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Andaer Ophalion

"We do not truly grieve for what we lose. We lose nothing. We grieve for unfulfilled potential and possibilities that do not become actual."

0 · 1,159 views · located in Thedas

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

Description

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"Life is about lines. Where to draw them, when to cross them, and how others place them.”



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Name: Andaer Ophalion
Pronunciation: An-DAH-ir Oh-FAL-ee-on
Age: 43
Race: Elf (Dalish)
Sex: Male
Sexuality: Homosexual, largely uninterested.
Height: 5’8”
Build: Lean, but far from starved. Andaer has exactly what he needs to survive and no more. Excess is something he considers wasteful, and it shows. Of course, given his lifestyle, what he “needs to survive” is a decent amount of musculature (what most would consider a runner’s build) and little extra fat.
Class: Mage
Specialization: Blood Mage
Master Class: Bloodletter
Warden?: No

Appearance: Andaer is not a particularly imposing figure. His form and body language do not convey that he has been a combatant in any number of battles, nor even exposed to any large amount of struggle. Rather, he seems to exude a palpable sense of serenity and equanimity, as though he were entirely at peace with his surroundings. This isn’t to say that he lacks expressiveness; rather, he just doesn’t seem to grapple with things the way others do.

As would be expected of a Dalish, his face is tattooed, primarily across the forehead and beneath his eyes, the strange, geometrical nature of them indicative of his devotion to Dirthamen, the God of Secrets, he who conquered Fear and Deceit. The latticework of the valaslin overlays an angular facial structure, typical of elvenkin, with particularly prominent cheekbones and jaw. There’s a small white scar that cuts diagonally across the left side of his mouth. His eyes are a deep brown, and seem to have a permanently-resigned look to them.

His complexion, the tan indicating quite a bit of time spent outdoors, is possessed of a few age lines here and there, though the well-kept condition of his physique lessens the impact considerably, and it can be said of him that he’s aged rather well, all things considered. His hair, shoulderblade-length, ink-black and kept most often in a tail, sports prominent streaks of silver-grey originating from the temples, but most of the rest is still as dark as it ever was. His posture is upright, and he can move incredibly quietly if the situation calls for it. The skin of his body is quite nearly crosshatched with scar tissue, something that he considers unsightly and generally conceals. His forearms, particularly, bear very regular scar patterns, a series of horizontal wounds marring the skin of both the right and left arms.



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Demeanor: Andaer has something of a facile demeanor about him, as though he were eminently approachable and relatable, but at the same time, any amount of examination would also yield the impression that he keeps more secrets than the average spymaster. He is quick to smile, always listening, and incredibly calm in all but the worst of situations. In some sense, he’s fatherly, even.

Despite that, there’s something untouchable about him, and in his more unguarded moments, he seems to be half-elsewhere, as though paying attention to something that cannot be seen. In fact, he often is.

The operative word might be ‘dignified.’ Even when he’s laughing or in the heat of battle, he never seems to lose some level of elegance and peace. This can make him seem either very soothing or unnerving, depending on the other person involved, but one certainly can’t fault him for being impolite or unfriendly. It also often (and tragically mistakenly) leads people to assume that because he is not confrontational, he is not skilled at confrontation.

Just because he looks very disappointed when he has to kill you doesn’t mean he’ll hesitate for even a moment to slice into his arm and boil your blood from the inside.

Fears: Andaer doesn’t have much left to fear. He is cautious by nature, because the downside to blood magic is that demons occasionally get the impression that you’ll be okay with them possessing you. Not so, and he’d really rather not become an abomination. Having to deal with being called ‘maleficarum’ is bad enough.

Hangups/Quirks: Very appreciative of beauty in all its forms, and prefers to surround himself with situations and people that embody some unique expression of the beautiful or, as he might put it, the sublime. His definitions tend to be much more flexible and encompassing than others’, though.

Opinions:
The Chantry: He’s not particularly fond, though if they’d just leave him alone, he wouldn’t have a problem. The austerity of Chantry tradition, he finds unappealing, but that’s neither here nor there, really.
Magi: The Fade is a place of endless fascination for him, and the people that can interact with it are different from those who cannot, in a way that interests him. He doesn’t believe that magi are inherently superior to non-magi, he just thinks that their abilities should be celebrated rather than reviled, for they are relics of a lost age, in a way.
Templars: Pretty much the same as the Chantry, really.
Elves: Once a Keeper’s First, Andaer has a certain fondness for the People’s way of life, but finds that it is not one he can fully embrace any longer.
Dwarves: Given the amount of time he’s spent in the Deep Roads recently, he’s gotten to know the Legion of the Dead quite well. Their rough mannerisms are a bit… much, sometimes, but he appreciates their honesty.
Humans: They come, it would seem, in many stripes.
The Grey Wardens: Andaer has great respect for anyone who can devote their lives to something as difficult and often thankless as staving off Darkspawn, but it wouldn’t be his first choice of vocation.
The Mission: It is a noble thing, what these allies of his strive to do, and they are to be commended for it. He does not yet count himself as one of them, however, but he fully intends to help as much as he can until the time comes for them to part ways.



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Weapon of Choice: He has a specialized dagger which is only ever used to let his own blood. Other than that, he carries a unique one-handed sword designed to function also something like a staff. Mostly, though, he incapacitates with magic and kills with the blade.

Armor/Apparel: Andaer is clothed mostly in black, dark green, and grey cloth, including enchanted gauntlets which hide his forearm scars. That said, because he needs to be able to let his own blood, he doesn’t wear much in the way of armor, sticking mostly to thicker fabric over vital areas like the chest. His robes do not fall all the way to the ground; rather, he wears what might be described as a long, slitted tunic with breeches beneath, and soft, deer-hide boots.

Mount: Andaer travels with a halla named Seth.

Level: 17
Skills:
Master Class, Bloodletter: Sword Mastery, Pulse, Puppeteer, Cessation
Blood Magic: Blood Magic (Bloodlust), Grave Robber (One Foot In), Hemorrhage, Blood Slave
Spirit Magic: Spirit Bolt, Walking Bomb, Death Syphon
Entropy: Hex of Torment, Horror
Arcane: Mind Blast, Barrier, Crushing Prison



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Place of Birth, Nation of Origin: The Dales (Orlais)
Social Status: Former First, now a wanderer/hermit.
Personal History: Andaer was born into a relatively small clan of Dalish, known primarily for their tendency to produce mages at a higher-than-usual rate. His mother was the Keeper of her clan, and his father a craftsman. From relatively early-on in his life, it was clear that he was supposed to be something special, and he was sent to another clan as part of an effort to preserve the use of magic among all of the Dalish. There, he was made the First of the Keeper for his talents and began his tutelage.

All Keepers know a little blood magic, but Andaer seemed to have a particular talent for it, which is of course quite worrisome in uncontrolled environments. Despite frequent interactions with demons, however, he was never possessed, and grew to be a person with considerable self-control and strength of character. He also grew more isolated from them clan and the rest of the world. He preferred to spend his time in the depths of the forest, meditating, and it was there that he came to the conclusion that his blood magic, contrary to the supposition that it was an evil thing, actually connected him all the more closely to the world around him, and granted him some primitive kind of empathy for other living beings.

If he’d had his way, his life would have been scarcely more than that, but as it happened, the pressures of his position did catch up with him, and eventually he was expected to marry, settle down, and prepare to take over his mentor’s role as Keeper. While he’d nurtured in himself an appreciation for beauty of all kinds, the fact of the matter was that he had little interest in taking a wife, and that was something of a problem.

Perhaps it would have been fine, but he also wasn’t particularly concerned with the more mundane duties of a Keeper; while he had respect for the tales of Elvhenan, he didn’t see much point in trying to preserve those ways to the exclusion of all else. What his people needed was not stagnation, not retroactivity, but change. This ideological split earned him a somewhat voluntary exile, and in the twenty or so years after, he existed as a fringe element of Dalish society, a recognized wise-man hermit and wanderer who nevertheless did not have a place in any clan.

More or less, his role became that of a problem-solver, and when insurmountable obstacles seemed to face the People, they were wont to consult him. He left the Dales sporadically, doing things like hunting down kidnapped children or chasing mysterious rumors. He kept always the confidence of those who consulted him on any matter, however mundane, and for that reason, became known as the friend of many secrets, or the Falon Bel’era.

Professional History: Andaer was trained from a very young age in magic, particularly blood magic, and in the years since he left his clan, has also picked up some knowledge of swordsmanship, though not quite enough to yet qualify as an Arcane Warrior. He presently finds himself in the Deep Roads, questing after a disappeared Dalish boy and girl. The Roads are currently being used by Tevinter Slavers as means of conveyance for slaves, given their relative emptiness at present.

Idea for a Personal Sidequest: If he doesn’t end up finding those kids, freeing them might constitute a personal sidequest, I suppose.

So begins...

Andaer Ophalion's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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When the time came, the questing adventurers were directed to the west side of the camp while Dov's men prepared themselves for the main charge. When the Darkspawn were sufficiently distracted by it, this smaller, more specialized assault team would flank the 'Spawn from a narrow side tunnel that opened up into the fort, on the other side of the palisade wall and traps the foul creatures had set. Dov had informed them, once they gathered, that they would be led there by his Lieutenant, who also happened to be his daughter, and that she was waiting for them here.

Indeed, as soon as they reached the designated area, several figures resolved into view. All but one were dwarves, grim-faced and businesslike. All wore the armor of the Legion, but they were about evenly divided between those in plate and those in chain and leather. The sole female in the group was immediately noticable for her nearly cherry-red hair, braided about her crown and still long enough to fall in a tail to her waist. She held a helmet under one arm, a sword and shield affixed to her back as good an indicator as any of her own preferred tactics. The fellow she was speaking to was considerably taller and more willowy than her, his neatly-tailed hair enough to make the prominent points to his ears obvious. The words they exchanged were too quiet to be audible to the approaching group, but something he said caused her to smile and shake her head slightly, and she buffeted his elbow in a friendly manner before turning to attend to the approaching newcomers.

"Hail, Wardens and friends! It's about time you got here." Her smile was confident, assured, but her tone only friendly. "I would that we had the time for more pleasantry, but alas, duty calls. My name is Ragna Dovarsson, and I'm the one getting you into that camp. Once we're there, you're free to kill the blighters as you see fit, and my men and I will do the same. Stone preserve us all." That was all she said, turning on her heel and striding forward with a sharp gesture to her men, setting her helmet securely atop her head. The tunnel through which they would be passing wasn't overly long, but there were several opportunities for wrong turns, which was why her father had elected to send her in along with the Wardens. She'd been happy to accept the task; it would offer her a chance to see the legendary warriors in battle, something that with her youth she had not yet had the opportunity to observe.

Andaer followed Ragna's eyes as they locked onto the travelling band of Darkspawn-slayers, and he bobbed his head in acknowledgement. Though none of the parties here save him were yet aware of it, he planned to take his leave with them when they made for the deeper reaches of this warren of tunnels. He had good reason to believe that the children he'd been charged to find had either been taken to Antiva to be sold to the Crows or to Tevinter, to be sold to the magisters. There was scarcely any other reason to kidnap Dalish children, after all, disgusted as the thought made him. To them, he offered a shallow bow, more a dip of his head than anything else, but he did not speak, for it was not his place to lead this band, and he had no wish to interfere with Ragna in this. The lives of her people might well depend on her, and that was something for which Andaer had the utmost respect. He simply adjusted the slender blade at his hip and followed after her, noting that she and the rest chose to mount.

With a touch of his magic, he called Seth to himself and swung smoothly astride the silver-white halla, following the dwarves down into the caverns of which they were so inexplicably fond. Though Ragna had asked him many questions about the surface, she had expressed no actual desire to see it for herself, something he found quite curious. There was a certain kind of austere aeshetic quality to the tunnels, he would admit, but it was rather ruined by the grime, old blood, and clear smell of rot. Even the peculiar beauty of glowing fungi and the occasional outcropping of bluish lyruim could not overcome that.

Solvej was a bit surprised to see an elf among dwarves, especially a Dalish. She'd thought they had little reason to leave their homes these days, useless as they were being when it came to actually doing anything about the Blight. The excuse was that they needed to be so in order to survive, and perhaps there was something to that, but it seemed unappetizing to someone who staked her life on long odds daily. Perhaps this one was more inclined towards the reckless danger of killing off blighted bastards, or maybe he had some other agenda, but either way he was Ragna's problem, and the woman seemed like she knew what she was doing.

Between Wagner's height and her own, Solvej had to stoop just slightly to clear the tunnel entrance, but she immediately understood the reason for the fact that everyone was mounted: they'd take up less of the (scarce) horizontal space this way, and also be able to move into a mounted charge quite quickly upon exiting, probably a good idea if the 'Spawn were going to be right there. The issue of them being able to sense Wardens also loomed large, and she suspected that the extra measure would also help there: they'd likely be expecting ground-level Wardens, and just a few, not over a dozen mounted warriors. It was as much surprise as they were going to be able to get. The passage itself was dark, and, like most in the area, smelled positvely rank, but after several days of much the same, she was fairly-well accustomed to it, anyway.

Astride such a wilful beast, Rhapscallion was less inclined to understand the imperative nature of mounting to save space in the tunnel entrance, and he very nearly crushed his head against a stalagmite when he missed the opportunity to stoop, forcing himself to lean precariously backwards over Conquest's rump. He grunted when the low ceiling passed by, straightening his shoulders. Why couldn't they have assigned him a bronto, instead? He would've gladly given anyone his reigns, even settling for Kerin's pony. At least she wasn't being jostled about like a dangling piece of cargo. Squinting in the growing darkness, still unaccustomed to the overwhelming heaviness of his surroundings, Rhapscallion pressed the back of his hand against his nose, crinkled his eyebrows, and pressed further into the midst of warriors, of like-minded individuals all fighting for a good cause. He hadn't even noticed the Dalish moving along the ranks, closest to Ragna.

For her part, Ragna and her men were astride stocky brontos, this particular strain of the beast tameable... well, enough to handle a rider without killing them, anyway. It had been an idea of hers, to use the creatures for this purpose, since horses rarely survived long down here, and one of the members of their platoon had once been a livestock breeder. Granted, his family had bred nugs, but apparently the principle wasn't all that different, and within a few bronto-generations, they'd had an impressive collection of mounts, one for each man in the squadron. It was certainly a plus that the creatures needed so little light to see, and they chose the right path virtually without any prompting, assuring their passengers and the horse-mounted warriors following them a swift journey through the tunnel.

Solvej was right to be concerned about the Darkspawn sensing the Wardens among them, but Ragna was prepared for this, as well as one could be. They would doubtless be met with a bit of resistance immediately upon their exit, but the charge her father was leading would certainly be enough of a distraction that it was not likely to matter much.

Even as she thought this, a light became visible some distance ahead, and Ragna spoke quietly, but enough to be heard. "The exit's ahead, Wardens. I'm guessing the charge is already underway, so feel free to start laying into anything you see as soon as we get clear of this tunnel. We'll be trying to knock down the wall from this side so the others can get in, so if you can keep them away from us as much as possible, you'll have more allies at your back sooner." It was solid strategy, but Ragna knew that well enought that she didn't feel the need to press the point. In a more private aside, she fell back slightly, allowing her vanguard units to overtake her, and pulled up alongside Andaer.

"I suppose I won't have the chance to speak with you again, salroka," she said, voice heavy with sadness. It was true enough that the elf had not been around for more than a few weeks, but it was not hard to ascertain that she'd miss his patient willingness to answer her endless questions and the peace which seemed to exude from his very pores. "Atrast nal tunsha, Andaer. May you always find your way in the dark." She smiled, then, with a brief nod, spurred her bronto to greater speed, drawing her sword and shield from her back, catching up with the front lines of her men in just enough time to burst free of the narrow tunnel. Ahead of them, a small detachment of Darkspawn, perhaps twenty in total, were waiting, and Ragna's shield immediately went up, deflecting a flaming arrow aimed squarely for her face.

"Go, Wardens, and bring them death! We'll take care of these!" she cried, swinging her blade in a mighty blow which, combined with the momentum of her bronto's charge, cleaved the head right off a hurlock. Her troops were not far behind, each as fierce as she.

On the other side of the wall, the charge was met with considerable resistance. Dov's men were being pelted with arrows and magic from Darkspawn perched on battlements, and still others were jumping the wall, eager to engage the Legion in ground combat. Those met swift demises under the press of Dov's men and occasionally his axe, but their bowmen were having a hard time, disadvantaged as they were on the low ground. If the Wardens and his daughter did not act soon, he would be forced to withdraw, lest his casualties outnumber their lives. It was an unfortunate way of thinking, but one that had served him well all these years. Still, he set his jaw and dug in his heels, deflecting a downward swing from a genlock, and Dov felt his lips twitch into a smile, even as he sank into a rage like ice- cold enough to burn.

Emil traveled through the caverns and passages with his usual amount of stern grimfacedness. He too rode a horse, though he hadn't assigned the creature a name. It was a second hand blood-red roan he was given with his departure with the Templar Order way back in Orlais. He noted the oddity of an elf embedded within the dwarven ranks, yet the mere curiousity was only enough to raise his brow and issue a monosyallbic "Strange." Though things certainly couldn't have been considered normal by any means. He took it all in stride as they what felt like wandering the tunnels. When the light at the end of the tunnel began to burn, he was relieved that they hadn't become lost. Though, chances were that was about the be rectified as soon as they entered the battle. Lost to a sword or lost to the tunnels, it mattered not.

Emil's trained eye scanned the field before him, working out where he would be best utilized. He needed a perch, somewhere high so that he could rain death with impunity. What he got was the sight of a wooden palisade with rickety platforms on either side. He nodded, that would serve his purpose. Though first he'd have to get rid of the current occupants, a couple of Darkspawn firing down into what he guessed was Dov and his group of warriors. He figured that his plan would work two-fold, gaining him a perch to snipe from and supporting Dov's men in their efforts... Though, he couldn't do it alone. His eyes went to Mirabelle. He had noticed the way she avoided battle than partake more often than not. He could not fault her for that, she was clearly not built to be a warrior... Though she did prove herself enough for him during the Seige of Orlais. His plan wouldn't directly involve them in full on martial combat-- perhaps a skirmish or two, but nothing heavy. She'd do.

He pulled along side Mirabelle and said, "I intend to assault the palisade and relieve the pressure the archers are putting on the Legion. I'll need aid in the matter," He said, finally turning to look at her, "Unless of course you think you'd do better in the middle of the fray between blood drunk dwarves and ravenous Darkspawn," Sure, her tainted blood would draw the 'Spawn to them, but if they can eliminate the archers quickly enough, then they could hold their position above the steps easily enough. "If we do this though, I'll ask that you warn me before you coat me with one of your vials," Emil stated flatly.

"And here I was thinking you didn't like me at all!" Mira said, the forced cheer in her voice a poor mask of the fact that she was incredibly uncertain about all this. The others could gawk at the elf among the dwarves or the brontos they rode on, the new sights and sounds, all they wanted. Mira just wanted to be alive and in one piece when all this was done. Her grip on her knife was tight, causing her hand to turn somewhat whiter than usual. Her left hand was hovering about her belt, ready to draw a throwing knife or vial at a moment's notice. She'd seen battle with the Templars and the Wardens back in Orlais, but she had had multitudes of allies at her side then, and they'd been defending their own positions, not assaulting battlements full of darkspawn.

"I'm in,", she said before holding up her left hand to the Templar. "Give me a lift?" she asked, her lips curling into a small smile.

Emil nodded and extended a hand out to the Warden. It was either her, the jellyfish halfbreed, or the pirate. The halfbreed would probably be too close to his mage-friend or his mentor. As for the pirate... No, the girl was a much better choice. The pirate was still a sore spot for him considering their recent... chat. Once he was sure the Warden was on the horse, he drew his sword and spurred the creature forwards. "Watch yourself now. I still refuse to play the Stalwart Knight," he said harkening back to their first fight. If it was meant to be a joke, his tone nor his expression dared to show it.

"We'll see who ends up rescuing who," she teased into his ear, despite her own thoughts, both the ones about her own lack of combat ability, and the fact that Emil probably wouldn't even allow himself to be rescued if the need arose, if only because of his pride. "Oh, and don't worry about the vials," she said, "I'll only hit you with one if it really seems necessary." With that, it seemed the moment for their charge had come upon them. Mira slid a vial of yellow liquid into deft fingers, ready to stun a group of darkspawn and ease their way. The last thing she wanted was for the horse to go down before they even made it to their destination. For the first time, she was also grateful to see the hairy shapeshifter slide up towards the front, in the form of a bear, keen on garnering as much attention as he could. Better him than her, certainly.

It was certainly not the case that the only Darkspawn in the encampment were the ones on the wall, and the ground crew had their work cut out for them as things were looking. The first wave of them were already approaching, those that had been prepared to deal with the incoming dwarven charge, no doubt. Solvej spurred Wagner into a surge, calling back behind her. "Magelet, you're with me!" The opening for them to get at the weakest members of the party was far too wide, and she was planning on using herself to narrow it off. Hardly a glamorous endeavor, but one that would prove helpful once all the sprining into action was done and they had to settle in for the hard reality of being very, very outnumbered. She was not fool enough to think she'd be successful without the mindful monitoring of someone who'd be able to help if- when- things went awry for her.

Her poleaxe was an implement wielded without mercy, and several Darkspawn found themselves without limbs, or else impaled on the pointed pike-edge of the weapon as her powerful draft horse propelled both of them to a naturally narrow point in the line. She took up residence on a section of the wall, forming what would hopefully be the first link of a bottleneck on the 'Spawn. This left a few of the archers actually behind her, but that was where Alessandro and Desmaris were headed, and though she lacked noteworthy trust in either of them, the woman's urge towards self-preservation and the man's obstinate sense of duty would get the job done if nothing else did.

Several of the ground-bound warriors turned their charge towards her, and Solvej cracked her neck to either side, kicking her left foot free of the stirrup it was in and bringing the leg around to the other side so as to jump smoothly from the horse's saddle. Wagner was a creature of battle in his own right, and armored to show it. He reared back, his front hooves catching one hurlock off-balance and knocking it to the ground. The heavy thud that followed was accompanied by several cracks, and she knew that the warsteed's return to the earth had ended the creature. For her part, Solvej slashed at an incoming genlock with her poleaxe, giving the thing a broad, but shallow gash over its leather-armored chest. The Warden focused most of her energy on her defenses, which meant she'd be killing them at a slower rate than usual, but she'd endure much more damage in exchange.

Given her present goal and the fragile magelet behind her, she deemed this to be best.

When Solvej gave orders with that certainty of hers backing them, Ethne really saw no point in arguing; not that she would have anyway. Frankly, she was happy enough to let those who knew of warfare lead it, and she trusted that the woman had a plan. Nudging her horse into a run behind the Black Templar's, the somniari didn't slay Darkspawn on the way, as admittedly she wasn't really sure of her aim from the back of a moving creature. Instead, she dipped into the Fade for a more benevolent force, channelling the Heroic Aura from Courage, one who only rarely deigned to let her borrow of his strength. It seemed that charging headlong into a mass of Darkspawn was sufficient to draw his attention, however, and the spell spread outwards from her in a wide radius, enough to touch Solvej, Rhapscallion, and eventually Mirabelle and Emilio as well.

The armored woman pulled them to a stop, and Ethne heeded the practical advice, staying behind her and lobbing projectiles over the Warden's shoulder, occasionally pausing to double-check the condition of her allies. They were bound to need her skills in a situation like this, and without any other healers on hand, she'd have to be very judicious with her use of mana. For her own part, Ethne kept the back of her horse, in case she needed to dash off to get within range of someone, and also because it leant her the slight advantage of height. Since her back was protected by the wall, she let an Arcane Shield stand as her defense against arrows, but otherwise guessed she'd be about as safe as one could be in a situation like this.

Unlike Wagner, Conquest had no intentions of galloping gallantly into battle, sheering through Darkspawn like a hooved-weapon of kicking legs and disagreeable-head whips. Instead, Rhapscallion was unceremoniously thrown from his saddle when the stubborn beast suddenly lurched to the side, causing its rider to tumble into an improvised roll before gaining his feet from underneath him. He only glimpsed a kick of dust, a flicking tail of cowardice, to know that his faithful steed had turned away from the battle, probably seeking a safe place to hunker down in. Thoughts aside that he might've been better off begging the dwarves for his own bronto, who were hellbent on crushing everything that stood in their way, Rhapscallion threw himself forward, invoking in batted breath for quicker steps, hastier movements, so that he could somewhat keep pace with Solvej's rampaging horse. His long limbs certainly helped in closing the distance between him and the approaching onslaught of 'Spawn just as his mentor swung off her own horse, gracefully meeting the action with a measured slash.

His form flickered like a candle, blowing out in a shifting surge of smoke. If one had been looking close enough, then they would've noticed the faint remnants of a smile before it disappeared. The burden on his heart had been lightened, even if the past few nights had been hampered by nightmares, of monsters best left under a child's bed. They would always live to fight another day and as long as he was able, then he'd be smiling alongside them. Menacing growls, pained grunts, rattled through his ears. This was something Grey Wardens understood best, if anything. Threads of warmth extended from his gut, tickling through his arms, his legs, his spine – certainly, coming from none other than Ethne. Who else could inspire them so? He was sure, if there'd been any other mages with similar abilities, that he could immediately recognize her magic, as if it were someone's voice, familiar, close. He bent down, scooped up a handful of dirt, and flung it into a nearby Hurlock's face, spinning around so that Solvej could sink her blades in. Rhapscallion dodged an incoming club, ducking under the arm and driving his shamshir backwards, straight into the hurlock's armpit. He wrenched it away by circling around the howling creature, already facing another.

Solvej had done the job that Mira had planned for her stun vial, and thus it was unnecessary. They had their opening, and so Mira pocketed the vial, opting for a throwing dagger instead. They made their way up behind the Warden and the Dreamer, and Mira watched with much interest as Solvej cleaved apart a good number of the beasties with her poleaxe. But like a fat Orlesian noble devouring a delicate dessert, there were always bits left over on the edges of the plate. In this case, there was a small number of archers that had avoided the Warden's wrath, either by chance or by fate, or by some sense of self preservation that had encouraged them to push their fellows in the path of death instead of themselves. Whatever it was, it would only buy them a few more seconds, if Mira had her way.

"I've got these," Mira said to Emil above the din of the battle, which wasn't particularly hard since she could speak directly into his ear. Without waiting for a reply, she pushed backwards off the rear of the horse, letting it continue forward. Her boots hit the ground, and Mira immediately went into a forward roll, being nothing if not graceful. As she had expected, the archers had their attention drawn by the murdering Warden or by the rampaging horses, or perhaps both, and none thought to look for little Mira, slipping up behind them.

When unopposed, it was quick. A slice to the back of the knee of the first hurlock brought him down below her height, and a swift drawing across the throat put him down even further. She darted to the next, blade sinking into lower back. It turned to find the source of the pain, but she was gone already, shifted around to his side, stabbing a knife into the back of the head. A genlock, being the clever little one, though to turn its shortbow on her, but her throwing knife was out of her hands before then, stuck between the eyes before it could pull back the string. She closed the distance quickly, pulling out the blade by its handle, even as the darkspawn fell.

It was a run of enemies looking the wrong way, and it was violence like this that actually got Mira's blood pumping in a way she could enjoy. One slice to the next, each invigorating her more than the last, giving her energy to cut through them. She grabbed the back of a head, exposing the throat to be slit, watched dark blood shoot from the neck, spraying the next one in front of it. She would of course flow around such disgusting substances for fear of getting them on her clothes. The next hurlock sent an enraged mace strike her way, but she wasn't there when it landed, instead appearing beside it, knife sinking into a weak point, cutting to the spine. Only when the last of these archers that Solvej had left behind had been cleared did she stop to take a breath, and see where her Stalwart Knight had gotten off to.

Kerin, for her part in the battle, did not wade in atop her magnificent warrior steed, blade naked and steeped in crimson. Nothing about the dwarf was ever that grandiose. She was dirtier, grittier, and more brutal. Instead of forging ahead with her steed, she dismounted the pony immediately. The little horse was not bred for battle, and as such would only be a liability. A simple snarl from a lucky Darkspawn was more than likely tip the creature over, dumping Kerin to her own doom. There was also the issue of his size, barely standing at half the height of Solvej's Wagner. Her pony was not a warrior beast, but a transporter between the battle for the real beast. The dwarf that rode atop him. His duty was done, where hers began.

As boots hit stone, her helmet slammed on her head, and the fresh steel of her blade rang clearly. Whereas the axe was a more brutal weapon, Kerin noted the soothing sound of the steel ringing free. It was akin to a bell, a bell that tolls only for the death her enemies. And she loved it. It more than made up for the fact she couldn't hardly walk right with it strapped to her back. Without much more to do, she wailed a deathsong that signified the start of her berserker frenzy and the end to all that may oppose her. Though slower than the mounted warriors, she more than made up for it in raw ferocity. What little Solvej left in her wake, Kerin easily swept up, though not without a flare of irritation. The weakened prey left no challenge for the raging berserker. She swore to rectify that.

Instead of following Solvej to her section of the wall, Kerin veered off and chose a different section, one with fresh blood waiting to be spilled. Her greatsword cut through the 'Spawn the same as her axe, though the point allowed her the versatility of stabbing as well, and as such, she found herself skewering two 'Spawn at the same time when one tried to back away from the rabid dwarf and ran into his fellow. A grim smile found the macabre sight entertaining. Once she had found herself at her own section the wall, she began to cut down anything that had a pulse, effectively becoming the second link in Solvej's bottleneck.

With Kerin and Solvej carving their own paths, Suicide chose his own, making the attack three pronged. The warriors had already drawn a significant amount of attention, and the shapeshifter figured a flanking maneuver, as well as it could be performed in this cavern, would be beneficial, to prevent the Warden and the berserker from being overwhelmed. If the darkspawn chose not to turn their attention on the bear attacking their sides, they would simply find themselves dead. Well, they'd likely find themselves dead either way, it was just a matter of where the wounds would be dealt.

A bear's legs were not so fast as a horse's, nor did they carry the same momentum behind them, but Suicide was much easier able to change directions, as well as react to attackers. It was not long before he'd worked his way into their side, veering away from where Kerin was cleaving into their ranks. A deep bellow signaled his charge as he raked claws into the first unlucky spawn to cross his path. There were far too many to tackle alone, but such trivialities were not worth giving thought to. He had an excellent group of companions at his side, and at least one of them would no doubt take advantage of the enemies he had effectively corralled. Their blades tried to bite into his sides, but he was in a defensive posture, lashing out with brute muscle at groups that approached, and slaughtering the foolish that tried to strike on their own. It would be some time before they wore him down enough to get through his defenses.

Admittedly, Andaer was a solitary soul. A hermit, some might say, and with ample justification. It had been quite some years since he'd found it necessary to engage in combat on a scale even remotely appraoching this one, and to be sure, this lot were strangers to him still. True to his word, he was certainly going to attempt to attach himself to them. One did not simply wander beyond Legion lines into the Deep Roads without some kind of precaution, after all. He supposed that, perhaps, the best way to secure his passage would be to prove himself in some way useful. The warrior types were generally appreciative of someone who could 'pull their own weight' as he believed the idiom specified.

Of course, they generally also seemed to prefer people who were not as he was. Glancing about the scene, watching Darkspawn bodies fall, replete with grievous wounds and exsanguinating onto the filthy stone beneath, he considered that something of an irony. They seemed to let much more of it than he ever would. A cool assessment of the situation left him with a choice: he could either follow the raging snow-pated dwarf or the towering wildman in bear-shape. It was with no air of hurry whatsoever that he thumbed his blade loose in its sheath, treading softly in the thunderous, heavy wake of the armored woman. The first Darkspawn to fall upon his path was one already injured, suffering a gast to the side from the mighty blade she swung with so much ease. "Abelas, Din'len," he murmured, reaching for his magic until he felt himself connected to the creature's Tainted blood. With no small mental effort and a sharp pulling gesture, Andaer quite literally sucked the rest of the life-substance from the Hurlock's body through the wound, leaving but a withered husk of flesh behind. His other hand channelled fire, heating the enchanted steel of his thin sword until the edges of it took on a cherry-red hue, the hilt still perfectly cool to the touch.

A genlock that had thought to spin away from the worst of one of Kerin's blows found itself most abruptly without a head, the supernaturally-heated blade slicing through the loose, putrid flesh of its neck. Whipping to the opposite side, Andaer laid into the next, not so cleanly, but in enough time to prevent his own unfortunate injury, the momentum of his abrupt double-back fanning his grey-streaked ponytail over his back and shoulder, stinging his cheek. He ignored it, following the slightly-clumsy blow with a much more graceful one, passing the sword to his free hand and stabbing for the heart, twisting with a short, violent motion of his hand. The drugen'len had come to what was more or less a stop, blocking off the other side of the wide passage. Where she was stalwart and stony, he was fluid and liquidinous, and he occupied himself slipping around her this way and that, stepping in to slash at or distract one or more of the incoming Darkspawn when too many clogged their side of the cavern, inflicting slow-bleeding wounds or worse, finishing off those that survived her initial onslaught, and generally choosing to neaten the raw destruction that was her trade.

The ants go marching two by two, hurrah, hurrah... It was a grim sort of good humor that brought the old nursery rhyme to Rudhale's mind now, but he was disinclined to quash it. He might have even sung it out loud, were there anyone around to hear. There was not, and so he didn't bother wasting the breath. Why perform if there was no audience? Instead, he sidled up to the elf-man for a few seconds, leaning to the side conspiratorially. "I'm sensing a pattern here," he proffered offhandedly, but of course he did not expect to be answered, and when it was clear that the stranger had chosen to follow in the wake of the darling dwarf, Rudhale shrugged and figured that had him marching into the fray alongside a bear.

Things couldn't be better, as far as he was concerned. Not only was the one called "Suicide" (and he'd be asking about that, because the large barbarian fellow had yet to jump off any cliffs or throw himself on any swords, so it clearly wasn't literal) quite skilled and not lacking for bloodthirst, but there were so many puns to be made! The pirate jogged himself over to the shapeshifter, who was just then disembowling a Darkspawn with his "bear" hands (and already ti was paying dividends), and drew his mismatched weapons.

Like everything else about Rudhale, the arrangement didn't look much like it should work. One blade was twice as long as the other. One was curved and one straight. One broad, one narrow. One was designed to slash, and one to pierce and puncture. You practically had to be schizoid to work them both at the same time. He wasn't so sure about "schizoid," but he was about twelve kinds of crazy, so there was that. They were making a little more forward progress than the other two ground groups, which had satisfied themselves making a barrier to narrow the passage for the Darkspawn. A sound strategy, no doubt, but it did lack a certain element of... flair. One which he was only too happy to provide, naturally.

Given that their other option was a bear, it was hardly surprising that a good number of the foes that stopped to engage them at all chose the human, and he found himself not for want of fleshy bits to hack and slash at, mixed, of course, with the occasional stab or kick or something of that nature. One of the more clever sorts (genlocks, they were always genlocks) got him in the side, and Rudhale grinned. "Why, you bloody little blighter. That was a good shot, that was!" He congratulated the party responsible by disappearing and reappearing behind its back, thrusting backwards with his kilij and twisting, removing the blade with a flourish and righting it to face forward again. The arc of red-black blood that flew off the steel surface spattered unnoticed on the stone beneath his feet.

Life was good.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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The Templar glanced back as the girl yelled something at him and quickly dismounted just as fast as she had mounted the blood-red roan. He held his gaze for a moment, then once satisfied that the girl wasn't going to actively get herself killed, spurred his horse forward, tearing his sword free from it's sheath. The first victim of his blade was a Hurlock who couldn't get away from the Templar fast enough and got his head cleaved clean through. A grim smirk etched Emil's face for a mere second before it was summarily replaced with his normal tight-lipped expression. Though eventually Emil would have to dismount as well, else try to force the horse up the rickety stairs leading up to the platform on the far side, high above the rest of the battle. While it would be a sight to behold, Emil believed he best leave the insane antics for the Pirate, wherever in the Maker's name he may be in the forsaken bloody fray.

Emil swung his foot out of one side of the saddle, and leaned on the side of the horse, timing himself just right so that when he jumped, his fall was cushioned by the soft bodies of a pair of Genlocks. Without giving them time to likewise get a slash or stab off, he finished the fight before it could even start. He stood, and quickly stomped the head of one of the creatures and plunged his blade into the chest of the other. Another, heavier stomp on the other creature and the resulting crunch told that the genlock wouldn't get back into the fight. He then began to make his way towards the base of the stairs, cutting with his sword the whole way. Luckily for him, the densest concentration of the fight was happening on the wall proper, between the trio of the dwarf, the black templar, and the shapeshifter and their retinue. On his way, he paused for a moment to scratch his nose with his elbow. At first he just figured it for the Shapeshifter of the dreamer, though the itch was... Different, somehow. Something far more.. sinister. Though he'd have to think about it later, he was busy at the moment.

It didn't take him long before he was ascending the stairs. He had sheathed his blade and switched to his heavy bow, firing up the stairs at any 'Spawn who turned a corner too fast. A trail lay behind him, dead and bleeding 'Spawn with arrows protruding at every angle as the blood puddled at the base of the stairs. He'd need to polish his boots again after the fight was done. He reached the top of the platform, and turned out to be his turn to be surprised. A genlock bolter waited for the ascending Templar with his crossbow aiming right for his heart (if he even had one.) It was only by his quick wits and instinct that he managed to turn just in time for the bolt to bury itself in the back of his arm instead of his chest. A rabid hiss escaped with the pain and he whipped back around, bow swinging in a wide arc. The thick arch of the bow connected with the skull of the bolter, throwing it back and slamming it against the railing.

He approached with menace in his eyes and before the bolter could reload for a second shot the injured Templar kicked the genlock through the railing, and screaming down to the rapidly approaching ground. The thump almost managed to soothe the Templar. He grabbed the bolt and ripped it free from the armor, skin, and muscle as he approached the corner of the platform-- his perch. His actions had drawn the ire of what little archers and bolters were left-- thanks in part to Mira. So it was with them he began to work, but not before firing off an arrow behind Mira, striking a nearby 'Spawn. Mostly just to state that he was alive too. He couldn't bear to have her worry for him after all.

Solvej didn't even flinch as a fireball flew by over her shoulder. The magelet knew how to control herself, even if this was not something she automatically believed of all mages. Whether they acknowledged it or not, every last one of them was in that girl's debt to some degree, and the least she could do was trust that she wasn't about to get a lance of lightning to the back or some such paranoid delusion. "Hn." With a soft grunt and a powerful exhale, the Black Templar swung her poleaxe in a ripping horizontal arc, cleaving through the general abdominal areas of several Darkspawn in the process. A number of blows sought the chinks in her armor, but none found them, rebounding off the darkened steel with great clangs but no particular effectiveness. Solvej didn't carry a shield in large part because she was one, when she chose to be.

She caught a Shriek trying to edge in past her to get at Ethne and scowled, thrusting forward with the polearm and catching it just under the chin with the smaller blade topping the axe portion of her weapon, wrenching to the side and carrying the foul thing's throat with her. Switching her grip, she imitated something she'd seen the pirate do at some point and slammed her gauntleted fist into the face of the next hurlock to approach, producing a short series of wet pops. The creature toppled over, prepared for many things, doubtless, but not knuckles to the jaw. Taking several strides forward, she stomped on the base of the 'Spawn's spine even as she caught the next one in the temple with the blunt end of the pole. She could sense Rhapscallion to her sides, then behind her, and then a fair distance afield, cutting down his own opponents with a grace she did not possess. A small tingle at the back of her neck represented the nearness of magic, and in her own way, the magelet was mighty, too.

Their combined strength was clearing a large swath around them, other Darkspawn being channelled towards Kerin and the sword-wielding elf or else the pirate and the bear shredding through the lines on the other side. The temporary break in the onslaught was enough to allow them to advance forwards, and now it was they getting hit first, directing a smaller number towards the others, and on a more holistic level, they were all doing excatly what they needed to. Digging in under the pressure, advancing when it abated, and keeping the strain of it from overwhelming any one group in particular. It was almost beautiful.

It was also making quick work of the Darkspawn.

So far, so good. Ethne wasn't one to relish in the heat of battle like so many of her friends did, but at the very least, she could say she was no slouch when the situation called for it. She thought she was improving at this whole open-combat business, and if her relatively-unscathed condition was anything to go by, she was probably right. The thought brought her little joy, but there was certainly something to be said for not being a liability to the others.

From her position astride her horse, she was able to observe the flow of the battle around her, and though she hardly understood it in the same tactical, clever way as Solvej or Rudhale or Emilio might, she could tell at least that things seemed to be going well. Steering the Tevinter-bred mage mount with her knees alone, she swept her left hand outwards, producing a stonefist which crashed through a line of darkspawn at least seven deep, knocking all of them over. It was patently obvious that there was a marked difference in skill between these still left in the Deep Roads and their counterparts that marched on the surface, or maybe that was just her imagination.

It scarcely seemed to matter, and even as she ducked, forced to lay nearly backwards against her steed's rump, the uncanny sound of an arrow whistling by the space her head had been, she immediately straightened and hurled a silvery bolt of chain lightning in the offending direction. She was acting mostly by instinct now, and considerations about things like the enemy's strength or her allies' strategies were only minimal, a buzz somewhere at the back of her mind. Gripping her staff in-hand, she followed after Solvej when the woman strode forward, changing their position for purposes unknown to the little mage. It brought the first melee-fighting hurlock to her side that she'd had to deal with, and his sword caught her a good blow, leaving a line of blood trailing out of a gash from the middle of her thigh to her knee. The flimsy fabric of her robes was torn through easily enough, but the cut, though painful, was shallow, and not enough to distract her for long. With some effort, she steadied her shaking breaths and bent forward, throwing momentum from her torso into the stabbing motion that buried the somewhat-pointed tip of the mace-head of her staff into the darkspawn's chest.

It staggered backwards, freeing her to follow up the physical blow with two more, the ice projectiles catching it first in one foot (when her aim wavered with an unexpected jolt of pain from her leg) and then full in the face. It collapsed, and Ethne drew a shaky breath. It was just pain. It would be fine.

Rhapscallion's movements seemed more precise, more assured then before. Doubts had clouded his mind, harried his balance. Honestly, it had been all of his companions who helped him crawl out of whatever darkness he'd found himself wallowing in the moment he'd stepped foot in the Deep Roads. It was a conjoined effort, even considering those who preferred not to speak to him, such as Emil, that had lifted his spirits. He couldn't contribute everything he had if he didn't put in what he had to offer in the first place – namely himself, and who he was, how he fought, what he believed in. Ignoring his foolish desire to somehow become stronger, or someone else entirely, Rhapscallion weaved between Darkspawn with astonishing grace, given his temperament when out of battle, and threw himself into a series of intricate swings, flourishing swipes, and clever tricks that involved nasty kicks to the back of their knobby knees, felling them, then quickly sinking his dagger into their exposed jugulars. Infrequently, he looked over his shoulder, noting how close, or how far, his companions were. He needed to be sure.

His battle cries were not like Kerin's barrage of drums, nor Suicide's supposed calm, or Emil's discreet barrage of arrows sinking into flesh, of the whipping sounds that belonged solely to Solvej's spear, driving into sluggish hearts, and whatever blighter that was foolish enough to face her. Who knew where Rudhale was? His theme must've been made out of a pirate's jig, primed for dancing and merrymaking and utterly destroying his opponents without even breaking a sweat. It suited him well. Rhapscallion hadn't seen Mirabelle in all of this, but he supposed that her fighting style was much like his own, full of catlike grace and hidden stashes of poison, gasses, mysterious vials that would debilitate and ruin them upon contact. He didn't actually have any vials of poison, though he knew they would've come in handy. Instead, Rhapscallion relied on his opponent's momentum, sidestepping when they barrelled into him, utilizing his shamshir as a hook, then sinking his blade like a fatal thorn driving into their hips, their sides, past their craggy ribcages. He had kept the jagged dagger that Rudhale had given him, out of sheer irony – the one that had sunken into his abdomen, leaving behind an equally messy scar as a reminder. Irony wasn't tragic.

He, too, acted solely on instinct, following the heat of battle like an ebbing wave. If it moved this way, then he, too, would manoeuvre with it, leaving strategies and plans to those who could think of them while in combat. The clusters dwindled in his surrounding area, so Rhapscallion sizzled from view stepped between fallen corpses, always careful not to step on them. He'd always been this way. Stepping between open arms, lifeless fingers, and just beside someone's gaping mouth, eye-sockets inhabited by discarded daggers. He quickened his pace, heading back towards Ethne and Solvej. He bound across another body, breaking into a brisk jog. Another hurlock – as if there were not enough – stepped into his past, long enough to snarl something unintelligible. His shamshir snapped forward. The head was taken clean from his shoulders before he even had a chance to raise his own weapons. The severed head went rolling carelessly down the dark tunnel, and his body fell into the genlock standing beside him. He danced past, scoring back-lashed blows to it's ankles.

Rhapscallion finally hacked and slashed his way towards Ethne, utilizing her horse's rump to keep himself from staggering over the Darkspawn she'd just dispatched of moments ago. Of course she could protect herself, for even Solvej had said so, he had no doubt of that, but still, he worried after her. It was a nagging feeling tickling at his neck, forcing him to look backwards. To check on Kerin, to see if Suicide was fine, to make sure that they were all alive and well. “You're alright?” It was a question, sifted through heavy breaths. He wasn't looking at her, but instead peering out across the battlefield, hands clamped on his blades. He hadn't seen her wounds.

"I'm alive, aren't I?" she replied, managing a small smile over the rhythmic clenching of her jaw. It might not have been a deep wound, but she was no Solvej or Dekton or- gods forbid- Kerin, capable of pushing past agony like it was mere irritation, and it hurt. "And you're alive. And they're alive. I've never been better." In it's own strange way, it was even true, and that was something she'd think about later, when she had the time. Right now, there was a Genlock taking aim for Rhapscallion's exposed back, facing her as he was, and she was having none of that.

With a certainty she hadn't experienced in a long time, Ethne conjured the stone to her hands, compacting it into a shape as small as she could, and threw the dense projectile with a short, sharp motion, watching with half-lidded eyes as it crushed the Darkspawn's ribcage and slammed it back against several of its fellows, all headed for Kerin and the mysterious Dalish man. They'd all still be half-stumbling and crash, most likely. She found it difficult to mourn that, considering. Not him, not them, not ever.

Suicide was more than fine, despite the darkspawn's best efforts. When the pirate Rudhale entered the fray beside him, enough attention was drawn to him that the shapeshifter decided simply holding their aggression was no longer necessary. They had bled them enough to destroy them outright. After clawing open a last genlock's skull, Suicide shifted back into human form in a flash, confusing the nearest hurlock with the sudden change in the fighting style it was facing. It hadn't made up its mind as to how it wanted to proceed before Suicide splattered it over its comrades with the mace end of his staff. Enraged at their losses, a second charged forward, but the shapeshifter smoothly parried the blow to the side, before taking hold of the hurlock by the arm and using momentum against it, pulling it forward and around before slingshotting it back into its own ranks, where it slammed up against another darkspawn. With a roar Suicide hefted his staff overhead and speared the blade end through both of them, sending them down in a heap.

Two more came forward, Suicide parrying the first's blow aside before launching a fist into its face, shattering the jaw and sending it spinning onto its back. The second's overhead blow was cut off when Suicide's staff connected with skull mace end first, stunning and turning it around. He flipped the staff off smoothly and sliced horizontally, cleanly removing its head, before turning back to the first, driving the swordstaff down through its face.

A good day, indeed.

A short bark of laughter escaped the pirate at the Darkspawns' confusion over Suicide's sudden shapeshift (my, my, try saying that five times fast!), but Rudhale was too busy with his own business to sit back and ridicule them when they turned into a drunken parody of some crude stage-show, the sort one might see in certain Rivaini taverns. Still, it was hard not to superimpose a bit of that fast-paced, dangerously-catchy music onto the whole thing, and if he was adding a little more spin and flourish into his own dance of death, well... surely nobody would fault him for that. He may have even started humming, though really if anyone were to ask him about it later, he'd just smile a shit-eating grin and shrug diffidently.

One slice left, two vertically, sweep both blades low, there goes an artery, there a heap of guts, breathe in, spring sideways, feint with the kilij, slip under the shield, punch up under the chin with the katar, step out, and exhale. As natural as the breathing alone, when you'd been doing it long enough. Two hurlocks moved in at the same time, one swinging a hefty-looking mace and the other coming at him with dual knives. Well. That was three weapons to two, except pirates didn't play fair. With a one-shoulder shrug, Rudhale adjusted his grip on his katar and gave it the old two-finger toss, burying it neatly in the bicep of the club-wielder. That, naturally, was enough to weaken the incoming hit, and he took it on the flat of the kilij, pivoting out of the way of the much shorter daggers aimed for his chest and sliding his sword cleanly out from undrneath the club, forcing that one to hold his weapon all by his injured self.

Grinning like a madman, Rudhale delivered a slash to the back of its knees, causing an immediate collapse. Unfortunately he might have sliced too deeply, because the fall happened quickly enough to trap the curved blade in between the hurlock's thigh and calf, and he wasn't going to fight for it. Releasing the blade easily enough, the brigand dropped into a roll, springing up to the left of the second 'Spawn, who was by now considerably irritated by its inability to actually hit its target. Too sodding bad, as he suspected his new snowy-pated friend would say, because things were about to get a lot worse for it. Being unarmed didn't slow him any, and he kicked upward, smashing one of the knives clean out of the creature's hand with a weighted blow. Jack had told him it was stupid to wear steel plates in the soles of your boots when you made your living on a boat on the ocean where people could drown, and he'd gleefully ignored her like he usually did until she threw up her hands and told him not to blame her when he was dead and swimming with the fish.

It was a shame she wasn't here to see that he wasn't always a hopeless idiot. The second knife came down, but not before he caught the wrist wielding it and twisted. That time, he actually took hold of the blade as it fell, reversing it in his grip with a deft spin and shoving it into an eye without needing to think about it. Stepping back, Rudhale cracked his neck to either side and glanced around. The numbers were thinning.

The rapid beat of soft footfalls carried Mira the rest of the way towards the tower that Emil had ascended, his arrows taking down those that pursued her, which was fewer than most had attacking them, and more than Mira desired. She was forced to roll under a slicing blow from a hurlock, coming smoothly to a knee and sinking her knife into its lower back. Not waiting to see if the wound brought it down entirely, she pushed onward, flipping a throwing knife into her off hand, quickly finding a target blocking her way to release it into. It struck true in the throat of a genlock, but it fell awkwardly to the side, preventing Mira from retrieving it immediately. With all the dead darkspawn around, she doubted she'd be able to find the exact bodies she'd hit with knives when this was over. It was frustrating. She'd have to buy more next time she had the chance.

A pair of hurlocks had formed up side by side at the base of the stairs and looked to begin ascending towards the pesky Templar archer, but Mira was able to dash up behind them quick enough, knives in each hand, sinking a blade into the back of both skulls. The pair went down in a heap together, and their thick skulls preventing the knives from coming out cleanly. The awkward combination of forces that was trying to free the left knife, the weight of the falling hurlocks, and the sudden presence of stairs beneath her feet, was enough to trip Mira up and take her to the ground with the corpses.

Cursing to herself, she wrenched the second knife free and pushed herself up, turning to check behind her. A pair of archers had drawn up, though the first was struck by an arrow from above, no doubt Emil's. The second Mira flung a knife into just as he loosed his own attack, which struck Mira in her right shoulder, just under the collarbone. The force was enough to push her back into the stair above her, causing her to trip again. Though significant pain coursed through her arm and chest, and Mira was the first to admit she was none too familiar with pain, she refused to let herself sit still, pushing herself back upright and making her way up to the top of the tower. Emil himself seemed fine, and so she crouched down by the barrier that acted as a railing, giving herself a moment of respite.

"Get this out, will you?" she asked of Emil, tapping the arrow and immediately regretting doing so. "Just do it quickly, yeah?"

Emil cursed at himself as he couldn't get to the other Darkspawn in time before it losed it's crossbow bolt toward's what he thought was Mira. Mirabelle-- to his knowledge-- was positioned somewhere below the platform where he was stationed. She had left his line of sight, though an educated guess told him that the two bolters were aiming at his wily ally. The resulting knife to the face of the other proved his hypothesis correct, though whether or not the bolt had scored a hit on her or not was left up to mystery. Part of him wanted to go down to check, but the cold, solid part of his mind told him it prudent to stand his ground and fire at any other 'Spawn encroaching. If she was dead, there was nothing he could do about it, though if she survived, he would surely see her soon.

Once again, his guess proved right as Mira stumbled up the rest of the stairs and crouched by the railing. A part of him was glad she was alive, the other part was glad too, but only because she would another able hand if the 'Spawn managed to break toward them. He did stop his barrage of arrows long enough to hear her ask him to rip the arrow free of her shoulder. He was accustomed to that pain, having a bolt go through his arm just moments ago-- which still stung like hell-- though she, obviously, was not. She was no warrior, and he couldn't help but wonder how she managed to make her way up to him. Instead of words he merely grunted, withdrawing another arrow. Though instead of nocking this one, he handed it to Mira. "Bite the wood. Try not to think of the pain... It will hurt-- at least until the Dreamer can take a look at you," he said evenly. There was obvious displeasure in the tone which he said dreamer, but no time to dwell on it now.

"Right. So I'll count to three, and pull it out then," He said... "One...Tw--" though instead of three, he ripped it out at two. Unfamiliar with the trick as she was, Mira had not been expecting that from the Templar, and yelped quite loudly. It hadn't been as bad as she'd thought, but that didn't change the fact that she delivered Emil an affronted glare, as well as a solid slap to the side of the face. "Damn it!" she blurted, spitting out the arrow. "You stupid little... ugh, thanks." Emil took the hit with as much grace as he could-- he couldn't say that it was unexpected, just that it stung a lot more than he would have imagined. He returned with a glare and muttered, "If you would have clinched on three, it would have hurt a lot worse..." rubbing his face.

She supposed that made sense. But that alone wouldn't get him off the hook. "So what do we do the next time I get shot, huh?"

"Don't get shot."

Kerin, still doing her part in this magnificent battle, was knee deep in the fresh corpses of many Darkspawn. Tainted blood painted her armor a treacly crimson, dripping into a pool of blood at her feet. Her own armor was showing the wear of the battle, dents, nicks, a gash along the back of one of the arms, though none of them were deep enough for her to get infected by the taint. She made damn well sure of that. If she was to go, it wasn't going to be over a case of taint induced sniffles, but with her blade in her hands, a war song at her throat, and a battle in her front. Tis would be a good day to die, but she knew that more grand battles lay ahead of her yet. She wouldn't miss those for the world.

It seemed her unquenchable bloodlust drew a newcomer to her, like flies to spoiled meat, the scrawny mystery of an elf. She didn't mind in sharing her meal with him, as long as he didn't get in the way. She wouldn't slow her swings down, not in this state, not in this battle. She still had a bit of hidden agression to work off. Perhaps an artifact from the Morpheus battle, perhaps not. She knew not, all she knew at that point was the joy of battle. Though, she did note how the elf drew the blood from the creatures. Though it mattered not in the long run, a dead darkspawn was dead all the same, no matter the method in which it was slain. She also noted how the elf seemed to slip around her, avoiding her own blade and generally causing havoc in a stereotypically clean elfin way. Not that she could speak, standing solid, fighting in a stereotypically dwarven way. The thought made her chuckle. Or was it the thought? Was it the carnage that laid around her. Perhaps both. Perhaps neither, so maddened by blood she was.

It was a magnificent day, fighting underground once more.

Perhaps unfortunately for Kerin's very precise understanding of the situation, it seemed that the Darkspawn were not going to allow Andaer's methods to be clean for all that much longer. With a small, resigned sigh, like one might give a particularly-obsinate child, the elf drew the straight-bladed dagger at his waist. Like his sword, it was pristine. Unlike it, the smaller blade had to be. He was not ignorant to the dangers of the Taint, nor of more commonplace infection, and this one was used only ever for a single purpose.

In a smooth movement, Andaer drew up his right sleeve, slicing through the linen wraps that wound over his forearm. The fabric fluttered unheeded to the ground, and without even the faintest hint of hesitation, he laid the blade over the surface of his skin, drawing it perpendicular to the direction of the limb. In its wake, a thin line of crimson welled to the surface, running freely over the honeyed tan of his skin and the paler, regular white scars that signified many previous such self-inflicted wounds. He was no uneducated human, experimenting with the power of his blood in darkened corners of some Templar-kept pet Circle. He had no need of dramatic flourish and hand-stabbing, nor was he about to ruin any of his muscles on accident.

With a half-clench of his fist, he drew the liquid into the air, and that was all it took. Much of what had been puddling around his dwarven compatriot joined it, forming into thick ropes of blood and ichor which wound sinuously about the air surrounding him, and through this, he threaded his magic. All at once, it was like opening one's eyes after a lifetime of blindness. Rather than sight though, it was another sense, indefinable as one of the usual five. All the same, it was as impactful and overwhelming as seeing color for the first time, and only years of careful moderation kept him from trying to do too much at once. Instead, he reached for the nearest Darkspawn, an archer, and felt for the life in its veins. Once he had a proper grasp of the network, of the way everything in that body moved and flowed and was, he took possession of it.

At first, the creature fought the intrusion. They always did. But the Dalish's will was stronger, and the next arrow it fired buried itself in the neck of another Darkspawn, and another, and another, and by the time the creatures had discovered the source of the new onslaught, Andaer had moved on, controlling another instead. Multitasking was tedious, but not impossible, and though he understood he looked quite unusual, with ribbons of red flowing around himself, he could strike a foe with his sword all the same. And he did.

Something twinged in the back of Ethne's mind, a particular something that she had once termed the "healer-sense." It wasn't a very graceful appellation, but she didn't quite know what else to call that feeling she got whenever someone she was with became injured. It was just another one of those things she didn't quite understand, like how she knew it was Mira. Still, now wasn't the time to question it, and the healing spell left her fingers without another thought.

Dagna's men had not been idle in the meantime, and while the Warden-group had dealt with the bulk of the Darkspawn, the dwarves had set about knocking down the walls and destroying the encampment, careful to avoid the area immediately around the platform on which the archer had placed himself. The sound of snapping wood was prominent as the battle wound to a close, the last of the palisade falling even as the horns of retreat sounded. Dov's troops had sustained a fair few losses, but nothing he hadn't been expecting, and the Wardens had proven themselves more than capable today. Dagna, dismounting, caught Andaer's eye, gesturing to her bronto and then to Kerin, who the redheaded woman had noted earlier rode nothing more battle-ready than a simple pony, a beast more suited for hauling carts than anything.

She released the creature's reins, and as she expected, he made his way over to the elf immediately afterwards. She had no idea how he'd managed it, but the elf had made friends with the grouchiest bronto she'd ever met. Maybe it was some of that foresty-elfy stuff she didn't know much about. Whatever the case, she saluted, waved, then caught the saddle of one of her compatriots as he ran by, pulling herself astride in motion and calling out to the group. "Good hunting, Wardens!" But there would be no more assistance from the dwarves of the Legion. They had their own job to do, and it was not one easily foresaken.

When the last Darkspawn fell, Rudhale straightened, taking in what was left of the outpost. It was in shambles, which he took to mean that they had succeeded. What was more, it looked as though everyone he'd come in with was still alive. If he'd had any mead or ale, he'd be passing it around right now. Instead, he wiped his recovered armaments off on the nearest bit of fabric (dead hurlock mage, as it turned out) and sheathed them, trotting over to where Kerin was (presumably eventually) coming down from her rage episode. She appeared to be surrounded by a pile of corpses almost as tall as she was, and he chuckled to himself, shaking his head as he ascended the pile, ignoring the unpleasant squelching noise this produced. There was actually an odd absence of blood, considering, and that appeared to be concentrated at the feet of the new man. Odd, that.

"Looked funny at you, did they, my dear?" he quipped laconically, crouching and reaching a hand down to her. If he was concerned that she might still be anger-crazed, he certainly gave no indication of it. "Serves them right, if I do say so myself." Kerin looked up at the pirate, half-crazed grin still plastered to her face. Her berserker episode had been replaced with the euphoria of a hard won battle. She was in high enough spirits to offer a quip right back to Rudhale. "They still look funny, if I say so. Tongues hanging out and everything," she said, laughing and accepting the pirate's hand to aid her escape from the hole she so merrily dug.

From the platform, Emil leaned on the railing, and added his own comment, though still nursing a bruised cheek. "Now that everything has been well and truly murdered, can we please get on with it?"


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Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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The wearied warriors all drew together with time, ebbing gradually towards the gravatic center of the dwarf and the pirate, as though pulled there by strings they didn't quite yet see or acknowledge. Ropes, mayhaps, something thicker and stronger, made of the stuff of legend. A few treads were heavy with something approaching reluctance, and if he had to guess, the Dalish man would say that not all came to this arrangement equally-willingly or with gladness in their hearts. Fair enough; his shoulders were weighed down by the oppressive stagnation of obligation as well, and it occasionally tempted him to bitterness he would not allow himself to express. Everything for a reason, and his fate because he had accepted it thus. It was only on rare occasions that he still felt acutely the empty space beside him, where another had once stood, warm and kind enough for both of them.

They seemed to be inclined to move out again, and perhaps wearied was not such an appropriate word after all. The man in black and the dwarf wore matching grins and traded barbs with no malice as he helped her out of a mound of dessicated Darkspawn corpses. The woman in ebon armor wore her pride around herself like a shroud, but even through it, he could guess that there was real acceptance there of the burdens she carried. The large shapeshifter conducted himself with quiet violence, restrained, but never far from the surface. The Templar was impatient, irritated, but seemingly resolved, a stark contrast to the lightfooted woman at his side. There was uncertainty there, as of a bird unused to its jesses. The two youngest members of the group might have perplexed him the most; not for the reasons he might have expected. To his eyes, they were practically yet children, but even so... the lad moved as one accustomed to dark places, but his expression was open, bespeaking worry for the others, the young lady not least of all. And she was strange, wasn't she? Magic quite nearly dripped from her skin, so close was she to the Fade, and yet for all that, she did not appear to face the situation with the usual reverent, fearful ponderousness of those who touched it so closely. His every exercise in spellcasting had been a constant temptation when he was that new to it.

They were all quite curious, in their way, but he was not here to stand and observe. Rubbing a palm over the bronto's shoulder, he led the beast after him as he approached the group. "Your pardon, Wardens. Miss Dagna requested that I lend her friend here to the service of yourselves." Nevertheless, it was directly at Kerin he looked, and to her the leather reins were handed. "I also have a request for you, if you would hear it."

Solvej had glanced with a frown at the wound on the magelet's leg, but said nothing of it. The girl was a healer- if she couldn't be trusted to know when a wound needed fixing, they were all in much graver trouble than she'd thought. Taking up Wagner's reins, she approached the center of the field, where the others seemed to be more or less coalescing. Alessandro was already trying to hurry the process along, and it wasn't necessarily a sentiment she diagreed with, not that she'd ever put it quite the way he had. Even so, she was at least patient enough to wait while the elf approached. He was efficient about his business, and apparently entirely unruffled by either the battle itself or present company. Considering present company included Suicide, Kerin, Alessandro, and herself, this was somewhat impressive.

Apparently the dwarves had left a gift for one of their own; Solvej's lips twitched slightly. A bronto seemed to suit Kerin much better than a pony or the cart. It was also a sign of acceptance, perhaps. Solvej didn't know a lot about dwarven culture, except that there were a lot of rules and apparently some people were arbitrarily deemed worthless- and that the tattoo on Kerin's face made her one of them. Acceptance was probably a big deal. Nevertheless, she didn't dwell on it, and turned towards the slender man at his words. Blinking once, slowly, Solvej shrugged. "We'll hear it." It didn't mean they'd do anything else about it, but then that wasn't what he'd asked for.

Andaer gave the gruff armored woman a soft, close-lipped smile. "My thanks. I am Andaer, if names are of consequence to you. I have business further inside the Deep Roads; I seek after a pair of children that were lost to some kith of mine. While I would undertake the journey alone if I needed to, it strikes me that we are headed in the same direction, and I would be a fool if I did not ask to accompany you for the span our paths converge." He left it at that, a simple accounting of the facts. There was no plea, only an implied request. Their choices were not his to make, and he would not attempt to do himself any favors with words.

There were times when actions and causes must speak for themselves.

The bronto didsuit Kerin far better than any other mount. Rhapscallion couldn't help but knuckle away the bubbling laughter, which smeared a bloody moustache across his lip. A dwarven lass was quick to point it out, while being equally as bloody, shuffling towards him, and pointing a waggling finger at his face – which he quickly remedied by rubbing said smear across his shoulder. He let a low, soft sigh. They'd all survived another battle. Why had he worried in the first place? They certainly didn't need it to survive. Even Ethne had unwaveringly brave in the face of danger, like he always knew she was. When she'd been injured, it was he who had been momentarily distracted. She'd been quick to remind him that if he turned his back, it'd be his life that would need saving.

Reminiscent of a dishevelled hound weaving around scrappy warriors, Rhapscallion closed the distance between his companions and the newcomer, Andaer. The simple, unspoken suggestion for the group to unify in the goodly act of saving children from the Deep Roads had him bobbing his head. He'd already begun shifting him into the informal pile of would-be companions. Anyone who cared enough to brave the Deep Roads to save someone had to be a good person, in his mind. There was something genuine in his speech, or rather, in the way he carried himself. “And I'm Rhapscallion. We couldn't just let you go alone—” He began to say, before dribbling off and looking sidelong at his companions. He wasn't exactly in any position to be telling anyone what they would do, or deciding anything at all, but he was so sure that everyone felt the same.

Ethne, who'd been rather concentrated on healing the gash in her leg, had heard the conversation, but didn't have much opportunity to speak until the man's question was out in the open. She studied him for a moment with innocent curiosity, his words turning over in her head. There was something so... peaceful about him, like he'd never had to face anything particularly troublesome or damaging, but then, to observe that very demeanor here, after what had just happened, conveyed exactly the opposite. Even so, she found herself somewhat calmed by it, too, and she was smiling without really knowing it. "I'm Ethne," she returned brightly, "And I see no reason why not."

Of course, she was aware that she wasn't the only person likely to have an opinion, so she looked around at the others. Rudhale's eyes flicked surreptitiously from the pile of corpses Kerin had been standing in, to a seemingly sourceless puddle of blood some distance away, and then to Andaer, and finally to Emil for some reason, but in the end he simply shrugged. "Not sure you really know what you're signing on for, my friend, but if you're still alive, I'm willing to wager you know what you're doing." His tone was thick with some implication that Ethne couldn't name, and one that she couldn't find a reason for. Even so, he was back to the careless breeziness that characterized him immediately afterward, and she decided she must have imagined it in her fatigue.

Kerin was coming off of her battle high, though still clearly in high spirits. She looked down at her bloody, tainted armor and chuckled, ineffectively swiping at the gore. At best, she was merely making matters worse, smearing rather than cleaning it. "It's going to take days for this to wear off-- unless we find an underground reservoir. Think this would intimidate some of the ugly nughumping bastards in the meantime?" Kerin asked the pirate, punctuated by a chuckle. Regardless of her answer, she accepted the reins with a bit of confusion, her eyes following the line to the bronto at the other end. The mirth in her eyes drained and was replaced by surprise and perhaps a bit of gratefulness. It didn't have time to register however as she dragged herself over to her new mount, rubbing it's head.

The rest of what the elf said went over her head, the creature being the source of her attention. It was obvious she was out of the conversation for the time being. Emil on the other hand, listened intently. They apparently had another beast added to their party, but at least this one managed to match its owner. He nodded, listening to his request. "The first question is what are children doing down in the deep roads. Tis not a playground after all," Emil grumbled, but he seemed to lighten up, his shoulders loosened and he shrugged, "But they are children who are in need of our help. I say let's help the man find his charges." Emil said. Apparently the Templar had a soul after all. Though if he knew the what Andaer really was, he might have been less than forthcoming. A good thing he looked over the displaced pool of blood. That would have raised difficult questions for the Templar.

The dwarf's reaction, he found endearing in its way, and he didn't much mind that she took a leave of absence from the rest of his words. What was life if one could not enjoy its more rarified, precious moments, however small? The two youngest of those assembled, he was certain were the sorts to not mind company at all, from the way they kept close to one another's sides, and he dipped his head graciously. The Templar's words had it listing slightly to one side, his smile fading gradually into a more neutral, but still incredibly calm expression, and Andaer blinked dark eyes slowly. He fingered the pommel of his blade, an almost-absent gesture, as he considered his answer. "They are not wherever they are by choice, Ser Templar. They were kidnapped from the forest surrounding their village in a slaver raid. Whether they are ultimately bound for Antiva and the House of Crows or Tevinter and the hands of the Magisters, I cannot say. Neither is a fate to which I could in good conscience leave them, and I managed to track them this far. I suspect they passed through here before the Darkspawn set up their blockade." It wasn't usually until things became desperate that people contacted him for his assistance, and the trail had already been cold for quite some time. Fortunately, some of the young boy's blood had been found, and Andaer was using his magic to follow its source, not unlike Templars did with phylacteries, as he understood it.

All the same, he was touched by the easy acceptance. He hadn't expected to meet so little resistance, but then perhaps it was more for the sake of the younglings than he that he was being admitted. He presumed that either this Templar was a far cry from his kin or he had not noticed the particular brand of Andaer's magic. The man dressed as a seafaring raider, on the other hand, appeared to have noticed very much, and Andaer met his eyes for several seconds, conveying little but passive solemnity. He understood well enough what was being implied, though he had to admit he was not used to such subtlety from humans. Of all those that he had met, most were much more straightforward in their warnings or admonishments or occasionally even their fear, and he'd never begrudged them that. It was true that he often grew tired of being spat at and called maleficarum, but he could not expect each person to know the difference between blood magic handled properly and the crude imitations of it perpetrated by nervous apprentices and ignorant zealots.

"If your friends are also without objection, I would not keep you here any longer. I know not your purpose, but it seems to be of much gravity."

"You're not wrong," Solvej replied with a shrug. If nobody else was going to kick up a fuss, she saw no reason to protest herself. Another pair of hands couldn't hurt, however temporary, and it was not as though one could find fault with his cause. The only ones who hadn't spoken on the matter were Suicide and Desmaris, and she shot both a brief speculative glance.

The shapeshifter shrugged as if to say, why not? He leaned slightly against his staff, mace end planted firmly into the crushed chest cavity of a hurlock. His skin was in many places dripping with dark blood of the spawn, though he himself seemed in good enough shape. He studied the elf for a moment before speaking. "If he does not impede us, I see no reason he should not follow. Let him prove his worth in battles to come."

Mira had mostly been marvelling at how her shoulder was more or less completely healed from the magic that she could only assume Ethne had cast. It was still tender to the touch, but it certainly didn't feel like an arrow had just been unceremoniously ripped out of it. Now there was apparently something of a vote as to whether the lithe elf before them could come along. Mira... couldn't think of an objection. If he too was searching for a group of people lost to him, perhaps he might better understand her own desire to get her friends back. She had to guess they were getting close at this point...

"The more the merrier," she said, taking in the sight of the elf. "I think we could use someone with a little sophistication." She wasn't quite sure why he struck her as someone who could assist with that, but maybe that's because she was comparing him to a gore-covered dwarf woman and a barbarian who turned into bears and wolves. "Thanks for the spell, by the way," she added in Ethne's direction.

Andaer gave the young woman a vaguely-perplexed kind of smile, close-lipped and understated, but decided it was probably a compliment. "I shall endeavor to provide what I may," he replied, a slight hint of playfulness coloring the declaration.

"Well, looks like we're all in agreement, then!" Rudhale proclaimed, clapping his palms together and rubbing them up and down. "Trust me when I say you're not likely to see that again, my friend."

Ethne, for her part, nodded shyly at Mira, still not exactly accustomed to drawing thanks for what was really just her job, if one thought of it the right way. Still, she was glad she'd helped somehow. With their affairs once again in order, the group mounted up and departed without further delay.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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When morning came, Mira didn't feel very rested. Maybe it was because she couldn't really tell when morning was. It always seemed the same down here, so dull, dirty, and dreary. And hard. She wasn't used to sleeping on a bed of stone. How the dwarves managed to put up with this place, she would never know. The passing days were making it clear just how much she wasn't cut out for this. Not yet, anyway. She wondered if Solvej, with her composure of iron and steel, her toughness, her strength, had ever been a girl. She seemed more or less immovable in terms of will since Mira had joined the company. How long had it taken for her to become who she was? What trials had she endured? Mira wasn't sure she wanted to know the answers.

Her dreams hadn't helped her sleep, either. Visions of the darkspawn and the archdemon and other varieties of monstrosities were making nightly appearances, with startling clarity. However long she had to prepare before meeting them... probably wouldn't be long enough. Combine all of that with the growing rush of thoughts she was having as they neared Cagliari, and Mira really didn't get much sleep at all.

She pushed herself up as the others prepared to move onward for the day, knowing that the time for acquiring their help would be very soon. She looked a mess compared to her usual self: her braid was poorly maintained, her clothes layered with dirt and dust from the road and from battle. Even her skin seemed a darker shade now, her eyes as well. It was only just as the group was to depart that she finally managed to speak up. Her voice initially caught in her throat from lack of use; a swig of water from her canteen helped with that.

"Before we go today," she began, loud enough for anyone in the vicinity to hear her, "there's something I need to ask of all of you." To be honest, she wasn't even sure they'd hear her out. She hadn't made her presence felt very much among the group, except for maybe with Emil. Surely he at least would lend an ear. He liked to appear cold, but Mira suspected he was actually a big softie on the inside.

Ethne had just been attempting to leverage a bedroll onto the ever-increasing pile of things on the cart, without much success due to her height and lack of upper-body strength, when it abruptly left her hands and was tossed deftly into the stack of them. Nonplussed, she met the pirate's grin with a small smile, but he simply winked and turned away to grab the next thing. She thought to follow suit when Mira spoke up. It must be time for what she'd mentioned earlier. Ethne wasn't much of a geography expert, but she had maybe heard Solvej mention something about Cagliari and a day's ride, and so it was surely close at hand. The elf already knew she'd be lending the newly-minted Warden her full measure of support, whatever that was worth, but she was not sure how many of the others would consent to do so. Chances were good that they'd camp within the vicinity of Cagliari tonight, so maybe it would be a matter of splitting the group. It was hard to say before anyone knew what was going on.

"Well, don't keep us in suspense, Mirabelle," Rudhale teased flippantly. "I'm just dying to hear about my next adventure." He draped an elbow over the edge of the cart and leaned, suspending his motion with a clear edge of expectancy.

Emil was busy snuffing what little of the fire that was left with his boots. He didn't want to risk using what they had for drinking water, seeing how he wasn't so sure about the next time they'd find an underground water source. He had just managed to kill the last sparks of flame when Mira called everyone to attention. After he had dusted what ash had gathered on his boot, he meandered his way towards the Warden, and listened to her request for aid. Rather, her request to listen to her call of aid. The Templar wondered if it had anything to do with the girl's recent changes. She appeared different from their time in Val Royeaux. She didn't seem her usual chipper self, and she looked far more haggard that he'd thought she'd let herself become.

It was quite clear to anyone who had been paying attention that there was something bothering the girl. He had refrained from outright asking her about it, figuring that it must had been an internal struggle, and asking about it would only make things worse. Of course, it was the pirate who was first to speak, drawing a lazy glance from Emil. "Your adventures are going to get you, if not all of us killed one day Pirate," he said. Then he turned to Mira and spoke again, trying to drown out the thoughts of meeting his fate because of one of the Pirate's adventures, "You've got our attention Mira. Speak," He stated plainly.

"Thanks," she said. Normally Rudhale's humor would have been just her flavor, but at the moment she couldn't help but find it somewhat sour. She wasn't feeling particularly humorous herself. Of course, the pirate was just trying to keep the mood light, so she held nothing against him. "But I don't think you'll like my adventure any more than whatever Ruddy can dream up." Glad that she at least had the majority of the group's attention, she began.

"You'll probably remember that I did not participate in your fight against our darkspawn friend in Val Royeaux. We all had our own dreams. In mine, an opportunity to speak with Morpheus presented itself to me. According to what Ethne could retell, I asked about the location of my friends from my home, who were taken captive the night the darkspawn attacked. In exchange for their location, I agreed to submit myself to his control." Mira wondered what the group would think of that. Most of their dreams had remained private affairs, so personal were they. And while she wouldn't be detailing the contents of her own, she was aware that her actions could be seen as selfish, if any of the group had expected her to contribute directly to freeing Val Royeaux.

"Of course, you ended Morpheus and I was released. Ethne gave me the darkspawn's answer that night at camp: they were taken into the Deep Roads underneath Cagliari, which we now approach." She shrugged. "You can probably see where this is going. Those girls were everything to me, a family more than just friends. It'll probably mean either sneaking into or full-on attacking a fortified darkspawn encampment, but I'm not going to leave them to whatever the darkspawn have planned. I know you have your mission, and I don't mean to distract from that, but I'm going after them, and I'd welcome anyone who wanted to help... seeing as it's looking like a one way trip otherwise."

She finished, looking about at the group members for support. She felt relatively certain the Dreamer would want to help. That made things somewhat awkward. The little elf was invaluable to the mission, and no doubt some of the others wouldn't want her following Mira on her own suicide mission, considering that they already had one. The shapeshifter, for his part, remained quiet, leaning on his staff towards the rear of the group. He had little knowledge of this girl, and wouldn't be following her to her death unless most of the others wanted to divert as well.

The Templar winced at the reminder of the fight in Val Royeaux. Or rather his uselessness in the fight. The pirate's words came back to haunt him, causing him to drop his gaze to the floor as she spoke about the trials Morpheus had put them through. The haunting melody that he'd come to associate with that ordeal lingered on the edge of his mind, souring the once cheerful song for likely the remainder of his life. As Mira continued to talk, it was revealed that she had choice to stay under Morpheus's influence in exchange for information. Emil did not hold the fact that she had a choice to opt out of the fight against her. Better it be by choice than to not have the strength to break free after all. Hell, it probably took more strength.

Emil looked back up when she told the reason she did it. Her friends. She had done it to get the location of her friends. A very aimable thing to do, and Emil couldn't help but feel the barest hint of pride for her. What she was proposing was a rescue mission for her lost friends, family. He knew what it felt like to lose those close to you, and to have a chance to rescue them. He then completely understood why she chose to stay in her dream. He couldn't help but wonder what kind of dream she had. Was it as horrible as his was? Better? Only she knew, and he wasn't about to pry, lest her ask him the same.

When Mira finished her speech, Emil sighed, and he tone heavy. Though it was the same tone he had always used, the fact that he was the first to speak spoke measures. "I doubt this lot can sneak anywhere," He began, shooting glances at the dwarf, Chasind, and pirate. "Even so, I imagine that we're still going to do it in any case. This... group has a propensity to do things the hard way. So, I suppose you have my bow for this endeavor."

"And if we're going to do it, we need to hurry. We are wasting time these girls do not have," Emil added. The smile Mira gave him was more genuine than she had thought she was capable of at the moment. "Thanks, Emil." He may not have liked it, but he played the stalwart knight rather well. "Save your thanks. I haven't done anything yet," though not too well.

Ah, so that was it, wasn't it? The hesitation in Desmaris's demeanor, that unnecessary timidity. It was back to what they'd spoken of earlier. And Solvej remembered the entirety of that conversation with uncomfortable clarity. She would not lie to herself and say that she was fully behind the detour- she knew that Mira's friends weren't alive anymore, and they were close enought to Cagliari that even now the Darkspawn were playing at the very edges of hers senses. "Whether they can sneak or not doesn't matter," she pointed out. "The Darkspawn will sense our Taint coming." Part of her was very much against this, but she was relieved to find that it was a much smaller part than she'd expected. She'd always worried that this job would take what tiny, vulnerable, sheltered part of her heart remained and crush it, but perhaps that wasn't happening quite yet after all. Perhaps he was still with her in spirit, protecting the part of her that he'd always thought was her best. It was a foolish, irrational thought, but one that carried a thread of warmth that was not at all unpleasant.

We all do things we don't like for our families, don't we?

"I can't say for sure," Solvej continued, "but my best guess is that we'll be dealing with at least one Broodmother and her hive- those are elite Darkspawn that protect them. It won't be easy and it won't be pretty, but if you still want to do it, I'll help as well." There was a good fight to be had out of it, if that was what Kerin and Suicide would be after.

Andaer remained silent, judging that such important matters were hardly for him to decide. They had been kind enough to take him along- he could not object to any diversions or sidetracking in good conscience. It seemed a worthy cause, besides.

"I'm up for it," Kerin said, though she seemed distracted. She didn't sound as enthusiatic about the apparently forthcoming fight-- and from what Solvej had added, a glorious one at at that. It was as if something else weighed on her mind. Though the fight would allow ample oppurtunity to work off some steam, and a good thing the fight sounded rather large too... She had a lot of steam to work off. Ethne nodded as well, but Rudhale hardly saw the need. It was pretty obvious that he was quite fine with the whole endeavor, after all.

"If we go, we go together," the shapeshifter offered, shifting his weight as some of the others lended their aid. Solvej and Kerin offering to assist had pushed him greatly towards going as well, and if they all were willing to help her, it would be to him as though nothing had changed, and they were still on their mission. "I will fight as well."

Mira nodded her thanks to Solvej, Kerin, and Suicide, knowing that those three added a significant amount of punch to the team. As for the Warden's words, Mira did not know what a Broodmother was, but she didn't like the sound of it. If it stood in between her and her friends, it would die. She knew the odds of the girls being alive was slim, but she would never be able to forgive herself if she didn't give them a chance. Proving her inexperience as a Warden, she hadn't even remembered that the darkspawn would be able to detect them. That made things a lot more complicated. Perhaps some kind of distraction would be in order. She couldn't say for sure until they had their eyes on the encampment.

"Think you might have something a little bigger than a knife I could borrow?" she asked in Rudhale's direction. She was no swordsman, but something with a little more substance than her little knife would probably be very helpful soon.

At the question, the pirate grinned broadly. "As a matter of fact, I do," he crowed, reaching beside himself and pulling a burlap sack to the front of everyone's belongings. This was the one that held his things, and he spent a few moments rummaging around-- accompanied by the sounds of clanking metal and various heavy objects-- before his eyes lit up as he obviously found what he was looking for. From the sack, he withdrew a sheathed weapon, about a foot and a half long if the leather casing was anything to go by. The hilt was plain but workable, wrapped in treated leather cording meant to preserve grip and resist the soaking-in of liquid. A small crossguard would prevent Mira from losing a finger if another blade slid down the length of it, but due to the peculiar wave-shape the steel carried under the plain cover, that wasn't too much of a concern. It was clear that, however unadorned the thing was, it had been made with incredible attention to detail and craftsmaship.

"Kris knife," he explained proudly. "Old Avvar invention. The shape tends to make it uncomfortable to wield a stright blade against, and it's nice and light. Yours if you want it, dear Mirabelle." It was certainly better to put an object like that to good use than to just let it languish at the bottom of a pile of his things. There was actually a reason besides preparedness he was carrying the thing, but it was perhaps better if everyone simply assumed that he was either a pack-rat or absurdly fond of odd weaponry. The latter was even true, to an extent. Emilio was fooled, if the utterance of Bloody magpie," was anything to go by.

"Ooh," Mira said, showing immediate interest in the blade, "aren't you beautiful? Just what I need, I think. Thank you, Rhuddy." Accepting the weapon from the pirate, Mira examined the steel more closely. Simple, but undeniably elegant, and strong, too. It was no exquisite piece of Orlesian craftsmanship, but not everything needed to be, she supposed. "Well... shall we get this over with?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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Given that the darkspawn would detect a group of Grey Wardens if they came too close to the encampment under Cagliari, it fell to those not tainted by darkspawn blood to infiltrate the base and clear a path. Upon seeing the defenses, it was determined that a direct assault would likely end in only their deaths. The darkspawn were too numerous here and too well fortified for that. The base was dug into the rock, the outer perimeter of walls stretching in a roughly one hundred meter half-circle around a cave mouth that led down further into the earth. Three gates were situated along the wall at various points, thick, sturdy things that would not be easily passed by. This upper level looked to be simply the encampment portion of the base, while whatever they were guarding lay in the earth below them.

The shapeshifter had done much of the scouting of the base, moving swiftly and silently through the air as a raven, doing his best to avoid being spotted, as the sight of a bird underground was not exactly common. After alerting the group to what he had seen, he led the group consisting of Rudhale, Emilio, Ethne, Kerin, Andaer, and himself through a rocky approach to the gate on the southern side. Suicide had claimed it to be the best choice, though if that meant it was the least guarded and most vulnerable remained to be seen. He had been notably silent for most of the previous few days, but that did not mean he was quiet inwardly. Despite the steady stream of battle and the constant influence of worthy companions at his side, he felt himself growing somewhat restless. He wondered if this perhaps ill-advised detour might serve to return him to his previous calm.

He settled into a crouch behind a rock wall at least ten feet tall, the last cover available to them before a section of clear ground that was perhaps fifty feet in length leading up to the wall and the gate. A pair of towers flanked the gate, a bow-armed hurlock stationed in each. Suicide had to assume they were not expecting an attack. They would need to avoid wasting their advantage of surprise. He turned back to the group assembled behind him, speaking quietly. "Watchers, one in each tower. Both should fall at once." He was no great strategist, but is was simple common sense to know both of these archers needed to die roughly simultaneously to avoid detection.

"Does anyone else know how to fire a bow? Emil asked, pulling his own bow from off his back. The next sentence was punctuated with a wrinkle of nose and brow and a measure of disgust, "Or Maker forbid, a bolt of magic with any accuracy?"

"Well," Rudhale contributed oh-so-helpfully, "I am theoretically capable of the first endeavor, though there seems to be but one bow between the lot of us, making it a rather useless potentiality, no?" He was tickled that they'd have to rely at least partially on magic for this, as it clearly rankled the Templar. As far as the pirate was concerned, expanding that man's horizons could only do him good, honestly. Why bother closing a mind when it was so much more useful open? It was nigh incomprehensible, but he supposed he understood the convenience of it. Having things to hate and fear made life easier, if considerably more miserable.

Perhaps surprisingly, Ethne broke in, staring at the far side tower with a rare hard look about her. It suited her childish face quite poorly, but for once she almost appeared her meager years. "I am... accurate at a distance with both earth and lightning. The latter would be more effective here, I think, but the former would draw less attention." Chunks of rock weren't quite so shiny, really, and both would probably make roughly the same amount of noise. She might have preferred ice, but those were not skills she was nearly as confident in. Still, she'd leave it to the discretion of people with more experience in this sort of situation.

Truly, she hoped there were some. It would be disconcerting to know she knew more about unobtrusive kills than any of the rest. An outside, but real, possibility that she did not waste time considering too much now.

Andaer, in defiance of basically every stereotype concerning the Dalish, had never fired a bow in his life, though he knew a fair amount regarding their craftsmanship, oddly enough. To the Templar's question, then, he simply shook his head, watching with interest as the Fade-drenched lady seemed to solidify before their very eyes into something quite other than she had initially appeared to be. Before, he'd known without needing to think about it much that he was looking at a child, in many senses of the word. Right now, he was quite certain he was witnessing something else entirely, however temporary it might turn out to be. Curious, all of these strangers. The flamboyant one was cleverer than he let on, but the elf could not discern his purpose, either in being here generally or in his statement.

The shapeshifter, he wished to speak to. There was something unusual there, perhaps a turmoil he couldn't quite detect. Perhaps not; he'd been rightfully accused of being overly sensitive to such things before. Either way, he would admit his curiosity without hint of shame on that account. The dwarf bore some similarity to people he had known, and he took her predominant trait to be pride rather than anger, but he could be wrong about that. The Templar was... thus far less odious than the other Templars Andaer had encountered in his travels, but his impressions there would wait for the inevitable revelation that had yet to come upon them. All in all, he wasn't sure whether to be confident they would succeed or certain they would fail, but he could not deny that he was very, very inclined to stay and find out. "Whatever we do, it seems wise to do it quickly. Each moment we wait increases our chance of being discovered."

"Marvelous," The Templar deadpanned, both at the pirate's inane bantering and the Dreamer's suggestion. He looked the woman up and down with a hard calculating stare. He didn't like the chances, she looked like a wispy thing, childlike, hardly able to throw a rock, much less a spell. He'd probably have a better chance at throwing the pirate and hitting a lookout than she did with one of her spells, not to mention it'd make him feel better. Though considering current happenstance, there was nothing else to be done. So it was with great reluctance that he relented. "Don't miss, else we're all dead and you've just dashed Mira's hopes, or what little she had," He said evenly.

"Be a hell of a way to go," Kerin interjected. To be killed neck deep in a horde of darkspawn, staining the rocks red with their taint. She could think of few ways to die more gloriously. Though, Emil would have preferred to not die instead and shot the dwarf a cold glare, of the "Not helping" variety. Useless as the stare was, he then retrieved two arrows from his quiver, driving one into a crack in the rock for easy access and nocked the other. He drew the bow back to full draw and lined up the shot on his chosen darkspawn, though he held his fire. Instead he waited and spoke, "On your count Dreamer. When you are ready, give the word and both shall fall," the word wasn't stated as fact, but more along the lines of a command. As if to say she had better make her shot count, or all of their blood was on her head.

"Very well then," Ethne conceded, apparently choosing to ignore the man's obvious disdain for her. "On three." Truthfully, that animosity stung a little; for all the downsides to her life, she'd rarely had to deal with people who hated her for what she was. Granted, some had feared her, and others had reviled her presence, but it had taken her a long time to learn how to tell that, given that she was presented in her early life with nothing but smiling faces and apparent goodwill. The realization that all of it had been a complex illusion... well, someone as forthright about his disgust just made it harder to forget.

Even so, she lifted her chin. She wasn't doing this for herself, so it didn't matter what he thought of her, or her magic. She could do this, and she wouldn't be a liability. Good people believed in her, and right now, failing them wasn't an option. Standing tall, something she could easily do and stil remain behind cover-- actually, it was necessary to aim properly-- she took a deep breath, wrapping the Fade around herself like a cloak. Everything else seemed to fall away; while she was dimply aware still of her environment and the people surrounding her, they no longer pressed on her concentration, leaving her entirely focused on her task. The lightning lanced in short bursts between her thin fingers, and she began her count with deliberateness. "One." Her posture tensed in anticipation of future action, but the direction of her vision was steady. "Two." The lightning brightened, concentrating into a contained, crackling orb in her right hand, which she raised carefully, slowly.

"Three." On the solid syllable, Ethne flicked her wrist sharply, and the little ball of light hurtled toward its target, extending into a bolt the size of a lance. She felt rather than saw it connect, as the life-force of the Darkspawn on her side flickered, then winked out of existence entirely. Only then did her hand drop back to her side. Unlike Emil, she had perfect faith in the abilities of her counterpart, and she did not bother to check that the arrow had hit its mark as well.

While Ethne might had felt she had struck her target, Emil's instincts weren't so steeped in such spiritual nonsense. The sharp eyed Templar saw that his own arrow had struck his intended target, dropping it into a heap in its tower, silenced forever. The next arrow was nocked in the bow nearly instantly, but the string remained slack. The Dreamer had appeared to killed her target as well. Very good, at least they wouldn't die at that moment. It was quiet for a minute, the Templar listening for any signs of commotion or anything that could tell them that they had been discovered. When none was forthcoming, Emil finally exhaled and nodded. "It is done Chasind, what's our next task," Emil asked.

"I desparately hope it involves less cloak and dagger. I'm not suited to such sneaky tactics," Kerin grumped. She began to wish that she had stayed with the Grey Wardens. If the Darkspawn could sense their blood, then chances were if they were to enter the fray, then it'd be to fight, and not to skulk around. Still. She would wait patiently. Blood was bound to be spilled sooner or later, as it always was with this group.

"Wait," Suicide commanded now that the lookouts were down. He listened for a moment for signs of alarm, but none rose. It was as quiet as before. Once satisfied, he took his staff into hand, turning to the group at large. "I will open the gate. We will enter, and butcher them before they know what is happening." He wasn't sure when exactly he'd been elected for command, but since the Templar was asking, this was the best idea he could come up with. It would be the most exciting, at any rate.

Without waiting for approval, or any comment whatsoever, the shapeshifter took flight, switching into raven form before their eyes and flapping hard across the open ground, gaining just enough altitude to clear the wall before he dropped down and out of sight of his companions. He fluttered down to ground level, landing amidst several tents, if they could be called such. They seemed to be made out of... skin? Stretched taut and nailed to wooden stakes. A lesser stomach might have been upset by such a sight, but Suicide was focused on the task at hand.

A genlock had seen him, cocking his head slightly to the side in confusion, dark eyes narrowing at the bird. Improvising, Suicide hopped about behind the nearest wall, and sure enough, he heard the genlock rousing himself to investigate. Suicide flapped upwards slightly, hovering as best he could some eight feet off the ground. The genlock rounded the corner and came to a stop almost directly beneath him, peering up, perhaps trying to decide if he would have a decent shot at killing the bird with a bow. He was never able to reach a conclusion, however, as Suicide shifted back to human form in midair, falling with the blade end of his staff downwards, spearing the genlock through the head and most of the way down the body.

The landing had been quiet enough, and the kill as well, the genlock still standing with Suicide's firm grip on the spear keeping him upright. He maneuvered the body to sit against the wall and wrenched the blade free, before shifting back into his feathered form and taking low flight once more, perching atop the nearest vantage he could find. The camp was, for the most part, still, but a few darkspawn were wandering about on their own, seemingly without an organized pattern of patrols.

And then, quite suddenly, a bolt of lightning came from above, quite nearly turning him into a smoking pile of feathers. He flapped upwards in surprise, eyes searching for the source of the magic. His first thought had been Ethne, before he decided that was ridiculous. But he soon found it: an Emissary, perched upon a central structure in the encampment. He'd no doubt been able to identify Suicide as more than a bird, being a mage. Not that it was too difficult, given the rarity of birds when undergound.

Well, there went the element of surprise. He still needed to get that gate open, though. He pushed forward, darting through the air towards the gate, noting that it was operated by a crank wheel in the ground beside it. It would no doubt take too long to open it himself. An alternative was needed. Not being the most skillful planner, he had to come up with one on the fly. He shifted back to human form in midair once more, landing and spearing a hurlock from behind along the encampment's main street of sorts, before quickly turning and slamming the mace end into the genlock approaching from behind, smashing the skull and sending the shorter creature spinning onto his back.

That done, he shifted into bear form, hearing the alarm being raised behind him. Not looking their way, he got a running start towards the gate, growling in annoyance when a second lightning bolt struck him solidly in the rear. It served to make him run faster, if nothing else. At his top speed, he had considerable momentum, taking his massive weight in bear form into account, and the fact that he could move at an impressive rate as a bear if allowed to move in a straight line. Lowering his shoulder and turning his head away, he slammed into the wooden gate.

Suicide's companions would see a massive bear come exploding out of the gate, sending splinters and stakes flying haphazardly about, the shapeshifter rolling over several times on the rock amidst the storm of wood bits before he came to a stop in a sitting position on his rear two legs. He took a brief moment to shake his head and clear the cobwebs, before returning to four feet, turning about, and charging back through the gate with a bellowed roar.

Kerin watched as a bear exploded out of the gate with raised eyebrows. No matter how she looked at it, the showing was quite impressive, and it served the purpose of opening the gate. Her steel blade sang as it was pulled from her back and in a nonchalant tone said, "I believe that's our cue. Let's go save our shapeshifter before they make a rug out of him, yeah?" She then hopped what cover they were in and made her own dash to the now splintered gate. Now things would get fun, as the whole cloak and dagger approach was surely and soundly trounced. Now there was a fight, and it called her name. She wouldn't disappoint.

This was shaping up to be another bloody magnificent (and quite possibly magificently bloody) day, and it probably surprised nobody when Rudhale burst into raucous laughter as Suicide emerged from behind the gates, Darkspawn in tow. He didn't wait for anyone else to decide what to do with themselves before he took his blades to hand and jumped into the fray, still cackling like a mad raven. Subtlety was possible for the pirate, but he ever preferred the grand and the sweeping displays. It seemed the Chasind knew how to set a stage indeed, and oh, was this the entrance of a lifetime. He might have even felt a tiny bit jealous, were he a competitive fellow by nature. As it was, he was more than happy to engage in a little audience participation from time to time, even if it was someone else's show. "I like your style, Suicide!" he called merrily, sprinting after the bear and into the fortress.

Emil just couldn't find the strength to reset his jaw, mouth still agape in surprise. His mandible worked for a moment trying to find the words, but he just couldn't seem to summon them. Instead, he just said, "Maker perserve us all. Damned Chasind, what was the point of taking out the lookouts if we were just going to bash through the gates!" The last four words weren't so much as said as they were shouted at the Shapeshifter, now reentering the smashed gate. He looked up to the roof of the deep roads, mouthed a silent prayer, sighed, and just generally looked utterly defeated. Let's... Let's go help before they get themselves killed," Emil stated reluctantly. It was with that same reluctance that he followed the dwarf towards the fray.

Well, that was... not exactly what he'd expected. The characteristic flash of lightning had not been good news to Andaer's experienced eye, but he would never have guessed it would portend a unusually-large bear crashig through the gate. It was, of course, not an actual bear, as anyone with a lick of magic would be able to tell, but that hardly dulled the surprise. Somehow, despite the incredible oddity of the situation, he was certain this would not be the strangest thing he ever saw if he chose to keep their company for long (assuming, of course, that they allowed him to). For now, however, this was the battle he had chosen, and he would devote no less to it than if it were his own family he fought beside and for. That was simply the only thing to do in a situation like this one.

Drawing his sword with a hiss of steel, the Dalish man met the eyes of young Ethne. "Come, somniari. It does us poor credit to leave the battle to others, does it not?" He knew not what seemed to trouble her so, only that it followed her around like a dark shroud of fog and that it seemed to suit her ill. Some people were made to be miserable, but he did not think that any such folk were among the members of this band. Besides, it seemed unwise to leave all of the doing to humans and a dwarf. Subtlety, he had learned, was conventionally more a property of his people. Curiously, he smiled just a little all the same.

Ethne's step caught at the address, one more layer of mystery added to the newest member of their group. She met his eyes for what must have been no more than a few seconds but felt like much longer than that. It was... strange. She should have been wary, afraid. Her secret was so for a good reason, and it was not often a stranger managed to discern it. Most called her the Dreamer with no idea what that really implied. But he'd used the proper word, and she felt nothing but a peculiar sort of calm about it. Her mouth turned up at one corner, and she nodded slowly. "I never used to think so, but here and now, you might be right."




Mira liked walking better than waiting. It felt like she was getting somewhere when she walked. But now they were here and she could walk no longer. She had to wait for the others she had dragged into helping her to open the door for her, and to clear out enough of the defenders silently for them to not be simply overwhelmed by their numbers. She honestly hadn't expected a place like this. It looked a fortress, built into the very ground. No doubt teeming with darkspawn, if they were guarding captives.

This was looking like a very, very bad idea now that they were here. But... Mira supposed it had always seemed like a lost cause, and now that they were here, she knew she wouldn't be able to turn back. Now she was just getting angry at herself. She needed to stop thinking about it, as more thought seemed to lead only to more doubt. But it wasn't as though she could simply turn her thoughts to sunshine and images of home.

Solvej and Rhapscallion were here with her, on a cliffside overlooking the darkspawn encampment, far enough away so that they wouldn't be sensed by the creatures. She liked the half-elf, though she'd had only a few chances to speak to him, and not once in private. He seemed like her type, and far more enjoyable company than the majority of their murderous band. Solvej she had little idea what to think, so inexperienced was she with personalities hardened by war and strife as she was. Mira didn't doubt that a little bit of the Warden's toughness rubbing off on her would be most helpful, though Mira wasn't sure she was capable of toughening up at this point.

"I know they're probably all dead by now," she admitted, seeing no point in trying to deny it. "Which would make this a very foolish and very pointless risk to be taking right now. I hope you can forgive me for dragging everyone away from your mission, but I'd understand if you can't."

Solvej, currently lying on her stomach and propped slightly by her elbows so as to see the gate ahead without attracting attention to herself, glanced backwards at Mira. "Don't apologize," she said bluntly, then sighed and shook her head. "If it was the kind of thing you really think you need forgiveness for, you shouldn't have asked. But you did, and we're all here now because we chose to be. Why I'd need to forgive you for something I decided is beyond me. Besides... you were right. We do stupid things for our families, blood or otherwise. Maker knows I have." She turned back to watching, waiting for some kind of signal to move. Someone was supposed to shoot magic into the air when they were needed, and that could happen at any time. She was content to let the other two chat, if they wanted; Rhapscallion was much more personable than his abrasive mentor anyway.

Had anyone else asked him to do something so noble, or so brave, then Rhapscallion would've been hard-pressed to refuse. It was his strongest suit and the only one that was likely to get him killed someday. He was a doormat – but, most certainly the good kind that received friends and guests and visitors and acquaintances with equal amounts of cheer and friendliness.He was the lumpy, enigmatic material that received them as they came and went in the world. The place they stopped to wipe their feet, to catch their breaths as they rapped their knuckles on the door of opportunity before brushing off the dirt from their sleeves, gathering up their weapons and striking back out into the world, hopefully more rejuvenated than they'd originally come in. He didn't mind. In short, there wasn't anything that he would turn down unless it was unethical, or morally wrong. Hurting innocent people, stealing from the poor, or wilfully ignoring someone in need all fell into those particular categories. The half-breed had been proud that no one had put up a stink when Mirabelle requested their aid. Even Emil seemed to have momentarily allowed his raincoat of unpleasantness to drop around his feet, belying an unexpected side to his surly character. Friends tended to do that to you.

Wringing his calloused hands together, Rhapscallion settled his chin above his thumbs, occasionally twisting his posture so that he could better see what was happening below. Not that he really needed to with his mentors' hawkish gaze flicking to the gate ahead, then back again. Her presence was strong and still gave him the familiar sense of safety from just being here. But, he was never a damsel in distress, and Solvej wasn't his knight in shining armor, even though she'd played the better part of the role for the majority of his time spent in the Grey Wardens. He huffed out a breath across his fingernails, waggling his index fingers out in a straight line. He, too, was inexperienced with hardened personalities, with those who'd rather dig in their heels and face walls of Darkspawn and opponents and enemies then turn away. To him, it didn't particularly matter. He faced it with the same, ever-present stupid-grin. If they didn't like him, then that was fine, too.

The conversation to his right caught his attention, twitching his sensitive clubbed-ears. He shifted his position so that he could see Mirabelle's face – hear what she was really saying because he didn't believe that all was hopeless, that they were all dead and this was a pointless endeavour. If there was even the slightest chance of saving Mirabelle's friends from the Darkspawn then they needed to believe that doing this could save at least one of them, or else when they fought, they wouldn't be able to give it their all. “Don't give up before we've even started,” It came softly, breathy, through the corners of his lips, as if he'd spoken any louder it would announce their presence to unseen monsters. He was looking at her. Of course, if it'd been Solvej trying to save someone she loved, then he, too, would be there waiting and watching for the opportune moment to save him or her or them from whichever creature, or chains, that held them captive. She might've shielded her heart from sappy conversation, but she still empathized nearly as much as he did. Permission wasn't needed because they were a team, now. They did things together. From the moment they'd formed their little group, they'd decided on that, at least, however silently. It needn't be spoken aloud, anyway.

Blindly optimistic and stupidly enthusiastic he might've been, but Rhapscallion truly believed that this would end well. They would find Mirabelle's friends and bring them safely above ground. It would never be a waste of time. Hadn't they been against bleaker odds? True friendship couldn't be accomplished without a few conflicts fought together. It's what they needed to build in order to finish their true mission, in order to essentially save the world. They couldn't run away from what they wanted to forget anymore, or shirk their responsibilities as Grey Wardens, as warriors, as specific people chosen to perform an impossible duty. He stretched out his arms, then patted the younger Warden's elbow, leaning his shoulder to the side to keep himself from plopping onto his face. “As long as someone's still breathing, then the fight's not over. Saving damsels? That's all the reason we need to fight. Your allies are our allies.” He offered a small smile, though it lacked in it's usual toothy-grin – this was serious, so it didn't warrant cheap jokes.

"Damsels, huh?" Mira said. "I think I can work with that. Especially if it's one damsel saving another." Despite everything that was going on at the moment, Mira felt that a personality like Rhapscallion's was exactly what she needed right now. Someone who wasn't a grizzled veteran of war and slaughtering darkspawn, though being a Grey Warden, she was willing to bet he'd already done a fair share of the latter. Still, there was something to him that she could relate to; him, and Ethne, and perhaps even Rudhale to an extent. She never wanted to let herself become a jaded person, darkened by the things she'd seen and done.

"Thanks, I-- what the... ?" her attention was drawn by an explosion of sorts from the gate, involving a bear and a lot of noise. "Andraste's tits... let's get down there." And just like that she was on her feet, making her way towards the fight. It was now or never.

"Way ahead of you," Solvej replied, having pushed to her own feet mere seconds earlier, after a curious flash caught her eye. Now, she hefted her poleax in one hand and set off down the slope, the surefootedness of a mountain-goat infusing her tread despite the fact that her momentum seemed to be the primary factor propelling her forward. That was just a fact of her upbringing. You didn't grow up in the largest mountain range in Thedas without learning how to climb them-- up and down.

"Damsels in distress.” Rhapscallion repeated, indicating the last idiom with a flick of his wrist – and if Mirabelle was anything to go by, then these particular damsels had nothing to worry about. Things would pan out. He patted her elbow once more before retracting his hand, scuffling bits of gravel with his finger. There was something to be said about naivety and experience. They could coexist as long as you had something or someone, rather, to fight for. Had Rhapscallion not received guidance in his youth, then perhaps he might've turned out very differently. A much colder, much more ruthless individual. Probably the complete opposite of a Grey Warden or a Chevalier, more akin to the Darkspawn themselves. He was thankful to them all. For shaping a better person, even if they didn't see it that way. His heart flew from his fingertips and he was sure, deep down, that theirs did, too. Mirabelle was no different. He didn't need to puff out his chest in the hopes of appearing bigger or stronger than he actually was. She wasn't a choosy bird with hard eyes and she wasn't a coward for disliking combat, or even choosing to stay behind in her dream-space. It had been noble.

"No pro—” He began to say, slowly trailing off at the sound of the explosion and bear noises or something going on below. Who could tell? It was either an ear-splitting roar or something they'd managed to rig up in their absence. Mirabelle was up, and so was Solvej, sprinting down the slope towards the gate. Even after all these years, it was astounding to see how quick his mentor could be with that hefty poleaxe. It took Rhapscallion a moment to gather his wits about him and follow suit, conjuring a murmured swiftness into his feet to catch up to them. His long legs, however coltish, aided him in his descent. His blades were already twirling in his hands, spinning to an unknown rhythm before settling to his dynamic cadence. Huffing alongside them, Rhapscallion nearly barrelled into Solvej before pinwheeling off to the side, puffing his cheeks. "Don't... know if... I'll be able to stop...!”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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Mirabelle watched with a mix of awe and horror as the great bear tore into the darkspawn ranks, but despite the massive spray of dark blood that shot into the air above him, it looked something like swinging a sword into the sea, and hoping to wound it. Some water was displaced, but just as much soon filled in the gap. The darkspawn, having been alerted to their presence, were pouring from seemingly every possible space a darkspawn could fit into. Archers on the occasional tower had turned to fire on the intruders, that troublesome Emissary still attempting to rain lightning down upon their heads.

An arrow thrumming into the wood next to her head snapped her back to the matter at hand. He was too far to reliably hit with a throwing knife, so she just ducked down instead and pushed forward. A hurlock slid out of a tent-contraption facing the wrong way, and Mira was quick to punch a knife point into the back of his skull. But like the sea, more replaced him when he fell, and she was forced to perform a quick backstep to avoid a down swing from a mace, cracking rock where she'd just been standing. She darted forward to take advantage, pulling her kris from the sheath on her back and slicing downwards twice in a crossing pattern, cutting the next enemy open and sending him falling back. It gave her but a brief moment of respite to look around. If there was anywhere the darkspawn weren't coming from in droves, it was the tunnel below them, the direction Mira wanted to go. If she could just get a suitable distraction...

The shapeshifter provided it soon enough, pushing away from the hordes to take a charge at the wooden tower holding up the darkspawn mage, plowing into the supports as he had done for the gate, splintering wood and sending the rickety contraption tumbling to the ground, bringing the irksome mage to their level, though Suicide lost sight of him amidst the debris and dust. The tower's destruction had thrown some chaos into the group of darkspawn, and more followed when a little green vial shattered amidst a particularly packed group of them, the gas spreading outwards violently, engulfing a large group of the beasts, who almost immediately turned to their nearest ally and raised their blade.

Darkspawn turned on darkspawn, the shapeshifter barreled into them once more, all the while the youngest Warden kept to the fringes of the chaos, darting towards the tunnel entrances before anyone was the wiser. She managed to lock eyes with Emil on the way and give him a beckoning motion, indicating that she'd made up her mind. She'd be going down there while she had the chance, and while she'd appreciate the help of anyone who wanted to follow, she wasn't going to wait around for them long enough for the darkspawn to return to their senses.

Being thrown headlong into a full-on war was not on the Templar's itenary when they set out, yet here he was, in the middle of a variable darkspawn fortress, neck deep in the tainted blighters fighting for all he was worth. He didn't quite know who exactly he should be mad at. The most obvious answer was Mira, seeing how it was her idea to come to this place in the first place, but he couldn't find it in himself to hold it against her. She was only doing what she thought was right to save her friends, and Emil could not see the fault in that. He did see the fault in the Chasind though, as instead of taking the quiet approach, he had opted to shift into a bear and raise all hell. Even so, he didn't quite have the time he would like to fume and glare at the large man, as all of his time was currently taken up trading blows with Darkspawn.

And trading blows he was. Already his arrows were littered across the area, mostly inside the vital areas of his enemies, and some were still pinned to the ground. Even a couple of lines of darkspawn lay dead because of a deadly arcing lance he had fired, a thin, but heavy and extremely sharp arrow fletched for penetration. Though he had switched from his bow to his sword at some point during the fray, and he had summarily set his heels and dug himself into the rocks at his feet. He was like a rock in a river, unwavering in the unending onslaught. His will tough as iron. He would not be moved by anything but his choice alone. The pirate's words so long ago that had stewed in his head had finally manifested. His duty was not to die, not to survive, but to slay every last enemy of these Wardens. A duty that was reluctantly put upon his shoulders, but one that he would see through any way.

His will was that of the Maker.

He had slung his bow back around his chest and held his sword with both hands, playing the role of excutioner to any Darkspawn that traveled too close. Steel simmering in the tunnels, tainted blood painting his armor, he would not be moved. At least, not until his eyes locked with that of Mira's. A beckons revealed that she was to enter the tunnels on her own, and do whatever it was she came to do. Smart girl, best to get it over with as fast as possible. He nodded, disenagaging his stance and making his way over to the Warden, but not before he got a blade to the shoulder for his trouble. The wrought iron blade bit deep into his arm and his shoulder, but his steel bit deeper into the assailent's neck, taking the head along with it. The pain was still there, but Emil was conditioned and seasoned to withstand such pain. What he worried about was whether or not it would affect his swing.

Another cut into a 'Spawn revealed that while his swing did suffer, though the flesh still rended just fine on an ordinary Genlock. Satisfied, he quickly made his was to Mira before nodding and staring down the hole.

Solvej's momentum had sent her crashing into a line of Darkspawn, poleax braced firmly for impact. She'd actually managed to impale two at once before she'd slowed enough to push them off with her foot and swing the weapon around behind her, catching the sneaky bastard that was trying to take advantage of her headlong run by getting at her unprotected back. It opened a line acorss its stomach, and she was off again, pushing into the fray with little grace but much resolve. There was an emissary in the area, and there were precious few people in the world better suited to dealing with a Darkspawn mage than a Warden Templar. It was important to get at the thing as soon as possible, before it decided that area-of-effect spells would be a good idea and they found themselves trying to dodge bolts of lightning or fireballs raining from the tunnel's ceiling.

When the shapeshifter charged the platform, then, she followed, spearing a Spawn or three in his wake and waiting. The dust the platform's collapse conjured didn't stop her, and she moved right into it, figuring she'd just kill her way through things until she found the particular one she was looking for. Would it have been better to coordinate with the others and form some type of attack strategy? Perhaps, but that wasn't really possible at the moment, and going after the Emissary was good strategy. Very few people stood up to the arcane as well as they did to steel and flesh and blood, and that was just a simple truth.

With a shout, she swung diagonally, the axehead biting into the collarbone of a massive Hurlock, which bellowed back and stepped into her guard, aiming an upward swing for her midsection. Jumping back, she narrowly avoided the hit and yanked her polearm towards her, tearing more flesh as it cut free. The wound was bleeding vigorously now, and clearly slowing the creature down, but it wasn't quite dead, and she nearly missed the appearance of another to her left, catching it through the smoke in her peripherals just as it raised its battleaxe to strike. Bracing herself for impact, Solvej was surprised when it never came, glancing over as her own oppoenent fell under a second hit to see that the second had sprouted a gleaming blade through its chest, which quickly retracted, the fresh corpse falling to reveal the slender elf behind it.

"Go quickly," he advised with equanimity. "I will ensure nothing follows you." Choosing to take him at his word, she nodded and set off through the dust cloud. It was far too thick for either of them to see Mira about to disappear into the tunnel below, and the area was so dense with Darkspawn that there was no way Solvej would have been able to track a single Warden.

Rudhale had dashed into the fray in Kerin's wake, and he was still following it, more or less, though by this point he was practically back-to-back with the dwarf. He was aware that this was not the smartest place in the world to be, but his reflexes were top-notch, and he trusted them enough to warn him if she for some reason decided he would make a better target than one of the tide of Darkspawn. He couldn't blame her for thinking so, if she ever did; he rather thought he was more interesting as well. Besides, that he was occupying this spot meant that no tricky genlock or angry hurlock was, and that seemed an advantage for them both.

He was no stranger to navigating the ocean, and if the sea was made of water or bodies didn't make much of a difference, as it turned out. The area around him was always in his control and he moved the waves in and out in patterns of his own design, whirling blades and precisely-placed strikes heralding an easy control, stark counterpoint to the all-consuming tempest raging at his heels. A hurlock closed in, and the pirate darted forward with all the accuracy of a shot arrow, right hand driving the triangular blade of his katar home into the Darkspawn's chest. He stepped back, sweeping out with a foot and collapsing the creature's knees, using it as an obstacle for the next approaching pair, diverting one around and forcing another to hop over, which made it that much eaiser to cast him off-balance with a broad slash from the kilij. While that one struggled not to fall, he moved to the side, catching the one who'd diverted under the chin with the same, opening up a thin red line across the throat.

And because he was probably no more than half-sane and couldn't resist, he was singing under his breath. "Don't haul on the rope, don't climb up the mast; if you see a sailing ship, it might be your last." The staggered Spawn, he finished with a flourish, kicking that corpse to one side. He was practically starting to build himself a wall now, but that was wholly intentional, inspired by the pile from which he'd hauled Kerin at the end of the last exchange. "Just get your civies ready for another run ashore; a sailor's not a sailor, not a sailor anymore..." He disagreed, frankly. A pirate was a pirate anywhere, if he had the right kind of style.

Very much unlike the pirate, Kerin didn't so much navigate the battlefield like a sea, but more like forest and she was a lumberjack. Learning her own lesson during the last outing, she prefered not to get buried in corpses again and found her cutting a bloody swarth through the bodies. Each step was puncuated by a slow, but powerful swing from her large sword. If they refused to get out of her path, then they would feel the wrath of the berserker. From the first 'Spawn she had slain she was fully blood drunk, desiring nothing else but the utter destruction of those who stood in her way. She was vaguely aware of the pirate dancing around her, his precise and meticulous assault a counterpoint to her own raw, unadulterated rage. She'd prefer nothing else.

Though, each swing held a different ferocity behind it. Instead of the euphoric berserk she had experienced with the Legion assault, this one was darker, more powerful. She didn't yell and scream as she had, she did not taunt, and she did not boast. She was eeirly quiet. And why shouldn't she be? Instead of images of glory and greatness, only the faces of the scouting party remained. Their words reverbed through her mind, opening old wounds she though had healed long ago. She may have been the very image of stoicism during the confrontation, but here, in the raw state from battle, the words were sharpened and they bit deeper than they would otherwise. Each fallen Darkspawn was a dwarf from her past. A guardsman, a bodyguard, A Cartel thug, a scout, a noble. Each one that fell, something intensified in the back of her mind.

It was quiet at first, like a heartbeat. But after every fallen foe it grew just a little bit louder. Not too loud, it was a subtle thing, creeping into her mind. Each beat intensfied until each one was a bassline drum beat. Just above barely perceptible, but it was there, and instead of weakening her swings, they intensfied as well, growing more bloody, more powerful, more raw...

She was Broken, but she would share her pain.

Ethne had soon found herself separated from Andaer, unable to follow his movements into the throng of Darkspawn. She was instead adrift and mostly on her own, which was working out okay... for now. Her magic was more than enough to keep them at a distance, and until she could find someone, anyone else, she only attacked when spotted, so as to draw a minimal amount of attention to herself. She was channelling Vitality as well, and somehow, her heart felt more open to his presence. Perhaps it was her realization that she was doing this for people other than herself, and not for the nameless masses, either; that desire to help by whatever means were necessary had opened something up inside her mind, and the Fade felt closer than ever, as if she were simply an empty container waiting to be filled with its essence. That alone made recieving her spirit friend so much easier, and she could feel him more closely than before, as though a warm presence rested in the center of her chest cavity, flooding her bloodstream with life itself.

It was perhaps by sheer coincidence that she managed to find her way around the massive destuction caused by Dekton, and spotted what seemed to be a mostly-empty tunnel leading away from the majority of the carnage. Mira was standing in front of it, and if the somniari was right, she looked like she intended to go in. It might not have been her summons to answer, but she stepped forward all the same. There was no telling what was down there, and it might be that some distinctly magical assistance would be needed.

Rhapscallion, too, sizzled away from view, sifting into small snake-slithers of smoke, before appearing just behind Ethne's shoulder. Spurts of blood followed his dogged pursuit, spraying behind, and over him, only momentarily blotting across his shoulders before disappearing entirely. He'd seen Mirabelle's beckons, and while it did not belong to him, he still followed suit and scampered through the amassed fray, slicing exposed tendons and wayward necks as he passed. Back-to-back and side-to-side, it wasn't likely that Rhapscallion would have stayed behind when one of his companions was so desperately trying to reach her friends, her past, her damsels. Besides, he reasoned quietly, Kerin and Suicide and the others were better off moving from opponent to opponent than he was, never hesitating and always meeting a new blade with renewed fervour. They were amazing that way – and in many others, but still, he wanted to see things through. Even if she wasn't sure this would work, after all, it was certainly worth a try.

The Templar and the Dreamer at her back, Mira descending into the tunnel. No doubt certain members of the party would be none too pleased that their unlikely leader had left the group to follow the courtesan down to what could very well be all of their dooms. She only hoped the group outside could hold off or simply distract the horde long enough for her to get her friends out of here.

Which led to the first problem: finding them. Torches were all that lit the passages beneath the encampment, and the paths themselves branched off many directions, with no clear method of organization or direction. She supposed it made sense for a horde to simply not care for orderliness, and perhaps they had some innate sense of direction that went along with their communal hivemind, and the awful stench that seemed to multiply rather than add when they were close to each other.

And yet, her feet seemed to guide her without thought, and she simply chose paths, trusting that Emil and Ethne would be right behind. She stopped occasionally, holding the others back, when she heard darkspawn. The whole place was in uproar, the creatures rushing to the outer encampment to help drive out the invaders. Most simply passed them by, the immediate proximity of so many darkspawn, and the enemies outside, some of them being Wardens, was enough to mask their presence enough for stealth to be an option. For those that saw them and charged, a quick throwing knife attack usually did the trick.

Down, down, down they went, and the scenery changed as they did, the walls turning from stone to a kind of grey web-like appearance, and then to a red, a bright red, the walls themselves seeming to glow and glisten, like blood lit by fire from within. The ground beneath their feet began to grow ever-so-slightly squishy, the walls decorated with the occasional... sack, filled seemingly by some kind of pus-like liquid. Holes large enough for a man to fit through popped up now and then, leading down to more lovely surprises, no doubt. The ground shook slightly beneath her feet, and Mira slowed, sliding her kris knife from its sheath and advancing cautiously. It was some kind of... belching? A drooling sound, gurgling... considering the shaking ground, Mira expected to find an ogre around the next corner.

And an ogre would have been preferable. She stopped immediately, sucking in a quick gasp, her heart momentarily catching in her throat. It was... a darkspawn of some kind, it had to be. Practically molded into the wall behind it, massive amounts of flesh rolling about the ground, blending with the walls here and there. Tentacles reaching upwards away from it and out of the ground around it... her. She had at least four pairs of breasts. And... there were two, facing each other on separate walls of the circular area they'd stumbled upon.

Her lack of understanding of the darkspawn was quite immediately and quite brutally cured. These monsters had no hair remaining to their heads, their eyes had turned to black and their faces warped to the point of being unrecognizable, but Mira knew these were once girls that she had known and lived with. She had laughed and loved with them, woken up every morning with the knowledge that they would be there. All along Mira had known that there would be a purpose to taking prisoners rather than simply killing them all, but she had assumed it had been for feeding purposes, not reproducing. Surely that was what these were for.

Rather than break down and cry like she might have if she'd learned of this from afar, Mira was now only angry. She was furious that they would do this to her friends. They would all pay, they would all die, even if it meant the death of her. And these girls... she would give them a release from their nightmare. She flipped the kris backwards in her hand, taking a stunning vial in her off hand, and charging forward, her caution long forgotten.

Emil offered no sound to the journey through the caverns other than the scrape of steel sliding back into it's sheath. He had his bow out and arrow nocked, his frame leaned slightly forward, giving him a stalker's clip. He made no mention to their changing surroundings, nor even the oppressive air. The itch in his nose began to act up, signalling that there was something ahead of him, something abnormal. The Templar merely shook it off as a Emissary or something magical like that, not fully realizing the monstrosties that lay ahead. The tunnel continued for what felt like ages, as the caution he walked with slowed down time and made the journey longer than it really was.

His face was tight, eyes wide in order to better pick out what little light flowed through the tunnels and to see any threats before they could get the jump on them. He played true to his Hunter's title, but for once he wondered if his prey would end up being more than he could handle. The Templar was never unsure, he was like a rock, and though cracks had began to show he had promised himself and the Maker that he would fill them, and come back stronger than ever. But here, in the heart of the Deep Roads, even the strongest rocks can be crushed under the ground.

What had been merely the usual sort of distaste at being around so many warped beings had morphed gradually into an ever-increasing sense of foreboding, and the air just seemed to get thicker and thicker as they descended, or was that only her? Neither Emil nor Mira nor Scally seemed to be noticing, but Ethne was finding it increasingly hard to just breathe. As webbing gave way to unearthly, pulsing red walls, she realized that the interference must be magical in nature. It was the only thing that would explain why she felt it so keenly. But why? What could possibly have twisted the Fade into such shapes as to strangle and stifle one who was used to moving through its fabric as though it were mere silk? Something unnatural was down here, and the familiar feeling of dread crept insidiously up her spine, sinking cold tendrils into her nerve endings and stiffening her posture.

She had not often wished she was anything but a mage, but she certainly did now. Ethne ran her thumbs across her palms, unsurprised when they came away damp with clammy sweat. She felt as though she were going to be sick, almost like she had before Morpheus's great barrier. Only, this was... different. Less powerful, but more pervasive, as though it infused everything in the proximity. It had sunk into the environment itself, with the passage of decades, not mere months, and that was why it was not the same.

The ground took on a tremor, and the mage readied her staff, gripping the metal in both hands, its solidity a welcome assurance. She would find none anywhere else, and she managed to forget even the small comfort of Scally beside her when they rounded the corner. For a moment, the enormous mountains of putrid, pink-and-purpled flesh didn't even register. She just stared blankly, quivering faintly like a rabbit caught in a snare. What... how... she fumbled for the right question, and in the end, it was simply why. Why were such things allowed to exist? Ethne had never been one for much faith in forces beyond magic, though she'd always held out hope that something watched over the world and would save it from the truly horrific, but... no such being could allow this and call itself benevolent.

Mira's charge forward finally snapped her from her reverie, and even though her heart mourned, her hands steadied. If nothing beyond this world could be bothered to show mercy to these poor beings, then they certainly would. Knowing that Mira wasn't made for the front lines, Ethne fortified her as well as she could, hoping that it would add a little boost, protect her where her rage would be no armor. The direction Mira veered, Ethne took the opposite, calling the raw lightning to her hands and launching it into the creature, face closed-off and grim.

He offered his brutality in battle, his efficiency in dispatching Darkspawn, and his insatiable need to help. Although, Rhapscallion's stomach still twisted when the ground sunk beneath his feet, springing back as if he were traipsing on a road made of plump gelatin. This place did not look like anything he'd ever seen. The pustules on the walls seemed to heave towards them, expanding and deflating like breathing organs. His expression tightened, then went lax. If the initial smell of the Deep Roads was anything to go but, then this new mixture was by far the worst he'd experienced. It might've had to do with the mysterious holes pockmarking the living-breathing-sack-walls, or the unusually squishy floors. His stomach squeezed again, seemingly predicating that all was not well. He pulled up beside Mirabelle as the first sounds of gurgling vibrated from the walls, or from around the corners, more like.

Even as a slightly-seasoned Grey Warden, Rhapscallion hadn't been prepared to see these brood-creatures. He'd heard of them from other Grey Wardens, and even from Solvej on occasion, but he couldn't have possibly imagined that they looked like this, like they'd been something prior, someone else. The rearing tentacles slashed at the empty air, and their gaping faces, mouths gurgling incoherently, sent shivers down his spine. Dim as he was sometimes, Rhapscallion had puzzled out the pieces, and wanted dearly to place a hand on Mirabelle's shoulder – it wasn't the time for that, now. This needed to end. This was not how he'd imagined this going. She was supposed to find them alive and well. She was supposed to find them in one piece, still waiting to be saved and so thankful that her friend had finally found them. The muffled ba-thump, ba-thump of his unsteady heart matched Mirabelle's swift movements, but his beat with a dull throb, skittering softly with the sound of her footfalls.

Pointless words could do nothing actions could. He steeled his rattled nerves, conjured swiftness in his ankles. Rhapscallion flitted from view, flickered, then appeared behind Mirabelle's elbow, blades at the ready. He would support her, as they all would.

The end of the tunnel provided a sight the Templar never in his wildest dreams expected. Grotesque creatures who were clearly once human awaited them. His knuckles grew white on his bow as his grip tightened evermore. He hesitated, unsure once again. His eyes wide beheld the Broodmothers, wondering if these were the girls that Mira were looking for. His answer came from the girl herself, not by words, but by her action. She was always the cautious one, and now the caution was thrown to the wind as she dove into the fray. Those were the actions of a woman enraged, a woman looking for vengence. She had decided on her course of action, and he would follow. He drew the bowstring to his cheek and aimed. He muttered a prayer to the Maker as he released his arrow.

"Blessed are they who stand before
The corrupt and the wicked and do not falter.
Blessed are the peacekeepers, the champions of the just.
"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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Mirabelle's rage had dulled her mind, but it hadn't completely closed it off. She was able to see that if they avoided the central area of the room, they would be able to stay out of range of one or the other Broodmother's tentacles. At least, that was how it appeared, given their length. It was possible that there was much more to them, hidden underground where it could not be seen. The thought turned her stomach, but couldn’t slow her. Her eyes were locked to the Broodmother on the right, her hand tightening around the stunning vial to the point of almost shattering it, which would have been disastrous to say the least.

In a clearer state of mind, she might have noticed Ethne’s fortifying magic, or Rhapscallion’s presence behind her, Emil’s arrows flying overhead, but all she could see now was a grotesque appendage swinging towards her head. She ducked and rolled under it, coming smoothly to her feet, swiftly underhand throwing the vial of yellow liquid up towards the monster’s face. It shattered and blasted outward with a loud bang, the chemicals screaming for release in the air, thick and hot here as it was. The darkspawn mother reeled back, arms temporarily not a threat. Mira did not see that behind her, some stray darkspawn had been alerted to the threat, and a few were now reacting to it, attempting to take the intruders by surprise.

Mira had no eyes for them, so close was she to the writhing mass before her. Tired legs gave another push, lifting her into the air where she sank her kris knife into a mass of flesh in the creature’s chest. It bellowed with pain as Mira tried to find purchase with her boots, trying to find somewhere stable to anchor herself. She pulled a knife from her belt, raised it to plunge the sharp end into the brain, end this miserable thing’s life. A sudden spasm of pain in her back on the left side accompanied a thump as a darkspawn arrow found its mark, temporarily seizing control of her limbs and preventing them from movement. The broodmother recovered, and a tentacle swiped her roughly away, sending her tumbling to where Emil stood firing arrows, the shaft of the one she’d been hit with snapping off like a weak twig. A stark contrast to how she’d felt last time she had been shot, Mira pushed herself back up, grabbing hold of her kris once more and taking off towards it again. She would attack this thing until either she or it was dead.

Ethne was scarcely in a position to help, in the middle of a deadly tango with the leftward broodmother as she was. Scally, Emil, and Mira were all focusing on the other, which was good. It would bring it down faster. What that meant was she had to stay alive long enough to keep this one busy, and prevent it from joining the other in attacking her friends. Drawing its sole attention was not difficult; she simply hurled magic at it with no little skill, focusing primarily on keeping her breathing even, her aim true, and her feet moving, so as to avoid the tentacles that seemed apt to spring up from the ground at odd moments. She was no lightfooted rogue, no invisible Scally or cavorting Rudhale or whirling Mira, but she'd learned this much fleetness at least, and she was small enough to make for a tough target in motion.

When Mira was shot and thrown back, though, she knew it, and unwisely turned to look. A tentacle caught her around the ankle in her moment of distraction and lifted her bodily into the air, hanging her upside down and shaking her like a rag doll. Dropping her staff quite by accident, Ethne scrabbled for purchase against the thing, gritting her teeth to keep from biting her tongue in twain by accident. Her hands at last met rubbery flesh, and she exhaled steadily, pushing lightning into the raw limb. She was rewarded with a wail, and the octopus-like limb convulsed, dropping her unceremoniously the ten feet or so to the ground. Fused with Vitality as she was, the girl managed to shake it off, landing more or less on her feet, one hand braced against the ground. Shaking her head, she regained her balance and stood, scooping up her staff in just enough time to use it to fend off the next groping limb, smashing the macehead-end of it into the appendage.

Panting a little, she swiped a few loose tendrils of hair out of her face and renewed her assault, stopping for no longer then it took to launch a few potshots from her ice-charged weapon before darting off again, keeping her patterns of motion unpredictable and doubling back now and again. That much, she knew from watching Scally, and she'd have to thank him for it, later.

Rhapscallion kept his movements erratic, and spontaneous, often shooting out to the far left, only to double-back behind Mirabelle's left shoulder. He, too, swept over the swinging tentacle-arm, vaulting over it with ease. It didn't stop him from shuddering when his fingers slipped against the slimy appendage, sticky with whatever it was that was coating it's flesh. He did not slow his pace to ponder what exactly it was. Everything in this chamber was disgusting. The floors still gave beneath his feet, seemingly huffing with their sudden appearance. When Mirabelle threw her vial, Rhapscallion skipped to the side, burying his blade into an approaching Darkspawn, who'd been assuredly salivating in the darkest corners, waiting for them to have their backs turned away, preoccupied by the bigger, more horrifying creature wheezing by the wall – no, a part of the wall. A sound hissed through his lips as he glimpsed Mirabelle throw herself against the brood mother, bringing her knives down upon the thing. It was not her actions that terrified him, but the arrow that'd found it's mark in her back.

He was not close enough to grapple with Mirabelle's arm and prevent her from throwing herself back at the brood mother in a wild, frantic attempt to end it's life. They needed to be organized. They needed to be calm and calculated and careful where they were going. He'd seen the look in her eyes – it was either her or that thing. One would emerge victorious and until that happened, his companion would not stop. The look itself was familiar. It was one that Kerin had worn against Morpheus. It was one he'd seen on Solvej's face many times in battle, as if nothing would stop her, as if she'd welcome death if it just meant the end of those damned things. Ethne, too, was battling with her own brood-creature. Rhapscallion's attention had been elsewhere, flitting across Ethne as her staff clattered on the ground, with her dangling upside down. He was in the process of turning towards her, ready to spring towards the mass of wriggling flesh when a wooden-contraption that might've been a makeshift mace, in a rudimentary manner of its own, smashed into his side.

He flopped onto his back, heaving out a breath like a balloon expelling its air. The Darkspawn responded in turn, throwing itself forward and rearing up to presumably smash in his head – and it might have if he hadn't of rolled away in time, still sucking in air, and griping his blades. Its second strike, aimed high, clanged against his shamshir, and was swept aside, where Rhapscallion met it's owner, sinking his knife into the creature's jowls. His recovery came as quickly as he was able to breathe, rolling back on his heels for a few seconds before skipping forward. Ethne, by this point, and from what he'd seen, was now back on her feet and sending beams (which was the only way he could really describe how she was attacking) of light at the brood mother. She was alive, but he wouldn't be if he didn't start paying attention. There was no use trying to get Mirabelle's attention – she would not listen, so he would support her any way he could by distracting the brood mother and dispatching of Darkspawn-archers. He spun, twirled, and backpedalled into Darkspawn, twirling his blades, and occasionally slashed at the brood mother's whipping appendages.

Silly or not, the girl had a spark about her when she was angry. Of course, such anger leads to reckless abandon, and her relentless assault on the Broodmother would soon take their toll. That only underscored the fact that they needed to accomplish this as fast as possible, both to save these girls from their misery, and to bring Mira back. Compared to the fiery Mira, Emilio was as cold and calculating as always. As soon as the initial shock of the broodmothers passed, he settled back into his analytical, hunter's approach. It came to little surprise as the 'Spawn began to crawl out of the woodwork behind the Broodmother's. This deep in the heart of their territory, it'd be foolish to not expect them to try and defend it.

Emil paid arrow for arrow, launching a thin lance through the 'Spawn that had struck Mira, and the 'Spawn behind that one, dropping them both into a heap. He allowed Mira and the Jellyfish to handle the one Broodmother, while the mage fiddled with the other. Emil would make sure a Darkspawn didn't slip a blade in their back as they fought. To that end he took a step forward and set his heels, and then began to fire off arrows. He would not be useless again, he would not be rendered incapicitated. He had a duty to do, and he would kill anything that sought to drag him away from that duty.

"Blessed are the righteous, the lights in the shadow.
In their blood the Maker's will is written."


With Emil's cover and the distractions provided by Ethne and Rhapscallion, Mira made her second charge. She had used her last stunning vial, and no others suited the purpose. The orange might have helped, distracting the creature with intense pain, but any contact with it would have extended that corrosive agony to them as well, and thus it wasn't an option. There was one type she could use, however. She pulled a white colored vial and shattered it at her feet, a white fog expanding in to the air immediately around her. Coated in the scent, the darkspawn, and hopefully the broodmother, would not be able to detect her, and would redirect their attention elsewhere. It meant more pressure placed on her friends, but it would be necessary if she wanted to bring this down.

Indeed, as Mira approached with her head ducked low and her eyes locked on her target, the majority of the tentacles redirected towards Scally, or Ethne if they could reach her, but she seemed closer to the broodmother on the opposite wall. By sheer luck one managed to side swipe her on its way to the half-breed elf, taking her from her feet. She took the blow well, though, tucking her shoulder and rolling as she hit the ground, wincing when her back hit but stil managing to come to her feet as smoothly as she could, and pressing on. She charged it from the side, drew a second knife early this time, and leaped up.

Her blades sank into flesh, her boots slipping at first but soon finding purchase amidst the... folds of skin. She thought not of the horrid, disgusting nature of the scene, but instead of her friends, now dead in all but body, who needed release. She ripped her kris free to a spray of dark blood, pushing upwards with her legs and stabbing in higher, near the creature's shoulder area. Her knife followed suit, and with a quick throw of her body's weight Mira had made her way behind the broodmother, perched upon its back. It clearly felt the pain of being wounded, but could not detect the source for the moment, the anger caused by the attack redirected towards the others. She would need to make this quick, as it would not be pleased when it finally realized the presence of the woman on its back.

It shook violently, and Mira was quite nearly thrown from its back, instead coming to rest on the shoulder, forced to squeeze the arm with her legs to keep herself from slipping, and putting almost directly in the line of sight of the broodmother. No strength of scent could hide her from that, and so she acted quickly, taking the kris knife and plunging it to the hilt just below the creature's chin. She did not think of who this person had been as she pulled it out, letting a literal fountain of blood pour from the throat admist gurgling cries from the creature. She didn't want to know if she'd had breakfast with this girl a hundred or a thousand times, if she'd cut her hair and explored the town with her on nights off. Whoever this girl was was no more, and now this broodmother would be no more as well.

But not instantly. It possessed a remarkable amount of blood, as was becoming apparent by the growing pool around it. It also possessed a considerable amount of rage at the fatal wound it had just been struck, and Mira was the nearest, and most responsible. The courtesan turned and jumped away from it, only to be caught in midair by a powerful tentacle slamming into and wrapping around her midsection. She stabbed her knives into it, but it was delirious already, and likely did not feel the effects, instead constricting like a great snake crushing its prey. She felt one or more of her ribs crack under the pressure, her vision going blurry and spotty as her body stopped working. She was only barely able to remove her weapons from the flesh before she was hurled bodily towards the wall...

And directly into one of the dark holes there. The world tumbled around her, all light disappearing as the walls seemingly collapsed around her and the earth swallowed her whole. Amidst the heat and the compression and the moisture, the feeling that came through the clearest to Mirabelle was falling.




Solvej's steps carried her ever forward, and the momentum, she would not allow herself to lose. That emissary was still somewhere on this battlefield, and until she found it, she would not be satisfied. Actually, that was inaccurate; she would be lucky to gain even a small amount of satisfaction from seeing it dead at her feet. One did not simply develop a bloodlust they'd never had, but there was something to be said for a job adequately completed, and in the end, maybe not all of her Templar's sensibilities had deserted her after all.

The poleax casually tore against a hurlock's face, but that wasn't enough to warrant even a small pause in the inexorable march-- she could almost feel its closeness, now, and sure enough, there was a flash from off to her left, presumably as the 'Spawn launched another glistening chain of lightning. There would be no more of those, for it had given away its position in this cloud of dirt, and she was homing in on it like an osprey on a sleek ocean-fish, talons extended. It had wisely sought the high ground, and she would need to surmount a small hillock before she reached it, one staffed, as it were, by several lesser Darkspawn. Launching herself forward, the lady-Warden scythed through a small knot of them, using the clanging ricochet of the last one's shield to redirect her swing at another incoming foe. This bit wasn't going to be easy, but that elf had kept his word-- her back was yet clear, and that was all she'd need for this.

A slash came in from the left; in the absence of a shield, Solvej raised her metal gauntlet to deflect, turning the blow before it had the chance to gather its full momentum. That had been a rather tough trick to learn, at first. Paradoxically, keeping oneself alive often meant, for her, taking hits that were best avoided, but in the way that she chose. Twining her armored arm around the blade, she grasped the crossguard and pulled, wrenching it from the surprised grip of the genlock holding it. Rotating her entire torso, she hacked horizontally with the axe in her other hand, though the motion was too unwieldy to properly decapitate. It was close enough, though, and in that time, she'd flipped her grip on the longsword and swung back, driving it into the stomach of the next incoming Spawn.

That had been only one of three, unfortunately, and one of the others found a chink in her armor, sinking a short blade into her right side, just above her hip. The Warden sucked in a breath, her visual field swaying for just a moment before she came to grips with the pain and managed to move again, blocking the incoming axe-blow with the metal pole of her weapon, braced in both hands. With gritted teeth and no small amount of pain, she forced herself to counter the motion with a pommel strike to the temple, and then a follow-up stab with the spike atop the axehead, dropping the second. With a groan, she ripped the knife free and threw it, though it hit lower than she expected-- in the knee of the last one, to be precise. Still, it toppled him, and she ended that round by crushing his windpipe with her foot. Bothersome. Blood dripped freely from her side, and there was no healer in sight. She'd just have to put up with it.

While Solvej took care of her assassination mission, Rudhale and Kerin were still in the middle of what seemed to be an endless rush of Darkspawn. He was beginning to wonder how many unique variations on pasty, rotting, and smelly there could possibly be (answer: more than he'd really wanted to know about), but that wasn't to say he had no fun. Quite the contrary, actually, the bloody fool was still singing and darting around with all the speed and ferocity of an unexpected whip-lash. As waves broke themselves upon the shore, so did the Blighted bastards break themselves on he and his much quieter friend. In fact, the only real utterances from her corner seemed to be the sound of sword meeting armor or flesh, and the occasional hissing death rattle. It was almost unnerving, only he had more nerve than was strictly healthy, probably, so it was fine by him. He certainly constituted enough flash-fire antics for the both of them.

The wall of bodies was still under construction, added to with a well-placed slash here and a stabbing punch there. The entire project did exactly what he'd expected it to-- namely, it had reduced the traffic to manageable levels, so to speak, funnelling the 'Spawn towards them in twos and threes rather than by the dozen, which was convenient. It also provided something to climb and claim the height advantage on, though that would leave his partner's back exposed, and he wasn't very much for that idea. So instead he kept at it, kicking the fallen to one side or another to keep the space in front of him relatively clear.

Suicide had been forced to fall back behind the piles of bodies that were forming as Rudhale and Kerin endlessly hacked into the enemy. He'd discerned that their healer had left them, at least the immediate vicinity. He could not see the Templar, Rhapscallion, or the whore for that matter. No doubt they had pushed further in while he had been busy. With their healer gone, however, they would need to be somewhat more cautious. The darkspawn here were endless and ferocious, and little wounds would begin to add up. To that end, Suicide decided it would be wise to take advantage of the situation that had been granted to them, and he switched back into human form, calling lightning into his hands.

His aim was not quite as precise as he would have liked with this particular spell, but Suicide did his best to aim the Tempest at where the darkspawn were being funneled, and not where Rudhale and Kerin fought, though a stray bolt or two may have occasionally arced their way. He trusted they would have the sense to back off rather than jump into the lightning. Well… perhaps the berserker wouldn’t, but she would at least have the toughness to swallow a lightning bolt if that came to pass. At least the pirate would have the sense to steer away from the storm, though. Surely.

His storm cast, the shapeshifter began expelling what mana remained to him, launching a stonefist, a slicing blade of frost, and then closing the gap to blast ice into the enemy at close range, freezing several solid and slowing others, preventing them from escaping the storm so quickly. This was likely going to be too taxing for such a small group to keep up, but they would give the others as much time as possible.

Another throb and she added to the makeshift wall of bodies. Had she been in a saner state of mind, she would have enjoyed the macabre sight immensely, though in the current state the only thoughts she had on the wall was to add to it. It would be a monument to her anger and rage when she was through. She skewered the 'Spawn, a thrum cascading into a rumble as she lifted the creature off of it's feet and tossed it into the pile, it's death knell scarcely piercing Kerin's blood red haze. The shapeshifter's crack of lightning did register, but she brushed it off as inconsequential. Nothing would interfere in her fury-- at least that was the idea. Kerin's steadfast refusal to budge meant that she was present when a bolt struck, arcing between the metal of her armor. The throbbing in her head skipped a few beats as the white hot pain flickered. For a moment she was stalled as the beat tried to find it's rhythm once again. That allowed ample opportunity for Darkspawn to close in and encircle her.

Her vision flickered white and black before the lightning found it's way back into the ground. As if to make up for the lost beats and the rage at being the victim of a lightning bolt underground, a heavy throb punctuated a smashing blow to the ground, creating a small scale tremor around her. Not before she was subject to a number of piercing bites from the 'Spawn that had encircled her, but the pain didn't matter. She pushed it out of her mind as she spun with her sword outstretched. For once, her stature proved beneficial, as if she was normal height, the whirlwind would have flew over the heads of the downed 'Spawn. Instead, each and every one of the blighted things recieved a deep cut in it's chest before being tossed over to the ever growing wall.

She stopped her whirlwind facing Suicide, and her anger was palpable, even if her helmet obscured her face. In a low cold, growling tone, she bit off her curt words. "Warn me!" she demanded. Even though the drum beats in her head were present, it was Kerin controlling her path, not the demon. She had taken some of Solvej's and Ragnar's words to heart about control. Only time and fate would see if she managed to keep the control, or if she would lose it once more. Kerin, as herself, dropped back closer to the Pirate and Shapeshifter-- he couldn't strike her if she was right beside him after all.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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Emil was torn. A single step brought him closer to the hole that Mira was flung into, but the broodmother that still lived cemented his other foot. Should he leave the mage and the half-breed here to defeat the broodmother while he played the knight to Mira, or should he leave her to her own fate while they dealt with the broodmother. Hesitation crept into his limbs as he weighed his options. He didn't have time for these decisions. Every moment that passed was a moment longer Mira fell through the hole and a moment the broodmother still breathed. Frustration and anger welled up inside him as he was torn between his duty to the broodmother and his duty to Mira. The words of the pirate returned and taunted him again. No, he would not be rendered useless again. He would not fail either duty. He cursed loudly and spun on his heel... toward the broodmother. He would see this thing dead, and then he would find Mira. The pirate could go to hell.

"I'll see that monster dead! We kill it, then we find the girl! Now," Emil outright ordered. Hopefully, what darkspawn would go for them instead of the lone Mira. Their proximity to the broodmother would hopefully drawn their attentions away from the lone warden and try to instead protect the thing. He fired off an arrow at the broodmother to better cover his approach. He'd aid Rhapscallion and Ethne instead of just firing at a distance. They needed to slay it quickly. Toward this end, he nocked a fat shafted shattering arrow and fired it off in the direction of the creature's face. The fat shaft slowed the arrow's approach though, and it was child's play for the creature to swat it. Luckily, it was close enough to the intended target that the shockwave sent wooden splinters into the tentacle and the creature's face, stunning it for a time, openning ample opportunity for either mage or rogue to attack.

Perhaps if Ethne had been a little less focused on what was going on around her, she would have tried to tell Emil that he didn't need to inform them of that much-- it was not as though she'd been picking daisies for the last however many minutes, much as she would have preferred it, honestly. Daisies were nice, and you could make chains out of them to wear. As it was, her reflex was instead to straighten at the spine and obey, because if there was one thing a Tevinter magister always knew how to do well, it was to break a person's spirit until obedience was the most natural thing in the world. A few months outside that environment was far from enough to make her independent, and she hadn't had the worst of it.

Pivoting on her right foot, she launched a heavy stonefist at the broodmother, driving the shattered remnants of Emil's arrow further into the creature's face, producing an awful howl. Chances were good that if they really wanted to kill it, they'd have to go the way of Mira and get up close and personal, though preferably with more caution, and of them, Scally was the best suited for that. So she joined the Templar in providing distraction and covering fire, believing that her friend would be able to find a way to end it if he had the opportunity. This one was already somewhat weakened from a long exchange with her magic, and she gave it yet more, lighting the flames at her fingertips. "Scally, you can follow this! The smoke will obscure you!" So saying, she flung the flaming projectile, aiming for the broodmother's base, where it would fling up dust and stone debris as well as burning the creature. She knew he could enter stealth on his own, but this way, he wouldn't have to spend the effort, and she and Emil could both reposition themselves as well.

Whatever Mirabelle had thrown at the broodmother had made it considerably more angry at him if the swinging tentacles, whipping appendages and enraged, wriggling fingers were anything to go by, which Rhapscallion attempted to dodge and skip away from. He thanked the Maker (whether or not this was genuine was always under debate) that the broodmother wasn't made of grotesque blades and jagged needles. He sidestepped the initial swipe, then barely tucked into a neat shoulder-roll to avoid another. His blades sang in unison, however unrelated and seemingly unbalanced they were, and met with those tentacles as cleanly as he could manage, snipping his own spirals and splices down it's snapping projections before he span away, trying to draw it's attention further from Mirabelle. If she could sink her blades into it's head, or into some sort of chink in it's slimy armor then they could all finish this ugly business and begin the healing process.

His thoughts, however, had taken another turn when he spotted Mirabelle tumbling away from the enraged mass, falling into one of those dark, sucking holes in the wall. His initial reaction was to throw himself forward, and try to snatch one of her hands – even though it would've been impossible given the distance between them, so he bit back a sound that might've reverberated her name and was rattled back by Emil's voice, ringing loud and true. He was right. They needed to finish this themselves with clear minds and find Mirabelle afterwards. Wasn't that the right thing to do? It didn't stop it from being a hard decision to make, and an even more difficult one to follow. Rhapscallion weaved harder to his right, slicing through flesh as he went and knocking bows aside with his shamshir, before following up with another intricate series of slashes. Arrows hissed overhead, sinking through eye sockets and roaring jowls. There were no comforting winds to whistle through his hair in these Deep Roads, and there certainly wasn't anything noble about sloshing through breathing corridors to find monstrosities such as this in existence. He only had his companions, and a duty he could not ignore.

They were all shredded raw, torn between those truths. Grey Warden or not – they all had a duty to finish things as neatly, as cleanly as they could before moving on to their next targets, even if it meant folding their own lives, and offering it forward. Hopefully, it would never come to that. From his peripherals, Rhapscallion spotted Ethne's stonefist colliding with the broodmother's yowling face, transforming its screeching into something else entirely. His head snapped to the side, following Ethne's flames, sizzling into the ground and throwing up its own shelter of dust. He didn't need to be told twice. Rhapscallion's feet had already gathered underneath him, springing forward at the brief wink of firelight sizzling at the magelet's fingertips. He utilized the cover as best he could, flitting from view every few seconds until he was directly beneath the broodmother's base – its bellies, whatever it was, then jumped. The creature might've felt his feet scramble for purchase across its chest, but it certainly wouldn't have seen him coming. He'd abandoned his dagger in it's shoulder, anchored his foot against its shoulder, its clavicle and swung his shamshir, two-handed, as it's neck, in the effort of lopping it off.

Emil spun on his foot, bringing him about face and staring down behind them. He felt he could leave the broodmother to the mage and half-breed, so that left him to deal with the 'Spawn creeping up from behind. Mid-spin, he had had knocked an arrow and when the spin drew to a stop, the arrow flew forth and struck a Darkspawn in the chest, collapsing a lung from what the trained Templar could tell. He hunkered his shoulders, widened his stance, and prepared himself. He would not be moved by these cretins. He drew another arrow, and pinned the next genlock to the ground before ending it with a precise shot to the heart. It collapsed in on itself. The mention of smoke and the sound of the ground igniting behind him was heard, though it was not enough to make the Templar turn and behold the ruckus. He had faith, he had to believe they wouldn't screw it up. Everyone had a duty, and if one was lax, then the whole boat would sink.

Another horrible sound, a death gurgle was heard, but he brushed it off as another genlock had forsaken the losing battle with their trio and instead insisted on finding the Warden who got sent flying through one of the many holes that littered the room. He managed to take a singular step towards it before an arrow to the back of the head stopped it in it's tracks. Finally winning himself some time, Emil tossed his gaze back to the broodmother just in time to see the death throes of the broodmother. Unfortunately, it's death throes included a wild swing with one of it's tentacles. Emil had just enough time to drop his bow and drop his sword before the fat appendage struck him.

He did not fall though, he would not be sent flying, he would not be thrown, he would stand his ground. Had the broodmother been at top strength, he would have been crushed, but with it's tainted lifeblood steadily seeping from the wound on it's neck, it did not have it's normal crushing power. Lucky for him. He grabbed on to the tentacle as it pushed him a number of feet through the ground. He felt his armor dent and warp under the blood and even a couple of ribs snapping off. He lifted his sword and cut the appendage off, halting it's forward momentum and throwing both him and the lopped tentacle to the ground. He lay for moments, trying his best to catch his raspy breath. If he didn't know better, he believed one of his ribs were tickling his lungs. Intimately.

He did not stay down for long. He was a Templar. He still had a duty to see through. He wouldn't let something as trivial as these injuries stop him from doing it. He brought himself to his feet slowly, so as to not irritate the injury any more than he had to. It was slow, but he managed to his feet. His hand wrapped around his midsection as if to keep himself together. But he would not fall, not just yet. He was made of stronger stuff than that. He lurched his way to his bow, which he picked up and slung it around himself. Without speaking to any of the others, he began to trudge toward the hole in which Mira fell down.

Rhapscallion's shamshir parted flesh like water, and though it caught jarringly on the bones of the broodmother's neck, it was strong enough to cleave through with effort. Ethne did not linger to watch the creature die, merely breathed a sigh of relief, shoulders slumping before she realized that Mira was still missing. Biting her lip, she trailed after the Templar, waging an internal fight with herself over whether or not to heal him. He seemed disdainful of magic at best, and likely wouldn't much appreciate it. Yet, surely he was practical enough to understand when it was necessary? Surely.

Nodding to herself, she enveloped the entire group of them in positive energy drawn from the Fade, closing their wounds and mending flesh and bone where they'd broken. She was, after all, a spirit healer for a reason.

The three approached the chasm in the wall, she herself feeling some trepidation that she swallowed. Mira had fallen into that, and it looked like the only way they'd be finding her would be to follow her. There was a chance she was injured down there, maybe having run into more Darkspawn, and so there was no way she wasn't going. Her boots squelched unpleasantly on the ground, but she ignored the visceral discomfort of this place. For all it was awful for her, it must be thousands of times worse for Mira. These... creatures... they had been her friends, once, her family. Ethne wasn't exactly sure she understood what that was like, but even imagining something like this happening to anyone else in the group was enough to turn her stomach, so perhaps it was yet worse than that.

Not for the first time, she found herself wishing that the mind was as easy to repair as the body.

"Mira?" she called worriedly, approaching the yawning hole in the wall alongside Emilio. She wasn't sure if she was expecting a response or not, but there was none. Well, all right then. Down they'd have to go. She glanced over at the two men. "Should one of us stay up here, just in case?" She honestly didn't know what the best thing to do would be, but she knew she was going down, and if they wanted to do so as well, she certainly wasn't going to stop them. "I'm going," Emil stated firmly.





Mira did not how far she fell, but it couldn’t have been far, because it was all too quickly the feeling of weightlessness was replaced with stabbing pain, and she was rolling again, and there was light, dim and surrounding the world in crimson, but light nonetheless. She was spat out onto wet ground, rolling over sideways several times and crying out before she stopped. Everything was a dark red color, but her vision was blurry and she couldn’t seem to focus. For a moment, she was content to simply lay there, face down in something, and try to relax, though each breath brought new stabs of pain and new spots to her vision.

The sounds of the fighting not far above her stirred her, and she realized she must have been directly below them. With shaking arms she managed to push herself up, get one foot beneath her weight, get herself upright on one knee, and look around. The ceiling was covered with some kind of fleshy growth, possibly the underbellies of the broodmothers or something. The walls were a slightly glowing crimson, damp and stringy, the floors a more solid surface, but still squishy beneath her, a layer of dark red liquid covering the deeper areas. She did not want to acknowledge what that was, but was forced to when she looked closer. There were… pieces, left around the perimeter of the room, which appeared to have only one exit, a dark doorway that she had no desire to follow, even despite her current surroundings. Her knee was dangerously close to a severed human hand, and she shuddered, pushing slightly away from it, only to realize that the remains were everywhere. Perhaps she’d been tossed onto some ogre’s dinner table, to be eaten at its leisure.

That was one possibility, but the thought of being eaten was wiped away when she heard a groan perhaps ten feet to her right, near the back of the room, the darkest corner. Her hand went to her kris knife, somehow making the trip down her with her without stabbing its owner. She twisted towards the sound, trying her best to put the pain aside and focus, trying her best to keep her vision clear even as she wobbled dangerously from dizziness. There was… something, a human shape, but she needed to get closer. She pushed to her feet with a grunt of effort, stumbling through blood and muck a few steps closer, before her heart nearly leaped into her throat.

It was… her. But it wasn’t. There were things that she remembered about Selena, and none of them were present. Her thick, luscious, flowing black hair was thin and fine, a greasy mess pushed back from her gaunt face. Her eyes had a hollow look to them, like she wasn’t really seeing anything. Where was that piercing gaze? It had cut through her when she was a little girl, stealing from the others for the first time, and being reprimanded for it. Where were the softer eyes? The ones that had met Mira’s when she’d explained exactly how a girl like her could be a part of a family like theirs. They were… empty and gray. Dead. But the woman wasn’t dead. No, her chest rose and fell with shallow breaths, like she didn’t want to take them but they came anyway, unbidden and unwelcome.

Selena wasn’t looking directly at Mira, and so she found herself moving sideways until she was, though it wasn’t exact. Her teacher was in a slumped, kneeling position, and was now staring more at Mira’s belly than anything, so Mira closed the rest of the distance with slow caution, sinking down to her own knees, not caring if they were sitting in the remains of others. She let the knife fall into a small pool, suddenly disgusted that she’d been ready to strike the woman who had been her mother figure. Her hand reached out to touch the side of her face, and she tensed when all she felt was cold, tired skin.

“L-… Lena?” she said, her voice not working at first. “It’s me… Mirabelle. I… I came looking for you.” This was all wrong. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. She and the others were supposed to be behind simple bars somewhere, tired but still beautiful, and Mira was supposed to be overwhelmed with their dazzling smiles and hugs when she had her big strong friends rip off the doors and set them free. She managed something of a sad smile. “You didn’t think I’d let these assholes have you, did you? We’re too good for them and you know it.”

She wasn’t responding or… doing anything; she was just staring blankly over Mira’s shoulder, the same place she’d been looking the whole time. Mira felt herself sink lower, her hand fall to Selena’s shoulder, her gaze fall towards the ground. She shook her lightly. “You’ve got to get up. We have to go, we have to get out of here.” Nothing, not a budge, not any sign that she understood who was in front of her. Mira shook her head. “No. No, you are not staying here. You said you’d teach me everything you know, and there are still some secrets up in that head of yours. I don’t care if it’s some new poison, or life advice, or just a ridiculous position you’ve been keeping from me, but I am not done with you yet.”

Mira had long since been crying, but Selena’s lack of any response was making her angry. It couldn’t end like this. She wouldn’t let it. She slapped her, hard. Selena’s head whipped to the side, and she groaned again. She simply looked away from a moment, but then her head slowly turned back towards Mira. Her heart beat significantly faster for a moment as she thought she might have gotten through to her. And then at last their eyes locked, and Selena saw her. It was the most terrifying thing Mira had ever witnessed.

It was hunger, and suddenly she understood. She did not want to comprehend, but she had at least understood what had happened here. It didn’t change the fact that Selena had immediately changed from non-responsive to clearly wanting to eat her. She lunged, surprising strength in her hands grasping around Mira’s upper arms as sharpened teeth sank into the base of her neck and shoulder, and the world turned red. Everything was madness and blood, her vision covered with it as she fell back, slamming painfully to the ground on her cracked ribs, her right hand reaching desperately for the kris knife while her left struggled to no avail to remove the monster that her teacher had become. It saved her, in a roundabout way, when Selena removed her hands to scratch and slice at her, nails like knives cutting into her abdomen and sides while her teeth sank deeper. With her left hand she managed to push Selena up off of her, the teeth tearing as they went, adding more blood to the pools that already were. Her right groped into the bloody pond, fingers closing around the blade’s hilt.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to end. She brought the blade up in a sideways stab, right through the throat, spilling darkened blood over herself and gaining the upper hand over the woman she loved most in the world. With her free left hand she pushed her off, sending Selena onto her back on the wet ground beside her. With one last cry, she twisted sideways and stabbed down, the blade punching easily into her skull, and finishing it.

She felt dead. She wondered if she would be dead soon. It was entirely possible. She pulled herself back to her knees, dripping blood down to the floor, with no way to know how much of it was hers. She tenderly touched the gaping bite wound where the shoulder met the neck, saw deep gashes in her stomach and sides, bleeding freely. The pain from her ribs was still making her dizzy, and an arrowhead was still lodged somewhere in her back.

Mira didn’t know why she thought that she’d be able to stand up, only that she did. She wanted to. She wanted to leave this place, to leave everything. To find out that it was still Morpheus, giving her the real nightmare now that she'd had her bliss. But she didn’t make it far, dizziness and blood loss overcoming her but a few steps away from Selena, leaving her slumped on her side with eyes peacefully closed, her kris knife still clutched weakly in her hand, coated with the blood of her home.




It was only with sweat beading on her brow, running in smal rivulets down the flesh of her back, that Solvej finally reached the emissary. Drunk on his power trip as he was, shooting magic with impunity from the top of the rise, he didn't notice her until it was almost too late, turning suddenly and attepting to rip into her with a spirit bolt. Her natural resistance to magic allowed her to shrug it off for the most part, and any pain it caused her only led to more tightly-gritted teeth as she swung. The poleax caught him in the side near his hip, tearing into his reddish robes, but the flesh damage was sparing as he moved away as quickly as he was able, hurling a stonefist.

That caught her full in the chest, and though it did not dent her armor as Morpheus had, she was forced to double over and catch her breath, an effort that allowed the emissary the opportunity to teleport away, reappearing some distance from her, though thankfully not within range of too many of the other 'Spawn, which were by now congealing into a group around her comrades, attempting to surround the whole lot. Given the back-to-back arrangement of the dwarf and the pirate and the shapeshifter's proximity to them, she wasn't too worried. They'd be able to support each other. The elf, she didn't see, but there was no time to be concerned about that. With dogged persistance, she bounded down the hillock after the emissary, readying her weapon to strike more truly this time, the bluish glow a testament to the Holy Smite that would surely follow.

She lunged to the side, able to avoid the gout of flames lobbed at her, and in that, she knew she had him on the defensive, his magic aimed solely for her, who could endure it most easily. But she grew tired of this pointless chase, and would indulge this creature's will to live no longer. Her poleax whistled through the air with the force of her swing, cleaving with precision into the emissary's neck, then all the way though, liberating his head from his body in a single sweep. The electricity that had been building in his decayed fingertips discharged, shocking her painfully, and she hissed, but remained standing until it faded out, at which point she turned back, this time to find a way through the gathering crowd of festering bodies and back to the others.

She hoped the four that had left would be back soon; there was no telling how much longer they could do this, especially not without a proper healer.

After seeing the Black Templar safely to the crest of the fort, Andaer had turned back, even now working his way to the small cluster of allies that remained on this level of the fortification. As he cut down the last hurlock in his way, revealing the sailor and the berserker, with the Chasind a little further off, he surmounted the growing pile of bodies without even so much as a grimace of distaste, landing in such a position as to form the third point in a triangle with the other two. The carnage through which he'd waded (and the body count was perhaps much higher than most tended to expect of someone like him, not that he noted it) had left him with only one visible injury, and that a shallow cut to his face, following the line of his right cheekbone. The fact that his blade glowed a cherry-red with channelled heat might provide something of an explanation for this, as it was much easier to cut with a hot blade.

The slant to his mouth was subtle, but might have been a smile, and he nodded to Rudhale, assuming that Kerin would be too otherwise occupied to bother much with such niceties. Shoring up his position beside them, he rolled his shoulders and settled into a lowered stance, body tilted sideways to present a smaller target. These days, the sword was almost as familiar in his hands as magic, though it had not always been so by any means.

"Ah," Rudhale exhaled upon noting the new presence in their midst. "Welcome to the eye of the storm, my friend." Not that talking had ever precluded him from doing anything else; multitasking was one of his many laudable talents, and he flipped one of his blades smoothly, stabbing up and backwards with it, effectively catching a genlock in the throat before it could complete the downward swing of a blow meant to surprise Kerin from stealth. There was an unmistakable twinkle in his eye and a half-wild grin on his face, even as he dipped his head to the Dalish man and went right back to the carnage. A bloodbath, impossible odds, and an excellent lot of compatriots to face them down with? This, this was home, and he loved every neck-risking second of it. One wasn't truly alive until one was a hairsbreadth from being dead.

Perhaps despite everything, the ranks of the Darkspawn were thinning, and growing ever more disorganized with the death of the Emissary, who'd been their commander. Now, as each second passed, they were less the deadly forces of discipline and ruthlessness, less the inexorable crashing of storm-waves on a tiny fishing vessel and more a steadily-drying, chaotic stream, attempting with increasing futility to dislodge a boulder from its midst. And more like a stone they grew, too, as they formed together, placing their backs to the backs of their comrades, a bristling ball of blades and blunt force and crackling magic facing in all directions. All that really remained was for the unfortunate dregs of this troop to dash themselves upon the stone, ferrying themselves to their own deaths, now so much more certain than they'd been at the beginning.

Tides, Rudhale knew well, could always turn.

Suicide had saved enough mana for a chain lightning spell, and sent it hurtling into the ranks of darkspawn trying to clamber towards them, letting it ricochet between them, killing some outright and stunning others for an easy kill by his companions. The Tempest had worn itself out at this point, and their enemies surged in its absence, pressing forward against the defenders, dwindling in energy as they were. Suicide contemplated their best choice of action. It would not do to fight here indefinitely, as they could not hold. If they could find a suitable avenue, displacement might be the best route, falling back and trying to delay them as they went. Running was less difficult than fighting, and though Suicide was loathe to run from any enemy, he did not feel that this was the place to die. Not yet.

The option of shifting positions was beginning to look more ideal, however, as the darkspawn had brought forth a corrupted bronto, rearing its head and stomping its feet, preparing to charge through their ranks and obliterate the little wall they had created for themselves.

Solvej, positioned not yet back in the thick of things as she was, found herself studying the flow of battle with a discerning eye. Though it would doubtless look like more of the same down below where the others were positioned, from where she was, she could see more Darkspawn arriving to reinforce the rest, the corrupted bronto a particularly-large contribution to their troubles. The landscape provided little in the way of opportunity for a terrain advantage, but off some distance to Rudhale and Kerin's side, Andaer's back, there was a narrow passage that seemed from this angle to lead out the other side of the fortress. It would allow two or three to stand abreast at most, which would filter the 'Spawn and allow the group to form a two-line defense, which could slowly progress backwards, creating more obscacles for incoming Darkspawn as the bodies were left behind.

It wasn't much of a plan, but it was all she had, and, with a deep breath, the Warden pushed aside the pain of her abdominal wound and charged on ahead, scything through a line of tainted backs as she bullied her way through to the others. "Your left!" she shouted at Rudhale, aware that the pirate was probably more likely to listen to her than Kerin was. The others could figure it out. "Get into the corridor and make a chokepoint! Take her with you!" The pointed end of the poleax met the spine of another hurlock, preventing her from pointing, but she trusted that at the very least, he was smart enough to figure out what she meant. "I can hear, Warden! I'm right here!" Kerin spat, taking a heavy blow to the armor on her shoulder but paying it back tenfold. Rudhale just laughed, having expected something like that. This Kerin was not the Kerin of Morpheus's battle, and he was perhaps more aware of the difference than the others had any reason to be.

Andaer glanced in the direction the Warden had indicated, spotting what he was looking for immediately, though perhaps he might not have if he hadn't been watching for it. A smallish, darkened archway led who-knew-where, but at this point, he'd take just about anything that wasn't open-field combat with what seemed to be half the horde. Obligingly, he turned his sword in that direction, and his efforts to slicing through what opponents blocked passage to it.

No, no, no, the pirate wouldn't take her anywhere. She was going to be the one who took the pirate, not the other way around. She was in control, not anyone else. Besides, the stringy pirate might could dance around the 'Spawn pretty enough and flow with the tides daintily enough... but she could part the waves. She turned to where Solvej had indicated, and after a couple of attempt to discern what she meant (to the left of the pirate was terribly vague afterall) she found the niche. Kerin liked the idea instantly, as the words killing field danced on her tongue. The thumps in her head heightened as she took the first couple of steps toward the niche. As much as she wanted to challenge the corrupted Bronto, it'd be foolhardy to try it while so many Darkspawn still skittered about.

She started her march with a scything blow, charging ahead of the group and lopping some legs off as she went. She was not a sailor, she hated the water. She wouldn't flow around anything, she never bent, she was not some tree that danced in the wind. She was raw, unbridled. When she Broke, the shards cut everything around her. She would break these waves with sheer force if need be, and she would emerge on the other side, not unharmed, but victorious.

Though first she'd have to reach the other side, and that niche, else she'd be nothing but an ornament for the horn on the Bronto's face. She brought her blade up for the first of many who would attempt to halt her deluge. The hurlock lifted his own twisted blade to stop the imminent blow. No warped blade would stop her shattering blow, and her own greatsword cleaved through the metal like paper and only stopped when her blade hit the sternum via head and neck of the creature. She surged forward, tossing the lifeless body from her blade and into some of his compatriots. They'd meet the same fate soon enough.

Her path took her through the Darkspawn and to the niche, where she happily spun on her heel and awaited the killing field to come. The throbbing in her head screamed for more blood, and she would not disappoint.

The pirate happily took up a position alongside the elf and dwarf, rather inordinately pleased with the symmetry of that. Between the three of them, it was, with time, possible to carve a wide swath into the lines of the Darkspawn, one that Solvej and Suicide would hopefully be able to follow without too much extra trouble. His companions were impressive, that was for sure, though in entirely different ways: Kerin was a blunt-force object of pure destruction, whereas Andaer slipped and flowed like water, cutting sharply and precisely. He liked to think he was a bit more like an ocean breeze, himself, never in the same place twice and sharpened to a razor-point when he needed to be, but otherwise content to buffet anything and everything around.

Ah, the glory of metaphor.

With paces stalwart, smooth, and quick in equal measure, the group at last advanced to the entrance, and the pirate promptly turned an about-face, cracking his neck once to each side. Given the width they were working with, it seemed best for himself and Solvej to flank Kerin on the front line, leaving her enough room for broad swings if she needed them, and let Andaer and Suicide work magic from behind. He was still quite convinced that the elf was a mage, and this would prove a most convenient opportunity to test that hypothesis. Given that he was useless at range himself, there was nowhere for him to stand but in front, though he supposed that if the Chasind man wanted to come to this party as a bear, Solvej's reach would allow her to work from one level back, as well.

"Did someone call for a slaughter? Because I do believe it's arrived." "Where have you been?" Kerin remarked, nodding towards the carnage left in their wake. Rudhale scoffed. "Warmups, my dear. Appetizers. Now we feast on the repast of glory and, well... gore." He waved a hand (covered in blood and spume, no less) in a light gesture of dismissal. "Fair enough. Was beginning to get peckish anyway," She replied, a grim smile playing at her bloodstained cheeks.

"Always preferred a woman with a good appetite," he quipped, lunging to impale the first genlock that got too close. There was the requisite squelching, of course, and then he kicked the thing of the kilij and stepped back into the line, flicking the weapon to spatter the stone wall with an arc of blood, as though it were the most everyday occurrence in the world. To be fair, for them, it essentially was, a fact that had yet to bother him in the slightest. Not the one to be outdone, Kerin had a response to this as well, "Don't bite off more than you can chew, Pirate." The resulting chuckle was drowned out by drum beats and the scrapping of steel against iron and flesh as she cleaved a hurlock through the midsection. The only reason the blade stopped from cutting clean through were the thick bones of its spine. The momentum and force of the blade tossed the body free and into the wall next to them. They'd paint these walls before they were done.

His answering laughter was genuinely delighted, a rather out-of-place sound considering their surroundings, but then maybe that was just to other people. He'd never found happiness to be out of reach anywhere, least of all in the kinds of places where adrenaline thrummed through you like music played in the strings of your heart and the echoing surfaces of your bones, filling your lungs and blood vessels with staccato tempos just perfect for dancing to. Was he crazy? Maybe, but he wanted to be no other way. "But that's half the fun, my dear! You never know what your limits are until you go looking." It was no longer apparent whether he was talking about this battle, life in general, or something else entirely, but then, that was the way he preferred it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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Emil's Song

Ethne's feet hit the ground of the lower floor with a wet squelch, and she grimaced, resisiting the urge to blanch. Quickly vacating the spot so that the other two could follow her down without landing on her, she picked her way further forward, allowing her eyes to adjust to the gloom. It was a little darker down here than up above, and she lit a few flames over one palm to provide further illumination. Her eyes fell first upon the mangled, nearly-emaciated corpse of what was surely once a human woman, but she scarcely had time to notice, because in close proximity lay Mira, apparently unmoving and possibly unconscious. That she could be dead was not something Ethne would allow herself to consider.

"Deos miserere." Abandoning the thought of waiting for Scally and Emilio, she sprinted forward, dropping to her knees in the muck beside the Orlesian woman, checking her pulse with two fingers. The elf winced when she had to maneuver past a nasty-looking wound at the juncture of neck and shoulder to do so, but surely enough, Mira was still alive, just out cold. Given her injuries, that might actually be for the best; there was no way that wasn't causing tremendous pain. Closing her fist and extinguishing the flame, Ethne released her gentle handhold on Vitality in the Fade and called Mercy and Hope to herself instead. There was much work to be done, and it needed to happen soon.

She hadn't forgotten that their friends still fought off Darkspawn not too far outside, and the time to leave was surely approaching. But rushing would only make the process harder, and she tried to relax, opening up that empty place inside herself for the spirits to fill with their magic, directing it through herself and out via the tips of her fingers. These, she traced gently over the air about an inch from Mira's wounds, sitting back on her knees and bending her torso forward so as to be able to see what she was doing. Extra light was no longer necessary; she could view everything with crystalline clarity through the luminosity she was emitting as a side-effect.

The process wasn't an easy one; the Warden's injuries were far from trivial. The one at the neck was especially troublesome; healing it first involved pushing out the corruption, then actually knitting the flesh back together as smoothly as she could. Even then, it would probably scar somewhat, in white lines over Mira's complexion. There wasn't much she could do about that. Five or some minutes after she'd started, Ethne was rather drained, but the necessary work was done, and she straightened slowly, as if cramped somehow, standing a bit shakily. "Can you carry her, please?" she asked of Emil. "I'm not sure waking her is the best idea right now; she needs rest more than anything else I could do, and there's no telling how disoriented she'd be if I forced it. We need to get out of here."

Emil's own descent ending with wet squelch as Ethne's, though he fell a bit harder than she had. A combination of his extra weight and the magically repairing organs had him acting more sluggish than normal, else he wouldn't have allowed the mage in ahead of him. Not for any sense of duty or anything mind, but mere pride. He wasn't so stubborn as to not realize that it was not the time nor place for it, and let it pass without word. He had bigger things to worry about than his foolish pride after all, such as where Mira had gotten off to. The fact that there wasn't a corpse where he had fallen told him that she was still alive and mobile. A nugget of good news if there was one.

Of course, Mira wasn't too far from it. Emil hauled himself to his feet and quickly approached the mage and the Warden, leaving room for the jellyfish to make his own descent. Emil knelt by the fallen Warden and the attending nursemage. The wound of her neck worried him, though he'd never admit it. His eyes did linger on the wound longer than those of man's who didn't care, however, and he tried to to discreetly check her over for any other wounds she had. The injury looked like a bite mark, if he didn't know better, though there wasn't any other creature around... Aside from the corpse. A woman, by the looks, her mouth full of crimson. He looked from this woman to Mira and back again.

Pity nearly overwhelmed him. The gaunt and hallow face still had traces of what beauty it once possessed. Somehow, Emil knew Mira had found her friends, and he knew she didn't like what she had found. He could only imagine what she was going through as she slipped out of consiousness. As Ethne's magelight extinguished, Emil's eyes still held a watchful gaze over the girl, his hand finding hers in the darkness. He could smell the mage working her healing magics on the girl, and for once the Templar dared not object. So much for the stalwart knight. He waited for Ethne to finish her magics patiently. The Templar thought about uttering a prayer to the Maker, but he couldn't seem to find the words for it. It didn't seem right. Besides, Mira wouldn't approve.

The man instead thought of something else. An old seafaring song, an ancient memory from his past. A homecoming song of sorts, sang during the hard times where his ship was heading back to Rivian after a terrible outing at sea. His voice was a low baritone, with a surprisingly soft underlining to his normally harsh and forward tone. And he sang:


"I have travelled the world around
Wandered far from home
Sailed the ocean in foreign skies
Still further to go
Back into my babies arms
From this world of woe
That was such a long long time ago"



As the song drifted to a close, so did Ethne's healing. At her insistence, Emil obediently lifted Mira in her hands and stood. "Agreed, Maker take it," he replied. The tightness in his ribs protested, but he didn't have time to entertain pain. They needed to get out of there, and they needed to get out fast. "You take the lead, I'll follow close behind," He said, jerking his head in a direction. Whether or not it was the right one remained to be seen. Besides, they'd need the magelight if they were to escape without tripping over something.

As much as Rhapscallion wanted to heed the notion of staying behind and not stepping into the fleshy hole that Mirabelle had tumbled down into, it wasn't as if he could stay behind while something terrible happened below – plus, it was terrifying to remain in a room that breathed, that was filled with decaying flesh and a slumped, grotesque corpse that belonged to the broodmothers. He did not want to stay behind, so he could follow along. He was last down the disgusting tunnel, careful to tuck his hands under his armpits to avoid touching whatever thing they were slipping and sliding down. Once his feet touched down onto the ground, or whatever it was that they were walking on, Rhapscallion hopped back, as if to find more solid purchase, and only managing sinking deeper into the squelching floors. A small sound escaped his throat; half-whimper, half grunt. He could not find any words, and he hadn't any need to, for Emil stepped forward, and in all of his cantankerous dispositions, sang a beautiful song that seemed to fill the room with once-absent warmth. It tingled across his skin, fluttered down his back. When Emil scooped Mirabelle up in his arms, Rhapscallion mutely nodded and muttered something about taking the rear so no one could sneak up on them.

With a little searching and some climbing, the three of them managed to find their way back to the level they'd originally come in on, Mira carefully settled with the Templar. Ethne led the way, the natural glow from her spellcraft serving to light the path before them, and as promised, Rhapscallion took up a rear guard. The ground squelched beneath their feet for most of the way, and she tried not to think too much about what that might properly be. Eventually, it solidified once more, and she could recognize their surroundings From there, it was really just a matter of retracing their steps.

Unfortunately, they emerged only to find that a knot of Darkspawn had congealed around the area, and they were hardly in a position to do much about that. Gritting her teeth, Ethne drew upon the last of her strength and let loose, punching thtough the line with an undirected blast of raw Fade. Anything else would take too long or be too weak, and they just didn't have the resources left to manage. Though she swayed on her feet, the elf immediately kicked herself into the fastest jog she could, gesturing for the others to follow. "We must move quickly! To the horses!"




Suicide didn't tire easily, but the fight was beginning to wear on him. Keeping up a magical and physical storm of attacks was taking its toll, but the shapeshifter hacked his way forward nonetheless, mace end of his staff crushing through a genlock's skull. A plan had been made to move into a corridor, use it form a better killing field, perhaps give their arms and legs a relative respite. It was the best that could be done, he supposed. He dugs his heels in and pushed towards the corner, nearly reaching the little wall of bodies when the bronto arrived.

The bodies were sent flying in a number of directions, but the bronto went right for Suicide. The shapeshifter managed to avoid the horn, but the creature's front shoulder barreled into him, catching him in the chest and sending him tumbling off to the side, crashing rather violently into a darkspawn tent, which crumbled around him. His staff clattered down next to him, but Suicide only had enough time to get to his feet before the bronto was at him again. The horn he managed to catch and divert with powerful hands, the beast's snout pushing him back into a wall even as his palms lit with frost, freezing a good portion of the bronto's face. For the moment, he was pinned into a corner by the bronto, and completey cut off from the others holding their own in the alley, save for Solvej.

Solvej was faced with a choice. The path the others had cut into the Darkspawn lines wasn't going to last forever, and frankly, she and the three already there would have a better chance at surviving if she joined them. She'd gone into this mission expecting to lose people; that was just the reality of situations like this one. Malik, wise as she'd always found him, had taken great care to warn her of this, because he well knew how much she hated it. It was a warning she'd promised him she'd heed, actually, but maybe not just yet. Or maybe she would heed it, but just wouldn't let it change her, who knew? She wasn't one for philosophy, really. Even trying to decide if the Darkspawn were people was difficult and annoying enough.

Letting the opening fall closed, she diverted her course to where the shapeshifter was pinned by the bronto, trusting that the other three could make ample use of their space advantage and survive. The injury in her side protested the motion, but she drew her poleax up all the same, swinging it downward with all the force she could muster and onto the bronto's neck region. The sharpened blade met nearly-plated skin, and didn't leave much more than a shallow cut, a small stream of blood welling from it and slithering downwards to drip to the floor. The former Templar gritted her teeth; that would have been more effective if she'd been able to put her back into it, so to speak.

Still, it seemed to have done the job it was intended to do, drawing some of the beast's aggression towards her. "That's right, you sodding Blighter," she muttered, "come and get me." Backing off several strides, she tried to kite it away from Suicide, preferably so he could do more damage than she'd managed. As for her, well... she'd do what she did best: survive.

Solvej's diversion gave Suicide the time he needed to get a grip on his staff again; it wouldn't do to be barehanded if and when a darkspawn came flanking him. No sooner had he thought it than a hurlock charged him, forcing him to sidestep and deflect before bringing the blade end of his staff into a high horizontal swipe, slicing the throat open. By that time, the bronto had turned and was preparing to charge Solvej.

As it did so, Suicide unleashed the thickest cone of cold he could summon, hitting it from the rear, thick clusters of ice forming around the legs, and hopefully slowing it down enough for Solvej to dodge it. As it went he conjured a powerful bolt of lightning, hoping the electricity would pierce its armor better than a blade. As it left his fingers a darkspawn arrow thudded into his upper chest, which he was quick to pull out with naught but a grimace.

It was official: a charging, corrupted bronto was an excellent way to make your day worse. As if she didn't have plenty of practice with that already. Its feet pounded a steady rhythm on the uneven stone and dirt of the ground beneath them, and Solvej counted the breaths before the inevitable collision, aware that it was going to hurt. Admittedly, she hadn't expected Dekton to slow it down. Maybe that was an underestimation, maybe she was just too busy trying to stay alive to consider all of the options. Either way, she was grateful, and at the irregular hitch in the creature's pace, she saw opportunity. Waiting with stonefaced patience, she watched it mostly recover and resume the charge, every muscle in her body tense and coiled like a spring, charged with electricity for good measure.

Not as literally as the bronto was, apparently, and though she felt the arrow go whizzing by her ear, she didn't have the time to call a warning or try to bat it from the air. She needed to move, now. With timing equal parts well-planned and straightforwardly fortuitious, she sidestepped, though considering the corrupted creature's size, it was more like she leaped as far as she could, turning her momentum into a low horizontal sweep back in the opposite direction. This time, she hit its left front kneecap, the force of the impact and the bronto's continued forward motion jarring her arms all the way to her shoulders, the socket-joints almost creaking their protestations with uncommon vehemence. She would not deny that she had to bite off a scream, but she swallowed the pained sound, made sharper by the pulling at the abdominal wound, and drew the poleax back.

This blow had done a bit more than the last, probably largely because the bronto had done half the work itself by continuing forward as it had. The kneecap had cracked at the very least, and the creature was now favoring that leg, though as it slowed to turn and reorient itself, she had to admit that it probably wouldn't be slowed that much yet. "How long can you keep this up?" she called over to Suicide. Not that she had any expectations in any direction; she just needed to know how many shots she had before they had to be able to put it down-- permanently. Chances were, they were both running on limited and depleted resources at this point. Her stamina and staying power had certainly been worn down by the sheer longevity of this engagement. Even she couldn't last forever.

Rather than answer, Suicide was in mid charge himself, his spearstaff lowered to waist level, his entire frame down in a predatory posture. As the bronto turned for another charge at Solvej he plunged the blade into its side, making a point of getting low so as to find a more vulnerable underbelly. The blade went about a foot deep, not as far as he might have hoped, but better than he'd feared. It spilled a substantial amount of blood at his feet, but the wound alone did not seem enough to stop the beast, and though it might bleed it dry eventually, there was no doubt that they wouldn't have that kind of time. He withdrew his weapon, taking a step back to pummel a hurlock before casting what ice he could to replace what the bronto had already shaken off.

"Not long," he admitted, acknowledging that Solvej would probably have to dodge this thing yet again before he would have enough restored magic to freeze it further. And the darkspawn were still a pressing threat in the meantime. The group inside needed to return soon. If they hadn't been killed already, that was. Suicide had faith in their abilities, but even the greatest could only handle so many, as they were learning now.

"Then we'll make this quick," the woman replied, voice scratchy with fatigue. This wasn't near the most pain she'd ever been in, but she hadn't been this tired, this bone-weary, in a long time. Still now wasn't the time to succumb to that. Forcing some shape back into her spine, she exhaled gustily, then pulled in a new breath. With it, a little bit of energy returned, but it wasn't going to be much in the long run. They'd have to finish this in the next pass, maybe two. There was just no way she had three left in her.

The bronto was charging again, its slightly-irregular stride listing it just a bit to one side, but any advantage she might have made of that was quickly negated by the fact that a pair of genlocks chose that moment to converge on her position. Spouting an unholy chain of invectives in her native tongue, Solvej ran her poleax into the first one, using the positioning as a brace to deliver a stiff kick to the second's face, smashing in what little excuse for a nose he had. That was enough to get rid of them, but it had cost her precious time, and she was still disengaging when the bronto caught her full in the stomach, one of its horns gouging her thigh. Her yell was too hoarse for much volume, and it cut off pretty abruptly anyway when the charge propelled her into yet another wall.

All things considered, she got away rather lightly from such an impact. Besides the deep and bloody gouge in her leg, punched right through her armor as it was, she'd maybe cracked one rib. The wonders of proper equipment maintenance, she supposed. Fortunately, she was still holding her poleax in one hand, and was in a position to hit back-- sort of. Taking a leaf out of the pirate's book, she drew back and punched the thing in the nose. The effort was kind of sad in her sorry state, but she did managed to back it off enough to wedge her poleax beneath its head and push. Well, more like sag bodily against it, but either way, it worked, and the relatively unprotected flesh there gave way, causing the bronto to back up rapidly, trying to shake the now-stuck implement out of its clavicle region.

With nothing left to support her in place, Solvej staggered, maintaining her feet, if only just, and slowly jogging after it, heavily-favoring her left leg. She wanted that poleax back, dammit.

The bronto had backed up perhaps five steps when it was slammed into from the side by a bear. Rather than freeze it further Suicide had elected to use what mana remained to him to shift one more time. Getting his hind legs under him as best he could, the shapeshifter dug his front claws under the front right leg, and lifted. With a combined roar from the bronto and a growl from the bear they toppled over, the darkspawn beast rolling onto its side, where Suicide then lunged into it. His teeth sank into and ripped out the throat from underneath, one claw pinning the head down while the other swiped at the eye and the face for good measure. Only when he was sure it would move no longer did he stop, panting and dripping with blood.

With his teeth he ripped out Solvej's weapon and deposited it at her feet, quite unaware that he now had several new arrows sticking out of his flank and side, as per usual when he shifted into bear form. Regardless of how well the others were faring, they needed to leave, and now. So when Suicide saw a shift in the darkspawn's movement pattern, angling more towards the mouth of the cave the others had descended into, he had to assume that they had returned. It was likely the only chance they would get to blast their way out and make a run for it. Growling as non-threateningly as he could, Suicide gestured with his snout towards his back, indicating that the Warden should indeed climb on top of him. It would be the most efficient way, certainly.

Stooping awkwardly to retrieve the polearm, Solvej looked back up to see the same thing, eyes narrowing suspiciously. In a way, it was a good sign, because it surely meant that there was something still down there that would draw the ire of the 'Spawn. On the other hand, it made their egress all the more pressing, and she with a half-functional leg at best... she had been about to ask Suicide if he'd mind her using him as a crutch, at least for now, when she caught the growl and followed the motion of his head.

Despite the seriousness of their situation, she still managed a wry half-smile and a chuckle. "Why the hell not? Just don't blame me when I'm heavier than you thought. Armor's a bitch." So saying, she braced both hands on one of his shoulder-blades and more or less pulled herself onto his back, swinging her good leg over with some effort. Seated about as comfortably as she was going to get, she shifted her grip on her axe and eyed the arrows sticking out of him. "I'm leaving those in for now," she informed him blandly. "I don't think you want to be bleeding all over the place." She was, actually, and it wasn't fun. She didn't bother telling him to go; he would certainly do that whenever he felt it appropriate, and she was hardly in a position to decide their strategy at this point. Whatever it was, she rather hoped it involved leaving. With haste.




Meanwhile, things were a little more difficult than anticipated for the group of three who'd made it safely to the passage, as they found themselves two people short and having to stand at the frontlines with no chance of swapping out in the event of fatigue. Of course, the pirate (and probably the berserker), wouldn't have preferred it any other way, but even the endlessly-spirited Rudhale was beginning to feel the effects of fatigue. No longer able to balance speed, power and precision in perfect harmony, he slowed a little in order to ensure that every single hit still counted. Of course, that was not to say that any mere Darkspawn was about to outmanuever him-- perish the thought! His characterization of the events as a slaughter was not far off the mark, though it wasn't quite so unilateral as all that.

He took his first significant injury in an exchange with a few hurlocks, when one scored a lucky (or well-planned, but he was going to go with lucky) hit to his left arm. From a distance, another buried an arrow just below his right pectoral muscle, and it scraped uncomfortably against one of his ribs. The thick leathers he was wearing stopped it before it could puncture a lung or anything so deadly as that, and of course he was not deaf to poetry and ripped it out to shove into the nearest Darkspawn eye with unnecessary flourish, but it was a sign of his flagging stamina even so.

While the pirate may have sustained a couple of blows, the berserker had been bleeding since the beginning. However, as the cuts and bruises accumilated, so did her fatigue allowing the pain to break through to her nervous system. The throbbing in her head wasn't so accute as it once was, now it was a heavy and sluggish thing. She even started to feel the beginning of a migraine coming on, though she'd have to fight through it if they wished to see the end of the day alive. Fortunately, fighting was about all Kerin knew, and stubborn as she was she wasn't going to let the pain slow her down. Unfortunately, sometimes a "fight-the-world" attitude was a sore replacement for fresh energy.

Soon after an arrow struck Rudhale, so did one find it's way to Kerin. Her own arrow found it's might frighteningly close to her neck, and into the armor sitting at her collar bone. She could feel the barbed arrowhead digging a neat hole into her collar. Her hands were too occupied in the slaughter in front of them to break away from the hilt of her sword and rip the arrow free, so she did the next best thing. She ducked her head into she shoulders and grabbed a hold of the shaft with her teeth, and used her mouth the pry the arrow from her armor, she spit it to the side, followed by another spit to dispel what taint might have infected the arrow. She had hoped her ancestoral proximity to the Darkspawn and subsequient resistances were enough to keep her from getting sick.

Instead of playing the fish to the archers barrel, she impaled the next Hurlock on her sword and drew him in close. Dead as it was now, it'd provide a perfect temporary shield. Though they'd need to do something else if they well and truly wanted to survive. "Build another wall?" Kerin suggested rather nonchalantly, considering their plight.

Next to a berserking dwarf and a madman pirate, a moderately-sized elf with a slender blade wasn't much to look at, and fortunately, the Darkspawn appeared to think so, too. Of course, that may also have been the result of the hex of torment he'd cast, which was even now ripping through their bones, causing them illusory pain that was, for all that, just as bad as the real thing. Still, even fresher than the rest, he was hardly in the best shape, and Andaer was steadily accumulating small injuries to his person, mostly cuts and bruises here and there, these steadily dripping small amounts of blood. Of course, the fact that he was injured wasn't a wholly bad thing, for him, and he used the blood to sieze control of a nearby hurlock, forcing the thing to swing its two-handed axe in a broad sweep, taking out a couple of its nearest allies and injuring another.

"I'm not sure we'll have to," he replied to Kerin, eyes fixed on the place from which the others had disappeared. "I think our wayward companions return." It wasn't a moment too soon, as far as he was concerned.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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As the Wardens spoke between themselves, another ear also listened in. Even though she made no move to speak, or to even move at all, she was still listening intently as her eyes gazed upon the fire. She didn't try to comfort the Orlesian Warden, no empty words of well wished from the dwarf, not even the remotest hint of pity. People die, some worse than others. It was a fact of life, one that Kerin had learned the hard way, one learned harder than anyone has the right to. No emotion betrayed her empty face however, as she could have been easily mistaken for a statue so intent on listening she was.

The girl's words irritated her. She was a poor fit for the storied Wardens in Kerin's pale eyes. A mewling kitten who had just had the misfortune of being inducted to save her life. Their purpose was handed to her, while she had to fight for hers. A hint of envy painted her thoughts, and envy gave birth to anger. Why should this girl be a Warden while she was just a Casteless, disowned by her ancestors, by her home, and by the stone? She had the stronger heart, she had the unrelenting will, and yet she still fumbled in the dark without purpose. She was always given the short stick and told that it was her lot to suffer and slave. She did not have an easy life like the girl, she did not have to fight her entire life. Yet she had purpose, while Kerin did not.

She was tired of fighting for no reason. Everyone she had met had a purpose but her. The Legion fought to protect each other, the Wardens fought to protect the world from the blight. The words from the dwarven scouting party came back loud, and with it it brought a steady beat from the drums. She was useless, she was a nobody, she didn't matter. She was lower than the rock at her feet. No longer. She'd be somebody, she'd prove the brand on her face wrong. She'd defy the fate that was laid on her and become something more. No longer would she be Casteless. She stood suddenly, leveling a stare at Solvej, though her words were for everyone to hear. They were slow and measured, but held a sure tone. More sure than she'd ever been in her life. "I want to be a Warden," She demanded. It wasn't a question, but an order. She needed this, like she never needed anything before. She needed to be something other than a Casteless. She needed purpose. It didn't matter if she died trying to get it.

Solvej seemed to take this in stride, with little more than a soft exhalaton to mark her reception of the declaration. She didn't do well with orders, generally, especially when given from no position at all, but that didn't mean she wasn't going to consider it. "You're going to need more than a decision," she pointed out blithely. "Tomorrow, as we travel, take a couple of the others with you and kill some more 'Spawn. You'll need a vial of their blood, and some of the Templar's lyrium. I have a bit if he's too much of an ass to part with it. If you kill anyone else getting the stuff, it won't happen, because we need the warm bodies, and there's a chance this'll kill you. Those are the terms." She went back to eating, as if she heard sudden requests to join the Wardens every damn day. Really, little was further from the truth, but she was bloody tired, and she didn't have the energy to be getting worked up over all this business at the moment.

"Simple." was the singular word. It didn't matter if she had to face the horde alone, for this she would. It didn't matter if it did kill her. A lot of things had tried to kill her, this would be no different. It was no choice at all. The only thing about it was she had to wait til the 'morrow to begin her test. She stood standing for a couple of more moments, still looking as resolute as she had moments ago before she turned to the side and looked out over the Deep Roads, pacified. While the Warden was tired, Kerin's outburst had kindled what little energy she had left. It would be a foul night for sleep.

"Might want to find that help ahead of time," Solvej advised. "I can't go, and some of us are probably sick to death of fighting the Blighters in the Roads. You'll want to make sure you've got enough people that nobody dies." That said, Solvej stood and gathered up any loose dishes floating about, intent on the saddlebags of her horse, which held a few spare skins of water for cleaning purposes.

The half-breed, too, was on the premises, though hewas far less absorbed in the conversation between Mirabelle and Solvej. It was filled with necessary things that needed to be spoken, because Maker knew how difficult it was to be in a group whose mission was to essentially save the world from whatever baddies they faced and still somehow remain breathing. Did anyone else expect the to make it out alive? Were they even aware they existed? None of that mattered. Whatever they needed to discuss, it wasn't exactly meant for his ears. The same couldn't be said for Kerin, whose very being seemed to pour towards them, so occupied in the act of eavesdropping that she almost looked like some kind of Dwarf-statue they'd found in the Deep Roads. His lips turned up, then faltered when he flopped on his back, long legs splayed out until he found a comfortable position where one was crossed over the other. He viewed the world upside-down, wondering why Kerin was so interested and why she was now approaching Solvej with something that resolution on her face, adjudication lingering on her lips. Her next words shot his eyebrows up in surprise.

She wanted to be a Grey Warden after seeing what they had to deal with. She wanted to only live for a handful of years, beckoned to the Deep Roads for one final battle. She wanted to smell the stench, to hear their cries, to orbit around Darkspawn like unwilling magnets. Did she know all of that? Rhapscallion, himself, hadn't known any of that when he joined. He hadn't had anywhere else to turn – no family that cared, no places to hide. He remembered the Commander telling him that he'd make a fine Grey Warden because his heart was so large, tender as it was. All of the details had come after he'd undergone the initial test. He hadn't been alone, either. He'd been one of two to survive out of five participants. So it was. Solvej would carry out the ritual with precious, with a dutiful purpose. He couldn't stomach the thought of Kerin failing this test – it did not rely on strength, on willpower, on anything he could put his finger on. She could die. She could live. She could become a Grey Warden and die later. He exhaled softly, blowing hair across his forehead. It was getting a little long.

Without response, Kerin took her first steps forward, intently on finding that help. She already had the names in her head. Suicide, he was obvious. The man's path was something to be admired, and surely he'd understand her desire to find her own. Plus, he wasn't too bad in a fight. The next person on that list was the Pirate. Despite their difference, Kerin found herself inexplicably fond of the rogue, and no doubt he'd view the whole thing as an adventure. Even if she didn't ask him, he'd no doubt invite himself along. Next was the half-breed Warden, Rhapscallion. She wasn't foolish, she understood the value of having a Warden along the hunt in order to sense the 'Spawn. Last was Andaer, the newcoming. While relatively unknown to Kerin, she sensed some sort of power within the man. That and he was present when Rudhale and she manned the breach, and it earned a measure of respect from the hard dwarf.

It didn't take long for her stubby legs to bring her up to Suicide. "You in?" She asked.

The shapeshifter stood idly up against the rock wall, leaning one shoulder into it, lazily twirling his staff in circles, the point of the sword end stuck against the solid floor. All things considered, he had recovered from any wounds perhaps the best of the group, considering that even though they were perhaps more numerous, they were not as severe, and nothing he had not endured before. He looked down at Kerin with something of a hard stare, not angry or anything, but there was a certain displeasure to it. "As ever," he replied. "I do not need to taint my blood in order to battle darkspawn and belong to this group... but if this is what you want, I will assist."

Kerin met the stare eye for eye, empty eyes tilted upwards in the midst of the towering man. "My blood is already tainted, I'm just making it official," she stated evenly. What else was she to do when everyone she had known told her she was nothing, a mistake, a blight on their society? If she'd have to taint herself in order purify that, she would. She'd do it any day, at any cost. Casteless was a harsh label, but easy to be born in, but Warden was a proud title, earned through taint and hardship.

With one of her chosen few in her pocket, Kerin spun around and headed in the direction of the Pirate. He was nearby, but further from the group than the others, near the other Templar. When she showed up, it sounded like their conversation was dying down. Not that Kerin was in a caring mood, she'd interrupt what conversation she wanted in order to get the hands she needed for her ordeal. "How about you? You up for a hunt?" She stated evenly. She didn't even give the other Templar a passing glance. He was not on her list, so he did not matter. Emil took the dwarf's cold shoulder on the chin and merely looked down at her with boredom in her eyes. She had become predictable.

Rudhale cast a glance between the dwarf, those gathered at the fireside, and the Templar. He wouldn't even pretend he hadn't heard, at least enough to know what was going on. "Hunting, is it? I confess that if I were to hunt anything, I'd want it to be a little more challenging to find than a Darkspwn in the Deep Roads, but if you need another knife for a good murder, I'd be happy to oblige," he said easily, shrugging his shoulders. It wasn't to say that he cared nothing for the fact that she could die, nor that he didn't wonder if her reasons for acting thus were the right ones. He simply recognized that this was a decision she would not be dissuaded from, and nosy as he was, even he understood that some things had to be done, the rhyme or reason to them notwithstanding. It was why he'd not hesitated to wade into the fight Mira had led them to, and it was why he would not do so here, either.

Well, that and he was indeed always interested in a good fight. "Though, honestly, a Warden? I can see the appeal, don't mistake me, but... well, I happen to think you'd make a marvellous pirate." The amusement twisting his mouth was an indication that he'd not forgotten who spent their entire voyage clinging to his mainmast, but there was an underlying note of truth to the joke all the same. Once one made a decision like becoming one of the Grey, their fate was, in one very real sense, sealed. They would die of it, one way or another, and the Wardens bound their own quite fast to themselves. It was, perhaps, the reason he'd never be able to do it. For all his posturing and theatrics about heroism, he did have good reasons for wishing to remain untethered to something like that.

"I remember the last time I was on your boat. I didn't exactly paint the picture of a pirate." Kerin said flatly. Even though, there was a hint of fondness in the tone. Had she not been so terrified of drowning, hell if she could even stand on a boat without losing everything she'd recently ate, she would actually entertain his offer. Still, the reality was she was a landbound woman, born in the heart of the ground. She'd live, fight, die on that ground has she her choice. It wasn't her place to sail the waters, she was a rock. It was a nice thought though. Being a pirate. They tasted the freedom better than any one and the man in front of her was the perfect example of that.

But it wasn't the freedom she was after, it was purpose. She was labeled casteless, and even if she became a pirate, she'd always be casteless. She didn't wish merely for freedom, she wished for more. A goal, an objective, a purpose to call her own. Kerin wanted to replace her lot in life with another. She wanted to trade in the casteless title for a Warden title. It didn't matter if her days were numbered, if she'd die at the end of it, she didn't expect to survive long enough to enjoy old age anyway. People like her didn't get the chance to live a long, fulfilling life. At most, she wanted to die for a reason. This was her fate, and if she had to take on a death sentence to change it, then she would, with no complaints, with no regrets. She wanted this.

"Tempting offer," She said, "But the seas are yours, not mine."

"True enough," Rudhale conceded as though with modesty, "but you know by now that I'd always share with you, my dear." Still, it was apparent that this was what she truly wanted, and that for the differences it had from the way he lived, not despite them, and he could find no real fault in that. So he waved a hand as if to say that he was simply exhaling hot air, to undermine his own seriousness once more, and leave her to go where else she would, and ask those whose assistance she would require.

Next on her list of personnel was the half-breed of a Warden. While probably not necessary to find 'Spawn in the deep roads, she'd prefer it she they weren't dropped into an ambush. That and the elf managed to show a little bit more backbone than she intially suspected. He was still soft, of course, but not everyone could be as hard as her. They were blessed if they never ended up like her, she didn't exactly lead the model life. Still, she needed his skills and he had proven his worth. She stopped in front of the halfbreed and crossed her arms, catching him in her impassive stare. "Hopscotch?" she asked expectantly.

“Why?” The Grey Warden asked from his upside down state, bouncing his leg across his opposing knee. He stared at Kerin underneath long eyelashes, shaggy hair swept across the craggy terrain. His mouth was poised into a soft line, enquiring several silent questions all at once. His heart was not as hard as hers – even he understood that much. It might've been an annoyance to the others that he hesitated so much, stammered and stuttered and stumbled all over himself when he should've been anchored and steady and thirsty for battle. His heart sung loudly, but it did not beat with her drums. He didn't understand why she wanted to slap any kind of shackles on her wrists, as if they weren't heavy enough with what she'd been through. There were a lot of things he wanted to ask her, and a lot of questions about her past that would probably go unanswered but why seemed like a good place to start. They weren't fast-friends like Rudhale, or Suicide, but he hoped at least he'd proven that he wasn't completely useless. “You're free to do whatever you want, go where you please. So, why do you want this?” He swept his hands out wide, then flopped them back on his chest.

Eventually, they'd die. No if-or-buts about it. They'd be called down to the same dirty, unforgiving place everyone knew as the Deep Roads. The bellowing roars in their ears would only grow louder and more frequent, until it was all they could hear. It would taint their sleep, infest their thoughts and drive them mad unless they obeyed. Who wished for that? Without those chains, without those particular shackles, then they would've had a chance at a long life spent wherever they wanted - opening bakeries, or gardens, or flower shops. They could have families. Who'd want to spend their life with someone destined to die? These thoughts belonged to all Grey Wardens; visiting them unceremoniously in the night when their companions were sleeping, refusing to kick off their muddy boots. And knowing all of the secrets involved with the ritual, wasn't it like pushing Kerin on a blade and hoping she survived?

"Because there is nothing else," Kerin said cynically, "Because this," she said, spreading her own hands as Rhapscallion did, giving the expression an ironic meaning, "is all there is for me. I was born in these tunnels, might as well die in them too." She dropped her hands back to her sides before crossing them again. "I'm not free, Hopscotch, never was. This brand made sure of that. Ever since I was born, I never had a choice. I either had to do what I did, or die." she added, leveling her empty stare in the upside down man. "There is nothing else for me," She repeated. "I'm not like you Hopscotch, I wasn't made to look on the bright side of things, only what's in front of me."

She turned away from him, looking out into the Deep Roads. "I never had I choice. But now I do. The way I see it, it's either a Grey Warden or a casteless nobody. It may be a shit poor choice, but it's my choice. I'm going to die-- today, tomorrow, or later, but I will die. But before I do, I want to die for a reason, on my own terms. It's kind of freeing to know when you're going to die, and under what circumstances..." She then turned back to the Warden and grinned a hard smile. "You act like we might survive this suicide mission. Takes the point out of it being suicidal, doesn't it?" She then punched the man in the shoulder before walking off. "My choice, my life, my fate. No one else's."

She certainly didn't mince words, and Rhapscallion listened intently, lips drawn into a pouty line of concentration. Is that all there was for her? Even if she didn't live beneath their heavy regulations anymore, far from Orzammar and all of their ilk. He still didn't understand why they branded each other like that – but wasn't it the same thing as being a crossbred undesirable one, all but ignored in a family of privileged folk? Maybe it was a little different, and maybe he didn't have any tattoos etched across his face to show for it, but still, he managed to understand where she was coming from. He would have thought that being with them was enough for her. She belonged here, with them, trying to save the world. Her empty gaze, completely devoid of all the things he wished she could see, stared into his own. He wanted to tell her about all of the beautiful things she could experience and see and hear and taste. Of all the petunias, tulips, roses, orchids she could hold in the folds of her fingers, brushed kaleidoscope colours with their faint reflections. Of all the people she could meet and fall in love with and adventures she could have in the future, without having to worry about one certain day that would steal her life, her heart, her soul. Those words, he knew, weren't going to be enough.

He followed her gaze, looking down into the Deep Roads, as well. What did she see that he couldn't? Everything down here was dark, bleak, and so unsympathetic. It would not hold his hand if he wandered too far from them. It would not wrap its arms around him and whisper in his ear that everything would turn out for the best. A casteless nobody. Strange how the only one who couldn't recognize her own worth was the one speaking – but maybe she was right, it wouldn't be a surprise when it came to her end, and it wouldn't be a surprise when it came to his, either. Still, the comfort was cold as a stone. When Kerin grinned, Rhapscallion couldn't help but return it with his own broad smile. He'd been called stupid enough times to know that his optimism for this mission was misplaced (because who would honestly accept a mission where the likelihood of surviving it was next to zilch?). If he was being naive the entire time, then he didn't care because it was better than burying his dreams. He would go with her. “If I can help it, I plan to see all of you when this is over.” The half-breed's response was genuine. The words, however candid, danced in his eyes. A soft sigh escaped his lips, transforming into a huffed grunt when Kerin punched him in the shoulder. “My blades at your service. I'll be there.” As if he had a choice.

With her rounds finally drawing to a close, Kerin put herself in front of the newcoming, the elf mage that dealt in the blood of his enemies. A grisly, often macabre display, but the elf had held his own beside her on two accounts already, and that earned him some acknowledgement from the stubborn dwarf. He was made of harder stuff than Buttercup and Hopscotch. He wasn't too bad with that toothpick of a sword he carried around either. Planting herself in front of the man, she crossed her arms and tilted her head. "How about you? Want to try and change my mind too?" She asked. At this point, she wished he'd just say no so they could be done with it.

"Why should I want that?" Andaer replied mildly, glancing up from his leatherwork. Presently, he was seated, legs folded into a lotus, a small gathering of straps and buckles arrayed in his lap. one of Seth's reins had snapped during their flight from the Darkspawn, and though he no longer had any need to lead the fleet halla with such methods, there might come a time when someone else did. Skilled hands mended the break with quiet patience, though the fireside conversations had not been beyond his notice. He'd simply never expected to be included in one of them. His purpose was distinct from that of the others, and noble as he found it, he doubted very much that all among them would appreciate the aid of a maleficarum.

Either she did not know, did not care, or was desparate enough for help that she was willing to ignore it. The third possibility, he discounted immediately, given what little he already knew. "The only reason I should have to stop you would be if you acted from fear or under deception, and you do not, do you?" He blinked once, quite sure of the answer without her needing to voice it, though he had wondered, at first, if she might be doing this because she was afraid, in a sense a little different from the usual one. Still, he was now assured otherwise, and he smiled kindly. "I will provide what assistance I am able. It is always good to aid another in a worthy cause."

Kerin's eyebrow raised at the mention of fear. Fear had been a stranger to her face for some time now, and she had little to fear. What little she did fear was far away from where they were now. The idea was almost enough to ellict a laugh. Almost. Instead, she allowed her eyebrow to float back down to it's resting position. He knew the answer as well as she did, that much she could tell. She wasn't great at hiding her emotions, after all. She tended to bare what she felt on her sleeve. His next sentence produced a nod. "And I'll take it, though whether it's worthy or not is up to you," she stated. It was a worthy one for her, but of course he wasn't her. Everyone's definition of what was worthy was different, but she wasn't going to dismiss his aid.

"Be ready, tomorrow we hunt," She said first to the elf, then casting a glance at all those she had enlisted.

Tomorrow.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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Suicide was beginning to wonder when the next time he wasn't dripping with darkspawn entrails would be. It certainly wasn't today. It had been easy enough to find them. They were in the Deep Roads, after all, and they'd just pissed off an entire camp full of them. Rhapscallion's presence ensured they were sensed, but also that they had some warning, and as such they didn't have to stray far from the group proper for Kerin to gather the needed blood. The fight served to get Suicide's blood pumping, but little else. Such constant exposure to the darkspawn was beginning to grow repetitive for him, and it took such encounters as the whore's little venture to reignite the feelings he had upon recently joining the group. The thought troubled him, but he hadn't shared it with anyone yet. He wasn't sure what to do about it, himself.

Kerin's decision troubled him as well. He had thought they had come to some kind of accord a while back, but now he was beginning to think he was mistaken. The shapeshifter had almost allowed him to believe the Paths they followed were nearly identical, but he strongly doubted that now. His gut told him not to speak to her about it. There was no point. Her Path was for her to decide, and if she was blind to it, that was her own failing and she would have to endure the consequences. If she strayed from where he walked his own Path, that should not be any great loss to him. There would be others along the way. Still... he knew he would be lying if he said he didn't care for her fate at least a little. He did not wish to try and force his way of life on others, but maybe that wasn't what this was about.

"You explained to Rhapscallion, but I did not find your reasons satisfying," he began rather bluntly, his darkspawn swordstaff balanced on a shoulder. "If you truly believe our Paths end on this mission, then undertaking the Joining gains you very little. You risk your own death, for what gain? The ability to sense the darkspawn, and the curse of nightmares that plague the Wardens already among us." He frowned. "No one in this group cares for the brand you carry. You are already a part of this group, and this group has a purpose. As far as I am aware, our mission does not entail killing the archdemon itself, thus additional Grey Wardens are not necessary."

He scratched a bare side of his head, eyes darting about for more darkspawn. "If you do not wish to discuss this further, I will not press. It is not my place to determine your Path. I merely seek to understand this choice. It was offered to me as well, and I declined. I simply do not see the reasoning. You would undertake the Joining so that... you can die for a reason? And yet you believe we will not survive this mission, thus we already have a reason to die, and a group to belong to when we do it." He looked down towards her, walking beside him as she was. "If there is something else that I cannot see, I would appreciate it if you explained."

Kerin was quiet as he spoke, eyes ever forward as she road her bronto away from the day's most recent slaughter. Her armor was painted in the taint, but it was hardly any sport this time around. She barely heard the war drums as she fought, but the task was completed, and she had the needed blood somewhere in the bronto's saddlebags. When he finished with his questioning (and a lot of questions from the man as well) she let them sit in the air for a while. She had to think, come to the answers herself first. Moments passed without answer until finally she sighed. "Things are so simple for you Suicide. Live until you die, and until then, live great."

At that, she leaned forward her saddle, laying on one of her arms and petting the bronto's head. "You ever have family, Suicide? Friends? Did you live where the people saw you as one of your own? I didn't. I only ever had one friend. My brother, Marl. Mother either died, or ran off. Father was the same. It was us against the world in Orzammar. He was the only one who ever even cared about me. Everyone else was either apathetic if lucky, scorned if not. Try being raised from a little girl to a teenager where every day you were told, you felt, you knew that you were less than nothing." she said, her eyes gazing over as she engaged herself fully into the story she was telling.

"I was our chance to get out. Pretty hair, pretty face, maybe if I bore a noble a son, we'd be picked out of the squalor and be put up for the rest of our life. Turns out, bastards want a submissive personality along with that pretty face. I turned to crime. I was muscle for a local Cartel. Mugging, blackmailing, strong-arming, body guarding, you name it I did it. Marl was much the same, we were just trying to survive." She stopped rubbing the Bronto's head and sat back up, straightening her posture. "Wasn't the best place to cultivate a healthy temper. I began to lash out, my words with the Nobles became barbed. I got pissed when I fought, taking out my rage on the poor fools who got in my way." She continued.

"The nobles didn't like the temper either. One got too frisky, and I blacked his eye. Unfortunately, the bastard held a grudge..." she trailed off, letting the story stay uncompleted for a time before she finished. "Came home one day, he and his thugs had caught my brother. A mean fighter in his own right, but they had numbers. I was given an choice. Go with the noble, and submit, or don't, and condemn Marl... I chose... Poorly. But I chose. When I came to, I had slaughtered the noble and his men. I ran, escaped Orzammar, and now here I am." she finished. A tone of anger and rage had creeped into her tone as she spoke and she stared at Suicide with that fire in her eyes.

"Don't pretend you know my path. It's one that can break weaker wills, hell it broke mine. It's not about the brand, it's what it means. It means that I had no choice, that I was born a nobody, that I was to stay a nobody, and that I was to die a nobody. My fate was hammered in stone. I will break that stone, I'll make fate my own. I will have a choice, and it will be mine and mine alone, I don't owe you or anyone a reason for it. I don't care if you disapprove, I'll live how I decide.
"I will wash the taint of this brand away with the taint of the Wardens. It's my choice, my path. I'll walk it however I see fit."


The shapeshifter's frown grew as the dwarf talked, frustration and a hint of annoyance creeping into his eyes. "I do not pretend to know your path. You should not pretend to know mine. Perhaps one thing we can take from this discussion is that neither of us understands the other." He found himself not wishing to discuss the matter any more. Her words told a tale of great suffering, but that was all he could say of her words. He already knew of her suffering, he had already heard of this system of castes, and he had believed Kerin had already separated herself from it. His query remained wholly unanswered, but at this point he no longer felt as if she could give him one that would make sense to him. Perhaps it was something he simply couldn't understand. Maybe his time spent away from people entirely had crippled his ability to comprehend them.

"I will go ahead to inform the others of our return," he grunted, picking up the pace a bit before shifting into flight and taking off ahead of the group. Such a thing was surely unnecessary, and probably unwise, but it was obvious that Suicide sought to separate himself from the others. He had not thought to feel doubt creeping upon him during this venture, and yet there it was, snaking into his insides like a poison.

Andaer, who'd walked behind the rest for the better portion of the journey, watched the raven take off with a vague sense of nostalgia. It had been too long, now, since he'd last laid his feet upon forested paths, and the stone beneath his feet did not feel as natural, nor did the permanent stench in the air. Small wonder that it had not yet driven them all mad; he had cause to understand that they, like he, had been beneath the ground for weeks, and already the scenery grew old. There was a faint sense of tension hanging over the group, now, but perhaps that was just their weariness. He scanned over the remaining members of the small group here, on their way to rejoin the rest, and reflected upon the battles they had just fought. More like skirmishes, really, but still carrying that inherent risk of death that he never sought but always seemed to find.

He picked up his tread just a little, drawing parallel to Kerin as he did so. "Something amiss?" he asked softly, his tone inviting commentary and void of any promise of judgement. He had been told, on more than one occasion, that he was an easy man to talk to, and had observed that this seemed to be true, if the number of secrets he kept was anything to go by, at least. He made a habit never to demand confidence, however, trusting that it would come if it was needed and that its absence was no insult. He was still trailing a little bit of blood from a wound on his arm (not self-inflicted, this time), which occasionally dribbled down his arm and onto the stone beneath. If he noticed it, he paid it no mind. This kind of pain was unimportant, even if it was felt.

Rhapscallion hadn't strayed far from the bronto's flank, but he remained unusually quiet. They'd retrieved the tainted blood without incident, hadn't even faced much trouble and now they were headed back to camp so that Solvej could carry out the fabled Grey Warden ritual. Kerin would either die, or she would live and join their merry band of misfits, quondam miscreants and conscripted rabble who hadn't had any other place to turn to. She'd willingly chosen her path, unlike many others. Her freedom would be wrought in duty, in responsibilities, in doing the right thing always. He did not interrupt Kerin's conversation with Dekton – for he wished to know important answers and clearly hadn't been pleased with what she'd said the night before, which had been the equivalent of stomping her foot and saying it was so. He frowned deeply, scratching at his stunted ears. She was not the only one who hadn't belonged, who'd had no one in her youth. Hadn't many of his companions suffered the same thing? They, too, had lost someone important to them, or several someone's, or suffered some irreversible hardship. Everyone dealt with things differently. Her choices, however poor and misguided, were hers alone to make, but it didn't mean they couldn't offer their own words of advice.

If being casteless meant so much to her, then shouldn't he too be bothered by his muddy pedigree? Shouldn't it matter to him that he was not quite that, nor that, either? It didn't bother him any more than it bothered anyone else. It was what it was; simple as having black hair. When Dekton quickened his pace, Rhapscallion stepped forward, and nearly called out to him. Couldn't she tell that he was only worried for her? He managed to stifle his worrisome nattering by breathing deeply through his nostrils, allowing his shoulders to slump forward. Screaming his own worries, heart-split and gloomy, into the throes of stalagmites and skittering insects would do no one any good and it'd probably only annoy the already bristling dwarf-warrior. His smiles was forced, as if his nannies were pinching and tugging on his cheeks. He skipped alongside Kerin's bronto, tugging idly on his earlobe. There was no helping it. Rhapscallion blinked slowly, then again just to be sure he wasn't imagining things – because something was dripping from Andaer's elbow, leaving a sanguine trail in his wake. He didn't want to interrupt another conversation, so he cleared his throat in his hand, motioning awkwardly.

“Your, uh, your arm. It's bleeding – d'you need bandages? That kind of looks like it hurts.” Ethne had given him some as they were leaving because she wouldn't very well be around to patch them up.

He was answered, initially, not by Kerin, but Rhapscallion, and he glanced down at the offending arm, a distant smile crossing his features. "I am always bleeding, Da'len." Whether it was the kind that could be seen or the more metaphorical sort just varied slightly based on the hour of the day. More often than not, it seemed to be both, at least lately. Still, he could see that the young man was the kind to be distressed about things of this nature, things which no longer bothered Andaer in the slightest. Rolling up the sleeve of his tunic, then, the elf folded it up over his shoulder, slowly unfastening his gauntlet with his free hand. Tucking that into his belt, he examined the wound with more attention. It had been a broad blade of some kind, that much was evident, and the cut, while wide, was not particularly deep, though as with many shallow wounds, it bled quite freely, in rivulets down his arm.

"I am afraid I would have more difficulty dressing this than it is worth," he pointed out mildly, "but if you find it so grevious, I'll not refuse the help where it is so generously offered." Perhaps it would be of some benefit to Rhapscallion to help; he could think of a number of occasions where as much had been true of himself, at any rate. For the longest time, he'd buried himself in that, it was, in fact, part of the reason he was here now. Of course, if the offer had been mere courtesy (something that seemed unlikely, given the lad's character), he was as ever free to refuse. Meanwhile, the Dalish man still waited upon the durgen'len's answer, if in fact it was to be forthcoming at all.

Under normal circumstances, if Rhapscallion had offered his aid in the form of his medicinal abilities (however far bandaging arms, applying salves and trying not to make anything worse than it already was, went), he'd received unpleasant glares that could've sheared his skull straight off his shoulders, or resilient head-nods that told him that they had more experience dealing with their own injuries and his efforts simply weren't needed. So, now that Andaer hadn't completely tousled his offer in the dirt, Rhapscallion wasn't entirely sure what to do and might've come off as a little too enthusiastic as he fiddled with the clasp of his leather satchel. Sometimes, more than anything else in the world, he wished that he had some of Ethne's ability to heal people, to move them, to motivate them to become better. There was something about her glowing hands, poised above joints, muscles, bones. It was beautiful, in a way. He paused in his fumbling pursuit of the bandages, holding them aloft, and tilting his head to the side, bird-like. He was always bleeding? Though he might've not known what the Dalish had meant, the all-encompassing sadness was felt rippling through his words.

With the bandages held captive in his hands, Rhapscallion closed the distance between them. Blood did not make him squeamish, but it certainly didn't stop him from wincing when he caught a glimpse of the wound up close, bleeding freely from what appeared to be a sword wound. “I'll help, then!” He added hastily, matching the man's equally long stride. “Nannies always used to say that it was best to dress wounds immediately, and leave the rest to time.” He tended to rattle on when he felt nervous. Thankfully, Rhapscallion kept himself busy blotting away the blood from his elbow and forearm, while fetching a small glass container he'd also received from Ethne – containing what he assumed was an herbal salve that would expediate the healing process. While Andaer conversed with Kerin, the half-breed held onto Andaer's wrist so that he wouldn't tire, or grow annoyed, with holding it up, and with his free hand, he began winding the bandages around his forearm, careful not to bind it too tightly, but enough to stem the steady flow.

His bleeding staunched, Andaer slid his sleeve back down his arm, glancing up at the much taller fellow beside him. Taller, yes, and doubtless stronger too, but he moved with such lurching uncertainty away from the kill-fields over which they threaded their mayhem that he seemed more boy than man at times. This was a cause not for condescension, but joy, for it was, he had long since discovered, those who could maintain some trace of childhood wonder that would last the longest against the horrors that life had to offer. He had lost his own wonder early in his life, and only by the grace of another had he regained it-- in just enough time to need it. "[Ma serannas, Da'len," he said then, moving the arm a bit to make sure that the bandages stayed in place. They did, and he smiled. "I am grateful."

"It's my choice..." Kerin muttered, watching Suicide take his leave. She watched him take flight and watched as he faded into the shadows of the deep roads. Words were cheap from a man who could take to the freedom of air whenever he wished. Still she gazed after him, until the words of the elf roused her from her own mind. She shook her head no and said, "Nothing's wrong." It wasn't so simple as that, it never was. But the path she walked wasn't easy, and she didn't expect it was going to be. Her path had molded her into what she was, and she wasn't going to apologize for that. She would do what she wished, because she could. At Rhapscallion's note, Kerin looked down at the man's arm, noting that he was bleeding. Somewhere in her thick heart, she felt responsible. She was the one who dragged him out into the deep roads.

At the elf's comment upon always bleeding, she nodded along, adding "Aren't we all.." She paused for a second and then shook her head. No, she didn't need to say anything else. She had already said all that needed to be said. She knew it would kill her, the taint. Either today, or tomorrow, it would kill her. She had heard the stories of Wardens entering the deep roads to die. She knew that would be her fate if she was lucky. If she wasn't... Well, either way, it all ended the same. It didn't faze her, nor did it even factor in her choice. They were all going to die, at some point or another. It was all just a matter of time. At least she knew her time would come sooner rather than later.

"Have you done anything that you felt that you needed to? Despite all common sense?"

"My dear, I live my entire life to spite common sense," Rudhale piped up from behind them, his grin evident in his voice. Though his words were flippant, he knew exactly what Kerin was talking about. He'd done thing not only that his sense told him not to, but that his heart rebeled against as well, and still he could only occasionally spare the thought that he might have been wrong. Dwelling wasn't beneficial to the living, and it certainly didn't help the dead any. "I mean, isn't that what we're all doing down here in the first place? I'm quite sure most sensible people would be up on the surface, trying to squeeze what life they can out of however many years they'd have left until the Darkspawn ate them all. Maybe hoping the Wardens could produce a miracle. Nobody with 'common sense' would want to be the miracle, and yet here we are. What does that say about us, hmm?"

"I do not believe it is sense that your friend believes you lack," the Dalish man added gently. "It does not seem he believes you lack anything at all, really. I think it is simply... a difference between you." He paused, appearing to give the matter some thought. In truth, he yet knew very little about any of them, but that was no fault, just a fact. He thought perhaps that what they might be missing was that certain differences of opinion between them might well be the same. "What is more than enough justification for one may not suffice for another. We do well to remember that ultimately, this is no transgression. If everyone sought the same things in the same way, we should soon run out. But mayhaps I misunderstand. It would not be unheard-of."

"Well. I need to do this," she said, resolute. "Justified or not, I don't need acceptance for my choices..." Just acceptance.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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Some distance away from where the others waited, Solvej sat, a variety of small vials arrayed around herself in a rough semicircle and a look of intense concentration upon her face. Despite her nonchalant attitude about the whole thing, she was actually a little bit nervous; though she knew all the procedures and had seen the Ritual performed many times, she had never yet had to give it by herself. There had always been another Warden there to help, or to watch her like a hawk for mistakes. Now, the only person who was even in her proximity was the Dalish, as his blood magic would be required at the final stage of preparation. Never thought I'd see the day I was fortunate to know a maleficar, she thought, but then brushed it away. He was like part of the environment, still and quiet, and that was exactly how she needed him to be.

She wasn't going to mess this up. Malik had never mentioned exactly what would happen if it was performed incorrectly, just fixed her wth one of his knowing dark-eyed looks, and she'd understood the implications well enough. Tipping the goblet (trust the damn pirate to carry such a thing with him) forward slightly, her eyes caught the refracted luminosity of firelight on silver-blue lyrium, and for a moment, she thought of Efriel, and of all she'd done since his passing. Not even in her wildest dreams as a girl had she ever thought she'd be a Grey Warden; her ambitions began and ended with Templars. Then, as now. Shaking her head slightly, she tipped the collected vial of genlock blood-- superstition had it that genlock worked best for dwarves, hurlock for humans and shriek for elves, and she wasn't taking any chances-- into the mixture and swirled it slightly, pursing her lips.

With time, the dark color melded with the lyrium, shading the entire mixture a dark purple. That was as it should be, for now. Swallowing, Solvej stuck a hand between her knees, using them to remove the gauntlet she wore, and reached barehanded into an unremarkable drawstring satchel at her hip, withdrawing a tiny glass vial filled with an indistinct, viscous substance. Archdemon's blood, to be precise. The first generation of Wardens had needed a lot of blood magic to bring the Taint up to the required strength to create a Warden instead of a ghoul, but those with just a drop of this stuff needed only a little, to awaken the substance.

Carefully, she unstoppered the vial, holding it suspended between her index finger and her thumb, tipping it painfully slowly until a single drop coalesced on the edge, its weight bearing it downwards into the goblet. The effect was unnatural and instantaneous: the entire fluid darkened until it was black as pitch. Restoppering the vial, she slid it back into the pouch and stood, pulling her gauntlet back on with her teeth. Looking down for a second into the cup, she was reminded of the shine of Morpheus's sickly armor shell. Huffing an exhale through her nose, she held the thing out to Andaer. "It only needs a bit," she explained tersely, her nerves fraying slightly and making her more irritable than usual, "just... wake it up, or whatever you lot say for that."

The elf reached out, accepting the pewter chalice from the Warden. It was a lovely piece, designs inlaid in mother-of-pearl around the outside, depicting griffons, of all things. It was almost like the man had predicted this very moment. "Very well," he replied placidly, giving the moment all the solemnity it deserved. He had great respect for the Wardens, and had happily volunteered to do this part, that none of the other mages here need become as he was. It was a condition that tended to make one a target, after all, from within and without. Drawing from the Fade, Andaer curled the faint wisps of magic around his arms, pulsing in synchronization with his heartbeat, and directed that into the fluid. The substance took on a faint luminosity, and he felt strangely drained from what should have been a rather simple task. Interesting.

Handing the concoction back to Solvej, he turned from her and padded his way over to where the others stood waiting. The Warden followed at a more stately pace, unconsciously adopting Malik's smooth, mercurial body language. It was he who'd given her this very same opportunity, almost two years ago now. It wasn't long, but during a Blight, it was as much a lifetime as any span of decades. "There are... certain words," she began, glancing from the goblet in her hand to the dwarf in front of her, "that my mentor speaks at every Joining he gives. I pass them to you, that they might not be forgotten even if he is, or I am." She paused for the span of a breath. "Join us, brothers and sisters. Join us in the shadows where we stand vigilant. Join us as we carry the duty which can not be forsworn. And should you perish, know that your sacrifice will not be forgotten. And that one day, we shall join you."

So saying, Solvej handed the goblet to Kerin, relinquishing it with not a trace of the reservation she felt about this. It wasn't her choice to make, anyway.

Kerin wasn't the most patient of people, but even she knew better than to rush the ceremony. She waited for the ceremony to begin with that same empty stare she always wore when not in battle. She didn't mind this wait, she had spent the better part of twenty odd years waiting, what was a couple of more minutes? When Solvej came into view carrying the silver chalice that held her Wardenship, she didn't feel the flutter of butterflies or some notion of regret. Her emotions ran closer to the idea of "Finally". Finally she would become better than she had been. Finally she'd cast off the fate that was ordained for her when she was branded. Finally, she would live for something more than herself.

She knew the risks, she knew that she could very well die from this, and even if she didn't it would take her life sooner rather than later. Still, despite knowing all of this, she didn't care. This was her choice, and she would not be persuaded otherwise. Kerin looked up to the Warden as she parted with some old words for the ceremony before she was given the chalice. If the dwarf had any reservations about what she was about to attempt, it didn't show. She peered into the cup to see the dark liquid peering back out. It looked like a lot of things, but drinkable was not one of them. Just so, apparently.

With little fanfare, she put her lips to the edge and tilted, downing as much as the liquid as she could. If it had a taste she couldn't tell, it felt like ice and fire as it entered her gut. The effect was immediate and harsh, causing her to drop the cup on the cold stones. Her hands went to her throat first, clawing at it. The foul liquid had closed it off on it's descent leaving her with little ability to take in air. As that happened, her head screamed in pain and agony as it worked it's way through her blood, leaving her in a devastating state. She wanted to scream, but wouldn't. So in pain she was she fell to a knee, on the verge of unconsciousness. Never before had she felt pain like this. It was like death itself.

For all she knew, it was her death. It wasn't giving in, and what was moments for those around her felt like days to her. Was she going to die like this? Having taken the worst the world could throw at her on the brunt of her chin only to be done in by some drink no worse than Dust Town moonshine? As she felt she neared the end, a drum beat rang out in her head. Then another. Then another. A symphony roared in her head, pounding with the intensity of a devil. The drums pounded away the pain, pounded away the thoughts. There was nothing but the marching war drums. Then she realized. It wasn't the drum beat of a demon, but rather the beat of her heart. Her heart pounded, circulating the taint throughout her system. It wasn't going to allow her to die that easy. Never that easy.

With that, she looked up, empty eyes full of a supernatural light, before being snuffed as she fell to the ground. With the final thump of her body falling to the ground, she had finally broken her bonds.

Mira watched the entirety of the ordeal from a sitting position near the campfire, arms wrapped about her legs, her chin resting on her forearms. She had no memory of her own Joining. Well, she remembered feelings, but she couldn't describe how it had happened, if she had drank the tainted blood herself, or if Morand had poured it down her throat, whether she'd been standing, sitting, or prone on the ground like the corpse she nearly had been. All she could recall was a large amount of pain, and an equal amount of terror. The nightmares had wracked her for hours, they told her after she woke. She'd heard dwarves couldn't have dreams at all. She hoped that would still be true for Kerin now. She hadn't gotten the sense that the dwarf woman liked her very much at all, and indeed, they had essentially nothing in common. Well, except for their fates. Those were the same now.

Suicide stood apart from the group, watching long enough to see that Kerin would not perish, before picking up his swordstaff and heading off to resume his watch.

Solvej watched the entire scene with dispassionate eyes. She'd seen it too many times to feel much at its recurrence, though she would not deny the surge of relief that accompanied the backlight in Kerin's eyes. That was the sign, Malik had told her, that the Joining was taking, that the body and the will were enduring a transformation halfway to Darkspawn already. Nobody was really immune to the Taint; the Wardens just died a slower death than those unfortunates that became ghouls was all. It hadn't mattered, for her-- she'd been dead long before she forced the archdemon's blood down her gullet. Stooping, she picked the chalice up off the ground and kicked dirt and loose mortar over what had spilled, dashing what remined in the vessel on the ground and repeating the process.

"Dwarf or no, she'll dream now," she informed the rest of the group flatly. "It's worse for them, usually, since they don't know what it's like. Might want to make sure she doesn't wake up and try to kill someone." That had happened only once, actually, but given Kerin's proclivity for violence, she seemed like a good candidate to wake up half-aware and pissed off. Tossing the goblet back to the pirate, she dusted her hands free of imaginary dirt and walked off. If Kerin needed to talk to her about the dreams, she'd be there, but she wasn't known for her bedside manner, to say the least, and she wasn't going to force the issue. Everyone dealt with it in their own fashion. Next to the dreams she'd been having in the days before her Joining, watching the archdemon seem to look straight into her soul had been... well, not a relief. That was never a good thing. But it had been kinder.

Rudhale caught the cup, but his eyes didn't leave Kerin, now unconscious and prone on the ground. "I'll stay," he volunteered with uncharacteristically low volume. Ethne, for her part, was pretty sure she didn't understand half of what was passing between eveyone else in the silence, and so satisfied herself with gathering the dwarf's bedroll and blankets and arranging them close to where she'd fallen. With a nod of thanks, Rudhale took over from there, lifting the sturdy but diminutive woman and setting her down in the slightly more comfortable arrangement. He took a seat, crossing his legs in front of him, and went to work on his translations. What he'd found was extraordinary, but he honestly wasn't sure if he believed it. Still, why would it be hidden away in the Orlesian Chantry if it were untrue? Simply for the danger it posed?

Perhaps the last few pages would provide the answer, and the pirate held the nib of his quill to his tongue, dampening it, and set to annotating in the margins, as he'd been doing for the entirety of the slim volume whenever he found a moment. Intermittently, his eyes would flicker over to the sleeping Kerin, but she seemed yet to be surrendered to the realm of dream. He hoped it wasn't anything quite so bad as whatever Morpheus had shown her, but then with this, he had no experience. Solvej or Rhapscallion or Mira would know, maybe, but he was for once content not to interrupt them in whatever business they chose to see to, even if that was simply sleep or staring off into space. There was a remarkable frequency of that with this group, as though they were all thinking deep thoughts all the time.

He'd have to take them to an Antivan tavern and amuse himself with what happened when that wasn't really an option.




Once again, Kerin found herself in her dreams. Once again? There was a familiarity about this, yet it was strange at the same time. Had she dreamed before and just simply not remembered it? Was she even dreaming? She could just as easily been dead as dreaming. A drift, in an endless blackness of her mind. She was alone, just as she always was. That was a feeling she knew too well, alone. Alone at birth, alone at death. Fitting. Somewhere in the distance of the sea that wasn't, she heard something. A faint thing, just barely above a breath. It was.. Beating. What she once thought was drums were continuing their beat even in her death.

Or were they? These drums weren't hostile, they were gentle, smooth, rythmic. Ba-da, ba-da, ba-da, the tune carried on. These weren't drums, it was her heart. It had always been her heart, beating relentlessly in her ears. Never surrendering, never giving up, always urging her to get up and push forward. She wasn't dead. She was alive. For now. For all of the beating her heart did, it would still in time, as all things did. But until that time, until she drew her final breath, her heart would beat. It would beat hard, and beat strong. Old age wouldn't take her in her sleep, such a fate was never ordained for her. No, her heart would only still with a bloody end. She would eagerly await that day, but until then, she would wait. She would wait, and walk her path. She would decide her fate until then, and then it could forcibly take the life from her breath. Not before. Never before.

The heartbeat in the distance was steady, rhythmic, she listened to it and it lulled her into comfort. Then, something strange happened. Her heartbeat was joined by others. Some were far away, and only barely heard, others were closer, almost within reach. The Warden was connected with all who shared her taint. Solvej, Buttercup, Hopscotch, she could feel them, and she could feel the Darkspawn hidden by the rocks. Her heartbeat quickened, drumming faster, harder. The nothingness was twisting in around itself as another heartbeat added it's own drums to the symphony. Foul, heavy, violent, this heartbeat was nothing like she had felt before. It was harder than even hers.

Soon the malificent heartbeat began to overshadow the others. The beats faded out one after another. First were the hearts of the Darkspawn, then one by one, Buttercup, Hopscotch, and then Solvej. There was only hers and this... demon's heartbeat left. Suddenly, the nothingness ripped away, leaving the of a great black dragon perched on a mountain top. She felt as if the beast locked it's black eyes on her, staring her down. She was petrified. She couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't hear, it's heart was beginning to overpower her own. Then it opened its mouth, revealing row upon row of daggerlike teeth and from its horrid throat it produced a blood curdling wail. That was it, with the wail, Kerin's heartbeat stopped, the drums ceased their song.

Everything was silent. The only thing that remained was her and this dragon. Her friends, even her heart had abandoned her in the face of this monster. However, she wasn't afraid. Only enraged. This creature dared take all she had left from her? It dared to challenge her. She issued a roar of her own, yelling, telling it that she was not afraid. She was never afraid. She didn't have a reason to be afraid. She would not buckle. She would break, but only to be rebuilt. Her roar carried with it a surge of the drums, her heart beating heavily against her chest. Her heartbeat grew in intensity until the cresendo rivaled that of even the monster. She would not bow to anyone, man, monster, not even fate. She would break everyone who dared try.

Then she was awake. Her shortsword found its way to her hand, which was now pointing dangerously at the Pirate. Lifeless grey eyes soon became hers once again. Her heart beat wild in her chest, but soon found its rythym again and settled. She was breathing heavily, and her throat was raw. If that was a dream, then she didn't look forward to sleeping.

The erratic sound of quill scratching over parchment was the only counterpoint left to the irregular cracking of the fire, as by now the other denizens were either asleep or quite the distance away, on a silent watch. Perhaps this was to be expected. His music never made sense to anyone without the ear to hear it properly, and he tended to go to great lengths to ensure that such people were rarely to be found. It was nothing so steady, nor so predictable as the rhythm of someone else's life, measured out in intervals of time and space almost perfectly. It was as close to pure chaos as a human being was capable of producing, but even his madness had a method. Even his heart thumped a steady, vital metronome, and there was nothing to be done about that. Whetever he might assert to the contrary, he was no fey creature of will and whim alone-- alas, even he was mortal and flesh and in the end so terribly boring and sad that he occasionally remembered that he hurt and bled.

Maybe what the Dalish had said was true of him, too, or all of them: always bleeding.

A foreign intrusion upon his rather limited soundscape caused the pirate's amber eyes to flicker, darting upward to take in the suddenly-stirring Kerin, who abruptly threw off her blanket and took blade to hand, gaze stil flat and vacant. He watched with what seemed to be vague interest as the shortsword was pointed at him, in the end nearing his throat. He did not move, however; there was still plenty of time for that if he needed to, but he didn't suppose he would. Indeed, her eyes cleared thereafter, shoulders heaving just a bit with the effort it was costing her to breathe. An unfortunate dream, indeed. Perhaps she would care to talk about it.

He didn't ask though; such directness was hardly his style. As always, he'd cavort along to his nonsensical tune and wonder when someone else would catch on. Raising his feathered quill, he crossed it with the shortsword, still seated and apparently otherwise inclined to remain so. "En garde, to borrow the Orlesian turn of phrase," he lilted, mouth tilting into a sly half-smile, voice laced heavily with quiet amusement.

The whole scene got an honest giggle out of Mira, who was very glad the dwarf had decided to point a weapon at Rudhale rather than her. She didn't know how anyone could keep an angry face after that.

Kerin's sword dipped low to the ground, conceding defeat to the quill once she finally recognized who it was she was pointing the weapon at. While she would never explicitly say it, the apologies were written on her face as plain as day, mixed in with a bit of shame. She didn't say anything as her eyes became hers once more. In the steady silence she felt her heartbeat again, somehow feeling relieved for that fact. She looked at the quill and shrugged, "Heard that the pen was mightier than the sword. Never believed it myself," she said. Kerin believed he'd like the bit of wordplay and the visual pun. He rather did, and chuckled quietly, lowering his arm and tilting his head to one side with ill-repressd curiosity.

She then leaned forward and brought her knees up, noting the bedroll. She probably had Twig-bean to thank for that, even if she would never say the words. "So. That was a dream, was it? How do you humans even sleep at night without clawing your face off?" she asked, raising a bleached eyebrow. The concept was still foreign to her, how could one sleep and still see in their mind? Wouldn't it wake them up? Or at least drive them stark raving mad. A glance at Rhuddy and well... Maybe. Despite the light conversation, a strange melancholy hung over her. Didn't she get what she wanted? She was a Warden now, why didn't she feel any different? She didn't feel... Anything, really. Absently, she began to rub her face, specifically the cheek where the casteless brand hung.

Rudhale hummed what sounded a conciliatory note in the back of his throat. "Give it time," he advised. "Not all dreams need be nightmares, and not all changes are felt at first." He watched for a moment as she rubbed at the mark, and his lips thinned in something resembling displeasure, his hand darting forward with celerity to catch her wrist and ease it away. He leaned forward, making his scrutiny of her features obvious, and if he was too close for most people's comfort, he didn't appear to know or care that it was so. He hunched his back a bit, so that they were eye to eye, and shook his head faintly. "There's nothing wrong with your face, Kerin," and if his tone, quiet and solemn, weren't enough to give away his complete and utter sincerity, perhaps the fact that he'd properly used her name did.

Then he cracked his usual roguish smile, and the moment was gone. Loosing her wrist, he leaned back and threaded his fingers together behind his head. "Actually, as I'm sure I've mentioned before, 'tis a rather comely face, as faces go, and oh so very fierce. Mayhap there are yet fools in the world not wise enough yet to fear the sight of it. Seems a problem you could easily rectify, hm?" It was his way of telling her, however obliquely, that she was free to give that mark whatever meaning she wished, if she had the will. And willpower was certainly something she did not lack.

Kerin donned an intimidating mask as the Pirate grabbed her hand, eyebrows furrowed and mouth inches away from a snarl. She never got to growl though, as the mask broke into pieces, leaving her impassive (if tired) face in it's wake. She'd let him go this one time, she'd let the Pirate keep his fingers. She then sighed and nodded, "I know," she said, letting her hand fall into her lap. A moment passed and the Pirate flipped the mood like a coin. She tilted her head down, her crown obscuring the grin across her face. When she raised her head though, she was coy-lipped and her eyebrow had ascended an inch.

She then lifted her shortsword and gently probbed him in the ribs, "Maybe I should start with you."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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The passage of the next day took them up to the surface and out of the Deep Roads at last, spitting them out right onto the rolling Antivan countryside, on the edge of the Nevarran border. The horses and halla certainly seemed to prefer it, though the bronto squinted and slowed somewhat uncomfortably at first. Eventually, however, the beast got used to the sun, which was just as well, because Ethne couldn't say she had any intention of ever entering those tunnels again if she could help it. Of course, there was no telling what her dreams would compel her to do next, but she liked to retain a little hope. The sour mood that had fallen over her recently and bled a little into her conversation with Emil had lifted, and she was back to smiling most of the time, in sheer unadulterated relief if nothing else. There was no feeling in the world that could compare to the sun and fresh air on her face, she was convinced of it now.

By strange contrast, the pirate had grown quieter. It was not a moody silence, because he was quite nearly incapable of those. But it
was pensive, and he spent a great deal of time with his brows furrowed together or his chin in his hand, which was still a little comedic just becuase he had to prop his elbow on the neck of his horse to manage that one. Apart from the occasional aside glance at Mira or Kerin, as though to convince himself that they were faring well enough, though, the majority of his attention was far too distant to be normal.

It was not, however, until the first night after they left the Roads that he chose to address the topic that had him so effectively sobered. When he did, it was in the way that the astute would perhaps have expected of him.




"So," he started lightly, settling himself around the fire with the book he'd taken from the Chantry in one hand and a plate of food in the other, "looks like we're in possession of Maferath's private journal." For once everyone was seated around the fire at the same time, and he'd figured there was no better time than the present to bring the fruits of his translations to light. "Bit of a mopey fellow, really, though it all makes for an interesting read." He let the comment sit there for a while. He was sure there was a subset of the group that honestly wouldn't much care, but if one had an eye to religion or history, it mattered. And he was more concerned for the subset that would care, because the things he'd read were rather a doozy.

Emil's fork was halfway to his mouth when it was stopped by the pirate's announcement. It hovered unmoving for a second as Emil tried to digest what he had just heard. His mouth was still open from trying to eat, but now it hung wide in surprise. "Maferath's... What?" Emil stumbled with his words. His fork then clattered on his plate as he dropped it and sat it aside, tilting his head the other way. Maferath's journal? The Maferath? The mortal husband of Andraste, who betrayed her? If what the pirate said was true, then what he held was an artifact that the Chantry would kill to acquire, for good or bad. Meanwhile, Kerin only looked up at the conversation at hand, shrugged, and went back to her meal. The name Maferath meant nothing to her, and therefore the conversation was not hers.

"How on the Maker's bloody earth did you even find it you damn magpie?!" He spat, disbelief and unwarranted anger filling his voice. There was a chance that the Pirate could be playing them for a pack of fools, yes, but then again that wasn't Rudhale's style. No, it wasn't the pirate's character that kept Emil in disbelief, but the magnitude of the discovery. A few moments passed by with only the incredulous stare of Emil holding the peace together but soon even that became too much for the Templar to bare. "Well you daft bastard, what does it say?! How do you even know it's the Maferath?!" He asked, perhaps the closest he'd come to physically laying hands on the pirate and shaking him.

Rudhale was pretty sure that Emil wasn't going to be amenable to most of the answers that would follow, but that didn't mean he'd withhold them. He certainly wasn't the kind of person who hesitated about bad news. "In order: journal, Morpheus had it, a lot, and... because he says so, often, and talks about his wife Andraste and all kinds of things that history doesn't know but he would have. Also, it's in the Alamarri language, which is now dead, so that was kind of a tip-off." It was actually remarkable, how vivid some of the events were in Maferath's descriptions, and while they more or less loosely meshed with Chantry history, the important details were... different.

"Okay..." Ethne said, willing to proceed on the premise that the book was genuine. She'd seen a lot of important historical documents in the Library of Minrathous, so while this was quite important, she wasn't exactly incredulous at its existence. "But why would a Darkspawn have such a thing, and what does it properly say?" She wasn't sure she understood the connection, though it wasn't lost on her that Morpheus had resembled a pride demon, which was another strange intersection she wouldn't have believed until she saw it.

Rudhale hummed a note, then shook his head. "Bit of light reading, perhaps? I confess I was inclined to believe that Du Lac was hiding it from a desire to keep his image intact. Now that you mention it, though..." He shrugged, and decided to answer the question he could rather than the one that would end in only speculation. "Among other things, Andraste was seemingly a mage. One who spent a lot of time in the Fade, more precisely, talking to Maker, or at least Maferath thought so." Knowing that probably wasn't going to fly, he cracked the book open and read from the page. "'She is distant now, and I must admit that it no longer seems to me as though I look upon my wife at all. She is something else now, and the spirit is gone from her, replaced by some proud fire that I cannot hope to contend with. She speaks seldom to me now, or anyone, and I know that she goes often to that place, the one she calls the ‘Fade.’ I am ill at ease, and so are the men.' I couldn't make this up if I tried."

He'd had enough. The pirate was being his usual self and Emil had no time nor apetite for him. Andraste a mage? Maferath's journal, it was all too much to believe. Emil had risen from the ground at some point between the back and forth between Ethne and Rudhale, though he himself didn't realize it. He was on his way to accost the pirate when he began reading from the book. The passage made Emil stop and listen, midway between his starting position and the pirate. His mouth twitched as the words fell from Rudhale's lips and twisted in displeasure. He couldn't sit there and just believe that Andraste was a mage-- even if he was willing to believe that the pirate had somehow miraculously come in possession of Maferath's journal via Darkspawn.

"With your tongue Pirate, I wouldn't be surprised," Emil said venomously as he closed the distance and snatched the book from the pirate's hands. The writing proper was in a language that even Emil didn't understand, the translated portions were written in the margins. He looked up from the book with the look of utter disbelief. Emil slapped the open tome with the back of his hand and barked at the Pirate, "How in the bloody hells alive do you even bloody know this damn language?!" A question for another time perhaps, as Emil didn't give the pirate time to answer. His head dropped and his eyes went directly to the next language. Unaware of himself he began to read.

"'Whatever force she speaks to is mighty indeed; it is as if the sun itself beats down upon our enemies, withering their crops and drying their mouths while leaving us untouched. It is… unnatural, like that light that burns in my Andraste’s eyes now. Where has her gentleness gone? I do not know this woman, made of steel and forged in the sun-fire. She laughs at me when I tell her so, and says she will take that as her device—the sun for every man’s shield, and the flames for her sword.' Here, take it. I'm not reading anymore," He said, passing it off to Ethne. But he had read it. And it didn't sound like the Andraste he had worshipped...

In a calmer state of mind, Kerin was still working on her meal watching as the Templar became worked up over this Maferath's Journal. The reactions the book was getting was making her curious, and truth be told, she had never much heard about this Maferath. Andraste a bit, but not enough to count. If she had her guess, these people sounded like important figures, like the ancestors down in Orzammar. She looked up at Solvej and poked her with her fork, asking, "Who's Maferath? And Andraste? They sound important."

"Andraste married the Maker," Mira explained from her seat close to the fire. All things considered, she was looking much better now, and seemed to be in rather good spirits. "Her teachings led to the Chantry as it is now. Maferath was her mortal husband, who betrayed her to the Tevinter Imperium. Hard to measure up to a God between the sheets, I'm afraid. Or something like that." Mira was certainly no devout Andrastian, but it wasn't as though she was devoted to another religion. She knew what anyone would know about the Maker and his bride and the Chant. As it was, she was rather interested in all of this, without being offended in the slightest. Kerin grunted in acknowledgement, shoving a fork into her face.

"Is there more, lovely?" she asked of Ethne, who had been passed the book. "This all seems delightfully scandalous." Of course, Emil seemed rather distraught over it all, but there was really nothing she could do for him. Well, there was something she could do for him, if he needed help relaxing, but she normally charged for that.

Suicide did not feel he could care less. He knew of these people, but their histories and what they were or weren't had no effect on him. He continued eating.

Rudhale had simply shrugged; he'd been a scholarly child whose father had aspired to a nobility on par with the Orlesians'. It wasn't all that surprising that he knew a few dead tongues, or at least it wasn't if one knew the entire context. He did glance over to the elf though, when Mira prodded her for more information. It wasn't as if he hadn't read it all himself, but it was still interesting, as much for how they took it as anything. Ethne flipped a few pages, treating the tome as though it were made of the most delicate glass and might blow away into ashes if she held it too firmly. Then again, had anyone but them come across it in the Chantry, it probably would have been made ashes, as soon as they understood what it said. It could be a bunch of lies for all he knew, but the point was that it existed

"'She runs us ragged, but her strength never flags. What has He made of her? Wherefore does her compassionate heart hide? She cares no more for the men, nor for Shartan and his people, and least of all for me or our children. It is only Him now; His voice is the only one she hears. We tire, we starve, and still we fight. The magisters will break us, and she is willing to let us be broken, as long as Minrathous falls. I cannot abide this any longer. I will not see us win only after everything we fought for is lost. I have lost my wife, lost everything she was to me. I will not lose my people, too.' He sounds so... sad." She handed the tome off to Solvej, thinking that perhaps someone who had been in the Chantry would know better than she what to make of it. And Emil didn't seem much in the mood to handle the book, which she certainly understood.

Solvej, who had been rather quiet thus far and content to let Mira answer her question, nevertheless looked faintly uneasy to be holding the book, grimacing and muttering something in her native language beneath her breath. Still, bar a few of them who didn't seem to care, she figured most would be waiting for some kind of reply from her quarter, so she huffed and cracked the tome. "Hope you lot don't mind a few spoilers. I'm skipping to the end." It made sense, at least to her. If there was something incredibly relevant to what they were doing, the insufferable pirate would point it out eventually, and probably with heady glee at that. Next best place to go was the end, considering the vague history this was supposed to be an accounting of.

Sort of a strange notion, though: to read firsthand accounts of these events. It was something she'd always been instructed to take on faith. The Chantry knew only the sketchiest details, painted in the broadest strokes, and nothing so mundane as the day-to-day thoughts of someone who lived it. Even after she'd stopped really believing that the Maker cared tuppence for humans or elves or dwarves or what was best for them, she hadn't abandoned the history. It had been that unshakeable, that obvious. Everyone knew what Andraste had done, what Maferath had done to her, and that was just... fact, faith or no.

"Last entry, I suppose. 'It is done. Hessarian has assured me he will lead the ambush personally. My children will despise me for what I have done. My people, also. I will probably die for it, and that is as it should be. In the end, she will be exalted, and I will be condemned. I accept this, and leave my thoughts here, in vain hopes that someday, someone will understand why I have done what I did. It was terrible, and necessary. Now nobody will remember the Andraste who wore her army ragged and cared nothing for them. They will remember her not as a frantic woman who spent too much time in dream and lost herself, but as a hero, who led her people in a valiant fight and died for them. It is all I can give her, now, and all she deserves.'" She paused for a moment, and seemed to reread the passage, eyes flicking back and forth, before she snorted and threw the book back at Rudhale.

"Bullshit," she declared with a shake of her head. "This is just some fool trying to make the traitor a tragic hero rather than the sinner he was. Doesn't work like that." Her tongue had stalled momentarily over the pronoun, as though she'd nearly said something else and had to correct for it. She doubted even the pirate was fool enough to claim that this thing was genuine without real proof of it, but that didn't mean she had to acknowledge it. And she really didn't feel like further muddying her nice black and white moral categories today. There was hardly anything left that wasn't some kind of grey, and the whole 'Andraste good, Maferath bad' thing was among that tiny minority.

"While she might have left the order, she still has her senses about her. For once, I agree with Gruenwald. Just some pissant's attempt at a story," Emil agreed. It just wasn't what he was taught. Andraste was a righteous and just person with the favor of the Maker, not some cold blooded Sorceress. Even if the tome was indeed Maferath's, he could have easily been biased. No one sees themself as the villian after all. There were so many explanations apart from the one Emil dreaded... Still, the seeds were sown, and doubt had begun to take root.

Throughout the impromptu reading of Maferath's diary, Rhapscallion remained silent, though he strained his ears to catch their words, hung up on the inkling that the Chantry might've been wrong in how they bastardized Maferath's deeds, or what he'd done to the Andraste. His lips pursed, then pulled into a down-turned line, a thoughtful frown. He did not love or believe in the Maker, nor did he cherish Andraste. They'd done nothing in his youth, hadn't held his hand when he was alone, or whispered feverishly, doting on him when he thought there was no one else in the world save his oppressed nannies. He believed in them, well enough. These revelations, whether or not they genuinely belonged to Maferath, did not shock, or repulse him. Even still, Rhapscallion was surprised by his mentor's reaction, to her obvious disdain to the thing Rudhale had found on Morpheus' person – the woman, though she'd come from a background dealing directly with the Maker and it's teachings, did not strike him as sentimental when it came to its history, to its authenticity. It wasn't surprising coming from Emil, but it was different coming from Solvej. The half-breed paused, glancing up at her before wringing his hands together.

If Maferah's words were true, then he'd been demonized by everyone he'd known (except the army she'd run dry) for protecting his wife's reputation. If it were true. Of course, no one would want to believe that. Why would they? There was something giving him pause, making him want to hear more of Maferath's words. Perhaps, from Rudhale's lips. He opened his mouth a few times, then promptly snapped it closed when he thought it was best not to feed the flames already licking in their eyes. Few of his companions seemed bothered at all, regarding the information with little more than raised eyebrows, smacking lips, or forks grating between their teeth. He took a tentative step towards Rudhale, who'd no doubt caught the book sailing through the air, carelessly thrown by his mentor. Had it been Andraste's husband's true words, would she have been so reckless with it? Wasn't it priceless, then? He idled beside Rudhale's horse for a moment, then linked his hands behind his head, gazing up at the fat clouds overhead. “I'd like to hear more.” He supposed softly, hoping (strangely enough) that Solvej and Emil didn't hear him, disregarding this notion. “Uh. Later, perhaps.”

"Even if it was true, doesn't make much of a difference, now does it?" The Chantry was still the same, and they'd successfully struck verses from the canonical Chant before; it wasn't like anyone would believe this little book when they could drown any truth it might hold in enough tradition to kill armies. Besides, they weren't here for the Chantry, and that was that. There were Darkspawn that still needed killing.

Interesting. He wasn't sure what reaction he'd been expecting out of the self-proclaimed Black Templar, but it hadn't been that. He'd caught the slight hitch as her tongue was forced to utter something than its original purpose, and that it was over a pronoun was interesting. If the masculine there were replaced by feminine, he wondered if she'd fancy herself the subject of the sentence. Nevertheless, he caught the book with a deft hand and tucked it away, shooting a wink at the half-blooded shadow near his horse. If he wanted more information, Rudhale would only be happy to provide it. "Maybe, maybe not," he answered the armored woman. "Whatever the case may be, it looks like Morpheus had it, and that is certainly relevant to us, I think."



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Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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One day, while Scally was busy talking to Rudhale, Ethne found herself sort of orbiting the Dalish man in their party, like a satellite drawn in by gravity but not quite sure whether to enter the atmosphere. If satellites could have such thoughts. It wasn't difficult to say why; there was no great mystery about it. Just about him. He seemed so... calm, all the time, like nothing ever got under his skin. Which, while bizarre enough on its own, reached a new level of strangeness when she properly considered their situation, and the fact that, as a Blood Mage, she was given to believe that he should either be actively contracting with a demon (not the case, from what she could observe in the Fade) or else constantly tormented by them. It seemed that this wasn't the case either, though, and indeed the Fade around him was just as placid as he was.

It was enough that she was actually a little nervous. He was nothing like the Magisters she'd known, but so much stronger than the mages who weren't. She wasn't the flighty little wren she might seem to be, but at the moment, the sternness of her constitution seemed to be eluding her, superceded by a peculiar kind of social anxiety she'd never felt. It wasn't the straightforward nervousness born of feeling inferior, though that was definitely at play. It was more than that, though she could not put a name to it properly. Still, she found herself with a burning curiosity and a desire to understand this side of magic and people she'd never seen before, and that pulled her gradually further in towards him, until she at last sucked in a deep breath and steeled herself, approaching with footsteps more hesitant than she wanted them to be.

It didn't help that she couldn't quite seem to get the hang of her tongue at the present moment, either.

The little Dreamer's circling was of some passing amusement to the Dalish man, and he had been aware of it for some time. It was, however, wiser to let those who needed what he had to give to come to him, rather than the other way around. One could entrap a butterfly between one's hands, but that risked crushing the poor thing to death. It was better to remain still and offer a limb for it to land on of its own accord. And she was a delicate little thing, wasn't she? He had great appreciation for aesthetics on the artistic level, but as with most things, this sensibility ran deeper than the bare facts of her copper-lit hair or kingfisher eyes. He was interested rather in the fact that one with so much sapling strength in her demeanor seemed determined to believe that bending itself was weakness, that all strength was steel.

But then, he did think such fanciful thoughts sometimes. He was wont to remind himself that he could always be wrong, though in truth it seldom happened anymore. He had met all kinds of people from all walks of life, from the Queen of Antiva herself down to the lowliest of the dwarven outcasts in Ragnar's camp. He'd listened with careful ear to each of them, offering none more or less of his attention and regard than any other, and he had been careful, generally, not to judge what he saw. This was perhaps why it was so easy for him to see loveliness and worth in everything. And why he was patient enough to wait for people to approach him, as he might be to watch a flower bloom, slowly, delicately, but altogether incredibly worthwhile.

People, he thought, were even more worth the effort than flowers and butterflies.

When she approached, however, she seemed not to find the words she sought, and so he supplied them gently, in the kind of voice another might reserve for a wounded creature. "There is something you wish to know, or to say, perhaps?" Though the sentence was inflected as a question, it was quite obvious that he knew the answer, and was instead prompting her to speak at her leisure. "You may find it more comfortable to sit." But he did not press it. If she was one who preferred to remain standing, from strong flight instincts, formality, or reservation, it mattered not to him.

Ethne opened her mouth to try the words again, but they weren't any better yet, so instead she complied with the quiet implication and sat, planting herself upon a log like so much squishy, useless moss and trying not to stare. He just... didn't make sense. Apparently, that was a coherent enough thought to get her tongue working again, and to her chagrin, she repeated it out loud before she'd had the opportunity to assess its wisdom. "You don't make sense." Abruptly, her jaw clicked shut, and the rosy color blossomed over her nose and cheeks. Well, there went any points she had gained for manners! That was probably incredibly rude, and she couldn't quite believe she'd said it.

Clearing her throat uncomfortably, she tried again. "Erm, sorry. That's not what I meant. Well, I guess it is, but I shouldn't have said it that way. Or... something." She sighed, resisting the urge to flee, but only just. "I think what I was trying to get at is... you're a Blood Mage. Oh! Um... I'm not going to report you to the Templars or anything; I was raised by Blood Mages, you know, and they're not all bad all the time, I guess, but they didn't like me very much, and certainly none of them were anything like you, and oh dear, I'm rambling again." Clearly flustered, she tugged at the lower hem of her robe, pushed a few stray hairs behind a pointed ear, and otherwise did whatever she could to avoid eye contact. It was a bit odd, though; for all she felt like a silly little girl right now, she was also strangely... comfortable, like maybe nothing bad would come of her bumbling about just now. And that was really the odd part, wasn't it?

"How do you do it?" she asked at last, forcing herself to make eye contact. "We're out here, fighting and risking our lives, and I don't know about you, but the demons... they try talking to me all the time, and I just can't imagine being so... so calm about everything while that's happening." She expelled the remainder of that breath in a rush, mostly to prevent herself from using it to muddle her question even further like an idiot.

By the end of the girl's ramblings, Andaer understood what she was getting at, and he was smiling. Not terribly obviously, but just a close-lipped smile that conveyed gentle amusement. He had to take it from her obvious lack of Valaslin and any even remotely Dalish mannerisms that the mages that had raised her had not been of the People, and given the Chantry's iron grip everywhere else, he surmised that she must be referring either to the Magisters of Tevinter or the hedgewitches found most often in Rivain. But the accent placed her as Tevinter, certainly, and this was the most evident conclusion. He wondered what scars it had left on her heart. The Imperium was not kind to their kind, not in any measure, and the best she could have hoped for was to be coddled like a pet. The worst was unspeakable.

Setting aside the leather oil and Seth's reins, which had been upon his lap, he placed his hands on his knees, his feet crossed and currently laid just behind them, bare now that they were at leisure for the day. If indeed anything they did could be called that. She had a point. "So let them talk," he said simply. "Just because one is spoken to does not mean one needs to listen. I daresay we often find ourselves heedless of the things people say even when the words are true; should it not be an even simpler thing to close our ears and eyes and mouths to lies?" Of course it was complicated. Very little in life was ever actually simple, but there were ways of looking at such problems that could render the complexities moot, irrelevant, even if not vanished like smoke in the night.

It sounded so easy, when he said it that way, but surely it had not always seemed so to him? She had the constant protection of her spirit-companions, and still the insidous words found cold places wrapped serpentine around her heart and lungs. Was it really the case that it just didn't happen to him? Surely not, or at least there must have been a time before it was such a simple matter. She confessed she didn't understand what he was getting at, but then if she'd been able to understand right away, wouldn't she have known already?

Seeking to demonstrate his point perhaps more effectively, he decided it would be better to show her, rather than simply tell her. "Look around you. What do you see? Describe it to me."

The question caught her off-guard, but she gave it what consideration she could, looking around at the scene of camp laid out around them. "Well, I see Scally, and Solvej, and Kerin. And Suicide's not here but he's probably on watch, and I'd guess the others are somewhere behind me, maybe. Other than that? There's... a campfire, and some supplies, and our horses over that way. We're on a hill, so... grass and trees, I suppose." She tipped her head up to take in the evening sky. "Well, there's a sunset happening, and that cloud looks kind of like a Mabari, which is nice. Reminds me of Chaucer, actually." Glancing back down, she fiddled with the ends of her hair. The question was evident on her face: what, exactly, was she supposed to be looking for?

Andaer nodded sagely, as if he'd been expecting something like that. "You look for people first, and mention even the ones you can't see. Don't you think that's interesting? You relate features of your natural environment to other things that they remind you of." He allowed that to hang in the air for a moment, hoping that she would understand what he was trying to imply. The question was intended to be vague because there was no correct answer, only an indicative one, one that told them both something important about her. "Now, these things that you see-- they are beautiful, are they not? To you, specifically? Worth protecting, worth dying for, even?" He scrutinized her face, but not harshly, leaning forward just slightly as if to puntuate the point.

The Dalish man trailed his fingertips over the grass beneath him, planting his palms fimly onto the earth at his sides. The sense of connection was immediate; though plants and soil had no blood, he was all the same attuned to their life in a way that he suspected more civilized folk were no longer taught. "This I have learned: anything truly worth dying for is worth living for also, and it is the living that is harder. If people like you and I, knowing full well how easy and simple it would be to slip beyond the Veil forever, can find the strength to continue living for the sake of the things we find most precious in the world, then what are the words of demons to us? They cannot divest us of the greatest of our burdens, for it is the one we bear most willingly, and if that is the case, what could they ever hope to give? Power is fleeting, illusory. When seen next to the strength of the bonds that tie me to what I hold dear, even the offerings of greatest Pride are scant." He tilted his head to one side, bringing the first two fingers of one hand to his mouth in a contemplative motion.

"We can refuse Pride because the value of what we love makes us humble. We can spurn Lust because our greatest desires are ours alone to fulfill. We can outlast Hunger because all we need is already before us. We can calm Rage because we choose to live with our eyes open rather than closed, and see the good in everything. We can brush away Sloth because living is achieved on this side of the Veil, not that. Everything you need to be as at peace as you wish is already in front of you. Grasp it with both hands, and do not let go." He smiled sadly. "And if the time comes, and you must say your farewells to that which you love, rest content with what still remains."

She'd never thought about it like that before. Now that he mentioned it, though, she supposed it made sense that she looked to the people first. Beautiful, though... at first, it seemed a strange word to characterize so many different souls, but when she really thought about it, he was right, in a way. They were certainly worth protecting, as was what they fought for. But it seemed that something about the way he put things drew her away from abstract things like causes and right and wrong and towards the concrete bits, like the people beside her and the people further beyond, like the sky over her head and the ground beneath her feet.

It was kind of funny. She was always so focused on the future, the past. The present seemed like just the time she was stuck in, while the important things were elsewhere. Or elsewhen. Whichever. It made it so much more tempting, when they spoke to her of just handing over what she needed to achieve her goals. She supposed, if she could really manage a mindset such that all she needed was with her already, the offers would seem less significant. This made sense. It was actually changing the way that she thought about these things that would be the tricky part. Still... Everything you need to be as at peace as you wish is already in front of you. It was reassuring to hear it from someone who'd so obviously succeeded.

And yet... she still thought he sounded a bit sad. "What did you lose?" she asked, then her eyes went wide, and she backpedaled quickly. "I mean! I'm really sorry, you don't have to answer that! It was rude to ask in the first place."

He was silent for a moment, but chose to reply. Perhaps it would help her to know; he couldn't say. "We only ever 'lose' what might have been," he replied simply. "And we never have that to begin with. It is true that the life I expected to be leading right now is impossible, for the one I'd have been living it beside is gone. But I lost nothing of what we'd had, and indeed what I was given by the spare years we spent together sustains me, even now. I shall seek no other love of its kind, for there is none. Instead, I choose to embrace whatever other joy I might find. If you desire the specifics, I ask that you wait for another time, perhaps."

It was more of an answer than she'd expected, and it gave her quite a bit to think about. Pursing her lips, she nodded pensively. "Thank you," she said forthrightly. "I'll... I'll try." She wasn't sure that this level of acceptance was something she could produce in herself, but it sure sounded like it would be lovely to attain.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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Mira might have been right at the front when they'd charged off, but she certainly wasn't going to be the first one into the fight. The enemies may have had their backs turned, but that still didn't change the fact she wasn't wearing any armor, nor did she have much knowledge of how to use a blade, other than knowing precisely where to stick it. So she'd let the other party members, the ones who actually knew how to take a hit, go first.

Another benefit of that was being able to adequately survey the battlefield before plunging in, and so she was able to catch Solvej's wordless suggestion, following her head towards the cluster of bandits that Kerin was charging headlong towards. Having recently restocked her supply of potions and vials, she was more than willing to spare one of the stunning variety. She took it into her left hand, her kris sword steady in her right. She'd named the blade Selena, not that she'd told anyone. It seemed like a personal thing, anyway.

She crept around the field, staying low, not that it mattered much, considering how brutally obvious both of the other female Wardens were cleaving through enemies. Timing it such that the vial would explode shortly before Kerin reached the bandits, Mira tossed it into the center of them, a crack like a whip accompanying its explosion, the cluster of enemies temporarily denied the majority of their senses. Mira took the opportunity to slide her kris sword around the nearest one's neck and open her throat, before darting to the side and stabbing upwards into the back of another, slipping the blade into a weak point in the lackluster armor, cutting up and into the heart. She almost smiled as she withdrew the blade once more. Poor armor was little better than no armor at all.

As Kerin strode toward the next knot of bandits, her leisurely pace allowed them the time to shore up their defenses and get into position to best fight off the pair of Wardens approaching them. At least, that had been the plan, until a vial crashed in the middle of them and threw them all into a daze. Kerin took the gift as it came and took her great blade by both hands, and rushed right into the heart of the bandits, bowling two or three out of her way as she did. A bloody roar signaled feeding time as the heart ran rampant, driving the pace of the war drums in her head.

She lifted her blade into the air, and brought it down to the ground, like she was trying to cleave Thedas itself. The action had its intended effect, sending out a localized Tremor with her in the epicenter-- even if the effect would also effect her companions. Here, in the throes of her rage and anger, she had no allies. It was only herself, and the bandits who would soon cease to be. The others could look after themselves, if they knew what was good for them. Kerin picked her first victim and cleaved upward at an angle, cutting diagonally through the bandit and spraying the immediate area with gore. Unbeknownst to the raging dwarf, Mira was dangerously close to her wild slashes. If she wasn't quick on her feet, then the girl would get caught by the end of Kerin's cleave-- either way, she'd be painted with blood.

Thankfully, Mira was quick on her feet. Her lack of armor was good for something. Noticing the raging dwarf woman just in time, Mira pushed away her newest victim and hopped backwards out of the way, just as the bandit she had recently had her sword in quite literally exploded in a spray of gore and blood, being on the receiving end of Kerin's attack as he was. As luck would have it, Mira had the unfortunate positioning to receive most of this spray, and it was all she could do to turn her head and close her eyes and mouth before being spattered from head to toe.

She sputtered slightly, before blinking through it and turning her gaze on Kerin, her face spotted with red circles and running lines. "Andraste's shapely tits... remind me to never fight next to you again. Ugh, I need to get some new clothes..." She hadn't quite worked out the bloodstains from the Deep Roads disaster, and some of her repairs to the fabric from the wounds she'd taken weren't her finest work. Maybe there would be a store open in Antiva City. The dwarf didn't look so bad when covered in gore, as it was kind of her style at this point, but Mira had certain standards she needed to live up to. The whole berserker rage, covered in blood thing just didn't suit her.

At least this time it wasn't largely her own blood.

The stunning vial, whatever it had contained to have that particular effect, worked quite well, and Solvej scissored in from the opposite side as Kerin, Wagner's superior mobility making flanking a rather simple task. The poleax, like any similar armament, had the added bonus of being quite useful from horseback, in a way that short weapons and large swords were not. The tremor the dwarf produced wasn't enough to unsteady the mountain-bred steed, who simply steadied himself while his rider steered him with her knees, swinging down into a nearby bandit's shoulder with a simple leverage motion. As all of them were currently stunned, they had not the wherewithal to raise a guard, and she was through that one and one other before they came to, one reacting on pure instinct and scoring a large gash to Wagner's side.

The horse reared in protest, and Solvej grinned, adjusting without difficulty and hooking the axe behind one of his knees. She pulled forward as the Anderfels shire came down, and the tripped bandit found his chest crushed under the enormous weight of the animal. He wouldn't be getting up from that one. Mira's comment produced a throaty laugh from the dark-armored woman, and she raised a brow. "I'm told leather is much easier to clean than linen. Perhaps you ought to consider investing in some protection?"

"Perhaps we ought to consider stopping somewhere with a decent store," Mira shot back good-naturedly. Upon confirming that all of the bandits in the immediate area had been ended, she gave the idea a little more thought. Quick as she was, she didn't have a perfect record going of dodging enemy attacks, and some leather probably wouldn't slow her down much at all. "Some armor probably will be in order," Mira agreed. "I mean, it's not like I wouldn't still look ravishing after slipping into some leather." It was good to know that at least someone had their priorities in order.




The majority of the group having dashed off quite quickly, and two of the other three that hadn't apparently content to fire upon the field from afar, Andaer was left a bit uncertain of what to do with himself. He supposed it would be possible for him to join the Templar and Dreamer on the hill, but his expertise was not from such ranges; he found it easier to meld magic with bladework a little closer to his foes, and so he looked to the only other person that yet remained: Rhapscallion. "Shall we drain the dregs, then?" he asked, suggesting in his oblique sort of fashion that they stick to the edges of the main conflict and punish any unwary bandits with deaths they were not expecting.

Neither of them was a bulwark of aggression like the dwarf, the Chasind, or the former Templar, but certainly, subtlety had its own advantages. Testing his feet in their deerhide boots, Andaer drew his sword, holding it firmly but not white-knuckled in one hand before reversing its direction, laying the flat of the blade flush with the back of his left arm. It would minimize reflection, making him that much more difficult to notice until he wished to be. He was no stealthy assassin, nor lord of the forest as his Din'vhenan, sliding through the dappled shade of trees with no sign of his presence. But he'd picked up a few bits of wisdom that even a mage could use, and it was at a moderate pace, crouched to reduce his visibility to the bandts, that he did approach, allowing the half-blooded Warden to make his own determination of what was best.

The first bandit, predictably, did not see the elf coming, and soon found himself far too preoccupied to care, caught within the bounds of a crushing prison spell that snapped his limbs with all the vengeful force of gravity. This alerted several of his nearby friends, too many for the Dalish to deal with at once. Frowning, Andaer reached out with his magic to their vital systems, shoving with the force of the Fade at his hands. The spell was inelegant, as he hadn't even properly activated his own blood magic, but the sudden influx of foreign energy did seem to cause them some problems, as those in range staggered backwards, stunned and dizzy from the thunderous internal pulse.

Well, that was new.

Perhaps, Rhapscallion's initial reaction had been a little more staggered, a little less productive than the others, all of which were rapidly dashing towards their assailants, weapons screaming away from their scabbards. He blinked once, then twice, realizing that he and Andaer remained behind – looking lost, if not uncertain as to where, exactly, they were needed. His shamshirs remained in their respective sheaths, though his fingers rested just above the pommels. If forced to fight the combatants from afar, he'd be rendered as useless as a flopping, guppy-mouthed fish on land. Bows, arrows, bolts and crossbows did not fit so easily in his hands, for his accuracy left much to be desired (as Solvej had discovered early on). Blades, slender and curved and dangerous, fit into his palms quite nicely; close-combat had become his own personal style, as well as a destructive dance, that he'd become surprisingly good at, and so Rapscallion caught Andaer's speculative look, and returned it with a smile, “Exactly what I was thinking.”

There was a momentary upwards quirk to Rhapscallion's lips as they surveyed the outer edges of the field, bright eyes flitting through the trees for any sign of movement in the foliage, or any sound of crackling branches underfoot. His own movements had become distinctly restrained, as if his body had bundled itself into a smaller, less intrusive form made up of bunched muscles, refined limbs (instead of knocking elbows), and footfalls that fell, and rose, more like padded paws then leather-clad boots. Had the Chasind been aware of his predatory progression, he might have been impressed – unfortunately, Rhapscallion's skills were best demonstrated in controlled, overlooked situations, when he wasn't tripping over himself to reach his more-than-capable companions. His blades remained in their scabbards, only a couple inches from his fingertips, though he occasionally moved his hands to manoeuvre around hanging branches, drooping leaves and thick copses of shrubbery. He crouched alongside Andaer, who'd also already spotted the bandits in the clearing ahead, clearly preoccupied by what was happening below.

It shouldn't have surprised him when the Dalish had taken the opportunity to strike first, dipping into his supernatural repertoire, and violently snapping the nearest bandits limbs together, then seemingly outward, as if they were trying to twist and bend unnaturally inward, but it did. The man's movements were grotesque, and shockingly eerie, puppet limbs disobeying their masters orders. The hesitation only lasted a few moments, until Rhapscallion plunged forward, away from the underbrush, and directly into the fray. Something unusual had happened, though it seemed more like a slowly abating pulse through his own veins, as if he'd suddenly stumbled into an electrical field – harmless, but definitely noted. His blades slipped away from their scabbards, resonating a faint hiss. The song it sang was of shadows creeping in the night, invisible, and as illusive as a blade pressed to a sleeper's throat. The half-breed took advantage of their disorientation, quickly sinking his blade through the closest man's chest cavity (the one who'd been struggling against his own body), pulled in the opposite direction, and brought the same bloodied blade into the next bandit, straight through his belly.

His body flickered as he brought his other shamshir up, clashing against one particular bandit who'd shaken off whatever stupor he'd been pulled under.

As he should perhaps have expected, Rhapscallion was quick to take advantage of the stunned state of their foes, and the time he spent slashing and stabbing was time the mage used to relocate, flipping his sword back into its more conventional grip and exhaling with meditative slowness as he heated it in his hands, the metal taking on that cherry-red quality, orange at the edges, that he was by now so accustomed to. With his other hand, he mimed the necessary motions for a Death Syphon-- if these bandits were going to die, he might as well drink in their residual energy. It was not as though they were going to need it any longer. Indeed, a distinct blue-black wisp of something fled from the body of the first man that the half-elf downed, disappearing upon making contact with Andaer's wiry form.

Bolstered, the mage lit a spirit bolt in one hand and advanced forward, stepping in to block a flanking attempt made by a third bandit on Rhapscallion even as the man flickered into view, dropping a second target with easy precision. The would-be backstabber lunged, quicker than Andaer was prepared for, and only his relfexes and a bit of luck had him bringing up his sword in enough time to block, the resounding clang of steel meeting steel loud in his ears. He did not waste time in a contest of strength, however, and shot the bolt of magic point-blank over the crossed swords, hitting the highwayman attacking him squarely in the chest with a vague sizzling sound. His foe's knees buckled, and he hit he dirt without further protest.

A flash from the corner of his eye alterted him to incoming weaponry, and Andaer tucked and rolled, coming up onto the balls of his feet in a crouch at the side of this new foe. Striking whip-quick with his own blade, he managed to hamstring one of the woman's legs before she could recover from her botched attempt to ambush him, but he had no time to finish her, as the last of the lot swung a heavy battleaxe for his midsection. Borrowing a leaf from the books of men like the pirate and the shadow, Andaer arched himself back, the axehead whistling by inches from his nose. Snapping back with more alacrity than men his age properly had a right (he would feel it tomorrow, too), he slashed quickly in a horizontal arc, jumping backwards after the hot metal had flayed a gash through the big man's armor. The limping woman was pressing, though, and he hadn't put the large fellow down. Only a small amount of blood was welling from the cut.

It was enough. Hooking his hand into a clawlike shape, he pulled some from that and more from the woman's leg. The blood loss didn't do much to the man, but she was clearly dizzy from it, and he took the opportunity to lunge forward, the point of his sword blossoming from her back a second later. She slumped against him, and though he tried to extricate himself, he was just a little too slow. The big man was swinging his axe again...

The emphatic clang of crossed swords, inches above his head, automatically sent Rhapscallion into a tucked roll, diving in the opposite direction just as Andaer shot a bolt of pure energy into the highwayman's vulnerable chest. He found his legs again, bolting to the right, then to the left; all the while flickering from view, leaves casting patterns across his skin. It was mesmerizing to behold, but the sporadic shifting became more of an eyesore, increasingly difficult to swing at. The technique was one that had been taught to him in his youth, when the streets had become more of a home than his father's awkward estate – to evade detection, to confuse and rattle onlookers so that he could get away, and be comfortably alone. His blade snapped out, often clattering flat-bladed against shoulders, knees, ankles, to distract them. If they turned around to see where he'd went, striking out clumsily, then he'd be able to sink his blade in tender, fatal parts. They might have been highwaymen, preying on the weak, but he still didn't wish them to suffer.

He turned back towards his companion, who was now engaged with an injured woman, and a much larger bandit with an incapacitating-axe. Andaer was busy dispatching the woman, and Rhapscallion hesitated when he'd begun to advance to help him end her life (but, he wasn't moving away from her). His companion's horrible predicament had only occurred to him when the last highwayman, burly and already swinging his deadly weapon in a downward arc, that Andaer was trapped under the woman's weight, dead-arms tangled around his shoulders. Rational thoughts eluded him, fleeing from his skull like scattering moths. Rhapscallion's lunge was a desperate, ungraceful thing. He'd stepped in front of Andaer, very nearly knocking into him. He'd instinctively brought up his shamshirs just in time to catch the swinging axe, though the man's strength had pushed his crossed blades down, it's glinting tip sunk into his shoulder.

Beads of sweat dripped down his forehead as he held the blade lock. The highwayman was stronger than he was, snarling and struggling to continue the downward momentum, pressing his weight on the axes shaft. It only managed to sink half an inch farther, forcing Rhapscallion to take a step backwards, bending his back in an effort to dislodge himself. He couldn't move his blades away without risking having his arm cleaved off, and camouflaging himself, whilst having an axe in his shoulder, was a moot point. His shoulder, and his armpit, felt wet, dribbling from the wound.

At last free of his unwelcome burden, Andaer was aware of Rhapscallion bounding in to take the blow, and he felt more than saw the blood welling out of the wound in the young man's shoulder. Truly a soul with good in his core, to take a blow that way for one who was little more than a stranger in a strange place. It was all he could do in return not to hesitate, drawing the silvery knife from his sleeve, slicing through the bandages that kept his forearm scars hidden from the world, and then again, biting into the skin of the arm itself. Pain is something one does well to ignore, but the pain of others, one should never forget. The crimson liquid welled quikcly from the wound, and needing his hand, Andaer plunged his mage-sword into the ground, using the fingers that had been about its hilt to draw the blood from his wound, and taking the rest from what dripped down Rhapscallion's shoulder and the corpses strewn about them.

Combined, it was enough, and he lashed out with the stuff as though it were something else entirely, a whip, perhaps, made of sinews and metal, but the only thing steely about it was the iron in the blood. Still, magic can do what other things cannot, and it hit the highwayman in the side of the head as though it were made of impossibly-flexible lead, staggering him and forcing him to withdraw his hammer from engagement wth the half-blooded elf. "Now, while he is dazed," Andaer advised, taking up his sword again and placing the bloodied dagger between his teeth instead.

Rhapscallion took another step backwards, digging his heels in to prevent himself from toppling over entirely. It would do no one any good if they were a tangle of arms and legs, unable to defend themselves with this brute swinging his battleaxe down upon them, so he kept his ground. A small sound escaped his throat; half-wheeze, half-grunt. He desperately wanted to overpower this highwayman, throw him off with a tenacity that didn't belong to someone like him; a man made up of sinewy shadows, disintegrating parts and a heart that beat too loudly. He wasn't exactly sure what condition Andaer was in, or whether or not he'd been injured, but from the sounds of it, he was moving. The faint sound of ripping cloth caught his ears – an odd sound given their situation. He couldn't swivel his head around to see what his companion was planning. Instead, Rhapscallion pressed forward, allowing more time for whatever would come next.

Spatters of his blood dripped, dripped, dripped down his elbow, like a miniature faucet. A most peculiar feeling seeped from his wound, as if the blood that had managed to travel down his arm was being vacuumed away, whisked like raindrops. It hadn't occurred to him just how unaware he was, or just how uneducated he was, when it came to mages, apostates, different sorts of magic, and how they could be performed. Blood magic hadn't been readily discussed in his estate, let alone anything else of importance. He'd only heard stories of admirable Dalish warriors, of justly-archers and knowing keepers. A flash of sanguine briefly whipped in his peripherals, before coming up clear as day. It appeared solid enough to slap against the highwayman's thick skull, sending him reeling backwards with the battleaxe in hand, pulling it free from his aching shoulder. However, Rhapscallion could not, as of present, feel the pain. Adrenaline coursed through his veins, masking it.

He sidestepped a clumsy sweep from the axehead, allowed his injured arm to hang at his side while the other snapped outward, successfully biting between the highwayman's exposed side, digging between huffing ribs, and through tender organs. Rhapscallion sank to one knee, twisting the blade upwards, so its tip projected through his collarbone. He wasn't able to pull it back out at the angle, so he disengaged himself, releasing his grip. The bandits body twitched as he sidled backwards, glossy eyes unfocused. He gurgled something. It took him a few moments to finally fall to his knees, fingers losing their grip on the great weapon he'd wielded moments before. Certainly not a clean kill, but it was all he could have done. Rhapscallion breathed out through his nostrils, a little too harshly, ignoring the reeling sensation in his head. He pushed himself back to his feet ungracefully, regarding Andaer with concern. His arm was bleeding. It was also crisscrossed with jagged scars, which was disconcerting enough. “Ha—have you been cut as well?”

An unwelcome boy in a frigid home had little use to know what a blood mage was.

It was not something to be explained here, at any rate, and the Dalish man was surprised it was not obvious. "Only by my own hand," he replied simply, shaking his head to stave off further questions for the moment. There would be time enough for explanations in the future, if indeed he was fated to give them. For now, it looked as though the fight was winding down, which meant there would be other things to attend to, like those Antivan soldiers. He hoped, perhaps irrationally, that Maria was all right.




"Oh, how do you kill a highwayman?
The lovely girl's question began
Said I: It's not so hard
Just duck under his guard
Slash-stab, feint-parry, you can!"


Hm... not his best work, but amusingly literal. Indeed, Rudhale tore through his first bandit with a little more energy and urgency than he might otherwise have devoted to the task, and this was partially because he was fairly sure he recognized that flame-orange head of hair, and he never was one to leave a friend to a bad lot. As the main knot of the bandits seemed to be concentrating in a half-circle about Kerin and Solvej, with Mira backing them up, he had a few less to get through before they reached the four soldiers still standing.

Make that three; one fellow was down with an arrow in the chest, and he looked like he might not be making it back up. For the sake of dramatics more than anything else, he announced his presence more obviously (as though anyone else would narrate their combat in limericks). "Ashley, darling! Friend of my heart, sister of my soul, 't has been too long. And here I thought to find you in the tavern!" If he was wrong about who that was-- he was willing to bet he wasn't-- well, it wouldn't be the first time he'd looked the fool. It was actually something of a reflexive habit by this point.

"Rhuddy, love! Che piacere vederti! My lovely peacock, I thought I heard your silly songs!" The woman replied. Despite the cheery nature of the reply, Ashley repositioned herself to make up for the sudden loss of a man between themselves. Relief was measured greater than Rudhale knew due to their timely arrival. It started to look like a grim bloody end for Ashley and her soldierin' friends. "Ah yes, a tavern would be a pleasant change of scenery, considering current circumstances-- Vai al diavolo!" She bit off, her shot getting interrupted by a bandit. Truly, she did not have a dearth of targets, the only thing that was impacting her aim was which one to kill first.

Alas, she wasn't able to fire off an arrow as per usual, as her immediate view was engulfed by the bandit trying to batter her brains out with a mace. Too close to her unit to reliably dodge, she opted for the next best thing. A swift kick to the groin, bringing the man to his knees, eyes watering from the excrutiating pain. To her side, she felt the last remaining male soldier cringe in phantom pain. Fortunately for bandit, he wouldn't have to suffer long, as an arrow buried itself into his crown. Ashley merely tipped the lifeless body over with her toes and she turned part of her attention back to Rudhale. "Ah, where's my precious Anthea?" She asked, scanning the battlefield for her fellow Antivan. She didn't see the woman, but she did note... These weren't Rudhale's normal crew.

"Either way. Grazie mille, and Abele thanks you as well. I might actually make it home now!" She said, oddly cheerful considering she was staring down certain doom moments ago.

"You're making it home," a resolute voice sounded from beside Ashley. It belonged to the woman in white armor, who had punctuated it with a heavy downward swing of the double-handed blade she carried. It was strangely designed, possessing only a singluar edge, the overall construction rather resembling an enormous, if well-constructed, butcher knife, the end of it slanted in a sharp razor-point rather than sloping gently. It didn't seem the most elegant of weapons, but Llesenia made it an object of grace all the same, if there was grace to be found in parting a man's head from his shoulders with a sweeping blow, anyway. "Even if I don't." She shot a sidelong glance at the newcomer, but if she recognized him, she wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth.

It was a practical sentiment, and one that Rudhale appreciated immensely. "Oh, you know," he replied to the archer's question, ducking a swing meant for his neck and coming up under the bandit's guard, felling him with a strike from the katar, punching it low into the abdomen and using his upward momentum to rip a brutal slice into the man's midsection, effectively eviserating him, and kicking him away with a solid thud. "Grousing at the men, running the ship, seducing all the pretty women. I expect she loves being a captain." Actually, she probably wasn't that fond, and would chew him out the next time she saw him about it, but he didn't mind.

"Have you met my friends the Wardens and company? Lovely people, really." Another bandit, a woman with twin knives, made to stab him, and he reversed his grip on his kilij and struck her temple with the hilt-end, crumpling her to the floor. Stepping casually on her windpipe, he sank the tip of the blade just above his foot, into the juncture between neck and chin. "How is Abele? Made an honest woman of you yet?" He could have sworn he heard the armored woman snort, and a half-smile tickled the edges of his mouth.

"Oh sweetheart, you're being dramatic again. Nobody else has to die now that Ser Pirate and his merry band of misfits are here to save the day-- aside from the bandits, of course," Ashley winked at Rudhale. She knew how to play to his sense of being. "Besides, I'm not the only one with a man waiting for me back in the city," She said, tossing back a coy smile for Llesenia, but didn't venture any further. She knew when to press forward and when to back off. For some reason, she felt she wouldn't be able to get away with much more teasing. "My, my, sounds like dear Anthea is having the time of her life. I'm jealous," Truthfully, Ashley wouldn't give anything in the world to be where she was right now. She was content enough-- Perhaps a bit too many implements of death for her taste, but oh well. 'Tis the life of a guard.

Despite the clutter of words spewing from her mouth, Ashley kept in perfect tune with the rythym and flow of the battle field. She had since abandoned her bow, slipping between the string and staff while drawing her other weapons, a rapier and a poniard in her off hand-- just in time too. A sword came in to cleave her pretty little head from her pretty little shoulders, but was thankfully stopped short due to the timely intervention of the poniard. With the sword caught between the blade and crossgaurd, Ashley pushed the bandit's sword away and neatly opened his guard for a rapier thrust. Crimson bathed the thin blade as the point pierced the bandit's heart, dropping him into a pile in the dirt. Silly as she was, she was also well-trained. Also, an accomplished multitasker it seemed, as she spoke during the entire exchange.

"Lo benedica, bless his heart. He's trying his hardest, but you know me. I'm a fighter. He did get me to cut back on the wine, so he is worming his way through this iron heart o' mine," She said, flashing a bright smile as she parried the bandit's blade. "As for yourself, still in cahoots with the Wardens? Traded your crew for the lot did you? Ah, I think I shall have to meet them when we clean up here," She finished, pulling her rapier from the bandit's breast. She bought enough time to pout at Llesenia for a moment or two. She'd heard the woman snort, and frankly. It hurt her feelings.

She then flashed a smile and settled back into the tight formation. Live and let live, she never was the one to hold a grudge for more than a few seconds.

"I'll believe it when I see it," Llesenia replied tersely, stepping into a man's guard to strike him two-handed with the pommel of her sword. He sagged, and the pirate appeared behind him, opening up a line from ear to ear with the katar before spinning away to deal with the next one. She had to admit, he and what she could see of his friends were impressive, but she was no lily-hearted optimist, and she'd lost too many men already to call this a victory in any but the narrowest sense. Damn bandits; you think they'd stop scavenging for a while, with the city in the state it was, but alas, the guard wasn't the only thing allowed to function normally under occupation, and some seemed to take their permission for granted.

By now, though, their future survival was clear. The newcomers were making short, inglorious work of the bandits, and they fell in quick succession to some combination of blades, arrows, and magic, which Llesenia noted with interest but no revulsion. There was bound to be quite a story at the end of this, and it rather looked like she'd be around to hear it. Ashley's comment about her beloved went unacknowledged; she couldn't really bring herself to think about him, not now. Not when there'd been no word for so long. She'd be liable to convince herself he was dead, cynic that she was. And she didn't want that.



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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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With a good night's rest and a morning to procure whatever supplies they needed, the group was led in the early afternoon of the next day to the tunnel entrance in the inn. The establishment itself was run by a staff of smiling, gracious men and women, but those with good eyes would have noted that every one of them was armed and trained to use those armaments. As Rudhale knew, Lilyfoot operated on a policy of 'be more dangerous than the people trying to kill you.' A good motto (if not particularly catchy), and one that had kept him in business for some time, especially considering his status as publicly ex-Crow.

The tunnel entrance was in the store-room, recessed into the floor. The pirate happily went first, though admittedly, being underground again was not his preferred method of travel-to-Darkspawn. But there was really no other good option, and so this it would be. Llesenia followed, having refused point-blank to be left behind. Of course, a guide was not a bad thing to have, so it was probably for the best. The woman had equally-bluntly denied Ashley the chance to come, fixing the other soldier with a glare and ordering her to remain topside in anticipation of their return, and to assume command of the Guard until the Queen's Champion was among them once more. Also quite smart, though perhaps less fun than having her along would have been.

The passage they entered was about a person and a half wide, or maybe two people if they were both Ethne-sized. Barely one if they were Suicide-sized. The walls were smooth, uniform grey stone, and oddly enough, Rhuddy recognized the signs of dwarven craftsmanship. Most peculiar-- either these tunnels were from a time when the underground kingdoms had extended over all of Thedas, or else some dwarven stonemason had been commissioned to make them to order, likely at steep cost. "Well then," the pirate offered once everyone and their things were crammed into the first few meters of space, "Shall we shuffle forth and meet our fates?" This wasn't really a marching or a charging kind of tunnel, after all.

"Let's," came the curt reply, and Llesenia strode to the front, taking the lead through a twisting network of passages.

"Shuffle," Mira said with playful disapproval as she dropped into the tunnel. "I think we should saunter." She did just that, falling in behind the pirate and their new friend. Suicide nimbly padded down after her on all fours, still in wolf form. Cities presented... interesting complications for him. It wasn't that he couldn't function in a bustling city, but in this particular case, it made more sense for him to remain a wolf. Even given the rareness of wolves in a place like Antiva, he drew less attention than he would as the hulking Chasind barbarian that he was.

Mira, of course, hadn't had to deal with that problem. It was simple for her to just lose herself among the people, and she almost looked more a local in Antiva than she did in Orlais. Granted, she didn't really look like a local anywhere, and her blood-spattered attire did little to help her fit in, but it wasn't long at all before she'd found a suitable clothier and purchased for herself a lovely new set of silks imported from Orlais, slightly darker blue than she preferred, but still acceptable. After that she took up Solvej's suggestion and found a leatherworker, and had herself fitted for some leather armor to wear over the silk. The chestguard she was able to wear directly over her common outfit. It felt slightly unnatural at first, but she was certain she'd get used to it. The weirdest part was undoubtedly the high neck, to provide some protection for her throat, given that Mira was accustomed to wearing things that plunged much lower.

But the boots, at the very least, she liked. Soft, supple Antivan leather, they fit her little feet like gloves, a snug fit to just below her knees. Worth the cost of all of it combined, in her opinion. Sure, armor that would probably save her life a few times over the course of their journey was valuable too, but as always, Mira had her priorities straight.

"Just... Don't trip," Emil chided. He'd long since tried to keep up with her sense of humor, and had managed to get to a point where it just rolled off of his back. It helped his sanity immensely. He opted to take up the rearguard position. With their resident shapeshifter developing an acute case of shyness, that left him as the largest creature in the tunnels. A fact that was not lost on him when he bashed his elbow up against the rough hewn stone. A simple curse dripped from his mouth, "Piss," as he rubbed it. Armored or not, ramming his elbow into a rock stung.

Emil had taken the morning to properly prepare for the dive back underground. He had a smith hammer patches into his Templar's armor (why buy new armor when they were going to dive into the mouth of more Darkspawn in the afternoon? He'd see if he'd survive first, before making off with new armor) and supplemented it with a leather chestgaurd and bracers. It hadn't been much, but it would do. Ashley had also collected him and brought (or dragged, in his mind) to the shop where she commissioned her own archery supplies. He managed to garner a few askance looks, not directed at him personally, but at the Templar symbol emblazoned on his chest. Not that he was bothered, he had grown accustomed to those looks. What he wasn't accustomed to was the hope in those eyes. Perhaps the people believed him there to help. He supposed he was...

Once Ashley had outfitted the Templar to her desires ("Here, try this sweetheart." "I'm not your sweetheart." "Sourheart then.") before sending him off back to the tavern. He had to admit, the girl knew her way around a drawstring.

Kerin, unsurprisingly fit snuggly in the tunnels, but they were of dwarvish make so it only made sense. She walked behind Ethne in her usual as of late quiet intensity. Fit as she may have, Kerin didn't enjoy being back underground so soon, and in dwarven tunnels even less. The same thickness that descended on her shoulders in the Deep Roads, descended here as well. She wanted to groan when the group decided to take these tunnels, but she wouldn't betray that weakness. She'd have to suck it up, though it didn't make her any happier. Another drop in the bucket that was her building rage-- she'd need every drop, if Erebus was as strong as Morpheus.

Not more darkness – silly thoughts for fragile, little soul. Rhapscallion ducked into the tunnels behind Solvej. He was already trying to preoccupy his thoughts, wringing his hands around the other, twining his fingers and unwinding them before repeating the action again. The tunnel was somewhat similar to the network of subterranean hollows in the Deep Roads, though without its cathedral ceilings and high-reaching stalagmites. The discomfort he felt was immediate, swallowing him whole as the light trickled away with each step further from the entrance. Everything felt compressed, musky and abundantly heavy, as if the walls would close in on them at any moment. He stumbled a little, knocking into his mentor, and weakly mumbled, “Sorry. Sorry.” Though, Rhapscallion was thankful she was there; a tangible thing he could touch. He tried keeping a comfortable distance, occasionally reaching out towards the cavern walls. It was disconcerting how many times his fingers brushed empty air, clearly misjudging the distance and having to compensate for putting himself off-balance. Shuffling must've been better than oafishly stumbling over his own feet.

The elder Warden's only response was to grunt her apathy towards being bumped. She didn't mind, really. He was always saying he was sorry, apologizing for this or that weakness or inadequacy. She didn't really know how to convince him that he was simply imagining them, but she wanted to, sometimes. Nevertheless, she kept her silence as they descended into the tunnels, like unto the Deep Roads except for the fact that they didn't smell so bad. She wasn't sure what she'd been expecting from a royal escape passage, but this would work well enough for their purposes anyway. It was dim, but not too bad, and it seemed to go in only one direction.

Well, this was familiar. It wasn't actually the all-consuming darkness of her dream, but it was still hard to see... supposing that this kind of thing was what magic was for, Ethne used hers to produce a little ball of light, then another, setting one to hover just in front of the woman leading them and another to bob over the rest of them, mostly to assure her that they weren't going to catch their feet on anything. Twisting an ankle in a dank tunnel hardly seemed like a good way to end this mission of theirs, after all. Finding herself somewhere in the middle of the group, she filed in just behind Scally and in front of Kerin, content for now to save her words and let the others lead. There probably weren't too many turns at the moment, so it wasn't like she had to think too hard to walk.

Which might not be much of a gift, since it was letting her turn her thoughts to what was to come. Erebus had seemed very different in kind from Morpheus, and the reports of his strange activity here (and the intact state of Antiva City) only confirmed this in her mind. But that did not make him any less dangerous, and though he'd not menaced her in the Fade the same way the Dreamweaver had, he probably scared her more for all that. That he kept his own counsel meant she knew nothing of what to expect, and not knowing was worse than having an unfortunate hint, perhaps.

She swallowed nervously, thinking to herself that surely it echoed in the dim silence, but of course that was ridiculous. Taking a deep breath, she relased it slowly. Gardens. Gardens and sunshine and the smell of fresh cakes. It was a little hard to conjure the images of her lighter thoughts, but she found that if she stared hard enough at Scally's back rather than the walls and floor of the tunnel, she could almost do it. It was good enough for now.

At least, until it disappeared. Ethne pulled in a sharp breath as everything in front of her seemed to go dark. She had not felt the spells wink out, and indeed, when she checked, they were still active. They just weren't working. She couldn't see anything, not even the nose on her face, and this was more like her dreams had been. From the pirate's gentle "hm," she supposed he wasn't able to, either. "We must be passing under the spell," she hypothesized, though she had not expected it to work even underground. It had to be a true sphere, then, and not simply a dome. Reaching forward, she grasped the hem of Rhapscallion's shirt, as if to reassure herself that he was still there.

"Really?" came the Templar's indignant reply from the rear. The tone absolutely dripped with sarcasm, as if the sudden blackness didn't make it acutely clear that they were now under the curtain of darkness. There was notably more hostility in his voice than was usual, but that was easily explained away by the merry havoc the foul magic was playing on his sinus.

"So it seems," Rudhale replied, his cheer a pointed counter to Emil's gruffness. "Well, if we keep along this way, it shouldn't matter. The tunnels only go one way, yes?" Llesenia grunted her assent, more than a little unnerved by the sensation of utter blackness. "Everyone grab your exit buddy," the rogue singsonged, though whether he was joking or not was hard to tell for sure.

"Hands on the right wall too," Emil added, and the sound of metal scrapping stone accompanied it. Apparently he had found the wall a bit faster than he had intended, scraping his gauntlets. A grumble later and he was silent, with only the sound of metal on stone echoing through the tunnels lone clue he was even there. Admittedly, he didn't like the touching aspect as brought up by the pirate, and abruptly disregarded it. How could he get lost in the tight tunnels? He'd rather trip over someone first. Kerin likewise had the same reservations, but grasped the edge of Ethne's robe all the same. Her grip was a bit rougher that was necessary, but that was only to be expected from the dwarf. She'd rather take a hold of someone than become forever lost in the pitch black labyrinth. She couldn't kill anything if she did get lost, after all.

"Hand on the right wall..." Mira said, reaching out to her right, and deliberately slowing down until her fingers brushed against Emil's left arm. She snaked her arm light under his. "Close enough." In reality, she was understandably disconcerted by not being able to see anything, but she was doing a pretty decent job covering that up. She was no military woman, but even still Mirabelle understood the concept of morale in a company, and how it could affect their performance. Given the choice between sulking and pointing out how depressingly bleak their chances were, like the man whose arm she was wrapped under, and maintaining something resembling good spirits, no matter how forced they were, Mira would always choose the latter. After what she'd already made it through, everything seemed less daunting. She was done feeling sorry for herself.

Suicide immediately noticed how useful his wolf form had become. He had lost sight along with the rest of them, but through all of their unique scents he was still able to place them in his mind. After traveling with them for so long, even slight differences clearly differentiated them. He did not know what their target would smell like, or how to lead them to somewhere where sight would be restored based on smell alone, but it was better than nothing.

Do you fear the darkness? It seemed to whisper, shuttering and winking out the only source of light in a startlingly abrupt fashion, like someone had whipped off a comforting blanket to reveal a horrifically bottomless pit. Rhapscallion made a small, embarrassing sound in the back of his throat; half yelp, and half receding groan. Hopefully, none would be the wiser. The darkness enveloped everything in front of him, leaving no trace of his companions. He held out his hands experimentally, squinting his eyes as if he could will himself to see something – unfortunately, he saw nothing at all. He felt foolish for even checking but it was all he could do not to panic and flounder ahead, slamming into his mentor, who'd probably reel around and thump him on the head for being moronic. Swallowing the panic rising in his gorge, Rhapscallion clumsily reached towards the wall, nearly rapping his knuckles against the sharp rocks before pulling back, and trying again a little more carefully.

It was only when Ethne snatched up the hem of his shirt that he stopped groping against the wall, palms scrapping against bedrock. Rhapscallion straightened his shoulders, strained his eyes again and looked ahead. They were together, so they were fine, at least. Nothing else could fit in the tunnels. No spiders or ugly critters would descend from the ceilings, dragging their click-clacking mouth-parts against their scalps with the absence of light. Or slither down the backs of their shirts, with the wicked intention of poisoning them. Rudhale had the right of it – or at least, he wholeheartedly agreed that they should at least grab hold of each other so that they weren't lost in the void of darkness. Had they all linked hands and trudged straight through the tunnel, he would not have minded. Instead, Rhapscallion's left hand fell back from the wall, slipping around Ethne's fingers, while he craned forward, fingers reaching until he grabbed hold of Solvej's flapping cape, near the hood.

Andaer, who'd somehow ended up third in line, behind Rudhale but in front of Dekton and Solvej, rested his hand gently against the smooth stone of the passage wall, cocking his head to one side to listen. Elvish hearing was no better than the human variety, regardless of the shape of the ears, but he had spent long in forests, and though he did not bother to hunt, he did know how to listen. Of more use would likely be the other sense, his periperal awarness of the presence of moving blood in others. Should there be any Darkspawn or other creatures in this tunnel, he would have at least some warning. Perhaps not as much as the Wardens would, nor the canine-shaped man among them. But some.

He was not averse to assistance from others, and so he readily acquiesced to the suggestion that they walk together, laying his other palm on the pirate's shoulder. In this way, he would proceed forward. Solvej, on the other hand, was walking behind Suicide, and while she would not necessarily have objections to holding onto his scruff or something, the tunnel was not wide enough for that, and she did take issue with the idea of holding him by the tail. He probably would, too, so she settled for putting her hand to the wall, feeling a reaching hand clasp her cloak. Rhapscallion.

She'd never particularly felt fear at the dark, but there was even so some measure of comfort in being able to sense that she was not alone. The pool of shadow they'd walked into had an uncanny semblance of total solitude, and this was something she'd rather face in good company.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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Slowly, carefully, the group of ten made their way down the passageway, but just like the city, the place was strangely devoid of resistance. From his place in the White Palace, Erebus tracked their progress unceasingly, standing motionlessly at the top of the staircase of the grand ballroom. His hands, each finger four times jointed and tipped with night-colored claws, rested upon the pommel of a greatsword, this sheathed and propped straight up on the carpeted stair runner. Somewhat behind him, the three remaining members of the Royal Family sat, each of their gazes fixed unwaveringly on the Darkspawn General. None was shackled, but all had an air of vague unease, and the child among them clung to his brother's tunic. The young man noticed the boy's frightened grip and placed a hand on his head, drawing him into his side, but his dark eyes never wavered from their spot.

After what seemed an eternity, the General stirred, raising his head and seeming to gaze at the double doors that served as entrance to this room. "They come," he said at last, angling his head so that he looked from the corner of one slitted red eye at the three. In profile, his face was a thing of sharp angles, bost noticeable for the backswept, obsidian horns reaching a point perhaps a foot and a half behind his head. He seemed perpetually shrouded in shadow, though, and not all of his visage could be seen at the same time. It was also difficult to remember once it was gone, as though it slid away from the mind even as it vanished before the eyes.

The young man swallowed and opened his mouth, but it was his mother who spoke first. Her tones were melancholy, but not at all angry. "If you truly--" she was cut off when the Darkspawn shook his head.

"It is not other than I have said. I must bring everything I have to bear against them. If they can learn to see without eyes, then they will stand before me." His tones brooked no argument, the weight of some supernatural command in them. It was enough to reduce the child to violent shivers, and something flashed through the visible crimson eye. The General's mouth clicked shut, and he made to turn away.

It was here that the heir found his voice. "Please, Lord Erebus. At least allow one of us to guide them here. I would gladly do it, and you well know I'd not abandon my brother and mother here by taking the opportunity to run." He watched carefully as the slope of the Darkspawn's shoulders changed, falling slightly.

"If any go, it will be the child. Send him if you will." The answer was dismissive, but it produced a sigh of relief from the Queen and a small half-smile from the Crown Prince, who at last tore his eyes from the figure in front of him to the smaller one beside him. Nudging his brother in the shoulder, Stefano nodded encouragingly.

"Go on, Arturo. You know where the tunnel lets out, si?" The boy prince nodded solemnly, and took off for the double doors. All three others tracked his progress for a moment, but as he disappeared and the door shut behind him, Erebus settled back into his vigil, and the other two followed suit. In a way, Stefano could not decide what he waited for. It was true that the Darkspawn before him needed to be defeated, but... it was surprisingly difficult to wish for such a thing, knowing what he now knew to be the case. More than anything, selfish as it may be, he simply wanted to see Llesenia again. And this was why he worried; he knew the full muster of the General's forces, and unless the Wardens had sent an army, he wasn't sure she'd make it here.




When Llesenia at last pushed up the trapdoor leading into the palace, she had to blink at the sudden influx of light. Granted, it was only dim, but against that absolute darkness, it counted for quite a lot. When her vision at last cleared and she clambered out, she turned and caught sight of something most unexpected. "Arturo?" The prince's given name slipped out without title, which would ordinarily not been appropriate in public, but she had known the ten-year-old since his unexpected birth, and formality tended to fall away in such circumstances. The boy, usually bright with the spark of young life, seemed a bit hollowed-out, his eyes bruised and sunken with lack of sleep, but she was pleased to see at least that he was well-fed, and without a scratch on him. "What's happened? Where are Her Majesty and His Highness?"

The boy grimaced a bit, shaking his dark head. "They're fine, Llessy. But... you're not going to like this. Lord Erebus has lots of soldiers, and he says you have to 'learn to see in the dark.'" The boy blinked owlishly at her, and she grimaced.

"Well, that sounds promising, now doesn't it?" Rudhale commented lightly, glancing around the room. Guest quarters, from the opulence of them. It was kind of funny, actually, being a thief in a palace with no intention whatsoever to lift anything he came across. "Are you here to guide us, lad?" If he recognized the child as royalty, he gave no indication of it. Arturo's response was simply to nod.

Kerin scoffed and shrugged as she rose from the floorboards, crossing her arms and looking thoroughly unimpressed by Erebus's claim. "I've heard worse challenges," she said dismissively, though edged with a violent spark. Cryptic messages did not impress her, less so when delivered by a child. If he wanted to make a statement, he could man up and do it himself, and not hide behind a child. Kerin only regarded this Arturo for a moment, before looking past him and ahead as if trying to make out the challenges that waited ahead. Though she didn't show it, she was eager for what lay ahead. She might have forgotten the fight with Morpheus, but she wouldn't make that same mistake with Erebus. She'd remember this fight-- she'd make it one to remember. Her first battle against the 'spawn should be treated no less. She unfastened the leather strap that kept her sword in it's sheath as she moved to the side.

"Promising is not the word I'd use, pirate," Emil said, taking a long, deep breath through his nose. Now that they were out of the curtain of darkness, he no longer had a problem with his sinus. Fortunately. Any longer and he felt it would drill up into his eyes. "Seeing in the dark?" Emil repeated, then sighed pessimestically. Nothing was easy, was it? If it was, then they wouldn't need him, would they? Instead of looking bored, like his shorter ally, he had the mask of irritation on his face. Erebus was not going to make this easy on them, if his riddles were any indication. He didn't like the smell of it all, really. Why was this child running free around the castle if it was currently under Darkspawn control? More importantly, why was everything so quiet. If this creature was really a general, then where was his army?

"Tell me Dreamer," Emil asked, crossing an arm and supporting his chin with a hand, "Are all of the generals going to be as cryptic? Or will we meet one that has the gall to stand up and fight us?" he asked rhetorically. He knew she didn't have the answer-- it just made him feel better getting his thoughts in the open. "If we manage to survive this, of course." He had his doubts.

Though the others may not have recognized the boy, the Dalish man did, emerging from the tunnel and into the dim light with surprise. He knew he had not mistaken the child's identity only because of the strong resemblance he bore his mother and brother both. The last time they had met, Arturo had been only quite young, perhaps five or six. "Your Highness," he offered mildly, inclining his head, but his next comment was directed to Emil. "Be not so certain." The advice was calm, quiet, and just as tranquilly-offered as anything else he said. "Something tells me that message has a very literal dimension." They had just spent quite a lot of time in a completely dark tunnel, after all, and he at least did not put it past the Darkspawn's power to make more of their trek just as perilous. If the difficulty they'd had simply getting this far was any indication, needing to fight in the dark would be quite the challenge indeed.

Solvej was thinking the same thing, though frankly, she was the furthest thing from tranquil about it. How were they supposed to fight what they couldn't even see? Sure, she could sense Darkspawn, but it was nothing so acute as to be able to pinpoint them from amongst her allies. She'd be just as likely to hit the ally beside her as the 'Spawn hiding in their midst. But there was little point in speculating. They would cross their bridges when they came to them. Effective soldiers learned to table their personal grievances and anxieties until the fight was over, and this one had yet to truly begin. Huffing a breath, she turned to the boy. She'd not missed what the elf called him, but it wasn't important at the moment. "How are you even still alive? And what are you doing here?" She didn't bother asking where the Darkspawn were, as she could sense them nearby, unmoving. The strongest was quite some distance away, and her only guess was that he was here to show them the way.

If Erebus was sending escorts, he must either be very confident that they'd be killed on the way there no matter their route, or he was quite different than Emil was postulating, and truly had every intention of facing them personally.

Arturo's eyes lit with recognition upon seeing the elf, and his face cracked into a grin. Long ago as it had been, he wouldn't forget the man with the strange tattoos on his face. "Andy!" he cried, hopping a little in place and forgetting for just a second the gravity of the situation. Llessy and Andy were both here, and they happened to be two of his very favorite people. Of course, he was soon brought back to the present by the tall woman's pointed queries. She was a bit imposing, and he fought not to shrink back from either her or the very tall fellow in Templar armor. It wasn't a well-recognized style in Antiva, but he was a prince, and this was the kind of thing his brother was always telling him that princes had to know. He'd also been told to respect it, but he wasn't so sure about that, since he'd said such mean things about Lord Erebus, and he was supposed to respect him, too, even if he was a bit scary.

Still, with a stoicism most children didn't possess, he strightened himself and spoke clearly. "We're all alive," he informed the lady simply. "Lord Erebus says he doesn't want to kill us, and he hasn't. I'm here because he sent me to take you to him. Well, brother suggested it, but... anyway, you should follow me." He spoke as one accustomed to being obeyed, and that alone would have convinced Ethne of his status, even if the other hints hadn't been there. She found herself smiling at him, but that was despite the situation they were in and certainly not because of it. It was very odd, the way this child acted as though he had nothing to fear at all. Wasn't he afraid of being killed by a Darkspawn? Even if Erebus had some reason not to, she didn't think the average one was that smart.

The boy marched himself rapidly to the door and threw it open, revealing yet more of that inky darkness beyond, and this time, there was more than silence. Faint treads could be heard, somewhere down the hall, and she supposed whatever luck or design had kept them from running afoul of anything until now was about to run out. "I'll get you there," Arturo said grimly, frowning, "But they don't want you to make it."

Mira scowled at the inky blackness, sliding her fingers over one of the throwing knives at her waist. "Figured it was pushing our luck to hope they'd let us get right to the heart of the matter." She didn't know what to think about these darkspawn. She'd missed out on the whole Morpheus encounter, spending the time doing something slightly more pleasureable and getting what she wanted in the process, but she doubted this Erebus would be of the same ilk. It was confusing how the ones that only sought to brutally murder her were the least terrifying of the darkspawn.

Why was everything still so dark? A short, clipped musing interrupted by the little boy's chatter. Rhapscallion struggled with the maternal urge to scamper up and pat his head for being so unusually brave in the face of terrible, frightening creatures. But, Your Highness, was just a child, even if his lip wasn't quibbling in fear. He'd never met royalty before, either, so he wasn't quite sure how to react, asides from neatly bobbing his head in response. The information was sound enough, but he wondered why Erebus hadn't simply slaughtered them all and taken what he wanted. Did all Darkspawn deal with things differently? “Doesn't want us to make it?” He echoed softly, eyebrows raising. If they didn't want them to make it, then why send a boy to fetch them from the darkness, into more darkness, still? He lagged slightly behind Solvej, fingers finally hovering over the pommel of his shamshir-blades. Rhapscallion dreadfully hoped that they wouldn't be fighting in the dark. "And now, they're calling themselves Lord." Kerin huffed and laughed darkly. "Lord or not, I'll still break his crown."

“Well,” Rudhale said, seeing as how nobody seemed to be much of a mind to move, ”No time like the present.” The pirate strode forward and out the door, disappearing as the shadow seemed to swallow him whole. The child followed, making a gesture for the others to follow. Ethne was much less excited about the prospect of walking out there into who-knew-what, but they had little other choice, and she wasn’t going to let a bit of blindness divert her from the course she’d chosen. They could hardly expect it to be easy, and compared to sinking deeper and deeper into their nightmares, this seemed relatively straightforward. She paused once, on the threshold, to take a deep breath, and then plunged into it, as though walking alone might have been enough time to lose her nerve.

It was neither particularly cold nor warm, Rudhale decided. In fact, he didn’t really register any sense of temperature or humidity at all, which was unusual for a man accustomed to reading the weather in preparation for sailing. It was almost as if there was nothing there at all, just darkness. He might have even been able to believe that he wasn’t moving at all, wasn’t going forward, except he could hear the people behind him, feel the ground underneath his feet, catch the faintest traces of scratching and movement ahead. By muscle memory and sensation, he guided his hand to his kilij and drew it with a soft rasp, holding it slightly raised and in front of him. His other hand was out by his side, aiding his balance as his feet tread on unfamiliar ground. It would also help him make sure he didn’t hit anything in particular, like say a wall.

He moved as quietly as he was able, but there was no mistaking that this many people bumping around in the pitch-dark would not go unnoticed unless Darkspawn were deaf as well as stupid. Even then, the Wardens among them were bound to get noticed. Sooner rather than later, as it turned out. The resounding ringing of steel being drawn was closer than he’d been expecting, and it was only on pure, visceral instinct that he raised his blade to block the incoming blow, the whistle of displaced air giving it away. Such blessings would not last once he battle was pitched in full and everything got loud.

”Oh good, company’s here! Do be careful, everyone; let’s all try not to stab each other, hm?” How exactly they were going to manage that in total darkness remained to be determined.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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Unhindered, Kerin hefted her greatsword out of it's sheath on her back and slung it across her shoulder. When the fighting started, she didn't want to miss a moment, blind or not. With that, with all of her bravado said and done, she strode unflinchingly into the darkness behind her companions. Blackness fell like a veil the moment she entered the curtain, though that was it. Only her eyesight was robbed, none of her other senses were touched. She could hear the breathing of the Pirate, the soft fall of the elf's footsteps, the clinking of Solvej's armor, and even the pittering of the templar's arrows. But they were not alone. Her newly tainted blood allowed her to feel the darkspawn among them, but it did little else. She couldn't point out where exactly they were aside from their brutish footsteps...

But that's all she needed, was to know that the enemy walked amoung them. They'd find their way to her blade, one way or another. "Get away from me if you know whats good for you!" she yelled on account of her companions. She was blind and pissed, a dangerous combination. She stood still, still as the blackness around her as she controlled her breathing. Slow deep breaths, taking control of her heartrate. Then she began to plunge herself into her fury. Her breaths grew faster, her heart beat pounded-- morphing into the war drums in her head. She felt nothing but anger, and desired only one thing.

Blood.

The slip of steel from it's sheath was the catalyst. With that single sound, Kerin flew into her broken rage, swinging wildly with her greatsword. Flesh provided no resistance for her blade, as it passed seamlessly through the 'Spawn, and she felt the tainted life bleed out before her. To feel the passing of life, it was invigorating, intoxicating, addicting. She wanted more blood, and she'd not stop until she had her feel. Her blade stopped in the air and whipped back, this time meeting nothing but air. And again with nothing. No matter how many times she missed, it was the hits that counted. With that thought firmly ingrained in her raging mind, she spun, swinging her blade out and hitting anything that dared draw too close.

Kerin didn't need her eyes, her rage had always been blind.

Mira, on the other hand, quite relied on the use of her eyes. She played a game of inches with the darkspawn, always darting a hair's width away from their blades, seeing the perfect place to throw a knife, to slide a blade into their armor. Without her sight, it became... significantly more difficult. Fortunately Kerin seemed intent on drawing the majority of their attention, the lover getting covered in blood that she was. Mira had learned her lesson from last time, and stood back from the voice and the following sounds of carnage that she was suddenly quite glad she couldn't see.

Angry as she was, the dwarf couldn't draw all of the darkspawn at once. Perhaps some of them were just smart enough not to get in her way. Whatever the case, Mira soon heard the threatening growl of a hurlock in front of her, and instinctively jumped backwards, the darkspawn's sword sliding harmlessly across leather armor where it would have cut her open before. A smart purchase indeed. Or perhaps she would have been so quick without as to be able to dodge the blade entirely. It was too much of a conundrum to think about right now.

She responded by flinging her throwing knife in the direction the attack had come from, pleased when she heard a thwack that indicated that he'd managed to stick the blade into the beast's skull. It thudded to the ground, but Mira's celebratory mood was cut off when a second bowled into her from where the first one had fallen. She hit the ground hard on her back, the knife at her hip coming into her grip in a flash, but the strike bounced harmlessly off the hurlock's breastplate, and Mira put her free hand up in a futile attempt to stop the blow that was coming.

At least, until the sound of buzzing overwhelmed her, and she was distinctly aware of hundreds of winged insects flying past her and all over the hurlock. The shapeshifter, she realized, as the hurlock howled in intense agony, loosening its hold on her. She punched her knife into its side for good measure and shoved it off of her, trying to ignore the disconcerting feeling of wasps on her hands. Suicide was using his newly learned swarm form to feel his way through the enemy, sensory information allowing him to touch allies and enemies all at once, and know where the threat lay. And while he was able to inflict massive amounts of pain on the enemy, and remain largely impervious to anything but magic, it was extremely taxing, and he'd only be able to keep it up for a little while.

Mira scrambled back to her feet, jumping when she bumped up against something. She threw a hard elbow blow up into someone's jaw, before realizing that it had been one of her friends, and not a darkspawn. "Sorry!" she shouted apologetically.

Right. Because the best way to handle not being able to see was to swing blindly at everything. Well, at least she was behind Kerin and not ahead. She didn’t envy the pirate a bit. Solvej was beginning to suspect that the Darkspawn could see or at least sense their way around in the dark, though, because an inordinate number of them had soon hit the back ranks. The former Templar took a few steps backwards, trying to give herself enough room to swing a poleax without hitting anything she didn’t want to. “Flames. All right… for those of you who can still hear and think, I’m here.” She figured the occasional verbal warning as to her position couldn’t go awry. It wasn’t like it would make things any more confusing.

When she was a child, Solvej and her brother had played a call-and response game. Efriel, born blind, had always been much better at it than she was, able to hone in on her position with only a modicum of effort. She prayed to whatever facsimile of a god she had left that she could remember how to do it properly. At least the halls didn’t echo too badly.

"That leaves out the dwarf," Emil replied to the voice nearby. Seems like in the scramble to get away from Kerin, he wound up somewhere in the vicinity of Solvej. Not his first choice of comrades, but she would have to do. He pulled up beside her until he felt something brush against his shoulder (which he then ripped back) and then spoke quickly, "That's me." He hoped that'd be enough to stay her spear-- or perhaps it'd be enough to use it. They weren't the best of friends after all.

Unlike the rest of his companions, the best of his abilities lay in his sight. A blind archer is no archer after all. He left his bow in his quiver and opted instead to draw his sword. Still, it'd be hard without his eyes, as he didn't have the foresight to learn how to fight blind. He never thought he'd have to. "Got a plan?" He asked, testing the darkness with his blade.

Andaer was not nearly as bad off as the average person in the dark. It came of being able to feel the bloodflow in people. It appeared their resident shapeshifter was using touch as well, and the warrior-woman her voice. Both good ideas, but only one he could replicate. He was opening his mouth to respond when an elbow cracked into his jaw. The elf stumbled backwards, rubbing at the spot. Nothing was broken, but it would definitely be tender for quite some time, and he could almost feel the bruise forming. “Ouch,” he offered mildly, accepting Mira’s apology with an even nod that she could not see. “It is quite all right. For future reference, however, I am standing right here.” He noted her position relative to his and drew his knife. It would be more useful to hit his foes with blood magic, as it didn’t, for the most part, require him to aim.

Solvej pulled her spear-blow in enough time and hummed an affirmative. "Not much of one. Keep our backs to someone who won't kill us, and shout if you move more than a few feet so we can keep track of where we are. I'm guessing the 'Spawn will know anyw--" the sentence was cut off as a genlock (from the height of the blow), slammed a weapon into her midsection, but her armor absorbed the impact, and knowing the short reach those things had, she stabbed downward at an angle, grinning with satisfaction when she felt the catch of steel on something fleshy. "Never been happier to wear armor," she muttered in an aside to the likewise-plated Emil.

A snarl signalled that a larger Darkspawn-- hurlock-- was up next, and she raised her pole blindly in front of her, catching its forearm instead of its weapon, but it didn't reach her anyway. Keeping her footing, Solvej twisted her torso, swinging horizintally this time, as nobody had called out to indicate they were in the area. She was pretty sure she could feel bees in her hair, but she chose to ignore that as Suicide orienting himself, discomfiting as it was. Her spear clanged on something metal. "Found you," she hissed, abruptly reversing her direction for a pommel strike instead, where she guessed the head must be. The average hurlock was a bit taller than she was, but not as tall as Emil. That was enough of a gauge to get things generally right, anyhow, and she found the head, aiming her next blow for what felt like the same spot. Something thudded to the ground, so chances were good she'd hit.

"Sounds like a fantastic plan," Emil grumbled. Metal fighting against metal was all he heard then. Seems like she had her own hands full with some 'Spawn-- which meant that there had to be some out for him too. Just as that thought crossed his mind, a sword swung hard into his arm, rankling the armor there. Still, the blow was weak and he was in no threat of losing the arm. Yet. It did piss him off though. "Oh you bastard," Emil growled, taking a rough hold of the genlock's arm and twisted, forcing it to the ground belly first.

Unlike Solvej and her spear, Emil was more brutal in his approach. He dropped his knee down above the creature's shoulder and felt the snap of its neck. His eyes were taken from him, but that didn't stop him from hearing the Darkspawn's death rattle. He had no time to rest though, as he felt something heavier shore up beside him. It wasn't Solvej, as she didn't tend to growl like an animal. Emil threw his arm up in time to catch the Hurlock's sword. His swing was more powerful that the Genlock under his knee, and the blade bit deep into the metal, this time drawing blood.

Why was it always his arm? He thought as he tried to fend the sword off. It's user wasn't letting it budge though, and the more he struggled, the deeper he bit. The same arm he used to catch the blade was the same one he wielded his sword with. He couldn't get an angle on the unseen foe without leaving his neck open to but slashed. Emil grunted and instead reached into his quiver for an arrow. Like he did against the fight with the bandit's, he channeled his powers into the arrow, and though he could not see the blue dripping off of it, he could feel it. With the arrow charged, he drove it deep into the belly of the Hurlock. The pressure on his arm was released instantly, and a sizzling sound followed the Hurlock backward and to the ground.

"Shouldn't have lost my helmet," He griped, standing back against Solvej once more.

The darkness was no friend of Rhapscallion's, and his worst fears were beginning to take form. There lied no bright light to shrink back into. His camouflaging abilities were only useful when he could see his enemy, shrinking into more darkness would only get himself killed by his own companions. He didn't want to bump into any shoulders, for fear of hesitating and having his head lopped off anyway. Kerin had already announced that anyone who got into her path was likely to be minced like an old log and she wouldn't be responsible for it – probably already charging blindly ahead, relying on her feral instincts to guide her wild arc-sweeps. He could not follow suit. Instead, he headed into the direction opposite of Solvej. If he could somehow stick closer to the wall, taking heed of Kerin's ringing blows ahead of him, then he wouldn't feel as disoriented. “H-Here! I'm here.” Rhapscallion called out stupidly, bumping into something solid, which he initially supposed was the wall, until it began writhing, whipping towards him with a wretched gurgle.

A crackle of apologetic voices sounded behind him – Andaer and Mirabelle, and heavy buzzing passed overhead. Without any time to orient himself accordingly, the Darkspawn slammed its mace into his shoulder, spilling the half-breed forward. The blow sucked the breath out of him, leaving him gasping like a fish. Though, when he'd fallen forward, he'd fallen onto the creature's craggy shoulder. He made a mewling sound in the back of his throat, jerked his shamshir free of its scabbard and snapped it forward with both hands, driving it semi-blindly into the Darkspawn's belly. The accompanied shriek proclaimed its death, though Rhapscallion continued falling when it plopped on its back. Fingertips scrambled for purchase, and pushed him away from the corpse. Eight, nine, ten. He counted footfalls, tried desperately to measure distances between his companions. The rhythm soothed him, calmed his racing thoughts.

He made his way back to his feet, stepped over the dead Darkspawn and called out again, moving forward.

It was a better strategy than she’d thought of, intermittent calls from her companions keeping her relatively alter to their locations comparable to her own. It was how she knew, when she heard the dull scrape ahead of her, that it belonged to none of them, and Ethne panicked, shooting off a stonefist. A poor idea, considering that it must have missed, and she didn’t hear it hit anything until it reached what was likely a wall. The Darkspawn had gotten close by then, though, and its blow struck more or less true, leaving her with a large gash just below her ribcage, the broadsword slicing through her robes with little effort whatsoever. The Dreamer collapsed to the floor, murmuring a healing spell to close off the prodigiously-bleeding rent in her sadly-tender flesh.

She’d need to save her magic, she decided, because there was no way she could aim individual healing spells in this darkness. A group spell, though, would do the aiming for her, at greater cost to her reserves. For now, she needed to stay alive. Pulling herself into the Fade, she once more sought Amity-who-looked-like-Scally, reaching a desperate hand out to grasp his and pulling their insubstantial forms together, reemerging into reality with a sharp breath. The effect was the same, and everyone who was near enough to her should be able to take a few more hits, which was something she expected they’d sorely need.

There was still, however, the matter of the Darkspawn in front of her. An arcane shield, helpfully also cast on the entire group, would provide a chance to misdirect the Darkspawn’s blows, and hopefully even the field a little bit. It certainly caused her attacker to miss its next blow, and Ethne responded by smashing her staff into its face. On her own, the effort wouldn’t have done much more than stun it, if that, but with Amity’s strength behind her, she caved its skull in, and it dropped. Was this how people like Kerin felt all the time? It was useful enough, but having that much power just in your limbs… it was a bit frightening, too.

Scally’s second call sounded from somewhere ahead and to her left, and she echoed, picking her way to him as quickly as possible. It would be better if none of them were alone, because none of them risked being cut off and surrounded that way.

Rudhale was unfortunately already in that exact predicament, relying pretty much on his ability to dodge things very quickly. He’d long shut his eyes, no point striving for sensory data that wouldn’t come. It was just a distraction now. Instead, he was listening for anything he could use: movement, growling, and trying to position his foes that way. What he was discovering was hardly encouraging, as he seemed to be fenced in on all sides by Darkspawn, and he couldn’t dodge them all, not with so little warning. His leathers had saved him the worst of it, but he was bleeding from several cuts by this point, and one had scored a very nice strike on his left bicep, slicing through enough of the muscle there to weaken the arm past most usefulness.

He lunged, the slashing blade of the kilij whipping about and biting deep into one of the creatures. Once he’d found it, Rudhale was relentless, striking quickly until the pass of his blade over empty air indicated that it had fallen. A mace thudded into his lower back, and he twisted his body to minimize the impact, calculating the most likely trajectory and hitting there, successfully burying the sword into a genlock’s meaty neck. But using large wounds to locate his enemies was not a tactic that would work forever. He wasn’t sure how much longer he’d last.

The heavy sound of Kerin’s sword grew closer, and it could have been no more than three feet behind him when he finally recognized that he should not be relieved by the fact that she was biting into the rear line of his foes. Darkspawn were vicious, but Kerin he knew to be almost oblivious in her enraged state, and the fact that he was present probably wouldn’t stop her forward progress even a little. “Kerin,” he tried, also attempting to cut himself a sideways path out of her range (difficult, considering the density of the foes up here) “If possible, my dear, I would really rather avoid being chopped in half today.” Sure, she’d given fair warning, but technically he was here and surrounded by everything before he’d had a proper chance to move, so he was calling dibs on the spot he was standing in.

Not that it would probably do him much good, and he wasn’t about to try and make her stop the more… direct way.

"Then MOVE!" She howled back. Kerin wasn't too far gone to realize the folly of her current course, though not there enough to do little else beside adjust it a few degrees to the side. It wasn't her fault that the damn pirate found himself the perfect killing field, so packed was it with soon-to-be corpses. Instead of marching to the war drums in tandem, she quickened the tempo herself and scythed forward and hopefully away and off to the side of Rudhale. She was just selfish enough to want a piece of his spot, and she doubted he could stop her from muscling in on his territory.

Though she could not see nor feel it, she had managed to rack up a number of minor wounds. Pin pricks in her armor bled where lucky strike honed in, a cut had formed on her cheek where a Hurlock had lost its sword under her assault and fell on her, and a large rip across her back where a Genlock managed to sneak behind her, before getting beheaded with a whirlwind spin. If her attacks weren't erratic before, they certainly were now, as everything was thrown into chaos at the whims of the drums. Kerin slashed high in one direction, pivoted and slashed low in the next, spun a 180 and cut behind her before jerking back around in the other direction and slashing again, her blade meeting air as many times as it hit flesh. She was disoriented in the blackness, and had no idea where her companions were-- their voices drowned out by the din of battle and wailing drums in her head. Hopefully, she made more than enough noise for them to track her. She didn't have time to watch where her sword swung.

Kerin’s attempt to move to the side, coupled with his own reflexes, were probably the only things that saved his life. Quick on his feet or no, this was far from the ideal situation, and the pirate found himself with a grievous wound at about his waist as the tip of her sword parted his leathers and ripped bloody path through the flesh of his abdomen. He was fairly confident she’d managed to hit one of his kidneys, and he’d had to essentially throw himself onto a pile of Darkspawn to avoid worse than that. Bringing his injured arm up, he pressed down on the wound as tightly as he could, hissing when that just produced further pain.

And it wasn’t like the creatures were going to lose an opportunity to hurt him, either. His breath left him in a burst as a Hurlock buried an axe into his shoulder, and he managed to stumble backwards in just enough time to avoid the hit that would have decapitated him, swinging his kilij with his good hand to deflect. It sought and found the hurlock’s throat with his next strike, but he was not deaf to the sounds of his own blood splashing all over the floor, and he knew he wouldn’t last much longer without a little help. “Ethne, dearheart, if at some time in the near future it would be convenient to heal us, I could rather use the assistance.” Which was more-or-less Rudhale speak for ‘if I don’t get healed soon, I’m going to die.’ Until then, however, he would not cease.

"I'll make up for it, Andaer!" Mira promised, now that she had an idea. She needed a few moments, though, as she foolishly hadn't taken the time to memorize where exactly she'd put each type of vial on her belt, and she was currently looking for one of the rarer varieties. She'd just have to pull out the stoppers and smell them, as that was sure to give away the one she needed.

She tried one near the back of her belt, pulling into her hands and carefully uncorking it, before taking a cautious sniff. Immediately she recoiled, as she was met with a powerfully sharp, rotting smell, like horrendously bad eggs. That meant that was her orange-colored vial, the one designed to eat through armor and weaken powerful enemies. Not what she was looking for. She replaced it on her belt, grabbing one next to it. This one hit her slower, a gentler but no less powerful scent that reminded her strongly of good Orlesian cheese. That would be the green, or confusion, which would only enrage the darkspawn, and while possibly making them attack each other, there was little way to tell if she would hit one of her own allies, and they certainly couldn't afford to be actually turning on each other.

A grunt and a whoosh next to her were all the warning she had to duck, and she did so, the darkspawn's heavy mace missing her head by inches and cracking apart the wall behind her. She used her low position to push into the hurlock, hefting with her legs and putting her shoulder into its abdomen, throwing it away from her and buying a little more time. The third vial she tried did the trick; she wasn't particularly fond of the smell, as it was very thickly the smell of blood, specifically darkspawn blood, one of the primary ingredients, powerful enough that she could almost taste it on her tongue, like it was the Joining all over again. It would just the job she wanted, though.

She threw it to the ground at her feet and the smell expanded. Mira couldn't see the fumes, but she could easily imagine them, like tendrils of white smoke coiling up around her and Andaer. It wasn't wide enough to envelop the others, but it would at least buy her and Andaer a little time. She touched him on the arm. "Don't mind the smell. The darkspawn won't recognize us in these fumes. It should give you some time to... do your thing." She knew he was a mage of some kind, but she hadn't actually paid enough attention to him in their fights to know exactly what his preferred tactics were.

The Dalish man smiled, aware that the blood mixed freely with the substance in the air would give him a chance to do much more than that. “You are as good as your word, Mira,” he replied with some degree of amusement, then lay his blade over his arm.

An amateur blood mage, one who had learned his or her art in the dark corners of circle towers when the Templars were away, did not seem to understand that there was more art to it than mindless violence. Andaer was not going to stab his hand—to do so risked permanent damage to a rather vital piece of his body. For most things, only small amounts of his own blood were required, though each new spell did demand a new sacrifice. To this end, he pulled the knife carefully across his forearm, movements sure even in the dark. The distinctive feel of warm, viscous liquid sliding over his skin and the surge in the Fade was enough to inform him of his success.

The substance that Mira had scattered was partially blood, and so he could control it. Feeling out the nearest living bodies, he willed the choking fog into their faces, noses, mouths—and was rewarded with the muted sounds of gagging. The effect was enough to slow or stop most of them, rendering them unable to do much as they struggled with their disobedient lungs, unable to take in breatheable air. They were, in a word, suffocating. “Two feet ahead,” he told Mira, “And then three feet to the left of that,” He raised a brow to himself as a heavy thud reached his ears. “On the floor, apparently. I would kill them while they’re still choking…”

Solvej, meanwhile, chuckled darkly. “You and me both,” she replied. She’d lost her helmet in the fight with Morpheus, but not before it had saved her head. She had yet to replace it, though she really ought to. None of the conventionally-available ones had such a good mix of visibility and protection, though, and she hated settling for less. She probably wouldn’t have a choice, in the end.

The two of them managed to fend off their attackers and advance forward, Solvej calling out their new position for their allies. They were travelling in the angry one’s wake at this point, though apparently she’d missed more than a few, because Solvej was abruptly slammed into by a charging Hurlock, taken off her feet and slammed into the nearby wall. “Flames,” she ground out, swinging a kick outward with extreme prejudice. It connected with something, sending that thing staggering backwards, and a spear blow followed as she peeled herself off the wall, and the attacker dropped like a stone. “I’m about done with this whole ‘seeing in the dark’ thing,” she griped, chopping downward with the axe bit of the poleaxe and catching a genlock in the shoulder. ”Least there aren’t any damn ogres in here.” Emil grunted as he embedded his sword into the belly of a Hurlock. Lucky bastard managed to drop a mace on his shoulder, and he swore he felt some bones crack. "Why... Don't say that. You do not tempt fate. Not here," Emil admonished. Maker knows they didn't need an ogre.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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Perhaps fortunately, if Solvej was indeed tempting fate, fate chose not to answer, and in time, the Darkspawn fell, even under a cloak of blindness. Ethne ended the encounter with a group heal, which couldn’t have come soon enough for Rudhale, who was beginning to become dizzy from lack of blood. Closing the large wound on his side helped, but he was still staggering a bit when, all of a sudden, the lights came back on, the unnatural shadow receding into itself and leaving the hallway behind.

Piles of Darkspawn bodies lay all around, scattered generally around pairs of people. At the front of the room stood the young Prince, entirely unhurt, though he clearly must have been in the path of the ‘Spawn for the majority of the fight. He looked vaguely disturbed by all the death in the room, and the bloodied state of its occupants, but he pushed it aside well, regaining his composure to speak to them. He was opening his mouth when a voice issued from what seemed to be all around them. “Very well,” it said, tone seemingly weighted down by something ponderous. “You have earned the right to face me. But not all have earned it equally. Approach, outsiders.”

Arturo did not seem surprised to hear the voice, and indeed he nodded, staring at the group with solemn eyes. “This way.” Llesenia, herself in the middle of a considerable stack of Darkspawn at the back of the hall near the door, returned the gesture and strode forward, leaving the others to follow or not at their own discretion. The boy led them through a twisting network of hallways, seemingly laid out without much rhyme or reason. In actual fact, it was meant to confuse and ensnare would-be assassins, though the Darkspawn had seemed to have no trouble navigating it. The entire place was otherwise eerily silent, and no more foes accosted them as they progressed. There was evidence of old blood on the walls, perhaps from the day of the initial assault, but otherwise, everything was undisturbed.

When they reached the grand ballroom, it was to find that all of the furniture had been removed, save for the thrones, which were now pushed over to one side of the dais at the head of the chamber. In these, the noble Queen Maria and her oldest son Stefano sat, looking somber but by no means bound to their spots. Stefano’s expression brightened immediately upon seeing the visitors enter the room, and his eyes sought Llesenia’s at once. The woman gave him a small smile, but considering the situation, she was capable of no more than that.

Erebus stood in front of them, by far a much more martial figure than the languid Morpheus. Whatever he had been before, it must have been combative. The sword held point-down in front of him was entirely black from hilt to tip, as though cut from the night itself. His face, still more or less humanlike in construction, was permanently shadowed, hooding the expression in his eyes from clear view and making the angles of him sharper. He wore no armor save gauntlets and a blackened leather cuirass, but it did not lessen his menace any, nor did the backswept obsidian of his horns. He regarded them with an unreadable expression. “So. The Wardens sent you. A small party, but uniquely-gifted, I see.” From the way his mouth shifted, he might have been smiling, but it was not an expression of joy by any means.

“So much darkness, so much uncertainty. It festers, like a slow-creeping rot. I should know.” Glancing back at the two royals, he inclined his head. “Go. Take the child and your guard with you. My time is upon me, I think.” Maria and Stefano stood, but he hesitated, as though unsure he should really leave.

“Are you certain that there is no other way?” He asked cautiously, and Erebus shook his head.

“There is not. And even were there, I would not take it. All things must end, and gods know I have been waiting for my own for a very long time.” The queen and her son descended the stairs, apparently entirely unconcerned to put their backs to a Darkspawn, and met the group at the entryway. Stefano wasted no time in pulling Llesenia close to him, and she had to hold her sword away from her as she returned the embrace. Separating, she spoke.

“Thank you, Wardens. You’ve saved my country, and no words can do justice to that.”

“Don’t thank us yet,” Rudhale replied, looking a little pale and exerting some effort to speak as lightly as he usually did. “There’s still the matter of that Darkspawn up there.” The Royal family took their leave, and just like that, it was only the party and a very singular foe.

"I... don't feel particularly like a savior yet," Mira said, her kris blade in hand now, though she stood relatively relaxed. There was a Darkspawn... Lord, or whatever, right in front of them, but apart from his physical impressiveness, he seemed... was docile the right word? She felt like it wasn't. Maybe... he was a little like their big shapeshifting friend? She felt bad comparing Suicide to a darkspawn, but still.

The man himself had reformed into his human body when sight had returned, and he was still breathing heavily through his nose, trying to recover his wind from the exertion his first swarm form transformation had required. He held his spearstaff evenly in front of him, the mace end resting gently against the floor. He eyed the darkspawn warily, expecting... some kind of deception, very shortly.

Solvej watched the whole exchange with a mounting confusion. This was not conventional Darkspawn behavior at all. Erebus, or whatever the magelet had said his name was, had marched into this castle, killed what guards he had to to get to the royal family, thrown everyone else out, and then done nothing. No forays into town to slaughter helpless innocents, no demands for supplies, no anything. And the royals themselves! Antivans were stereotyped as a little strange, but unless she was missing her guess, they were almost friendly with their captor, and none of the lesser Darkspawn had even tried to harm the child, from the looks of it. If he was attempting to render Antiva harmless to help in the event of a battle with the Archdemon, he was doing a really bad job of it, and he didn’t much seem to care.

“…the flaming hell kind of kidnapper just lets his hostages walk out the door when the rescue party shows up?” she asked incredulously. He didn’t even seem to be making a move to attack them, or… do anything at all. He just stood there. She’d not been a Warden for decades or anything, but this defied everything she’d ever been taught about Darkspawn, and at this point, she was kind of expecting an ambush or something at any second, because then everything would make more sense.

Andaer was more interested in the exchange between Prince Stefano and Erebus. There was respect there, but also… Erebus had said that he believed his time was come. Did that mean he knew he was going to die here? Quite a proclamation, considering that was something even the other side didn’t know.

This felt entirely wrong. Rhapscallion wasn't sure what to make of this new Darkspawn Lord-creature. Erebus was nothing like Morpheus, specifically in his median appearance, and his behaviour couldn't have been more inconsistent with all of the others Darkspawn they'd faced up to this point—it seemed as if he knew his life would be over soon, if they succeeded, and he wasn't bothered by it in the least. As if he welcomed death like a weary old man with whittled bones and enough experienced to simply want a peaceful termination. His ears twitched, straining to hear. Civil conversations with their kidnappers? He'd never been very good at reading between the lines, or knowing whether or not any dialogue was merely a farce to save their own lives, but this seemed pretty damn genuine. His eyebrows raised quizzically. “Are you... friends?”

Erebus straightened, turning his gaze-- or what must have been his gaze, considering it was impossible to see his eyes-- on Solvej. “What kind of killer throws down her weapon when the deed is done and waits for the other Templars to apprehend her?” He asked in reply. “I expect we both know the answer to that.”

Solvej stared blankly for a few seconds. It was pointless asking how he knew that—Morpheus had known it too, she couldn’t expect anything less of this one. Instead, she answered frankly. “The kind who wants to die because there’s no more reason to live, but can’t do it on her own… are you saying you want us to kill you?” This was making less and less sense as it continued. “Why the hell would you want that? And why did you have to wait for us? Couldn’t the guards have just done it and saved us the trouble?” She was confused, and it was making her more than a little irritable. Her grip shifted uneasily on her poleax. Was this even a Darkspawn? He seemed so… human. Minus the horns and the permanent cowl of shadow thing. Morpheus had looked more like an Arcane Horror or a fancy Emissary than anything—this one was nothing so obviously Tainted, though she could still feel it, rolling off him in waves.

"Who cares why he wants it?" Mira asked, shrugging. "We're Wardens, he's a darkspawn. I'd say we can oblige him." Always with the personal attacks, these fancy darkspawn. Mira had never been a supporter of playing fair on a battlefield of any kind, but really, did they always have to go for the low blow, and dig up something from their pasts? She wouldn't stand for it, these pitiful attacks on her fellow Wardens.

Suicide thumped the floor once with the bottom of his staff as if in agreement, eyeing Erebus like so much meat. He'd thought of Morpheus the same way. The greater the enemy, the greater the reward. He'd consume this one yet.

The Darkspawn replied with a disdainful noise that sounded something like a scoff. “I will not fall to mere chattel, Warden. I will face my end only in a worthy battle, with worthy foes. Which reminds me…” He waved a hand, and there was a horrific rending sound as a hole tore open in Kerin’s armor, right around her waist, and a deep blow, from a source unseen, lanced into it, spattering a great deal of her blood onto the floor. Ethne’s eyes went wide, and she healed it as quickly as she could, but the primary damage was blood loss, an uncanny mirror of the wound Rudhale had received. “None are strong enough to face me alone, and no path is darker than when your eyes are shut. I am Erebus, the Gatekeeper, and if you are to give me the death we all seek, you would do well to remember that.”

The Darkspawn’s form wavered, shimmering and splitting until there were nine identical copies of him, standing in a row. In unison, each raised its sword, hefting the mighty blade in both hands. The inky dark of the blade seemed to spread upwards, sliding like a second skin over the creature’s form until all was dark. “Now come, and show me your worth. We shall see if this world can redeem itself, after all.”

“K-Kerin,” Rhapscallion sputtered, gawking stupidly at the rending wound torn in her midsection. Ethne was quick enough to cast her magic, but he could do nothing but close ranks with his companions. Nothingness had torn itself through Kerin's armour, as if unseen hands were peeling an orange and tearing away what was inside. That is to say, it appeared as if thin air had attacked them. How could they battle that? This seemed much, much worse than what Morpheus had inflicted upon them (though the horrific dregs of memory stayed with him). At least then, they'd been able to break out of their nightmares and recover quickly enough to bring him down with sheer willpower. But, if they couldn't reach Erebus and were being constantly assaulted by phantom-hands, what could they do? He bit his lip, hands clutching his freed shamshirs. “We need to stick together.”

"I still can't believe you lot tried to talk to it," Emil grumbled, tightening formation with the others. Friendly or not, it was still their foe, and they still had to kill it. Some enlightened words wouldn't change that, as they all had only one option. Emil had finally unslung his bow with the return of his sight, and had an arrow nocked, waiting to fire. The halfbreed was right, they needed to stick together. "There're nine of him, and nine of us. I think it's bloody damn obvious he wants to split us up," and Emil was adverse to doing anything a Darkspawn wanted him to do. As if to put a period on his statement, he fired off an arrow at one of the copies, merely to see what would happen. The arrow flew straight through the figure as though through nothing but empty air, clattering to the ground on the opposite side harmlessly.

Of course, no one could tell the Dwarf that. The rip in her armor surprised her so, that she bounded backward until something took advantage of that rend. The pain was immediate and thick, doubling her over and throwing her sword on to the ground. Kerin grasped the wound with both hands and rocked, as if trying to force the pain and blood back into her belly. She was not weak of body, by no means. She could take double the punishment any normal or sane man could. But it wasn't her body that broke. Her mind was not so solid as her body. It was a fragile thing that broke at any provocation and shredded those nearby with its shards.

As it was with Morpheus, Kerin broke wildly again. The drumbeats of her heart had slowed to mere background noise until the coward dared assault her with invisible hands. The chorus rang out in a vicious melody, drowning out everything. Color and emotion drained from her face to match her porcelain hair and eyes. Even the blood she lost was an afterthought as she reached for her greatsword. Digging its point into the ground, she vaulted herself back to her feet and she began to lurch forward alone toward Erebus-- All nine of him. It was fine, she'd kill them all and wear their skulls as trophies. She dragged her sword behind her as she marched toward the nearest of the Erabus clones.

As if by the unspoken signal of the dwarf's movement, the copies split, each of them targeting a different member of the group. They would find that sticking together was quite difficult, and that none of their blows, magical or mundane, seemed to connect, passing right through the shadow-forms as though they didn't exist at all.

The same could not be said of the blows leveled against them, and Erebus's blades cut just as surely as any steel, seemingly capable of bypassing armor to get at the flesh underneath as though it, too, did not exist.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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Typical conflicts allowed Mira to let the tougher, angrier, more visibly threatening allies, also known as Kerin, Solvej, Suicide, and Emil, to draw the majority of enemy attention, while she worked her support from stealth, from afar, or otherwise with her alchemy, but she could immediately see that this fight was going to be different, as one of the shadowy Erebuses (Erebusi? There was no time to think about it) came right for her as if she'd personally offended him, which for all she knew she could have. Maybe he had something against whores. He'd know she was one, if he knew what Solvej's past was, so maybe that was it. There was really no time to think about that, either.

The way Emil's arrow had soared through one of them, quite pointlessly, led her to believe that outright attacking this guy was pointless. That meant that for the moment, she just needed to stay alive, and try and figure something out. Easier said than done, as she was forced to throw herself backwards to avoid his first broad slash, and then sideways to avoid the following lunge. She tucked her shoulder and rolled out of the dive, coming to her feet and running towards the side of the room, trying to put some distance between her and him, but he hounded her like there was nothing else in the room. The other hims didn't need the help, she supposed.

Frustrated, she pulled a stunning vial and lobbed it at his feet, causing a swell of the stunning smoke to wrap around him, though of course that had no effect either. There was no sense wasting her throwing knives, and she'd sheathed the kris sword at this point. The idea of her trying to outright parry or block one of his attacks with the little blade of hers was laughable, after all. She turned and ran again, though there wasn't a great deal of space to maneuver. But while she'd sworn he had been behind her, suddenly he was directly in front of her, emerging from shadow. She skidded to a stop and tried to throw herself backwards again, but Erebus' reach was long enough to catch her across the midsection, passing through her leather armor like it was little more than tissue paper, opening a wound which spilled an alarming amount of blood on the floor in front of her. She backed away, trying to stave off the bleeding with one hand while she thought of what to do with the other. In the meantime, she flipped him off.

Suicide's first instinct was to charge as Kerin did, but he too had seen the way the Templar's arrow had done nothing, and unlike Kerin, he maintained his senses in the fight. The battle could not be properly experienced otherwise. Seeing the way he was able to wound her, with invisible force and startling efficiency, was enough to convince Suicide that his strength alone would not be enough. A lone wolf would struggle with a powerful buck and its dangerous horns, but a pack of them could bring it down. If they worked together to figure out what was effective, they would survive, and feast.

His instincts told him swarm form would be the best place to start, even if it was tiring. And so just as the Erebus that locked himself onto the shapeshifter reached him, his body exploded into wasps, the blade passing through and killing only one or two. He moved in a tight cluster, higher up and out of the darkspawn's reach, to observe.

Rudhale was all for this “sticking together” instinct the group seemed to share, as it had worked better than the alternative had for them down in the hallway, but it seemed to quickly dissolve, as one of the shadow-copies of Erebus homed in on each of them, and his pursuit was in every instance positively dogged. The assault was brutal, and left little time for anything other than trying to stay alive. Though he’d been healed of his major wounds, there was no mistaking that he wasn’t simply good as new; no spell could replace all the blood he’d lost—or at least, none the little mage could perform. Perhaps the Dalish man knew differently, but it was long past too late now.

His personal nemesis charged him, and Rhuddy first attempted to parry the incoming slash. His movement was deft, if not as quick as normal, but there was no denying the sheer force behind the blow, and it knocked him flat onto his back, where he rolled uncomfortably to his feet, already having to work to pull in his breaths at a measured pace. The following blow clanged into the floor about three inches left of him, where his shoulder had been a moment before, and he resisted the urge to flinch as it cracked the stone beneath it. “Really,” he managed with artificial lightness, “It’s a little bit unfair that you get to be invulnerable and hit harder than an ogre. Just a thought.”

“If the world were a fair place, I would still be guarding the gate to the Golden City,” Erebus replied stonily, hefting his blade to take another swing. Rhuddy was surprised enough that he didn’t say anything for a moment, or perhaps that was just the fact that he was currently busy trying to figure out just how he was going to make his half-functional body work hard enough to save his life. Fortunately, the Darkspawn went in for a low sweep, and he could still jump. He did, clearing the blade by inches, though the doubled-back pommel strike caught him in the side with enough force to crack something… again.

“I bet there’s a hell of a story in there somewhere,” he wheezed, the end of it trailing off into a dark chuckle at his own weakness, “But I should make something clear: I didn’t say I wanted the match to be fair. Heroes are at their best when overcoming, not merely waiting for a coin toss to fall. This would be boring if I was as strong as you—unf.” The remark was unfortunately punctuated by a deep gash to the outside of his left leg, when he failed to move aside in time.

Ethne was not dealing quite as well with the situation. She, even more than Mira, perhaps, was not meant for close-quarters situations, and this foe’s sheer strength meant that what she was really doing was running in circles, skirting the shadows as much as she could, and trying very hard not to get in anybody else’s way, all while occasionally trying to concentrate enough to heal her allies of the wounds that they were surely obtaining. Amity was still in residence, so to speak, but it didn’t matter how much stronger she or her friends were if they couldn’t hit anything, and at this point, she was just glad he enabled her to take more than the bloody gouge to her right arm before she collapsed. She decided that the best she could do was keep herself and they alive until someone figured out just what they were supposed to do here.

Erebus chose that moment to appear in front of her. Unable to dodge with the fleetness of Mira or Rudhale, she instinctively brought her staff in front of her, wincing at the snap of the metal and the resulting shallow scrape across her abdomen. It was nothing, however, compared to the slash she got from behind. A second Erebus, unable to reach its target, who was presently shaped like a swarm of bees, had elected to go for the weakest link instead—meaning the little healer. Without much choice, she bolted sideways, but she held no illusions about being able to run from more than one for long.

If wasps could frown, Suicide would have. They'd seemed intent enough on tracking down a single opponent, but as soon as he'd put himself beyond the reach of his own, it had turned to find a new target, inconveniently selecting one of the more fragile among them, who also happened to be the most important among them to keep alive and functional. Acting quickly, Suicide directed himself towards the pair of shadowy figures chasing down the girl, shifting back into human form in midair and plunging down with his spear into the back of the one originally attacking the Dreamer.

His spear went right through the being's back, and it continued on in pursuit of the little elf. The other, however, turned as soon as Suicide was in range and brought his sword down in a powerful vertical slash. The shapeshifter lifted his guard and managed to deflect the blow to the side without getting under the full force of it, and he was glad for this. His weapon had almost snapped in half as it was, and he was willing to test that again. He'd rather grown to like this brutal contraption. He spun away from the darkspawn and backed down. "What is your victory if you risk nothing?" he asked, the first words he'd spoken in quite some time. "And what is your death if you die alone?"

“No action is without risk,” the Darkspawn replied. “This is about who I am willing to fall before, and who I am not. My end is not to be met at the hands of those who cannot learn what I endeavor to teach. If I die, it will be because I have found an opponent who knows what is required to slay my kin. That is enough.”

"Enough for you," Suicide said, jumping back away from an attack with a near-growl. "Not for me. I am naught but the sum of the things I have done, and the bonds to those by my side."

“Your bonds?” Erebus echoed, clearly incredulous. “And what are bonds to you? You hunger, you desire ever to feed on more and more of what lies before you. You know so little restraint, and bonds are made to restrain. Would you hold these above the others, those you slew? No… if bonds add to your nature, then you of your own will subtract to slake the famine that will not be satisfied. How long until you gorge yourself on these? Even she you left alive you spared with no knowledge of it.” He sounded faintly disgusted, actually, and swung again.

"A promise was made," Suicide growled, rolling swiftly for his size under the blow and swiping his spear through the darkspawn's back, futile as it was. "A promise will be kept." His words were alarming, and if they were true, only gave him more reason to survive this. He'd thought he was done with them, but apparently his thoroughness had been lacking. The bonds would remain, even if in memory, and they would live on. The promise would be kept.

Emil couldn't say he was surprised when the arrow passed through one of Erebus's images-- for that's what they really were now, images. The arrow had served it's purpose at testing the waters, and now he knew a bit more against what he was up against than before. Never again was he going to be laid low by a Darkspawn and it's tricks. This was no dream, and though the uselessness he felt then still clung to him, he would throw it off today. He had a duty to carry out, and he would see it done. Despite both his and the halfbreed's words, the moment Erebus began his assault was the moment their formation broke. The dwarf stupidly marched forward, Mira and the dreamer split to dance around, and even the shapeshifter opted to break off and swarm above them for a time.

"Maker preserve me," Emil muttered and hunched over, slinging his bow back over himself and drawing his sword once more. Some archer he'd been today. Unlike his companions, Emil held his position. He went rigid, bending his knees and planting his feet. A manuever he learned not so long ago. If he did not wished to be moved, then he would not be moved. A typhoon could wash over him and he would still be standing. It was the Will of the Maker that kept him on his feet. He clutched his longsword with both hands and brought it up to block the blow that the image issued. The blow rocked his arm and racked his elbows, sending tremors down through his system. It took Emil all he could to push the blow back before retreating a couple of steps himself.

Not only could they not hit him, but he hit twice a hard as they did. He had never been in a more unfair fight in his life, and he had been a pirate once upon a time. The damn thing wanted to die-- but was not so generous as to just let them kill it. No, he wanted a fight. But, that also meant that there had to be a way to fight it. Swinging at it wildly with their weapons wasn't going to work, no matter how pissed they got at it. Instead of attempting to bare the brunt of the next blow, Emil rolled of the way and came up with his sword ready to block. Thoughts of his brothers and their shields played in his mind-- what he wouldn't give for one of those bulwarks now.

He caught another blow along the length of his blade, and he could feel the steel bend under the ferocity. Attempting for ward it off with brute strength would do nothing but split his sword, so he angled it, guiding the image's blade off of his own-- though shearing one of his pauldrons off in the process. Now with less armor and blood pouring from his shoulder, he attempted to analyze the riddle at hand before he bled out. To face him alone was foolish-- but at this point it was obvious that they could not attack a single clone at the same time. That left the bit about the dark path and shutting his eyes.

So, he closed his eyes. He tried to listen for the footsteps of the image, the blade cutting through the air, anything that would clue him in to an attack. But nothing came, only the black blade cutting through the air. With his eyes closed, he had no time to react, and the blade scythed through his chest. The sword glided through the armor like it wasn't even there and it left a deep gash, even digging somewhat into his ribcage. He jumped backward, clutching at his chest and heaved heavily. Perhaps closing his eyes wasn't the best idea ever.

Solvej rather expected the first hit from her own personal Darkspawn lord to clang off her armor and perhaps leave a bruise. She was sorely mistaken—the blade passed through the metal as though it were nothing, severing one of the muscles that attached her arm to her shoulder and rendering that limb entirely useless, at least for the moment. Shifting her poleax to a one-handed grip, she swung, reeling backwards when it clanged harmlessly off the black blade. So it was either to pass through or else just rebound? How the hell was she supposed to kill something like that?

A healing spell gave her back her arm, though it was unmistakably still tender. Rolling the shoulder, she circled her foe, who seemed content to let her, interrupting her passage intermittently with strikes that she avoided entirely, though doing so in her armor was very difficult. Frustrated, she backed up as far as she could and tugged on the leather straps keeping it in place, shrugging out of her chestplate in enough time to dive to the side, rolling to avoid a resounding downward slice from the sword. If it wasn’t going to protect her, it was just extra weight, and she might as well be rid of it. The rest followed between dodges, though she earned a number of other cuts for her trouble. Out of the metal, she felt lighter on her feet, and at this point, she’d accept even a small chance to extend this confrontation long enough to figure out how to win it.

The sword seemed to be made of different stuff than the body, so how was he even holding it? The obvious answer was magic, but either way, it seemed like something she might be able to do something about. Charging the blade of her poleax with her Templar’s powers, Solvej swung downwards in a mighty arc, aiming for where Erebus’s hands met his weapon—only to pass right through the hands and slam into the sword hilt with enough force to jar her own grip. That wasn’t the answer, then. So what the hell was? She’d hit him with a Smite, which should have nullified any magic he was performing, but it had changed nothing. It was clear that she wasn’t dealing with a creature so straightforward as Morpheus. And when Morpheus was straightforward by comparison, she was in trouble.

Andaer had figured out without attempting it that his blood magic would be useless here. He couldn’t even detect any blood to manipulate. It was like Erebus was simply made of nothing. So, his sword held in one hand mostly because he was accustomed to it being there, he ducked and wove, flowing around the attempted hits with all the grace he could muster from what his Sa’lath had taught him. Unfortunately, it did not leave him unwounded, and a bad hit to his ribcage was making it hard to either move or breathe. He would not last much longer on his own.

Rhapscallion watched as each of his companions were forced to separate from each other, lengthening the distance between them until he stood alone. Erebus was making it impossible for them to stick together and fight as a group, as they'd all seemed keen on doing. The Darkspawn Lord was clipping their heels, snatching their options away and forcing them to do as he wished. What kind of challenge was that, anyway? True warriors who wanted to fight fairly, and die an honourable death, wouldn't stoop to mirages, dirty tricks and poisonous words. His misguided heartstrings were strewn all over the place, and he wasn't sure whether or not he should shadow one of his companions until they brought one of the shadowy copies down—if that was at all possible, because from the looks of things their attacks were bouncing off like wooden sticks or sailing straight through as if they were attacking thin air. There were no clues, no riddles, no indications as to how they would fight this foe.

He didn't have time to dwell on it, or even take another step towards at least someone else, for his own Darkspawn Lord swept in from the eight copies, flickering and weaving until it became something tangible and solid. Easing anyone's burdens was out of the question. The image heaved its blade of its head, throwing it down with both hands. Rhapscallion automatically threw himself forward, underneath the copy-cat, and into a clumsy head-over-heels tumble. The resounding clang of the onyx blade clattering against the ground where he'd just been moments before was enough of a reminder that he'd better get his head out of the clouds and figure something out, and quickly. They'd tire long before Erebus and his shadow-copies. Did it cost him anything to summon them? Would he exhaust, drop his defences and leave himself open for any attack? It seemed unlikely. He hardly dodged another wild swing. This image was quick manoeuvring his blade, changing directions that would have taken any human colossal effort.

He was no Vanguard, marching forward endlessly. He was not as studious or perceptive as Emil, nor as experienced as Solvej or as nimble and strong as Suicide. He lacked much, but made up with it with his heart and compassion. In this battle, however, Rhapscallion wasn't sure how far that would take him. Erebus would not hold back or play mind games. His tactics were ruthless. It was apparent—though Erebus was convinced he would not survive this battle through cryptic messages—that he wasn't going to make it any easier for them. Why would someone want a challenge as they died? If he truly believed that, at all. Perhaps, he was dying anyway. Any normal person would refuse their mortality, and desperately fight against it. He welcomed it with open arms, but not without satisfying some sort of need that didn't make any sense to him. Rhapscallion huffed out a breath, reeling around to face the Erebus' mirage. It swung again, relentless with its power. Both shamshirs came up to parry the blow, criss-crossing in front of his face.

But, the mirage smashed him in the mouth with the flat of its blade, sending him crashing and tumbling to the ground. Bones snapped in his jawline, crackling into his cheekbone. He slid backwards a few feet and thumped onto his back, winded. It took him a moment to start breathing properly again, gasping for breath like a fish on dry land. Ethne's healing spell forced the bones back into place, puzzling them in their proper positions. Rhapscallion only had time to roll away from another swing. It ricocheted off the floor, hardly slowing the lumbering force. Remaining immobile for any period of time was unwise. Instead, Rhapscallion's shape flickered from view, and disappeared completely. He found his feet as soon as the mirage swung back its elbow, slicing into his exposed back with its blade. Fresh blood splattered behind him, and his body flashed back into view. He swung back uselessly, meeting nothing. Impossible.

It had seen him through darkness. It had seen him.

She swung wildly, blade cutting through the copy effortlessly, for there was nothing there to exert the effort upon. The blade came to a stop in the tiles of the floor for only a moment until it was wrenched free again. This time the blade did not slide through the copy's form, instead colliding hard with the figure's ebon blade. Neither weapon moved as Kerin put all of her might behind the push. If she would be be able to break the body, she would break his weapon. Her new goal would prove to be a difficult endeavor, as she was pushed off with the blade and assaulted. Her own too heavy and herself missing too much of her blood, she could not hope to match his speed. Instead she charged forward and dove through the intangible form, effectively dodging without having to retreat. Or perhaps it was just a tackle born from her rage.

Kerin stood back and swung again, a full circle using her sword's momentum to her advantage and slammed into the ebon blade once again, this time only her sword chipping under the pressure, and his still unmoving. The futility of it did nothing but made her rage sing louder, the drum beats in her heart screaming defiance. She would break his sword, even if it was the last thing she would do. She yelled and put all of her weight behind her sword hoping to have some effect. But none was forthwith, and when the copy pushed back, it sent her sprawling. The copy approached quickly in order to end the nuisance, but Kerin would not be so easily defeated. She rolled out of the way of the plummeting blade, and likewise for the second. It took three times for the copy's blade to find flesh.

The blade pinned Kerin through the shoulder and into the ground, firmly stopping her squirming. She felt nothing, aside from the sudden stop, and as she moved she finally realized what happened. She snarled not in pain-- she was far too gone to feel pain anymore-- but in rage. The blade left her shoulder and this time aimed for her neck, but Kerin was quick, she rolled forward and to her feet, swiftly turning to meet her foe. She attempted to hold her blade with both hands, but found her left wasn't responding. She growled in response and set her greatsword against the stone floor at an angle and stomped, snapping the blade in half and making it easier to wield with one had. She wouldn't give in so easily.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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Mira sagged in relief when the healing spell came, but could hardly take a breath to rest, as Erebus was relentless, and there was seemingly nothing she could do to force the one charging after her to fixate himself on someone else. After the first one had failed utterly, she decided she wouldn't be wasting any more of her vials, and her throwing knives had remained in place. Indeed, Mira had remained entirely unarmed for all of the fight so far, because there simply didn't seem to be anything she could do to hurt her opponent. Dodging his attacks was more than enough of a challenge as it was.

She she fled her own Erebus Mira quite nearly entered the path of the one that Ethne was fleeing from, forcing her to sidestep widely around so as to not get in his way. The move put her much too close to the shadows, however, and before she knew it Erebus was stepping out to greet her with a blade. She let her legs fall out from under her, shifting into a slide to pass under the horizontal strike. The dodge was effective, but as soon as she'd turned to face him again there was another coming.

The pommel of his sword was thrust violently into her abdomen, doubling her over and driving any air she had left from her lungs. She staggered momentarily, and knew that even a moment spent still was too long. A downward slash was coming, surely fatal if she did nothing, so she desperately pulled her kris sword and tried to put it in the path of the attack. The effort, of course, was futile, and his sword slammed through her, giving Mira a flash of white hot pain as she was sent skidding backwards across the floor, a large gash rent from the left side of her chest all the way down to her right hip.

She looked up to see blood spreading profusely from her torso, and the room starting spinning like it had the last couple of times she'd been seriously wounded. Her kris sword had fallen from her hands and was on the ground somewhere; it didn't much matter. Hands slick with blood pushed her over onto her hands and knees. The wound was too big to even try and slow the bleeding, so she didn't, instead trying to get herself to her feet. Her dizziness overwhelmed the first attempt, sending her back on all fours after she'd tried to put weight on her wobbly legs.

"Could... use a... ungh," she gasped, trying to get away from wherever her Erebus was. Not that there was anywhere to go.

Andaer wasn’t sure if Ethne was trying to conserve her mana or had run out, but healing was not quick in coming, and his bruised ribs were slowing him down. Erebus was only too keen on taking advantage of this, and went in for a pommel strike, followed up by a vertical slash. Though he took the first blow right in the stomach, the Dalish man managed to duck to the side and roll away from the cleave, though it shaved a good two inches off the end of his hair, a sign of just how close it had come. The roll put further strain on his wounds, and he could feel the uncanny sensation of internal bleeding. It was difficult to prevent himself from drowning in his own blood while moving, but he managed it, drawing the excess fluid out through his mouth and spitting it to the side. It tasted ill on his tongue, but when one worked with the stuff on such a regular basis, it became tolerable.

His divided concentration earned him a slash to the back, as Erebus emerged from a shadow there. More out of frustration than anything, Andaer lit a spirit bolt in one hand and aimed it for the shadows rather than the figure emerging from them, but even that was ultimately unsuccessful, briefly lighting up the area and causing the darkness to recede, but doing no damage to Erebus himself. Backpedalling, he tried to stay away from the bigger pools of shadow, and aside from Mira and Rudhale, he and his Erebus were perhaps the most obviously-mobile, crossing around and between several other engagements, without the opportunity to stop and help, nor the thought to ask for it.

He finally slipped up, though, stepping too close to a shadow. Recognizing his mistake at once, Andaer tried to launch himself out of the way, but he was too slow. The massive blade caught the side of his neck, missing the most vital of his arteries by an inch, if that. Blood welled from the wound at once sliding with a certain sticky heat down the contour of his neck and shoulder, but where this would ordinarily have been a mixed blessing, it was now simply more injury and nothing useful. With a delicate gesture, he clotted it, but it was not to matter much in the long run; Erebus had apparently decided he was impatient with the man’s dodging, and swung heavily, catching Andaer in the stomach. Rather than try to resist and let the wound cut deeper, the elf relaxed, and the blow was forceful enough to send him tumbling to the floor, rolling over and over until the nearest wall violently halted his progress. He could feel the deep opening in his stomach, and held a hand to it, in what was probably a futile attempt to hold in all of his entrails. His vision flickered back and forth between fog and utter darkness, but he held onto consciousness with a tenaciousness he did not often think to attribute to himself.

Even so, he wouldn’t hold it much longer.

It was perhaps no more than ten minutes into the fight that Ethne reached into the Fade for another healing spell—and found it unresponsive. She’d run out of mana, and Erebus was no weaker than he’d been when they started. With her staff broken, she had no way to block, and she wasn’t very good at dodging, either. If she let Amity go, she’d regain some of her magic, but it wouldn’t last very long. She was better off keeping him for as long as she could. She was opening her mouth to warn the others that no more magic would be forthcoming from her side when she was forced to duck a swing with a muted yelp. She could feel it shave off a few hairs, and she stumbled backwards.

Erebus, grim with purpose, pressed his advantage, backing her up with broad swings. Amity staved off the worst of the damage, and an arcane shield helped, but she might have to drop that soon, as well, and regardless, she came away with several bloody gashes just for trying to move.

When her back hit the wall, she at last understood his purpose in swinging with so little precision. It was a bit too late for that now, however, as he was aiming to cleave her in two with a downward stroke at speed she could scarcely track, and she had nowhere to go. The spirit under her skin was pulling at her, as though urging her to do something, though she knew not what it was. Panicking, she surrendered, and Amity snapped both of her hands up, catching Erebus’s blade between her small palms. It wasn’t enough to stop the downward momentum by any means, but it was enough to save her life, and the blow that bit into the space between her shoulder and her neck was deep enough to snap her collarbone and slice right through the connecting muscle tissue and tendons there, and Ethne screamed.

Amity receded, and she sensed it had cost him much effort to take that degree of control without simply possessing her entirely. What scared her was that, for a moment, she would have allowed it, and it was not something she could have reversed. But he had refrained, and her body still belonged to her. Not that she was going to be able to do much about it. She slid weakly to the floor, leaving a large red smear on the wall in her wake, every breath more painful than it had any right to be. How on earth was she supposed to survive fighting an opponent this superior, this utterly better, than she was? She wasn’t much all by herself on the best of days, and today, well… it wasn’t the best of days.

She coughed, and in doing so, coated her chin and hand with the crimson evidence that her life was leaving her, but she couldn’t do much more than watch as Erebus lifted his sword again. There would be no stopping this blow, and she well knew it.

Rudhale’s head was beginning to swim with the vertigo of his exertions, drawn from the resources of a body much less hale and whole than he would have liked. Blood loss, it turned out, was a harsh mistress, and honestly he didn’t even recognize that he was no longer being healed, because for the moment at least, his biggest problem was one that magic couldn’t fix. He sidestepped another swing, the effortless flash and half-sane braggadocio of his usual movement reduced to the barest minimum of efficiency by the need to conserve what few resources he had left. He didn’t dodge by a mile to prove he could, he dodged by centimeters because he had to.

He’d experimented with trying to strike different parts of Erebus’s insubstantial body, only to find that none of them was any different from the rest. Arms, legs, neck, head, torso, hands, horns, shoulders, back—there were just no weak points. He’d struck with the slash of a blade, the blunt damage of a pommel, and once, frustrated, with his own hands and feet, a destructive flurry that was only like sparring with so much air. There was nothing. The clever pirate was just as confounded and helpless as anybody else, and nothing he knew or had learned or could do made even the slightest difference. It would have crushed his considerable ego if it wasn’t busy crushing his body instead.

He twisted his body, taking the horizontal strike on the flat of the blade rather than the slashing edge, and was rewarded by a pair of resounding snaps when a couple of ribs broke for his trouble. Better than being sliced in half, perhaps, though it did make using his lungs harder.

And because he had nothing else to do, he tried to get Erebus talking. “Golden City, huh? Been a while since I went to the Chant, you know. Enlighten me?” His nonchalance was forced out between labored breaths, but he stepped forward all the same, to thrust and be parried. If Erebus had to defend, he wasn’t attacking, and being aggressive was the only chance Rudhale had to survive the next few minutes. Well, and maybe to get the fellow to confess to his weakness, though even the pirate knew that was unlikely.

“Be glad of it,” Erebus replied stonily, “What you call the Chant is half-truths buried in lies.” He swung, and Rudhale ducked, the heavy black blade whistling by just over his nose. Centimeters, indeed.

“But the Golden City did exist.” he replied, as much a statement as a question. Another swing, another parry, and this time, Erebus’s return was brutal, a heavy pommel strike to his already-broken ribs that sent him reeling sideways and almost knocked him from his feet entirely.

“Yes,” came the answer. “But more than the one you call Maker lived there, and it fell not only to human greed.” He said no more, rounding on the staggered pirate with a punishing triple: a slash that opened up a diagonal line on his chest, a sweep that knocked him off his feet and sent him sprawling to the floor, and a downward stab that would have staked his heart had he not moved aside at the last minute. Instead, his left tricep was utterly flayed, and though he struggled, there would be no regaining his feet in time.

Emil went from bad to worse, a number of other wounds added to the one ripping across his chest. His armor was only held up by the metal on his shoulders and back, having ripped his armored sleeves off long ago. Not like they would do much to slow the infernal blade down, the only thing that could keep him reliably in one piece was to not get his. Had he the time, the rest of the armor would have followed suit, but time was a precious commodity, and one he couldn't afford to waste by slipping out of his armor. He jerked his whole body to the side, every wound in his frame screaming in protest. Though it hurt, he used it. That pain was good, it meant he was still alive, that he still had blood to bleed. He wouldn't give up, not until every last drop had been drained from him. He ducked low, gasping at how close Erebus's sword came from taking his head off.

The bent sword in his hand was wielded in a reverse grip, the length of it running up his arm. His Templar training told him to stand and deliver, to hold back the onslaught with naught more than strength of arms and fervent belief. All of which would get him killed had he used it. So instead he went past that and touched his memories from his pirating days. He was trying to draw upon something that was buried years, half his life ago in fact, in the past, though he seemed to be doing a decent job of recalling. Perhaps the constant threat of death was decent enough motivation. Stand and deliver tactics morphed into hit-and-run survival. He merely used his sword as a shield now, parrying instead of blocking. Even so, the blade was becoming nicked and worn much like it's wielder.

He stepped to the side, slamming his sword into Erebus's pitch one, and pushed his forearm into it, guiding it safely away from him, and giving him a boost to the resulting backstep. He hated this, not being able to attack the shadow head on, and only running away. This was not how a battle was supposed to be fought, and there must have been some way, some trick to defeat the Darkspawn. If he wanted to die, then he wouldn't make it bloody impossible for them. He squinted and danced forward, attempting to relay a Holy Smite upon the shadow. Perhaps if the thing was made of magic, a Templar could cut through.

Nothing so simple, unfortunately. The smite sailed through the form without a hitch, and he received a deep gash to his arm for his efforts. His vision went hazy for a moment as pain shot all the way through the arm, nearly immobilizing him from the pain. He couldn't stop, else the pain would, permanently. He stumbled backward, cradling the arm with his other. Blood poured profusely from the wound, nearly flaying the muscle from the bone. His vision flicked dangerously as he cursed. He was losing too much blood too fast. If this kept up, the blood loss would do him in far before the shadow. He threw the sword at Erebus, who simply swatted it out of the sky.

That was enough to send Emil into despair. The damn thing didn't need to swat it away, it was invincible as it was. It was taunting and there was nothing he could do about it. With a low growl, Emil reached within the gash along the chest of his armor and ripped out some of his tunic, wrapping it around his arm. There he kept it and applied pressure to the wound by pressing as hard as he could against his abdomen. There was nothing he could do but evade now, and hope against hope that one of the others would figure out the trick for themselves. He wasn't sure how long he could dodge for without his vision giving completely and leaving him a collapsed mess on the ground, but he hoped it would be long enough. He then tripped backward, his dizziness overtaking him. He tried to rise back to his feet, but it was a futile effort, this time, falling forward. He could do nothing but get to his knees and wait for the death blow. He watched as Erebus took his time to approach him. He wasn't even aware of the dirge that was escaping his mouth.

"
Oh Death,
Won't you spare me over til another year
But what is this, that I can't see
with ice cold hands taking hold of me
When the Maker is gone and the abyss takes hold,
who will have mercy on your soul

Oh Death,
No wealth, no ruin, no silver, no gold
Nothing satisfies me but your soul
Oh, Death,
Well I am Death, none can excel,
I'll open the door to heaven or hell.
Oh, Death, oh Death,
my name is Death and the end is here...
"


A lot of things went through his mind. His crew, for one. He wondered if he'd see them beside the Maker. he laughed, probably not. They were no saints, they were probably going to be as far away from the Maker as possible. That brought him to wonder if he would see the Maker, and judge Andraste's beauty himself. Or, more mercifully, would he be with his crew once more. He was no saint, either, despite the Templar's armor. He couldn't decide which one he would prefer, in that moment before certain death. Oh well, he'd do the same thing he'd always did when things were uncertain.

He'd go with the tide.

The lamentation seemed to catch Erebus's attention for a brief moment, and he paused just infinitesimally in his upswing. "Not I," he said, almost softly. "The Deathbringer awaits you yet, in the place even dreams go to perish." Despite the words, he seemed more than willing to deliver the blow himself, and hefted his mighty sword once more.

"Wasn't singing about you," Emil spat, the crimson fluid passing through the shadow. It was hard to tell, but the Darkspawn may have smiled at that.

Rhapscallion fared no better, though he'd weakly attempted to draw away at least another mirage from one of his companions. It did not work. The Erebus-copies were solely drawn to their counterparts, never steering away or letting up on their assaults. Ethne was in no better condition, hardly managing to duck away from the shadow's wild swings, while still attempting to heal her companions—and Erebus was taking advantage of her attempts, never slowing his advances and always seemingly on top of her. His own personal shadow-mirage turned on him, hovering over him like an impenetrable tower. Like his father, gazing down at him for being so pathetic. The colour in his face paled, considerably more haggard than it had been moments before. Every downward slash opened thick gashes across his midsection, where Rhapscallion had brought up his blades to parry, but was only left blocking nothing at all.

His only choice was to launch himself away from the obsidian blade, throwing himself in the opposite direction. Occasionally, his shamshirs hit something solid, began to sink backwards and ricocheted off of whatever material the weapon was made from—leaving him to believe it was something intangible, immaterial. Irrationally, Rhapscallion desperately clung onto the idea that they were all trapped in the Fade, and that they weren't actually being barraged by countless copies that they could not hope to defeat. The harrowing pain in his back grimly shook its head, rigidly dictating that this was reality and the reality was that he was dying. He was dying. He was going to die. They were all dying. His breath hitched and released in one rasp of breath as Erebus slammed the pommel of his blade into his stomach, burying it into his bruised ribs. Erebus finished by spinning on his heels, walloping the flat of his blade to the side of Rhapscallion's head, sending him tumbling backwards, head over feet.

His reflexes were too slow in comparison. His lungs worked to pump enough oxygen into him to keep him from simply keeling over, harshly constricting in his chest. Rhapscallion continued rolling backwards, stopping short of the furthest wall. He bunched his legs underneath him and pushed off, slipping underneath Erebus and coiling up to meet him from behind. He spun on his heels, vertically slicing both blades straight through the shadow and brought them back down across its exposed back—but, nothing. Every slice was ineffectual. No matter how quickly he struck. No matter where he aimed. It made no difference. Concentrating on his movements only lengthened their exchange, clattering and colliding across the linoleum floors. Rhapscallion kept himself as mobile as he was able to, desperately throwing himself out of harm's way while still working through an array of slashes, rippling as if sailing through dusky smog.

The half-breed caught one of the swings, holding it poised in front of his face. Noticeable nicks pockmarked both of his shamshir blades, sliced half-way through like eroded stripes, and becoming deeper and deeper each time Erebus attacked. These incursions did not belong to a creature who believed that his end was near. Sweat slicked down the side of Rhapscallion's face, dripping off his chin from the strain of keeping Erebus' blade from dipping lower. His eyes, erratic blue-grey, gazed into monotonous pits. He wondered who, exactly, would make it until morning. Who would die tonight? Today? He had no clue what time it was, nor how much time had passed. In his mind, he sang songs. In his mind, he whispered prayers to a God he wasn't sure he believed in. The pale mouse, bloodless and shrinking backwards, faced a much larger, much more merciless predator. His aching bones ground together, back arching against the pressure.

He was afraid. But, he promised that he would be brave for them. Coagulated blood gurgled at the back of his throat, gathering in his mouth until he spat it through his teeth. Erebus only seemed to smile, fatherly and self-righteous and less afraid of dying or being defeated than anyone else. Had he been the one on the ground feebly holding his sword to his front, Rhapscallion might have guessed that the smile would have remained there, assured and wholly tranquil. A heavy blanket of sadness invaded his every cell, sudden and surprisingly cold, resigning to destroy the ever-present bauble of hope he carried with him. He did not want to die. No questions rose to his lips, and no strategy arose from the depths, either. Clueless, completely clueless. One shadowy hand rose from Erebus' side, pressing down on his blade. It sliced through his shamshirs, and the fragments clattered at his feet. The obsidian blade slicked through his second blade like butter, sliding into the flesh of his shoulder and clavicle. Luckily, bone seemed to stop the endless descent.

Erebus, once more, shlepped Rhapscallion away by flicking him off his sword, flesh reluctantly releasing the blade from his shoulder. He did not bounce back to his feet, nor did he move as Erebus approached, smiling. He was dying. They were dying.

Kerin dodged low, avoiding a swipe that would have surely taken her head off. Then she pulled back, an upward slash passing mere inches from her chest. She was wobbly, and had been put on the defensive ever since she had regained her footing. Her arm was now useless, nearly as useless as the broken sword in her hand. Erebus could not be struck by mortal means, and his own blade was proving to be much stronger than her own will. The drums in her head strained near their breaking point and she could do nothing but move and breathe-- and even then just barely.

Another blow, skimming far too close missed again, though the angle reversed and she was hit by the flat of the blade, sending her spinning off to the side. She hit her knee for a second before she spun back up, just in time to catch Erebus pressing in on her. She threw her shattered blade up to intercept the strike, but the effect was the same as it slammed her back, taking her off her feet and putting her down. She rolled backwards and onto her knees. The drums managed a beat, and she took a breath before the relentless assault continued. The beat of her drums could not keep up with him.

She threw up her blade horizontally to catch Erebus's black sword, though without another hand to brace it she beat herself in the head with its flat. Her beat skipped and frayed throwing her back to the ground. She quickly rolled to the side, out of pure instinct and tried to rise to her feet once more. However, her legs wouldn't listen and so she doubled over, dropping her sword into the ground as she spit blood. Her vision flickered as she saw midnight feet approach her. She raised her head to look at the general with a snarl on her face, though at this point it was all for show. The drums in her head and her heart had slowed, stalled even. She scrabbled for her blade as Erebus raised his own. Just as she found it, his descended upon her. It was all she could do to throw she sword up in order to deflect it. Again, the flat of her own blade slammed into her head, nicking her deep above the eyebrow and tossing the blade away, though the force was much greater this time around.

The drums died as the force threw her over her feet and onto her back, unconscious.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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The battle raged around her, but Solvej’s battlefield was narrowed to the few feet she could claim as the radius of her poleax. There was simply no other choice—Erebus was too demanding an opponent, too skilled an adversary, for her to devote much attention at all to the flow of things around her. It was probably the only reason she hadn’t been laid out on the floor already. Solvej was fit and quicker than most warriors, but that didn’t change the fact that she was used to letting hits connect and tolerating the damage. There was no tolerating a hit from this thing, and dodging was not her forte, even minus the heavy armor.

Still, she’d kept what might have been jagged gashes to smallish nicks so far, largely by remaining still until he’d committed to a strike, then moving away with the absolute minimum of effort she felt comfortable with. Even as focused as she was, however, she was far from turning that kind of thing into an art form, and was forced to block as many swings as she outmaneuvered. Her weapon was showing a myriad of nicks, scratches, and chips where the black blade was wearing away at it. In contrast, the Darkspawn was just as undaunted and free of fatigue or wear as he’d been when this whole thing started.

It was only a matter of time. She knew this, and yet she struggled on, parrying a hit a bit too slowly and adding another red line of failure to the contour of her bicep. Her sleeves were in tatters, hanging like ratty old dingy-sails from her arms, much of them soaked with her blood. A good deal of what was left ran in rivulets down her arms, her back, her stomach. Warm, sticky, uncomfortable, ignored. She swallowed, tasting the salt of her sweat and the coppery tang of more blood—she’d bitten her tongue upon a particularly jarring block. It felt heavy in her mouth now, like a lead weight. Erebus swung again, an unforgiving diagonal slash, and she hurried to be elsewhere when it hit, clanging against the stone floor with an earsplitting noise.

“It’s not working,” she growled, frustration rising inside her belly, twisting ‘round till it felt as though it might overflow. But she was not Kerin—she did not forge it into a solid bar of rage and seek to beat him with it. Instead, she let it go, like everything else. If it wasn’t working, then she needed to do something else. But what?

Suicide was frustrated as well, but out of all of them, he seemed most suited to survive this kind of fight. He fought with no armor regularly, and had learned how to be extremely swift in his defense, despite his size. His strength let him parry when necessary, and his speed let him dodge the rest. He'd still earned himself a number of gashes, on the arms, legs, one or two on the upper back, and a good one across his chest, but considering the state he saw some of the others falling into, he considered himself to be faring well.

Erebus drove him back with a flurry of swift strikes that Suicide was forced to block, each one blasting him back a step and forcing him to readjust his guard. His staff was heavily chipped and slashed at this point, and wouldn't hold up much longer under these blows. The movement carried him to the center of the room, and he breathed heavily through his nose, his muscles straining to keep him in motion.

What had they not done yet, that could still be done? He tried to think to Erebus' words, though his thoughts were regularly interrupted by dodging slashes of his enemy. He'd scoffed at him for his bonds, for his lack of restraint, the hunger he knew he had. He thought him a lone wolf, an outcast by choice, using and abusing the aid of others until they were dry of all meaning to him, and then casting them aside. He could not have been more wrong. It proved that while he might have been able to see Suicide's life, he could not see his mind. He couldn't know what the man truly hungered for, only what he showed, and he showed very little indeed. Others had made the same mistake. Bloodlust, battle, chaos, carnage, he seemed to crave these things alone, but there was so much else he did not speak of, because there were so few words for them, and he had never been a man of many words. Only feelings, and those he chose to share.

He'd show this creature what his bonds were to him, and make him understand.

Suicide, after dodging Erebus' next swing, turned and looked for an ally. Most were in the process of falling, taking grievous wounds from the foe that had singled them out, but the Black Templar still stood, and still fought on. To her he moved quickly, looking to her foe, and ignoring his own. He rushed past her, swiping aside the slash that was meant for her and swinging the spiked end of the staff into where his ribs would have been, though of course the blow passed right through, as it had done when he struck Ethne's attacker. This would be difficult, to land strikes on Solvej's enemy while avoiding his own, but they were falling too quickly to continue as they were. Something needed to change.

"Fight him with me," he said, determined.

She’d been expecting that to hurt a lot more. Well, that or snap her poleaxe in half—it seemed to concern Erebus little whether something was made of wood or steel or stone, as he could break it all the same. More than a few small craters pockmarcking the stone floor of this room were testament to that. The pools of deep red liquid collecting on the roughened surface of it spoke to the rest. Instead of joining the rest of her lifesblood to what was already spilled, however, Solvej found herself with an unexpected moment to take a bolstering breath and look around. Several of her allies were fallen or near fallen, and there was no mistaking that she was one of the last to be in any fighting shape.

Apparently, Suicide also belonged to that number. The… suggestion? Statement? Command? Whatever it was, it provided an answer to something she had not asked, and she rolled her lacerated shoulders once, regaining an offensive, two-handed grip on the poleax and leveling it at Erebus. The other was approaching fast, but that was a problem they’d deal with when it came to it.

“Yeah, sure. Why not? I can think of worse ways to die,” she replied, a touch of something like gallows humor infiltrating into the tone of the words. The Templars had said that the best way to die was in the line of duty, defending the virtuous from dangerous magic. The Wardens were actually pretty similar, only they protected everyone alike from Darkspawn. Solvej knew that such sentiments were important, sure, but she’d never wanted to die at all, never found that any of it was really enough to justify her acceptance of the bare fact of her mortality. It was the reason she was here, in a way—she couldn’t accept that she deserved it, that her dying was the right or the wrong thing to do. Death just was. You had to have something more than duty, because duty didn’t change that. She'd been mistaken about herself, about her own reasons, and it was suddenly clearer, with death so close at hand.

Somehow, dying next to an ally seemed like something worth doing, in a way that dying for the faceless masses was not. Not a reason, just a circumstance that made it better.

Suicide’s hit passed right through, and the one she launched on the tail of it did likewise, but she stepped forward anyway. Erebus’s sword opened a line at her hip, but she was willing to take that. No longer the only target around, she could afford to try hitting a little more often, and the second time she struck, she lit the axehead of her polearm with the pale blue radiance of a righteous strike first, then swung downwards with all the strength she had left.

When Erebus made his hit on Solvej, Suicide took the opportunity to work himself around the enemy, getting to the open flank, trying to give himself just a moment more before his own pursuer caught up with him. When Solvej slashed down with her righteous strike, Suicide lunged hard with the spear end of the staff, an attack that would punch through any normal being's guts and probably sever the spine. He ignored the slice his own Erebus landed on his side, focusing just on attacking with his ally.

The two attacks connected simultaneously, and a most curious thing happened: Erebus froze, as though encased in ice, and both of his assailants felt resistance akin to what leather-clothed flesh would provide. Both blows were strong enough to overcome it, and while Solvej’s sliced cleanly through his left arm, Suicide’s plunged into one side of his once-incorporeal body and emerged out the other side. The shadow-copy before them exploded into a cloud of darkness, of the consistency of ink in water, and like ink, it hit the floor in a puddle. All around them, the rest of his copies spontaneously did the same, even those poised above the two’s allies, ready and still able to deliver the blows to end their lives.

As one, the puddles moved, rapidly finding the nearest shadow and sinking into it, only to seemingly reappear at the bottom of the grand staircase, reforming themselves into a singular being. “It seems,” he said, leaning with apparent heaviness on his sword, “That I have misjudged you both.” If his tone could be described as anything, it was relieved. The challenge returned to it, thereafter, however, and he continued. “But where one fails utterly, two is still insufficient. Show me more.”

Ethne, who had closed her eyes against the incoming deathblow, opened them again as the Darkspawn spoke. She was surprised to see him there, standing some distance away from but clearly addressing Suicide and Solvej, and only the one. She didn’t waste time, though, relinquishing her hold on loyal Amity and feeling the mana required for his channeling rush back into her body. This, she spent in quick succession, on a revive followed by the best group heal she could manage. It was all she had for now, but it was enough that she could get herself to her feet, and some distance away, she saw the pirate doing the same.

“Bloody flames,” Rudhale muttered, rubbing at the underside of his left arm as though it were still tender. “How on earth did you manage that?” he pointed to Erebus, and the fact that he only had to use the single index digit was the strange part.

"As one," Suicide answered simply, lowering his weapon again, as the fight was clearly not over yet. He hadn't known a simultaneous strike had been the key. He'd merely wanted to fight alongside someone, and the rest had seemingly worked itself out on its own.

Mira had rolled onto her back after she'd realized she no longer had the strength to get to her feet, and tried to relax just a bit, closing her eyes when the darkspawn lord's final blow was about to come. But it never did, and she opened them to find him burst into a puddle, the inky substance mixing with the pool of her blood on the floor. Her head fell back to the floor, and she was vaguely aware that she didn't like the idea of getting her hair all bloody before she died, which would be soon regardless of whether or not Erebus did the deed. But then the healing spell came, and Mira sighed loudly with relief.

"Oh, Maker, yes!" she exclaimed, rolling over and slowly pushing herself up, onto hands and knees first, before she tested her legs. "That's the stuff... back in action, let's do this." She'd have to buy herself new clothes again. She seemed to come into increasing contact with copious amounts of blood, her own and otherwise, since she'd joined the group. A downside, to be sure.

Andaer was one of the last to struggle to his feet, as though the Dreamer’s healing was the mark of an incredible gift for the art, it had taken some time to rearrange his organs properly and close the gaping wound that had split him open in the first place. When he did, it was to the realization that he was tired and sore, but otherwise in serviceable condition. He might have thanked the gods for that, but clearly, his gratitude was better directed at the woman Templar and the shapeshifter. The question was lost on his ears, but he had risen in time to catch the answer. It made perfect sense to him, though it humbled him that he’d not even considered it sooner. Perhaps he still thought himself a man apart, from this group and its stated aim. He was not sent here by the same commission as the rest, after all, but clearly his mindset had betrayed him today.

It would not betray him twice. He nodded simply when the Templar clarified. “We had to hit him at exactly the same time. I think… we might all have to, now." At least, if she was interpreting his last statement correctly. That… wasn’t going to be easy. Coordinating two people was one thing, but working together well enough to land nine hits at once, with Erebus as strong as he was? It was scarcely an improvement to know, when to do seemed so improbable. But she wasn’t going to give up just yet. They had a chance now, and that was more than they’d had ten minutes ago.

It was only a matter of time—Erebus would not lie suspended above him forever, poised to bring down his deathblow. Swimming, tearful eyes clamped tightly shut, willing it all to end and with a voracious desperation, hoping that they were not in similar positions. But, he knew differently. From the abrupt look-about he'd taken, Rhapscallion had seen them struggling against the shadowy-mirages. They hadn't been doing well, and neither was he. He did not want to see them in the throes of death. He did not want to see, at all. The thick lump in his throat tightened, coppery with blood and still, somehow, parched. Courage fled from his fingertips, which were slick with wetness and empty of both his blades. His heart thumped loudly in his chest, fluttering like anxious butterflies. Heroes did not simply lie down and die. Heroes did not close their eyes and hope for the best. Heroes continued fighting.

Though Rhapscallion's heart beat triumphantly in his ears, stubbornly blocking out all else, he could still hear distant sounds of battle to his right—the creaking of metal joints, rustling movements and something solid being hit. And he was not dead. Panic arose in him, battling every instinct to keep his eyes resolutely closed. If death felt indifferent, then how could he truly tell whether or not he hadn't been killed? Something had dripped onto his boots. They were soaked, and slightly chilly. Fumbling fingers patted down his ribcage, his cheekbones, his forearms. He pinched himself once and allowed his eyes to flicker open, like a small boy who'd begun peeking on someone—not quite wanting to know, but unable to stop himself once he'd allowed himself a glimpse. He realized, with stunned awareness, that he was not dead. Whipping his head to the side, still prone on the ground, Rhapscallion noted that his companions were still very much alive, as well.

An overwhelming sense of comfort blanketed him, throwing ethereal arms around his shoulders. It felt as if it were gluing in all of the cracks, pressing warmth into his broken body, and stitching up all of the wretched wounds hacked into his midsection. Like a gentle mother's touch, if anything. Rhapscallion recognized the source, and could only breathe out in relief, in significantly better shape than he'd been in moments before. Exhausted, and slightly haggard from the ordeal, but still alive. It was all that mattered. The fact that his companions still breathed filled him with hope. Rhapscallion elbowed his way up, pulling his knees under him so that he could stand. It took some effort, but at least he wasn't moping the floors with his own blood. Stumbling over to Andaer's side, Rhapscallion caught the tail-end of their conversation—or question rather, and arched his eyebrows. “A-All at the same time?” They did not move as one, yet. So, how would they do it now?

Light flickered in Kerin's eyes as they fluttered open. Was she dead? Surely not, dead people didn't hurt near as much as she did. A loud groan escaped her mouth as she rolled over onto her belly. Every twitch of her muscles ellicited a pain response, and every breath was ragged. The room she was in spun wildly and she did her best to make it stop back grasping at the stones beneath her. While the revive may have awakened her, and the heal replenishing was stamina she now had, it did little for all the blood she lost.

However, the battle still hadn't been won. Though her vision was blurry and her equilibrium shot, she still felt Erebus. The taint in her blood told her that he wasn't dead, not yet. So with great effort she pushed herself to sit on her knees, drawing the swordshort from her back. With a steadying hand placed upon the ground, she rose shakily to her feet, threatening to tip her over if she went too fast. Once she was to her feet, she slowly began to lurch her way toward Erebus once more. The drums no longer pounded in her head, and everything was eerily silent. It was only Erebus and herself now, and by the Stone, she would be the last one to stand, even if she fell soon afterward. She was stubborn like that.

Suicide was glad to see that Kerin was still capable of making her way to her feet, as well as all of the others, but found himself somewhat incredulous when she started to stagger towards the darkspawn lord with shortsword drawn, with the clear intention of continuing the fight. He supposed he shouldn't have been surprised at this point, as this was simply how Kerin was, but he'd hoped she would have eventually come around to another way of thinking by now. It seemed not.

Perhaps he would have tolerated it in another battle, but it wasn't something they could deal with today. If Solvej was correct in her assumption that they all needed to hit Erebus simultaneously in order to defeat him, which he had no reason to assume she wasn't, then they would need Kerin to be able to think. Having her blindly charging forward with no thought to ally or enemy would do no one any good. To that end, he made his way over to her with swift steps, putting himself between her and Erebus, leaning on his sword. He put a hand on her shoulder, taking a firm grip, and prevented her from going forward any further.

"Stop," he commanded, his voice low, and urgent. His face betrayed little, but his eyes showed hints of irritation, the result of whatever wall had sprung up between them recently. "This enemy can only be defeated together. You are not alone. Stop fighting like you are." He felt the words did not adequately describe what he wished to get through to her, but he could not form anything more eloquent on such short notice. It would have to do. She needed to open her eyes and realize what she had at her side, or she would only continue to pay for her blindness, as would they all.

"I am alone!" Kerin shouted back. She had always been alone, even in a crowd. The only person who presense did not make her feel alone had died long ago, by her hands. She didn't deserve allies, and they didn't deserve one like her, not when her stubbornness could put them all in danger. In her blindness she couldn't see that was what she was doing right now. Pushing them away, out of her mind until there was only Erebus and her. It would be easier to fight a foe alone, with no one to rely on her and no one to rely upon. She needn't risk any other life but her own. She tugged weakly at Suicide's grip, but it was relentless, just as relentless as she was. She glared at him with her dull eyes as her lips pulled back over her teeth in a snarl.

Her shortsword lifted, poised to pierce Suicide's abdomen. He needed to move. "I fight alone," She hissed. Others only make her weaker, she tried to convince herself. It'd be easier if she did, instead of putting her faith into another only for them to turn to dust in front of her again. The hand holding the sword quivered in anticipation of the strike. It'd be simple, it really would. Just one thrust, just one word, and she would be responsible for another death. Her shoulders were strong and stout, what was another life's weight on them? All she needed to do was sever all ties and break once more.

Then the blade dipped low, away from Suicide. She couldn't do it, she was far too weak for that. Emotions, thoughts, everything shook like an earthquake in her mind. She didn't know why, she was... confused and shaken. "Fine," She whispered, doing what she did best. She bottled all of her uncertainaity, all of her emotions, everything she couldn't understand. The glass was fragile, and in time it would have to break. Though, not now, now was not the time to sort herself out. Now was the time to fight. Now was the time to win. "Fine!" She yelled, corking the bottle. With that she shook the hand off of her shoulder and threw her gaze behind her, to the rest of the team.

Solvej’s lips had peeled back from her teeth in something like a snarl when Kerin leveled her sword at Suicide. The fool was so stupid as to bear arms against an ally when there was a nearly-insurmountable enemy in front of them? She questioned her own wisdom in allowing the dwarf to join her order—this was not the mentality of a Grey Warden, and if her pride was going to continue to get in the way like this, Solvej would throw her out of the group herself. This was exactly what Erebus had been conveying to them! Was she so incapable of seeing?

But she was not Kerin, and she trusted that Suicide knew what he was doing. In the end, the dwarf seemed to relent, and Solvej shook her head, leveling her poleax again. She was just as exhausted as the rest, but she had not reached her limit yet. None of them had, and as one, they might never. At least not here. “You’re a Grey Warden now,” she informed the berserker flatly. “You gave up your right to this selfishness when you drank that blood. A Grey Warden never fights alone.” But the time for words was over.

“Ready?” she asked everyone about. This wasn’t going to be a simple task, no matter how facile it seemed in a sentence.

"Now that that's settled," Emil began, stumbling beside the rest of the group, "Can we kill the bastard already? Behind him he was dragging Kerin's broken greatsword, repurposing it for himself. His other arm was still clenched over his belly, blood gleaming off of what was left of his armor. His eyes had sunken into his head and his face looked gaunt-- healing or no, blood lost was lost. If he looked like death, he felt ten times worse, but it wasn't like him to die when there was still a job that needed done.

Despite what his name implied, Suicide certainly had no intention of allowing Kerin to skewer him, and he prepared for a shift to bear form, something that he'd been considering for the rest of this fight anyway. He was in no mood to allow her selfishness and her stupidity to kill one of the others, and he was beginning to think that as she was, this group and this task they'd been given was no longer for her. If she was so insistent on being alone, then she should leave. It was as simple as that. The only way, in Suicide's mind, for her to stay was if she could somehow get it through her head that isolating herself from the others was only going to hurt them, just as much as it would hurt her. Suicide didn't care if she didn't want to look after herself, but he would not abide by her putting the others in needless danger.

It didn't come to anything more than hard stares, though, as the dwarf lowered her blade. He let Solvej's words speak for themselves, turning to Erebus and shifting into bear form, ready to end this fight and move forward. Mira snuck over to where her kris sword had fallen, snatching it back up and making sure it was still in working order before crouching down and waiting for the action to start. Maybe she'd actually be able to avoid all the attacks now that there was only one enemy on the field.

Erebus frankly thought they were lucky he was patient. He watched the unfolding little drama with a raised brow, not that anyone would have been able to discern it on his face. The dwarf was slow, indeed. The reactions this produced: the big man’s attempt to convince, laced with irritation, the twisting snarl on the warrior woman that strangely became her, the briefest flicker of hurt that threaded its way into the lines of the pirate’s face at the dwarf’s words, the way the dreamer’s eyes met the floor. The resolution of the Templar, the way it echoed through some of the others—he would wait no longer for them to learn his lesson. It was time for them to fall, or to fly.

He hefted his sword with the same effortless ease as before, swinging it in the air in front of him. The wave of energy this produced had enough force to knock back the unwary. “Enough,” he said thunderously. “Kill me or die. The choice is yours.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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“Doesn’t seem like much of a choice to me,” Rudhale muttered darkly, forced back a step by the stunning wave that the Darkspawn emitted. Either he was capable of much more when his forms were united, or he’d been holding back on them all along, and neither thought was particularly appealing to the pirate. Still, battered and bloody as he was, he still continued to smile like an idiot, a blade in each hand and a song in his head. It was the way he lived, and the way he’d die, someday. Not that he’d ever admit to thinking as much, of course—the more likely story would be something about going overboard in a storm or in bed with several women at an obscenely-old age. That was flavored more like him, wasn’t it?

He glanced around at the others, and for the first time he could remember, he was actually a little uncertain they’d succeed. Which might be a little absurd, considering the predicament he’d been in not ten minutes ago, but even a hopeless situation had room for miracles, and luck. There was no luck here—it would have to be a miracle (and getting all of these people to coordinate was nothing less) or nothing.

Erebus approached, and Rudhale circled to the side, for a better flanking angle, something that Darkspawn seemed content to let him do. He was quick at reacting, so he thought it would probably be for the best if he waited for someone else to initiate, and coordinated his own movements to match. Dancing with a partner was more fun than dancing alone, anyway. From the corner of his eye, he spotted Ethne, a spell lit in one hand and clearly of a similar mind. He wasn’t quite sure why, but he looked to Solvej after that, as though waiting for her word to go. She was as good a choice as anyone, and considerably better than some, anyway.

In bear form, Suicide was the toughest physically of the entire party, and right about now he was imagining he'd need all of it, for what he was planning. While he hadn't been planning on throwing himself on Kerin's sword, the giant blade that Erebus was wielding looked significantly more appealing. Mostly because the blade was the only part of the darkspawn that they could physically touch on their own, even if it was practically a death sentence to do so. If Suicide could get a hold of the blade, that would do two things: one, it would prevent Erebus from hacking apart any of his worn-out allies, and two, it would give all of them a moment or two to get this nine-in-one hit they believed they now needed. It would come at a significant cost for him, of course, but despite the way he seemed to live, Suicide did not see himself as a selfish man.

He barreled forward directly towards Erebus, lifting himself up on his hind legs when he was in range. He'd been hoping for a vertical strike, but he got a horizontal one instead, slicing into his belly, at which point he roared, and turned into the blade, throwing his considerable weight down on top of it and trying to wrap his arms around it. They didn't call it a bear hug for nothing, and though he couldn't actually grip things that well with his claws, there was immense strength in his arms and legs, enough to prevent Erebus from retrieving his sword for a few moments, during which Suicide tried to claw swipe Erebus in the face once before the sword slipped away.

Mira seized upon the opportunity to slip around behind Erebus, drawing as near as she dared before swiping her kris sword down the length of his back, hoping the others would catch the moment when it came. Otherwise, she'd be backing the hell off sooner rather than later, and wait to try again.

Erebus was not able to make his sword as intangible as the rest of him, and the actions of the shifted mage did buy his allies time wherein the darkspawn Lord was more or less immobile, but not much of it. With a great heave, the general slipped his blade free of the massive forearms that held it, slicing a ribbon into the left one as he did.

Solvej wasn’t oblivious to the fact that at least the pirate and the magelet were watching her, though she herself chose to take her cue from Suicide’s decisive action. “Spells!” she shouted, and at least one, a spirit bolt by the looks of it, whistled past her ear in response. From its positioning, it was the work of the Dalish, and she matched her speed to it as she hoped the other melee fighters would have the sense to, swinging to time her contact with the bolt’s, which she knew was at least very close to the timing of what Mira and Suicide did. Trying to coordinate this many people wasn’t going to be simple, especially when that coordination was not agreed upon beforehand. Ethne's Winter's grasp was there as well, though from her distance, the young mage could not tell if the timing was right or not.

But they didn’t have time for that—they had to take the chances they were given when they had them. Suicide’s move had bought them just such a chance, and she knew it would not be without cost, either. Her poleax descended for Erebus’s skull, but she was not oblivious to the fact that other people needed space to move in, so she angled her body away from it. Some distance behind, Andaer called another spell to his hands, unable to believe that their first attempt would be all that successful. Where Solvej went vertical, Rudhale tried for a horizonal swipe, moving low as if to hamstring the darkspawn. This had the added benefit of hopefully being able to ensure that most poorly-aimed projectiles would not hit him, if there turned out to be any.

Emil dragged his half-corpse as well as he could to try and keep up with Solvej and the rest of the crew, but he couldn't help but feel like his movements were sluggish comparatively. They seemed to have forgotten that some of them were on death's door only moments before. Still he'd have to compensate for it, it would not be his fault that this plan fell through. With the way his arm was at the moment, there was no way he'd be able to draw his bow, much less fire it with any accuracy. So it fell to him and the scrounged blade in his hand instead. He just prayed to the Maker that he wouldn't recieve a spell to the back or Erebus's blade for his trouble.

For a moment, he actually hoped one of the others would recieve it instead. He had enough of getting stabbed for one day. While the vertical axis and low blows were taken, Emil opted to try and clip his shoulder instead. If they only needed to strike as one, then they all didn't need to be a killing. On the opposite side of the Erebus in the shadow of Solvej, Kerin thrusted upward with her shortsword, looking to plant it up to the hilt.

Rhapscallion shuffled alongside Solvej and Andaer, advancing much closer to the fray, conveniently in spitting distance of Erebus, and his close-combat companions. If Erebus chose to swing his blade in a wide arc, he wasn't so sure he'd be able to move away in time. He had no long-distance abilities, save for those that involved incapacitating skills. He was not entirely sure if that would suffice, so he hurdled around Andaer, moving to his right shoulder and gripped his broken shamshir blades all the tighter. Broken or no, they'd have to do. However graceless, Rhapscallion shifted his weight and ducked under Erebus' exposed elbow, twisting his blades up towards the back of his kneecaps.

The strikes were close, but not perfect. Rhapscallion and Rudhale, aiming too close for the same thing, accidentally clanged blades with each other, delaying their progress forward, and Ethne’s spell was just a little late behind the one Andaer launched. That none of them, therefore, successfully landed a hit meant that many of their weapons clattered together, wrenching arms, pulling at shoulders, and striking the stone floor with jarring momentum. Erebus swung a wide arc, potentially hitting all of the melee fighters, but those at range were not spared either, and he raised one palm, a black orb gathering there, and shot it outward, splitting it into enough projectiles to hit those not within the scope of his sword.

And they still missed. Magnificent. His own sword swung wide through the shoulder, and without any resistance, kept swinging until his side was pointed toward Erebus. So instead of clipping the Darkspawn's shoulder, it was his that was clipped. The swipe was deep and the extra cut into his flesh almost dropped him to his knees again. The world was spinning and layered with a fuzzy haze as even more of his lifeblood dribbled out onto the floor. So much for hoping the others would bare the brunt of it instead. He stumbled backward to get out of the way of any possible backswing.

Kerin on the other hand merely had to duck her head down to dodge the sword. That did not save her from the oncoming orbs though, and one swooped around behind her planted itself in her back, lurching her forward and forcing to her hands and knees. The black orb branched out and sucked what energy she had out of her limbs and replacing it with some sort of arcane pain. It was enough to make her yell in enraged pain, though the drums still did not return. She held back the notion to rush forward and make him pay, as that would only end up in either hers, or someone else's death.

A pained growl accompanied the blade slipping free of Suicide's grasp, and he backed off, though not quickly enough to avoid yet another slash deep into the shoulder. The darkspawn's ranged projectile hit him squarely in the nose, sending a shooting pain through him and ridding him of a majority of what mana remained to him. Reluctantly, the shapeshifter fell back to his human form, keeping a firm grip on his spearstaff and waiting for the next attempt.

Mira had performed an elegant backwards cartwheel to dodge the sweeping blow of Erebus, putting distance between her and him as well, though by the time her gaze went back to the darkspawn, his projectile orb flew into her chest. She grunted lightly as the breath was taken from her and her legs suddenly resisted the urge to keep working. She fell forward onto her knees, using her hands to brace herself from falling any further. It was a moment before she was able to push herself back up again, but she did so, determined to not let the others down.

Solvej was fast out of her armor, a quality born of a childhood climbing sheer cliff-faces and chasing her brother around, leaping from stone to stone in far more precarious situations than were safe. But she was not trained to much in the way of combat agility, and she was not quick enough to evade Erebus’s blade. She got away from the worst of it, but it opened up yet another wound on her abdomen, a horizontal slice over her abdomen. Doubling over, she grit her teeth against the pain of it and blinked to clear the black spots from her eyes. She felt woozy, weak. Not at all like her usual self. But this wasn’t the worst of it—more would come, and she would face it. She could keenly feel every vertebra aligning as she slowly pulled herself up, shaking her hair clear of her face.

This could be much worse. He could make it much worse, that was clear from what he’d done to Kerin. But he was choosing not to. He must really be serious about his intentions to die. She exhaled shakily and tried to ignore the slight tremor in the hands on her poleax. She couldn’t stop them; it would be an effort of will too expensive to bother with. Let her body be shaken. Her resolve would not be.

Andaer was caught in the chest by one of the orbs, and the impact of it knocked him off his feet. He felt his connection to his magic waver as his mana was drained—it was much like being blinded again, only worse. It left something empty in its wake, and he was glad the feeling was not complete, that some part of the Fade remained with him still. He would be utterly lost without it, now that he’d known its comforts so long. He clambered back to his feet, pausing for a moment wherein he was unsure his knees would work for him, but they mercifully held his weight, and he breathed a small sigh of relief. It looked like they’d just have to try again.

Things continued like this for some time, with their strikes gaining synchronicity but falling short of full togetherness, and each time they missed, they were assaulted brutally, either by his black blade or else the combustive energy he could eject from his hands. He did not, however, move to injure any with the invisible force he had initially used on Kerin.

After one such round, Erebus broke his own pattern, refusing to stand and simply tolerate another clumsy attempt to topple him. His retaliation up until this point had been minimal enough, but apparently, it was insufficient to drive the point home. Always a literal creature, he decided to do just that: disappearing into one of the shadows behind him, he remained sunken into them for longer than he usually did, allowing their confusion to settle and fester, to force them to rely on something other than just the act-and-react archetype of instinctive warfare. He wanted them to have time to think, to contemplate, to stew in their lack of knowledge and dread. Whether it worked on all of them or not was irrelevent. It worked on some, and that was enough. They were only as strong as the weakest link in their chain.

When the darkspawn disappeared, Ethne took the chance to heal them again, but it was much weaker than the last had been, maybe enough to stymie any seriously-bleeding wounds, but it might not even have closed them. Her stamina was drawing near its limit, and another one of those energy blasts might just put her out of commission. The fact that Erebus had yet to reappear was worrying her. It wasn't so simple as just spotting him and trying again; now, every shadow in the dim room was a potential enemy, and it set her teeth on edge. Why wouldn't he just pick one? They couldn't hope to fight something that simply wasn't there.

Unfortunately for her, she wouldn't even be able to see when he did, because he emerged not too far behind her, soundlessly raising his blade to thrust right at the center of her back, with every intention of running her through.

The Templar took the moment of respite as a boon and leaned heavily on his sword. He blinked rapidly, trying to fight off the tempting release to just sleep. It'd be so much easier to just close his eyes and drift away, and to let what may happen happen. He wouldn't have to try and kill the bastard of a Darkspawn for one, he'd been soundly trouncing them so far, and he had a feeling that he was still just playing with them. If he wanted them dead, he didn't think there was anything they could do about it. A grim, but realistic thought. It was due solely to the blighter's death wish that any of them still stood, and he feared even that was wearing thin. The odds were not in their favor, to put it kindly. Even his own willpower and strength was fading, and fast. They wouldn't last much longer, not at the rate they were going.

Still, he'd die with a sword in his hand before he just let it come. He tightened his grip on the broken blade and lifted it up to his shoulder, scanning the area through heavy lids for any sign of the Gatekeeper. Nothing. He was still crawling around in the shadows somewhere, waiting for his chance to strike. A cowardly tactic, in Emil's eyes. He could very well just overwhelm them on a moment's notice if he wanted. Emil cursed, then uttered a prayer to the Maker. Not one to keep them safe because let's face it, safety was out of the question. It was one to watch over his soul. With it uttered, he began to move. Staying still was inviting disaster.

He had patrolled nearby Ethne when Erebus struck. It wasn't him, no, it couldn't have been that easy. Instead he had his blade angled for the magelet. He didn't think, instincts kicked in and he reacted. Two long strides brought him to the girl, where a rough and calloused hand gripped her shoulder and shoved. The blade that was meant for the elf instead impaled Emil through the chest. His sword clattered and blood spilled to the ground, though Emil felt no pain, only weakness threatening to drop him into a heap. He looked down as the ebon blade was painted with his own blood and coughed, adding to it. He knew he'd die on this venture, it was only a matter of when and not if. It seemed his death song was a couple dozen minutes too early. Unfortunate, but just as well. He didn't think he could do much singing, one of his lungs were clipped if the blood from his mouth was any indication. Things slowed down for Emil as he blinked, the pain finally working it's way through his body. He winced as his knees shook under him, warning him that he wasn't due much longer.

Still.

He wasn't the one to meet death in slack-jawed silence. He'd die on his own terms. Emil's hand wrapped around the hilt of the sword, pulling it deeper inside, drawing him closer to the bastard. There he locked an iron grip and refused to let it go. Not until they both were dead. "You're not--" He coughed, splattering his chin with more blood, but continued any way. "Getting a better chance," He called, slowly pulling an arrow from his quiver. "Hold the Gate for me," Emil whispered to Erebus, igniting the arrow in an intense blue flame. They both would be judged shortly.

Mira had taken the short moment of relative calm to drop to a knee and search for a potion in the small bag on her hip. The contents were mostly shattered glass and wet substances at this point, considering the number of times Erebus had hit her, but she was lucky enough to find just one remaining stamina potion, a weak one, but hopefully enough. She'd been quick enough to avoid getting slashed open any more by Erebus's sword, but she had yet to figure out a way to dodge those projectiles, and adrenaline was probably the only thing keeping her from collapsing on the spot.

It was just as she finished it, staggering back to her feet, that Emil took the blow for Ethne, and Mira's eyes widened at seeing how bad it was. What certainly would have killed the elven girl looked just as likely to kill Emil as well, and that alone would have been enough to keep her feet in motion. Uncertain of her aim at this point, she darted forward quickly as she could, falling into a slide when she reached the darkspawn's side, and slashing across his lower legs, so as to avoid getting in the way of the others. Suicide struck from range this time, using the last of the mana he'd recovered to put a bolt of lighting squarely in Erebus's chest.

Taking the cue for what it was, Erebus as immobile as he was going to get and Emil close enough to strike last, a bolt made of spirit energy flew in from ninety degrees away from Suicide, though Andaer had waited until the shapeshifter loosed his before doing the same. Hopefully, his reaction time was adequate to the purpose—that or the extra step forward he’d taken in an attempt to compensate.

Solvej grit her teeth. That was a familiar sound, the one a sword sliding into flesh made, and she’d always despise it. This was it—Emil was giving them the last chance they were going to get. She’d never allow herself to waste it by hesitating, and trembling hands or not, she swung high, aiming unerringly for the darkspawn’s neck. She wanted his head for this, and they deserved to have it. Not one of them hadn’t bled for it, hadn’t been pushed to the very edge of death for it, and one of them might not come back. Solvej knew what a fatal wound looked like, and that was a fatal wound. At one point in her life, she would have said only a miracle would save Emil now. It was really, honestly, too bad that she didn’t believe in miracles anymore.

Kerin had seen it all happen as well, and she could keep the pang of guilt out of her mind. So instead she did what she did best, replaced it with directed rage. Erebus had broken them all, some more so than others. He deserved everything he got. She had slipped around the side of him, and stuck her shortsword upward into the armpit of the 'Spawn. She'd never wished a fight was over before, but she found herself hoping that this would be the end of this one. She was tired of this fighting, tired of getting beat, tired of watching others get pushed. She just wanted it all to be finally over.

Rhapscallion's hesitation would have only cost them more pain, and he wasn't willing to pay a harsher price. Gentian eyes widened like saucers, crinkled at the corners, and already brimming. He would not cry. Had Emil had the strength, he might have reprimanded him for being so weak, so unlike any of the Wardens. The tightness in his chest hardened, bracing against any emotion that would flounder his blow. Initially, he'd missed by clumsily clanging his blade against Rudhale's. Now, he compensated by flickering off to Erebus' right side, bunching his legs underneath him and springing into the air. He slammed his broken blades down towards the creature's shoulders.

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Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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The shove to her shoulder sent the weakened Ethne sprawling onto her stomach, and she was only barely able to summon the strength to roll over onto her back, breath catching uncomfortably between a choke and a sob in her throat. Emil… he didn’t even have much reason to like her, as far as she could tell, but he’d just taken a mortal blow for her, like it was nothing. Like it was something he’d do for anybody, at any time. It was… it was unbelievable, really, like she was just rejecting the reality of what had occurred because there was no other way to process what she was seeing.

So Ethne didn’t think either—with a scream more anger than terror, she tore the last of the mana from her body and hurled it at Erebus, barely able to shape it into anything at all, and indeed, the shape of the stonefist was undefined, cracks in it bleeding purple light rather than closing into a dense matter the way they should. It didn’t matter.

Rudhale was a little further away from the rest, and with little to no distance capability, he had to act quickly to strike when the others did. Bending, he scooped up a stone, dislodged from the ground by one of Erebus’s many sword blows, or perhaps one belonging to Solvej or Kerin, he didn’t know. With a precise toss, he hurled it for the center of the back of the darkspawn’s head. As he did, Emil's blue wreathed arrow thrust forward to where his heart should have been, piercing the black veil.

It connected, as did the rest, and if Erebus had been a human being, he would have been beheaded, disembowled, shocked, had his ribcage crushed, his feet knocked out from under him, riddled with slashes, and probably knocked mercifully unconscious by the stone as he died. But he was no human, and instead he simply… disintegrated. His form wavered, the edges blurred, and from the outside in, he was carried away, like ash on some unfelt wind, scattering and hitting the floor, only to sink into the stone. A sound accompanied this, something like a sigh of relief, and if one were listening closely, they may have even heard a murmured thanks on the air.

Ethne was not listening closely. Her own body felt like it was about to fail her, but she paid no heed to it, dragging herself over to Emil, still clutching the sword. It, curiously, had not disappeared, and still retained the same uncanny black color, though it seemed more… tangible now, than it had before. She did not dwell on it. “Emil…” she muttered weakly, close enough at last to push herself into a seated position, looking over his wound with obvious worry. She reached for her magic—something, anything to heal him, but she had nothing left at all. Not even enough to let a spirit enter her body and work through her. She could still feel the Fade as always, but it would not answer her calls, not now, not when she tried to pull the magic into the world it did not spring from.

Without something sturdy holding the sword in place, he finally crumpled in on himself. His legs left him, forcing him on his knees, and then they too left. The sensation of falling washed over him, but there was nothing he could do to stop it. He fell backwards, landing hard on his side, his legs still bent behind him. He couldn't feel anything anymore, which was a boon. Maker knew the agony he'd be in if he could feel the sword in his chest and his legs crumpled beneath him. He was finding it hard to suck in breath anymore, and even harder to keep his eyes open. The world twisted and turned, and threated to topple in on him. The colors were draining from his eyes much like the blood that was pooling beneath him.

At least he managed to do it, at least they defeated Erebus. In his last moments, he wondered if it made up for his uselessness against Morpheus. He could die proud, at least. He defeated this demon, he followed his orders to the letter. He was hardly aware of Ethne hovering over him, just a voiceless shade looking down on him. Now delirious with blood loss and near death, he grinned a bloody, toothy smile and began to weakly sing. It took all of his effort to force the words out, but it didn't matter. He was headed toward the same place one way or the other, he might as well go out with a song. He'd face death like he faced any other challenge. Without fear, and without hesitation.

"Dawn breaks on the cool waves
See the bright face of a new day

And the darkness fades
And the darkness fades
And the darkness fades away
And we..."


And the last of the color fell out of the world and replaced by an inky blackness, for a moment. Only for a moment though, as it was soon chased by an intense white light. He was oddly away of the smell of salt, of a gentle breeze on his cheek, the familiar feeling of water beneath his feet. When his sight returned, he beheld the sight of a magnificent beach. He stood where the rolling waves met white side, and he felt the sea cascade over his feet then reel back only to repeat it again and again. There was endless beach at his sides, and an ocean that stretched out forever in front of him. The only sound was the sound of the waves crashing into the sand. There wasn't a sun nor a cloud in the perfect blue sky. It was peaceful. He listened to the waves for what felt like an enternity before he added his own voice to the rhythm of the waves.

"Sail, set sail
Sail, set sail

And the weight of the world is lost
And the blues in the blue we cross
Everything gone is gone

Good man with the capable hands
Sails for new lands
And he understands

That you can’t go back
No, no you can’t go back
No you can’t look back
No, you can’t look back
When you

Sail, set sail
Sail, set sail..."


Emil’s voice had faded from this world not long into the tune, but she heard it still, echoing from across the Fade, and Ethne knew what she had to do. “No,” she said out loud, shaking her head and ignoring the wave of nausea that swept over her. “No. You don’t get to leave yet. I won’t…” Taking a deep breath, she forced herself into the Fade after him, her physical body slumping, chin at her chest, shoulders hunched over and forward. She looked smaller even than usual then, and more vulnerable, and perhaps she was. But she wouldn’t let things end this way, she couldn’t.

Ethne walked, following the sound of his voice at what must have been more a shamble than anything, but here, she was master of the elements; here, she could be what and where and how she needed, and the weakness of her body did not dim her mind’s capacity for that. She willed herself to follow, and follow she did, plunging first into the darkness, and then into the exploding light, and then she found herself falling, collapsing into a bed of impossibly-soft sand.

It was warm, this piece of the Fade, and she could smell saltwater, like the sea and sweat and sunlight, though there was no sun to be seen. There never was, really—she suspected that once, the Golden City must have been all the light that was needed here. Now, though, she knew not from whence it came. Maybe it was his doing. Pulling herself to her feet with strength she did not have, she looked around. Emil was standing a little ways away from her, or was it miles? She was comforted by a familiar presence at her back, and for the first time in what seemed an eternity, Ethne smiled. She could do this. They could do this. She was never truly alone.

She appeared beside him, then, and at her side a spirit indistinct in form, a radiant sky-blue in color. She had been a bit surprised to feel Faith beside her, rather than Courage or Vigilance or one of the more martial virtues, but here it was, and it was time to right a wrong. Perhaps it made sense given his devotion to the Maker. “Emil,” she said, and when she did, it was with the voices of the rest as well, lending an odd, discordant quality to her tone. “It doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to leave yet. I…” she trailed off, then shook her head and stepped back. It wasn’t her place to interfere in what would transpire between the spirit of her friend and the spirit of hope. His peace or his life was a choice only Emil could make, and she would be here if he chose to grasp what the spirit offered. It was the least she could do, after what he’d done for her.

Strange that the magelet found him in his own little slice of the fade. Though that was an an answer in of itself. They were in the fade, the place where the Dreamer roamed freely. He sighed and turned to face her, shocked at the sight of a creature beside her. It wasn't a demon, no. He could tell that much. He didn't smell the scent of evil off of it. In fact, it smelled more of sea-salt than the brimstone exhuded by its more violent cousins. It was a spirit, he could tell that much. Many of his brothers couldn't tell the different between the two, but here, in its home, he knew. When Ethne took a step back, the spirit took her place in front of him. Were they... offering him a second chance? He took his eyes off of the spirit for a moment and looked off into the endless horizon.

"Where am I?" he asked, and it was the spirit who replied. "You already know. It is the fade, created by your mind." Emil sighed again and countered with another question. "Why?" he asked. Why was he here, why not beside the Maker? At the very least he expected a blackness after the end, not an endless beach. "You have yet to finish your task. Your duty has not yet been fulfilled. It is by your faith you've been granted this chance. Now decide. An eternity of peace? Or a chance to finish your goal."

Emil listened as the spirit spoke and his brows fell as he did. They had only defeated two of the Generals so far, not all four. His task was still incomplete, there was still more he needed to do before he left. But the scene in front of him. It was so peaceful. Here in this place he had no mortal worries. He was truly at peace. He could live forever on the sea front, watching the tides flow in and out. He could walk the entire length of the beach and see what awaited him at the end. But the job still wasn't complete. He nodded and raised his head, looking evenly and calmly at the spirit. He would finish the job. He had promised himself that he'd see this through to the end, and that was just what he would do.

"What do I need to do?" Emil asked. "Just have faith," The spirit answered. The spirit then moved forward, encasing Emil in a blue aura as the smell of seawater invaded his senses.

Ethne turned her mouth upwards at the corners, a small and sad thing, and nodded when Faith wrapped itself over Emil’s spirit. It would ease his passage back into his body, something that was normally not possible for those that had died. Reaching out a small hand, the Dreamer brushed her fingertips over the bottle-blue cocoon, and willed it back, back to where the others were.

The binding itself was not an easy task, not as wounded as she was, but she would not fail. Not now that he had made his choice. Her physical body sighed softly as her psyche returned to it, and she bent intently over Emil, manipulating the fade in the air as though it were a series of strings, tied to her thin fingers and moving when she tugged. The change in the air would be perceptible to the mages and Templar in the group, perhaps even a few of the others, if they were close enough to unconsciousness and dreaming themselves. It was hard to describe exactly what she was doing with words meant for a world where everything was real and tangible and mostly unchanging, but if anything, it could be likened to weaving—she was stitching his soul back into his body, using Faith’s spirit to bind the torn and broken places, to form the new tethers and anchors. Her will was the loom, his physical shape the basic threads over which she wound the rest.

It was a process of perhaps ten minutes, and at the end of it, Ethne’s hands dropped, and she slumped back to the floor again, utterly spent and unconscious. With luck, Emil would wake even as she fell into slumber, nothing so permanent as what he would have endured. She dreamed with a small smile on her face.


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Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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The majority of the group spent the next full day recovering, something which they were able to do with much more ease than they had been afforded after the battle with Morpheus. The Queen and her sons were welcoming of their presence, and the party was afforded the entire north wing of the palace for their own use. After so long on the road, proper beds and baths alone were a luxury, to say nothing of the opulence that surrounded them. Within a few hours, there was even a skeleton number of servants, who seemed most relieved and pleased to be waiting on guests of a decidedly non-Darkspawn variety. Indeed, the Antivans were just as welcoming to the elves, dwarf, and massive Chasind as they were to the more obvious humans in the party.

With the primary event hall of the White Palace largely destroyed in the battle with Erebus, breakfast on the second morning was served, for those who desired it, in a smaller, more comfortable dining room, with only a single long table of the lovely rosewood that the country was known for, among other things. The Queen herself sat at its head, smiling her welcome at those guests which chose to arrive, and her sons sat to either side of her. Llesenia stood slightly behind her chair, her expression much more pleasant than it had been in her separation from her liege.

The repast itself was simple enough—a variety of breads, fruits, and grains, with the occasional sausage or boiled egg. To those who had been without much more than travel rations on the road, however, it was doubtless quite rich, indeed. The royal family seemed willing enough to speak, and did not hesitate to offer the seats nearest themselves to their company, young Arturo making poor cover of his admiration for the three that did appear: the stern, redheaded spearwoman, the strange-looking giant man, and the familiar Dalish mage.

Solvej hadn’t been this sore in a very long time, but seeing as how she was still alive to be feeling it, she wasn’t going to complain. She’d almost refused the ridiculously-soft mattress on principle, but then she decided that principle didn’t count for much when you were half-asleep on your feet and near-dead otherwise, so she’d just dropped into it, boots and all. When she awoke the next morning, she was vaguely disconcerted to note that a woman was attempting to remove said shoes, having already succeeded in getting one off. “You know,” she said, half into her pillow, “If I could move right now, that might have been dangerous.” The only things that usually interrupted her sleep were darkspawn, and you had to wake up ready to kill with those things.

The woman, a middle-aged lady of robust figure and laughing eyes, had chuckled and told her where the baths were. Solvej was frankly disposed to think she must be some kind of benevolent spirit of mercy, because the tub was huge, a carved stone bowl hewn directly into the floor, and the water in it was hot.

Even considering the fact that she spent far too long in there, the sun was only just rising when she woke up, accepting the tacit offer of clean clothes by donning the ones that had been left behind. The shirt was clearly a man’s, as were the trousers, but she didn’t expect them to have garments to suit her proportions just laying around. The colors were a bit garish—sapphire blue and gold on the tunic and white and more gold on the breeches, but it wasn’t like she’d be wearing them forever. Using her own belt, she secured everything in place, ran a comb through her short hair a few times, and decided that food was in order.

Uncomfortable as she was with the notion of servants, she did let one lead her to the dining room, and found that Andaer was already there, himself looking freshly-bathed as well, if still a bit paler than usual, and seated beside the Crown Prince as though the two were old friends. She was gestured to the side of the younger one, and, not wanting to offend, she took it, judging from what she was seeing that breakfast was a ‘take what you want and eat’ affair.

She did, and had to remind herself that eating too much would only make her sick, not tide her over for another week. Silence hung over her for a while, but then she decided that this was the best chance she was ever going to get to ask. “Your Majesty,” she started at last, glancing to her left at the Queen. “It seemed like you… knew Erebus. Somewhat well, even. I’ve never heard of a darkspawn behaving in such a manner before.” She left the question implied, unsure she even knew how to properly ask it.

The shapeshifter didn't sleep well among silken sheets and blankets, nor did he sleep well at all when in human form, so when the servants came to check on him in the morning, they found a massive bear snoring peacefully upon the largest rug in the room. Their stifled screams did not wake him. What did wake him, however, was his hunger. It was ever present, but the exertions of the previous day had given him a more literal one, and it led him to rise as soon as his bear's nose sensed the powerful scent of cooking meat.

He shifted back into human form and donned a shirt of wolf skins and furs, most a light brown in color. He had little knowledge of the customs of royalty, but he'd noted that no one other than him ate without a shirt on. Considering that these people were kindly offering the use of their palace in return for saving it, Suicide thought a little respectfulness couldn't hurt. He hadn't thought anything odd about being barefoot, however.

He took a seat beside Solvej at the table after his nose led him there, breathing deeply and taking in the smell of the food. No force in Thedas would make him eat slowly now, that was certain. But food was not the only reason he'd come, as Solvej put words to a question that had lingered in his mind as well. Erebus had been a very strange being, and certainly not a typical adversary. He found himself curious.

The monarch seemed to have been expecting the question, for she smiled again, a small gesture that nevertheless seemed to illuminate her face, and it might not have been difficult to guess why she was once considered to be the loveliest woman in Thedas. She’d always thought it a bit ridiculous herself, for who had seen all the women in Thedas? Nevertheless, it was a warm, benevolent thing, if tinged with a hint of sadness. “Please, Maria will suffice,” she said evenly, voice low but easily audible to everyone present. “And I am unsurprised. When first he came, I thought my life and the lives of my children and staff and soldiers to be forfeit. I anticipated a bloodbath, and he offered me a ransom instead.”

She paused, glancing down into her cup, which from the look of it contained some kind of fruit juice. “He killed several of my men to gain access to me, but none after I ordered them away. We were his captives for several months, all told, and had it not been for the solitude, the inability to communicate with anyone outside the walls, it would have been just the same in kind as the months before.”

Andaer understood what Solvej was trying to get at, or at least he thought he did, and his brows knit together, about as troubled an expression as he seemed capable of producing. “That is one thing, Maria, but calling him ‘Lord’ and displaying any amount of distress at his death is quite another.” The prodding was gentle, but still definitely present. He was curious as to why they’d shown so much hesitation to depart when rescue was nigh at hand. And why the other darkspawn hadn’t so much as touched Arturo, though their intent had clearly been to kill everyone else in that darkened hallway.

Stefano sighed heavily at that. “It was… complicated.” He shook his head, throwing a few stray raven locks into his face, which he pulled back by running his hand through all of it. “Erebus was no friend or ally of ours, he made that clear. But he had… honor. And some of the things he said… it was hard not to sympathize, if his words were true.”

Suicide was eating only with his hands, as was simply natural for him, and he was probably proving at the moment why the Chasind were referred to as barbarians, but he listened intently to the conversation. Finishing a helping of sausage, he cleared his throat. "And his words were?" he asked, wondering what a darkspawn could do to earn any sympathy.

Stefano looked to his mother for the answer to that, and she exhaled gently through her nose. “The Chant tells us that the Maker once occupied the Golden City with his first children, that when the Magisters crossed in physical form into the Fade, they corrupted it, turned it into the Black City, a place of evil and corruption, and that their own darker natures transformed them into the first darkspawn.” She looked down at the fork in her hand, then set it aside with a small frown. Clasping her hands in her lap, she continued. “But it does not tell us what became of the first children, exactly. Some are said to have been turned into demons, perverted versions of what they had been. Erebus says that some of them, those that came into the most direct contact with the magisters, became darkspawn instead. Those like him.”

“His title was ‘Gatekeeper,’ and according to him, he was one of the Maker’s first children. A form of Acuity, I believe he said. He watched all the entrances to the City at once, and so it was he that first saw the Magisters appear. He said… they did not simply find the City. They were led, and the traitor who led them fooled him into allowing them entrance.” She shook her head, a vague note of disbelief in her voice, as though she wasn’t quite certain she was actually repeating the words.

Stefano finished. “The whole time… all these years, he believed it was his fault, ultimately, that the Golden City fell. He failed to be as vigilant as he should have, and because he trusted this traitor he spoke of, everything fell apart. It seemed to be a persistent theme with him—that trust had to be true, and tested. Frankly, I’m not certain he was telling us the truth, but why would he bother to lie? Unless he was mad, and that hardly seemed the case, at least to us.”

What had happened to everything else in the Golden City? She realized she’d never thought to ask the question before. The important part had always been that the Maker had left it. But it had been a City, and that implied other residents. Solvej chewed over the words in contemplative silence, one that Andaer seemed to share, though probably not for the same reasons. He was, after all, Dalish, and she had no reason to believe he’d adopted the Chant any more than Suicide had. Even she was dangerously-close to heretical at times, all things considered. But regardless of the consequences for her former faith (and there didn’t really seem to be any immediately leaping out at her, just more possible information), it did seem to explain a number of things about Erebus.

His fixation with forcing them all to work together, for one. His split forms seemed to go with the notion that he’d guarded multiple gates at once, and his ability to know things about them that others did not might have had something to do with being a spirit? That was more a question for the magelet than her, though; Solvej didn’t know much about spirits beyond that her brother had used them to heal and one of them was currently holding Emil together.

But what did that mean for the other Generals? Were they all like that, their absurd power derivative on the fact that they were once spirits? Morpheus had looked more like an Arcane Horror than anything, the possessed corpse of a mage. How did that fit in? Was any of it even true? There were just too many things she didn’t understand, which was unfortunate, because knowing more about these generals was probably the only advantage they were ever going to be able to get over them. She had a feeling that all of this was connected somehow, but she wasn’t seeing it yet.

Taking a swallow of water, she paused when Andaer asked a reasonable question. “Did he say anything else? Anything about the other Generals?”

“Other generals?” Maria looked a bit perplexed at the mention, then her eyes lit with a form of recognition. “He did mention ‘the seven’ from time to time, and said that the first had been saved. It was important to him, I think, that they be saved. But when I asked him who they were, or what he meant by saved, he wouldn’t say any more. Perhaps they were these other generals?” She paused, but then her boy, Arturo, piped up. "Oh! There was this one time. Erebus sent me out to the courtyard to pick up a message from somebody. When I brought it back, he looked irritated. He said it was from someone called... um... the note-taker? No, not that. But something like it."

"Did you read this message, or simply deliver it?" Suicide asked, taking a bite out of a hard boiled egg. Most of this was entirely beyond him, as he'd never been taught the Chant growing up, and he had little reason to care for or respect the institution of the civilized lands. But messages could have implied a command structure, if the messages were more akin to orders. Knowing their contents could give them an advantage, or at the very least more information about their enemy.

Arturo looked down at his food, his face coloring slightly. “Uh… I might have peeked at it a little. It was sealed, though; I could only see a few words.” He looked up at his mother as though expecting censure of some kind, but when none was forthcoming, he continued. “There was something there about a ‘marble spire…’”

Solvej stiffened considerably, and it was sheer dent of reflex that stopped her from dropping her utensils with an uncomfortably-loud clatter. “The Spire…” she murmured. “That’s in the Anderfels,” she pointed out for the benefit of her two companions. The older royals likely knew as much already, if they’d studied their word history. “If that’s not our next destination, I’ll retire and name Mira senior Warden.” It would be, her luck considered. What she refrained from sharing just then was that not only was the Marble Spire in Anderfels, but it housed the Circle of Magi. In other words, it was about the last place in Thedas that would ever welcome her back.

“Thank you,” she said to the three nobles at the table. “For hosting my companions and I, and sharing what you know with us.” She almost wished she didn’t know where they had to go eventually, but maybe she’d get lucky and they’d have to detour to Ferelden first or something. Maria nodded, and the conversation turned to lighter things.



The Mission Briefings have been updated.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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It was a few days after the defeat of Erebus that a few members of the party decided to take care of the pressing need for resupply. Gathering a list of requests from their comrades, the four set out into the public streets of Antiva City, somehow even more lively than they’d been upon the group’s arrival, perhaps due to the conspicuous absence of the dome-shaped shadow over the White Palace. From a distance, the building in which they lodged at the behest of the Queen was quite a grand sight indeed, domed and pristine against the backdrop provided by the blue waters of the Rialto Bay. The rest of the city was also generally pale in building material, greyish woods and tan stone predominant, though shops and homes alike were often decorated with bright fabric awnings, and the people as well were brightly-adorned, most with some form of jovial spring to their step.

There had been little but celebration and feasting for several days, and the Queen had made some for of speech at one point as well. The group, save perhaps Mira, were rather obviously foreign-looking, and as such, recognized usually as somehow responsible for the good fortune of the city. Whether this was justified or simply an assumption on the part of the Antivans seemed to be little matter, and it appeared only prudent to take advantage of the discounts and occasional free bolt of cloth or potion ingredient on offer. Rudhale was thoroughly enjoying the sights and sounds of the place, as even though he’d been here before, it usually didn’t seem quite as vibrant as this. Perhaps that was simply the taste of a hard-won victory.

Inhaling deeply of the salt air, he smiled broadly. “Ah, but I have missed Antiva,” he confessed brightly, pushing open the door to a nice-looking armory with a bright purple awning overhead. It was in fact the same one the royal family used, and he knew that the Dalish man carried the Queen’s seal, which would knock their prices down even further for top-quality items. “Not quite as uninhibited as Rivain, but it smells so much nicer.” This produced a glare from Emil, his brows furrowed at the implied insult. Had he known the man's ancestry, he would have replied in kind.

The sun was pleasantly warm on Andaer’s face and head, though as usual, the rest of him went covered in the dark colors he favored in his robes. He was reminded by the conditions outside today that it would not be long before summer, and he wondered where he’d be by then, or by the end of the year. It was such a strange thing, to have left home for a relatively ordinary purpose, and to have been somehow swept up into this more extraordinary one. But his god worked in unusual ways, and Andaer was not so arrogant as to assume that Dirthamen let him in on all his machinations, even those involving his servant’s own life. He had been granted so much insight already—he could scarcely ask for more without arrogance.

Rudhale appeared to be enjoying himself, but then there was nothing new about that. The pirate’s mind was somewhat opaque to the elf, in a way that most were not. He was of the belief that generally for all their complexities, people were motivated by a few things at their very cores, and these things were the subject of frequent study on his part. Perhaps this was intrusive, but it was in his nature to learn what he could of others. Though he had spent no trivial amount of time trying to sort through the pirate’s visible layers, he had not yet discovered what was underneath them. Well enough—a few of these people challenged his thinking in interesting ways, and he welcomed that with open arms.

The armory itself was rather grand for such a building, and everything in it seemed to gleam. He was not particularly in need of anything here; he would find more of use at the tanner and possibly the alchemists’, but he did carry Maria’s seal, which he presented to the armorer, who went from generally pleasant to beaming upon recognition of it. “Friends of Antiva!” he crowed, “Please, stay as long as you like and choose what you will!”

Removing a small list from his belt, Andaer scanned the requests, then shrugged lightly. “Do you have any chainmail in black?” he asked. “A… friend of mine seems ill-inclined to wear any other color…” He didn’t really understand Solvej’s proclivity for such things, but he supposed it was more difficult to see in the dark with such coloration.

Emil was somewhere among the mannequins donning a number of heavier armors. His own Templar's gear had been shredded by Erebus's assault, and there was hardly anything left to constitute repairing. He'd manage to acquire a shirt, a loose black affair, with flowing sleeves and tucked into his pants. The neckline was loose, deep enough to show evidence of his recent scar. When he wasn't wearing armor, then he'd rather wear the most comfortable clothing he could find. Upon entrance into the armory, Emil split from the group at large and began to search for his own things. It was a large part of why he was here. He didn't trust anyone else but himself to pick out his armor. It wasn't personal, it was just his thing. He wasn't going to die because someone missed a weak rivet.

He stood in front of the shiniest chestplate he could imagine and used a knuckle to test the temper of the piece. His frown deepened and he scoffed. It might have been pretty, but a darkspawn wouldn't stop to admire it. He had to give the Antivans credit though, they were nowhere near as fond of fluff and frills the Orlesians were. There was hardly a sight of peacock plumage or fabulous capes anywhere. Still, there was too much polish on that piece, and it told him that it had something to hide.

Mira was already wearing yet another set of silks. It was annoying how she was finally paying imported prices on these outfits. Shipping silk from Orlais wasn't so cheap, and it was even worse during something like a Blight. She supposed she was lucky to find any at all. This particular getup was a royal purple, trimmed in gold thread, with a plunging V-shaped neckline. She would have gotten the variety with the bared midriff, as was her typical custom when she wasn't traveling anywhere, but the wicked scars had a way of not making that look so attractive to her anymore, so she picked out another.

She'd come along for reasons other than just buying new clothes, of course. Erebus had ruined her clothes far more effectively than Kerin had earlier, and she didn't doubt that some other enemy along the way would bloody them just as much. She was a Warden now, which meant she was a warrior of a kind, so perhaps it was time she started dressing like one. That meant getting some armor, and some decently made armor, that still looked rather fashionable while offering her some protection. That was a typical warrior concern, was it not?

To that end, she'd skipped along into a leatherworking shop and immediately plugged her nose. Oh, but that was an awful smell. She much preferred the leather when it was already made into a lovely pair of boots or a seductive corset, not when it was fresh off the animal's back. She bought as much as she figured she'd need and then some. Good leather, too, not the cheap stuff. Because paying more money always resulted in a better product, yes? Anyway, perhaps she could get some boots made for her, too.

Which led her to the thought of who should make the armor for her. Andaer was Dalish, wasn't he? Now, it was probably racist to think that all Dalish people knew how to do stuff with leather like making elven armor or something, but it was worth asking, right? She thought so. The idea of having her armor designed by the Dalish was very tempting, and Mira was not one who often resisted temptation of that sort. She searched around until she found him inside the armorer, tapping him lightly on the shoulder and showing him the leather she'd acquired.

"Hey, so I could have some leatherworker in the city make my armor for me, but I was wondering if you would be willing to. That is, craft me some armor sort of like the Dalish wear. That is, assuming that's something you know how to do. Could you?" She may have given him the puppy dog eyes to some degree, which she was quite good at when she wanted to employ them.

Andaer’s brows lifted, a slight echo of incredulity flitting over his face before it settled into gentle amusement instead. “The eyes are impressive,” he admitted, flicking his glance momentarily to Emil, who appeared to be trying to stare a hole in an overly-polished chestplate. “Do they work?” He returned his eyes to Mira, however, and the corner of his mouth quirked into a mild smile. He did indeed have the crafting skills she was looking for, though honestly, that and the ability to survive in a forest were about where his adherence to Dalish stereotype ended. He was no hunter, and incidentally did not even consume meat. Something about being able to feel the heartbeat of every animal in your proximity really discouraged that.

“I am capable of such a feat, yes. I would also gladly undertake it if you like. I suppose you are quite familiar with your measurements? I’ll need them.” The number of different sets of clothing he’d seen her in (and the close fit of such) did indeed suggest that she knew what her own dimensions were, though if necessary, he could take them himself. “Also… you are going to want to purchase linens or cotton to wear beneath your armor. Leather does not breathe, and silk is no better.” Unless she wanted to sweat precipitously, she’d forgo the luxury of silk. He held out his arms to accept the bundle of leather she’d bought. He’d have a look over it later, to see if there were any imperfections in it, but for now, it seemed good enough. Antivan leather was supposed to be the best, after all.

"Of course they work," Mira said, feigning affront. "I got my lessons from the best, I'll have you know." Really, it probably depended just as much on the target as it did her, and considering Mira's physical attributes likely had little effect on Andaer, maybe they didn't work quite so well on him. But he still said yes, which was the important part. Handing him the leather, she gladly ran through her measurements, though she couldn't help but wonder if she hadn't lost some weight since leaving Cumberland. Or gained it, in muscle. Either way, her old clothes fit quite well still, so it would do.

"Linen it is, then," she said glumly. "I'll come find you later, we can work on it together." She then darted off again to go find something a little more practical to wear, but not before shouting in Emil's direction. "That one would look great on you!" "Bullshit," Emil replied grumpily. He was nobody's fairytale knight, the Antivans could keep that trash. He was a soldier, not a ponce.

He'd since slid his way over to the weapon wall, though still a distance away from Rhuddy. They had the archery equipment separated off from the rest of the martial weapons. He went through the line of picking and checking separate bows, made from all different kinds of wood and string. His own had managed to make it out of the fight relatively unscathed, but it was still beginning to show its wear. He intended to use it 'til nothing was left, but rather than be surprised when it did break, he decided to get ahead of his fate and procure a new one. To that effect he'd chosen a yew longbow that could probably snap Mira or Rhapscallion in half if they fiddled with it. He also grabbed a number of arrowheads to replenish his dwindling supplies.

Along with the bow and arrowheads, Emil plucked a large empty sheath off of the wall and added that with his laundry list of supplies. For the armor area, he asked the shopkeeper with the strongest, plainest set he had, and was rewarded with silverite plate. A dull silverish as the name would imply, the plain nature enforced Emil's utilitarian nature. Nothing was wasted, and everything was used. He'd make his own modifications at the nearby leather store, but if he was thrust into a battle right then, he'd be able to hold his own.

Rudhale, meanwhile, was making a detailed inspection of all the weapons on display, handling several different sorts as though he understood how to use them all, sighting down the lengths of perfectly-polished steel and silverite. Like most of the party’s equipment, his had taken a fair beating over the months they’d been in such constant use, and he was thinking of buying something made of a stronger material. He was also aware that Kerin was now in need of another two-hander, and though he’d been sure to ask her what sort she wanted, he was going to do most of the inspecting himself. His glance caught on something mounted to the wall, and he called back behind him to Andaer. “If our Templar lass wanted a new polearm, I’d pick that one.” He indicated the weapon, a gleaming silverite blade set atop a blackened metal pole—a slightly more exotic device than a spear, but one with the ability to slash as well as stab. Naginata, they were called, and though he was fairly sure they were originally Rivaini, that one was the finest he’d ever seen.

For himself, however, he set a few items on the counter, paid out the much-smaller sum than he would have expected, and inquired after the direction of the nearest leatherworker’s. Mira might have convinced Andaer to make her armor, but he wasn’t in need of so much—a couple of new bracers and some repair to the items he had now would suffice just fine.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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Andaer sat crosslegged on the soft earth beneath a willow tree, the quiet sounds of an engineered river somewhere to his left. It was a pleasantly-cool evening, and he had felt no inclination to spend it indoors, and so he’d moved his work outside instead, to the sprawling gardens of the White Palace. They were meticulously-planned, so as to give an impression of wildness and natural arrangement while yet remaining balanced in scent and visual presentation. He found it to be a lovely place, and had spent many hours on the previous few days within it. His current project, Mira’s armor, had taken most of the last day, and he presently was surrounded by pieces of it, ones that he was now fitting together with precision and care. He’d of course taken the opportunity to add some aesthetic details as well—function was beautiful in and of itself, perhaps, but in the case of armor, form and function were not always as distinguishable as they seemed.

A number of small birds chittered overhead, not that he minded. His magic gave him connection to all things that lived, and he relished in the nearness of other beings. One, a nut-brown wren, was actually perched on his head, and seemed disinclined to move, even when he leaned forward or tilted to the side to adjust his angle a bit. Of course, the small bag of seed that currently sat open near his left knee may partially account for the increased avian presence, but he wanted to finish this pattern before he took a break to feed them as such.

Mira visited the gardens at least once a day, as she had always tried to make a habit of leaving the city regularly. She was no nature girl, certainly, but it never hurt to take a walk every once and a while. Her little port town had nothing on the White Palace of Antiva, though. The gardens took her breath away, and she found herself wandering in them barefoot for hours at a time. It was lovely here, and she was extremely glad the Antivans hadn't pushed them on their way like the Orlesians had. Not that Val Royeaux would have been much fun to stay in, but still, they didn't have to be so rude about it.

Today, though, Mira had a purpose in visiting the gardens. She was going to check on Andaer, and see the progress he was making on her armor. It was a very kind thing to do, spending most of his day on her behalf, but he seemed like a very kind man. She doubted he'd ask for any kind of repayment, but she'd see if she couldn't find some way to help him out in the future. Selena had taught her to always pay her debts.

She smiled broadly upon seeing the willow tree he was under, the focus of her attention the little bird perched atop his head. Now, if that wasn't the most adorable thing she'd ever seen... Mira found a particularly inviting patch of grass and plopped herself down in it, eventually coming to lay flat on her back, taking the opportunity to stretch in every single direction away from her body, ending with a contented sigh. "I think it's worth mentioning that this might be the cutest thing I've seen in at least a month. I'm also going to laugh pretty hard when it poops in your hair. Fair warning." It probably wouldn't though. Andaer and the birds seemed to have a mutual respect for one another.

"So... were you a Keeper? If you don't mind me asking. I'd heard all Dalish mages were Keepers, or soon to be." She'd never met a Dalish clan, Cumberland was far too big a town for them to come close to, but she was a curious person, and she felt like Andaer could use someone to talk to, even if the subject was trivial. She had a sense for these things.

Andaer chuckled lightly, tying off a joint and tugging to make sure that the lacing would stay. Leatherworking needles were much blunter and thicker than the kind used for normal sewing, and the punctures were actually created with a separate tool. At this point, assemblage was mostly a formality and did not consume much of his attention unless he desired it to. He shot the reclining young woman a slightly-rueful glance. “That used to happen to me with alarming frequency, I assure you.” Becoming so in-tune with one’s environment was not a process that was simple or even entirely dignified—he was certain the Chasind could provide a number of equally-odd anecdotes on the point, were he so inclined. “I think, however, that we are past that now—though do feel free to laugh at my expense if I am wrong.” As if on cue, the bird chirped, and of course such noises tended to sound merry.

“Take some of the seed, if you want. I’m sure you’ll have your own in no time.” They’d eat right out of her palm, with him here. Blood Magic didn’t have to be violent, and he preferred it when his was not. He turned back to his work for a moment, joining a side-seam with some deft movements and contemplating the question.

“The gift is almost as rare among my people as yours, unfortunately. I was never a Keeper, but I was once a First, a Keeper’s apprentice. Alas, I do not think the life was for me. Now I am something… else. There isn’t really a proper name for it.” He shrugged delicately, apparently unperturbed by this. Indeed, he did too many different things with this time to really group them under a single title. “I suppose… it is similar to the concept of a mercenary—doing whatever task happens to be asked of me, but that is where the similarity ends.” He certainly didn’t receive coin for it. Turning again to the prone Mira, he raised a brow in inquiry. “And yourself? One is not born a Warden, I am given to understand…”

Mira sat up at his suggestion and took some of the bird seed into hand. Her smile widened when one of them rather quickly dropped down and poked it at. However, she most certainly would not be letting one plop down in her hair. Cute as it may have been, she wasn't interested in washing bird poop out of her hair. She let the birds continue to come and go as they would from her palm, watching Andaer work.

It was coming along quite nicely. The chestguard consisted of several plates connected by straps, laced together at the sides. She preferred this over one single breastplate, as she tended to do quite a bit of contorting in fights, and while the overlapping plates were perhaps not as strong as a single piece, it was more flexible, and wouldn't hinder her movement hardly at all. Reinforcing it over the chest area were crisscrossing straps of leather, overlapping each other in two groups like a tight sash worn across each shoulder. The leather itself was a dark brown, and she could see Andaer had taken the liberty of carving some rather elegant designs along the edges, mostly simple floral arrangements, but Mira found them quite pleasing. In addition to the chestplate, there was quite a supply of leather left over, so there were some Dalish styled leggings and forearm guards in the works as well. In all, Mira was quite satisfied by how this was turning out.

"One is not born a Warden, indeed. I myself was a courtesan in the port town of Cumberland, in the south of Nevarra. I do think that life was for me, but it wasn't in the cards. The Blight hit the city, and I showed the darkspawn just what I thought of that. Grey Wardens arrived later and found me, and I joined them, at least until Val Royeaux, at which point I joined this group here. You know the rest, I think." He had indeed joined them by the time they struck for beneath Cagliari, and that darkest hour of hers. By now, she really believed she'd let go of all of that. She wished she could have her old life back, but she was a Warden now. It was the price for her life, and she had been taught to always pay her debts.

"I don't think they call magic a gift among my people," she said somewhat sadly. Perhaps she lacked understanding, but she thought it was a shame the mages were as tightly watched as they were. Maybe it was necessary, though. Such issues were above her. A thought occurred to her, something she'd never thought to ask before. "Why were you in the Deep Roads, when we met you? Were you going somewhere?" It seemed odd to find a lone Dalish elf down there, or a former one as it was, and obviously there was something to his separation from the Dalish. Maybe they didn't know each other well enough, though.

If Andaer felt any particular moral offense at Mira’s former profession, he was doing a very good job of hiding it. In point of fact, he didn’t, though naturally, he chose not to comment at all. She clearly didn’t either, so it seemed a silly sort of thing to say anything about. He did recall some of the details of the events beneath Cagliari, though he was not there when the broodmothers were slain, being rather occupied helping the others deal with the large swath of Darkspawn above. She seemed at-ease with her current state of affairs, which was nice to see. He wasn’t sure if he felt quite the same about his, but it wasn’t any sort of reluctance that made it so.

“I suppose they do not,” he acknowledged. The statement was tinged with sadness. “A shame, I think. Neither the animosity shown by the majority of humans nor the near-worship of it displayed by the Imperium does very much to stymie its abuse.” But he wasn’t inclined to speak much of it unless she was truly interested in his opinion on the matter, and judging from the shift in topic, she was not. That was quite all right by him—he preferred to take his talents for what they were and abstain from the politics of it.

He smiled a bit when she asked him of his time in the Deep Roads. It was a rather peculiar picture, he was sure. He and his halla had not fit very well with the pictures of dwarven sturdiness to be found down there, though he and Ragna had gotten along quite well, he believed. “I was tracking. A pair of young children were stolen from a family that wandered too close to a city. I believe their captors were headed for the Imperial slave markets, and was following using my magic. I’d already lost the trail by the time I met you and the others. I suppose I can only hope I pick it up again in our travels. This seems something worthy to assist with in the meantime, if I can.” Truthfully, he did not know if he would ever make it back to the forest, but this was ultimately not of much concern. It had ceased being home for him a number of years ago.

Tying off another knot, he held up the torso armor and looked over it with a scrutinizing eye. It was rather well-done, if he did say so. “If you wouldn’t mind trying it on, I’d like to be sure of the fit before I finish the rest. I confess I’ve never made a woman’s armor before.” He had crafted a few sets for his sa’lath over the years, and he did not doubt the quality of his work, only the fit.

"Certainly looks like you've done this before," Mira said, letting a little bird take the last of the seeds in her palm before she stood, brushing her hands off gently in her skirts. She took the armor when offered, happy with how light it was. She dropped it down over her head, beginning the process of lacing up the sides. The fit was close, but she had no problem with this, and it wasn't as though she couldn't breathe. The panels were more than flexible enough to move with her, and when she had it entirely laced up she tested, twisting to each side, bending over to touch her toes, and then performing a rather impressive backwards bend until her hands touched the ground behind her head, at which point she pulled her legs up straight into the air, before righting herself again.

"Yep, I'd say it moves just fine. Light and flexible, just like me." She untied it, lifting the armor back over her head and handing it back to Andaer to be finished. "I hope you find their trail again. The kids, that is. I know we've got the Blight and the Generals and all to deal with, but I bet the others would be willing to help you. I know I would." Really, it was a bit startling. Their quest to kill the four most dangerous darkspawn in the world that weren't the Archdemon seemed like a good thing to do while he waited to pick up a trail? Now that was generosity.

"It's like that Erebus guy was saying, you know? We've got to have each other's backs. Well... I've got yours, just so you know."

“Good to know," Andaer replied with a smile. “I'll let you know if I do."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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In true pirate fashion, Rudhale sauntered into the bar like he owned it, which, considering the number of times he’d bailed Lilyfoot’s ass out of some trouble or other, might as well be true. He certainly never paid for his drinks here, or his wenches, though that would have been true anyway. It was, after all, a tavern and not a whorehouse. That most of the wenches were once Crows was just one of the amusing little secrets that he kept to himself, the ones that lit his eyes with laughter and infused even his most wry smiles with just a hint of mirth. More than most men, the pirate understood that knowledge was power, and it was some of that power that he’d come seeking for himself today. Alas, the wenches would have to wait. A bloody damn shame, but some things were just more important, and what could one do?

Lilyfoot was behind the bar as usual, tuning that half-rotted lump of refuse he called a lute, though Rhuddy had only made the mistake of calling it so once. Since he preferred to keep both his eyes, he generally avoided the topic now. So instead he found other ways to harangue his friend. “Lilyfoot, you old bastard! How have you been?” This of course caused the man in question to look up from his task, and for all their looks were vastly different, their grins could have made them brothers. There was quite a lot of manful back-thumping and general insult-slinging, before the old dog finally made good on his promise and slid a tankard of the good stuff across the bar. Rudhale settled into a stool there, across from the ex-Crow, who propped his boots on his own bar as though it wasn’t a problem. Well, he did until his wife came by and slapped the back of his head, offering a wink and a sardonic smirk to the pirate.

“Lovely as always, Esmerelda!” he called after her, which earned him a throaty chuckle from both husband and wife. “Honestly don’t know why she married you, old goat.”

Lilyfoot snorted into his tankard. “Maybe she gets seasick,” he hypothesized with an air of false solemnity. The pirate just looked offended. “You say that like I’m an amateur, Lilyfoot. I assure you, I’m quite the sailor.” He sat back a little and took a sip of his drink, waiting for the inevitable riposte. Half of any conversation with Lilyfoot was banter, which was one of the reasons they were such good friends.

“Are you now? I’ve heard you have trouble controlling your rudder, so to speak. Seems to get turned about every which way, hm?” Rudhale scoffed. Ship puns. For some reason, everyone assumed they were the only innuendoes he favored. Maybe it was a jab at the limited intellectual resources of the average pirate? Maybe they simply assumed he hadn’t heard them thousands of times before. The response was just as rote. “Never found a harbor interesting enough to dock in for longer than a night or two. Not to say it’s impossible, just unlikely. Why limit myself in the meantime? I am, after all, a pirate—I suppose I should plunder something, and the Orlesian navy seems to be short on flagships these days.”

That got a laugh out of Lilyfoot, who had in fact already written a (bawdy, of course) song about that particular incident. Rudhale was rather fond of the part where he beat his Lordship du Lac in a duel, though in reality it had been more like he snuck up behind the fellow and struck him in the back of the head with the handle of his katar. No time for duels when you were stealing something that obvious. Tipping back in his chair, Lilyfoot sighed and shifted the topic at last to business. “I’ve been keeping tabs on her, like you asked.”

Nothing about Rudhale’s face or body language changed, exactly, but all the same, the air around him shifted, the laughter behind his honey-colored eyes dying off until there was scarcely any left at all. When he spoke, his tone was casual, but to Lilyfoot’s trained ear, the nonchalance was just a bit too forced. “And?”

“She’s here, Rhuddy. And you-know-who’s sent the bird ahead, plans to dock today or tomorrow, weather permitting. You know she’d help you with this, if you asked.” Roderigo’s tone was cautious—this was sensitive ground he was treading, and if he hadn’t known it already, the way his friend’s rough-hewn features hardened would have given it away. Rudhale often laughed and almost always smiled; getting him to look like he was taking something seriously was a challenge, even when he really was. Looking at him now, there was no mistaking that this was anything but grave.

“No.” The answer was hard, brittle, and the pirate’s effulgent warmth replaced with something chilly. “She doesn’t know, and if I play my cards right, she’ll never have to.”

Lilyfoot pursed his lips disapprovingly. “Shoshana’s dangerous, you know that. You can’t hope to take her and her entire coven by yourself. And you know I can’t help you.” The Castanedas and their staff had been out of the murder business for years, and Rudhale had always respected their decision not to go back, not even for a friend. He shook his head, confirming that he wasn’t asking it of them now, either. “Don’t worry about it. I know some people—I think a few of them might help me. If not… I’ll figure something out. Just tell me where she’ll be tonight, and I’ll take care of the rest.”




"I really hope we can stay a little while longer," Mira said to Kerin, leaning across the table slightly. "Satinalia is always the best time." It had been generally agreed upon at the Warden meeting that they needed to spend more time with each other, and become a closer team that way. To that end, Mira had drug Kerin out in the streets of Antiva City, and to one of the friendlier markets, where one of the shops was currently set up to allow citizens to create their own masks for Satinalia. It was a lovely holiday full of drinking, feasting, masquerading, dancing, and all around enjoyment, although apparently in Antiva they took it a little more seriously than everywhere else. It was going to last for a week at least, with an unfortunate week of fasting immediately afterwards. They'd be sure to leave before then, she figured.

Being a bit of a fan of the holiday itself, Mira knew that it had originally been created to celebrate Zazikel, the Old God of chaos. She wondered how many of these Antivans knew that Zazikel was currently traipsing around Thedas in a much more horrifying form. Now the holiday was just an excuse to get drunk and wake up next to a stranger. That was fine by Mira. While the masks commonly worn throughout the festival could be bought for a reasonable price, many chose to make their own each year, given a blank slate to start from. Mira had gone with the absolutely terrible idea that she and Kerin could bond over the experience of making their masks. Maybe it wasn't that bad of an idea. After all, she'd learned that repeatedly annoying and making a person uncomfortable could eventually lead to becoming somewhat dear to them.

Mira's mask was about halfway done at this point, and she'd used the shop's supply of adornments to make it a glittering sapphire blue, little fake gemstones glued all over it. The building was filled with small tables that pairs or groups were gathered around, happily chattering with each other about the incoming festivities. "I don't know if they have this holiday in Orzammar, but there's this one in the height of summer in Orlais called Summerday, shockingly, and the only thing you do for that is make all the poor little children put on white clothes and take them to Chantry, where you teach them about responsibility." She rolled her eyes. "Things like marriage, growing up and finding a good use for yourself, how to be a good little citizen for the local lord. Ugh, dreadful. I like this one much better." She peeked over at the mask she'd dumped before Kerin.

"So, how's yours coming?"

"It's... not," Kerin admitted. The mask laid out in front of her was as bare as when she first got it. It was like the dwarf and the mask were having a staring contest, and neither of them seemed to be intent on giving in. It wasn't clear who was the most stubborn yet. Kerin had been trying to force some creativity out of her hands in order to do something-- anything to the mask. Honestly, she was so far out of her element she didn't even know which way was up. She had agreed upon the promise of drinking and feasting, though there had been scant little of either of late. Instead, a mask was plopped down in front of her and she was told to decorate it. She'd never decorated anything in her life.

Kerin had tried to listen to Mira, she truly did. But eventually she found the woman's chittering going in one ear and out the next, leaving her to only nod continuously. However when Orzammar was mentioned, Kerin's attention refocused. "They had--" She caught herself before she managed to point at the casteless tattoo. She needed to stop harping on about how she was casteless. That was far behind her, she was a Warden now. It was time to move on. She was moving forward-- she didn't have time to look back. Her hand fell back to the table and she edited her words. "Yeah, Orzammar had holidays. Except instead of playing with masks," She said, waving her blank one around, "We fought. There would be a grand Proving that lasted for a week straight. The winner would be named the Champion of Satinalia. Got a crown and everything," Then she nodded as she remembered what she did instead. "But we got piss drunk instead. I can't even remember my last three Satinalias."

It was small talk, and Kerin felt awkward doing even that. She felt awkward, peroid. She was not the type to go out and have celebrations or even fun. But it was an effort to try and build a better relationship with the other Wardens. It was an effort to try and be better. And no one could fault Kerin, she was trying like hell to do just that. But maybe they could have eased into it.

Andaer had been wandering the markets himself, content to be out and about in the profusions of color and the melody of joyous voices. He was still honestly a bit unused to seeing so many people together in one place, but there was something a little bit infectious about it, like the cheer was catching. He’d spent a few hours at a similar vendor, decorating his own mask in dark green and even stitching some golden embroidery into the silk. He’d always been good with a needle, and the opportunity to do something entirely useless was actually welcomed. One could not always be attempting to save the world, lest one fail quite spectacularly simply from exhaustion. The result was something he was pleased with—neither particularly masculine nor feminine, but with a certain artistry to it. He wasn’t sure if they’d be staying for the festival, but he still remembered vividly the only other Satinalia he’d celebrated, the last time he was in Antiva, in fact. It was quite the blur of color and light, but certain details would never leave him. It was assuredly one of his better memories.

One of the vendors on his way had been selling wands of black licorice, something he remembered enjoying immensely the last time he was here, and he found himself unwilling or unable to resist, but he may have bought more than he could really eat. He glanced ruefully at the stalks wrapped in wax paper, but his attention was drawn by another stand not too far away, in front of which sat Mira and Kerin, the latter looking quite like she was trying to will her project into submission just by staring hard enough at it. He chuckled to himself, and realized that this may well present a solution to his problem as well. A good problem to have, truly.

“If it helps, I do believe red would be your color. Dark red,” he offered, plucking gently at a small bolt of velvet in said hue as though to draw her attention to it. Smiling gently at the two women, he held out the wax paper in offering. “Licorice? I’m afraid I purchased far too much…” The mere mention of candy raptured Kerin's full attention and she sat staring with an almost wide-eyed gaze at the treat. Without many words, Kerin reached out and plucked a strand of the licorice and popped a bit in her mouth, savoring the sweet flavor. Despite what anyone thought, Kerin loved her sweets. With that, she nodded her thanks and gazed back down at her mask with some sort of idea beginning to take hold.

"Mm, yes please," Mira said, taking one for herself. "Thank you, dear." She agreed that red was a very good color choice for Kerin. Mira was happy she'd gotten the dwarf woman to say anything at all. Obviously she was only going along with this as a result of their talks, and to be honest, there were a couple of people Mira would have preferred to do this with instead. She could already imagine the amount of care Ethne would put into something like this, or how happy she'd be to do something other than fighting and stitching up her friends. But she'd asked Kerin because of all the Wardens, Kerin seemed in need of most help. It was very good that she was willing to acknowledge that, too.

“You know,” Rudhale said, appearing from behind Andaer as though he’d been there the whole time and snatching up a licorice wand with a deft motion, “I’m a little disappointed that you thought to prepare for a festival of revelry and debauchery…” He took a quick bite, chewing as though that was the end of the sentence, but given the grin on his face, it obviously was not. Honestly anyone who expected him to be the morality police had gone very wrong in their thinking somewhere along the way, anyhow. Without me. Still, he wasn’t going to push it—he had a feeling that the Templar lass had given her nominal underlings a talking-to at some point, and he wasn’t going to interrupt whatever process of repair and strengthening the group deemed appropriate, even if he would have had quite a lot of fun being included.

“As it happens, however, this evening is the mummer’s show, and several other layers of spectacle and farce that they’ll all be far too drunk to enjoy during the actual festival, and personally I was thinking of dropping in to see it. You know, the dazzling displays of fire and color and acrobatics and assassination and whatnot.” A pause. “Well, actually, the assassination bit’s not in the official roster, but I am a criminal, so I don’t really need permission. I’m inclined, however, to bring a team. The target will have one, you see, and I’d like to even the odds.” He sat himself down on one of the benches, leaning sideways to prop a chin in a hand, and entertain the inevitable questions

Well, that all sounded delightfully evil, Mira thought. Murder in the midst of the revelry. It took her back to her old days, working for some of the criminal organizations in Cumberland and the outer regions of Orlais, though most of time those kills had been performed indoors, and behind closed doors. Normally, Mira would have jumped at the chance to make a plot and murder someone and profit from it, but seeing as she was an upstanding citizen and defender of the realm now, she forced herself to contain her enthusiasm. Still, it was obvious in her eyes that she was open to this. She couldn't say no to Rhuddy, after all.

"Normally I'd say that it would be wiser for me to know less," she said, her voice quiet enough for the conversation to remain among them, "but... who might we be killing, exactly? I'm a Warden now, you know, I can't just go around killing people. I'm a responsible lady now, and a responsible lady only kills evil people, or the ones that piss off her friends." That meant there were quite a few people she could go around killing, once she thought about it.

The pirate chuckled, shaking his head. “Indeed? Well, good then. This woman happens to be both.” From inside the dark leather vest he was wearing, Rudhale extracted a piece of parchment, tossing it onto the table in front of the three of them. Unfolded, it was something Mira and Kerin would both recognize—the handbill for La Fantasma. The woman herself, he was almost certain Andaer would know on sight. Looking at it, it was not difficult to tell that the billing itself was very old, perhaps more than a few years, but all the same it had been in the bag with the rest of his most treasured possessions. “This woman is named Shoshana Zurine. She was once an Antivan Crow, and Anthea’s partner, when she was one of the same.”

He grimaced expressively, running a hand through his shaggy mane of hair. “Anthea believes that she is dead, primarily because I told her so, but in truth I was unable to make it so last time we ran into each other. I am, whenever possible, a man of my word, and I would like to make my assurances true. For Anthea’s sake, not mine.”

Andaer did indeed recognize the woman’s face, and it immediately turned his countenance down into a notable frown, the drawn nature of his brows somehow deepening the lines about his eyes. For once, he looked the age he was. “This woman killed the Prince Consort,” he said with absolute certainty, and his dark eyes moved up to the pirate’s. “If this Anthea of yours was her partner, am I correct in supposing that she was also involved in that?” The reason Andaer was on such friendly terms with the royal family of this country was that he’d fought off the pair of assailants after the assassination, saving the queen and her sons from the same fate. It was not a night he’d ever forget—he’d almost died.

“No,” Rudhale replied solidly, though he could understand why the elf made the inquiry. He continued in a kinder tone of voice, suppressing his natural defensiveness when it came to Jack. “It wasn’t something she wanted to do. She refused—and it was the incident that ejected her from the Crows. Shoshana took it more personally than that, however, and while Anthea has no issues dealing with the occasional attempt on her life, if it were to be this woman, she might not be able to fight properly at all. For the last few years of her stint with them, Shoshana was the only reason Anthea even bothered to remain. She was only able to finally let go of it all when I told her La Fantasma was dead. If she discovers otherwise, especially by Shoshana showing her face, I…” he trailed off, knuckles white under his gloves. “I’m incredibly foolish sometimes,” he confessed with a grin that didn’t reach his eyes, “but that woman is my best friend, and I won’t lose her to the past. I will kill Shoshana… I just think I’m more likely to survive if you lot are with me.”

Well, there was motivation for Mira, Warden or responsible lady or whatever. She got a sense Rhuddy was going to want to do the deed himself, but if it came to it, Mira would have ample cause for killing the bitch herself, now. It was very strange, what she had developed for Jack, even after not seeing her for all this time. She'd always preferred Mira, and Mira had always admired her, in addition to finding her other skills more than satisfying, but now... she felt mildly mortified at the knowledge that she'd been quite attracted to the picture of this Crow, now that she knew what kind of danger the woman posed to Jack. Rhuddy had quite quickly made this matter a great deal to Mira, too. She nodded, her face set much more seriously than was common for her. "You can count on me, then. Let's kill the bitch." Maybe she'd even get to wear her pretty mask while they did it.

"Assassination," Kerin managed to break in near the end, "Usually means stealth. Buttercup and Andaer can manage, but we all know I can't," Kerin pointed out, happy for the topic change. Despite the point being made, she'd rather try to assassinate a crow over sticking around and suffering through the rest of the revelry, and slaving over a mask-- which now had a single red dot between the eyes. Progress was progress after all. "But I imagine I'm not going to be slinking around in the shadows anyway. Sounds fun, let's do it," She said with a nod.

The pirate made no attempt to hide his amusement at Kerin’s comment about stealth, grinning and snatching her incomplete mask off the table to slide over her eyes. “This, my dear,” he said, tying the ribbon about her head with a deft movement, “Is all the stealth you’re going to need.” It was true—the idea behind this operation was not going to be concealing the death itself; Shoshana was likely going to be in disguise as well, but the moment her identity was discovered, nobody would start looking for the assassins. They’d be more preoccupied with the fact that she had surfaced again and died for it, as the majority of Antivan citizens believed she should.

"I will help as well," Andaer said mildly. Whomever this Anthea was, it was clear that the pirate cared for her deeply, and the things people did for love of their friends and family were, while sometimes terrible, also generally the most worth doing. He could understand that much-- and he would be helping his own friends as well. To be able to bring down the woman primarily responsible for the Prince Consort's death... well, it would be no use to Maria now, but at least it would finally be done. There was something to be said for that.

With agreement from all sides, Rudhale was about as genuinely happy as he’d had cause to be in a while, and nodded gratefully, for once choosing not to flavor his true emotions with that extra touch of the absurd. “You’re all doing me and mine an enormous service. I can’t thank you enough for that. Most of the festivities tonight will be masked as well, even though the festival won’t start in truth for a few days. Meet me in front of Lilyfoot’s place after dark—she’ll not show herself in broad daylight.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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Lilyfoot’s tavern was absolutely packed with revelers, most of them half-drunk already, though the sun had only sunk behind the horizon a few hours ago. Fortunately for him, he didn’t actually have to venture inside—he was meeting his contact outside. Presently, the pirate leaned against the whitewood exterior of the tavern, arms crossed over his chest and one foot braced against the wall. The half-mask on his face was black—naturally—and rather flamboyant, with decorations in silver thread and crow feathers, something which he found quite appropriate indeed. The rest of his ensemble was much the same—tunic and trousers both cut from dark silk and adorned with bright embroidery, it played tricks with his silhouette, making it hard to tell exactly where he was in the flickering light of candles and lanterns. The bright parts distracted the attention, and the rest moved smoothly and quietly. He wore very little leather, and most of this was under the outer clothing, sandwiched between it and some plainer linen.

The tapers inside the nearest window marked that Ashley was late, and he hoped she hadn’t run into any trouble on her way. With the shouting and off-key singing and general merry noise in the area and out in the street, it would have been awfully hard to hear if she had—and that was precisely what he was counting on for it to be possible for him to slay Shoshana in public. Well, that and a little secret currently tied to his belt. Not all of his tricks were there for his friends to go digging through at will, and he still had a few more secrets. With luck, this one would help him tonight.

He hoped that his friends enjoyed putting on a show half as much as he did—because that’s what they’d be doing.

A loud high pitched cackling was heard next, even over the din of festivities. Ashley had that ability to be heard anywhere and everywhere if she wanted. Seen too, apparently. The woman wore the brightest, loudest, most easily seen outfit ever possibly imagined. It was ingenious, actually. Who would think that the woman who so obviously wanted to be seen was the one who needed the most watching. Ashley was decked out in bright orange and yellow with accents of purple. Her dress was thin in the shoulders and waist but flared out like a sunflower at the base. Orange streamers were braided into her natural bright red hair. Her mask was an extravagant affair as well, covering the upper half of her face, and with enough gemstones to blind someone in the right amount of light. It had a long beak to it with fake topaz lining the eye holes and the ridge of the nose. The area above the eyes was a shocking yellow with the bottom a burning orange, with the nose a purple color.

However, she was not alone. At her side-- well, Ashley had her arms gripping his like a vice. No one was going to steal him away from her tonight. He wore the same colors as she did, though in reverse. Purple was the main palette for him, with orange and yellow being the accents. His mask covered to lower half of his face, and had the image of a snarling animal with curved teeth. It was clear that this man was her husband, and she was laughing at something he either said or did. The pair slowly made their way over toward Rudhale and once they got near enough they stopped.

As Ashley spoke, she leaned her head against her husbands arm, "Oh mio, Abele where did I drop that darn paper? It was in my pocket just a moment ago?" She asked. The man chuckled under his mask and drew the woman in a close hug, "Si è così divertente, you're so silly. You'd lose your head if I wasn't here to hold on it for you," He said, planting a kiss on that very head. That sent Ashley into another loud giggling fit as they continued past Rhuddy, leaving a slip of paper in their wake. As they were leaving though, Ashley added one last comment, obviously for Rudhale's benefit, "It's a shame about these private parties people are having though. Don't you agree sweetheart?"

Rudhale might have rolled his eyes, but chose not to, instead simply stooping to retrieve what had been dropped and glancing over it twice, just to be sure. Nodding, he tucked it away up his sleeve, and awaited the rest of his friends.

A few minutes later, a most curious party of three approached the pirate’s resting place. The triplicate of human, elf, and dwarf were a spray of eye-catching colors and palettes, all having chosen very different effects for the elaborate costumes. Of course, not one among their number was at all poorly dressed. Andaer’s own costume was quite sophisticated in its pageantry, a deep green tunic shimmering with gold thread, especially at the hems of the distended sleeves, so long that they almost brushed the ground when he hung his arms at his sides, and the shoulders, which in contrast were fitted quite close to his skin. The collar was high, and the ends of it occasionally brushed his jaw. His mask covered both of his eyes, the majority of his forehead, and was otherwise asymmetrical—one side ending at his cheekbone, and the other skimming his nose to adhere to his chin. The exposed skin bore harlequin paint in gold, a point extending from beneath the brown eye there to the level of his mouth. His fitted breeches were a dark grey, tucked into black boots with the distinctive smell of Antivan leather. His hands and forearms bore intricate patterns reminiscent of his almost totally-concealed vallaslin, geometrical, precise, and eye-catching. He’d incorporated the pale lines of his scars, so they were less noticeable.

“Captain,” he greeted amicably when they’d drawn within speaking distance. There was something to be said for the other man’s sense of aesthetics as well—the pirate certainly knew how to dress himself, and the effect of the stark silver on the black was quite effectively distracting. They were all, he reflected, well-disguised indeed.

Mira would not lie; she was highly enjoying the amount of coin they could blow while on this mission. Considering that they'd all probably end up dead sooner or later, there wasn't much incentive to save for the future. So while maybe Mira would only wear this particular ravishing gown only once, she wouldn't feel bad about that.

To anyone who had known her since before becoming a Warden, however, they'd know that this one wasn't quite her style. She glittered like a pristinely cut sapphire held and spun under a light, but while the fit was almost excessively close on her upper body, the cut was actually much more modest than she preferred. And she'd tried to work around it, trying the plunging V-neck cut, or the wide oval barely hanging on her shoulders, or the low cut back. She felt as though all of them placed an obnoxiously obvious spotlight upon her worst scars, either at the neck or along the back, or now across her chest. Somewhat disgruntledly she settled inside on a cut that actually rose up tightly around the throat, the dress a shimmering blue to match the sparkling sea that was her mask, rimmed with a velvety black. The sleeves were tight until the elbow, at which point they opened into the frills, the better to hide on of her knives in. The skirt trailed long behind her, trailing inches from the ground, but in front it was cut very high, above mid thigh. She figured she had to be bold somewhere, no? The ensemble was finished off by a pair of adorable blue slippers, that fit surprisingly well, and would serve in the event she needed to move quite quickly.

Kerin was of course a lost cause when it came to these things, and Mira was quite certain the dwarf woman had never worn a dress, certainly not one like this, in her entire life, but Mira and Andaer had done their best together (a rather fun process, in her opinion) to get her to look presentable. To that end, they had a white dress trimmed in dark red quickly tailored for her, which had cost no small amount of coin. Dwarven measurements weren't exactly common in Antiva, and they needed it on quite short notice, but it had been pulled together in the end, and Mira happened to think she looked quite stunning. It was hard to tell how ruthless of a killer she was, certainly.

"I do believe I'm losing my touch," Mira said with feigned sadness. "I was only propositioned thrice on the way here, and I think the last one may have been for Kerin. He was slurring so badly, I couldn't half understand him. So, what's the plan?"

"Don't try to hold any punches now, Buttercup," Kerin deadpanned. Sure, implying that the only man she could hook was the one that was so plastered he couldn't tell the difference between his mouth and his ass did wonders for her self-esteem. And whatever the two of them might think she had worn a dress before, thank you very much. It didn't mean she liked it, or she was any measure of comfortable, but the point still stood. It was not the first dress she wore. But ancestors help her, she dearly hoped it would be the last. Still, that experience came in handy, as she managed to hold her own walking down the street. She hardly even tripped over its wide rim.

Her own mask had managed to evolve from the single red dot in between the eyes to something a bit more... Artistic? The dot was still there, though now a red line traced the arc of her eyebrows, and the forehead had been cut off, revealing her own pale ivory skin and her bone white hair. The bottom had also been cut off at the upper lip, so that the bottom part of her jaw was visible. Most shockingly, she had a layer of red lipstick on her lips. It took a long time for her to learn to stop fidgeting under the hands of Buttercup and Andaer. She nodded her own sentiments along with Mira. She too wondered when she got to kill someone.

“For what it’s worth,” Rudhale replied to both of them, I’d sleep with any of you completely sober.” There was a pause, and then he amended the thought. “Well, actually, Mira, probably not you. Forgive me, dear, you’re quite lovely, but I prefer being alive, and our lovely Anthea would kill me if I tried.” He flashed a smile, and it was true that they all looked quite fetching, in their fashions, and this was good, because they were going to need to put on a bit of a show to pull this off smoothly. He was going to mention that red was definitely Kerin’s color, but then Mira had to go and mention the plan, and he sighed theatrically. Ruin his fun by making him think about his actual goals, would she? Well, he supposed he couldn’t blame her for that.

“Well, ladies and gentle-elves, we are going to see a mummer’s show. If you’ve never been to one, there’s a lot of acrobatics and fire and the throwing of sharp objects. My contact has ever-so-graciously informed me that indeed, the greatest show in Antiva this year is being run by our ravishing target, and there’s quite a bit of actual magic being slung about under the guise of parlor tricks.” It was the ideal cover for a group of criminals, really, not to mention a lucrative one. “In order to even get close, we’ll have to integrate ourselves into the acts somewhere—Shoshana will not stop the show and risk exposing herself, though I fully expect her to try and slip away. If you have to kill one of her followers, I certainly have no problem with that; they’re all cutthroats of a kind with her, and Antiva would likely thank you. But if you do, please try to make it look like part of the act, and avoid decapitations if possible.” He supposed one could convince an audience that it was a clever illusion, but he didn’t want to be the one who had to waste the time to do it.

“Questions, concerns, complaints? I’ll not hold it against you if you want to go reveling instead. Gods know it’s what I’d prefer to be doing.”

Kerin made a show of raising her hand to ask a question, "Yeah, can I have a dagger? Didn't think it was bright to carry around a big hunk of steel."

“Probably wise,” Rudhale agreed, producing a very long knife from somewhere in a sleeve and handing it over, sheath and all, to Kerin. Fortunately, the exotic nature of his weapons made them more or less applicable as part of his costuming. He would admit that there was also something of a gender double-standard there, and though it wasn’t one he liked, they’d have to work with it. His kilij hung from his belt as usual, though his katar was nowhere in sight. Given what he’d just managed to produce from under his clothing, that was no guarantee that it was not present.

“A few warnings,” he said as they started to move, generally at a meandering pace, through the streets and the acts on the edge of the mummers’ encampments. “Shohana is a blood mage, as are a few of the members of her troupe. Those that are not are quite expert at what they do, which is mostly in the cloak-and-dagger family of skills. There shouldn’t be anything too unexpected in the mix, but their covers are all as mummers or circus performers, so beating them at that is going to be no easy task. I can get us out of the thick of things, but not before she’s dead, so we’re all going to have to act like we know what we’re doing.” He grinned broadly, evidently quite excited at the prospect of it.

Though the cluster of performing groups here were in fact mostly mummers, there were also occasional circus acts interspersed with the rest, lending the whole affair an exotic, unexpected flavor that left one quite uncertain as to where to put one’s eyes next. Dancers, jugglers, acrobats, men and women on stilts, exhibition duels with unusual weapons and fanciful costuming, fortune tellers, strange animals from all corners of Thedas, and of course a wide variety of food and drink on offer. There was no mistaking when they reached the center of the action, however: on several wooden platforms erected in a central square, arranged circularly, were the obvious outstanding talents of the whole show, and in the center, raised slightly above the rest, was a woman with flame-orange hair, outfitted in a luxurious blend of jade green, amethyst-purple, and rich gold. Her mask glittered with encrusted gems, and she was presently occupied captivating the audience with showy displays of illusion, covering an empty birdcage and then pulling the drape back, to let out a hundred tiny, glittering songbirds made entirely of what seemed to be colored fire.

“And there’s our deader,” Rhuddy said pleasantly. “Find an act to join my friends, and do try to give them a show, hm?” He seemed fully in his element, hopping with all the casual grace of a large cat up onto a nearby stage and drawing his kilij. It was an exhibition in weaponry, by the look of it—and that would suit him just fine.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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Andaer was not quite so cavalier about the whole thing as Rudhale was acting, but then by now he knew the man to be doing just that: acting. He certainly had the flair for it, and the Dalish man had no doubt that whatever show the pirate put on would be quite entertaining indeed. He was a little less sure of what he should be doing, but he supposed that simply altering Shoshana’s illusions wouldn’t be sufficient. Additionally, it seemed best to keep her in the dark as to exactly what was going on for as long as possible, so perhaps he’d have to find something else. He’d never learned to juggle, so that was out, and while he was bendy enough, acrobatics were far from his forte, either. Dancing was out, less because he was bad at it and more because he didn’t know the one they were currently doing.

He found his temporary calling, however, when his eyes alighted on what appeared to be some kind of act involving large, predatory animals. Fortunately for him, such creatures were usually no more hostile to him than songbirds were, for the same reason. He was far from being able to communicate with them or anything of that nature, but he should be able to work with them, at least, especially since the tamer did not seem the particularly-merciful sort. But… how to make an entrance? This did have to be showy, after all. Looking around for some kind of idea, he noted a small murder of crows, currently pecking at dropped food. It occurred to him that there was something particularly ironic about using those birds, but it was not something he dwelled upon. Reaching out with just a tendril of his magic, the elf called them to him, directing just a little bit with his will exerted on their bodily systems, more a gentle tugging than the roughshod control generally associated with Blood Mages.

With a little work, he had them doing what he wanted, and they gathered into a flock, swooping down over the stage he wanted and obscuring him from sight as he hopped up onto it, winging back into the sky just as he drew his sword, heating it with his magic until it was a bright, cherry-red. Without a word, he spun it about a few times, entirely unnecessary but probably better for effect, and then abruptly lashed out with it, cleaving through the wooden bars of a tiger cage with little effort.

The tamer onstage went comically wide-eyed at this, and when the second slice left a gaping opening in the bars, the crowd nearest him gasped, even as the large feline stretched languidly, stepping outside the cage and coming to stand at his side. He was quite certain it simply wanted to find a place to take a nap, potentially whilst being scratched behind its ears, but that would rather ruin the effect he was going for. A cracking sound indicated that the tamer was testing his whip on air, and a rattling chain alerted him to the fact that a bear was rearing up behind the fellow, so it looked rather like some kind of absurd duel.

Well, if it was a show they were after… this would probably qualify.

Mira knew they had a job to do here, but that wasn't going to stop her from having a good deal of fun integrating herself into these performers. It wasn't so much a question of how; she could dance quite well, and dance around the other if not through or with them, she could juggle knives with her eyes closed, she was quite skilled in matters of acrobatics, and she was probably the most flexible person here to boot. Well, given her luck, the second most flexible person here, but still. She could contort in some ways that would make these people go wide-eyed. The question, then, was where to put herself so she'd be the most useful when the actual dirty deeds came along.

Andaer seemed to be doing quite well for himself using the animals, and Mira had no particular affinity for those, but there were these men walking around on stilts here and there. She liked the look of them. Perhaps... oh, but that was a very stupid idea. She loved it. Using the distraction that Andaer had provided with the tiger, she slipped up onto the stage and found a man juggling knives. Twirling was a safe bet to look like she belonged here, so she twirled on by him, taking three of the knives he had laid out on the little table beside him as she went. The dress, and the mask, would keep eyes away from her hands, if eyes were indeed upon her, and Mira was either pretty or arrogant enough to think that there were at least several on her at the moment.

A number of trapeze artists were swinging about above them, hanging from large wooden contraptions criss crossing above the stages. There would be a way onto them from several wooden towers off to the sides, and so she snuck around behind one of these, tucking the knives into her belt before she started climbing the ladder. Upon reaching the top, she watched the performers swing back and forth from their little sticks. One of them would come over this way soon, for a break, and he'd bring it with him... yes, here he came. She slipped one of the knives she'd taken into her hands just as he performed a graceful flip off the trapeze and to the platform. With her left hand, she caught the device, and with the right, she stuck the knife right up into his bare chest just as he landed. That stopped him quick enough, and he settled down nicely on the platform, out of sight from below.

Now, to make this jump. This was a bit crazy, but she had faith in her balance, and in the balance of these performers. One of the stilt walkers was coming her way from the right side. She just had to time it right. Kicking off her slippers (which pained her somewhat, they were very nice), and putting the knife away, she took the bar in both hands, taking a deep breath, before pushing herself forward, and swinging rather impressively through the air. She released at a precise moment, turning her body in midair and landing lightly with both feet on the man's shoulders. She crouched low just as he momentarily wobbled, putting her hands on the top of his head for balance.

"Wha-- What are you doing? Who are you?" he asked quietly at her, but she put a finger to her lips and shook her head. "No questions. You even think about trying to shake me off, and you're coming down with me, but not before I put a knife in your head and use you to soften my landing. Now, walk." He glared up at her, cursing something in Antivan, before doing his best to ignore her, and continuing to move around on the stilts. Gathering her balance, Mira stood to her full height and began to juggle the three knives she'd brought along, while also checking around for the others, and for where she might potentially be needed.

"Oh, and no looking up the skirt. That gets the knife in the head, too."

Among a number of other things, Kerin was not an actress. She did not act, she was far too raw of a person to be putting masks on... Metaphorically. Physically, there was one sitting on her face anyway. It took longer for Kerin to find an act to integrate into, as nothing she saw seemed a right fit for her particular set of skills-- those being violence and mayhem. There were acts of dexterity, daring, and danger, but nothing she could concievably do. Kerin couldn't impress her will upon animals, nor could she juggle on top of stilts, and her fighting style was far too rough to take part in a duel. In the end she found herself frustrated.

At least, until the sound of music being played caught her ears. The expression hidden under her mask changed just as the cogs of thought began to turn. Slowly she began to make her way towards the music, formulating as she went. It'd been a long time since she actually last danced. It wasn't a part of her past she was particularly fond of, but what honestly was? Besides, it was a part of her past now, nothing more. The edge of her one-sided grin tucked under her mask as she came upon the source, and just as she expected there were dancers. Before she would thrust herself into the performance, she waited and she listened. She listened to the beat of the drums, the signature of the music, and the tempo of the musicians, nodding her head along.

The grin only widened as she listened. This was a song she could dance to. It wasn't one of those limp pieces where she was expected to dance in the arms of a noble. This was a wild piece, unpredictable but with a certain rhythm. There were others dancing along with the beat. Just as wild and unpredictable as the song itself, they were simply enchanting. Every drum beat reflected in their movements. She could feel her own drums line up with those being played in a cresendo and at the peak, she began to dance. The first thing she found was honestly surprising. Kerin liked it. No one was expecting her to do this, to play along with the song and to dance at the beckoning of another man. She did this because she wanted to. And it was fun.

She found herself laughing as she spun in the middle of the other performers, the look of shock on their face priceless. Who expected a specter of a dwarf to throw herself into the middle of dancing. Like the professionals they were, the performers quickly adapted to their new guest and danced around her in an attempt to ignore her. Still she danced to the beat of her own drum. Like a puppet, every beat tugged at the strings. She spun, she dipped, she clapped, and she laughed. It was a shame all of this would have to end in blood, but until then, she would dance.

Swiftly identifying the pirate as an intruder, the pair of duelists on the stage he’d surmounted turned as one, the long ribbons trailing from their scimitars fluttering with an entirely unnecessary sort of showy elegance, disguising, perhaps, the fact that the blades were keen as Jack’s wit, which was to say more than sharp enough to cut. Upon closer inspection, it was apparent that the women were twins, save that one had colored her waist-length curls a deep black, and the other’s were bone-white. They wore the colors to match, the dark-haired one with hints of red and her sister in opposing shades of blue. It was all quite brilliantly-done, really, and he supposed that the show itself must be quite fascinating. It was almost too bad that he had to interrupt. Almost.

They moved in practiced unison, one swiping low and the other high, bare feet sliding across the smooth wood of the platform without sound, and Rudhale spun to the side, intercepting the upper strike with his kilij and jumping to let the lower one simply pass underneath him. The woman with silver hair simply doubled the blade back, angling upwards to strike for his hip, and a sharp shrugging motion produced from within his sleeve a stout kukri knife, resulting in another clang of metal hitting metal.

Smiling winningly at both women, Rudhale slid sideways with an easy fluidity, rotating all three of them, still in a pair of bladelocks, placing his feet in a way more akin to the first circling steps of the Rivaini tango than as though anyone’s life was at stake. Abruptly, he disengaged both, half-stepping forward to drive both pommels at the respective foreheads of the duelists. Naturally, they bent back to avoid the blows at the same angle, and he completed his forward motion without interruption, until he and they were both facing out towards opposite sides of the platform. Still grinning, he stopped there, listening for the tell-tale whistle of their swords through the air, pivoting at the last second to meet the blows, this time both vertical, one aimed for each shoulder. Making a great show of being afraid and backed into a corner, he dropped both of his weapons, but caught the sword-wielding wrists and darted back into the space between them, twisting the limbs as he went.

Two scimitars joined his swords, and there was some general guffawing from the crowd when he completed the maneuver by spinning both opponents around in a complete circle, rather than, say, trying to dislocate the limbs. Of course, this was accompanied by a mischievous wink, and the crowd was certainly eating it up. He was nothing if not a showman, of course, and somehow, he thought he might have missed his calling in not doing this sooner, though of course he’d give up what he did do for absolutely nothing in the world.

While the pirate and his friends were having their fun (or not so much of it) with the side acts, the illusionist on center stage was quite aware of what was going on. She was, of course, in the unfortunate position of not being able to do much about it. Beneath her gorgeous mask, Shoshana’s brilliant green eyes narrowed, and she pursed her violet-tinted lips, drawing on the powers of the Fade to conjure stronger illusions, these intended to disturb the performances in various gaudy and irritating ways. Her people, of course, would be quite used to shining, multicolored birds and explosions of light, but the flashbangs should hopefully startle the rest. She recognized two of the figures, and it was hard to decide which of them she wanted to kill more: the one who had interrupted what would have been her most masterful assassination, or the one who had stolen Jack from her.

In the end, she couldn’t quite make up her mind, and resolved to puppet both of them with her blood magic.

Fortunately, the bear of course was not interested in fighting on the behalf of its keeper, and though it let out a terrible roar, when Andaer darted past the whip-bearing man and severed its chain with his heated sword, it took its swipe at the nearest target—which the Dalish man had wisely-chosen not to be. Perhaps the tamer had spent long enough with the animal to know it well, however, for he seemed to anticipate this, and dove out of the way, rolling to his feet and cracking the whip in the direction of the mage. Andaer was forced to throw up a hand, and the rawhide lash encircled his limb even as he caught it in his hand.

Now bound to his foe, he was abruptly tugged forward before he could think to sever the connection, and a solid kick planted into his stomach. Though he was not so fragile a person as to collapse from that, he was also not exactly accustomed to or prepared for the blow, and it dazed him quite a bit—at least until the tiger leaped, bowling over the tamer and nearly taking him down by proxy. Before that happened, though, he brought the sword up and cut through the whip, even as half a dozen bright colored flashes went off about him, ranging in hue from the bright blue of a robin’s egg to flame-red to grass-green, all with a faintly metallic hue. That it was accompanied by the familiar tug of blood magic was almost enough to put him under its sway.

But he had been at this art for longer than Shoshana, and if he was so easily mastered, a demon would have discovered the trick to it long ago. Instead, he pushed back with more of the same, aware that he could not simply stand there on the stage. He couldn’t reach Shoshana yet, though—he wasn’t on a close enough platform. Thinking fast, he paced forward, placing a hand on the tiger’s massive shoulder and giving just a faint push with his magic. It backed off the tamer—mauled and dead, but thankfully not visible, and Andaer nonchalantly edged him towards a trapdoor with a foot, glad that the bear was making rather a spectacle of itself at the moment, swiping at light-formed diving birds, no doubt more of the Crow’s work.

He managed to get the dead fellow down the trapdoor, and more importantly, he now had blood to work with. With a sharp gesture, he called it up off the ground, forming the stuff into a sphere and then several other shapes at random, imitating running deer and suchlike. The bizarre lighting was making it shine different colors, not so easily recognizable for what it was, and this was most assuredly a good thing. The audience could probably accept a lot of things as illusion and shadowplay, but not, perhaps, floating spheres of human ichor.

Resigning himself to the showman’s aspect of this, Andaer swung astride the tiger, and gestured to the bear, which probably looked a lot like beckoning but was in fact just a slight compulsion, so that it would move in the direction he desired. It was a bit more panicked than the large cat, so simple suggestion would be inadequate. Even animals had the will to resist such things, after all.

Juggling knives on top of a man walking on stilts was easy enough, at least until the blasted exploding lights and birds came. Her base didn't shift all that much, as he didn't seem to be surprised, but Mira wobbled quite a bit when an explosion went off near her, temporarily blinding her and forcing her to rely on her touch and ability to juggle literally without sight. She overreached once with her right hand, and earned herself a bloody pointer and middle finger for her efforts, the knife cutting into the underside of her hand. Still, she didn't drop any, which was good, because that could put someone below at risk, and not everyone here was okay to kill.

She caught the other knives, now holding two in her bleeding right and one in her left, just as she felt her base start to reach a hand up towards her. Crouching down again, she slipped her left hand under his chin, holding the edge of the knife tight against his throat. "Ah, ah. What did I say? You're lucky I'm a forgiving lady. Listen, why don't you take me over to that stage," she pointed with the knives in her other hand in the direction of Shoshana, "and when this is over, not only will I let you live, I'll make this all worth your while." This last part was whispered seductively in his ear, and while he wasn't exactly going for it, the sheer ridiculousness of the situation was enough to give him pause at least, and miraculously, his legs started walking in the direction she'd asked.

"There's a good boy."

Every fiber of her body danced with the beat, even as the tempo grew violent and tone grew dark. Enraptured as she may have been by the dance, it did nothing to dull her senses. She was still every bit the warrior that the dress and make-up attempted to hide. The smile she wore dropped away and whatever twinkle she had in her eyes died away to those of the Dwarven Berserker. Overcast eyes took in her surroundings as she spun and spun again, noting that the other dancers had begun to alter their steps closer and closer to her own. Perhaps it was fate, or just dumb luck but the shining birds meant to disrupt her only illuminated the hidden knife as it threatened to open her jugular.

Never breaking the act, Kerin's head spun wildly around as her legs dropped. The dagger scored her mask along the cheek, but otherwise left the alabaster dwarf unharmed. Like that, the dance no longer became just a dance, but a battle in disguise. Her lips quivered in a moment of smile before vanishing just as fast. It was nice to be doing something else beside using brute force. Another dancer approached, raven hair sweeping in long circles-- hiding the thin knife in her hand. As she pirouetted one way, leaving Kerin whirling in the opposite direction. Couldn't get her if the dwarf kept to her back, after all. A harsh laugh taunted them, beckoning them to do better.

They'd have to, if they wanted to survive. It was Kerin's turn now. Kerin's paused in tune with the beat, her hands going to her chest. What the audience didn't see was the knife hidden in her bodice. With the blade now hidden in her long sleeves, she was just as dangerous as the dancers, if not more so. She'd have to thank Mira later, for the sleeves. As she rose up to her meager height, she noted the next dancer lining up to get his shot in. A short, thin man outfitted in nothing but blackness. The contrast between their dress did not go unnoticed, and even elicited a chuckle from Kerin.

So she danced towards him, as he danced toward her. They were to meet in the middle, and to begin their hidden battle. Kerin hadn't been this excited for a battle in some time. Short as he may have been, he still had a good foot or so over Kerin, and the reach allowed him first strike. Flowing sleeves hid his knife as well, but years of battle had honed Kerin's danger sense. She threw her head and neck back, leaving the tip of the blade to pass less than an inch away from her mask. The drums setting this dance was then met with another set, one that only Kerin could hear.

Her head whipped back forward and she thrust herself forward, swinging her arms wildly. The man was just as graceful as she expected and he spun out of her range. A low laugh punctuated the drums as she pressed the offensive, dropping low and twirling across the distance, the end of her dress floating over the ground. The two sets of drums merged and intertwined, creating an overpowering presence in Kerin's mind-- though she kept it hers. Her grey eyes did not lose their luster, despite the drums pounding away in her head. She was in total control.

Once upon the man, she didn't immediately go for the kill. No, instead she danced to his side, and feinted. With him expecting an attack he cantered back. Kerin did it once more, this time on his other side, pushing his back forward. She laughed that taunting laugh again. This time, it was her foe who grew angry. Like the drums that traced their steps, he was violent and quick. The knife came from above, but Kerin wasn't there. She was at his side again. The knife came in from the side this time, and ducking spiral saw to it that she wasn't here either. Next the dagger came in low, and finally Kerin struck. She half-spun, leaving her back to him and catching the knife under her arm. She gripped it tight and spun back around coming face to the man. She traded his hand for his collar and she hauled him in close, still interlocked in the dance. He never saw the knife dart across his throat, as crimson blossomed, hidden by the black outfit. Blood darkened Kerin's own mask and outfit, giving her an eerie, almost spectral image.

She gently swayed with the body to give an illusion of dance before gently letting it come to rest on the floor in time with two crashing drums-- hiding the death as part of the act. Though she couldn't hear the cheering, the audience watching fell in love with the alabaster dwarf with the crimson blooms. They watched with bated breath as she danced away to meet the next challenger in this dark and bloody dance.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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For a hideous, stomach-dropping few moments, Rudhale’s body was not his own, and his jump towards center stage was tragically aborted, sending him down to the ground between the stages as though he’d never been about at all. Shoshana wasn’t merciful about it, either, and he landed face-first on the hard ground, not relishing the wet crunch that was assuredly his nose breaking. His vision blurred, head swimming with nausea. But he was not precisely unaccustomed to being the victim of hostile magic, even if he wasn’t nearly as resistant as Andaer. Besides, he had quite the reason to fight this, and gritted his teeth, working slowly to regain control of his body even as Shoshana turned her attempts to trying to keep him pinned. The illusion that they were part of this show would not last forever, but they needed to be quick as it ended, to enable their escape—preferably daring—before the proper authorities could be alerted.

He was certain the Queen would not mind the death of the woman who’d killed her husband, but the methods he’d chosen were the furthest thing from legal, and he would not have his friends implicated in this whole business, nor delay the passage of the rest of the group from Antiva City and onward to other locales. No, this would be done, and it would be done right. Preferably now, he decided, grinning when his right arm was once again responsive to his commands. His whole body screamed at him, blood pounding irregularly in his veins as the bitch sought to stop his heart, but he wasn’t that vulnerable, and she had other things to split her attention with besides. With a herculean effort, Rudhale snapped her hold over him, pulling his feet underneath him and rising into a half-crouch, staying low as to be unseen by the audience. Having lost the weapons he was holding at some point in his fall, he shrugged two knives out of his sleeves instead. They were less interesting than the weapons he was generally known to use, but they would serve their purpose just fine. He raised a wrist to his nose and swiped the worst of the blood off his lips and chin with the silk of his sleeve—it would have to do.

From down here, he could tell that there were trapdoors on all the stages—the underneath of one already seemed to include a dead body. Someone had been thinking quickly, it seemed. He did not relish the idea of becoming such a one himself, so he ducked under the drape that concealed the underneath of center stage from the audience. It was dark beneath, but his eyes adjusted to it, giving him a view of the crisscrossed wooden boards that supported the illusionist’s platform. A short ladder led up to the trap door, and, weaving his long limbs through the network of crosshatching supports, he looked up. From the fact that the edges of the door were limned in light, he decided that it was probably not obstructed.

Ascending the ladder, he decided he had no choice but to bet on it. It was rather a good thing he was so find of staking his life on such gambles, else he might have been apprehensive about this. But the pirate was not a man who scared easily, and this was no different than any of another hundred ridiculous chances he’d taken with his own life. It was all part of making the world his stage, or something like that.

Setting his shoulder against the trapdoor, Rudhale exhaled, counted mentally to three, and then burst from the door on two, just to prevent himself from falling into bad habits like being predictable. Unfortunately, the trap door was in front of rather than behind Shoshana, and so she was altered to his presence before he could do so much as swing. There was a gasp from the audience, and she halted the shooting of the fire spell in her hand, instead giving him a sadistic sort of smile that showed a few too many teeth. She’d filed her canines, something which he thought was a little much but certainly did add to the effect she had going for her. “It is you,” she said, sounding neither pleased nor angry to see him. It was more… satisfied, like a fox that’s cornered the rabbit down his hole. Not, certainly, the tone of a woman who took herself to be the rabbit.

“Alas, I can be nobody else,” he replied with false self-deprecation. His smile matched hers eerily well. Perhaps it was not so odd that Jack had sought him out in that tavern, of all the down-on-their-luck nobodies she could have asked. He’d seen her wear this face more than once as well. A little bit of insanity, a little bit of recklessness, and just a touch of sadism or masochism… sometimes both at once.

There was an expectant pause, and Rudhale took no note of the other members of Shoshana’s troupe lining up to kill him—the pair of archers on a nearby roof, the two mages calling fire and ice to their hands and passing it off as juggling, nor indeed the mismatched pair of rogue and warrior casting him malicious glances from the middle of their costumed tumbling routine, the flashes of knives in their hands unnoticed by the crowd. He knew that they’d be there; such people always followed Shoshana around. That was why he’d brought friends as well, and he trusted them not to let him get assassinated.

“Well then,” Shoshana said, stalking out into the center of the stage. They were both in spotlight now, as though they’d planned it all along. With people like them, it was always so hard to know they hadn’t. “Much fun as it’s been playing cat and mouse with you all these years, Captain Bryland, all good things must come to an end. I understand my dear Jack has herself a ship now—I do believe I’ll try my hand at piracy once you’re dead.” She cocked her head to one side, red-orange hair falling over one shoulder. The contrast between her hair, spring-green eyes and the green and purple of her festival getup made her look much like one of the fey his father’s people told of—like as not to steal your very mind from you. He did not doubt she’d done that once or twice.

For once, he was uncharacteristically silent, spinning both blades around until they rested firmly in his palms. His nose still twinged madly, and it was hard to breathe out of, so his lips were slightly parted, pulling and pushing air at a steady rate. For all that this was the culmination of almost a decade’s chase, they were both quite calm about it. Almost preternaturally so, really. She moved first, and he’d known she would. The lightning passed through the space where he’d been standing seconds before and struck a nearby tent-pole, knocking it down and bringing half the foodseller’s canvas it supported down with it. Well, that would have sent someone after the guards or the Templars, even if Antiva was less religious as a rule. That meant his time was shorter than he’d thought. There was certainly none of it to waste.

Rudhale lunged, and the fight was well and truly on.

Mira wasn't about to let Rhuddy fight them all by himself. As much as she wanted to join in on the duel he was having against Shoshana, she knew she would be more useful elsewhere. Namely, by watching his back and clearing out some of these others that would tip the scales in the elf bitch's favor. "Just a little further," she promised, her lips brushing against the stilt-walker's ear while her knife remained tight against his throat. "Take me to those mages." He did so, and when she was in range of them she whipped the knife away and struck it down hard through the top of the man's skull. It wasn't the first time she'd promised pleasure and given death.

Her base immediately went limp under her, so Mira acted quickly, removing the knife and leaping forward through the air, the skirts of her dress billowing out away from her legs as she drew a knife into each hand, dropping down on the mage casting fire around. The time for acting like they were a part of this show was obviously over. Now the murder began.

She burst down through the fire he was pretending to juggle, slashing one knife down through the center of his face while the other sank deep into his chest. He went down with a garbled scream, but she ended him before he could cast more fire with a second stab in the chest, striking the heart she'd so narrowly missed the first time around. No sooner was he dead than she heard the second mage preparing to turn her ice juggling on the attacker. Mira reacted quickly, but not quick enough. She whipped the knife in her right hand around so that the blade, wet with blood, rested in her fingers, and she hurled it at the ice mage just as she launched an icy blade of her own through the air.

The knife caught her in the chest on the right side, while the ice spike tore through Mira's gown in the upper abdomen, the pair of wounds leaving dark red splotches spreading across their victims, and sending both a step back and to their knees. Mira grimaced and fought pointlessly against the watering in her eyes, infinitely frustrated by her inability to withstand a hit. Hadn't she been through worse before, and lived? The shriek, the Deep Roads and all the pain it had brought, and Erebus... just once she was going to channel a bit of Solvej, and just not give a damn that she was going to have another scar tomorrow.

In a moment very unlike her, she simply removed the blade of ice from her body and cast it aside, pushing to her feet and charging forward at the mage responsible, who was slower to stand herself. A second blast of ice followed, but Mira pushed off on the ground and lifted herself into the air, sailing over the attack and throwing a second knife while in the act, the blade sticking into the thigh of the ice mage. Mira tucked forward and rolled out of the flip, coming smoothly to her feet in front of the wounded mage with a quick slash to the side of the knee, taking her down a level. She then thrust the blade back the other way, sinking it into the unprotected flesh of the woman's throat, allowing her only a moment for a brief choking sound before she ripped the knife sideways, and a torrent of the mage's blood spilled out onto the stage. Mira crouched down to retrieve her knives, feeling rather invigorated.

Remaining seated on the back of a tiger was not at all like remaining seated on the back of a halla or a horse. For a start, it was much more flexible, and sinuous in its movement, subtle, liquid variations in the bunch and coil of the muscles beneath him meaning that he truly had to move with the creature or lose his balance. Still, there was a certain kind of smoothness to it, once he grew accustomed. One hand bunched itself in the thick ruff of fur at the creature’s nape, the other free and held just a few inches from the side of his head, keeping the sphere of blood floating above him steady in the air.

It was certainly obvious when the pirate found the spotlight, and La Fantasma was doubtless going to fight him for it. One encounter with her methods was enough to know that there would be more to it than a clean duel, and the elf’s eyes scanned the nearby area, alighting on two hunched figures on a nearby roof. They shifted as he watched, and Andaer reacted immediately, spreading the rob above his head until it was a slightly convex disc, and hardening it as though it was frozen. Two arrows, aimed squarely for Rudhale’s unprotected throat, thudded into it, and it became liquid again before they’d been there two seconds, letting the projectiles, clatter harmlessly to the ground.

He’d need to stay mobile, lest they simply pick a new roof to shoot from or drop into the crowd. Urging the great feline forward, Andaer held on as it picked up its pace into a lope, eating the ground from one end of his platform to the other and gathering its legs beneath it to spring onto the next. Slight as he was, he supposed his weight was mostly negligible, though he did have to wrap both arms around its neck to stay on when it went airborne. This was not the most practical idea he’d ever had, but it would certainly do for now. At least he kept his eyes on the archers, and a second volley was thwarted in the same method as the first.

He unfortunately did not count on them swapping targets so soon, and only the instincts of his unconventional mount saved him from being skewered somewhere vital. One of the arrows went wide, and the other thudded into his shoulder, piercing the silk of his garments as well as if it were not present at all. The arrowheads were wicked, and he felt the metal bury at least two or three good inches into his flesh, until the arrowhead scraped bone. The worst of it, however, was the lightheaded ness that slowly came upon him, insidious poison clouding his senses. There was nothing else for it—taking a firm hold of the shaft of the arrow, Andaer did something he would not normally have advised in the absence of a healer: he ripped it out. Blood flowed freely from the puncture, and he worked to draw it further out, washing the poison from the edges of the wound as he could.

He was still a bit dizzy, but that could have been blood loss as much as anything. He clotted his own wound with his magic, sealing it from further exsanguination. Even the worst part of battle was an upshot for a blood mage, however, and with that much more fuel for his spells, he could finally go on the offense… assuming he could locate his foes. That much was easier said than done, for the rooftops yielded no further signs of their presence.

Still, they were clearly eager to stop the duel above—perhaps Shoshana doubted her ability to win a one-on-one fight with Rudhale. Probably a wise doubt to have. The pirate had not been wrong about her tendency to stack the odds radically in her favor before she tried anything—these extras were proving troublesome. But it was their eagerness to obey their directives that did them in; one of them fired before his shot was properly lined up, and Andaer caught the motion as the arrow sailed over the heads of both the central combatants, to fall uselessly on the ground elsewhere. Now that he had his target, he wasn’t going to waste time… but he was far too patient to make a mistake of that kind. His own ichor, he formed into two spear-points, and these hurtled through the air unerringly for the archers. The first caught one fellow in the throat, and the second got the other in the chest—but he was starting to feel the drain now, and slumped a bit against the warm back of the tiger. Hopefully, Rudhale was almost done with what he’d come here to do.

A distance away, upon the dancer's stage Kerin still danced. A far cry from the painted white gown she wore in the beginning, now patterns of crimson danced upon her dress as sure as she did. The visual effect was there, the red playing magnificently against the white, enhancing the visage of her dangerous dance. The blood stains covered up her own wounds, though mere flesh wounds compared to what she was used to. None would even leave a scar. She gave as good as she got, as the other dancers had their share of cuts and slices. She had been vicious enough in her attacks that the dancers now avoided her, attempting to move in only when a sure kill presented itself. And when Kerin was involved, a sure kill was anything but.

Then it came to Kerin to aid Rudhale in his own act. She spun away to the edge of the stage making a large scene of waving off the rest of the dancers and the audience in an attempt to keep up appearances. Then she jumped off the stage and onto the next one, playing off the fact that she almost missed. Balance was never her strong suit, and even the dance had more power than finesse to it. A good attribute for a warrior, not so much for a mummer. As it should be, she didn't expect an occupation shift in her near future anyway. While she left a number of injured dancers behind her, she took the beat of the drum with her. She could still hear it even as a drummer stopped drumming.

A lightning bolt freed her from the shackles of the act, as all semblence of their little show being just that evaporated. Gladdened by the fact that she could stop dancing around the fighting and hiding her attacks, she picked up another blade, something akin to Rudhale's kilij, which might have been his. She had missed him dropping his weapons. With the saber in one hand and a dagger in her other, she quickly found herself out of her element. She found herself wondering how in the hell Rhapscallion and Rudhale could handle both weapons as one. It probably had something to do with that natural finesse each possessed, of which she did not. She'd have to ask later, because Kerin would find herself busy.

Playing further into the asymmetry, she faced off against a pair of tumblers, one large and one small. She was going learn how to use the weapons soon enough, or die trying. And as a Warden, she wasn't allowed to die against anything that wasn't tainted with the blight.

Knowing Rudhale's need for the dramatic, Kerin didn't intend to join him on his duel-- though sense said that would be safest thing to do. Instead, she'd aid him from behind the veil, and make sure these fools didn't interfere either. That being said, if she was able, and he was in need-- she would intervene. While death is certainly dramatic, it was perhaps too dramatic. Though, she had faith. The pirate could and would hold his own. With her mind firmly set, her eyes descended upon the tumblers in front of her. This would prove to be... Interesting.

The first to spring was the smaller of the pair, a rogue who had produced a pair of daggers from seemingly nowhere. He was quick, but that was a given. He swung downward at the dwarf with a dagger, and when Kerin dodged by stepping out of the way he retailated by swinging the other blade around. She ducked, but before she could make a move, she found a foot under her jaw. Now dazed and on her back, it was all she could do to roll out of the way of the larger man, who had simply bounded over the smaller man and brought down a heavy wooden pole where she was. This was a new experience for Kerin, she was never forced on the defensive before.

She rolled to her knees, swinging her saber outward to cut the big man down the size, but again she underestimated the slipperiness of the tumblers. He simply bounced over the blade, and again when she brought it back around. Now she was getting pissed. Getting back to her feet, she pushed forward, trying to force her own tempo on the battle. She swiped diagonally with the saber, only to be caught by the pole. A quick twist later and she found herself wide open for an attack. The big man made a show of calling his next attack, lifting the pole high over his head to slam into her head. It distracted her enough that she didn't see the smaller man until it was too late. The rogue darted under the wide man's legs and led with his daggers toward Kerin's breast.

She managed to slap one dagger away with her own, but the other dug into a forearm she had thrown across herself. A shock of pain coarsed through the limb, quickly followed by a numbing sensation. Poison. Dammit. She had to finish the fight fast. And to do that, she'd have to stop playing their game. So with that in mind, she dropped her own dagger and gripped the smaller tumbler's collar. Rage danced across her eyes as she reared her head back and smashed it into his face. She did it again just to be sure, and when she let go of the collar, the tumbler dropped like a sack of rocks. However without the weight to keep her anchored, she listed lazily to the side as her surroundings grew blurry. The poison. She needed to do something about it. So without a second thought she brought the saber up and cut a deep gash into her own arm, draining the infected blood.

With the deed done, she tossed the saber and beat her chest, daring the remaining tumbler to make a move. And he did. He lunged forward in a somersault. As much as Kerin would have loved to dance around with this man, time was simply of the essence. As soon as the man completed the roll, Kerin tackled him back to the ground, whereupon she rained several meaty fists down on his face until it resembled her mask-- a broken mess of scarlet. With that taken care of, she rolled off the man and come to rest with her back against his trunk, allowing the blood loss and poison to take hold. Kerin hoped Rudhale didn't need her help, she was having trouble enough from the world's relentless spinning.

There was really no time for talking, when it came down to it. Hell, there was barely time to think. All they were properly allowed was action and reaction, and there was certainly something to be said for it. Rudhale was fortunate that his friends were good at what they did—he’d have had no time to notice and dodge an arrow or a fireball or a thrown knife, not when he was busy dealing with Shoshana, whose talents unfairly seemed to include equal proclivity for magic and bladework. There was, after all, a reason the woman was the best of Crows. Theirs was an elaborate dance, the steps far too complex be anything but improvised, and executed at a breakneck speed. They jumped and tumbled and bent like leaves in the wind, faces illuminated and thrown into relief by the harsh flash of deadly magic. A sheen of sweat formed over the both of them, from their exertions and also the heat of the fire Shoshana favored.

She was like that in motion as well—explosive, sudden, and forceful. His responses were always liquid-smooth, parries and dodges always matters of centimeters or inches, though neither of them could ever remain wholly unscathed. Not when they both aimed with such skillful precision. She had variety on her side, but adaptability was his, steering them to what seemed to be a never-ending stalemate, running them in circles around each other, the damage almost a slow, ritual bloodletting by comparison. They spattered the rough wooden boards under their feet with flung crimson ribbons, sliding from the gleaming edges of blades, dripping from open wounds. The air carried the distinct scent of burnt flesh where he’d been a little too slow and one of her emerald-green spheres of flame had caught him full in the chest, eating through the silk of his garments to blister and redden the skin beneath.

But now their circles drew tighter, their movements slowed, and they stalked one another, matched in posture, with one knife leveled towards the center of their small circle, and the other held parallel to the ground just level with their heads, over their shoulder to linger in the periphery of their own vision. Fitting—Jack had taught this form to both of them. Their feet were cat-quiet pads even over the boards that had shuddered and groaned, but borne the weight of their constant leaping and rolling. It was as simple a matter as deciding that this pass would be the last. For Shoshana, it was necessity—her people were dying, and his allies would be free to act with him, soon. For Rudhale, it was less important, or it would have been were he alone. But the authorities were doubtless nearly here, and it was not he alone who needed to escape.

Both of them were good enough at what they did to know this, and as one, they shifted, flowing from defense to attack. In the end, it was simply a matter of reflex and balance—and his were superior. Rudhale took a knife to the side, but his own crossed Shoshana’s throat with a scissoring motion, and the one that would have found his heart was dropped from her hand with a clatter.

The heavy thunder of armored footsteps was not long in coming, and it was assuredly time for them to leave. Reaching to the new pouch at his waist, Rhuddy detached the whole thing and threw it into one of the fires still going from Shoshana’s magic. The effect was almost instantaneous: the fire began to belch a thick, black smoke, gushing into the air and settling heavily over the ground. “Time to go, ladies and gents!” he called, loudly enough that his allies would hear even over the din. The escape plan had been fairly scattershot: get out and get back to the palace without being caught, but it was easy now to tell why. They might not be able to find even each other in this mess, but they should be able to navigate their own ways out.


The Mission Briefings have been updated.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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In retrospect, Rhapscallion shouldn't have been surprised to find Dekton and Emil sharpening and honing their skills, working out their muscles and stretching in another chamber. Fortunately, it was at the other end of the building—he wouldn't need to explain to his fellow wardens that he desperately needed to know how to go about telling her of his feelings, and for that, he needed advice from other men. His understanding of women stemmed from tittering old ladies and other questionable sources. Relationships, romance, and the act of courting had never come up in conversation. While he may have been a nobleman's son, his father hadn't treated him as such. He never had the opportunity to meet anyone in his youth, and scampering around in the city's belly made him grow up far too quickly in areas he shouldn't have. Somehow, Rhapscallion's naivety remained intact. He'd profess to loving many, but now that he started feeling like this, he knew he was wrong. Who else would know more about courting women than men themselves? Surely, Emil hadn't always been so grumpy or chaste...

He sauntered over to them, trying to mask the nervousness itching just beneath the surface of his skin. The walk came off as an awkward bounce, off-balance and hesitant. He highly doubted they'd offer advice based on fables and fairy tales; full of fluff, with princesses and princes galloping off in the distance—but he was relying on something a little closer to the truth, however horrifying that truth might be. Glancing from Emil and Dekton, Rhapscallion cleared his throat in his hand and began explaining himself. Quickly, as if they'd interrupt him and his words would crumble apart and blow away. It felt easier the second time. Far easier to admit. Though, he still flushed a few shades, stammering over the dreaded L-word that meant he was hopelessly, relentlessly in love with her. For whatever reason, he still couldn't say her name. Crooning words he could not possibly say to her felt wrong—that particular song was meant for her ears alone. I have feelings for someone and I need advice was all that he could muster. He looked at them expectantly, settled his restless hands and stooped down on the balls of his feet.

“You've got songs about love, don't you?” His head was a drum and his question sounded like a whine, but he pressed on, eying Emil with an almost-childish hope. Pirates met plenty of women, didn't they? Emil had been no different, he was sure. Perhaps, Rudhale would have been a better candidate. His wide eyes swept towards Dekton. “And you must've loved someone, right?” Admittedly, Rhapscallion couldn't get the image of Dekton swinging said-woman over his shoulder, carrying her away to be his; in some strange manner of courting.

For the most part, Suicide's daily toils of simple survival had been replaced by brutal and bloody battles ever since he'd joined up with the group, but their time in Antiva had been mostly quiet. He'd even missed out on a rather raucous event he'd heard about involving the pirate and his friends. In any case, it had turned out alright, and he'd been able to witness some rather spectacular displays from above. Really, he'd have just gotten in the way. He was no good at dancing. During their downtime he saw it as something of a necessity to maintain the physical form he was in. Soft places created soft men, and this palace was very soft. He enjoyed the change of pace, but he wanted to make sure he didn't lose his touch at all. To that end, he proposed a session of workouts with Emil. The man had more or less been killed in battle earlier, and surely that had some repercussions, physically. They could both benefit.

Rhapscallion's announcements did not surprise him, as Suicide had tagged him as one who felt very strongly early on. Suicide could identify with such a mindset very closely, even if he did not show how he felt in remotely the same ways. He did not find Rhapscallion falling in love foolish at all, far from it. In fact, Suicide approved. He'd found something to attach himself to, something to hold tight against his chest when he was struggling for reasons to continue. If more of them developed such bonds, their road would become clearer. It was far easier to do something for the person standing at your side than the hundred of thousands of faceless souls in faraway lands.

The question, however, caught him a bit off guard, specifically in its wording. Must he have loved someone? Why? Was it a requirement in life to feel a certain way about another person? Love by itself had many different definitions. And he had many memories, mostly of simple feelings. Were those love? He had experienced something, but considering where he was now, and how far removed he was from his past... no, he did not feel it could be called love. They were similar souls, colliding in a land of opportunity. But a promise had been made, and that promise had been kept. Or so he thought. Love would have made him throw away his promises. It was not love.

"Not as you do," he answered finally. "I can offer you little, I'm afraid. You have already decided that she is worthy. Now she must do the same. Then you may walk the same Path." He could say little else. If Rhapscallion was looking for some kind of tricks to get the girl to love him, he was looking in the wrong place. Either they chose to be together, or they didn't. There was no value to the relationship any other way.

There was hesistation before Emil replied. Not due to the difficulty of the question or anything, but for the sake of pure curiousity. The chasind man next to him was every bit a mystery, despite his straightfoward manners. He had a grasp on who everyone was, all except for this man. So he allowed Suicide to be the first to answer, wondering if his words would lend to unravel that mystery. Of course, after the answer was given, Emil felt silly for expecting anything else. It was curt and to the point, raising only other questions instead of answering any. Emil shrugged, he really should have known better.

Now it was his turn. Emil rotated his shoulder in it's socket, throwing off the muscle fatigue he was experiencing. He reached for a towel, wiping down the layer of sweat he had accumulated and held the towel over his mouth as he thought. Love. It wasn't something Emil thought of all that often. There were songs about love, about loss, and about everything in between. "I may," he answered. They were romanticized ideas, songs for the sake of singing. Singing about love and experiencing it firsthand were two starkly different ideas. One was like seeing a ship and the other was knowing how to sail her. Still, the jellyfish in front of him was being exceptionally slippery, and even through his literal mind Emil knew the simple question was more than it seemed. To that end, Emil asked a pointed question, "Have someone you want to serenade?"

Emil, for his three decades, could honestly say that he had never been in love. There had never been time for it. He was always too busy or too single-mindedly devoted to a cause to develop a meaningful relationship. It'd be damn near depressing to think of if it was anyone else but Emil. There had been meaningless infatuations, a crush here and there, a roll in the hay now and then, but nothing he believed Rhapscallion was getting at. That was nothing Emil had any expertise in. Even so, what he was doing now was wasting time. Going around and polling the group with useless inane questions was useless and foolish when he could be using that time to follow through. The Jellyfish wasn't confessing his love to Emil (at least, Emil prayed to the Maker he wasn't) so he saw his role in all this to be purely auxillery.

But the Jellyfish was softer than either Emil and Suicide. Fear would keep him from acting on his urges. Emil rubbed his temples as he spoke, "Is there a point to this? Time spent here flapping your jaw could be spent better elsewhere. Or with someone. Wait too long, and we all might be dead before you get to serenade anything." Harsh, but Emil was a harsh man. If Rhapscallion expected a pat on the back and warm-hearted encouragement, he came to the wrong place. Emil saw everything literally and practically. Their time was uncertain, if his recent run-in with death itself taught him anything. "Any of us could die at a moment's notice. Believe me Rhapscallion, you do not want to die with regrets."

Not as you do. The response made Rhapscallion want to question what he meant. Perhaps, it was because Dekton looked far more experienced than he—and experience came in many flavours. He thought the man had seen, and accomplished, everything life had to offer. Surely, that included loving someone. Had anyone showered him with kisses? Promised to stay with him forever? Vowed to see the world with him, walking alongside him down the only Path he was destined to walk? Had he ever felt vulnerable around someone? Like he'd fall apart and lose his composure, spilling out words that he couldn't possibly reign in. He wasn't entirely sure what he meant when he'd said love. There were too many meanings, too many conflicting feelings. He blinked owlishly, rocking slightly forward. He wasn't even sure what he'd wanted to hear. Too honest for tricks, and too clumsy for charm, Rhapscallion thought he might've wanted to hear how they'd overcome their nervousness. How they'd pushed back their fears, and stepped through their doors.

If Rhapscallion never spoke of his love, or never gave his best... regret would sit on his shoulders, pecking at his ears whenever he looked at her. Dekton had the right of it, at least. She would either reciprocate his feelings, and they'd both walk down an endlessly sunny Path or they would walk different Paths; divided by the awkward knowledge that his heart beat for her. He knew his feelings would not deviate, or hardly stumble, even if she professed to seeing him only as a friend who picked thorns from flowers. She'd have his heart, even if she did not want it. Rhapscallion was rapt by their answers, though he was still trying to puzzle a deeper meaning from Dekton's straightforward solution. The only songs he'd ever heard sung had been about Elven warriors, protecting kinsmen from their enemies, and painting their pasts with something a little more cheery than what the Alienages wrought. His nannies never spoke of love, and his father made him out to be a pariah; unfit for suitors, bastardized from companionship. He could only guess as to what he felt. “I—I do,” he admitted, ducking his head, “But I'm afraid.”

He was stalling. He knew this—but he still needed something. Support? Encouragement? He wasn't sure. Perhaps, he wanted to be told that it wasn't crippling. That falling in love, and acting upon it, would not shatter his bones, crush his spirits, and leave him empty; dry and withered. That he was worthy of her, and not the other way around. There were so many answers that he wanted, and felt he needed, before he could possibly conjure up enough courage to deviate from his own Path and step into hers. His own was made up of foolish dreams. Things that couldn't possibly happen. Things that thrived on childish beliefs, and optimistic views. He wanted his love to go beyond poetry and songs, beyond fairytales and words. While slightly taken aback by Emil's stern reply, Rhapscallion reddened, unable to think of a proper reason as to why he was not acting on his feelings, rather than just blathering about them. Was there a point to this? No. He was a coward, clinging onto his companions. “Of course. Y-you're right.”

Andaer, currently assembling the jellyfish a new shirt in another corner of the room, looked up with some curiosity when the questions were leveled. Of course, he’d not been asked directly, but that might well be because he’d not been noticed. Even so, he had some experience with such matters, and he thought perhaps a bit of gentler advice might go over well here. Tugging the needle through another stitch, he cleared his throat softly, just enough to make the bedraggled Rhapscallion aware of his presence, and then smiled kindly at the lad. As someone who’d had a well-functioning relationship for almost fifteen years, he was perhaps willing to overstep himself a little and give the words even without being solicited. He did want the young man to succeed in this, after all.

“I take it,” he said mildly, weaving the needle back into the fabric again, “That you love her in part because she makes you happy. I advise you to focus on that. It is a matter of deciding if that happiness, however temporary or difficult to achieve it might be, is worth the risk of being without it. Ask yourself what it is worth to you, this opportunity you are presented with to be happy, to make her happy. I think you will find that it is quite simply too sublime to worry about a little stage fright for, is it not?” There was a vague hint of amusement to the question. Of course he was nervous—that was perfectly natural, especially for certain personalities. Telling him to just get over it wasn’t going to help. More straightforward people could do that, perhaps, but those with nerves made of things other than steel had to have reasons to overcome their anxieties. All he endeavored to show Rhapscallion was that he already had those reasons.

“Do not think of how close to death you walk. Think of how much more vivid living is walking beside her. Think not of what you might lose when you have yet to gain anything at all. You are surely an optimist, so let yourself be optimistic. There is certainly nothing wrong with hoping.” A deft twist and weave of the needle, and the last seam was completed. Turning the tunic inside-out, he snapped the fabric smartly to rid it of the occasional wrinkle, then held it out to the half-elf. It was a deep blue in color, which incidentally should compliment his complexion rather well.

“Also, looking nice when confronting something important never hurt anyone.” It was clearly a jest, but only half of one.

Rhapscallion's eyes widened slightly, swinging over towards the opposing corner of the room. It turned out that he'd missed Andaer as he'd walked in, so nervous that he hadn't seen him quietly sewing in the same chamber. He hastened an apology, positioning himself so that he could watch the man, as well as Dekton and Emil. He was somewhat relieved—not because his companions hadn't given him good advice, but because Andaer was just as soft-spoken as he. All of his own roughness had been chipped away in his youth. Kindly polished off by the man-in-tattered-robes, who'd dismissed his intolerable threats with ease. So, he still understood it, and infrequently saw a much younger, slightly less grumpy version of himself in Emil. Someone that pushed, mistrusted and had difficulties piecing out the greys from the blacks and whites. Andaer was different. He did not know much about him, but wanted to. The Dalish, in his eyes, had always been something he viewed with adulation and longing. Rhapscallion nodded. He was correct. She did make him happy, but he wasn't sure whether or not it was mutual. Would his feelings cause her to stumble? Make her feel uncomfortable? Tarnish their friendship?

A smile burst across his face, blooming into a grin. Perhaps, his fears were unfounded. He was just a little nervous, after all. A little stage fright, as he'd said. He might die tomorrow, or the next day, but not without speaking his mind. Slapping his hands on his knees, Rhapscallion stood up and stretched his arms over his head before dropping them to his sides. All of the harshness, and blunt truths, seemed to fall from his shoulders. Still, he would not forget them. “I know I seem a fool half the time, flapping my tongue and all,” he began to say, laughing warmly, “but what you all say is important to me.” He stepped backwards, turned and approached Andaer. The tunic he'd sewn was beautifully crafted, though he had enough sense not to be surprised. He scooped it up in his arms and held it to his chest, beaming gratefully. “It's beautiful—and thank you, I think I've heard what I needed to hear.” Faith, huh.

The lips of the Templar quivered for a moment before his eyes fell to the floorboard. "The elf's right. Faith'll keep you alive as sure as strength," He admitted, raising his head to look at Rhapscallion. He of all people knew this best. Here was hoping that the half-breed didn't have to get possessed to figure that out.

The tunic's sleeves flapped behind the half-breed as he left the room.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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And so it was that after approximately a week and a day in Antiva City to rest, recuperate, and occasionally assassinate, the group was once again on its way. Though most had initially expected to travel overland through Tevinter or perhaps—Maker forbid—make their way back through the Deep Roads, the pirate greeted them with good news on the morning of their departure: a ship had docked two nights previous, one that most of them would recognize. He had spoken with her captain, and she had agreed to grant them transport as far as the port of Tallo, which sat where the mouth of the Lattenfluss, the largest river in the country, reached the Colean Sea. It would be a matter of several weeks’ travel, weeks that, doubtlessly, some of them would not enjoy. But it was far faster than the alternative, and—the Dreamer was careful to impress upon them—time was of the essence.




He couldn’t help but smile as he looked upon his ship once more—docked so proudly in the Antivan harbor. After a farewell from the Royal family, who had surprised Rudhale by offering Solvej a coinpurse full to bursting with gold for the future needs of the party, as well as their well-wishes and a promise to rouse what of their martial and economic strength they could for the pushback against the archdemon. The queen had even embraced Andaer, which didn’t seem a very queenly thing to do. They must indeed be good friends. The group had collected their mounts and wound their way through the serpentine streets of the city—alas in the middle of Satinalia. Ah well—the first night’s celebrations had been quite fun on their own, or at least he thought so.

But now, looking at the boat floating in the harbor, he decided that it was good to be back. As if timed perfectly to their arrival, the gangplank of the boat dropped and Anthea herself descended to meet them. The smile he wore could have lit even Erebus’s clammy darkness with its vibrancy, but Jack, being who she was, took one look at him and shook her head. “Come to steal my ship already? I daresay you’re being a little obvious about it. Losing your touch, Rhuddy?” If anything, his smile only widened. Ah, but he had missed her—and he could tell that there was affection underneath the words, even if it wasn’t the kind he pretended to take it for.

“You wound me, my love. I would never be so indelicate with such a heist.” Of course, that was a lie—the first time they’d stolen this boat of theirs, they’d done it together, and it had been about as indelicate as could be. It was much more dramatic that way, of course, and he preferred it when the things he did were dramatic.

She snorted, casting eyes over the assembled people and horses with her bare arms crossed over her chest. She’d kept the blood-red cape, only, being Anthea and thus a pragmatist, she’d hacked about two-thirds of it off, so it hung down to her waist at a diagonal angle. He must say, it was a look that worked quite well for her, with her dark complexion, mostly black and white clothes, and inky-dark tattoos. He would have said so, except she’d clearly caught sight of a familiar face. It honestly made him a bit envious, the smile she cracked when she realized that Mira was present. It was equal parts sardonic and actually happy. “You’ve swapped out some of your people for better people. I approve.” She nodded curtly in Emil’s direction, doubtless recognizing an old ship rat when she saw one, no matter how much armor he wore now. There was just no shaking the sea all the way out of someone, not when it had gotten into their bones like it had seeped into theirs.

Other than this dry observation, though, she said nothing else, turning around and gesturing with a pair of fingers for them to follow her back up onto deck. The horses and supplies were loaded below where they belonged, and within the hour, the anchor was hauled and they were pulling out of the harbor. And somehow, Rhuddy found his way to the prow, as he always had.

Of all the people boarding Rhuddy's ship (or was it Jack's ship now?), Mira doubted anyone was more pleased about than she. It had been oh so long since she'd been out to sea with them, and she loved ships. The young Warden had gleefully skipped up the gangplank ahead of everyone else, that she might catch up and fall in step with her queen of pirates. They had a good deal to talk about, but Mira figured the most important bits could, and should, be saved for later, when a more private setting could be arranged.

Suicide, however, realized that not everyone would be pleased about their second impending sea voyage as a group. Kerin, specifically, he expected to be a problem, considering the way she'd clung to the mast on the previous trip, all the while emptying mostly everything she put in her stomach. He said nothing, however, choosing to wait on the docks to be the last, or near to it, to board. Things between the two of them still weren't exactly smooth, as the shapeshifter had not been involved in any of the Warden discussions, or the dwarf's trips to the bars in Antiva.

"No. No no no. No no. No," Kerin repeated in a mantra. She didn't know they were heading to the harbor, and she sure as hell didn't know they were boarding another boat. It wasn't even a different one, but the same damn one she'd suffered on across the sea of ghosts. And now they were going to ride it all the way to the Anderfels. Did the pirate really want her dead that badly? Kerin had set her heels on the dock, refusing to budge even as their supplies, horses, and even her bronto was being loaded into the boat. Though in the case of her bronto, he looked to be hesitant as well, just nowhere near the hesitance Kerin expressed. So entrenched she was, that some of the crew had to leave the boat and attempt to force her on the boat bodily. Even so, she struggled valiantly against the many hands.

Emil, on the other hand, took the the boat quicker than most. He made sure that her stepped onto the boat with his right foot, and then immediately turn and spit into the ocean. Turning to see a member of the crew staring at him and said in a deep monotone, "Last time I forgot, my entire ship died," before walking past. He wasn't able see the man stare at him, but did hear the telltale sound of someone else collecting the moisture in his mouth and then spitting into his the ocean as well. Emil tried his best to hide his smirk.

He nodded in return to Jack's, pleased that this captain seemed to have a straighter head than the one he was used to. Turning, he pointed at the crow's nest at the top of the mast and said, "I'm going to peel this armor, and then I'll take up watch." Anything to feel useful on the ship, he wasn't going to be some passenger when he still knew how a ship was supposed to run.

Rhapscallion followed close on Emil's heels. Close enough to hear his remark about spitting into the ocean and losing his entire ship because he hadn't that day. He didn't know enough about sailing to understand any of their superstitions, nor did he want to anger any grumpy, brine-bearded sea-god by not spitting into the ocean. So, he teetered closer to the edge of the plank as he crossed and casually spat over the rickety railing. He watched as one of the sailors did the same, and clapped him on the back in passing. He figured it was nice of Emil to look out for his fellow man. Or perhaps... he ought to be worried.

She’d been expecting this, based on what had happened last time. “Kerin,” Solvej warned. “Get on the boat.” She wasn’t angry or anything, or at least, she wasn’t yet. She could understand that the dwarf didn’t want to sail—she honestly wasn’t all that excited about it either, but this was about recognizing what was necessary and doing it. “It’s not going to kill you, and we’ve all dealt with worse.” She could say this for it: it certainly wasn’t the Maker-damned Deep Roads, which meant she’d take it, thank you very much. The Warden’s eyes narrowed, and she waited with her arms crossed for her junior to mount the gangplank and get her arse up there. Andaer, on the other hand, followed Emil up with what seemed to be a minimum of reservation. He did not handle sea travel quite as well as he would prefer, but perhaps he could ask the resident healer if there was a solution to that.

Suicide was not going to attempt to physically coerce the dwarf into getting on the ship, as it was not his place to force decisions upon others, not in a situation like this. If lives were on the line, then perhaps, but this was not one of those times. Still, a few choice words could be applied. Whether they would help or hurt the situation remained to be seen, but he would speak his mind nonetheless. "This is the way things are going to be. If the sight of a boat is enough to turn you away from us, then I have overestimated you, and this group has no need of your company." Maybe she would prefer darkspawn to another boat, but Solvej was right. She had already dealt with worse. The shapeshifter made his own way onto the boat, though he expected he would soon be taking to the air.

"Like hell, you don't have to be on the boat Suicide! You can fly!" Kerin said, making frantic flying motions with her hands. The man still had a way of irritating her, even despite her attempts at something of a change. However, her momentary lapse in focus allowed the crew who were trying to drag her onto the boat to push her a couple more feet toward the gangplank. That caused her to start slapping at them, "Stop touching me dammit! Fine, fine I'll get on the damn boat! Just get off me!" After that, the crew drew away from her, but still watched her in order to ensure she fufilled her pledge. She took deep breaths and stared between the boat and Solvej before shaking her head futily. "Yeah, but I have to suffer with this for weeks," She reminded Solvej.

Kerin went on to sigh and groan loudly before taking the first step on the gangplank. There she hesitated and turned toward Solvej, pointing an accusing finger at her. "You can find me a damn bucket when we get on the bloody nughumping boat," She said before crossing the plank and making a beeline straight for the mast-- nearly bowling an armorless Emil down on the way. She latched onto the mast with both hands and legs and hugged it, a mirror image of what she did the last time she was on the boat. A muffled series of knocks echoed from the pillar as Kerin slowly beat her head against the mast. "I hate boats," she growled to herself.

Emil could only look on in confusion at the little dwarf who had barreled past him. Shaking his head and muttering, "Whatever," under his breath, He grabbed onto the ropes wrapping around the mast and hoisted himself, but before he ascended all the way he paused for a moment to give the dwarf some words. "This will not be fun for you," he said, turning back to hide amusement flickering in his face. Fortunately, it also hid the choice words the dwarf mouthed back at him.

Rhapscallion had just enough time to sidestep away from Kerin as she barrelled across the decks, practically bull-rushing to her safe haven: the mast. He pinwheeled his arms, quickly regaining his balance with a strident laugh. She must really hate boats, to show such an expression on her face. One part terrified, two parts disgusted. Whenever he looked at her, it was difficult imagining she was afraid of anything. Let alone an inanimate object that bobbed along the sea, manned by fine sailors who knew what they were doing. And they were safe from all of those horrible creatures, digging through their heads like buzzards picking at a corpse. Strange that a lady would prefer beating Darkspawn then resting aboard a ship. The half-breed scratched the nape of his neck and approached the mast, glancing up at Emil as he began hoisting himself up the ropes. Had he had any experience aboard ships, other than travelling on one, then he might have busied himself at another task. Until anyone told him otherwise, Rhapscallion plopped down a few feet away from Kerin, careful not to make her anxious. “It'll be fine. He jests,” He confided softly, eyebrows wrinkling, “I think.”

Though Solvej had been the one entrusted with the task, it was Rudhale who showed up, wooden pail in hand, his other holding something that was definitely a highly-potent whiskey. He offered the dwarf the bucket first, then the flask, shrugging his shoulders as if in response to Rhapscallion’s comment. “It’s hard to say, with sailing,” he admitted freely, folding his arms across his chest. “Not usually many storms this time of year, but the weather’s hardly the only danger on the ocean, just like on land, no? You’ll be fine, m’dear—I’ll keep the alcohol flowing this time.” He smiled, but did not linger, flitting off again to who knew where on the boat, unable to hide his happiness at being returned to the Tide.




Mira stretched languidly, sending the sheets of Jack's bed into further disarray. The pirate queen herself was not present, but Mira had planned to be here by the time she arrived. The young Warden had put some effort into getting into the room unseen, but it was possible one or two of the crew had seen her sneak in, and gone to tell the newly appointed captain. It mattered little. It would be a private conversation, and that was that.

She wondered how poor Kerin was doing. Probably still attached to the mast, heaving into a bucket. Apparently it wasn't her first time on this ship, either. Mira had only gotten any amount of seasickness on her very first sea voyage, and that had been back when she was still a little girl, traveling around with her father. The waters around Kirkwall often grew menacing, and were unkind to a newcomer to sailing. After that, however, she'd grown to love the sea, and this boat in particular. She rather enjoyed the way the waves played with the hull, and the smell of the air. Perhaps in another life, she would have become a pirate queen herself, rather than a courtesan. She figured the life would have suited her.

Mira pushed herself up against the back wall, pulling her braid around to rest on her chest, and beginning the soothing work of unthreading the hair. She wore nothing but a thin blue bedrobe tied closed by a sash around her waist. Her clothes, armor, and weapons were piled in a heap next to the bed. Mira had flirted with Jack just about as incessantly as Rhuddy did today, and she liked to think her own advances had more effective results. They were an odd pair, Rudhale and Anthea, but now that she'd helped take care of the Crow that plagued them, she felt she understood them much better. Jack had always been something of a mystery to her; a very pleasurable mystery to try to uncover. And now that she had, she wasn't disappointed in the slightest.

And while she imagined this little meeting would inevitably end with the pair of them tangled up in these sheets (or perhaps on the floor somewhere), Mira did have something important she wanted to speak about first. So she made herself comfortable in Jack's bed, and waited.

She’d never say it, but she was glad to have these people aboard the ship. Well, some of them more than others. Jack had felt, for the better part of her first month without Rudhale on board, officiating in that obnoxiously-cheerful fashion he had, much like a boat without a rudder. They had been a complimentary pair, and of them, he’d been the one better suited to leadership. People loved him, when he set his mind to making it so, because he stepped into their world like all the color they’d been missing, and swept them from the gutter into a life of adventure and good, hard work. Or at least, that’s how she’d felt. Frankly dazzled by him, at least after he’d stopped moping and feeling bad for himself.

That charisma was a trait she could not replicate. She’d been the hard one, the disciplinarian and the enforcer of order. People were almost scared of her, really, and that was fine, because between the two of them, they’d been able to wield love and fear in equal measure, straightening out the ones that saw this as the easy, lazy way out of their problems, and bolstering those flagging under the weight of their guilt, their addictions, or their vices. It had been, in short, perfect, at least from her point of view, even if he was a ridiculous rake and an annoying flirt most of the time. That was color, too, and it made her world so much more vibrant than she’d ever thought she’d see it. Even Shoshana, who she’d loved, hadn’t been able to do that.

And then he’d left with a bunch of strangers, and she’d not lie and say she didn’t resent them for that. Especially at first. They’d taken her color, and her confidence, and she’d had to learn too quickly how to play both captain’s roles at once. It was, in a word, terrifying. Until she realized that she already knew everything she needed to. She was not him, and she would never have the same shine about her, but through him, somehow, even a woman as hard as Jack had learned how to be softer when the occasion called for it, to let down the walls and allow people in on purpose. And in doing so, she’d learned how to gain trust. The crew had never once wavered, accepting the changes with some sadness at his leaving but the resilience he’d imparted them with. That they’d imparted them with. And at last, she’d understood his words to her upon his departure: I’ll never let you fall, but with me here, you cannot fly.

Well, she wouldn’t put it in such fanciful terms, nor would she deny that it was good to have him back. She’d not been able to bring herself to move into his quarters. To her, that would always be his, but she was glad of what this experience had shown her of herself. Jack attacked the routine of her life with a new gusto now, and slowly, she was learning to see the colors that were always there. Maybe he was just more like a light, after all, illuminating what was already present to be seen. Either way… she may not be able to love him like that, but to her, he was still perhaps the most significant person in the narrow world she occupied.

She was less fond of the fact that he’d made her prone to such thinking, and was almost grumbling to herself when she entered her quarters, well aware that it was occupied. The door hadn’t been shut just so—but she’d guessed who it must be, so she didn’t mind. Obviously.

Heaving a mildly-disgruntled sigh, she removed the ridiculous half-cape from her shoulders and tossed it over a chair. She had not the meticulous neatness of her best friend, but there was a certain order to the disarray of her cabin nonetheless. Toeing off her boots, Jack twisted, resulting in a series of pops when her vertebrae realigned just a bit. “Making yourself comfortable, I see,” she said aloud, still not having looked in Mira’s general direction. She didn’t need to; she could guess. Her tone, as always, sounded just this side of disapproving, but one could not rely on such cues to actually discern her attitude. She tended to sound grumpy even when happy.

"I hope I don't presume too much," Mira said, shaking out her unbraided hair and turning to rest on her hip, propping her head up with a hand. "Seems a safe bet, though. There's few enough beautiful women out on the high seas. I thought you might enjoy the company of one for an evening. Captaining a ship seems like hard work." Jack probably didn't need to look at Mira to know the look in her eye at the moment. She'd seen it enough times, back before all of this had happened, back when Mira had just been a whore.

"Same goes for the Deep Roads, I suppose," Mira said, twisting her mouth into a frown. "Don't think I ever expected I'd end up there, last time we met." It was for a similar purpose, back in Cumberland. Mira didn't remember them talking very much that time, but that wasn't always the case. She liked to think they had something a little more than simple pleasures between them. It had really only been to maintain her reputation as a courtesan that she even charged the woman anything. And they had talked, sometimes, and even spent some time aboard this ship, back when it had been Rhuddy's.

"A lot's changed since then." Mira bit her bottom lip, watching Jack for a moment before deciding that now was as good a time as any to try this. "Can I ask you something serious?" She played with the edge of one of the sheets with her free hand. "Not really my style, I know, but... I'm not really who I was anymore. Anyway, I wanted to ask... do I mean anything to you?" She paused for a moment before she realized how that might be an awkward question to answer. "I mean... it seemed like you were a bit more than a repeat customer, you know? I just... ugh, that didn't come out right." Mira smiled somewhat awkwardly at Jack. Indeed, she did better when there was less serious discussion.

Jack waved a careless hand as she began the process of extricating all of her weaponry from her person; Mira could presume as much as she liked, as far as the pirate was concerned, as long as she wasn’t wrong, and she wasn’t. Old habits died hard, honestly—even on a ship full of people she knew she could trust, she carried far more steel than was strictly necessary. Not enough to sink her, of course. She wasn’t stupid. Knives, needles, throwing daggers, and even a few miscellaneous blowdarts found their way out of secret pockets, leg, arm, and torso sheaths, her hair, her headband, and several from her cleavage as well. Jack, masculine though her name might be, was quite happy she was a woman, thank you very much.

“Hn,” was the taciturn woman’s contribution regarding the Deep Roads. Honestly, she’d lived too loosely for too long to bother doing things like predicting where she was going to be in a day or a year. It was one of the habits Rudhale had managed to finesse out of her, before she really understood what he was doing. This lifestyle didn’t allow for regimentation, and it wasn’t suited for predictability. They went as the wind and water went, and there was no telling when you’d get a storm out this way. It certainly made evading the linear, ordered authorities that much easier.

“… you can ask,” she replied cautiously, eyes narrowing slightly. She’d been halfway through the buttons on her shirt—to change or remove, whichever—but ceased the movement for the moment and hopped up onto her table for a second, crossing her legs underneath her and actually turning her full attention to Mira for the moment. This wasn’t going to be idle chit-chat, which was fine, she supposed. Jack wasn’t honestly that good at it, preferring to leave it to one of the more talkative people in her life and dispense with it herself. But even when she and Mira conversed, it wasn’t usually about anything so grave. Jack told stories, Mira told jokes, they laughed, they drank, they touched. It was the way of things. But, though the capacity was infrequently exercised in brothels, she was a good listener, with a surprising attention to detail. Well, not so surprising, considering what she’d been before she took up the mantle of pirate.

The question itself raised Jack’s brows, and she rested her chin on her hands, one cradling either side of her jaw, elbows propped on knees. That was not the question she’d been expecting, but she gave the answer some thought all the same. “Of course you mean something to me,” she replied flatly, as though it should have been obvious. “I don't like brothels, Mira. Not really. That time I met you, it was his damn fault. Everything’s his fault.” It wasn’t that she never visited other brothels—Jack had her needs like everyone else, and she wasn’t one to commit to fanciful notions of any sort, but, well. It was also true that Cumberland was the one shore leave she never missed.

“Look… I don’t moon over people, or let feelings get in the way of my life. I did, once, and it nearly got me and some very important, very innocent people killed. I won’t do it again. It’s hard enough just to trust anybody. But… I trust you. Enough that I don’t feel the need to be armed in your presence, and enough that I’m even telling you this. There’s exactly two people in my entire damned life I can say that about. I think you underestimate the significance of this, if you needed to ask the question.”

"Oh," Mira said. She appeared to be rather disappointed with herself, and she was. She'd always thought of herself as someone who was good at reading people, at seeing what they wanted, but Jack had always been something of a mystery to her. Perhaps that was part of why she intrigued her so. "Never really done many feelings myself. It's, uh... kinda weird." She would be lying if she said she wasn't enjoying this a little, though. She didn't really feel the same excitement at the thought of being with others as she did for Jack. In fact, it had really just been business with everyone else. Since pleasure had been her business... well, she supposed she had trouble differentiating the two sometimes.

"Sorry for getting all serious on you," she said, sitting up and crossing her legs. "I've just... gotten quite a few scars since we last met. I guess it's got me thinking about the more important things in my life for once." It was clear that an idea floated into her head at the moment, as her eyes suddenly lit up. "You want to see them? The scars, I mean." She really hadn't been keen on showing them to many people, but for Jack, she wanted her to see them. There was a bit of playfulness in her eyes, but this was very serious for her as well. Her body told the story of how her life had so drastically changed. Every major event seemed to mark her with a new scar.

Slowly, she pushed herself up onto her knees and turned around to put her back to her pirate queen, sitting back on her heels. She pulled her mass of dark around to rest on her chest, and then undid the sash around her waist, allowing the bedrobe to fall among the other sheets, exposing her entire back. "A darkspawn shriek did these," she said, referring to the four scars cutting a swath across the middle of her back. "The Blight hit home, and these were what I got for fighting back. Led to me becoming a Warden, by chance more than anything." Pulling the bedrobe up to cover herself from the chest down, Mira arched her back and bent over backwards easily until she could look at Jack upside-down. She then turned her gaze sideways so that Jack might see the scars left from the bites at the base of her neck.

"The darkspawn took a lot of the girls. It took me a while, but I found out where they went, and convinced my new friends here to help me try and get them back. It was too late by then, though. These are from Selena. Her mind was gone when I reached her, and she nearly took me with her. She liked you, you know. I don't think she ever told you." It was still difficult to talk about that day, the day Mira's old life had truly ended for her. Breathing out through her nose she pulled herself back upright, turning around to face Jack, still holding the bedrobe over her chest. She was nothing if not a good tease.

"And now for my newest one," she said, letting the robe fall. The mark Erebus had left upon her stretched from her left shoulder all the way down to her right hip, cutting diagonally down her entire torso. "The darkspawn general in Antiva was a bit of a meanie, as you can see." There were a dozen other smaller, less notable scars, and by now even Mira couldn't remember when she had earned all of them. It was a small miracle she was even still alive, but she didn't plan on questioning. Instead, she'd make the most of it while it lasted.

"I don't think I'm really cut out for this kind of life, Jack," she said. "I figure sooner or later, it's going to hit me hard enough that I can't get back up. I guess I wanted to make sure I have something real, before that happens." She held a serious look for a moment, before cracking a devious grin, having just remembered something rather important.

"Now, if you'll just get rid of the rest of those clothes and come join me here, there's a dream I had in Val Royeaux I want to re-enact..."

Jack snorted and rolled her eyes. “Bullshit,” she groused. “Just do things the way you want, and deal with the rest as it comes.” That was certainly the lesson life had taught her. She did manage to crack a smile, albeit a rather sly one, after that, raising a brow and momentarily crossing her arms over her chest, though she did slide languidly off the table. “And here I thought I was the demanding one in this arrangement. Very well, have it your way—but I’m going to be making a much more involved inspection of those scars, after.”

They weren’t, Jack thought, ugly at all.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion
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About a fortnight into the voyage, the seas had been about as calm as could be expected. On only one night had the ship even encountered waves great enough to seriously disturb the horses in the hold, though of course the former captain’s beast was long accustomed to such travel. Aside from that and a sighting of a ship on the horizon, which had been initially worrisome but not in fact a problem, there had been absolutely no hitches in their travel whatsoever.

It was, naturally, fluffing Jack’s dander a bit. While it was true that piracy was a lot more days of smooth sailing than it was days of, well, pirating anything, they should have at least run into some Tevinter privateers by now. That lot was known for being ruthless, and frequently employing lower-class mages who had honed themselves some basic control over atmospheric condition. Weather Witches, they were called, largely because it was common for them to be female. Why this was wasn’t something Jack knew, nor was it anything she really cared about. Whatever the case, there had been no witches or any other kind of trouble since they set sail, and the lack of something to be grumpy about was making her grumpy. Naturally.

It was all about the same until midday, when she was taking a shift at the helm and enjoying the company of her best friend, though of course she’d sooner die than confess this to him. Rhuddy, who had gone for a moment to the prow of the vessel, noted something slightly irregular in the pattern of the water against the boat, and his brows knit together in confusion. He wasn’t the sort of man who often second-guessed himself, but something about what he was seeing was so strikingly-incongruous that he wondered if his eyes must be deceiving him. “Anthea, darling,” he called back to his former first mate, and he took her irritated grunt at the endearment to mean she was listening.
“I’m not drunk right at the moment, am I?” It was a decent-enough question—while he could think of no reason now why he should be so intoxicated as to believe himself otherwise, that didn’t mean there wasn’t one.

Instead of dignifying that with a response, the woman handed the helm off to a crewman for a moment and approached until she was looking at what he was. It took her a second, but she understood why it was wrong shortly thereafter, and shook her head, the beads in her hair clacking together. “Not unless we both are, and that seems unlikely.” He was about to respond when he noticed something else, like a dark spot deep in the water, almost as if a shadow had passed over them. It grew larger, but… “Not over… under. There’s something right under the boat. Anthea—” but she was already moving, grabbing the helm back from the man who held it, and shouting at the rest of the crew to hoist the sails. She planned to outrun it, from the sounds of things, but he didn’t think this was simply a whale surfacing at a bad moment. This was something much… larger.

“Hadvar, the lyrium blasters!” he shouted at the dwarf, who immediately ran below deck to retrieve and set the objects. “Catapults, ballistae! Incoming from below, ladies and gentlemen!” He sounded downright gleeful, which by this point was nothing new to anyone on the boat. He only used that particular tone when there was a suicidally-stupid fight on the horizon, and as a result, they knew what to prepare for.

“Hold her steady,” he told Jack, in a much calmer tone, and she nodded shortly, just before the first Blight-dark tentacle shot up from below, wrapping around the hull of the ship with enough force to put a crack in the railing that generally prevented people from going overboard. The tendril was thick, perhaps three feet wide, though it tapered to a narrower point closer to the end. The suckers on the pale grey underside of it oozed with something black and viscous, probably something they should not touch. The tentacle was soon joined by another, then a third, and three shot up on the other side of the ship as well, binding the Tide in a death-grip the like of which they were not going to escape without a serious fight.

It was so perfect he could have laughed.

Solvej had been feeling somewhat… unwell for a few hours at least, having woken up that morning and vomited over the side of the ship for the first time for no discernible reason. She was never seasick, not since her first voyage, and that had been almost two years ago, now. The last one hadn’t made her sick, not even during the storm, but it was hard to describe her feeling as anything other than ill. Nevertheless, she brushed off Andaer’s inquiry as to if he could assist, figuring that all she really needed was a bit of fresh air. Perhaps some of the food had been bad, though it didn’t seem likely, given the current captain’s fastidiousness about running her ship properly.

It wasn’t until about the time that the pirates were wondering about the water that she understood what she was feeling had nothing at all to do with the ocean, and everything to do with Darkspawn. She had never heard of a Tainted squid before, nor of one so large, but there was no other way to describe the massive, slickly-noxious appendages that seemed keen on embracing the boat in a deathgrip. Without armor or a weapon on her person, she also knew it was best to leave the crew to their own devices when it came to setting up the things Rudhale was yelling about. So she did the only thing she could think to do—she grabbed a pair of harpoons from a neat stack of fishing equipment and took one in hand much like she would a spear, stabbing it into the nearest tentacle. The other, she dropped at Kerin’s feet on her way past. “Don’t think puking on it will help,” she offered wryly, but there was no time for the wasting, and she turned to her task immediately thereafter.

It probably shouldn’t surprise her that such a creature as this existed, and if it existed, it could be Tainted. Wolves and bears grew larger and twisted when consumed by the corruption; she could only presume that this was also possible for those creatures which made their home in deep waters.

Mira had felt unwell from the moment she awoke. It had been a frantic moment of trying to unravel herself from the sheets of Jack's bed, after which she sprinted stark naked to the top deck, only barely having the foresight to grab her mass of unruly hair and pull it away from her face before she hurled the contents of whatever she'd eaten the previous night overboard. After that she crawled back down below deck and curled up in bed once more, bringing a bucket with her this time. She stayed there long after Jack left, her moment of greatest activity being when she managed to get some small clothes on.

Considering that she had relatively little experience dealing with the Warden's ability to sense darkspawn compared to, say, Solvej, it wasn't until the tentacle smashed against the hull that she realized that her sickness might not be entirely due to the sea. She staggered out of bed as though she were drunk, stumbling over to her things and attempting to slip into a pair of her trousers. She'd nearly gotten them on when the ship rocked again, sending her sprawling onto her back and bumping her head harshly against the wooden floor. Muttering curses to herself, she hastily strapped on her belt and slipped a couple of vials into it, at least one of multiple varieties. There wasn't any time for armor, so she just grabbed her kris sword and headed topside.

When she arrived, she realized the armor would have been pointless anyway. "What in the..." she murmured, watching Suicide stab the spear-end of his staff deep into the tentacle that was coiling around the ship. She didn't figure her own weapon would do much here, but maybe if the thing had a weak spot, her corrosive vial could open it up, and let someone else do some damage to it.

Kerin didn't think it could get any worse. Imagine her surprise when it inevitably did. It felt like a war was raging inside her belly and whoever was winning, she was undoubtedly losing. And there was nothing she could do but curl into a ball, wrapping around the mainmast. She soon forgot which was worse, expelling the contents of her belly, or the dry heaves that occured when there was nothing to expel. She'd fight twenty Morpheuses and ten Erebuses just not to feel as bad as she did then. Every wave the boat hit she felt twice over, every errant wind bashed against her skull and for once death didn't seem all that bad. Even Rudhale's swill did nothing to put her out of her misery.

She'd just managed to fall asleep when the oily tentacle rose from the sea. It woke her with a start and another heave of her guts, but she was forcing her way to her feet anyway. There was a fight to be had and she had a lot of anger to work out. She would find it hard to just push through the sickness however. Her legs gave way under her weight, leaving her sprawling on the deck. Another dry heave followed, but she found her way to her knees anyway. As she did, a harpoon found its spot in front of her, along with a couple of words from Solvej. Kerin didn't hear what they said, and only grunted in response.

She took the harpoon and used it as a crutch to to hobble across the deck. She'd help fight the damn thing, she just hoped the others didn't expect her to be much good in the shape she was in. Emil proved to be far better suited to the task. From his perch in the Crow's Nest, he could only watch in the shock as tentacles began to rise out of the water and wrap around the ship. The sudden halt of their forward progress nearly had thrown him out of the nest, his only saving grace was the arm still attached to the mast. The pain in his arm jerked him into action, and he reached behind the mast and throwing his quiver over his shoulder and taking a hold of his bow. "What in the Maker's name is that bloody thing?!" He boomed from above, nocking the first of his arrows.

He leaned his back against the mast to brace himself and fired off a number of shots into the tendrils-- for all the good that'd do. His arrows were good enough to kill any man or darkspawn alive, but against a giant beast like the one they were currently up against, he might as well been spitting on it.

Cheek firmly pressed against forearm, Rhapscallion swayed in his hammock bellow the decks. His dreams involved Dekton soaring overhead, wings like great fingers kissing the clouds, and Emil sailing the seas beneath him. Hair tousled, actually smiling for once. He dreamt of rose gardens filled with lilac-colored butterflies, tended by gentile hands, alighting from Ethne's shoulders and cheeks and nose. He overlooked them from a strange vantage point, content and afloat. Suddenly, everything shook apart. The clouds crumbled inward and the ocean closed into a dark hole, pulling the scenery in like a gaping mouth. He found himself splayed on the ground, tangled in the hammock and the itchy blankets he'd been given. A storm, maybe? Working his arms and legs loose from their wooly-holds, Rhapscallion rubbed the sleep from his eyes and attempted to find his jellyfish legs, but jolted forward when something rocked the ship like a toyboat.

It hit him like a brick. The unmistakable stench of Darkspawn, roiling like a rotten mix of corpse-stew and fish. His stomach lurched. It was a bizarre combination. Crewmen rushed past him, pulling on boots and roaring commands back and forth. He, too, followed suit and wrestled his tunic back on before trudging up the stairs alongside them, unsure of what he should be doing. It sounded like there was a fight to be had, but surely Darkspawn did not command ships. Nor had Emil signaled of any pirates or ill-intentioned folk bandying towards them. His senses were hardly wrong. Darkspawn, alright. The Taint was heavier the closer he got to the upper deck, and as soon as the salty breeze touched his face, Rhapscallion's breath caught in his throat. A giant squid. Disgustingly warped, oily and slick. He ducked underneath a whipping tentacle, sidling towards the railing.

Little good his weapons would do against such a large beast. Getting in close seemed like a bad idea, as well.
The initial barrage of harpoons and arrows seemed to have little effect on the fleshy tendrils, though the ones that were stabbed deeply enough bled a little, the substance thicker and blacker than it properly should be. Like any other Tainted creature, this one was capable of passing the infection, and stank—fish, death, and spume seemingly warring for dominance in what had until a few moments ago been fresh salt air. Rudhale was almost offended, actually. He’d intended to leave the worst of the stink behind when he’d abandoned Ferelden, after all. It was a defiling of something sacred, if one were to ask the pirate. Perhaps fortunately, everyone was a little too busy for that.

Further back, behind Solvej and Kerin, Ethne was having a go at a tentacle of her own, bombarding it with ice spells. The air around her was slightly distorted, a faint haze of red hovering just atop her skin, as though she exuded a light with almost no illumination. The girl was channeling a spirit, but not one that she’d had cause to channel before. Vigilance was much more aggressive than his sisters, and those standing in close enough proximity to her would feel the same surging of adrenaline and battle-high in themselves. The ice appeared to bother the creature a little more than being straightforwardly stabbed, but… not everyone could use it. And she had not the ability to assist in icing anyone’s weapon over, so it looked like they’d simply have to make do with what they had.

The tentacle that Solvej was working at lashed about on the deck, trying to knock away the thing attacking it, and elsewhere, the others were doing the same. Another erupted from the water, this one longer than the others, and tipped with a triangular section that contained a number of suckers. Unlike the others, mostly dark save for the undersides, the entirety of this one was a pale, sickly off-white. It seemed to strike around at random, but it wasn’t long before it was on a course to knock Emil right out of the nest… and probably take the tip of the mast with it.

Had he been a moment slower the tentacle would have taken him with the mast. A lunge to his side saw to it that the tentacle wouldn't be the death of him, but the fall posed that very same risk. He dropped his bow and let it fall where it would while he reached out with both hands. Shoulder jarred and bones screamed as he gripped a section of the rigging, but he'd stave off a second death that little bit longer. The rope strained with his weight, and the white tentacle seemed intent on being the cause of his end, snapping his section of the rigging. Instincts honed from his younger years on a pirate vessel saw to it he wouldn't fail on another, he lunged again, tangling up in more rigging, this one connected to the railing below. He rolled dangerously down the rigging and it was only at the last second he reached out and grabbed a piece of rope.

Again his arm protested, and this managed to cause a yell of pain to form in his throat. He looked up and realized just how close he was from being dumped into the choppy waters below. He was holding on to the rigging, but his legs were left dangling over the railing. Barking with the effort, he hauled himself back on to the deck and threw himself to the deck