first meeting. "Perhaps if I can find a way to add more hours into the day I will find more time for myself, but that doesn't look like it will happen any time soon."

Seeing that the dancing was starting to slow in terms of numbers, Sophia gracefully came around to a stop without forcing it. "What I do think I need, however, is just a little more wine."

"Who doesn't?"




Nostariel was spun away from Ashton, probably only prevented from falling by Lucien's foresight and steadying hand. Coming to a rather more abrupt stop than she'd planned, her hair stung her cheek slightly as it was whipped over her shoulder. Shaking it back, she returned Sophia's smile and then turned her own up at Lucien. "Well, fancy that. I have been rescued by a knight after all," she deadpanned, just barely drunk enough that looking someone so good in the face wasn't going to cause her physical anxiety or pain. It was a nice face, as faces went, she decided, though she wondered how he'd damaged the eye. Still, it was awfully high up. "Have you always been this tall?" she asked blithely, blinking up at him. She was quite certain that the majority of people would suffer neck cramps if they had to make eye contact with him for too long.

Lucien, she knew, was a safe sort of person to be around. Docile as a lamb, really, and just as gentle in the handling of delicate things-- people, situations, objects. So, reserved as she was, she trusted him, and that was rather saying something. That thought firmly at the forefront of her mind, she decided she might just go ahead and keep dancing, though had it been nearly anyone else she'd been passed to, she might have pleaded fatigue. You get the same warning I gave him," she said, gesturing vaguely in Ashton's direction, "I'm really no good at this at all. You seem to be wearing the right shoes for that, though." Was the man ever not wearing armor? She hadn't ever observed him without it. Always wears armor, but never carries a sword-- there had to be something in that. Or maybe she was just used to looking for things like that, and was stating to see meaning where there was none.

"Assuredly not," Lucien replied. "Actually, until I was around sixteen or so, I was only slightly taller than yourself, and probably just as slender," he admitted wryly. The first few months at the Academie had been absolute hell, needless to say. Readjusting their positions so that one of his hands clasped hers and the other splayed without hint of impropriety at the middle of her back, he offered a reassuring smile. It was not as though he expected all of his acquaintances to be well-versed in the waltz. That was simply an idiosyncracy of his upbringing, and this was for fun, not formality.

"You needn't worry," he pointed out mildly. "I have danced with far clumsier people, and my feet are still very much functional. Just listen to Rilien; he has everything you need to know at the tips of his fingers, as a good musician should. If you're still unsure, you need only follow me. And do try to enjoy it, my friend; 'tis not a subtle form of torture." He paused thoughtfully, though their motion did not cease. "Well, at least not most of the time." It was true that she was considerably smaller than he, but then, so were most people, particularly most women, and compensating for the difference in height was a learned skill like everything else.

Cocking his head to one side, Lucien looked down at the Grey Warden, and noted that, for once, she was actually speaking to him, rather than to the air in his general proximity. He'd not known her to maintain eye contact before, and indeed, he'd not even been certain of the color of hers, so rare was it for her to lift them from the ground. "You seem to be in rather good spirits, Nostariel. May I inquire as to the circumstances?"

Nostariel had to admit, that was a little hard to believe. She had difficulty imagining Lucien as anything but the towering presence he was now, for all he seemed to try and tone it down with unassuming mannerisms. There were just some things you couldn't hide, and a height like that was one of them. Of course, it only made sense that he had to have been short at some point; he had been a child, after all, though honestly, that was even more difficult to envision. He was one of those people that just seemed timeless, like he'd always been as he was and always would be. One of her teachers had been like that, too, and she supposed the thought was as silly now as it had been then. Still, the motions he shifted them into were complex enough that she couldn't really muster the concentration necessary for a response, putting most of her focus on their collective feet and trying very hard not to trip. He obviously wouldn't let her fall, but that didn't mean she wanted to endure the abject humiliation of needing to be saved from her own clumsiness.

His words were encouraging, though, and she realized she hadn't really been listening to the music at all. Which was a shame, because she remembered now that she'd heard the Tranquil play before and had always liked it. So she cocked an ear to the delicate strains of sound and gave up trying to calculate precisely what she was doing, and everything was suddenly considerably easier. Not exactly elegant, perhaps, but passable, she thought. She had no doubt he was making it look effortless on both their parts, and the realization brought a small smile to her face, which for some reason only grew wider at his question.

"You know, I guess I just figured out for myself that you've been right all along. Sharing my burdens-- even just telling them to someone-- makes them easier to bear." She shot a look at Ashton, just passing with Sophia on their left, and shook her head minutely as a few snippets of conversation reached her over the din. "And knowing people, being friends with them again... it's nice. It hasn't fixed everything, of course, but..." she trailed off, not entirely sure how to finish the sentence. She settled on a shrug, figuring it expressed the point well enough. Truth be told, she owed the Chevalier a lot. Had it not been for his patient ear and gentle questions over the months she'd known him, his unobtrusive insistence in keeping her company, she might not have been able to open up to anyone at all--- not to Ashton, or Aurora, or him. In the three of them, she'd found friends she'd never expected, and though the realization had caught her off-guard, it was unmistakably warming. Though the hunter kept her most miserable secret, the Chevalier knew her darkest, and her fellow mage shared in a pain of placelessness that the others could never quite understand.

It was... at once unfortunate and a blessing, perhaps, that people could share these things with her. She'd wish none of it upon any of them, but at least they had each other. She understood, now, that this counted for something. And came to a sudden realization. "You seem to know much about overcoming suffering, Lucien..." the implication was obvious. For all his encouragement of the people around him, she hadn't known him to ever really share his own sorrow, and it was suddenly embarrassingly obvious that he had to have some. Whether he shared with her or not was his business, but it seemed imporant that she make the offer, just in case.

Ah, so it had been as he'd hoped then. It was an imperceptible hint of relief that slackened the last vestige of unneeded tension in the line of Lucien's shoulders, and his smile, unobtrusive as it was, could only be genuine. He might have had his guess as to how she'd come to such a realization, but it wasn't really his business, important as it might be, and so he didn't entertain the idle speculation without need. He did, however, make a mental note to buy Ashton a drink at some point in the future, preferably for what seemed like no reason at all.

Fairly enough, the topic of conversation circled back to him, and he considered the implicated question for a moment in silence, suddenly entranced with the flickering shadows of the dancers on the walls. Their movements were more erratic than their flesh-made counterparts, disturbed by the unsteadiness of fire-light, or by another passing in front of their source to make his or her way to the bar proper. His entire life had been staring at shadows, once-- he'd known the general shape of the world outside his experience, but not its colors, or it's flavors, nor even the myriad ways it smelled. The realization that not everything was the way he'd envisioned was a bitter one, but it was not he that suffered for it, really, or at least not he in greatest measure.

"More than some," he admitted, returning his focus to his friend. "Less than most, I expect. My trials have a nasty habit of ending up public knowledge, but I can hardly complain, I think." He injected a little light humor into his tone, and truly, even that was honest. Though he was, like everyone, not done growing and changing, he generally tended to think the worst of that was behind him, and likely, it was only that that gave him whatever small amount of wisdom he could claim. The music slowed to a halt, fading away on a few echoing chords, and he carefully escorted his friend back to her seat, surprised to find that so many candlemarks had disappeared since Varric's speech at the advent of the evening's festivities.

"Pleasure as always, Nostariel."




Sparrow, in turn, seemed to transform Rilien's merry jig into something else entirely. Metered, planned, controlled, but with wild tendencies in the way she slipped her hands away from Aurora's waist, sending her into another spin, only to tuck her back against her chest. The look in her eyes was entirely her own, enticingly new, and eerily misplaced. Slow, slow, quick, slow, turn, dip, repeat. The music playing here wasn't entirely dramatic and it wasn't similar to anything that thumped in her head like wild drumbeats that often paralleled her wicked thoughts. How boring. She silently wished that Rilien could play a more sultry rhythm – one that could mirror how she felt at that very moment, unbridled and reckless in her new coat. The new awareness of muscle, nearly masculine, taut across her shoulder-blades, her arms, her back. If she'd been any crueler, then she would have laughed at the very absurdity of Sparrow's gender-indecision.

She plucked through her memories as if she were leafing through an old, tattered book, for a proper response. Why would Sparrow be a good dancer? Well, she was of the Dalish variety. Privacy was hardly a matter in this. Even with Sparrow's dying squabbles echoing in the darkest corners of her own head, it wasn't difficult pick apart what she needed to carry a semi-normal conversation with her companions. Only those closest to her, perhaps, would pick up the subtle differences. The way she carried herself, or maybe that unusual glimmer in her eye – that bard, as well, was a troublesome whelp, ogling her as if she'd slaughter everyone in the Hanged Man. Were his hands poised against his blades, mere breaths away from the strings of his instrument? She inwardly shrugged. It would be interesting to see how far he could push him. Sparrow turned her attention back towards her dance partner, pulling her flush against her chest before craning her neck over her shoulder. “I grew up with the Dalish, and they were fond of dancing.” It wasn't entirely a lie, but it wasn't something Sparrow could remember herself. “And you aren't bad, either.” She, too, could see slivers of Aurora's past flitting away like flashing heels, skipping hearbeats, and flower petals in tow. Secrets were little more than leaflets in an accessible booklet. She'd continue licking her thumb, flicking through them, until she got what she wanted.

"It's nothing," Aurora replied, trying her best to hide the creeping blush. Instead of trying to stubbornly fight the redness, she found that redirection would best serve the course. Her voice was muted for the first bit then resumed normal volume for the rest of the conversation, "In the circle, I learned-- well. Not learned. Picked up how to carry my feet without falling on my face. Maybe the one good thing that came out of that ordeal," and instead of simply redirecting the conversation, she managed to steer it directly into muddy waters. Magnificent. Instead of letting the conversation stew where it was, she tried to steer the conversation one more time.

Instead of talking about herself however, she'd ask about Sparrow, "The Dalish... I never would have picked you as a Dalish. My experiences weren't... the best, shall we say." There was Ithilian, and he wasn't quite an overabundance of cheer and goodwill. There was also that whole Feynriel incident. Having bows trained on your first visit to the Dalish encampment wasn't the best of first impressions. Still, she was an outsider, and some of it was expected. She wondered what they really were like, when the eyes of the Shem were turned away. "What are the Dalish like? My firsthand impressions haven't entirely been of the happy sort... You know, staring down the point of an arrow tend to sour those."

Sparrow-Rapture had never been one to let comments sit idle, never had been and never would be, so she tsked softly, shaking her head as if to say: no, no, you're a splendid dancer, isn't that what I just said?Had there been no musician, and no expertly plucked notes coming from their resident bard, then she could have still danced. The music was there, in her empty chest, playing in her mind. The beating of this woman's heart was the pattern and the rhythm. And here she was, pressed up against a little magelet, still in close proximity to the Fade – it almost made her laugh at how ironic it was, how she orbited closer and closer to her own boundaries, her own birdcage. Each of her movements resounded something strikingly peculiar, two-folds darker than her merry counterpart. She was not shy. She would not move away and dance as a knight did, paying particular attention not to make anyone feel uncomfortable, for that wasn't who she was.

When Sparrow-Rapture spun them around, she'd momentarily close her eyes, as if she were the one skimming bare, tickling toes across marbled flooring and spreading petals through her fingertips. Her eyes were heavy lidded and half closed, inward looking and there was a small, secret smile on her face, laced with lazy pleasure and a bittersweet edge. Aurora's movements might've been best described as belonging to a child who'd been locked away, left to spin in circles by herself when no one was watching; airy, effortless. The loneliness, the yearning, and the pain. The expression dipped a little bit, as if she were about to make a comment on the matter – though, it quickly slipped away. What would she have said to that? The circle was filled with prissy, self-righteous people, always dipping their fingers into someone else' pie. Templar's had never been kind to her, neither had anyone else who'd been directly involved in stamping their foot down on anyone's chest who even mildly had a gift in the arcane arts. She, too, could fathom that hate.

Again, Rapture perused Sparrow's memories with the precision of a studious bookkeeper, careful to keep her expression arranged into one of thoughtfulness. Interestingly enough, and unbeknownst to her until this meticulous search, her own little mage hadn't even spent very long amongst them. Even if she'd wanted to, she wouldn't be able to unlock those particular truths. They were too muddied. Far too blurry to see straight, anyway. She tipped her head back, pulling Aurora slightly forward, and shot her a grin. “Alright, alright. You caught me.” She began to say, arching an eyebrow. “I was born in Tevinter – mum was Antivan, and my dad was of the Dalish variety, I fancy he fell in love with her and they ran away, eloped, y'know? Far more romantic then what probably happened.” Sparrow-Rapture nodded knowingly, leaving out the small bits she'd use for leverage on a rainy day.

“Sour sort if you judge them how they act around everyone else who isn't Dalish,” the half-breed responded, dipping her low, then pulling her back up. It was true enough, but from her memories, she knew that there'd been a great deal of kindness and acceptance for all Elves who so chose to run away from their captors, from the oppression they had to endure under rulers and masters. “If you're not staring down an arrow, then they can be beautiful. When they move, you move. They're the bow, you're the arrow.” Her laugh was not out of place when she added, “And they love loudly, dance carelessly.” These were her secrets, and she could give them away as she pleased.

"Sounds... Pretty," Sounded like the freedom she tirelessly hunted. They sounded freer than she did. Though she could in no way imagine their plight. Living apart from the cities as they did, secluded from the world around them while at the same time being attuned to it. She sighed as she closed her eyes during the dip, trying to think like they would, to no avail. She wondered how they treated their own kind, and trying to imagine who had held her up at bowpoint dancing and laughing. She even tried to imagine someone like Ithilian laughing. Once perhaps, but certainly not now. She couldn't even conjure a smile to his face, much less laughing.

She lifted her shoulders in a shrug and opened her eyes again. "I was never afforded the chance to be careless," she admitted. She was watched like a hawk in the Circle, the Templar's just waiting for her to become possessed. "You understand, right?" she asked. They were both mages after all, surely Sparrow had the dangers of demons and the fade beaten into her head like she had. "A demon lurking under every fold of the fade, just waiting for their chance to strike the moment you let your guard down," she sighed again, a bit melancholy this time. "Though, you do not strike me as a Circle runaway..." she added.

Rapture-Sparrow bobbed her head demurely, resisting the urge to tut her tongue like a clucking mother-hen. Of course it sounded pretty. It was the breeding ground of magic, and wherever there was magic, there was a possibility for her, or those of her own ilk, to lurk and wait and wriggle their taloned fingers in anticipation. She tilted her head when Aurora snapped her eyes shut, as if reminiscing of something or possibly trying to imagine those straight-stiffs dancing around a wild fire, wringing their hands and fingers together in harmony. Sometimes, it wasn't so, but other times, they were beautiful creatures in the throes of an equally wondrous dance, and with their intricate ceremonies, it wasn't difficult to imagine. Perhaps, with stingier creatures of the Dalish variety lingering in Kirkwall, Aurora's images would prove to be too difficult to behold.

She pulled them into a lazy circle, gazing – perhaps, uncomfortably – into the magelet's eyes. Her own were not red any longer, but a dark, muddy colour that did not give away much. In a sense, it was perfect. Only Rilien could taste her presence in the air, carefully plucking his notes and stealing glimpses of her over Aurora's slender shoulders. Perhaps, wishing mightily that he could simply skewer her with his eyes, and steal his companion, now completely wrung of energy, back to her own body. Again, Rapture-Sparrow nodded. She understood well enough. These questions tickled her pink, vibrating down her spine at how very close Aurora was to the truth. “No, not the Circle—but, I've done my share of running.” She began to say and gave her a twirl, tugging her neatly back into her arms when it was finished. She halted their movement, suddenly twining her fingers in the magelets short locks; a shock of red. “Little reason to fear demons, when you've got good friends.”

This she said loud enough, as if she were calling a toast. This she said while looking at Rilien, expectantly. This she said with a smile that was not her own.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega

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The expedition was gathered in the Merchant's quarter of Hightown, in front of the two great statues of bearded dwarves marking the Dwarven Merchants Guild. Bartrand Tethras stood before them, his disposition not the sunniest they'd seen, possibly due to the fact that a number of the hirelings were significantly hungover from the previous night. His brother Varric was among them, standing at the side of Nostariel, awaiting Bartrand's words.

"We've chosen one of the hidden entrances," Bartrand began in a loud, commanding tone, creating silence among the gathered group. "The Deep Roads there will be nice and virginal, ready for a good deflowering." He spat out a laugh. Varric managed one as well, though it was likely directed more at Bartrand himself than at his words. "Now there's an interesting image," he murmered to Nostariel, who cringed. Ashton, with all of his tact, laughed quite heartily. He didn't expect to hear that analogy.

"It'll take a week for us to get to the depth we need, and there are bound to be leftover darkspawn from the Blight. Big risks, big rewards. But this isn't a foolish endeavor. This will work! Now, if there's nothing else, let's get underway!" Varric moved to his brother's side as they began their departure, the hirelings hefting packs onto their backs, ensuring the last of their gear was packed. "Been a long time coming, eh, brother?" Bartrand actually managed a smile, though it was kept to himself. "That it has. The Deep Roads await!"




Two weeks later, they had almost reached the depth they needed. Their entrance into the Deep Roads had gone as planned, but very quickly they ran into roadblocks and collapses they hadn't been expecting. Bartrand had occasionally directed anger at the Grey Warden, claiming her maps were leading them into dead ends, but Varric was always quick to correct him and calm him down as best he could, keeping a level head. Though the going was slow, the expedition eventually managed to come out into a more open area, with ruins beginning to appear in place of rocky caverns and tunnels. The signs of life, and more importantly, potential treasure, helped to inject life into the hirelings.

On the fifteenth day of the expedition, they came upon a large bridge extending out of a tunnel. Ithilian, who had taken up the role of scouting for the group, came striding back, adjusting the wrap around his head. He had been apart from the group for the majority of the trip, scouting ahead and reporting back to Bartrand, before he departed again. It was obvious he was avoiding speaking with other members of the team, given his body language. He looked more volatile than usual, and yet his shoulders were more drawn, his gaze lower than usual. Perhaps it was the higher than usual number of dwarves around.

"There's another collapse ahead," he said, gesturing over his shoulder as he finished fussing with his headscarf. "The bridge cannot be crossed." Bartrand stewed, the vaguely orange light of the underground accenting his anger at yet another setback. "What? Is there some way around?" Ithilian crossed his arms. "There is a side passage. Darkspawn have moved in." Bartrand looked as though the next part was quite obvious to him.

"Then I'm sure you'll be more than happy to clear them out for us, won't you?" The look Ithilian gave him seemed inspired by the molten lava that sometimes flowed beneath their feet, but he said nothing, instead moving past him and back through the group. Bartrand turned back to the group. "Set camp!"




For those not accustomed to the Deep Roads, it would be difficult to tell what time it had reached when they had the camp set up in a relatively secure, shallow side cave, but it was roughly midday. Bartrand was exchanging words with the dwarven merchant that had come along with the expedition when Varric approached him from behind. "Problems, brother?" Bartrand turned and threw his hands into the air in frustration. "Sodding Deep Roads! Who knows how long it'll take to clear a path?" Varric, as usual, allowed his brother's anger to wash over him like the sea on a large rock. "You have too little faith in our help, brother. They'll find a way around in no time."

He huffed. "We'll see. Facing a few stragglers of darkspawn isn't the same as facing the ones that have set up defenses. How many of these mercenaries you've bought have fought hordes of darkspawn, I wonder?" From the edge of the camp, Ithilian gave a light sigh, unheard by his employer. Varric chose not to argue with his brother on that point, perhaps believing it to be a waste of time, but pressed on all the same. "Then I'll go with them, and we'll take a look. If we come running back, screaming, you'll know trying to find a way around was the wrong decision." Bartrand shook his head. "Fine, fine, just get going!" And he stormed off.

The dwarven merchant Bartrand had been conversing with tentatively stepped forward once he was gone, rubbing his forehead. "Er... I hate to add to your burdens, Ser Varric, but I fear I must. I fear my boy, Sandal, wandered off. He's somewhere in those passages, right now! I beg you, keep an eye out for him. He just... doesn't understand danger like he should."

Nostariel, who'd been unusually restless of late, had been pacing the camp in relentless strides, stopping occasionally to help out with some task or chore, but otherwise ceaseless in her movement. It was clear that she was at once familiar with and uncomfortable in the Deep Roads, and from time to time, she'd murmur something as if to herself and shake her head. Each new sound produced a twitch in her ears, though she knew better than anyone when Darkspawn were present. Still, they were not the only potential danger down here. Had she been more focused on the people around her and less upon what might lay beyond, she would have noted Ithilian's behavior as antisocial even for him, but as it was, she had herself occupied just trying not to think too much about what had happened last time she was in this Maker-forsaken place.

Forcing herself to avoid drawing the comparison between then and now was no easy task, but she tried valiantly to content herself with the fact that the numbers were better this time around. She didn't know about the skill; Wardens knew these locations better than anyone else, and it was difficult to find warriors better-trained than they. Still, if any group of people from Kirkwall could handle it, 'twas this one, and that was a comfort, at least.

Her overactive feet carried her past where Varric and Bartrand were arguing, and while she would be volunteering herself to go along with the scouting group, she wasn't going to say anything about it until the merchant stepped forward. Blinking, she wondered just how it was that someone could wander off in the Deep Roads, but then perhaps if the boy was a curious sort, and unaware of danger as his father suggested... "We'll look for him, serah. I can figure out where the Darkspawn are and bring him back myself, if necessary." Her words were firm, unyielding. How many people had she seen lost to these unholy places? Too many, and not one more if there was anything she could do to prevent it. Lucien, who'd been walking by with an armload of tent poles (for some reason, he'd ended up doing quite a lot of the expedition's heavy lifting, not that he minded), deposited them in the designated area and approached from behind the Warden, his silent agreement clear in the way he adjusted the strapping of his weapon and armor.

Varric nodded his agreement. "When did you last see him, Bodahn?" He turned back to Varric. "Not a half hour ago. I turned my back to hand out rations, and he was gone! He gets so easily distracted. Ah, I should have been harsher with my warnings!" Bodahn then bowed his thanks to Nostariel. "But thank you, my lady Warden. If he has one of his enchantments with him, he'll survive. He's burned down the house twice by accident. I'm more worried about him getting lost, the poor boy!"

Ashton, the ever malleable fellow that he was, seemed to be taking the whole expedition in lackadaisical stride. Sure, he missed the sun. And the trees. Grass and flowers would have been nice too. But the prize! The prize was worth it. It'd better be worth it anyway. Else he'd have to strangle Bartrand and Varric with their beard and chest hair-- respectively. Still, the lack of fresh air and open greenery had put the Archer in a melancholy mood, and in this certain clarity of mind, had decided that opening his big lips anywhere near the Dalish elf would only serve to get them cut off. Not to say that the two or so weeks on the expedition wasn't chock full of stupid jokes and silly puns-- just that they weren't muttered when the elf was around.

Once the camp was set up, Ashton had found himself sitting atop one of the barrels they had brought to hold their water. Of course, his ass being on top of their water drew some glares from a couple of the hirelings, but Ashton played the oblivious fool and set about picking his teeth with another one of his arrows, as he was wont to do. A nearby conversation between the dwarves and their lovely guide reeled his ears in to listen. Something about someones kids getting lost in the deep roads. Hmm. He didn't know that could even be a possibility, who in their right minds would wander off in the deep roads. There were tons of nasty creepy crawlies down there. Should have brought a leash...

At the insistance of Nostariel though, it looked like they were going to be playing nurse maid for a bit. It was fine with in, really, it'd give him more chances to eye the magnificent displays of rock. Either way, it looked like they were going to be the expeditionary force of the expedition, sent out to find a path around their intended path. With that, he decided to stop polluting their stores of water with his ass and hopped from the barrel, walking over to their merry little group. "Right. Find a path. Find your boy. Would you like some milk and eggs while we are out as well?" Ashton said, smiling. His tone was a jovial one, and he meant no harm by the words. As if to further prove this point, he continued. "Don't worry about it. You've got one of the finest trackers in all of Kirkwall," And Ithilian. "We'll find your boy, then we'll find the path, then we'll find the haul. No problems," Ashton said.

"Should we be going then Master Dwarf?" Ashton asked Varric, "The path may not have legs, but the boy does-- stubby as they are-- and they could be carrying him farther away as we speak," He finished. Varric nodded. "Let's move quickly, then."

Before they left, Lucien made his way quickly to one of the storage units containing extra equipment, rummaging through it until he came up with what he was looking for: a moderately-sized roundshield. Though he was quite firm in his insistence that he would not lift a sword, he wasn't sure how well his scythe would stand up against Darkspawn. Or, more to the point, how many more of them it would stand up to. He took good care of it, but weapons with wooden components could only withstand so much pressure, and he didn't want to be completely without options if the worst occurred. This, he slung over his back for the moment, then swiftly rejoined the others as they moved out.

Rapture had not relinquished her hold on Sparrow's body, but kept unusually quiet. Her words, however choice, were irrefutably odd. Her actions were even stranger. She did not walk as she did, with her stupid, often lumbering steps, but instead resumed her nonplussed gait, so much more languid than her barbaric counterpart. She was still there, very much so, but her cries, her echoing wails, her beating fists had grown less frequent and a helluva lot more quiet – for that, she whispered a solemn curse to the Maker. She'd taken refuge amongst the smelly dwarves, occasionally throwing quips and questioning their motives; where they were headed, what they were searching for. Her questions were offhanded, hardly worth noting. She, did, however, occasionally watch Rilien with her lidded-eyes, effortlessly challenging him with the way she smiled. If he did not take any notice, then it might've been with some effort.

Ithilian wordlessly led the group out of the camp, pulling his bow from its sheath and drawing an arrow. He was not nearly so accustomed to the underground as a Grey Warden would be, but already he was developing a sense for how to move about the place quietly and efficiently. His footfalls were carefully placed so as to avoid loose rock or threats to his ankles, his remaining eye scanning the gaps in the walls, places where creatures dark and terrible might hide. Varric's gait in comparison was easy and relaxed, his unique crossbow held with care in his gloved hands.

The elf led the scouting party to just before the crushed bridge they'd encountered, and showed them the entrance to the side passage he'd spoken of, a hole in the rock wall big enough for all of them to pass through side by side. He stopped at its entrance, holding out a hand to signal that the others were to go first. "This is our side passage. The darkspawn are within, though I can't say their numbers. It's unlikely the merchant's boy still lives." "I've seen stranger things happen," Ashton added shrugging.

Rilien didn't much care either way, and the entire argument wasn't getting them anywhere. He was alive or he was not, and they would discover which only by proceeding further in. Sliding his curved knives from their sheaths, he dipped a small nod to Ithilian, their guide, and decided that he wasn't going to waste any more time, entering the passage in loping strides. He could not sense Darkspawn after the manner of a Warden, but he'd learned long ago that when one was close enough, that made precious little difference. They were noisy, and smelled awful, and died like anything else. These very blades had been christened in the black blood that pumped sluggishly through the engorged veins under sickly flesh.

A passing glance in citrine was flicked towards the Chevalier, a small acknowledgement of the familiarity he felt. Their last trials had been fought under sky, not stone, but that was hardly the important point. Padding over the broken stone, he noted that she Warden was quick to follow, sighing and shaking her head, though apparently unwilling to offer her own opinion on the matter. "Careful," Nostariel murmured to the group at large, "They are near. Perhaps two dozen, give or take a few, and at least one's an emissary, I think." Her hands tightened on her staff, and she took a shaky breath. Darkspawn were nothing to be feared, not really. Especially not in numbers like that. This wasn't a year ago. It wouldn't be. She was different now, and so were the people she was with.

The Tranquil's look was answered with a wry smile; for once, what Rilien was thinking was crystalline in its clarity to Lucien. It was almost like the old days, save that they were no longer fighting a Blight, just the Blighters, so to speak. His old friend's wariness drew the scythe from the Chevalier's back even before Nostariel uttered her warning, but he nodded his comprehension to her all the same. He'd discovered rather early on that few in the expedition guards were feeling too sociable, Ashton and Sparrow perhaps excepted. He spent most of his time walking either with they and Rilien, or guarding the rear and making small-talk with the laborers instead.

Within a few minutes of walking down the winding corridor, it became quite clear that the Warden was correct. The stench was the first thing to register. None of the surrounding area smelled pleasant, but this was the odor of rotting flesh and bile, which was different from simple stagnance and old blood. Before long, the sounds of shuffling feet and loud, wet breaths reached their ears, and it was clear that the 'Spawn sensed the presence of one of the hated Wardens, for the dull scrape of steel on stone registered, presumably as they picked up weapons off the ground. This was going to be interesting; the hallway was narrow at best, with enough room for maybe two across, though honestly, Lucien could probably fill the space by himself if he made an effort to do so.

Either way, the first hurlock rounded the corner then, and Rilien demonstrated once more that he had no time to waste, disappearing and crossing the distance remaining in an eyeblink, shoving the point of a Dalish knife into the back of a Darkspawn neck before flickering and disappearing again. The fight was on.

Nostariel hung back, casting a range of beneficial spells, giving every weapon in her range elemental properties, save any that already had one. An arcane shield and heroic offense followed, but she didn't cast offensively; the space was too narrow and she didn't want to risk hitting someone, plus this way, her energy was conserved in the event healing became necessary.

Almost rolling his eyes, Lucien followed on Rilien's heels, at least until the Tranquil disappeared. It had used to be he that charged headlong into battles, but of course the reasoning was completely different. Rilien acted ever as he did for the sake of simplicity and efficiency-- Lucien had just been reckless. Sometimes, he reflected as the first knot of Darkspawn tried to squeeze through and get at Nostariel and the others in the back, he still was. A straightforward vertical swing buried the point of the scythe in the head of one of those incoming, and until such time as someone else decided to cohabitate the frontlines, he kept himself to diversionary tactics, drawing those that would be taunted to him and keeping the line more or less clear with great horizontal swipes of the farmer's implement, freeing up the others to choose their tactics with impunity.

Her nose twitched, then wrinkled in disgust. If there was something she was not accustomed to, it was her ability to smell the most unpleasant things. The twisting tunnels were now emitting the foulest smells – something caught between a festering corpse, and a fistful of writhing maggots, perhaps, even shit. Even with her arcane, if not biased knowledge, of Darkpawn, Rapture-Sparrow certainly did not like the bloody things, so she would fight them if they so challenged them. The likelihood of the dirty-things making appearance was inevitable, as they were drawn to their resident Grey Warden like moths fluttering around a flame. She glanced in Nostariel's direction, noting her caution. The Dalish-man had undertaken the role of scout, flitting ahead like an animal, whilst signalling them forward, or back, or wherever he wanted them to halt and decide the best course of action. She was only to happy to oblige.

Rapture-Sparrow was expected to do something. From what she'd gathered, Sparrow was rather hot-headed with her mace, preferring to steal into the fray and swing that bloody thing around like a lumberman. She fingered the weapon curiously, clutching it in her hands as if she'd never seen the thing before. Of course – it'd been used against her, but could she even use it? Her speciality had always been in subterfuge, in deceit, in rallying her magical prowess. Would that not stick out like a sore thumb? She stood there, momentarily defeated by her own musings, while Rilien blinked away from her peripherals, already engaged with the oncoming 'Spawn. Nostariel, too, had begun casting her own spells. She'd tasted the Fade, and the woman's magic, before any spells had erupted from her staff. A soft whistle sifted through her lips, derisive in it's sound. She would not embarrass herself swinging that thing around. Instead, she'd dropped the weapon (much to Sparrow's internal dismay) on the ground and moved off to the side, hands aglow with energy, and began firing off sizzling spears of lightning.

The sight of the normally headstrong Sparrow dropping her mace to persue a more arcane approached struck Ashton as odd, but then again, it was not the time to question such trivalities-- at least while those reeking creatures still lived. Ashton was glad that he had specialized in the bow instead of more forthcoming weapons like the sword or mace, as that would put him in close proximity to the nasties. He was not a fearless man unlike most of his companions. Unlike Nostariel who had fought the creatures as Wardens are wont, he actively fled Ferelden because of the blighters. The sight of the creatures managed to strike a chord and he shuddered at the sight of them. Still, he would not be rendered useless because of some lousy Darkspawn...

Perhaps the number of bodies between him and the critters had something to do with his sudden stalwart bravery. If all else failed, he could always poof away like Rilien did, only in the opposite direction. An option to consider later perhaps, for now he was expected to take part in the battle and he would not disappoint. At least, he'd try not to disappoint. There was an issue though, as the previously mentioned bodies also had the effect of obscuring his aim. He'd rather not draw anyone's ire for a mistakenly placed arrow to the back. His head whipped back and forth as he searched for options. The most obvious answer would be up but the trench they found themselves in was sorely lacking in any stable platform. Anyone with a lick of sense would have allowed the frontline take out the 'Spawn for him.

Luckily, Ashton was blessed with the lack thereof. He pressed up against the side of one wall in order to get a running start on the other. A sane person would view him as running head long, though he had a plan. He ran and jumped, planting his feet on the wall a good couple of feet from the ground. Then he pushed off, giving him a couple more feet of clearance, enough so that he could fire without hitting friendlies. Still, it wouldn't do any good if he couldn't sustain the height. Fortunately, there was a step two to his brilliant plan. As he began to fall, he fell back toward the other wall, lengthing the entirety of his frame. Now was perhaps not the best time for him to realize that he had forgotten to measure his height to that of the width of the tunnel. Still, as he fell, he felt just what he needed to. His upper back caught the other wall, if only by a hair. There he lay, a couple of feet off of the ground, his feet and shoulders pushing against each other and the wall keeping him aloft. It was... Quite the display of dexterity. He couldn't help but laugh as he nocked an arrow and began to fire down upon the darkspawn.

If he had been just a tad bit shorter, this would never had worked. It probably shouldn't had worked for a sane man anyway. Ignorance is bliss however.

Ithilian might have noted Ashton's ridiculous display of dexterity and responded with a scowl or an eye roll, he might have cared that the no longer mace wielding half-elf was a lightning-throwing mage, or that the battlefield they found themselves in was far more confined than he was used to, but he did none of these things. One of his Dalish blades was in his strong hand, the dagger Amalia had gifted to him gripped firmly in the other, his face dead set with the expression of unbridled hate.

He kept a different kind of contempt in his heart for the darkspawn, one that rivaled, and perhaps surpassed, that of the shemlen. Here, at last, in these dank, dark tunnels and underground caverns, did he have the advantage. He was the hunter, and they were now the prey. As far as he was concerned, there was no one else here other than the darkspawn. He pushed forward and through, keeping his head low, his stance tight and coiled, predatory. He did not disappear as the Tranquil was able to, but rather used the distractions the warrior and the mages provided to cut through the first ranks, getting out ahead of any of them, and getting to work.

The first one he sliced lit with flames that immediately caused it to flail with the pain. He let it burn. He attacked the others more to maim than instantly kill, avoiding the throat and instead slicing and stabbing vulnerable areas, removing limbs, sending the beasts sprawling to the ground in sprays of blood, howling their anguish. How long had he waited to do this?

Far, far too long.

Amidst it all he was cautious to keep from opening his mouth, lest he swallow any amount of the blood splashing about. His face was stone cold and murderous, even if inside he was a storm of vengeance, his blades acting as messengers of Elgar'nan, each stroke exacting the revenge of one of his fallen kin. All too soon it seemed the fight was over, this cluster of them fallen, all the while the fallen still called out for their vengeance. The Dalish elf huffed through his nose, dripping with blood for a moment, before wordlessly moving on. More would be ahead.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega

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Hindsight was a pain in the ass. During the entirety of his climb and even during the hail of arrows, not once did Ashton think about how he was going to get down. The realization hit just as the last Darkspawn fell under the vengeful elf's barrage. And vengeful it was. Ashton didn't know whether to be more frightened of the Darkspawn, or the elf. However, the elf was the least of his troubles currently. He looked down on both sides of him, noticing that was quite a drop for him to just land on his back on the cold unforgiving rock beneath. Even worse still, time was not in his favor, as every minute he stood wedged between the two walls felt like a year to his back. He needed down, without shattering what was left of his back.

He just decided to fall, and hope that the rock seemed a lot softer than it looked like. Really, what else was he going to do? Float down? He tossed his bow off to the side, his quiver close behind. He'd hate for them to break his fall. Now free of his possessions, he pulled his feet and shoulders away from the wall and the sudden sensation of falling took over. He braced himself for the impact to come.

--Only to find that it didn't. Lucien, who had only been somewhat aware of the archer's incredibly-odd maneuver during the battle, found himself more or less beneath Ashton when he let go, and reflexively, the Chevalier sidestepped and put out his arms to catch the falling person, determining that how exactly this situation had come about was something he could figure out later. Needless to say, when he staggered backwards a step, he was quite surprised to find himself looking down at the hunter. Glancing back up at the ceiling of the hall, he shook his head, setting the man down on his feet. "I'm sure I don't want to know," he decided with some amusement.

It was at this point that Nostariel was finally pulled from her vaguely-horrified musings about the way that battle had turned out. She had good reason to detest Darkspawn, but she'd never dream of doing that to them-- of essentially torturing them before they died. She supposed there must be something deeply-painful there, but all the same, she couldn't help but be somewhat upset about it, if for no other reason than the pragmatic: when you left something to die, it wasn't dead, and that meant there was always a chance it could get back up again and hurt someone. The clatter of wood on stone stirred her to action, though, and she glanced over to see what appeared to be Ashton's bow and quiver on the ground some distance from herself. Trotting over, she retrieved these, sure that he would want them again, though not without testing the weight of the bow in her hands.

It was clearly too heavy, but there was something about it that drew her even still. Shaking her head ruefully, she gathered up the loose arrows and replaced them in the quiver, slinging that over her shoulder and padding to where Lucien was setting the man on the ground. The Warden suppressed a giggle at the incongruous sight; it really did say something about the both of them-- the kindness of one and creativity (and small dose of silliness) in the other, maybe.

"My hero," Ashton said, clasping his hands and looking at the chevalier with mock longing. All the jokes aside, the man had just saved him from being a hunter flavored mound on the ground. So there was a hint of genuine thanks in his jest, buried somewhere deep in it. Still didn't make it any less awkward though. "Fair enough," Ashton admitted, "Not sure how I managed to get up there either." Ashton arched his back and pushed, trying to exercise the cramps that had built up while he was in his predictament. With one problem solved, that left the collection of his personal items. He believed his arrows to be all over the place when he turned and saw that Nostariel had collected them.

"Always happy to assist a damsel in distress," Lucien replied, rolling his good eye to the roof of the cave. Shaking his head somewhat, he moved on, following after the Tranquil and the Dalish man who was anything but. More danger yet awaited them, if he had his guess, and he did still manage to enjoy that, most of the time.

A smile formed on the Archer's face, and a teasing was inevitible. "Look at you, already the spitting image of an archer. Bow's a bit large for ya though," He said. He laughed and nodded, accepting the items from the mage before leaning over to whisper in her ear, "As thanks, I'll make you a special one at a time that I deem you ready," He said with a wink, alluding the promise he had made to her earlier. While it may not have been promise in words, Ashton felt as if it was one, and he wasn't the one to go back on promises to friends.

Nostariel coughed slightly, a smidge embarrassed at being caught in her idle little daydreams, but he really did seem serious about the whole thing, and that made her happier than she'd had cause to be in a while. Still, it wouldn't do to forget that they were in the Deep Roads, with a bunch of Darkspawn and some unhappy allies. So she smiled, nodded once, and trailed off after the Chevalier, intent on not being left behind. Not that they would, probably; they did sort of require her presence, at least for now. She wasn't sure if that made things worse or better. Once again, the archer found himself behind the procession. Fair enough, farther away he was from the blighters, the better. As he walked, he dipped low to pick up Sparrow's mace, looking to return it to its rightful owner.

Sparrow, in turn,shrugged her shoulders and retrieved the dreadful hammer-stick from Ashton's proffered hands, with a simpering smile. That Chevalier was interesting enough – how hadn't she noticed him before? Bound by things like honour, nobleness, duty and tightly-knit friendships. Her gaze lingered over his shoulder for a moment, before she offered the archer a demure thanks and strapped the mace back to her hip, following the group at a much leisurely pace.

Varric had gone off ahead after giving a hearty laugh at the scene with Ashton and Lucien, trying to catch up with the Dalish elf who'd gone off ahead of the group. A few scattered darkspawn were found butchered along the way through the winding tunnels, the walls occasionally lined with glowing blue lyrium crystals that lit entire walls a light blue color. After some trek further, the dwarf came upon him, standing at the top of a staircase leading down to a cliffside dropping off into an angry looking lake of lava. His blades were still out, dripping with darkspawn blood. Varric had been about to remind him of the usefulness of caution in a situation like this when he came up beside him, and saw what he was looking at.

At the bottom of the staircase lay perhaps a dozen or more dead darkspawn scattered about in a bloody heap, including one darkspawn ogre who was quite literally frozen in mid charge, glowing white with the magical ice encasing it. At the edge of the cliffside stood a blonde-haired dwarven boy, covered from head to toe in blood, and it didn't look like any of it was his own. Varric looked to Ithilian in surprise. "Did you...?" he began, but Ithilian just shook his head. "Well I'll be a nug's uncle..." Sandal was idly scratching himself in a rather awkward place as Varric began his descent down the stairs. We he noticed the crossbow wielding dwarf and the rest of the group, he gave a bright eyed smile and a simple "'Ello."

Rilien paused for the span of a breath when he came upon the scene Ithilian and Varric were looking at, but no longer. Instead, he continued forward, treading gracefully down the staircase. When he reached the bottom, he stilled, crouching so as to be at eye-level with the dwarf, elbows on his knees, forearms draped at a downward angle. He blinked, just the once, and nodded. "Sandal. Your father is looking for you." Raising one arm, he pointed back in the direction they had come. "You remember how to get back, do you not?" It was hardly a question; Rilien was sure the boy did, in that strange way that he was sure of many things, like precisely when to fold solidifying lyrium or when to reduce the heat on his mana restoratives to give them that pearl-silver tint distinctive to only the ones he made, his maker's mark, as it were.

It didn't mean he understood why, only that. Unlike most people, this was often enough to content him. Rising, Rilien folded his arms into his sleeves, glancing back at the rest briefly, but he would not move until they seemed inclined to it once again.

"How on earth...?" Nostariel was substantially more confused, looking between the dead Darkspawn, the petrified ogre, and the unassuming dwarven lad. Something wasn't adding up here; she'd never seen the like of this situation. Sandal was unarmed and apparently quite docile. How could he have possibly survived an attack of this magnitude?

Sandal ignored Nostariel for the moment, instead looking at the Tranquil elf with a happy smile, holding out one blood spattered arm, which held a small stone engraved with some kind of rune. His fingers grasped only the edge of it, implying that he wished the elf to take it. "Enchantment. Boom!" was all he said.

As if to try and answer Nostariel's confusion, he gestured up at the petrified ogre. "Not enchantment." Seeming content with his own explanation, he started off, heading back the way the group came, and returning to camp. Varric watched him go with an incredulous and very amused face. "Smart boy." Ithilian was perhaps the least affected by the scene, apart from the Tranquil, and was the first to move onwards. "We've still a job to do," he growled.

"Now. I'm not an expert on dwarves or magic..." Ashton began, standing in front of the orge, his arms crossed contemplative. The thing was frozen in its dire charge and looked absolutely terrifying. If it even moved an inch, Ashton wasn't sure if he could reliably contain his bladder. It didn't look like it was moving any time soon, so the evening's water was safe within the confines of his belly. Still, the whole thing was quite curious. "But aren't dwarves incapable of magic? I mean, I've never seen one waddle around weaving spells." Though the novelty the idea was rather fun. "If this was not enchantment, then what was it?" Ashton posed. Alas, it seemed he wouldn't get his answer, and their frontman in the elf apparently had somewhere else to be. Ashton gave the frozen orge one last look over and then trailed behind the elf (at a good distance, of course).

Rilien took the rune curiously, which was to say that he picked it up gingerly and rotated it a few times, inspecting the surface, before tucking it away up one of his sleeves. "Thank you," he told the boy, falling in next to Ashton, he watched blandly as the Warden quickened her stride to surpass them, something akin to determination on her face, until she drew apace with the Dalish. She spoke in tones too low for him to hear, but it sounded vaguely concerned. The Tranquil wasn't sure why she bothered; it seemed much more intelligent to just let him do what he wanted. If he died, that was his own fault, and if not, it was less work for the rest of them. As the Tranquil trotted up beside Ashton, the archer nonchalantly tossed an arm over Rilien's shoulder in a gesture that would have been awkward for anyone else. The Tranquil seemed content to ignore it, and proceeded as though it were not even there.

Nostariel wasn't exactly sure how to ask what she wanted to ask, and the fact that she had to ask Ithilian was only making matters worse. But the fact was, the things he was doing were just as likely to get all of them killed as help anything, and she wasn't about to allow that. "Ithilian," she said quietly, "Is something bothering you? Er, well, aside from..." she waved a hand vaguely behind them, as if to encompass the most salient possibilities: chatter, humans, Ashton specifically... She'd start with that. Command had taught her never to say too much too soon. It ran the risk of wrongly interpreting something, which could inadvertantly shut down the conversation. Still... if she had to pry, she would. The lives of those behind them were worth antagonizing him if she had to.

"I've learned to ignore his voice specifically," Ithilian said, and it was more or less true, as he had to look back to see the shem's arm over the Tranquil elf in order to pick up any part of their stress-inducing conversation. He trusted Nostariel would know who he was talking about. "Other than that, I've a score to settle with the darkspawn, though I'm afraid no amount of physical torment I can inflict upon them will satisfy Elgar'nan. Or me."

His eyes continuously scanned the dark corners, the shadowy halls that could possibly hold more targets for his rage, but none presented themselves to him. He was disappointed. "I've waited some time to obtain some form of vengeance. So yes, something is bothering me."

Nostariel closed her eyes against the images that threatened. She didn't have to know the specifics to understand what he was talking about; the story was all too common. How many people had she met who had lost everything to the Blight? How many more would she meet before they took her, too? Would she... would she ever be the reason someone grew to hold this much hate inside themselves? No, nobody loved her that much anymore, and for that, she supposed she should be glad. Perhaps, perhaps it was this that allowed her to undersand both sides of that particularly-gruesome equation. "Whom did they take from you?" she asked, and her voice, suppressed as it was, still managed to contain within itself a microcosm of raw, hoarse, whispered pain that she expected he'd understand.

She wasn't even sure what prompted the question. His grief was his own, truly, but... maybe not. Maybe it was hers, too, in virtue of something common to them. Maybe it was meant to be shared. Maybe she had no idea, but all she could really remember was that speaking it aloud had helped her, even if just enough. It wasn't just about getting him to exercise caution anymore, whatever else might be the case.

He took a deep breath through his nose, unsure as to why he was sharing this with her. Her status as a Warden didn't demand he relate his life's misery to her, but maybe he wanted her to understand, or maybe he wanted to know if she already understood. "They took my Keeper, Felaris, and Maro, his First" he began. "They took Ariana, Ashallo, Melori, Paivan, Serann, Dagan, and the rest of the hunters. They took those that had not yet earned their vallaslin, and those who were too old to still hunt. They took the craftsmen, the weak and the sick, the warriors strong and swift. They took Adahlen, my wife. And I took Mithra, my daughter."

He hadn't said the names in a long time. It angered him how few of them he could remember. Few names, fewer faces. Two that would never fade. "Butchering the 'Spawn in another country won't bring them back, I know, but the Gods know I have wanted this vengeance. There may not be another chance."

"So many lives," Nostariel murmured. "And so many more, past and future." She kept her eyes fixed resolutely on the path in front of her, unwilling to look elsewhere for the moment. She was no more comfortable speaking of these things than he was, really, perhaps even less. "Of all the people I have ever loved, only one was not taken from me by the Darkspawn, that only because she is prisoner in a Circle. I suppose my family was not mine by blood, but they were by choice, and I was supposed to lead them. The man I loved was taken by their foul blood at the joining, the team I captained by these very pits." She waved a hand, indicating that she spoke of the Deep Roads generally, not this spot specifically.

"They're still buried there, all ten of them. Because I wasn't strong enough to save them, because my magic ran dry and the foul things didn't. The Horde is endless, and when my time comes, I shall have my fill of their deaths. But here, and now, I can only try and keep the people here alive. I promise you, there will be no shortage of chances to kill Darkspawn, but I'm asking you to remember that this need not be your Calling, nor mine, nor anyone else's. I can't make the same mistake twice. A selfish thing, but one I will not give up, all the same." She trusted him to understand what she was asking him to do, but by no means did she have any idea whether he would.

"My life is not your responsibility," he said. He supposed he should have felt... something, at her losses, but it only made him feel like she should understand, and let him do as he wished. "None of those that you lost meant to die. But me? I heard my Calling during the Blight, and only delirium and blood loss let me ignore it. I have wasted away in my anger since then, using anything as an outlet, but I have had enough. I refuse to let my life fade into drink and misery. I will not become that."

His anger was rising, and it was causing him to lose some focus on their surroundings. "I see visions of my daughter in a girl I rescued with Amalia. I can't look at her anymore." At last he decided to stop watching the sides, and turned to look at Nostariel. "All I want is to see them again. I never should have left them."

The pronounced tic in Nostariel's tightly-clenched jaw was perhaps the only giveaway to her reaction, at least at first. Of all the people she'd known to have dealings with Ithilian, Amalia seemed to understand him the best, and so she'd thought to try and handle things as she guessed the Qunari might have, which was calmly, rationally, but not without the bite of exasperation when it was effective. That all sort of evaporated when he successfully managed to say about three of the worst possible things he could ever have said to her, so instead she slapped him.

To her credit, it wasn't particularly forceful, as some still-reasonable part of herself reminded her that she didn't actually want to hurt him. It was quick, though, and sudden, her free hand drawing back and smacking the unscarred side of his face. "So you mean to die, then?" she snapped, her volume drastically increased from a few moments before. "Because you don't want to live as what, me? You're already not me, Ithilian, because you don't even respect their sacrifice enough to live. You think she'd want you to die? To turn away from the things right in front of your face and give up?" Both hands found her staff, and she gripped it white-knuckled, more for the feeling of security than anything else, as it was just beginning to sink in, what she'd done, and she couldn't discount the possibility that he would (perhaps reasonably) retaliate somehow.

"You say you see your daughter somewhere. Why turn from her? I... I only wish I could know what that was like, even for a little while. You failed. I understand, I do. But don't let yourself fail again. See what's in front of you, and take it, and let it be enough, for as long as it can be. I... I'm sorry." She shook herself, tone having lowered to about what it was when she started, and she appeared to be shaking, though not from fear.

Ithilian took the slap without much of a reaction; truth be told, he was starting to get used to people being furious at him for his most recent choices. His lip twitched on the good side as he straightened his head again, using his half-foot or so height advantage to not really look at the Warden. Had he failed? To be honest, he felt as though he didn't. He felt as though there was nothing he could have done. He knew there was nothing he could have done. There were too many of them, for too long, for one elf to make a difference. They hadn't sacrificed themselves for him, they just died... and he should have died there with them.

But he did still draw breath. Maybe... maybe it was worth a look. Maybe he needed more time. His life had been so constructed, so complete, that to have it all torn down... how did one just start again? When it didn't seem that anything could ever be as perfect?

Lucien, who had been watching the discussion with concern, given the distinct body language of both parties, grimaced noticeably when Nostariel's hand drew back. That was... not what he would have expected of her. She was usually very peaceable and calm, if too melancholy. Having heard the story of her lost subordinates on a separate occasion, he knew this place could not be one of any but the foulest memories, but that alone should not have prompted such a reaction, and he was left to assume it was something the man had said. Of course, when she started yelling, he could guess at bits and pieces, and he was beginning to question whether or not he should intervene when things fell relatively quiet again, and he relaxed for all of three seconds before something in the distance caught his attention.

Was that...? Yes, yes, he was quite certain it was. Drawing the scythe from his back, he strapped the shield firmly to his off-hand and ran forward. "Sorry to interrupt," he called as he brushed past them, "But that's a dragon. Rilien?" He automatically turned his head to check his blind side for the Tranquil, a practiced gesture that he'd fallen back into without so much as needing to consider it. He need not have looked, for Rilien was already there, blades drawn and keeping pace with the Chevalier easily.

"I am here," he said simply.

Surprisingly, Ashton flanked the Tranquils other side, arrow already nocked. As he passed Nostariel and Ithilian, his offer was less polite and more curt, "Eyes up, company." While Darkspawn and ogres managed to send shivers down his spine, the sight of the dragon managed to draw out the hunter like nothing else could. The grandest of prey, the most legendary of hunts, a dragon stood before him. No hunter without his pride would pass up a chance to hunt such a magnficent beast. He only wished his uncle could see him now. A grin plastered his face as he thought of all the things he could do with the hide and bones of a dragon. But first, he'd have to survive the fight, and to do that, he'd have to kill the thing. A fair trade if there ever was one.

His pace suddenly slacked, dropping back behind the Chevalier and the Tranquil, and he darted to the right, slipping out of view in a gout of Shadow's smoke.

Ithilian noted the dragon before returning his gaze to Nostariel. He clearly wanted to say something, but there was simply no time. Perhaps the anger in his eye when he sheathed his blade and Parshaara in favor of his bow would say what he wanted.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega

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The dragon didn't come alone. It floated to the ground atop a raised pavilion flanked by stairs on either side, wings draping over the edges. Its neck extended out over the edge, taking a brief moment to survey the group that had stumbled into its lair, before the mouth opened, revealing wickedly sharp and deadly fangs. More importantly, it unleashed a gout of flame in a thick cone in front of it, hoping to either separate the party to the left and right, or otherwise cook them alive. To the sides, small hordes of dragonlings descended upon them, monsters the size of mabari war hounds, with just as powerful a bite.

Ithilian experienced an immediate internal battle, a direct result of the words Nostariel had stung him with. Whatever his reasoning, his blades were sheathed, his bow in his hands instead, a swift roll carrying out of the way of the fire and off to the right of the room instead. No sooner had he returned to his feet than an arrow was drawn and loosed, aimed for the dragon's mouth. The fact that the beast's fire attack was cut short and the head recoiled back spoke to his accuracy. If he had wanted to die, then this was a pretty poor start.

If anyone appeared to be suicidal in this mad rush, it was probably Lucien, he who ducked to one side of the gout of dragonflame and propelled himself further forward still, of a mind to keep it quite focused on him. He'd had to, as he always did, resist the urge to either give or wait for orders, but if any part of his reckless abandon remained, it was this: present him with a challenge, and he'd not leave it unanswered. He was pretty sure challenges didn't get much bigger than this. Maybe some other varieties of dragon, but that was really it.

And damn it all, the fire was in his bones already, searing along his skin almost as though the dragon had hit him instead of missing. But of course, this was something less painful and more galvanizing, though admittedly sometimes the difference still became hard to distinguish. A shout and a lunge, and he shouldered into the thing's foreleg with all the momentum he had. It didn't do much damage, but it certainly earned him the beast's attention, and for now, at least, it left off the attempts at cooking the lot of them and swiped at him with the other front paw, a blow which he just managed to block in time, throwing up his shield and bending at the knees. The force of it took him almost to the ground, but his sense of balance and innate sturdiness kept him upright, and he smiled, pushing off the rebound in his legs and swiping at its head with the scythe, catching it a glancing blow on the snout as the crude blade skittered off the scales there.

If it was going to pierce anything, it would have to be the underbelly, an eye, or the inside of its mouth. For now, though, he was freeing up the rest to act as they would.

Rilien faithfully tracked Lucien's shadow until the Chevalier drew within range of the dragon, then veered sharply off to the left. While the opportunity was presented, he fully intended to cut down the small ones. They could be fatal enough if they wound up underfoot, and the dragon itself would take time to slay. He had no care for what was more glorious or made for a better story; his only concern was with keeping himself and a certain subset of this group alive.

Two fell to a brutal double-attack, his blades held out to each side as he tore past them, slipping between and successfully decapitating the pair. Their necks were thin things, and their scales had not the resistance of the larger one. This, he would captialize upon, and he took the left side of the dragon, leaving the right for now, aware that whatever his skills might be, he was most effective when focusing his attention. Reversing grip on both knives, he plunged them with a dull thunk into the spine of the next, tearing them free and stepping away as several more surrounded him. Wide arcs of brilliant red spattered from the ends of the steel, creating whip-lines blood upon the stone. Inside a small circle of dragonlings, Rilien vanished, reappearing behind the largest of these, stepping upon its arched back with one foot and cutting off the shrill mewling sound with a slash to the back of the neck. One tried to jump for him, and he gutted it, opening a line from clavicle to pelvis, shaking the next off his foot with a well-placed kick. Its teeth had dug into his ankle, but that was of no concern. Unlike a wyvern, there was nothing poisonous about these.

In fact, compared to a wyvern hunt, this was of little concern at all. Unfortunate that the same could not be said for the creature the others dealt with at present.

Varric was the last one into the room, and as such the initial burst of fire had dissipated by the time he entered the fight proper. His crossbow firmly in hand he darted to the right, following the path of the Dalish hunter, albeit slightly behind him. The dragon was a pressing threat, yes, but others were more properly equipped to handle it for the moment, or perhaps simply just to distract it, which was really what they needed so that they could deal with these smaller ones first. To that end, Varric ran by Ithilian and tapped him lightly on the shoulder, before pointing clearly towards the rushing group of dragonlings on the right side. "Go. Bianca and I will set them up for you."

Ithilian had almost asked who Bianca was, before deciding that there was really no time for the dwarf to answer. He obeyed, putting his bow away and drawing his Dalish blades. Parshaara would likely not be as useful here, considering a dragon's natural resistance to fire. His own weapons would suffice. Deciding to give the dwarf a chance, he charged headlong towards the cluster of creatures. Just in time a crossbow bolt shot past his side and exploded in the middle of the group, killing the one that it had hit in a most gruesome fashion, and stunning the others briefly, which was the opening Ithilian needed.

His anger was something different, his attack merciless and unrelenting, swift and brutal. The first two he simply removed of their heads, but some of the others had almost returned to their senses, and he adjusted, sidestepping the first lunging, snapping jaw and plunging both blades into the chest of another, ripping them from not a moment later when he was certain he'd punctured the heart, and turning on the one that had attacked him. It made a second jump at him, and he put both blades up in an X, catching the neck in the middle and stopping the teeth inches from his throat. A simple slice later it too had no head.

They were coming together as a group now, a dragonling attaching its teeth into his left bicep while another jumped at him from the front. He impaled the frontal attacker as it came in, using a foot to shove it off the blade, before lifting his left arm, and the dragonling with it, at least enough to expose the underside of its body. He drove his right blade just under the chin and cut down, opening it from throat to belly and dropping it to the floor before he jumped back to put some space between him and the remaining dragonlings.

Rapture-Sparrow had once again abandoned her mace by the entrance of the den, preferring to throw her lot in with Nostariel and send jagged ice-bolts through the air with unaccountable precision, impaling her first target straight through it's reptilian skull. It's brain matter, scales and blood, splattered backwards, on a nearby rock, where the ice-bolt had shattered in a floe of hail. Her aim was impeccable, but she still managed to hurl them disconcertingly close her companions. It wouldn't have surprised her if errant strands of hair were blown askew from the momentum of her projectiles, embedding themselves into their targets before she flit off to the side, gracefully ducking behind larger rocks and concentrating on whichever opponents were closest – but some idea had come to her as icicles accumulated in her palms, one that was much more entertaining than simply aiding and playing her part in this tiddly group. Her footsteps slowed to a halt and she smiled demurely, concentrating her now-empty hand behind her back, where it swirled with darker, malicious energy.

This energy did not belong to Sparrow – she had no gifts in the darker arts, nor had she ever tried her hand at it. It was the same as her mediocre abilities in healing; non-existent by all accounts. Her eyes trailed after Rilien and Lucien taking up the front, falling into a comfortable rhythm that could only mean that they'd done this before. Ithilian was elsewhere, tying up the dragon by firing arrow's into its gaping mouth. The human apostate, alone against the world, and she can feel it inside her, the darkness, the familiar pulling from the other side of the Veil. Her scars are razor-thin, like careful cuts that haven't had time to heal. Her uncertainty tells her many things. Deep cuts, whip cuts. She would make her remember. For her, Rapture-Sparrow cast a potent Waking Nightmare. She was sure to duck behind large boulders to hide her intent as the inky energy left her fingers, spiralling through a nearby dragonlings fire and dipping around it to reach Nostariel. She danced away with an unbounding giddiness, throwing the occasional bolts of ice before slipping away from sight. For the angry one, the one who shook with rage and vengeance, Rapture-Sparrow cast Disorient. If she was lucky, it would cause him to stumble, to make mistakes he wouldn't make under normal circumstances.

None of her little tricks would work on Rilien, but she could apply Weakness to his legs, which she did in quick succession. Sparrow, annoyingly enough, had begun to pound loudly on her walls, on her mindscape's birdcage. How deep were the Chevalier's scars? Did they run jagged and crooked, tangled with knots? Her voice whispered soothingly in her mind, reminding Sparrow that it had been her decision after all. It's easy, it's just a little more, she'll protect her. It won't hurt. Of course, it wouldn't. She was her mother, her sister, her lover, her friend; someone she knew, someone she could trust. Her voice was bright, clear, almost familiar. Those ineffectual fists ignored her soothing words, unmasking her hate, her fear. She promptly ignored it and added Ashton and Lucien to the list of Waking Nightmare recipients. Again, she skipped away behind the rocks, hands once again brought in front of her so she could resume her glacial assault on the remaining dragonlings. She remained dutifully ineffective, watching expectantly; jubilant.

Adrenaline flooded his system, the exhilarition puckering his skin. Ashton had never felt more alive, more in tune with himself than he did while he hunted. And, well, there was no greater hunt than that of a dragon. when he tore off from the flanks of Rilien and Lucien, he darted to the right and ran along the side of the wall. So intent was he on the prize in front of his eyes, he had forgotten that perhaps the scaley fellow brought along a couple of his friends. It came as a shocking surprise when his hunt shifted from the big dragon, to a smaller dragon. Even so, neither his himself nor his heart skipped a beat. He was still concealed by the shadows, and as such the dragonling didn't notice Ashton until the man vaulted over the reptile. A stutter in his step paused him as he swung his bow around and drilled an arrow into the base of it's skull.

Another shot of adrenaline coarsed through his system at the knowledge of a clean kill, but the hunter is a careful being, and another arrow punched right next to it's sister. He had never hunted dragon before, and it was better safe than sorry, plus he did not want to chance leaving the creature in undue pain. For all of the hunter's precaution and attention to detail in the hunt, the dragonling was not in the center of his mind, but rather the big scaley one currently engaged in close-quarters combat with the Chevalier. Say what he would about the man's astounding sense of honor, Ashton had to admit the man had the bravery befitting the title of knight.

Still, if there was a fire in the Chevalier's bones, then Ashton's entire skeleton was an incinerating inferno. Deer, wolves, bear, none of them had anything over a dragon. A marvelous hunter in it's own right. The only thing was that they didn't have the honor to fight it out one on one, though with the dragon's friends and his own, Ashton figured they'd even out somewhat. A powerful kick sent him propelling out of his stutter and into another run. Though he was no longer hidden by the shadows, he could easily dodge what he had too. He just had to think of the dragonlings as trees and he'd be able to slip right around them.

A spiral around one gaping maw and a swift kick to another put him past the Dragonlings and into a direct line of sight with his prey. He was in no better position either, broadside of the dragon, with ample opportunity to pick and choose his spots. A wide, wild grin spread across. First, along the neck, then around the heart, then he'd finish it off with a volley to the head. Ashton would have to be careful, else he risk hitting the Chevalier. But he was an archer, a hunter rivalling even the Dalish with them. He wouldn't miss. How could he? He drew back to enact this plan before something tugged at his mind at the back of his mind, draining all enthusiam he had. It was so sudden, so unexpected, that the arrow flew wide of it's intended mark and fell toward Lucien.

The world around him drained in color as everything slowed down. The dragon and it's ilk shifted into something more sinister, unexplainable monsters. It was no longer a dragon hunt, a dream for the hunter, but rather a waking nightmare. He was alone now, a child once more, facing down scores of these faceless monsters. Darkspawn, demons, unnatural things, and even Qunari bared down on him. He was alone to face the coming darkness again. It was only the ingrained instincts learned over many years that kept him on his feet. "No, no, no, no!" He cried, frozen in his spot, unable to escape his nightmare.

At around the same time as Ashton's shot veered wide, Rilien experienced what he considered to be even more surprising (in that dull way that he was capable of feeling surprise at all). Mid-step, on his way over to reinforce Lucien by pestering the dragon's flanks, his left leg gave out from underneath him, sending him spilling to the ground. Tucking into a neat roll, the Tranquil nevertheless had to struggle to regain his footing, and there was no immediately-obvious cause for it, which meant of course that there could only be one cause. But dragons, fearsome as they might have been, were not the kind of beings who could cast magic, and Rilien surveyed his surroundings with new attention. Ashton, Lucien and Nostariel, all of whom were within his line of sight, seemed frozen in place by something, and though he could not tell what had happened to the dwarf or the Dalish man, it didn't matter. With the Warden out of the running, there was only one party who could possibly be responsible for this.

He was too far away to stop the arcing arrow, and that alone was enough to cause a bubble of frustration to rise to the surface. Setting his teeth, he was making for that thing that inhabited Sparrow's body when several shrieks from behind him alerted him to the presence of more dragons. And not simple dragonlings, either: these were a bit more grown, somewhere between infants and drakes. With the state the others were in now, he had no choice, and though the slightest of unfriendly sneers lifted his upper lip in Rapture's direction, he turned anyway, treading with a studied, careful lightness back into the fray. He was no puppet, no thrall, no matter how wilful the puppeteer. His weakness would be ignored, compensated for, mastered, made irrelevant.

But even as his knife flayed into the toughened scales of the first to approach, he knew this was not something he could accomplish alone.

Though Nostariel was not, whatever she might seem, generally a weak-minded individual, it was not difficult for the waking nightmare to overtake her senses. What had been before was already so close to the visions that haunted her dreams, that the changes required to bespell her were only slight. The setting was exactly the same, and the reinforcements that arrived to aid the dragon were plausible if unreal. The difficult part was convincing her that the people around her were falling to it, and that, she'd seen before.

The Tranquil, Rilien, was the first to fall, blindsided by a mighty sweep of the dragon's tail, which plastered him to a cavern wall, from which he fell into a knot of Darkspawn, the likes of which tore him apart limb by limb. Ithilian was overcome by a wave of them, and she turned from that, unable to watch. Sparrow beside her caught an arrow in the neck, and try as she might, Nostariel could dredge up no more healing magic. She felt drained dry, exhausted as she'd only been once before. To her right some distance, Varric swore softly under his breath, catching a bolt of lightning from an emissary for his trouble. Lucien, valiant Lucien, fell next, opening up a grievous wound in the dragon only to be crushed between its jaws, shaken like rags in that maw of a mabari. Nostariel lost her footing, crashing to her knees and looking about for the only other person still alive.

Only to wish she hadn't. The angered beast fell upon the hunter last of all, biting down on his arm with a sickening crunch and tearing the limb from its socket. Its forepaw pinned the bleeding hunter to the stone, and slowly, too slowly, it repeated the process with his other arm, then a leg. It was small comfort that he must have been dead by that point, but if it was, she didn't feel it. All she felt was raw, bare pain, because this was exactly what some part of her had always known would happen. She wasn't strong enough to stop it then, and what had she accomplished since? Nothing, unless one counted an addiction and a sorry attempt at forgiving herself. No, they'd died then, and they died now, and if her luck held, she'd somehow survive this too, even though the Maker knew she didn't deserve it.

Lucien, still in front of the dragon, had been carefully-focused on it, concentrating on blocking or moving around its blows as much as possible. It didn't seem keen to use its flames where it may yet scorch its weaker kin, even if they would be more resistant than the average human. This, he could not decide about. On the one hand, he knew he should be counting his blessings. On the other... it was almost a little disappointing. If he was to dance with a dragon, he wanted it to be with a real dragon, a dragon using everything it had.

When the spell hit Lucien, his vision swam for a moment, and the Chevalier blinked rapidly, trying to clear his vision. At the corner of his eye, he could see whispers of fabric, gossamer and silk, but a quick turn of his head proved that there was no matching image to be seen. Clenching his teeth, he resolved to ignore it, rotating his field of vision to face the dragon again, only to find that there was now another person standing between it and him. The silk proved to belong to a deep blue dress, edged in silver, adorning the thin (too thin) figure of a lovely woman. Auburn curls fell about her shoulders and spilled down her back, her lips tilted upwards in a gentle smile. The lady held her hands clasped in front of her, looking at him with steady eyes with a hint of sadness to them.

"Oh Lucien," she sighed, the words tinged with melancholy, "Is he all that lives in you now? Have I been so swiftly forgotten?"

"What on earth?" the mercenary muttered, transfixed. There was no way the vision was real- of that he was certain. But what dragon could show him such a true likeness of his mother? It was sorcery, surely. Lucien's nightmares had never been of things that occurred on the field of battle. Combat was not just his occupation, it was his very lifestyle, and to it, he had been born, bred, and reared, in a way that few have the opportunity to replicate. Certainly, this came with downsides, but a weak will was not one of them, and he shook himself again. "Begone, mirage; I've not the patience to tarry here." He'd been doing something important, he knew he had. Something that he'd been enjoying, no less. Why couldn't he quite remember?

The figment opened it's mouth to speak again, but he was done listening, and advanced forward, straight through it, causing the apparition to disappear with a pained cry. This, he did flinch at, and scowled when it triggered a memory, but he knew that for what it was, and did not drown in it. He would have, once, but no longer. His pause left him vulnerable, though, and Ashton's wayward arrow struck him, by sheer bad luck catching in the relatively-unarmored spot between his collarbone and shoulder muscle. Lucien's breath left him in a hissed exhale, and his shield arm slackened involuntarily, giving the dragon the opening it had been seeking. A great forepaw slipped under his guard and pinned him, dragging the knight to the ground in a great clatter of steel plates.

Well, that certainly explained what he'd been doing, and the knight smiled sardonically despite himself. The dragon loomed over him, its great gusts of breath hot and sticky. Still, the unfortunate predicament drew only a breathy chuckle from the Chevalier. If his father could see him now, he'd be shouting at him not to be such an easily-distracted idiot. It was all right, though, because he was far from helpless, even like this. Tightening his hold on his scythe, Lucien waited, regulating his breathing as much as possible so that the beast would not simply crush the air out of him with its great weight. It seemed disinclined to do so, though the large inhale it took told him he was finally going to get that fire he wanted. Its jaws parted, mouth gaping wide.

Maybe now was a good time to give this a shot, then. Heaving with both arms, Lucien flung his scythe with all his strength, hurling it and pushing up against the clawed arm holding him simultaneously. The dragon reflexively pressed down harder, and so his attempt to free himself failed, but the more important half of this plan didn't, and the polearm found its way into the reptilian's throat, choking off the flow of flames. Unfortunately, the reflex to close its mouth was much less useful, and the thing roared with pain when the scythe-blade embedded itself into its soft palate. The resultant gout of hot blood spilled over its teeth, a good portion of the fluid landing on the knight, who felt about two of his ribs snap when the dragon stepped on him to push off, taking again to the air and wheeling erratically.

"Ouch," Lucien muttered, slowly pushing himself to his feet. Gathering his legs beneath him, he shifted his shield to his good arm and took hold of the arrow, tearing it from his flesh as quickly as he was able. That was no Darkspawn implement, if indeed any were even around. He honestly had no idea how someone with aim like Ashton's had shot him unless intentionally, but he didn't have much time to contemplate. That dragon was going to land sooner or later, and as the majority of the group seemed to be... indisposed, he needed to be there when it landed. Rilien seemed to be fine, though, and Ithilian at least was moving, as was Varric. Nostariel was on the ground, and Ashton not really moving, though. "Can you keep the smaller ones off her?" he asked of Varric regarding the Warden. He had a feeling more than a few of them (himself definitely included), were going to need her help when this was all over. With confirmation, Lucien jogged off after the dragon, albeit with considerably less speed than he'd had at first charge. Battles were often long; this one seemed little different.

Nostariel's vision of Ithilian falling was not far flung from reality; the Dalish elf was about the cut down another when he struck with a powerful bout of dizziness, and his attack veered right, missing entirely. The dragonling jumped freely onto his chest, teeth snapping at his face as claws tried to dig into leather for purchase. He tumbled over backwards, managing to keep the roll going and push the dragon off of him, but his brain was having difficulty working at the capacity needed, and at some point he lost hold of his blades, clattering somewhere among the reptilian bodies. The world was more or less upside down (or perhaps he was upside down), when he was attacked from behind, a larger one seizing the opportunity.

He struggled over, snatching Parshaara and driving it into dragon flesh as close as he could find it. That took care of one claw, but the other raked across his face, thankfully on the side already maimed. His cap fell away, blood leaking down to the empty eye socket. The dragon snapped down with teeth towards his neck, but even spinning as the world was, Ithilian could not miss this strike. Rage allowed him to push through, see clearly when it counted. Dragons did not work magic, and so this had come from another source. He'd seen no darkspawn about, so he was left to suspect one of their own. He'd made up his mind that the Warden was right. This was not the time, nor the place. He would not fall here. Not while there were still things within his power to set right.

The drake lunged down with an open mouth, right on top of Parshaara, the dagger sinking into the soft flesh of the throat, from which Ithilian twisted the blade and ripped upwards towards the brain. A long pair of claws sank into his side as he did so, and Ithilian roared in response, ending the beast's life and shoving it off of him, taking the claws with it. He sucked in a breath, turned to face the next dragon that would attack him, only to find it impaled by a crossbow bolt. He turned to see Varric giving a small salute, before turning and firing another bolt off to the left.

"Can do," the dwarf replied to the Chevalier, the majority of his cheer gone, which was not surprising considering the current state of the party. His eyes and hands were set to the task, unloading bolt after bolt into any dragonlings that approached.

Ithilian had shakily made his way to his feet, resisting the remaining effects of the spell. The dragonlings were being taken care of as best as they could be, at least on his side. Perhaps there were more elsewhere. Still, it seemed there were more pressing concerns. He looked to the state of their healer, cowering on her knees towards the rear, the dwarf keeping guard. It took all his attention to do so. The Keeper Ithilian had been raised under, Felaris, had employed Entropic magic on many occasions, it being his preferred school, and as such it did not take Ithilian long to recognize the effects. How many shemlen had he seen cower under the terror of their own nightmares?

He half-jogged, half stumbled until his stood in front of her, at which point he went to a knee, one hand clutching his side, while the other bloody hand took a firm grip of Nostariel's jaw, forcing her to look at him. He meant for his voice to be steady and clear, but there was no doubt that his anger seeped into it. "Warden!" he shouted to her, trying to command her attention. "Nostariel, listen to me. I have decided that I am not dying here. That was your doing. But so help me, if I bleed to death now, the Dread Wolf and I will hunt you to the ends of the earth!" He ended by backhanding her with his free hand, hard enough to be painful. He'd observed that the best method for helping those under Entropic magic was to simply shock them out. "Now get up!"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega

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A sudden, stinging pain cleared some of the fog from Nostariel's mind, and the Warden blinked rapidly, trying to see properly. Ithilian's face, bloody and haggard but very much alive was the first thing she saw, and she quickly held up a hand to prevent another blow. "I... probably deserved that. Or at least needed it. Right." Pushing herself unsteadily to her feet, the elf tested her newly-regained senses on her surroundings, trying to figure out what was going on. Judging from the state of things, Ithilian wasn't the only injured party, as Lucien appeared to be so as well, even from this distance. Unless she was mistaken, he was also unarmed, and heading towards the dragon, which had taken flight for some reason. For a moment, she entertained the thought that he was currently as delusional as she had been, but then maybe not.

Ashton certainly was, if his current state was anything to go by. Rilien was still carving his way through a knot of dragonlings and a drake, if with a little more care than she would have expected. "Okay," she said, as much to herself as Ithilian. "I'm going to start healing, but I can't do anything about the entropic spells. Can you... will you go snap Ashton out of it, please? I'd prefer not to be shot." Calling the blue-green light of a group heal to her hands, she spared that idea the thought it deserved and winced. "Please don't break anything if you can avoid it." Where those two were involved, it was probably best to err on the side of caution, right?

Rilien, for his part, shook off the lingering effects of the weakness spell even as he was healed of what injuries he'd managed to accumulate, which wasn't many yet. Still, everything helped, even if he'd always be somewhat uncomfortable being healed by such means as these. The last dragonling in his way, he kicked several meters into the air, feeling its ribcage snap under the pressure, but he didn't waste the time necessary to end it any more quickly than that, instead darting off after the Chevalier and the dragon, which appeared to now be searching for the best angle from which to maul the man. Drawing up alongside the much taller man, Rilien wordlessly offered one of his Dalish knives, reaching into his boot to pull out a replacement for himself. Not nearly as long, and straight-bladed rather than curved, it nevertheless would prove a decent compliment due to the ice-enchanment on it.

Glad to see his own method of treatment had worked, Ithilian stood with the Warden and nodded his understanding of what she'd just asked him to do. Normally he would have avoided the human hunter entirely, but he supposed if he had to interact with him, this was his preferred method of doing so. Keeping his head down so as to avoid drawing attention, either from any dragons or from Ashton himself, the Dalish hunter made his way over to him, coming at him from the side, only coming to full height when he was within arm's reach. With his left hand he snatched the hunter's bow arm, pulling the weapon down and away from threatening anyone else, while his right hand cocked back. He slammed a fist across Ashton's jaw, probably not hard enough to break it. "Shem! Pull yourself together, or the next one will hurt much worse." Oh, and it would. "And don't whine to the Warden. She ordered it."

The screaming emptyness of nothing echoed through his mind. He was a child again, all alone, and all around him the faces of monsters stared down at him, featureless lips snarling in cruel delight of his suffering. Ashton couldn't move, and even if he could, where would he go? There was nothing, only darkness around him. He felt the life leave his legs as the trembled, his skin prickled no in excitement this time, but fear. His nightmares were of loneliness and of monsters, and it opressed him. Though, even in this nightmare, a fire still burned. The fear could not take that away from him. Ashton was not weak of mind, nor weak of will. He didn't have walls set up in his mind to protect him, he wore his emotions raw. A nightmare may have taken ahold of these emotions, but he could fight out of it. The hunter would have his hunt.

He tried to force his legs to move, if only to run. But they were stuck, unresponsive. His muscles strained in protest at the unwanted action. He wasn't going to win this battle physically, that much was blaringly obvious. But he needed to move, to get away. To run. Some part of him was disgusted by this, by his desire to run. It felt like all he'd done in his entire life, was run. He ran from home, he ran away then, and he'd try to run away now. Somewhere that spark lit something inside the hunter. No, not to run. He couldn't run. He didn't know why, but it didn't feel right. Something was keeping him tethered. He'd have to face the monsters, and this loneliness.

Loneliness... Was he truly alone any more? Wasn't there someone else? Weren't there others with him? Where were they now? They were somewhere in the darkness. He needed to go find them. If he was alone, then it was by his own choice. No longer, he needed to move. With that, his legs finally began to move of their own accord. At least they were, until a rough hook to the jaw brought him completely out of it. The shadows and monstrous faces melted away until Ithilian and he remained. The dragon still lived, and that brought back the earlier excitement, but this time tempered with a bit of anger. Was he truly so weak as to fall for something like that? Whatever the hell it was. His lip quivered in irritation as his eyes darted between the Dalish and the dragon.

Ashton's eye then went to the Dalish's one. "What are you still standing around for? There's prey to be hunted." He stated, what jovial tone usually in his tone freshly bled dry. With that, he darted past the Dalish, drawing an arrow and planned to enact the series of steps he had practiced before the whole nightmare deal. They'd deal with the dragon, then wonder what the hell happened, though Ashton already had a couple of suspicions. A conversation with Rilien was in the near future.

But for now, the dragon. He would not miss again.

Ithilian turned to watch him go, honestly a little disappointed. If the shem was still feeling any effects of the spell after the fight, the Dalish hunter would be more than willing to knock them out of his head. For now, he contented himself with adding arrows to the cause of helping bring down the dragon.

Meanwhile, Lucien was keeping a careful eye on the dragon, aided now by a powerful wave of energy that washed over him like warm ocean water, repairing his broken ribs and closing the wound created by the arrowhead. Nostariel. Clearly the Warden was back in working order, and for that, he was most grateful indeed. He was preoccupied enough that he almost didn't notice Rilien appear beside him, quiet and businesslike as ever. The offer was not one the Tranquil would make lightly, extra knife or not, and Lucien found himself honored by it, accepting the dagger with an incline of his head. "I daresay it's much larger than an ogre, but I think a similar principle applies, do you not?" he asked of his friend, testing the balance of the steel in his hand.

It was considerably lighter than the weapons he was used to hefting, though sturdy enough as far as daggers went, and he had no doubt that Rilien kept his steel deadly-sharp. A cry overhead alerted them to the impending landing of the dragon, and Lucien inhaled deeply, tightening his grip and readying his shield. This, despite the unfortunate circumstances which surrounded it, was still exactly where he wanted to be just now, and he flashed a half-cocked smile at the Tranquil. "What say you, Rilien? Once more, for old times' sake?" He referred to a type of strategy the two of them had often employed in tandem, and surely it would be a worthy trial to test it against such a creature as this.

Rilien's eyes tracked the dragon's progress, ducking slightly as it swooped by overhead, banking sharply and coming in to land. Tlting his head to one side, the Tranquil pondered the question. His answer, such as it was, was to disappear, sticking fast to the Chevalier's shadow, an invisible friend that flitted through the dark to emerge only when it became necessary. This was something at which they were long practiced, and so when Lucien moved forward to meet the dragon, Rilien followed, matching pace automatically so as to remain unseen, not even an odd flicker in the darkened alter-self the nobleman cast upon the stone.

There was something at once eerie and reassuring, knowing that your shadow was just as deadly as you were. On the one hand, he feared no attack from behind, but on the other... one learned to be perhaps too cautius when one knew what people like Rilien were capable of. He'd thought himself a wary man before he ever met the elf. Now, he was more inclined to laugh at the fool he'd been then, and all the different ways he could have gotten himself killed in his folly. Well, not today, at any rate. The dragon raked a forepaw horizontally over the ground, and the knight jumped, clearing the passing limb with surprising room to spare. Landing solidly, he slashed with the dagger, scoring a thin line in the exposed elbow-joint, but the creature recovered far too quickly for more than that, withdrawing the limb and snapping at him.

Lucien bashed it in the snout with his shield, fending off the sharpened ivory teeth. It was clearly cautious of staying too close to him for too long, perhaps because his last weapon was still stuck in the roof of its mouth. Either way, he pressed it to his advantage, managing to push the dragon back a step and onto the defensive as, bolstered by the confidence that he was well-protected from behind, Lucien went on the offensive.

With Lucien fully engaging the beast, it was left to Rilien only to wait, biding his time with a patience that perhaps represented a distinct advantage of his condition. Other people were of dispositions emotional enough that they would act as soon as they saw a friend in danger, or an opening to attack. The Tranquil knew it was best to trust that Lucien would take care of himself, and pass up inconsequantial opportunities to wait for the larger one, the one that would end things most fatally for the opponent.

He was back into the fight, and this time, Ashton would not let his prey escape. As soon as he pushed past Ithilian, he hid in the shadows once again. This time around though, instead of the protective feeling he normally got, the cloak of darkness felt heavy and oppressive. The memory of his waking nightmare was still fresh, but he wouldn't allow it to drive his hands in legs. As the dragon landed and resumed the assault on both Lucien and Rilien, it revealed an opening for him to take. He stopped his dead sprint and cut to the side, attempting to get behind the dragon. He knew the Chevalier and the Tranquil enough to know they could take whatever the dragon dished out. Even so, he wouldn't allow just them to have all the fun. This was just as much his hunt as it was theirs.

Ashton approached the dragon at an angle, the space between the length of its tail and its hind leg his target. Instead of pelting the spot with arrows though, he did something else. He jumped, kicking off some of its scales and bringing him along its back. He pointed his bow at his feet and drew, sending the arrow point blank into it's spine. At a range, the arrow wouldn't do near as much damage as it would if he was mere feet away. Trusting Lucien to take enough heat for him to finish his run, he began to move along the dragon's spine, firing as many arrows as fast as he could, adding a line of fletching to go along nicely with it's spiney scale.

The run took all of a few seconds, but the damage was done. As he approached the base of it's serpintine neck, he pegged it a trio of times before jumping off of it's neck and be subject to it bucking him off. He landed less than gracefully, sprawling out for a moment before snatching his bow up and flipping on to his back. While his run was done, the onslaught was not. Arrow after arrow flew over the heads of Lucien and Rilien, perhaps helping the duo in bringing the creature down. "When this is over... I'm taking one of its bones as a... trophy," Ashton stated between arrows.

Rapture's efforts proved quite fruitless, as she watched them, one-by-one, shake themselves out of the nightmarish, weakened stupor she'd deceptively cast over them, only briefly returning Rilien's baleful glare with one of her own coquettish smirks before she danced away from them, away from the dragons and dragonlings to gather her bearings. Her vision was already blinking out like extinguished lights, blown out candles. She would not be able to hold this husk as long as she hoped, but this was enough, she thought. Sparrow's bard-companion understood what she was capable of doing and of whom she was capable of hurting. Would he hurt the shell she inhabited to save his friends? A wracking cough spluttered from her chest, in which she hunched over, coughing into her hand until it passed. She admired the fine speckling of blood webbing constellations across her opened palms. Sparrow's hooting howls grew more fluent, louder and more insistent. She'd found a small chink in whatever barrier, in whatever corner of the Fade she'd been bound and she was hammering wildly at it, as if she still held her mace.

She traced Ithilian's movements with her narrowed eyes, watched as his fist collided with Ashton's jawline and couldn't help laugh. That one was interesting enough – though hardly manipulable given his temperament, she'd have no luck swaying him to any of his desires unless she promised to wipe nearly all humans off the planet, or perhaps offer revenge. Vengeance, it seemed, was one of the most potent things she could offer. Rapture licked her lips, then jumped once more into the fray, utilizing her ice-bolts and weaving around the adolescent-dragons, slipping between their clumsy, thick legs and hopping over their swinging tails. It was only when she reached Lucien and Rilien's flank that her footsteps slowed, suddenly wooden and awkward. Her limbs were going numb, spreading down her knees, ankles, elbows and fingers. The mass of ice she'd been holding slipped awkwardly from her bloody palms, crashing around her feet. With one final strain of exertion, as if she were gripping a craggy ledge, Rapture stumbled away from the fight and slipped behind a small nook of rocks where she wouldn't readily be crushed by any wayward dragons.

She still needed this body, after all. Having her be squished underneath such an unintelligent creature's foot would've been insulting. She slumped unceremoniously against the rocks, hardly feeling the boulder dig into her shoulders, her spine. Her back arched, sending her sprawling on the ground – and even then, Rapture was satisfied. She'd done more than she thought she could in such a short span of time. Her grip released, though she relished the brief glimpses of the cave fizz away in an array of wriggling worms. Sparrow had escaped her Fade-prison, and was pushing her way back, called by the sounds of battle, by the guilt of what she'd done in her absence. Her muscles quivered in protest, stuck in momentary stasis; elbows and legs propped up at weird angles, before they plopped back down. Sparrow was breathing now, could feel her chest rising and falling – could feel her fingers grating against the rocks, she was back.

Nostariel, occupied mostly with flinging ice at the dragon from behind the main line, noted Sparrow's erratic behavior with some confusion. It wasn't lost on her that the only other being around here capable of casting any kind of entropic magic would have to be him, but she did not want to jump to conclusions about what had happened, or almost happened. Instead, she flung a separate healing spell at the slender man, hoping that whatever was going on was something he would be able to resolve in time.

Rilien felt the shift in the magic surrounding his cohabitant with an imperceptible slackening of some tension across the line of his shoulders, and refocused quite quickly on the matters before him. Ashton's antics along the dragon's spine had not taken it down by any means, but they had clearly hurt it, and the same could be said of the magic, arrows, and crossbow bolts flying from beind. Lucien was actually forcing it to retreat with the aggression of his advance, and Rilien moved forward with him, still awaiting the perfect opportunity.

It came, as fate would have it, when a well-placed arrow struck the creature in the side of the head, embedding itself in the snout. The dragon roared and thrashed, lowering its head to its paw and forcing the head of the thing from its face. As though he'd known how to do it all his life, Rilien shifted, tapping Lucien on the shoulder with the pommel of his knife, signaling the impending maneuver. Lucien felt it, and smiled, readjusting himself so that he fell into a crouch, shield held just over his head, planting himself solidly upon the ground so as not to come off-balance. The Tranquil backed up a few paces, then darted forward, planting a foot first on the Chevalier's hunched back, and then landing square in the center of the shield.

Once he felt the burden of the elf's weight shift, Lucien propelled himself upwards with all the strength in his legs, boosting Rilien considerably higher than he would have been able to jump in his own, and the Tranquil, light on his feet as always, was free to steer his jump from there. With the dragon's muzzle lowered from its usual height, it was not too difficult to catch onto one of the spikes protruding from its crown, and this he did, swinging himself around so that he was astride the crest of its neck, driving his knife through the left eye, scaly lid and all. The beast thrashed, trying to dislodge him, but the arrows Ashton had buried at the base of its neck weakened it, and instead, Rilien's weight forced its head further downward, right into Lucien's range.

Nostariel, catching on, shifted tactics for a moment and cast elemental weapons, imbuing the dagger in the knight's hand with lightning effects, which would hopefully aid in the effort more than another couple shots of ice would. The crackling energy surrounded the blade, and Lucien wasted little time, throwing his torso into a shield bash which successfully stunned the dragon and allowed Rilien the opportunity to leap off, which he did, landing on the creature's now blind side and taking his knife with him, though not before twisting it in the eyesocket. The Chevalier had no desire to prolong the suffering the dragon was underging at the moment, and at first opportunity (namely, the dragon opening its mouth to snarl), he shoved his arm as far into the beast's gullet as far as it would go and, finding the soft palate, drove the knife upwards and into the brain from there, stilling it almost instantaneously.

Towards the rear of the group, Ithilian and Varric put the finishing touches on the battle, launching arrows and crossbow bolts into the last remaining dragonlings, both of them breathing a sigh when the large room suddenly fell quiet of the sounds of battle and death. Varric gave Bianca and loving pat, retracting the arms of the weapon and slinging it back across his back. After looking about to ensure there were no casualties among them, he gave a single laugh, as if he was having trouble believing what they'd just pulled off.

"I hope you all don't mind being in a story... because I'm telling this one to everyone."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega

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The last few dragons and dragonlings fell to an efficient hail of arrows, but Rilien couldn't be bothered to even feign interest in that. Not now that the main threat was gone and he'd felt a substantial shift in the ambient magic around Sparrow. The Tranquil advanced to where the half-elf was still clutching at stones on the ground. Crouching, he brought his eyes to a level with where hers would be if she was looking at anything aside from the ground beneath her. His forearms hung loosely from his knees, and though he appeared just as unruffled as ever, he certainly did not feel so-- and a large part of himself hated that. "Sparrow," he said, loud enough to demand attention, but not so loud that everyone else had to hear. Much to his displeasure, his voice cracked slightly on the second syllable, like ill-maintained leather, a far cry from the usual velvet monotone or the silken slithers of song he preferred. Swallowing, he ignored it, shifting slightly in his spot.

Quietly, he took hold of one of her wrists, prizing it away from the stones she clutched, lest she tear her fingernails bloody. "Sparrow," he repeated, with more certainty this time, mouth turning down almost imperceptbly at the corners. He should not have let these things esclalate so far, and this, he did consider his fault. It became his fault when he'd tacitly offered his support months ago, said without words that all she needed to do was be as she wished, and he would take care of the rest. Rapture, demon that she was, would never understand that, logical as he preferred to be, there were still imperfections in his Tranquility, and this was what he wrought with them. She suffered, and he had allowed it, presuming that her strong will and desire to live her own way would eventually subdue the malicious presence, before things became a hindrance to others.

But why had he believed that? There was no logic in it; one did not throw fire at a house one wished to save from burning. One did not fight Desire with desire, whatever it may be. Her longing for freedom had likely built the bars of her cage. This, too, he should have acted against, somehow. Sooner, maybe. He should not be here, but back in his shop, working out the details of what was even now merely a rough sketch in his mind. He watched her drown when he should have been recusitating her, and for the first time in more years than he remembered properly, Rilien felt the coiling of a particular feeling deep in his stomach, reaching up his spine and playing havoc-riddled chords on his lungs.

Guilt. He felt guilty, and it ate at him with a fierceness he hadn't recollected.

On days like this, when Rapture had satisfied her curiosities, or nights (who could tell when you were traipsing down in the Deep Roads), Sparrow felt as if her bones were shrivelling in her body, encased by paralysed tendons and tissue, hardly responsive, skin pulled taut until her spine seemed as if it were splintering and grinding against their adjacent neighbours. Her breathing felt as if it were being syphoned through two leather sacks, hollowed and bereft of moisture, where two healthy lungs should've been; all dried and narrowed. Icy fingers trickled down her shoulder blades, digging their fingernails into the tenderest parts until she gained some sort of awareness of herself. Her lips felt as cold as the ice-bolts Nostariel had been throwing and she half expected hoarfrost to slip from them. Filigree's of numbness spirited over her extremities, spreading through her stupefied limbs. Nothing felt like it belonged to her. Her body was not her own, anymore.

Sparrow's arched back, nearly crackling at it's unusual angle, finally dropped back on the ground. Her hands continued to clutch at the rocks, fingernails scraping. The familiar voice caused her to flinch. She glanced up, just briefly, but she couldn't see anything except the outline of him, blocked by shadows and looming stalagmites. There was some blood, on the floor, but not a lot of it. She could feel it sticking to the back of her palate, nearly choking her. Her mouth had clamped shut, molars grinding against a pain she could not account for. The calling of her name – it hadn't been an angry sound; no, it was worse than that. Was it disappointment? She couldn't tell. Her thoughts swam in a murky lake, scattering the ripples in every direction. She couldn't tell whether or not her eyes were closed, or if they were opened. Darkness had fallen over her eyelids, clicking slits of gloomy light through it's pin-pricked holes.

When Rilien moved, Sparrow stopped. His hands were warm, ringing around her wrists. The rocks had fallen from her palms, clinking unceremoniously against her breastplate. She blinked her eyes opened, wide. Her dark eyes were hollow-looking, but dry. This time her name was said differently, succinctly more assured. She swallowed hard, desperately burying her own heart somewhere deep down. They would have to move on from this, even if Rilien had been aware of what had just occurred. Sweat dripped down the back of her neck. She did not trust her voice enough, felt it's hoarseness threatening to ruin her words – and what could she have said, what could she do to excuse what she'd nearly allowed to happen? Any excuses now would've been blatantly ignorant. Too human, perhaps. Only human – even, if she was only half. Too often it was used as an excuse for failure, used to offer comfort in the face of some manner of shortcoming. It was an insult. She'd failed, again.

Her eyes focused, then refocused, trailing up Rilien's features. His nose, his down-turned mouth. There had always been a risk, toying with her freedom and blithely believing that everything would turn out well if she really believed in herself. She was a marked risk – dangerous to her companions, dangerous to herself. Worse yet, Sparrow hadn't told anyone else save Ashton and Rilien (and in the most peculiar ways that involved ignoring the subject entirely). In an instant, in a hail of arrows, things weren't panning out. This was her fault. She hadn't been strong enough and she hated herself for it. So, Sparrow camouflaged her fears, her thoughts, her worries with courage, however feigned, and weakly smiled, forcing a chuckle that might've been scrapped from the rocks she'd held moments ago, “What's with that look? I—I'm fine.”

The Tranquil's features smoothed out, his eyes lowering to half-mast, and he released her wrists. "Is that so?" he replied, well aware that she was not telling him the truth and still just barely out of his usual mindset to be irritated about it. "Then you ought stand. We delay further progress by remaining here." Taking his own advice, Rilien rose easily to his feet, all stubborn traces of the weakness spell gone. It was perhaps unusually cold, even for him, that he did not offer to assist her, but if she did not want yet to acknowledge what had happened, he would not either. Still, he left one of his hanging sleeves in easy reach if she really needed the help, and stood so that any difficulty she'd have righting herself would not be obvious to the others.

"The matter might be left for now," he deadpanned, fixing her with a calculating stare, "but not forever."

Sparrow wasn't entirely sure if Rilien's easy reversal, and his ability to so completely repossess his imperturbable countenance, was comforting or disconcerting. Either way, she couldn't fault him for that. Her mouth formed a hard line, then simpered into her usual expression. There was something missing there, lacking its normal lustre. There was nothing amusing about what had just happened and no jokes sprung from her lips, nor any comment or apology. Quips, witticisms, or any sarcastic remarks said in the hopes of smoothing the wrinkles out of the damage she'd done, ignoring the nightmarish things that had come from her fingertips, clearly didn't belong in the conversation. She did not repeat herself – couldn't bring herself to say that she was fine when she was not, conjuring an assurance she did not feel. Her bloodstream ran cold, thick as molasses. When Rilien rose to his feet, Sparrow learned forward, forearms hanging loose across her knees.

He was right. Any delays would only bring up questions she didn't want to answer – they were here for a reason, anyway. Sparrow was not one to stubbornly refuse help (when it came to balancing herself, anyway) and her jellied legs hardly guaranteed that they wouldn't give out if she tried to stand on her own. Tentatively reaching her hand out, Sparrow gripped Rilien's sleeve and hauled herself up, tensing her shoulders. Everything felt new again. Her limbs were colt-born, clumsy. Her nose felt sensitive to the musty, coppery stench of the dragon's under dwelling; unpleasant, to say the least. It took her a moment to gather her wits about her, steadying herself on Rilien's shoulder before she tucked her hands back against her sides, reflecting for a moment, before ruefully rubbing her arms, her elbows, her wrists. The numbness was receding to whatever corner they'd materialized from.

She returned his stare, though her eyebrows scrunched up and she lowered her gaze, fixing it on her plated boots. “After this is done with. I just don't... want to bring it up down here,” Sparrow whispered softly, looking up. It was a silent request and a promise. Why ruin the entire adventure with such gloomy tidings? She would talk about it after they emerged from the Dead Roads. For now, though, she was back and she would contribute as she always did. Rilien simply nodded. It would do, and whatever trace of ruffled feathers remained smoothed out entirely, as though they'd never been present at all. Her fingers drifted over her hip, faltered when they didn't find what they'd been searching for – bloody she-bitch. A small sound escaped her lips. With another experimental step, Sparrow moved around Rilien and half-jogged, half-stumbled over to her prized possession, disrespectfully tossed over an outcrop of rocks. With the tenderness reserved only for pretty lasses, she clasped it into her hands and fastened it back where it belonged.

On the other side of the chamber, Nostariel was taking hurried steps towards the dragon's corpse and the majority of the rest of the group. She'd seen Rilien's beeline for Sparrow, and just sort of assumed he was doing whatever was necessary to figure things out. She didn't pretend to understand those two, nor whatever bound they and Ashton together. Well, maybe Sparrow and Ashton weren't too hard to figure out-- they both seemed to love fun and drink and so on. At any rate, whatever had happened there really wasn't any of her business, and in the end it had done no harm, so... as long as it wasn't going to be a problem, she was willing to let it go. Stepping up next to Ashton and Lucien, she took a closer look at the dragon and shook her head.

"I've seen a lot of things in the Deep Roads, but never did I expect a dragon would be among them."

Once the dragon had fallen, Ashton sidled up beside the loom Chevalier, looking down at their work. Well, his and Rilien's work if he was going to be brutally honest. The fact that his arrows only seemed in inconvience the creature while Lucien wrapped it's brains around his little knife. At the moment, he was feeling inferior to the man beside him. He wish he would have done more, been more involved in the hunt. He sighed, drew back his bow and let one last arrow thump into it's skull plate. It wasn't a killing blow, seeing as it was already dead but one could never be too careful. That and it made him feel a little better. "Next time, I get to kill it," Ashton mumbled as he knelt down by the creature and rubbed it's head, almost fondly.

He threw a glance over to Rilien, who was on his way to Sparrow. Ashton wisely allowed the Tranquil to persue that business by himself. He'd take a number and have his own little chat with the man later. Until then, he'd play everything off. The bruise arising on his chin was going to be hard to explain. He was coming too on his own, sure, but the Dalish' calloused knuckles seemed to expediate that process. It was going to be tough to play the incident like nothing happened, but then again, he was Ashton, the best of liars. It'd be no problem.

Ashton had sidled around the dragon until he hovered over one of it's arms. He lifted the apendage into the air and then allowed it fall back to the ground. Lighter than he'd imagined. If he had his guess, then the bones were hollow to aid in flight. He crossed his arms and bit into his thumb as he went through useful purposes of a dragon arm in his mind. He shrugged then rose, he'd have plenty of time to figure that out later. "What's not to expect? All kinds of monsters live in the deep roads, why not dragons too?" He simply said. The other option it had was to fly about outside, and people like him would hunt the creature down. Dragons were intelligent creatures, after all.

"How about you lovely? You alright? And you Ser Knight? Noticed you didn't ask it to yield this time," Ashton quipped as he took a seat on its shoulder. He then looked down at the corpse he sat on and back to Lucien. He was lost that goofy aspect and became somewhat serious as he spoke again, "By all rights, this is your kill. Maybe next time I'll have that honor. But dragons are few and far between, so can I ask for a favor? Can I have its arm? I have plans for it," He wasn't quite sure what those plans were, but he'd figure it out eventually.

"What creature of the sky would choose to live under the ground?" she answered by way of reply, shaking her head. Still, the point was fair enough. "I am... well, enough, all things considered." Turning back slightly and leaving Lucien to provide Ashton with whatever answer he chose, she located Ithilian and Varric. "And the two of you? Nothing broken, I hope?" The joke, subtle as it was, was made from weariness, mostly, giving it a kind of gallows necessity. She managed a half-smile, largely for the dwarf, who she suspected was more likely to care whether she did or not. Though, she did likely owe the Dalish her thanks for bringing her around, else her nightmare might well have made unfortunate reality of itself.

Ithilian's headscarf had been torn through by a dragon's claw, and was now rather useless; he shoved it in a pocket. Nostariel's healing spell had closed his wounds well enough. Now that the fight was over, his scowl had set back in, his eye drifting towards Sparrow and the Tranquil. He didn't manage a smile at Nostariel's words, and indeed Varric was the only one of the pair to even see the Warden's own smile. He dusted himself off. "I think I got lucky this time. That, or Bianca and I are just that good." He seemed relatively unperturbed by the implications that were becoming more clear now. Ithilian had yet to sheathe his bow, and at this point he probably wouldn't at all. He didn't know what was wrong with the half-elven mage, but there were only so many things it could be. The way things had worked in his former clan, most of them led to rather dire consequences for her. It was probably safe to assume that the Dalish hunter would be watchful of her, and more than willing to train an arrow on her should things get out of hand again.

Lucien, having retrieved his friend's dagger from the mouth of the dragon, was somewhat surprised to see that it hadn't suffered any damage, much unlike his scythe. Then again, it was considerably more well-made, and no portion of it was wooden, either. At Ashton's piece of commentary, he smiled, still coming down from the battle-high that the creature had provided him with. "Personally, I think she should have given me the opportunity to surrender. It's usually done for the benefit of a weaker opponent, after all." Still, the fact that they were alive and the dragon was not spoke at greater volume than he would have any desire to, regardless of the unstated nature of it.

Unlike most of the rest, Lucien was suffereing from no greater wariness than usual, and the Deep Roads seemed to bother him not at all, if his demeanor was anything to go by. It was much easier to kill Darkspawn than men, he thought, not as a matter of their strength, but as one of the state of mind required. Darkspawn were irrevocably Tainted; their deaths were mercies. People were a little different in this regard. Dragons... well, he'd be lying if he said he'd never wished to slay a dragon, but he could understand the nobility of the creature all the same, and would not have attacked it without cause. The archer's next query had him a bit perplexed, and his eyebrows decended his forehead as though with puzzlement. "'Twas the work of many, not one. I'd say you're welcome to it, my opinion notwithstanding. If it were somehow my decision to make, the answer would be the same." He shrugged, not having much use for any of the parts himself, though he presumed Rilien also might.

As for the matter of the fell magic which had somehow been cast upon them, well... he knew Rilien was much more talented with such things than he, and the Tranquil appeared to be doing something about the matter. Whatever his judgement was, Lucien trusted that it would be the right one. A distinction he had learned to make long ago due to his friend was that between one who had no qualms about killing and one who killed without reason. Though he was neither, the important thing was that was that Rilien was not the second, and this Sparrow lass seemed to be of some importance to him.

Even now, Sparrow felt awkward approaching the group. It'd been Rapture, after all, who'd been following them all along. Her hands busied themselves behind her head, scratching idly at the nape of her neck as she made her way over. Fancy those dragons, she could've said, but she hadn't really done anything besides nearly run them all down with spells she couldn't actually recall being able to perform. Even if it was uncharacteristic of her, and she might've been better off trading quips with Ashton, or clapping Lucien on the back for having performed so well, Sparrow remained quiet.

Perfectly content with that, Lucien glanced around. "Well, it seems we've found Bartrand his way around the block in the road. Perhaps we salvage what we can and return to tell him as much?" This was largely directed at Varric, though of course anyone was free to give their opinion on the matter.

The dwarf gave a nod of agreement. "Sounds like a plan. We'll see how much Bartrand doubts your abilities now."

"Can I stroke his beard with these claws?" Ashton posited, as he began work to saw off the dragon's arm. It would make a fine beard-comb yes, but an even better bow. Lucien snorted softly, shaking his head and moving to help. He'd give the dagger back to Ril as soon as the arm was gone. Varric shrugged in response. "As much as I'd like to see that, let's not and I'll say we did."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega

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Varric was at the head of the triumphant returning party as they made their way back to the camp, and Bartrand. Even Ithilian had not elected to scout ahead of the group, but he still placed himself a short ways off to the side, and remained utterly silent. "Bartrand!" Varric called, getting his brother's attention. "We found a way around your damned cave-in!" The elder brother's response was simply to turn back to the rest of the group. "It's about time! Let's move out!"

They packed up quickly, hauling everything off along the path the party had cut for them, most of the hirelings stepping gingerly over the bodies of dismembered darkspawn, and staring in confused awe at the frozen and petrified ogre, which they likely assumed had been the work of their Warden guide, and Sandal made no attempt to correct them, instead looking around the caverns with innocent curiosity, Bodahn's hand on the boy's shoulder most of the way. When they arrived at the dragon's corpse, picked clean as it was by those of the party that had wanted some piece of it, even Bartrand looked a little taken aback, but he did well to contain it behind his usual stony glare. They did not linger long, and Varric's smug grin seemed to be the only thing Bartrand needed to satisfy his curiosity about what happened here.

Not long after the dragon's den they came upon an opening, a sight coming into view that caused both of the dwarves leading them to halt in their tracks. "Holy shit..." Varric said, hands going to his hips as he admired the surroundings. Bartrand raised his eyebrows. "I thought... an abandoned thaig, something old, but... what is this?" Something old was perhaps the best way to describe it, as the architecture they had stumbled across was unlike anything seen in Orzammar or even the other thaigs that had been taken by the darkspawn. Glowing blue lyrium crystals lined many of the walls, and some of the structures seem to glow a faint crimson color. Bartrand took a step forward, heading towards it.

"We heard old scavenger tales," he explained to the group. "After the Third Blight. A week below the surface, they said, but nobody believed them..." Varric shrugged, a faint smile on his face. "Looks like they were right." Bartrand turned to the rest of the group. "Make camp here! We need to look around."




A heavy clawed hand descended and perched on the top of Rilien's white mane. Next to the Tranquil stood the Archer, wearing the dragon's arm like some sort of extravagant fashion statement and tried his best to look regal as possible. He let the claw linger on Rilien's head for a moment before speaking in true Ashton style, "I've got to hand it to you Rilsie, you and Lucy make a good team. What with him throwing you at a dragon and what not. Wish the hunt was a bit more... pure though," He let the implication linger for a minute, manually tapping one of the dragon's claw on top of the Tranquil's head. Rilien endured all of this in a way that was by now quite easily guessed of him: in placid silence, and largely unmoving.

Then Ashton stopped and his tone grew serious. "There's only one person I know that could cast those kind of spells... Is she alright?" He asked, "I've noticed she's been acting different, but I didn't put it together until now. I'm worried," He said, looking down at the man waiting for the answer. He spoke softly and slowly so that the others wouldn't overhear, but at this point they had to have some suspicions. out of all of them, it was only Rilien and himself who knew Sparrow's plight, who knew of the demon pact. He'd like to keep it that way and keep her safe. He only wished that there was more that he could do...

"She can't, actually," was Rilien's initial reply, and he cast orange eyes askance at the archer. "Entropy is not part of Sparrow's skill-set." The emphasis he placed on the name was light, but by now, Ashton would be accustomed enough to his normal tone to pick up on the subtle difference. It was the most careful way Rilien had to describe exactly what had happened: Sparrow had not been in control of her own body, the demon had. He knew not how long she would maintain it this time, either.

"I expect that if she tried right now to reproduce the effects, she would be unsuccessful, but her behavior is erratic as it has ever been." And in that, he conveyed that the temporary possession was over, at least for now, but that it would perhaps be pertinent for the both of them to stay wary. If she interfered again, he was unsure that certain members of the rest of their party would be content to allow her to live. Rilien would not hesitate to slay anyone that attempted to put an end to her, not normally. But doing so here might well prevent them from reaching the surface alive and intact, a conundrum if ever there was one.

"Hmm. That's good," Ashton hummed contently, relinquishing the dragon's claw from atop the tranquil's snowy head. He had followed Rilien's words like a map, drawing all of the information he could from the change in tone from his emotionless voice. Something he had picked up a while ago now, everything the tranquil said had merit and held no wasted words. Ashton tossed a glance to wherever Sparrow was presently. Shrugging (the dragon arm rising and falling with the motion), he added "Perhaps next time it happens, can I get a simple 'hey Ash'?" The tranquil had an uncanny ability to sense the shifts in the veil, kinda like a warning light. He only wished the tranquil had the ability to tell him when it happened too.

Rilien appeared to consider this, then nodded. It seemed a reasonable-enough request, though there would be precious little either of them would be able to do if the events did repeat themselves. No, the answer most likely lay outside of Ashton's capabilities, and his as well, but those only for now. The matter would require more research, but the funds from this expedition would hopefully allow him the opportunity to procure several rare books he recalled from the Circle library in Orlais, old texts written in older languages which he had only begun to decipher when he was taken from that place. Still, if he remembered properly (and he did, always), then there was something in there worth examining further.

For her, he would, even if it would be easier to end her and the demon too.

Ashton then puckered his lips and racked his mind, searching to see if there was anything else he wanted to either tell or ask of him, but nothing immediately came to mind. They both would obviously be looking over Sparrow now that he current ordeal was over, so that didn't need mentioning. Despite their differences, Ashton believed that they were much alike in that regard. He didn't need words to confirm it. With that, Ashton nodded, "Alright then. Good talk Ril. I'm going to see if can't go lend a hand somewhere," he said, a wisp of a smile hiding behind a waving dragon claw.

"Do not lend it to Bartrand," Rilien advised sagely. "It would be a shame to be beaten to death with your own helping hand, though you might deserve it for the folly such a move would demonstrate." And that was most assuredly a joke, even if his face gave away absolutely nothing of the kind. "He'd have to reach it first," Ashton said, holding the arm over his head before dropping it back to his shoulders. That was a short joke if there ever was one. At this point, Ashton came to expect little gems of dry wit from the Tranquil.

As it would be, Sparrow waited for the opportune time to slither over to her secretively-whispering companions, ignoring the fact that she'd noticed them glancing in her direction only moments ago, and noticing, warily, that Rilien seemed to be in the process of leaving. However, she quickened her strides, snatched up Rilien's flowing sleeve and ducked underneath it, unceremoniously holding it aloft before gingerly placing it back at his side, unfettered by her, often unwanted, touch. Then, Sparrow slipped beside Ashton, hooking her arm around his, propping up his elbow with her free hand and moving it in front of her mouth so that his prize dragon-claw bobbed in front – and she had pseudo-fangs in the form of elongated talons, jauntily moving with her greeting of, “What long faces you've got. You've just slayed a dragon. A dragon. When we get back to Kirkwall, do you know how many lovely lasses you'll have flocking to your shop to see this thing?” The claw flapped indignantly with her hand-jerks, as if offended to be called a thing. She released her companion's arms, and elbow, before curiously poking at the claw's zeniths with her fingertips. Funny thing, how friends worked. They'd protect her even if it meant putting the others at risk, they'd defend her if the question ever arose, and she almost cursed those particular traits. She almost wanted them to end it here, and now, because it'd only be more difficult if things got worse. What would they do then, she wondered.

“Bet the rest of the journey down here won't be much more interesting. What beats a dragon? Asides from gryphon-riding Grey Wardens?” She added as an afterthought, glancing in Nostariel's direction with a smile. It was better not to mention what she'd done. It was better to pretend as if nothing had happened. The task itself, feigning ignorance, was surprisingly simple, so easy compared to spilling her heart out and crying and stomping her foot at the injustices of her predicament. It was easier this way, as always. Her burdens would remain on her shoulders until they were forcibly removed, until she had no other choice but to share it with her friends. She chuckled in her Fadespace, where she'd been locked up during the battle with the dragon (which she childishly regretted missing if only for the fact that she hadn't participated in bringing such a creature down), clearly amused, evidently delighted with herself. Her smile faltered a moment, then drew up again in full effect. The alcohol she'd drink after this merry escapade, as far as she was concerned, was more than a necessity. This had transformed itself into a nightmare — no, this went far beyond a nightmare, straight into something so awful that it could only be reality; the mind couldn't have conjured up this situation.

If things were reversed, she knew she'd do the same. Until her last breath, or the end of her days. She'd protect them, too.

"They won't have long to fawn over it, I've got plans for this baby," he said, twitching it to jingle the claws. He had big plans for it. "Might need to change the shop's name to reflect my grand accomplishments," he said with a reserved look and tone. He wasn't so far up his own ass to believe that it'd been solely his doing that had brought the dragon down, but it never hurt to make it seem that way. Beside, the others didn't seem like the bragging sort, and someone would have to spread the message, why not him? He grinned and plopped the dragon hand on top of her head, much like he did to the Tranquil not long ago. "What do you think, my fine, feathered, friend? The Dragon's Arrow? Wyrmhunt? Ashton's kickass shop of victuals?" The last was a playful joke, but the first two were honest ideas.

It was easier. To pretend nothing was wrong, to act like she was the same Sparrow through and through. He wished that he didn't have to pretend. People like them never got what they wanted though, so he'd bend along with the wind. He'd act like everything was good and dandy. He'd keep an ear to the ground, and play off everything with that goofy little grin and a stupid joke. He'd never let on how seriously worried he was about her. Why show it when there was nothing he could do about it? All he could do was wait and watch, and hope for a miracle.

"Tell ya what, I'll make you a necklace out of one of the claws."




Nostariel had chosen this moment to take something of a break, and was currently seated on the stone ground in front of a small fire she'd lit, warming her hands and trying not to let the faint echoes of her uncanny waking dream stir her any further. She was not a particularly stoic soul, however; she'd always felt with a kind of focused depth that belied her training. Mages often needed to be able to pay attention to one thing to the exclusion of all else, and when Nostariel felt something particularly strongly, she could often ignore broader implications or common sense in favor of that singularity of purpose. She supposed that, in the end, this was why she was unable to just let go of what haunted her. Or maybe that was just something that everyone struggled with, she honestly had no idea.

Sighing, the Warden crossed her legs and closed her eyes, trying to pretend for a moment that she was anywhere but in the Deep Roads. But of course, her imagination rarely did her any favors, and so she frowned tightly and ran a hand through her hair. Intimidating as the woman was, maybe she needed to seek out Amalia and ask just how it was that she'd managed such a preternatural calm all the time. Nostariel didn't wish to give up on feeling, but... a little of that surety was awfully tempting. If it was something inherent in the Qun itself, she may well have dismissed it far too soon.

Their arrival at this ancient thaig gave Ithilian some time to properly think things over, and in the end he came to a result that left him feeling angry with himself, and a little ashamed. It was no abnormal or abhorrent thing for someone to mourn the loss of a loved one, or in his case, his entire family, but he had allowed himself to give in to his worst fear: that were was no hope, and that there was nothing for him to hold on to here any longer. Grief and loss had done to him what no shem ever could. He wouldn't let it happen again. So long as he still drew breath, all was not lost.

He supposed the best place to start was with an apology. To that end, the Dalish elf made his way over to where Nostariel had lit her little fire, taking a crosslegged seat himself and for the moment, saying nothing. As the Warden had just proven to him, words were powerful tools when wielded correctly, and he wanted to be sure this was said correctly. "I must apologize for my words earlier," he began, his voice low so as to not echo about the caverns. "My... pain, has overcome me of late. It has caused me to say things and to do things that I now regret. You did not deserve the words I threw at you, and... I must admit I have wholly misjudged you. You do not outwardly convey the strength you possess, but it is there all the same, and I failed to see it before. I am sorry."

He gazed into the fire for a moment, before looking around him with something approaching disdain. "I should never have come here, to these Deep Roads. But I needed to go somewhere. I do not think I can return to Kirkwall just yet."

To say that Nostariel was surprised was an understatement; she'd hardly expected that anything she would have said would resonate at all with Ithilian; she'd simply had to say them, for the sake of those they journeyed with. But then, perhaps it was the simple fact that she knew pain a little like his, though she'd be the first to admit that for all she'd suffered, she could not imagine what it must be like to lose a child. The love of her life, yes. Her comrades and family, yes. But not a child. She wasn't sure what that would have done to her, honestly, and she hoped she'd never have to know. She digested his words for a moment, mulling over them carefully. In the end, she smiled, a little sadly, and nodded. "It's all right," she said, equally softly, though she was almost certain that Lucien at least was close enough to hear them. That was fine, though, she trusted his discretion, at least, and she was mentioning nothing he had not heard already. "I... could have been kinder in my speech as well."

She turned her eyes back to the fire then, head tilted slightly to one side. "So, don't go back yet." She suggested mildly, shrugging her shoulders. "For me, Kirkwall was a place I went because the Wardens put me there, but I think in a way, it's been what I needed. Maybe what you need isn't a reminder of all you still have to do. Maybe it'll never be the right time to go back, but you won't know unless you go away first. The things you want to do, the problems you want to solve... they'll still be there if ever you return, I'm sure." And that was the sad truth of it, really. Still, there was no point in losing hope when there was still effort to be expended in the attempt. That was something Tristan had always believed, and something she was slowly relearning. She'd never been able to give up completely, and that was perhaps why she still wore the crest and the armband, even on the days when she was such a wreck that she couldn't leave the Hanged Man. It was why she couldnt stop helping, even when she resented being asked.

"Where would you go instead, if you could go anywhere?" she asked, partly to keep the conversation going, partly from curiosity, and partly out of a hope that she might be assisting at least a little.

"Back home, I think," he said, unable to keep the longing from his voice. "To Ferelden, and the Brecilian Forest. My old life has been taken from me, but I have yet to let go of it. I think, if I am to move forward, I need to first return there, and find some way to put the past to rest. It needs to be my choice to leave that place, made by a clear mind, not one plagued by delirium and fresh grief."

It seemed as good a plan as any. The Blight had passed for more than a year now, and the darkspawn would be routed at this point, beginning to fall back into the Deep Roads, certainly not the organized horde they had been before. Much of the forest was no doubt ravaged, but the Brecilian had a way of dealing with intruders, and darkspawn were no exception. It could be wounded, yes, but never killed. His memories of the time were fragmented, disjointed, a massive slur of emotions, torment, grief and loss, and maybe he wouldn't be able to find an exact place where something had happened, the exact spot where he had hastily buried his child, but he knew that if he just returned there, he would be able to feel them again.

It remained to be seen if he would be able to let go, but it was a trial he would need to pass all the same if he wanted to move forward.

"Perhaps a clan has moved back into the area, or avoided the Blight," he speculated, but for some reason the thought didn't seem as appealing he thought it would. He would have been lying if he'd said the elves of the Alienage hadn't become at least a little important to him, and the thought of permanently leaving to join another clan did not sit well with him. There was also Amalia. He did not wish for their last conversation to be the one she remembered him by. He wanted to prove to them that he was more than that, prove it to Amalia, prove it to Nostariel, and prove it to all those struggling to live under the shadow of the shemlen in Kirkwall. Yes, he would return. He just needed time.

Lucien had been busying himself helping a few of the hands organize supplies for the further ventures they would doubtless be undertaking soon, sorting digging and appraisal tools, occasionally asking a question of the foreman with low tones. This kind of labor, he knew little about, and so he inquired and he learned until he could do the tasks properly himself. There was something... nice about that, simple and untainted with expectation of any kind. Perhaps that was why he did it.

Occasionally, bits and pieces of the fireside conversation drifted over to him, though he endeavored not to pay them much mind. He expected there was some need of reconciliation, there, after what had occurred before the dragon showed up. He hoped it went well; lingering bitterness was difficult to swallow on the best of days, and tended to fester in the heart if not excised properly. He was walking past the two with a few mallets and chisels in hand, intent on moving them to the next cart over, when he caught the Dalish man's last sentence. Aware that the conversation was about Ferelden if not much else, he knew he could provide something of an answer. "Your pardon," he broke in mildly, pausing in his steps, "but if you seek Dalish in Ferelden, I believe the Relaferin Clan intended to return to the Brecilian forest after the Blight was ended. They were near the Frostback Mountains a year and some months ago, and I do think they survived, for the most part."

He had run into them on his journey to Denerim, and though they had been at first reluctant to speak with him, circumstances had shoved aside any reticence that might have lingered. Funny thing about mortal danger; it tended to alleviate wariness for long enough to be dealt with, at the very least. In the end, it hadn't turned out poorly at all.

Relaferin. Ithilian, like many of the others in his clan, had always thought them a bit soft. Then again, they thought a majority of the clans had gone soft. And yet, apparently the Relaferin lived on, while the Mordallis had been caught by the Blight. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to feel at that. Anger? That another clan had survived the Blight without that same fatal losses his own had suffered? No, he did not feel anger. Perhaps it was enough for now to simply know that they were alive.

Ithilian peered up at the large shem, the firelight casting dancing shadows over the elf's disfigured features. "That is... good to know. Ma serannas." He supposed the thanks should have come with some barbed insult involving the word shem, riddled with suspicion as to why this human mercenary knew of them, and what his business with them had been, but at the moment, Ithilian was feeling more or less out of hate, at least to the point where he couldn't lash out at every single shem that spoke to him.

"Perhaps I will seek them out, then."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega

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"I don't get it," Bartrand grunted, walking alongside his brother. "Nothing in this thaig makes sense." Varric was taking in the sights as they moved, scratching his stubbled face. "Tell me about it." They stopped at the base of a flight of stairs, the elder brother beginning to pace back and forth, thinking aloud. "We're well below the Deep Roads. Whatever dwarves lived here, they came long before the First Blight." He threw up his hands as if to point out how horribly off everything was. "But where are the statues of Paragons? I don't recognize these markings on the wall or anything in the rubble."

"Unlikely, I know," Varric offered, "but it's possible this thaig is from an age in which dwarves weren't mired in tradition." Bartrand nodded, seeming agreeable to the idea. "These dwarves might have been unique. If so, I hope they kept their valuables close at hand." They continued on, up the stairs and past where a few of the expedition were gathered, including the boy Sandal and the merchant Bodahn, the latter of which was still keeping a hand on his boy's shoulder as if to ensure he would remain in sight for the remainder of the trip. Sandal had wandered rather close to Rilien for much of the journey since the group had found him among the darkspawn, and he was close to the Tranquil now. Bodahn seemed to be content just being wherever Sandal was.

"I need to thank you again," Bodahn said to the Tranquil, for perhaps the third time, "I still can't believe you found him." Sandal offered a tentative "'Ello!" to Rilien as well, as he seemed wont to do when Bodahn began speaking to anyone. "I owe you a great debt," Bodahn continued, "I will repay it somehow--I swear my life on it!"

"Unnecessary," Rilien replied, shaking his head. He wasn't much in the habit of taking coin for things he had not agreed to do for coin, and if the distinction made sense only to him, well... it wouldn't be the only thing. He wasn't in need of anything, at least not anything Bodahn could provide him with, though there was the matter of Sandal. Blinking languidly, Rilien cast a glance in the boy's direction at his greeting, and nodded one in return. It was obvious that the lad was talented, but he did not imagine that the life of a travelling merchant gave him much opportunity to refine his craft, and that seemed suboptimal at best.

"What do you intend to do after the expedition concludes?" the Tranquil asked, in the same placid tones he used for everything. He, of course, had plans upon plans, for several contingencies, besides. It was simply the way his mind worked, and factoring in several new variables was yielding better results than even he had expected. Of course, there were a number of contingencies at work, but if it were the case that the dwarf and his son would not be leaving the vicinity of Kirkwall, all three of them might benefit in some measure.

"Depending on how the expedition pans out," Bodahn explained, "we'll probably remain in Kirkwall for a time. We've already been contacted by a number of individuals interested in my boy's enchanting services, some very high up in the city indeed. As for myself, I think some time settled down is much needed, after my years on the road. Yes, I think we'll stay around for a while."

Rilien let a few more steps pass in silence before he spoke, tilting his head to the side so as to glance between father and son. "I plan to purchase a storefront in Kirkwall. I enchant and fabricate alchemical mixtures, myself. I think that Sandal could make use of an opportunity to grow in his craft, and I expect that any such place as I buy could make good use of a person with the social skills to work the counter. Oftentimes, people are disinclined to speak with me. I would not object to you continuing to do your own business on the premises, either, if you should find that arrangement satisfactory. Any work Sandal does, he would be free to profit from. Likewise with yourself." He let the offer hang there, apparently not feeling the need to press for an answer at that moment.

Rilien, while quite sure that there were yet things he could teach Sandal, was also interested in what he might learn, but in the end, he would have enough things to occupy him even if they refused. Still, the idea of having someone else to run both aspects of such an enterprise should he need to be absent for days at a time was a good one, and might well help the lot of them maintain steady clientele, something he was certain would appeal to the dwarf's business sense. Even so, he was not one to insist.

Bodahn considered for a moment. "That sounds like a very interesting opportunity, if I do say so myself. We will certainly consider it, though of course such a decision is not to be made immediately. I would very much like to speak further about that upon our return to Kirkwall, once we know just what we'll find down here." The Tranquil nodded, content with the answer.




Eventually, the scouting party that had cleared their way here was gathered once more, Bartrand accompanying them this time as well. Though the entrance to the thaig had been fascinating and extremely confusing, a more organized push into the thaig was necessary in order to find something valuable. Thus the group pushed onwards, deeper into the thaig, Varric and his elder brother leading the way. "Hmm," Varric mused to the party. "Whatever's through here, it seems still intact. I wonder if we'll find anything..." Ithilian had his bow drawn already, experience teaching him that there was little point sheathing weapons when in the Deep Roads. He was thinking something more along the lines of I wonder if anything will find us, but refrained from putting words to it. Varric shrugged. "Hmph. I suppose we'll need to go down there to find out." That earned a small sigh from Nostariel, but she was otherwise silent on the matter.

Sparrow whistled soft and low, squinting her eyes. Her mace bounced leisurely across her shoulder, loosely held in her hand. How long have they been down here already? The thaig was an endless maze of twists and turns, thick with darkness. She would've been lying if she said she didn't miss the fresh air, or the scorching sun on her back. Everything felt heavy, as if a substantial cloud of smog was pressing against her shoulders. She jostled towards the front, idling beside Nostariel, but only remained still for a moment. Her confidence had always been staggeringly reckless, and so Sparrow was the first to step forward, heedless of danger, clutching perilously off Varric's words – they may find something down there, they might. Much in the same mindset as Sparrow, Ashton too missed the sun. Plus the grass, trees, birds. Really, he missed everything but dirt and rock. Still, he was right beside her as she recklessly strode forward. He wasn't a coward... Most of the time, but he needed somebody's bravery to latch on to and push himself forward. Rightly so that it had been Sparrow's. He covered her side with a drawn bow as they stepped forward into the forgotten thaig.

Lucien, for his part, seemed to bear the monotony of the landscape with an easy sort of nonchalance, and seemed content to linger somewhere in the middle of the group, which given his height did nothing to impede his monocular view of what was going on. From somewhere in the caravan or perhaps from Bodahn, he'd procured a one-handed axe to compliment his shield, which now hung from a loop in his belt, though the metal disc remained strapped to his left forearm. It wasn't what he'd prefer to be bringing into battle, but it would do nicely for present purposes. He'd returned Rilien's knife to the Tranquil, quite insistent that the man have it back. Lucien could use it well enough, but where Rilien was concerned, the blade was simply an extension of his arm. He'd rather walk into another fight with nothing but a shield to his name and a fully-armed Rilien, if it had come down to that. It had happened similarly before.

The group moved forward on their guard, but for the moment it appeared unnecessary, for nothing seemed to stir this far beneath the surface. And yet, despite how silent the walls were, the sounds of their feet echoing throughout the chambers they passed through, the entire thaig felt remarkably alive, like the stone itself had taken note of their trespass, and disapproved. Bartrand didn't notice, or didn't care, and led them onward, picking up the pace slightly as he went.

After some time they passed through a single heavy stone door and entered a large room glowing with red light seemingly emanating from the walls. The centerpiece of the room was a rectangular altar set upon a raised platform towards the rear, a set of stairs flanked by imposing columns guiding them to it. The party filtered into the room, Varric pushing forward towards the altar the quickest, Bartrand remaining by the door, taking in the ominous feeling the room naturally gave off.

Varric slowed to a stop before the altar once he'd reached the top, his head barely reaching over it enough to see what was placed upon it. "Are you... seeing what I'm seeing?" he asked of Nostariel next to him.

"I think so," the Warden murmured by way of reply, eyes fixed on the object on the altar. Was it just her, or was that malificient feeling in the room emanating from that... thing? She didn't know properly what to call it, but it seemed to be at once magnetic and repulsive to her, like something particularly grotesque from which she even so could not tear her gaze. The insidious feeling in the room seemed to thrum at her feet and creep in wispy tendrils up her spine, chilling her without cold.

"Lyrium," the Tranquil pronounced, eyes narrowing almost imperceptibly. He shook his head, just slightly, and glanced over the other faces in the room. "Be cautious with it." He, too, felt the faint unease it exuded, and knew that it was no natural lyrium. The normal substance, he worked with nearly daily, and it was nothing like that. Which certainly meant that some form of magic was at work here, and hardly the benevolent sort.

"Lyrium? Looks like treasure to me," came Sparrow's response, closely behind Rilien's shoulder. Even still, like she'd done when they peered into the thaig's spinning darkness, she nearly bounded up the staircase, up the platform, and finally idling next to the altar. She, too, could feel something tickling across her skin, sending unpleasant jolts of electricity down her forearms. There was a wrongness that she couldn't place her finger on - so, she chopped it down to a stomach ache, or Rapture's emphereal talons scrapping down her subconscious, salivating at the unusual find. Her fingers twitched impatiently at her sides, though she had enough sense not to try and pluck it from it's perch. What the hell was it, anyway? The chamber itself seemed as if it was breathing a heavy sigh at their impertenent existence. Unlike Rilien, Sparrow wasn't nearly as knowledgeable about unnatural substances. Whatever elements he was familiar with, she'd hardly touched on. His work-station remained his own.

"Doesn't look like any kind of lyrium I've ever seen," Varric said, shaking his head at the object. He then turned to where Bartrand stood, at the base of the steps. "Look at this, Bartrand. An idol made out of pure lyrium, I think. Could be worth a fortune." The elder brother just whistled in response. Varric turned back to the idol, snatching it off the altar without much heed to any caution. "Hm," he said, feeling the weight of it, "not bad. Let's take a look around, see if there's anything further in." He then promptly tossed the idol back to Bartrand, who caught it reflexively. Varric moved to carry on.

He'd taken about four steps when there was a solid thud behind him indicating that the stone door and only entrance into the room had shut. "What the?" Varric said, running down the steps to it and trying to open it, but it was no use. Bartrand was nowhere in sight. "Bartrand, are you there? The door's shut behind you!" There was the sound of a faint chuckle from beyond the door. "You always did notice everything, Varric."

It took Varric a second or two to comprehend, but when he did, he was furious, pounding on the stone with a fist. "Are you joking? You're going to screw over your own brother for a lousy idol?" Bartrand shot back. "It's not just the idol. The location of this thaig alone is worth a fortune, and I'm not splitting it with all of you." The sound of his voice grew steadily fainter. "Sorry, Brother." Varric pounded on the door a few more times. "Bartrand!" He eventually gave up, turning back to the party, fuming.

"I swear I will find that son of a bitch, sorry mother, and I'll kill him!" Ithilian was... hardly surprised. The way this trip was going so far, he was starting to think that seeking death had been entirely unnecessary. He nocked an arrow, imagining that things were bound to get even more ugly pretty soon. "The only way out now seems to be further in. Let's cut our way out of this place, and teach that dwarf the meaning of vengeance."

Nostariel lamented their fortunes, but she did so purely internally, her face setting itself into grim lines. It wasn't only their chances of survival that were reduced this was; she had the maps, after all, and if they managed to get far enough towards the surface, she should be able to figure out where they were. But if all the expedition's muscle was in here, she didn't much like the odds for anyone out there if any Darkspawn managed to flank. Perhaps best that the Roads were largely empty right now; give it another year, and matters would be considerably more difficult. Taking her staff from her back, the Warden clasped it loosely in a hand and planted the bottom end into the patch of earth at her feet. "We don't have much choice, do we?" she asked, largely rhetorically, before she pushed off using the metal pole of the staff and set forward.

"Treachery's like that," Lucien replied in what seemed a rather offhand manner, but if the look he gave the sealed door was any indication, he was just as upset as the rest of them, only... more quietly.

At least the Thaig had interesting things to look at, she supposed.

"Well, I never. A greedy drawf. How rare-- no offense of course," Ashton deadpanned, firing off a glance at Varric. The sarcasm dripping in his voice was almost tangible, and if it was, he'd most likely pack it away and save it for later. Better to strangle Bartrand with it. He let the bowstring in his fingers go slack as he approached the locked door. If the dwarf pounding on the door was any indication and cussing at his own brother, then it was in fact locked. Eyelids slid lazily over his tired oculars. He wondered whose oatmeal he pissed in to garner such horrid luck. Then his eyes widened as a bolt of realization struck him. He surged forward, lanky legs carried through the party and to the door, leaving him towering over the dwarf as he added his own knocking at the door.

"The bastard has my dragon bones! In the cart with the workers. I swear, if they say they killed it, I'll skin them, and make a bow out of their bones!" He said, punctuating with frantic thumps. He wasn't getting anywhere, and he knew it. The door was there a long time before him, and probably will still be there a long time after. Which satisfied that his punching the door wasn't getting him anywhere fast, he spun on his heels and immediately set out to find another exit. "Right. Let's go. I'm not gonna dawdle here while my dragon bones get hocked at the nearest pawn shop."

He ascended the stairs two at a time, and shot a look at the Dalish man. Caution had long since abandoned him, along with his dragon arm. "I couldn't agree more," he agreed with Ithilian.

Past the altar that the idol had been resting upon was an open door, the group's only remaining option. Ithilian and Varric led the way, taking the group into a series of long, stretching corridors. The lyrium down this far had turned from a glowing blue to a rather malevolent bright red, snaking up and around the walls like vines, exploding out of cracks in the walls and appearing to constrict the passageways like fingers wrapped tightly around a throat. As they moved on from the halls and into a series of more natural looking cave formations, Ithilian was having conflicted feelings. On the one hand, nothing had attacked them so far. On the other, he couldn't shake the feeling that they were being watched, or followed.

He found his feelings to be justified once the group wandered down into a spacious cave, a narrow path through the middle flanked by lyrium crystals sprouting from the ground as though they were trees. Rocks that were formerly just lying upon the ground rearranged themselves as they approached, glowing yellows cores igniting in their centers in the shape of ribcages as they formed themselves into rough approximations of bodies. Ithilian wondered if whatever spirits these were weren't just imitating those that they saw. It seemed the kind of thing a demon would do.

Though they did not immediately move to attack that did not stop Ithilian from raising his bow, the arrow aimed for center mass, that yellowish core of theirs. If there was a weak point in a creature otherwise made entirely of rock, it was that. "That is far enough," the center rock creature, of the five present, said, his voice deep and suitably gravely. It wasn't apparent what he spoke from, but the sound was there all the same. "We have watched you for a time, and you appear very capable. I would not see these creatures harmed without need." He must have spoken of the others flanking him, though they looked no less threatening than he, only slightly smaller.

"Well, would you look at that," Varric said, his tone remaining light. "We finally found something down here that didn't attack us on sight." The rock formation eyed the dwarf, if that was possible, for a moment, before responding, his tone remaining calm. "The others will not assault you, not without my permission." Varric seemed content to continue speaking about them as if they weren't there. "What are these things? They seem like rock wraiths, but..."

The rock wraith answered for him. "They hunger. The profane have lingered in this place for ages beyond memory, feeding on the magic stones until the need is all they know. I am not as they are. I am... a visitor." Ithilian's arrow did not waver. "Do not veil your words, demon." After waiting long enough to be sure the elf wasn't going to shoot him right then and there, the rock wraith spoke once more. "I would not see my feast end. I sense your desire. You seek to leave this place, but you will need my aid to do so."

No. Rilien was quite done with demons for the time being, and this one warranted absolutely none of his attention. It would just be another temptation for people who were not as he was, and frankly, he was not feeling at all charitable towards the notion of dealing with another possessed person at the moment. One was quite enough. He caught Lucien's eye, his own flicking subtly towards the other creatures, but turned his focus forward again as Varric began to speak. The Chevalier understood well enough what was meant, and rolled his shoulders, as if to loosen them, though his hand strayed yet not to his axe. The Warden was already shaking her head, looking as though she were about to deny its words, but this too was pointless. Why parley with a creature that would only attack once you had refused? It was entirely pointless, and he was not one to waste his time so.

As the last words were leaving it, the Tranquil moved, breaking into a dead run that had more the appearance of floating than anything, an impression only reinforced by the ease with which he left the ground, his feet passing over his head at about the same time as he passed over the demon's, the first of his blades finding the glowing ghost-light that formed what appeared to be its single eye. The perfect arc of his motion completed lightly, and he landed back-to-back with it, wrenching his second dagger backward, past the stones that comprised its torso and into the yellowish core of magic that served to hold it together.

The result was instantaneous; the light sputtered and died, the stones collapsing back into a heap upon the ground, and the other creatures sprang forth, free of whatever force had held them at bay. "I think not," he said flatly, mostly in response to its last assertion. Capable they were, and they would make it out of these roads quite independently of any such barbed, poisonous assistance. He stooped to gather his knives from amidst the rubble, pleased to discover that his aim had been true and they'd scraped no stone in the process.

At the same time that Rilien sprang into action like the predator he was, Ashton had taken his time to select the perfect arrow to ram up the demon's ass. As he went about this process, he was continually shaking his head, muttering under his breath No, nope, nope, hell no, the entire time. By the time Rilien had moved, Ashton had nocked his arrow and taken a step forward, taking aim at the foul creature. He would not have another Sparrow. No deal was to be made today, and he would see the demon fall for such an insult. Anger danced across his eyes as he awaited Rilien to finish his maneuver so that he would have a free shot. What would he do if another one of them fell to the allure of a demon? Though he tried to play it off, Sparrow's plight hurt him. He would not see the same thing done to Nostariel.

As the heels of Rilien's head cleared what he believed to be the face of the creature (and slamming his knife in it, good ol' Rilien) Ashton released his own arrow. It shot through the air, and stuck the front glowing mass of the demon, forcing it further into Rilien's other knife. One again, he realized just how like minded he and the tranquil were. Whether that spoke measures about Rilien or himself, he wasn't sure. Still, they weren't out of the pot yet. His next motion was as fluid as Rilien's, as only the mouthpiece had been destroyed, and left enough of it's ilk for everyone. He pivotted on his right foot, taking him in an arc ninety degrees, dropping his sight on the first Rock Wraith. Arrow drawn and bow taut, he took aim at the creature.

"Glad you stabbed it in its lying face Ril," Ashton said, releasing his arrow, "Let's clean up his friends and never talk about this, yeah?"

When Ashton and Rilien had turned to the large one at the center, Lucien had selected a target to one of the sides, pulling his axe from the loop at his belt and hurling it in one smooth motion. The weapon flew end over end, whistling through the air and embedding itself in the center of one of the other rock-constructions, but he was hardly going to wait to see if that was enough, and Lucien was off after it immediately thereafter, bearing down upon the creature with his right side, the shield connecting with a violent clang, surely sufficient to stun. It did the job, giving him enough time to take the axe by the haft, draw it up, and swing in a wood-chopping arc, landing it right in the same spot. That was enough, and like the other two, it lost that internal light and crumbled back into the loose collection of stones it had been at the start.

He had to admit, he was not used to demons, but if this was what they all were like, then he had difficulty understanding how they could hold such sway over people. Nothing it had said appealed to him in the least; he had every confidence that he and the others would find the surface again, aided or not. Perhaps others of its kind were more persuasive? He was admittedly curious, though he could not say that the feeling extended to wishing to meet more of them, particularly.

Ithilian put a well-placed shot into the core of the first wraith on the left, while Varric unleashed a trio of shots directly into the face of the one beside it, the pair of them crumbling into dust and rubble beside the others. "Right," Varric said lightly, "now that that's done with, let's get moving."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega

0.00 INK

Perhaps the hunger demon thought the group would more seriously consider its offer, as it had failed to bring all of its followers to the fore to protect it. These profane, as they had been called, were encountered by the group almost immediately after moving on from the current room and into more stony corridors. They cut through these as they had the others, leaving a trail of dust and loose stone behind them. The halls eventually began to constrict slightly, narrowing in width as if they were inside a throat in the midst of being choked, trying to capture them inside.

Just as it seemed it would choke off into a dead end there was a sharp ninety degree turn into a winding staircase to led them upwards for the first time in a while. They ascended several floors worth until it ended, opening up into a large square chamber, the centerpiece of which was four strudy stone pillars wrapped in red lyrium twisting and constricting up their lengths. "I think..." Varric mused, taking a look around. Ethereal light shined through cracks in the wall on the far side. "this might be a vault of some kind." He took a few more paces in, the group behind him. "Which means that somewhere around here, the ancient dwarves may have stored their..."

He trailed off when a large pile of rocks against the right wall began to rearrange themselves, rolling on top of one another, stacking into legs and arms, the final product a hulking, ten foot monster of rock, apparently none too happy with their tresspassing judging by the stance it immediately presented towards Varric. "...valuables," Varric finished, slowing bringing Bianca in line with its head. "This should be good."

What followed was a lengthy struggle between man and earth during which Lucien did his best to maintain the creature's ire, while the two hunters and the dwarf pelted it from afar with arrows and bolts, Nostariel and Rilien and Sparrow filling supporting roles. Needless to say, it was a very tired group of adventurers that stepped over the rock guardian's crumbled form, across the threshold of what was indeed, as Varric had predicted, a vault.

"The rock wraiths are supposed to be dwarven legends," the younger Tethras brother complained, "They're not even supposed to be real!" He was halted when a golden vase of some kind flew towards him, and he caught it, spying the Dalish elf up ahead, standing at the base of a literal pile of treasure. Gold littered the floor in every direction, chests of it overflowing to spill onto the ground around them, relics the likes of which the world had never seen. "I suppose the rock wraiths don't really matter now, do they?" Varric said to himself, momentarily stunned by the bounty.

Lucien, a little worse for the wear having been essentially battered with rocks for the better part of what was almost an hour now, all told, had raised a speculative brow upon hearing the dwarf's skepticism. "We're in the middle of an abandoned, supposedly forever-lost Thaig, having just slain a dragon and refused a bargain with a demon that possessed no flesh, and you're incredulous about the stone construct?" The question itself was light, though perhaps not as much so as it would have been if his ribcage weren't still smarting from whatever strange energy attack the thing had used. He'd caught it full in the chest the first time, and though Nostariel's intervention was timely as always, it would probably take him a while to recover the lingering damage.

At that point, though, he was able to temporarily forget the residual pain when he walked up behind the dwarf, whistling a low note at the hoard. "There's a lesson in here somewhere for Bartrand," he said with a chuckle. The Empress's treasury would be hard-pressed to match some of the things in here, though it was doubtful they'd be able to carry it all, having just themselves and whatever their arms could manage. No need to be greedy, though; he'd live quite a while on even the smallest portion of such hard-won gains.

"Heh. Demons, darkspawn, and rock monsters, oh my," Ashton said between hunched pants. For all of the dancing and dodging the archer did, he didn't come away from the fighting without his share of wounds. He was nursing a wicked looking black eye, blood dribbled from one gash along the bridge of his nose, and he was favoring his right leg more than was necessarily healthy. However, he was alive, and his enemies dead. He'd count that as a victory in his book any day. "Lucien has a point. It's talk like that that summons up a flock of feral griffins to attack us," he joked, though he did venture a cautious glance up to the ceiling.

What grievances Ashton felt was soon melted away at the sight of the gleaming pile. Perched above the stocky dwarf, he leaned forward, using the top of the dwarf's head as a rail and peered into the mound of gold. "Right. Best investment ever. Clearly. Looks like I'm not going to lose my shop, so that loan shark can eat it. Here, hold this darling," He finished by handing his bow and quiver (of which a scant few arrows remained) to Nostariel and darted around the dwarf. There, he let gravity do its job and fell into the pile of gold.

While riches were riches, gold was still hard and it stung all of his hidden bruises when he collapsed. But really, he didn't care. Treasure was a hell of a pain killer. Once he was situated in the mound, he began to move his arms and legs, making what he would call: "Look Sparrow! A gold angel! The best of angels."

She, too, whistled low in her throat, though it tapered off into a soft hum that barely left her lips. Had she escaped the forgotten, restless thaig without any injuries, then her guilt, already gnawing at her insides like an incessant rat, would've been multiplied. The Maker – if he, or she, even existed – would have none of that, spattering large gashes across her exposed shoulder blades, where pieces of her armor had been crushed and thrown aside. She'd need a new set if she were ever to find herself wandering down in the Deep Roads again. Worse yet, there was something within her that had spoiled the grandeur of their discovery, of their very adventure, even managing to muddy the mystifying find of so many valuable objects piled atop one another, spilling over into riches she could have never imagined. She'd been one of the reasons why they had so many bruises, so many wounds. Her contribution to their pain was conclusively real, rubbing her raw. Lucien's conversation with Varric seemed to glide past her twitching ears, past her shoulders, belonging to someone else. She blinked once, then twice, watching as Ashton plopped his weapons into the dwarf's open arms, ambling around him so that he could fall unceremoniously into the hoard of treasure, bruises and all.

If she could cut that thing out of her, she would've in a heartbeat. Sparrow meandered a few paces to their right, crouching down so that she could snatch up a handful of coins, allowing them to spill through her fingers. Her eyes focused on their ridges. She wanted to deny her cowardice, bury it somewhere deeper, darker, but it was still difficult to look them in the eyes and play the part of the flighty little bird, unaware of what she'd done to them. Of what she'd continue doing to them if she kept silent. Were secrets that important? Would they forgive her if she were honest? It seemed an unfamiliar concept. She was a liar, or a skimmer of truths. The only one she'd ever been truly, fundamentally honest to was Amalia, and even then, she'd managed to ruin their friendship by running away. As if pretending to look at her reflection in a nearby goblet, trailing the nasty gash running down her left cheekbone, Sparrow twisted and turned it in her hands, occasionally watching her companions in its hazy, warped reflection. If she wanted to, with her share of this unforeseen bounty, she could finally move away from Rilien, distance herself from her friends, and stuff herself away like some kind of hermit. A short bark of laughter bubbled out, sorely bitter. She plopped down on her butt, and rested her elbows on her knees.

Finally, she could pay all of her dues.

Nostariel managed a weary chuckle upon observation of the archer's antics, though she might have winced at his actual impact, more from sympathy than anything. Though she'd stayed away from the melee, she'd still managed to catch a few bruises and scrapes from flying stones, and her left eyebrow was presently diagonally slashed by a cut that leaked blood at a slow, but steady rate. Fortunately, this largely went around her eye rather than into it, but the sticky feeling was uncomfortable now that she was able to notice it at all. She'd have cast a spell to heal it and a few for her companions besides, but she was simply all out of mana for the moment, so it would have to wait. The large piles of treasure were of some cursory interest, but more for the interesting pieces than the shiny ones. Among the bits of wealth strewn about the place lay a staff, the knotted wood of it seemingly interlaced with some kind of stonework, perhaps intended to reinforce the structure. The blade at the end was as yet new-looking, though surely it must have been ancient.

Seeing as her last had snapped under the weight of a crushing stone not ten minutes prior, Nostariel was willing to consider it a good stroke of luck, and crouched to pick up the new one, faintly surprised at the fine make of it despite the odd appearance. It should do quite nicely. As for the rest, well... she would take a portion for her service, but it was not as though any amount of coin or luck would save her from her fate; Grey Wardens had precious little need of such things, in the end.

Rilien, perhaps true to form was standing mildly off to one side, observing the assorted shenanigans with no visible reaction at all. Ashton's act, silly as it was, hardly surprised him, but neither did it produce any kind of scorn. The man was as he was, and Rilien did not mind. Lucien was beginning to remind him more of the man beside whom he'd trekked over more miles than he cared to remember, less solemn than he'd been since the night before Denerim. Hardly noticeable, was the change, and yet the Tranquil noticed all the same.

Sparrow... concerned him, as seemed to be the case too often recently. The thought had occurred to him that she would now be financially independent of his care, but he had not considered that an ill possibility until the demon proved that it could sieze control. It was not that he desired to be near it, merely that he thought things better arranged if he could at least maintain a watchful eye on her. He was... inclined towards her staying. Surely, the demon was the only reason. It was the only one that made any sense, anyway. "It would be prudent to gather what we can and make for the surface," he advised, "That journey will be some time yet, and what food we have will not last so many time enough to tarry overlong."

Nostariel nodded. "Rilien speaks truly. I think that door might put us out into a passage, and if so, I should be able to navigate us out from there, but I for one am eager to be free of these blighted places."

"Should be about a week back to the surface, if we're unlucky," Varric guessed as he perused some of the finer artifacts among the treasure trove. "If we're lucky, we'll stumble over Bartrand's corpse on the way."

The Chanter's Board has been updated. The Deep Roads Expedition has been completed.

Act One has been completed.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion

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Sophia had nearly made it down the steps to exit the Viscount's Keep when the voice of her brother called out from behind her. "Off to play the hero again, are we sister?" She lurched to a halt, the pair of guards at the double doors suddenly unsure whether they should open them or not. Sophia spun about to face Saemus, who was coming down the stairs in a rather striking green doublet, his black hair combed back away from his face. Sophia herself had just suited up in her newly enchanted chainmail and plate, and was about to head back down to Lowtown. The day was wearing on, and his father had retired to attend to personal business, leaving any further court matters to the Seneschal, which freed Sophia to do as she pleased with the evening. Apparently her brother did not approve of her choice.

"Saemus, what are you talking about? I'm just going--" But he cut her off. "Down to Lowtown? Perhaps you'll come across another dragon to slay, write another chapter in the legend of Sophia Dumar?" She found herself a little stunned, but this wasn't the first time Saemus had done that to her. This was a rather typical way for him to respond to things he disagreed with. He'd pout for a time, often unnoticeably, stewing by himself, until at some point he could contain his displeasure no longer, and it spilled over the top in the form of venomous words, which were really the only kind of aggression he was capable of mustering.

"Oh!" he continued. "Or maybe another horde of heathen Qunari will attack you, and you can drive off the invaders! Or stop a giant spider-monster from terrorizing the poor people in Darktown!" Sophia weathered this by simply standing where she was, crossing her arms and holding his gaze. The pair of guards behind her shifted uncomfortably. Sophia was glad there weren't many people in hall, at least. "You could go find the leader of the Coterie, and drag him into the Gallows to let him rot for a few decades. Could I come with you? I could be your squire, polish your armor, sharpen your sword, and write down tales of your heroics. We could make a pilgrimage to the sacred ashes of Andraste. Ever since I heard about that one I've wanted to piss in that urn."

That managed to turn Sophia a little red in the face, and she currently regretted the day she put the idea into words. The Warden Queen of Ferelden had supposedly found the location of the Urn some time before the end of the Blight, and ever since Sophia had heard of the place she dreamed of seeing it. "... Are you quite finished, brother?" she asked softly, and to her relief, he spoke no more, allowing her a turn.

"I'm not sure I want to know where all of this is coming from," she continued, "but I can assure you that all I've been trying to do is to help the people in our city, regardless of their social status. Kirkwall is like two different cities at this point, and Lowtown currently needs any help they can get. I can't just stand idly by while--" He scoffed and interrupted her. "Oh, please, Sophia. Don't try to pass this off as some kind of selfless service to Kirkwall, not when everyone says otherwise. It's a reckless, selfish, glory-seeking habit."

She breathed deeply through her nose, trying to avoid raising her voice, and only making things worse. "I had hoped you would have learned by now that the nobles in Hightown do not constitute 'everyone' in Kirkwall. In case you were informed otherwise, the dragon that I played a part in defeating was terrorizing a mine with its kin." Saemus didn't seem impressed. "And the qunari you killed? I suppose you had a good reason for that, too? Apart from increasing the already high tension between them and the city?" Her eyes fell to the floor momentarily, and she ran a hand through thick golden hair. She really didn't want to have this conversation with him here of all places...

Sparrow had the perfect plan. In her own head, in her thoughts, there was nothing at all wrong with the idea of bumbling into the Viscount's Keep in order to ask him about his ledgers, of all those he'd allowed into Kirkwall when they'd all arrived in those ships. Surely, he'd be able to tell her whether or not two shifty characters – bloody bastards, those two rats, had moved through Kirkwall, or even settled down in its midst. She doubted the latter, for she hadn't seen even a glimpse of them. She wouldn't have missed them, either. She never would. Rapture's presence was sporadic, often melting into an ambient noise of displeasure, murmuring in her ear canals when she thought of doing something foolish. This particular plan fell under that category, but she'd made up her mind and she was fighting tooth and nail for control, pushing against the demon with all her might. If she could hunt down Arcadius and Silian, then she could finally exact her revenge and all of this would be over; in theory, anyway. No longer would she find herself suspicious of Rilien's kindness, or look upon Lucien's face and see him staring back. No longer would she find herself painting their faces on her friends, wondering whether or not they'd finally corner her, tear apart who she'd become and reveal a much weaker person; a cowering little girl whose fears rattled her bones.

In mid-stride, Sparrow opened the double-doors wide, nearly colliding with Sophia and a man whose eyes she shared, and effectively bustling the guardsmen aside. It took her a moment to recuperate from the shock of nearly bowling two people over, but she took it easily, quickly recovering with a brimming grin. “Oh, I didn't mean to intrude,” She began to say, rocking back on her heels. For a moment, Sparrow seemed poised to say more, but she held up her finger, waggled it and stepped backwards, past the double-doors, where she then closed them back on herself. The doors slowly reopened and she proceeded to lean her shoulders against them, peering out between the crack she'd made. The smile tugging at her lips, two-parts amused, and two-parts mischievous, only seemed to brighten, as if this was a chance meeting with someone she'd been looking for all along. Perhaps, this was more appropriate than her initial idea of storming the Keep until she happened upon the Viscount. What if he was away on an important errand? Far too busy to fetch up some documents. She didn't move away from the doors, only blinked up at Sophia and Saemus, hunched over. “Sophia, is it?” She greeted breezily, “It's what I remember the gallant knight saying, anyway. I like Sophie better.”

“I was hoping it'd be you.” The comment might have seemed odd coming from Sparrow, but she seemed nonplussed by its implications, only glancing briefly at Saemus to gauge what had been going on between them. By the looks of the man's creased eyebrows, broody eyes, and telltale frown, it might've been a disagreement. Rilien always told her it was best not to bury her nose where it didn't belong. Finally, the half-breed straightened her shoulders, stepped through the threshold and pulled one of the doors wide open, ignoring the gawping look the guard was shooting her. “Apologies, Serrah, but I need to borrow Sophie for a wee bit, if you wouldn't mind,” She swept her hand towards the door, arching her eyebrows. If Sophia needed saving from whatever she'd been talking about, then it would've been a perfect excuse, even though they hadn't planned on speaking at all – and she could ask her in the meantime, it wouldn't hurt. She seemed ready to depart the Keep anyway, with mail armour riddled around her joints. As if to accentuate the offer, Sparrow offered an upturned palm for the taking.

The half elf... man's, interruption was a welcome one for Sophia, even if she found everything about it to be entirely odd. She remembered him, even though they had only briefly met before, but even still she found the informal nature of his greeting to be a little surprising. Sophia, Saemus, and the pair of guards inside the door all turned their heads to watch the visitor retract from the doorway and then reappear, addressing the Viscount's daughter by her given name, and then by a nickname, one which Sophia was not particularly fond of herself. Sophie was too... girlish, and reminded her far too much of her childhood.

The guards, and Saemus, blinked in surprise at the rather bold entrance Sparrow made, but allowed Sophia to speak for herself. She was momentarily torn between addressing her brother and the visitor, but Saemus soon solved that problem by throwing up a hand in dismissal and departing towards the private quarters at a quick pace. Sophia thought to call after him for a moment, but knew it would be no good, so instead she sighed in displeasure and turned to Sparrow. The half-elf had his hand swept towards the open door, and Sophia shrugged before heading outside. It was true that she had been planning on leaving anyway, and if Sparrow had come seeking her specifically, maybe they were headed to similar places as well.

Once the pair of them were outside and the great doors shut behind them, Sophia began to lead the way down the steps. "It's... Sparrow, right? We met in the Hanged Man, I think. I was just headed there, myself. You needed something?"

Sparrow offered her another smile, retracting her hand back to her side. She'd half expected for the guards to silence her charade, berate her for interrupting their quarrel and appearing in quarters she didn't belong in, but was glad that Sophia seemed at least as inclined to leave as she'd expected. Her smile briefly faltered, then blossomed into a wry grin. Sophie is a lovely nickname, but I'll call you Sophia, if you'd prefer,” Sparrow added softly, clicking her tongue. She'd seen the odd scrunch of the armoured-woman's nose when she'd let the nickname slip – and as inept as she was at picking up subtle expressions, she wasn't entirely oblivious. She knew how it felt to be called a name that didn't suit who she'd become, like wearing ill-fitting boots. She hooked her thumbs in her belt, eyeing the ceiling. What might it have been like to grow up beneath those archways, running around marble pillars, scampering down carpeted stairwells?

His inexperience with royalty was plain as day to her, as most of the people around here would have trouble calling her by anything other than my lady, and here he was offering a choice between her first name and a nickname. "I do prefer Sophia, actually. Thank you for asking." In all honesty, it was quite refreshing for someone to come into the Keep and not act like she was worth more than them or something.

Sparrow followed Sophia down the steps, moving beside her. She barely avoided bumping into a passing man, murmuring a quick apology as she shifted to the side, then stepped back into place. “Sparrow, that's right. Barely properly introduced,” the half-breed put in, bobbing her head, “The Hanged Man? Perfect. I need to ask you some questions. The subject is a little fragile, and it might not be tasteful for any passing ears, if you get my meaning. I'll buy you a drink.” Searching for assailants with the obvious intent of hunting them down certainly wouldn't sit well with any snobbish, goody-goody nobles who believed justice was best dealt with patience and prisons. She wasn't looking for someone to plaster wanted posters around Kirkwall, either. If Sophia had access to Kirkwall's records, however, then she was the perfect person to come to. Perhaps, better to see her then to ask for an audience with the Viscount. From what she'd heard, he'd holed himself up, refusing to take any action at all.

Another fragile subject, huh? Sophia took a moment to wonder if there was an issue in Kirkwall that wasn't fragile. If it involved the words mage, templar, or qunari, then the answer was definitely no. Maker, even fighting those bandits for her brother hadn't been a straightforward issue. And speaking, Saemus was doing an excellent job remembering to be grateful for that little adventure, wasn't he? Sophia rolled her eyes to herself, pushing the thought of her brother from her mind.

The two of them made their way through Hightown and down the steps, making enough conversation so as to not allow the trip to become awkward. Sophia was more than familiar with the way down the Hanged Man by now, and swiftly cut through the Lowtown streets until she reached the destination, pulling open the door and leading the way inside. She spotted the dwarf, Varric, as she entered the main room, and waved to get his attention. Though they did not know each other very well, Varric easily understood the value of being friends with the future Viscount, and Sophia had learned the benefits of being friends with a man like Varric. She knew him enough to know he was good at heart, and that his connections (and words) had perhaps more influence over the people of Lowtown than she or her father did. "Hello, Varric," she said. He bowed rather low. "Good afternoon, my lady," Varric said with a trademark smirk. "And to you, Sparrow. What can I do for you today?"

"Could I borrow your room for a moment?" Sophia asked. "Sparrow has something to discuss with me. I had hoped to speak with you afterwards, as well." The dwarf nodded easily. "Of course. I'll make sure no one disturbs you."

That out of the way, Sophia gestured for Sparrow to follow and led the way up the stairs to the rooms, closing the door to Varric's room once both of them were inside. She pulled up a chair, indicating for Sparrow to do the same. "This should do, I think. The drink won't be necessary. Now, what can I help you with?"
In turn, as she was greeted, Sparrow bowed her head, and slipped a hand across an invisible plumed hat. The Dwarf had proven, over the years spent in Kirkwall's infamous tavern, to be not only useful, and efficient in gathering information, but to be one of her predominant drinking companions whenever she was out of sorts. He never failed to make her laugh, and even though she'd never shared her most intimate secrets, she'd always felt like he could see straight through her. However, it didn't make her feel uncomfortable. She always thought that he'd heard stranger tales, or stories that reflected her own (at least, ones that might make hers a little less shocking). When she straightened, Sophia had already asked whether or not they could borrow his room – which was met with an assertive yes. It didn't surprise her. Rubbing elbows with the Viscount's daughter, or anyone of any important birthright, was useful in its own right.

For someone who'd spent a hefty chunk of her time under the Hanged Man's bar stools, Sparrow hadn't made it any further than that, so anything in the rooms above the stairs was territory she'd yet to discover. She let her gaze roam across the various rooms until Sophia slipped into the one closest to the staircase, which she promptly ducked into. Unusual posters, and drawings hung in the far corner of the suite, though it was the chair Sophia motioned to that drew her attention. Sparrow swiftly plopped herself into it, crossing her leg over her knee. There were certain secrets she'd have to skip around. It wasn't entirely unlike her to skim around the truth, or offer half-truths in the place of complete honesty, and this particular instance wasn't any difference. If she'd taken anything to heart while staying with Rilien, it was the importance of tactful discretion and keeping her mouth shut. She shrugged her shoulders, sweeping her hands in front of her as if to say are you sure about that drink?

When it was obvious that she wouldn't take her up on the offer, Sparrow rested her elbow on her knee, leaning forward just enough so that she could support her chin in her upturned palm. She met the woman's gaze resolutely, only looking briefly away to gather her thoughts. “I'm looking for someone, or two someones, rather,” She began to say, then continued, “A few months after I came to Kirkwall, we started receiving refugees from Ferelden. If I'm correct, everything's been written down, catalogued in ledgers, or documents. Papers, or anything.” She laughed into her knuckles, though it lacked its usual warmth, “I'll admit that I was seeking an audience with your father, but he's been rather busy with other matters.” Everyone knew that the Viscount was tied up with the Arishok stationed in the docks. Those issues would always be at the forefront of his mind, tangling him into affairs that, to him, would be far more important than shuffling through old files. Her eyebrows drew together, expression growing grave. “I need to find them. Can you help me? Please.”

Sophia was glad Sparrow had run into her rather than try to gain an audience with her father. He was indeed quite preoccupied with larger issues, and would only have been aggravated by a request like this. In fact, the Seneschal likely would have either turned him away or heard the request himself, if he thought it important enough, but certainly this would never have made it before the Viscount. Kirkwall had taken in thousands of refugees since the beginning of the Blight, and although it was ended now, a vast majority of them either could not or chose not to leave, for whatever reason.

"That's true, the city guard took a full accounting of everyone who entered the city seeking refuge during the Blight. I'm afraid there's not much more information to be had than the names, though. If the names you're looking for are on the list, it would only mean that they are somewhere within the city walls." Almost certainly in Darktown, Sophia added mentally. Lowtown if they were lucky or extremely hard working. The undercity's population had exploded since the refugees started coming in, along with the crime.

"I can see if Bran or the city guard can take a look through it for you. Who are you looking for?" It wasn't that she wouldn't be willing to do it herself, it was just that her free time was precious to her, with the responsibilities her father was piling onto her. It seemed a simple enough task, but it also seemed tedious, and Sophia wanted to avoid spending a free afternoon poring over papers in the Gallows if at all possible.

Any attempts at trying to tame her eagerness curdled in her stomach. Sparrow leaned back in her chair, watching Sophia's facial expressions. She'd learnt a long time ago – that, even though your companions may be friends with your acquaintances, it didn't always mean you could trust them, or hope for anything unrealistic. She didn't know her very well, though she had a pretty face, and a genuineness that surprised her. Her ability to tell the difference between lies and truth, to read between the lines and extract what she needed out of lies and dishonesty had long been eroded away with her own inability to come clean. She could only read so much in someone's eyes, but it seemed as if Sophia honestly wanted to help her, if she had the time to do so. “I know who they are, I need only know if they're still residing in Kirkwall.”

Her fingers found themselves wrung together, white-knuckled and rosy, until she slipped them apart and sighed. Anxiety blossomed in her gut, feeding a desperation she never knew she possessed. “Arcadius Kassim and Silian Raunthil,” She said the names like curses, like things she whispered between her lips in the dead of night. She'd said them more times than she wished to count. To Rilien, in the middle of the night, when she had nightmares. To herself, when she scoured Kirkwall, foolishly willing them to appear in the alleyways so that she could kill them. Her eyebrows knit together, souring her usual cheeriness. Every memory that threatened to squirm out of the hole she'd dug was promptly smothered, hastily buried to keep herself from crumbling. “They're dangerous – parasites in your city, really. Worse than anything in Darktown.”

She paused briefly, pinching her nose between forefinger and thumb. “One of them even looks like Lucien.”

So he was looking for dangerous people, was he? That caught Sophia's attention. Worse than anything in Darktown was a pretty big statement, and though he hadn't yet stated why he was looking for these people, Sophia's instincts told her that this was something worth following up on. Sparrow didn't exactly strike her as the type to go catching dangerous criminals just because he could, which led her to believe there was obviously something personal going on here.

"Arcadius Kassim and Silian Raunthil," she repeated. "I'll make sure Bran puts someone on this, and I can let you know personally if their names turn up. If they're criminals, it's likely they would use a false name, but I'll have the city guard go through the lists all the same." Notably, Sophia did not ask the obvious question of why Sparrow would want to find them, but that was primarily because if they did have any success locating the two of them, they would be having this conversation again. That, and Sophia wasn't quite convinced this was entirely her business yet. If they were as much a danger to her city as Sparrow seemed to think, she would probably want to go after them with him, but as of now Sophia didn't feel it was appropriate to pry for more information.

Though, Sparrow would've been hard-pressed to admit it, there was still much of Papyrus inside her. She was still the same: stubborn. Hard-headed. Doubtful, lonely, afraid.She felt like she was protecting someone by seeking them out, by promising that she'd destroy them as soon as she hunted them down. Eyes, brilliantly brown, were beginning to water, until she dashed her knuckles into them, mashing any unspilled tears away as if she were tired, exhausted by the peculiar request she'd just made. She didn't apologize for her behaviour, only met Sophia's gaze once more, holding it steady. “Thank you, Sophia,” She breathed, leaning over so that she could touch the woman's arm, then, thinking better of it, pulled briskly way. Her movements were wooden, particularly odd given her eccentricity.

“We have history. They attacked me as a child, stole me away from my family.” One small truth, vague as it was, would be enough. The details were shady, at best. If Sophia wanted to know more, and if it came down to trading information for what she wanted, for what she needed, then she'd do her best to offer it. If not, then nothing needed to be said. "I want to prevent that from happening ever again."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Amalia

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The Wounded Coast might not have been most peoples' idea of a good place to meet an old friend, but as had perhaps been long established, Amalia was not most people. Nor was Sparrow most 'old friends,' for that matter. So perhaps it was not so unexpected that when the Qunari had at last decided she was in the right state of mind to have this long-needed discussion of certain very pertinent matters, she had sent word to the half-elf through means of his much more stably-located companion, the enchanter who worked now out of the merchant's district in Hightown. She was quite sure that Rilien, as he was called, would convey the message to Sparrow that Amalia sought audience with him, and at this particular spot on the coast, no less. Here, the ocean met the shore, a cove of soft white sand hidden and defended on three sides by rocky inclines that would be tricky for the average person to navigate. In their childhoods, they had found many such places, secreted away after their hours of instruction to while away the afternoons which were theirs.

Though she was still robed, and armored beneath that, the Qunari had allowed herself the concession of removing both her boots and her gauntlets, setting them neatly on a sun-warmed rock some distance from her present location. This little strip of beach was occupied by several tide pools and many large planks of wood, arranged such that they had obviously once been the bare skeleton of some seafaring vessel. Many, many years ago, from the looks of things. Now, they formed a dozen proud, if decrepit, archways, braced against the west side of the cove.

Amalia walked parallel to the line between sand and water, close enough that occasionally a wave would wash over her bare feet, the sea's spray dampening the tan hem of her linen robe. It was nowhere near as hot or balmy as Par Vollen, here, nor so arid as Seheron tended to be, but it was the closest that this place ever came to reminding her of home. And here, with no humans or elves or dwarves about to prove the contrary, she could almost believe she was back there. At least, she could have if she ever bothered to entertain such useless fancy. Those had always been Venak hol's things, not hers. The breeze from the water rippled through the fabric she wore and tugged at her loose forelock, as though chiding her, in much the manner he would have, no less. Perhaps that was the true reason she'd chosen the spot: it reminded her of him, anyway, more even than it reminded her of home.

The two had not been so readily distinguished, once.

Rilien's straightforward message had been, most likely, repeated word-for-word, identical to what Amalia had told him to relay to her. The location hadn't surprised her in the slightest, and she was almost relieved that it hadn't been somewhere unfamiliar, some place unlike where she would've chosen. If she'd wanted to meet in Hightown, or somewhere busy, chaotic, full of snobby nobles, then she would've wondered whether or not her old friend had truly changed for the worst. She decided ahead of time that she wanted to head to the Wounded Coast before Amalia appeared, in the childish hopes of surprising her. Instead, Sparrow's withering enthusiasm seemed to sluggishly lead her over the hills, following a faint trail.

The way she walked had always been different from hers; she walked lightly, quietly, hardly leaving any evidence that she'd ever been there, and Sparrow walked with large, lumbering steps, leaving tracks like a receding tide-line. The blue undertones of the sky promised of pleasant weather, of a beautiful day spent by the beach. She'd chosen simple clothes that made it look as if she'd just hopped off the nearest shipyard; a fitted, cotton vest with leather trousers and a silken bandana wound across her head, slithering down the right side of her face. For this particular meeting, Sparrow needed no armor, even if it made her feel vulnerable. She'd never been one for being prepared, anyhow.

As she neared the meeting spot, Sparrow removed her shoes, held them aloft and dangled them over her shoulder. She could just see over the cliff-side, and spotted blonde hair blowing in the wind, gentle as blades of grass. Her breath hitched, stilling her movements. It was stifling how she could still do that to her, without so much as saying a thing. Sometimes, Sparrow could muster the courage to do things she never dreamt of doing. Her recklessness was boundless, and often bordered on stupidity, but at moments such as this, whatever bravery she'd scooped up in her hands sifted through her fingers like sand. Only she managed to do this to her. Her eyes, brimming with fire and seriousness and seawater, shook her foundations, and made her want to apologize for something, anything.

She might have been a mirage in the desert, weaving in the distance with all of her aliases and locked doors, but her old friend was as solid and real as the tiny particles of sand squished between her toes. She pressed her free hand to her chest, instilling a calm she didn't feel in her thumping heart, willing it to beat with the steadiness of the ocean. How dearly she wanted to snatch up her elbow, pull her along the beach, like she'd done so long ago – but things were different, and they'd changed more than she'd like to admit.

Sparrow breathed in through her nostrils, tasting both the cleanliness of the air, and the saltwater of the coastline. It was cooler than Par Vollen. Her memories, however skewed, had not eroded like the smooth rocks she'd spotted freckling the beach. She remembered every detail, as vividly as if they'd happened yesterday. Perhaps, it was what made it so painful. She couldn't deny abandoning her friend all those years ago, for reasons beyond selfishness, and she couldn't explain exactly why she'd done it, either. With one final shuddering breath, ruthlessly snatched away with the breeze, Sparrow took another step forward, then another, until she picked her way onto the beach. The secret alcove, hidden away from the world by jagged rocks and a skeletal shipwreck, reminded her of home, of secret hideaways and sharing their worries, dreams, ambitions. She walked slightly behind her old friend, off to the side, idling in the water; knee-deep.

“This may be the only place in the Free Marches that doesn't make me physically sick,” she mused softly, kicking up bits of sand, “Do you think they call it the Wounded Coast because of Kirkwall? Anything close to that place must be in a little pain, a little tainted.”

Amalia's pace hadn't changed when she sensed the arrival of her once-fellow, and indeed, to anyone else it might have seemed as though she hadn't acknowleged his presence at all. But she had; it was in the subtle relaxing of her posture, the way she walked now with looser, longer strides, though still atop the sand rather than sunk into it as he was wont to be. He was flighty, so flighty, and she'd had to admit to the possibility that he wouldn't show at all and her day would be spent by herself. It was not that solitude bothered her-- she'd been alone, in the poet's sense, almost her entire life. Ever since he'd departed, in fact. That she still was could not be counted as his fault, however. By now, she had chosen repeatedly to remain so, though she might have chosen otherwise. She told herself her burdens were best borne alone, that attachment to anything but the Qun diminished her judgement and her usefulness, but in truth she knew not whether it would because she'd never really tried to find out.

He spoke, and she stilled her feet at last, turning a bit to look at him out of the corner of her blue eye. Qunari were excellent with subtext, and Venak hol's, as always, didn't much stretch the limits of her comprehension. Whether it was because they had once been close or because he was unsubtle didn't much matter-- though he did seem to have picked some up, from somewhere. He must have, else surely he'd be dead or in the place they called the Gallows by now. I'm in a little pain, a little tainted, he said to her without speaking the words, and she answered without them also.

"I expect it is called this because it is frequently attacked from the outside, wounded by raiders, perhaps. I do not think they realize that it is the coast itself which brings the most ruin." She eyed the ship-skeleton with meaning. You know as well as I do that the world can only hurt us if we allow ourselves to be hurt. Why else would a being, any sentient person, refuse trust, friendship, cameraderie? Because it opened them to harm, and some were more wary of it than others. Amalia was wary of it as the prowling tigers of Par Vollen were of the spear-laden kossith who moved through its tropical landscapes.

In comparison, Sparrow had lived frivolously, flinging herself in every direction and choosing to lean on whichever sorry shoulder was closest – though, only sharing when it was necessary and only offering small, slivers of truths in place of its entirety. Perhaps, they hadn't strayed far from each other, after all. While Amalia willingly adopted a life of solitude, treading a path of isolation and tranquillity, she'd chosen a life in which masks were worn, falsifications embraced and well-intentioned fibs strewn out like grains of sand. Her friendships were based on unauthentic foundations. They might've been st