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Ethne Venscyath

"No matter how far or how fast you run, there are some things that remain inescapable."

0 · 803 views · located in Thedas

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

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“I have to cut these jangling chains, or they will strangle me one day.”


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Name: Ethne Venscyath
Pronunciation: EHTH-nay vehn-SKI-ahth (rhymes with faith-way den-free-moth)
Race: Elf
Age: 21
Sex: Female
Sexuality: Bisexual
Height: 5’3”
Build: Ethne is best classed as slim, with a notable lack of overt musculature and little to no excess fat.
Class: Mage
Specialization: Spirit Healer
Master Class: Fadewalker
Warden? No, though she has been offered the Joining and is considering it presently.

Appearance: Strictly in appearance, Ethne is innocence personified. A youthful face never quite lost all hint of childish roundness, and her porcelain complexion and overlarge eyes only add to the doll-like effect of her small frame and delicate gestures. She is perhaps the last person one would expect to see on a battlefield, and were it not for the bladed staff at her back, it would perhaps be impossible to understand what she was doing in a warzone.

She is apparently conscious of the fact that she appears far too frail, because she intentionally stands straight to help compensate for her meager height, and when she speaks, she does so with clear diction, making an obvious effort to downplay her Tevinter accent. She wears her strawberry-blond hair long enough to partially obscure the fact that her ears are very pointed, but it’s hard to mistake her build for anything other than elven. Curiously, her eyes are more blue than green, though the latter color is present as well.

The young woman wears the robes traditional to Tevinter, in a subdued dark green with golden accents. Rather than the conventional hood, however, she wears an enchanted topaz circlet with equivalent properties; the only gift she has ever received.



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Demeanor: Miss Venscyath, as she was most commonly addressed back in Tevinter, is generally of a surprisingly sunny disposition. Her optimism pervades everything she does, and though it at times borders on truly naively foolish, it also happens to be somewhat contagious. This, while not the reason she was chosen to lead a team of seasoned warriors on a suicide run, is certainly a convenient fringe benefit. She literally seems to exude hope sometimes, and the result is a person that most people find at least somewhat pleasant to be around.

She’s sociable, bordering on chatty, though she knows well enough when people would rather not speak, and respects these moments and demeanors as much as she is able. Though she is no stranger to battle, open-field combat and sabotage were never her expertise, and fighting Darkspawn is certainly still new to her. Because of this, she is a bit uncertain of how she will be received by others, but chooses to believe that everyone will do their best and help when they can. She intends to rely upon the knowledge of the others when necessary, and though she knows that they are not expected to succeed, she refuses to accept that they won’t.

Though one might suppose a woman like herself to be skittish about doing dirty work, her actions in battle hint at someone who has too much familiarity with killing. She will never kill anyone without necessity, but if necessity is present, she does not hesitate. In a fight, she is strangely calm, relying upon a certain degree of inner tranquility to propel her through the violence and out the other side of it, alive and intact. In group settings, her tactics center around healing, but she has an impressive mastery of the Primal School of magic for offensive purposes.

Fears: More than anything, Ethne fears being made Tranquil. As far as she is concerned, it would be a fate worse than death. For this reason, she tends to be wary of Templars, though she is careful to judge each of them as an individual. She also fears her inevitable return to her homeland, due to the circumstances under which she left it.

Hangups/Quirks: Ethne struggles with the burdens of leadership. Given her history, she is much more accustomed to obeying orders than giving them out. Indeed, it is sometimes the case that a sufficiently authoritative male voice telling her to do something will trigger automatic obedience, even if unintentionally. She is usually able to catch herself before completing the action, but not always. Part of her training involved stamping out the emotions that demons most often prey on, so those traits are subdued, though still present, and while this might seem to be a good thing, the fact that she has very little pride or ability to get angry or relax, for example, is detrimental at times. Also tends to sing in Tevinter when particularly content or sad. Sometimes it’s the Chant of Light, other times something else.

Opinions:
The Chantry: Technically, Ethne was raised in an Andrastean household, but slaves are rarely given much religious education, even the important ones. That said, she thinks the Chant itself is pretty, and has nothing against it, but she cannot say that she herself is much of a believer.
Magi: Being one, her view is perhaps more favorable than average, but she has seen horrible things done with magic. She has done some horrible things with it, but she thinks that warrants caution, not fear.
Templars: Templars tend to unnerve her. She doesn’t like the fact that they can drain mana: smiting was a particularly-awful form of punishment in her childhood. Even so, she makes an honest attempt not to judge one by the standards of another.
Elves: Honestly? She wishes she weren’t one. She doesn’t much understand the Dalish, though she does know a few things about them.
Dwarves: Ethne has met few dwarves, but she finds their culture curious.
Humans: Most of the people Ethne interacts with on a daily basis are human. She finds that just like anyone else, there are good sorts and less-good sorts.
The Grey Wardens: She’d not entirely certain how they found her, but she’s grateful to the Wardens. By conscripting her for this mission, they have given her something to do with herself, a chance to repent some of the damage she has done and the opportunity to remain as far away from Tevinter as possible for as long as she can.
The Mission: Well… it sounds dangerous, and none too simple, but Ethne truly believes that where there’s a will, there’s a way. This is more literally true for her than most people, but all the same she is driven to succeed and do some good in the world.



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Weapon of Choice: A bladed staff. Her own is whitewood, with a focus stone of a deep blue at one end and a scythe-like blade at the other.
Armor/Apparel: Traditional Tevinter mages’ robes, dark green and trimmed in gold and dark grey fur of some kind. Hers are of the more modest cut available.
Mount: Her horse, stolen from her old home, is of the particular Tevinter breed trained to be calm around the use of magic. He’s brown with white splotching, sometimes referred to as “painted.”

Level: 17
Skills:
Fadewalker:Vessel, Amity, Vigilance, Compassion
Spirit Healer: Healing Aura (Radiance), Group Heal (Unity), Revival, Vitality
Primal: Chain Lightning, Stonefist, Tempest
Creation: Heal, Heroic Aura
Arcane: Arcane Shield
Elemental: Winter’s Grasp, Cone of Cold
Entropy: None
Spirit: None



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Place of Birth, Nation of Origin: Minrathous, Tevinter Imperium
Social Status: Former Slave
Personal History: Ethne was born to a maidservant and a stable hand, both servants (though not slaves) in the home of a particularly wealthy magister. The first four years of her life, she is told, were passed in relative peace, save that she was always troubled by nightmares that she did not understand.

It was at this young age that she first discovered her magic. It was a small thing, really; the magister’s son was teasing her in the cruel way children sometimes have, and she got angry enough that she froze his feet to the ground and ran away. He of course reported the incident to his father, who had a choice before him: execute her, as was the typical punishment for elves who raised a hand to a member of the ruling class, or sell her. Being the kind of man who was very interested in profit (the reason he did not keep many slaves was because servants are cheaper when you don’t have to house them), he decided on the latter.

Slaves with some grasp of magic were not all that unusual, but they did tend to fetch better prices at market than non-magi, and the fact that she was young enough to be trained as her new owner pleased was a benefit rather than a detriment. She was indeed purchased, though it wasn’t until a few years later that Gaius Corvinius realized just what a bargain he’d received.

Since the advent of the Chantry, the number of somniari born to Tevinter households had been steadily on the decline, and by the time Ethne was compelled to describe her nightmares to her master, it was suspected that as few as five might remain. Granted, the fact that she was an elf complicated things, but there were uses even for a somniari slave. She was educated, taught mastery of the Fade, and transformed into Gaius’s personal dreamwalking assassin.

When Gaius at last succumbed to old age, Ethne did not wait to see which of his sons would inherit her as part of the estate. Instead, she stole a horse and ran for the border. Her abilities kept her a step ahead of the pursuit, but she had no plan beyond getting as far away as possible.

As it turned out, she rode straight into a battlefield. Having never personally experienced the horror of fighting Darkspawn, she nearly died several times, but managed to survive the skirmish, at which point she was found by Warden-Commander Malik, who, upon hearing her story, offered her a spot in the army. Without much other direction, she agreed, and it was three months later that he told her of his particularly risky plan…

Professional History: Ethne’s training includes the usual fare for mages of the Tevinter Imperium, though she was kept far away from blood magic, given that it has been known to make somniari more susceptible to demonic possession, something that is best avoided at all costs. Because of her unique capabilities, she was also taught a great deal of self-discipline from another similarly-gifted mage, and given access to something of an education, all nearly unheard-of for a slave.

It made her a much more effective assassin, and she spent several years serving at the pleasure of Magister Gaius, who rose to a truly horrendous amount of power with the ability to hold Tranquility over the heads of his enemies, of a kind that they would be unable to prevent. She killed several people in the Fade during this time, and grew to be sick with guilt. Still, the notion that she should do anything but obey was simply never introduced to her, and so she saw no other choice, at least until Gaius died.

The last few months have accustomed her to more conventional battle, though it is still comparatively new. Her connection to the Fade makes her a top-notch healer, if a somewhat inexperienced one. Recently, she has been asked to walk through the dreams of the Grey Wardens, and experiment with locating Darkspawn before the Taint informs the Wardens. This has been quite successful, and her ability to do so made her what Malik considered the ideal candidate for the team.

So begins...

Ethne Venscyath's Story

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Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath

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Prologue: The Gathering

“Officially, it never happened. The mission, the task to which they were set, was so clandestine that it was not even given a name. Their team too was nameless, their destination only nascent thoughts in the mind of one girl, and their fate… well, I would not trust it to the Maker’s hands.”



Warden-Commander Malik sat back in his chair, unusually grim-faced and frustrated. He knew the upper echelons of the Wardens were hanging on to a number of secrets, deeds perhaps best left out of the public consciousness, but even he had not expected conspiracy on this scale, an underbelly that ran in just as many directions as the streets of Orzammar. The information was his by right with his ascension, and he was glad he’d only have to carry it for another ten or fifteen years, to say the least.

A soft knock disturbed his silence, and he closed the aged tome decisively, throwing another stack of papers over it. This office, apparently once the abode of a minor slave-trade official, was one of only a few such places that had not been burned in the Kirkwallian riots, back when the slaves revolted. It had been loaned to him for the duration of his command of the Grey Warden lines in the Free Marches. “Come in,” he called, knowing full well who it was.

The wooden portcullis swung inward, admitting a slip of a woman who yet wore a child’s face. She glanced around, entering with tentative steps. It was difficult to believe that she was one of those legendary Tevinter dreamers, but Malik was far too wise to stand on appearance. “You sent for me, messere?”

He nodded, smiling kindly and gesturing for Ethne to be seated. When she did, propping her staff against a bare stone wall, he leaned forward again, placing his elbows on the flat surface of the too-ornate cherry-wood desk and clasping his hands together. He made a study of the small mage over them, but for all that she was apparently intimidated by the trappings of authority, she was probably much used to such scrutiny, for she chose a spot over one of his shoulders and stared at it until he spoke.

“Have you made any progress?” Though the question was direct, it was not unkind, and he was pleased when her focus shifted up and to the left, so that she was properly meeting his eyes. She’d need to be able to do that.

“Yes,” she replied with a effusive nod and a brief flash of teeth. “The woman you referred me to, Solvej… I walked in her dreams yesterday. I can follow the trajectory of the communications… sometimes.” She shifted, folding her hands demurely in her lap.

“Sometimes?” He prodded carefully. That wasn’t quite what he’d hoped for, but his consulting mage had pointed out that so much of what happened in the Fade was imprecise that they would be lucky if it worked at all. This would have been much easier if Ethne was a Warden, apparently, but they couldn’t risk her death at the Joining if the mission was to stand a chance.

She bit her lip, apparently trying to find the words. “It’s… general. I know the direction in which we need to go, and I can guess what country he’s in, but I think it won’t be any more precise than that until we get closer. Perhaps an older Warden, someone longer from the Joining…?”

Malik nodded, making a small note on a piece of parchment. “It’ll have to do for now. One of the Wardens has another year on Solvej, but you’ll have to ask her if she minds. Or don’t, I suppose. I doubt there’s much she could do to stop you.” He chuckled, but she looked offended, her brow puckering as her mouth shifted into a frown.

“I would never-!” But Malik waved the comment away with an easy gesture.

“A jest, little bird.” This appeared to placate her somewhat, and her cheeks colored. That, more than anything, was what he was afraid of. The team he had assembled were skilled and deadly all, but he could not say how they would take to being led around by the diminutive sparrow in front of him.
Somniari weren’t exactly easy to come by, though, and they had precious little choice. He supposed he was just lucky that everyone had agreed to the plan, though they knew not its mechanics.

“Your company will leave under the cover of night. Transportation has been arranged for those without their own horses, and you’ll have some basic gear provided as well. Don’t waste it, but don’t hesitate to abandon it if you have to. What is your first destination?”

“Orlais.”

“You’ll want a boat then, to take across the Waking Sea. I can’t get you an official vessel, but I’ve arranged something just as good. You’ll have to ride west along the coast for a day. Use the forest if you need cover, but there shouldn’t be any boats out there at this time of year except the one I’m sending for you. Captain Bryland flies a red and black standard, and he’s your man.” Malik grabbed another piece of parchment and scrawled a note to the man himself, ensuring that he’d be when and where needed. Of course, the sea dog would insist that this meant Malik owed him one, but the Warden-Commander was willing to accept that.

He dismissed Ethne, then, and she took her leave as quietly as she’d come in. He paused for a moment, catching the last hint of red-gold as it fluttered away, and wondered briefly if he’d ever see any of them again.



Ethne stood nervously beside the cargo cart, a small, open thing which was apparently going to double as a method of travel for those without mounts. Her own horse whuffled, sniffing the cart and the other horse pulling it but otherwise minding his manners. A solitary raven perched on the side of the wooden contraption, but Ethne didn't disturb it. If she'd bothered to think on it, she would have found the behavior a mite odd, but she was presently too distracted to devote the necessary consideration to the black bird. As of yet, none of the others had arrived, though Malik had assured her that all would know where to go.

Clandestine matters were not a specialty of hers, but she knew the basic idea, and she allowed herself some hope that this would all proceed as planned. A few deep, calming breaths of the crisp coastal air put her in a better frame of mind, and she adjusted her cloak slightly to better block the ocean breeze. The calendar year had only just turned, and temperate as the Marches were, there was still a nip in the air.

She knew only a little of those with whom she’d be undertaking the journey, and none knew anything of her, save Solvej perhaps, who might still be surprised to see her standing here. She was aware that not all of her companions were to be Wardens, and that a few came from far-off places like Ferelden and Orzammar, but beyond that, she could not say. The task of organizing their expedition had been Malik’s alone, and she was left to trust his judgment.

A small noise alerted her to the approach of the first of her comrades, and Ethne drew herself up to her full height, blinking as she shifted her facial features into something that looked half-respectable. Her shaking hands, she tucked under her cloak. "You can do this. We can do this." They were her allies, there was no need to be afraid, after all. In truth, it wasn’t them she was scared of: it was the idea of leading them.


The Mission Briefings have been updated.
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Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Rivera Hawke Character Portrait: Elpis and Caracoc Character Portrait: Kylar Stern Character Portrait: Kerin Valar

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She turned the letter over in her once more as she rested her lips on her pint. The courier who had dropped it off in this pub was ordinary, and his clothing unassuming, but the letter, the letter was extraordinary. She had read it numerous times now, and had memorized the Warden-Commander's name. One mister Malik Hastan, Commander of the Gray. She knew of the Gray Wardens, what dwarf didn't? Those men and woman who marched into the deep roads to die taking as many darkspawn as they possibly could with them. True and irrevocable warriors with an equal to none. She had entertained thoughts of becoming one once. To escape the Casteless life and to replace it with a Warden title. Life had all but crushed her dreams by now.

She had escaped Orzammar by a different means. Some called it murder, she called it retribution. They dared put themselves above her, they believed they could bend her to their will. They had threatened her with her brother's life. She still refused, and for it, lost he brother. But they had lost much more. Turns out, a dwarf in the throes of rage is a match for a couple of nobles and their guardsman. Kerin Valar would not and will not bend to anyone's will but her own. Fate and destiny could go sod off, the only one who had any say in her life now was her. Now that she was on the surface, her life was her own to live. Though, at what cost?

Kerin tipped the pint and swallowed some of the ale. It was stout for a human ale, but paled in comparison to the bootleg lichen spirits Dust Town could provide. That stuff could pickle a dragon's liver. Kerin drank as she read the letter once more:

Malik Hastan wrote:To Miss Kerin Valar, formerly of Orzammar, the Grey Wardens at Weisshaupt offer their greetings.

It has come to our attention that you are possessed of talents which may prove valuable to a particular task being undertaken by the Wardens in cooperation with certain skilled outside parties who know the value of discretion and secrecy. If you are willing to face difficulty greater than most will ever understand for the sake of saving people who will never know of your deeds, your presence is requested in the Grey Warden encampment at Kirkwall, in the Fee Marches. If monetary compensation is your requirement, you have only to name a figure.

Should you accept, please meet the courier of this letter at the docks in three days’ time for your transport.

With respect,
Malik Hastan,
Commander of the Grey



The front was business-like, very official, very impersonal. In fact, Kerin had almost crumbled the note up and tossed it when she read it. It sounded as if they were trying to buy her services, and she wasn't for sell. Money was nice and all, but it alone would persuade her. She had her pride and her principles. However, the back of the letter is what really caused the stir in her heart. A personal note from the Warden-Commander himself. She flipped the letter to remind herself of what it said.

Malik Hastan wrote:Kerin,

If you’ll forgive the informality, I’d much rather put this another way. This mission is vital, but some are already calling it impossible, a fool’s errand. A friend of mine, long since departed from Orzammar, has told me that impossible tasks are something of a specialty of yours. To be frank: the odds aren’t good, but the deed must be done.

I can’t say more here, in case the courier is intercepted, but I wanted you to understand what you’re getting into. I’ll be more forthcoming in person.

-Malik



This sounded much more like a plea. That he understood her worth to her team, and had the wherewithal to write to her like a person instead of a nobody. This was better than the official crap on the front. Words such as "impossible", "odds" and "a fool's errand" had already managed to endear her to the cause. She sighed heavily and cocked her head to the side. What did she have to lose? Her life? Her life was hers to spend anyway she wanted. With that, she crushed the letter between her hand and stuffed in her pocket, and downed the rest of her pint. She'd need to travel to the docks. She'd need a pony to do that. She'd have to spend what little of the noble's coin she'd picked off of his body to do that.

A fair price for freedom.




The trip was uneventful. The boat ride was horrendous, as expected. It wasn't natural for a dwarf to go sailing across the water like some sort of fish. She'd spent most of her time under the deck hugging tightly to a post and using her helmet for an impromptu bucket. She'd made sure she'd scrubbed the hell out of the helmet afterward... She had met the warden commander, and atypically for Kerin, she managed to keep her tongue around him. The man was the Commander and that fact alone managed to gain him immense respect from the dwarf. He briefed her on the mission and she took all the information in stride, ending the meeting in "Just point me in the right direction."

When night had fallen, she found herself on the pony approaching the meeting spot for the rest of her team. The first person she seen- their captain- was this so-called "Dreamer" a right stringy looking elf. She had managed to stand straight up with all of her height.

Kerin wasn't impressed.

She removed her helmet (exposing her casteless tattoo in the process) and leaned forward on her pony, staring at the elf. "So... You're the captain, huh twig-bean? I'd expected someone bigger. You look like you're about to jump out of your skin- would save the darkspawn the trouble of doing it for you," she said with all the finesse of a hammer. Kerin dismounted her pony and lead it towards the wagon- taking a seat in the back as she waited the rest of the team. "As long as you don't get us all killed twig-bean, then I've got no problem with you. Hell, even if you do, I still won't hold it against you. It was my choice to be here."

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

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The lone raven perched on the cart watched with slightly narrowed eyes as the slim elven girl made her way to it, and waited. She appeared pitifully small... but Suicide supposed he had little reason to boast at the moment. After all, he was just a bird. The elven girl's legs looked like tree trunks compared to his at the time. But when he chose to reveal his presence to her, he would tower over her by nearly a foot and a half, and he didn't doubt his natural body had twice again her weight.

But as Suicide had learned since leaving the Wilds, size was not always important. These northern folk were, almost without exception, smaller than his people, but in the last few months he had seen valor and prowess among them like he had never witnessed among his own people. These Grey Wardens, as they called themselves, often made up in strength and skill what they lacked in sheer size. They were a fascinating group to Suicide, warriors that had devoted their lives to a company, condemned themselves to death so that others might live a while longer. They were admirable qualities, but Suicide had turned down Malik's offer to join them. The Path demanded that he fight alongside those who were worthy, but Suicide's death would be on his own terms. This taint these warriors took into themselves would eventually destroy them, whether they were ready for it or not. Seeing no guarantee that his Path could be followed to completion by the time the taint took its toll on his body, Suicide had been forced to refuse.

But that hadn't stopped him from joining the Wardens' cause. The darkspawn needed to be destroyed, this much was indisputable, and a small company of skilled individuals could do something to achieve that. It didn't require that he join their ranks, and it gave him an opportunity to fight alongside others of his caliber, against odds that were largely considered insurmountable. It was perfect.

Or it would be perfect, if Suicide could come to value those he fought with. As for this first one, he wasn't sure. He could smell the nervousness about her. He could see it in the way she stood, the way her hands shook ever so slightly. And in her face, which appeared so innocent... childish almost. She was their leader? She did not look a warrior in the slightest. This led Suicide to believe that she was likely hyper-intelligent, perhaps skilled in magical arts, or otherwise more dangerous than she looked. Wisdom was acquired through experience in the Wilds, and Suicide had learned the hard way that many things were far more dangerous than they appeared.

He cocked his head slightly to the side when he heard her reassure herself. The first of their group was arriving. She hid her shaking hands. She was ashamed of her fear? There was little point in trying to hide it... it would be easy to see either way. Suicide couldn't help but wonder why this little one had been chosen to lead them. Perhaps she had hidden skills, and was more dangerous than she appeared, but she wasn't inspiring in the slightest. She appeared as though she would make a far better follower than a leader.

The one who approached, though... Suicide approved of her. She was even shorter than the elf, but not nearly so thin. She had muscle on her, there was power vested in those stocky limbs. And she spoke strongly, immediately calling out the fact that their leader was as thin as a leaf. Twig-bean, she said. It earned a laugh from Suicide, which came out as a single caw from his raven form. And yet she did not disapprove of the twig-bean's presence, stating that it had been her choice to be here. Spoken well, he thought.

Figuring it was high time to reveal himself to his new companions, Suicide cawed loudly to draw their attention to him, hopping off the side of the cart and gently flapping his wings to settle lightly upon the ground. A brilliant flash of light later, and the raven had been replaced by the crouching form of Dekton Hellas, the Chasind shapeshifter. He rose slowly to his full height, towering over both of the women before him, a mountain of muscle beside the twig bean. They would both be able to examine his powerful physique quite well, as he wore no shirt at the moment. The climate here was quite temperate, at least compared to the Wilds. His lower body was covered by simple garments of fur and leather, ending in boots of bear skin and fur that were quite clearly fashioned by hand. He exemplified the savage appearance, actually. Much of his skin was tarnished by scars from countless struggles against the wild. Dark tattoos striped diagonally across his face and eyes, and his hair was fashioned in a short cut mohawk. His posture was poor, slightly hunchbacked, meaning that he could have appeared taller if he'd tried. The only thing that was not distinctly barbarian about him was his complete lack of any weapons. No massive axe or maul was slung over his shoulder, no ludicrously large hammer that only a Chasind could dream of wielding.

He gave a nod of greeting, first to the elven girl, and then to the dwarven one. "I apologize if I've startled either of you," he said, his deep voice steady and level, "I often spend time in the form of a raven. Few are the given the opportunity to have wings, and I don't mean to squander the gifts I receive along my Path. I am called Dekton, formerly of clan Hellas, though in recent years I have been known as Suicide. You may call me what you wish." Suicide turned to speak more directly to the twig bean. "The one called Malik offered me a place in the mission that you are to lead. I accepted. I offer you the strength of the bear, the speed of the wolf, the sight of the raven, the bite of winter, and the grasp of the earth. If you would have me, I am yours to command."

His face showed remarkably little emotion as he spoke, and his entire form was remarkably still, a contrast to the slight trembling of the girl who he had just offered his services to.

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Lukas Hoffman

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Lethargic and lumbering was the sight of the man, with a faltering hand using the nearest cobblestone wall for support, in vain. The figure finally lost balance and his body landed rather undignified on his own bottom, a look of stupor and addled thoughts evident upon his face. His bright eyes were glazed and unfocused as their lids inevitably made their way south to curtain his fleeting vision. He’s been fighting it for too long without proper rest, either consciously or unconsciously, and now his body demanded at least a moment to lie still, to catch its breath. In that moment his weakness bared down on him, as he began to surrender without realizing it.

And for an instant everything was gone, he was at peace and his mind dulled ever closer to unconsciousness. At last he gave out, and his eyes closed. In the instant of this his mid was flooded with images of horror and despair. Some from his past and the remembrance of one he had lost to the horrors, with twisted images of a mangled corpse of his dear sister long since taken by the Fade. The other images were of the machinations and deeds of demonic presences, seeking to corrupt and to control in their insatiable appetite for domination.

His eyes split open and a sharp inhalation filled his lungs, he quickly scanned his vicinity and found no trace of what his minds eye had seen. At this point, it was hard to tell whether or not these vision were product of his own mind, or the torturous intents of the Fade dwellers in an effort to erode the mental fortitude of their prey. A quivering hand reached for a pouch and grasped a small vial, Lukas purchased this earlier this day, the merchant promising him that this concoction would keep him alert and awake. It wasn’t long before a violet colored and rather distasteful liquid slid down his throat, and he forced himself onto his feet.

By now he would be late to the gathering, and this mage was never known to be late for appointments. As he neared Lukas could feel the effect of the potion taking effect, and indeed he became more alert, stronger, and a wry yet enthused smile graced his lips in this small victory in his ethereal adversary, for the moment he’d bought more time for himself. He could now see the camp and those gathered around it, his smile now extending ear to ear as he broke into a mad sprint. When he reached them, in a boisterous unapologetic display he leaped into there midst, garnering their attention, whether they wished it or not. He boomed, “Oh yeah! Time to get down to business, am I right?”

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Characters Present

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

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It didn't snow enough in the Free Marches, and she hated its insects. They weren't large enough to pose an actual threat like the beasts from her homeland, oh no. They were small, buzzing and buzzing around excitedly to see revealed flesh tanning under the sun's heat; then perching, suckling, spitting or vomiting or whatever the hell they did to make one itch like a flea-ridden mabari bitch. If she had more free time (and a little more madness), she would have personally undertaken a quest to murder their queen. All their queens. Drive them to extinction, claim their little antennae for the glory of the Mountain Father. It was the mountainfolk way of dealing with nuisances.

Other than that, the journey was relatively painless, and the company she kept was well enough. Solvej was a good girl, but arguably not the best sort to be alone with for hours on end. But then, who was? Their third comrade lingered enough to have his presence felt and share some choice words, but otherwise seemed to make himself scarce in conversation (which she boiled down to either a distaste for human contact, a neurotic need to scout ahead, or frequent chamber pot breaks). And Blathnat herself? Why Blathnat, when she wasn't noiselessly grumbling about bugs and slapping her forearms, was humming in the manner of a bear in a feathered hat stirring a pot of stew. That is, with her roughened throat, chin higher than usual as though sniffing a whiff of something alluring (or trying not to fall asleep at the reins), and pleased just enough. No more than was necessary. It wasn't her idea of making merry, though she'll admit her Avvar tribespeople are known hummers and feet-tappers. She remembered those long nights when they had enough wood to make a fire great enough to lick the Lady's ankles above them; the melodies carried in unison between men tending their weapons and wounded; and the girls quietly whispering so as to not interrupt them, whispering from the brush of betrothals and arrangements, chortling in silence as they pushed, shoved, teased each other. Grandfather once told her he'd heard them even as a boy on flatter lands: barbarian music, the constant hum that was carried by the wind, latching into the very mountain and its stones like a clawed ribbon. It warned strangers and other, less combative tribes to steer clear of their current home, told them of their sheer number--hers was well over a hundred strong. Needless to say, the weaker tribes kept to silence.

But today, she hummed for the sake of one horse. It was a creature that preferred being spoken to and reassured constantly (or else it would stop, stomp a bit, then begin pacing in circles like the baboon it was at heart); Blathnat was not about to tell bedtime stories and let her breath go dry for the sake of the clomping animal, so she hummed, and it took no issue.

She was cautious to dismount, as she was literally on unfamiliar ground upon arrival. The ground was something of a saturated gold, made up of grounded pebbles and flecks of... sand that sunk under thre pressure weight in copious amounts. She'd seen sand before collected in vials and tipping glasses, but never an entire landscape composed of the stuff--nor what it was all collected to border:

The great blue that buffeted shore in heaving waves.

She had to admit she was almost unnerved by the sight, but found her attention drawn by the gathering just before them. Just in time to see a charge and dive in their midsts from an ally, at that. "Take care not to slide off the side of a cliff face, boy," she chided quietly--more as a note to herself (and perhaps the templar) to watch out for that rather than an actual scolding. An impressive range of heights surrounded Lukas, and she wondered if she should have been amused. One dwarf--female, and so not the familiar face she'd been half-heartedly expecting. That Seeker was likely here already, somewhere. Lurking. And then there was...

Ah, the Chasind mage, towering over the lot like a sacred boulder. The barbarian woman cocked her head (which bobbed as the horse took its time settling), and inquired, "Wasn't I there when you showed up muttering your admirations for the Wardens?" She might have spoken for him a little if so--normally she would be aloof towards tribes not her own, even viewing them with the same distaste with which most flatlanders viewed all tribes at times, but after waltzing through Ostagar and being making friends with its inhabitants, she couldn't help but feel a certain kinship for her outertribe family. But perhaps she dreamt it after too many mugs of ale and Malik regaling her with the tale. Like Suicide, she was dressed more lightly--not shirtless, though it was terribly tempting. Blathnat did not forget the last time she stripped off her top in a Grey Warden camp. Apparently exposing one's breasts wasn't something "ladies" did in "civilized" settings; she didn't get the why, but she consented that it tended to make non-tribals uncomfortable.

She dismounted, cupped the beast's cheek for a moment, and moved on. She found her sight drifting slightly downwards. "And you're the one the Commander spoke of, are you, girl?" She said, hand on her hip, fist to her pursed, appraising lips. Then, rather abruptly, Blathnat gave Ethne a few pats on the shoulder, saying little more than "Worry not" before folding her arms and meagerly trying to get a better glimpse at the view.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

It made it possible to tolerate his presence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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Comfortably nestled between stacks of homemade pillows and itchy blankets, the Rogue was reminiscent of a curled-up mudsplasher snuffling softly, so silently, one would think that he appeared more a corpse than a sleeping man. If it weren't for the thin line of dribble pooling across his curled thumb, pillowing his face like a lover's hand. Breezy, crusty-eyed and completely unhinged from worries. That is, until he'd been assigned the mission alongside his Grey Warden companions and several other excitingly ruffled comrades, brambly convoys – the type of mission that guaranteed death and anguish and the loss of important, imperative limbs. He needed all of his limbs, respectively. It would be his undoing. So, Rhapscallion slept rather peacefully, gripping the folds of his blankets tightly in his fists while further tangling his legs.

It would've been perfect if the lady-barkeeper hadn't bustled in, huffing heatedly about how he hadn't already left this damn establishment already – and there were weary travellers downstairs who needed the room, right this instant, so get the hell out. He didn't rouse, didn't even flutter his eyelashes. She gripped the hem of his blankets and pulled them off in one felled, dramatic sweep. It was ridiculous pretending to sleep, pretending that for a few moments he could forget all about the responsibilities set across his shoulders – and he wasn't the only one, so at least he wasn't going to be alone. Electric shivers landscaped his spine, swiped it's claws across his neck and pebbled his forearms with goosebumps from the warmth that escaped in that simple cape-throwing-blanket-trick. Then, there was Solvej: his Grey Warden mentor who'd most likely roast his behind across the coals for making her wait while he snoozed. It wouldn't be in her exasperated eye rolls, it certainly wouldn't be her nervous finger tap she performed for a few seconds when she animated her thoughts without voicing them – it'd be in the slight twist of her lips as she beckoned you closer, so close, that she could slap you upside the head or grip your earlobe to reprimand you properly.

A lump bobbed disconcertingly at his throat, threatening to choke him. The lady-barkeeper hadn't budged from the foot of the bed, hands placed sternly on her waddling hips as she tapped her foot, impatiently, clearly irritated by his lack of a response. His mind wandered stridently from subject to subject, searching for a way he could tire his head and drag himself from the comforts of the dingy, dusty tavern he'd become so quickly acclimatized to. He wasn't a hero, so why the hell did they even want him on board? Inevitably, the woman tip-tapping her feet exhaled loudly, through flaring nostrils and twisted lips, reminding him that this was the last-straw before something large and heavy rounded across his head. “Woa-woa-woa, fine, Molly. I'm up, I'm up, so stop looking at me like you'll flip the bed.” He crowed solemnly, bobbing his head like a forlorn turkey, as he drug his limbs from the mass of tangled sheets and threw his legs over the bedside like anchors he wished he could keep aboard. There wasn't any avoiding it any longer. Molly's head reared forward intimidatingly, causing him to throw his hands up in defence with a chortled yelp. By Maker's tits, women scared him! She simply smiled and pranced away, immediately gratified with the results. She hadn't even been fazed that he was completely naked. Terrifying women. Terrifyingly busty women.




Oh, for the love of Andraste—” He grunted sourly, gently squeezing his stallions ribs to egg him on. The damnable beast eyed him sideways, as if to say what-the-hell-are-you-gonna-do-about-it, and continued to munch the clovers he'd been so intent on gorging himself on. “You know, if you don't keep going, she's going to kill me and you, she'll roast you. Yum, yum, roasted horse!” He proclaimed, throwing up his hands. The Grey Warden's broad shoulders twitched, stress lines forming in his back when Conquest merely snorted, clearly unimpressed by his idle threats. His shoulders arched, then slumped down in defeat. He dreamed of a moon and of stars, of a lake, and a garden. He dreamed of lilac bushes, and of roses. He dreamed of lavender. He did not, however, dream of seating a stubborn horse who refused to listen to anything he said. His body was decorated with scars, the remnants of dozens of quests and hundreds of battles and still, still, he couldn't even manage to appear anywhere on time or bully his faithful steed into bringing him anywhere he needed to be.

Sheer miracle would have it that Conquest smelled something much more delicious than the clovers and broke into a steadfast gallop in the right direction, leaving Rhapscallion clinging to the saddles' curved horn like a flapping piece of seaweed gripping a rock's face. His eyebrows creased when he first sighted the rolling wagon – they wouldn't be impressed. Blathnat would offer him sympathetic winks, hardly masking her amusement. He didn't even want to think about what Solvej would say to him. It wouldn't be pleasant. It wouldn't be full of hair-mussing delight or gentle arm punches. What would he say? What could he possibly come up with for an excuse? They both knew he was a terrible liar. He couldn't keep a straight face, damaging as it was to his roguish temperament – couldn't even fib if his life depended on it. He was naive. In many ways, he was still the innocent, unchanged, young lad Solvej had met years ago. The same mentee who'd fumbled through his joining ceremony like a coltish horse who'd just discovered how to walk properly, without stumbling over his own legs and announcing constantly that he was a Grey Warden: thus, a magnificent hero and saver of maidens.

His heart hammered like something completely apart from him. Useless as a soggy piece of parchment paper, right now. If he just quietly clopped behind the churning wheels of the waggon, perhaps he wouldn't be noticed by anyone. Only Ethne would forgive him for his untimely absence. He hadn't forgotten that he'd been the one chosen to guide her through Tevinter, ever since their fateful meeting on the battlefield – as unlikely and unsettling the idea was for Commander Malik to digest and accept. He was looking forward to seeing her again, and hopefully, would go about enlisting her aid when shielding himself from Solvej's disappointment. Refusing to whistle foolishly as he neared the straggling line of the caravan, Rhapscallion dipped his head low and leaned forward in his saddle, trying desperately to make himself appear smaller: not be seen, not be seen. Though, he watched them, owlishly, through his eyelashes. Mismatched and strikingly laughable. The sight made him smile: Elves, humans, dwarves, alike.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

.



You killed another templar!

My lady, he was not undeserving of it.

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

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

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

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

Looting off a body!

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

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

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






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

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

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

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

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

These visions will be the end of me.





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mission Briefings have been updated.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas

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Suicide cursed himself as he plummeted from the skies, tucking his wings in for better speed. He had been trying to keep a lookout for the group as they traveled, watching from above in his raven form. The purpose was twofold: he did indeed want to try and give the group warning should there be a force of enemies ahead, or anything else noteworthy... but he was also still somewhat uncomfortable traveling in a group. Even when he had traveled with the Wardens after leaving the Wilds he had mostly kept his distance, observing them from the trees as a raven.

The Avvar Warden had indeed been there when he'd finally revealed himself to Warden Commander Malik, and he had nodded when she inquired about it the previous night, but he felt no kinship towards her because of their similar homelands. After all, he had regarded many of his own Chasind Wilders as nothing but enemies, due to their choices. Her being a Warden earned some amount of his respect, but beyond that, she would have to prove herself just as the others.

And it seemed now was a good time for everyone to start, as a battle had come upon them. The Dreamer (though he did not yet know why she was called that) had gone out ahead of the group to examine a fallen man in the road. Even from his current height Suicide could see the stains around the body. No healer would be able to fix that.

When he noticed movement in the nearby cover, Suicide had cawed in warning, but of course it was too late by then. He had been too high up to see the trap in time, though if he had flown any lower he wouldn't have had the line of sight to see the distance he desired. As he swooped down he saw Ethne wounded by an arrow to the back of her shoulder. More than a dozen men emerged for the fight, by Suicide's hasty count. His initial concern was defending his leader, and preventing the highwaymen further harming the girl who was currently giving him what small measure of purpose he possessed.

He fanned out his wings and pulled up just before reaching the ground, bursting back into his human form just as he reached Ethne's position. She had fired off a lightning spell at the archers, but others were closing in on them fast. Suicide skidded to a halt, placing the mountain that was his body between Ethne and the others. Suicide roared at one of the dual wielding rogues who was charging towards him, unleashing a cone of ice upon him. He froze where he stood, one of his weapons held above his head and prepared to strike. A strong blow would shatter him utterly.

Suicide had no time to deal with him further, however, as one of the warriors was making a beeline for him, a massive battleaxe in his hands. He swung a heavy strike downwards at the shapeshifter. Suicide caught the handle of the axe, stopping the blade mere inches from his skull, but the warrior's brute force drove him backwards quickly. His heel caught on the grounded form of Ethne behind him, and the two large men went crashing down around the small girl in a heap of iron, flesh, and unbridled rage. Suicide was unaware if either of them had actually landed on top of Ethne, being slightly lost in bloodlust as he was.

Suicide and the warrior thrashed about in the dirt for a moment, each trying to get the upper hand with murderous intent. The shapeshifter eventually found an opening, and smashed into the warrior's jaw with a fist of stone, the physical force of which rivaled a golem's punch. With the warrior stunned as he was, Suicide took the opportunity to shift into his bear form. He growled angrily (and perhaps hungrily) before closing his jaws around the warriors head, his teeth punching through flesh and bone alike. He was still unsure of where Ethne was in this whole mess, but he didn't spare much thought for that at the moment. Placing one paw against the warrior's chest, Suicide ripped back violently, tearing the head from the body, spotting his light brown fur with dark blood.

He spit the head aside, before turning and bellowing at the other highwaymen, his teeth dripping blood. This mission had started off better than he had anticipated.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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Yes, the Seeker was around indeed. He had been on the scene even before Ethne took a glance at the corpse. He was scouting ahead, as befit his nature. As soon as the group had departed he had slipped back into the shadows, making a quick mention of it to the general area of the party. If anybody had listened, they would know. He doubted the fact, though, as he was usually ignored. His opinions didn’t matter; after all, Revaslin was an elf, a mere subservient creature only allowed his position for the divine’s amusement.

He found comfort apart from the group, in the songs of the birds and the jitters of the night-bugs that roamed the area. He heard the notes sung from that orchestra of the land, crickets, cicadas, all kinds of little critters, and he felt bound to their song. With every beat he took another silent step, adding to the rhythm of the sound.

His separation from the group had more purpose than simply leaving society once more and partaking in the sylvan symphony. If the Seeker was to be useful, he’d need to be away from that Dreamer. Sensing magic would be doubly as difficult when trying to differentiate it from her stench. The Fade stuck too close to her, clinging like wet fabric. And besides, he wasn’t on this mission to exchange pleasantries.

The sun rose from the east once more, and the party moved on. Fenlen looked on from the rocky outcrop on which he was situated, and as the sun illuminated his figure, he closed his eyes and let the rays graze his face. If anyone were able to see past his concealed form the Seeker would have almost seemed a guardian angel, were it not for his black visage. When he opened his eyes, the black-within-black orbs gave away a red tint. He felt a soft breeze from the ocean side, and his cloak rustled in term. It was hard to imagine that such a serene scene would be just a prelude to a bloody and very likely fatal adventure.




Rev continued on his way, glancing back at the party he was supposed to be travelling with every now and then. When the sun was soon at its zenith at the sky, he reached a flat piece of land, flanked by hills on all sides. The Seeker’s attention had been brought there by the stench of magic, and indeed, a large group of bandits were leaving the scene into the hills above. They left behind a man, who had fallen and perished. No doubt he was their victim. He smelled two distinct connections to the fade, both of which were fastly evaporating.

There were only about a dozen and a half of them, nothing to worry about for our eight young and intrepid warriors. Rev quickly noted the different positions that each of the bandits took, and what their role was in the party. It did not take much reasoning skill to assume that the victim was ambushed from those very hills that the bandits now hid from. It also stood to reason that the party was about to be ambushed as well. Looking back towards the path, he estimated that he was about ten minutes’ way ahead of the group, and now would be a great time to prepare for the battle. Though he could guess at the tactics the highwaymen employed from the position he left in, his group was a different matter. Rev did not know how they would work together, and it was vital to the mission that he, and indeed everyone, knew how to hand such a situation. That is, such a test of skills would be great for revealing each others' skills. It would be prudent, therefore, to let the group get ambushed; they couldn’t get too hurt, after all.

Fenlen prepared a few bombs from the ingredients in his belt, and fitted such an explosive to the second bolt loaded in the concealed mechanical bow on his left arm. He coated the various blades in his arsenal with a poison made of deathroot that he learned from Antivan assassins. Later chronicles would call this poison “Concentrated Crow Poison”, for the assassin’s guild of the same name.

Lastly, he whistled softly to the horizon, and a bird came swooping down. “Ah, Da’mi, you still remember to follow me, even in your old age.” A rare laugh escaped our Seeker’s lips as he extended his arm to the bird. It landed complacently, perched on the man’s forearm. It was a black hawk, with red tipped wings. Rev scratched the bird softly, and it began to coo gently. “A battle will begin shortly, I’ll need you to try and help in any way you can, alright? Don’t be too reckless, I don’t want to have to patch you up again like last time.” The hawk cawed in reply, and stuck out its left talon.

Revaslin tied a few of his acid flasks to the bird, and saw it take off and circle his head. “Don’t do anything,” he warned, and pointing to the bandits, he continued, “until I fire my first arrow. Then we will have set up an ambuscade for those who lie in wait, there.” The hawk cried once more, though this time in a higher pitch. Then the hawk took off, and taking the habit of its master, it went out of sight.




The sands of time did not stop trickling down with the departure of our newly acquainted hawk, Da’mi, however. Eventually the cart approached the body, and stopped to a halt. Their leader bent down to examine the body, rather recklessly, in Rev’s eyes. No one bothered to examine for signs of an ambush, besides the barbaric mage who went by the surname “Hellas”, but even he was too entranced in the forest, that he did not see the individual trees. So when the ambush finally erupted, needless to say, it was the side of the Seeker that took the first hit.

Ethne was hit in the shoulder with an arrow, and quickly retaliated with a lightning attack. Hellas saw the attack and dove into a fast reply. He froze an incoming attacker after turning back into the Chasind he was, and began grappling with another. Meanwhile, the casteless and the black templar he was already acquainted with joined the fray and began to work together in a dance of blades.

A powerful stench pulled his attention. Blood magic. One of the mages from the attackers was preparing a dark spell, and the other, judging from the light and smell of that particular spell, seemed to be a fire-rain spell. He began to train an arrow on the bloodmage, but saw a group of three concealed rogues surrounding the dwarf and the templar, and saw that they would be ready for a perfect backstab.

A Thwack! and a Thwick! later, and one of the rogues fell to the ground, a bolt lodged in his forehead. The rest dispersed, knowing that they were discovered. Rev whistled loudly and slid into the middle of the battle, navigating between the various combatants.

Da’mi flew from the sky and circled the battle, as if a vulture anticipating his nourishment. It sought out the group of archers that was hanging back and loosing arrows aimed at the defenders. It slipped its talon from the flasks that were attached to it, which came crashing down, and exploded in the middle of the tightly knit group.

Cries could be heard from their direction, as they quickly scattered from each other. Though they were not down yet, they had terrible burns to complain about, not to mention that they lost their organization.

’Ere’s a good girl!” Rev muttered under his breath. He drew a dagger from his thigh in his left hand, and knocked the hidden blade in his right wrist. He headed towards the two mages, feeling more feral with each step. When he was only a twenty paces away, he aimed his second bolt at the group of mages. He was too late to stop the firestorm mage, however, as a rain of a thousand flames poured on the entire battlefield. A reckless move, as it hit many of the fighters on the side of the mages, some of whom were already burned!

Rev’s aim was disrupted as he was forced to jump out of the way of an incoming bolt of fire. He felt a rush of adrenaline, and began to rage inside. Trying to calm himself did him no good, as evidenced by his shaking arm. He could not get a clear shot at either of the mages, as his whole body shook with the cry of “Rip their throats out! You have two blades, why not use them?”

The Solvej, however, took to the problem herself, and used the Templar-taught Holy Smite. Both apostates were staggered by the attack, and left their spells uncast. “Oi Seeker!” She yelled, almost mockingly, “isn’t this what you’re good for.”

I was saving your arse, dammit! he muttered under his breath. He pulled the trigger as they were pushed back, and his rigged shot flew forth. A piece of fire hit it before it landed, however, and it exploded right in front of the two, fueled by the flame of the spell. Though they had been staggered before this, they were now on the ground, trying to get up.

The urge to run and fight directly was too strong at this point, especially given the fact that his cover was now blown. He rushed forward with the two blades, a dagger in his left hand, another jutting out of his right. They glowed in a brilliant flash of blue, as he recited a verse from the Chant of Light:

“The Veil holds no uncertainty for her,
And she will know no fear of death,
For the Maker shall be her beacon and her shield,
And her foundation, her sword!”

He swung the blades together, as if they were one, and as he quoted the last line, he launched himself on top of the bloodmage, and cut the throat of his enemy with a complementary Holy Smite. There was a fire in his eyes, one that would not be expected from him on usual occasions. The mage had cast his spell, however, and three Sloth Demons bubbled from the ground, surrounding the two ex-templars.

He stood from his kill and sheathed his dagger, replacing it with his sword. His left gauntlet glowed bright black, but his eyes had a fire in them even brighter.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone was calling demons from the Fade.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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♫♫♫

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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Demons.

Suicide had some experience with them, being a mage as he was. Despite what many Templars would likely think, however, Suicide had never made any dealings with them. He was satisfied with his power, and didn't wish to shackle himself to some demon in order to acquire more.

The shapeshifter heard the Dreamer's orders, even despite him being in bear form and being more than a little clouded by his natural bloodlust. He turned his head to see her standing once more, despite the battle he and the bandit warrior had had more or less on top of her. And she appeared... alright. She'd removed the arrow, and the wound was healed effectively. She had more strength in her than she seemed. He'd expected as much, considering that the Warden-Commander wouldn't have chosen her to lead the mission if she was weak, but it was still reassuring to see firsthand.

Two arrows thudded into his side, causing Suicide to snarl and turn his head back towards the fight. He was a big target like this, especially standing still. The archers responsible were being cleaned up by some of the others, however, so revenge wouldn't be possible. One struck just under his ribcage, the other burying itself high up in his rear leg. He still needed to deal with these demons, as Ethne had requested his help, and he meant to give it. Before he reached one, however, the girl had cast a spell to weaken them, and then launched a fist of stone hurtling into one, crushing it. The berserker, Kerin Valar, tore into another one.

Suicide launched himself upon the third, his weight crashing down upon the staggered sloth demon. Sloth seemed a poor choice, as they relied on thoughts of lethargy and were not all that adept in straight combat, preferring instead to subdue their opponents by infecting their thoughts. Still in bear form, Suicide pinned the demon down upon the sand with his claws, sinking them deep into the creature's chest. His teeth closed around one of the demon's arms as it struggled, and with a single violent jerk of his head, the arm was torn from its socket. He tossed it aside as the the demon slashed at him with the other arm, his claws digging into the flesh of Suicide's shoulder. He snarled, and wasted no further time, tearing apart with his claws already in the demon's chest, ripping the creature open and ending its existence in the mortal realm.

Once the fight was concluded, Suicide walked with thumping footfalls over to where the group was gathering, his own blood dripping from his side, rear leg, and front shoulder, and the blood of enemies dripping from his teeth and claws. Ethne was nervously suggesting to the group that they pursue these bandits to a cache they had stored somewhere, for the purposes of both acquiring the supplies within the cache, as well as ridding the locals of the bandits that plagued them. Suicide strongly wished he was back in human form at moment, as he would have attempted to reassure the girl that the group was hers to command. They had all willingly joined the group with the knowledge that she would be the leader, and that they were all still here was proof that they were willing to follow her lead. She needed to give herself more credit.

But as it was, all Suicide could do was growl, and so he bobbed his head in the direction of the two arrows stuck in his side and rear, growing in an annoyed manner. He hoped someone would get the message and remove the arrows for him, else he'd have to simply transform back and hope for the best. He'd learned the hard way that shifting forms whilst shot by arrows could have unpleasant effects.

But he had no objection to hunting these bandits down. Helping the locals was not necessarily a primary concern of his, but the prospect of more battle so soon was not one he wished to pass up. They were bound for a ship, at which point they would have plenty of opportunity to rest. It seemed wise, and wholly tempting, to indulge themselves in further bloodshed while they had the chance.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen

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The bloodmage had fallen, cut to bits by the hurricane of slashes that came from the Seeker’s double pronged attack. Before he realized himself, Rev had already made several slashes to an already dead body. He staggered backwards, almost in horror, as if he came from a dream. He shook his head as if to shake the last drunken bits from his head, and looked at the carnage he made. The gore before him almost rivaled that of the Shapeshifter.

Damn.

Some templars had, of course, seen such things from Fenlen, but in these late years it was almost unheard of. He was a champion of night; silent kills and unknown deaths were his business. Of course, he could hold himself in a fight, he was quick and agile, but that was not how he fought. Silence and strategy were his main weapons. Yet here he was, mutilating a body.

This was not the time to think upon such matters, however. Three demons surrounded him, Gruenwald the Black Templar, and an enemy mage; this was not the time to think on such matters.

He was about to take a fighting stance when he heard the party leader giving out orders. “Ser Dalish” and the other former Templar were ordered to fight off the remaining mage. Two others were to relieve them of the sloth demons. That wasn’t particularly a sound strategy, to make the two combatants surrounded by demons to ignore those same demons, if only because there was likely to be unintended cross-fire. Nevertheless, there would be even more crossfire if the others followed the orders and he did not. Misunderstandings in a strategy have caused many of his missions to have extra casualties, and he would rather there be no such thing. In any case, it was only three sloth demons, what could go wrong?

The Seeker looked at Solvej to see if she wanted to finish off the other mage, who was cowering on the floor, trying in vain to stand up. “All yours,” she said solemnly, and he acquiesced. As he drew closer to the mage, the mage squealed in fear. The ruthless way Rev butchered his companion was no doubt somewhat frightening to say the least, and this mage was in no way brave.

Meanwhile, the demons were about to close in, when the blonde-haired leader sent tendrils of the fade to draw the demons back in. Those, putrid, putrid, tendrils. It smelled to Rev as if the Veil itself had almost been torn. As this was so unexpected, it hit him as a large boulder. A flash of light and darkness veered across Fenlen’s vision and he closed his black-within black eyes, cringing as if blinded. Out of the darkness came two globes of golden light, separated by twice their diameter, with slits running down the middle. His senses were bombarded with a flood of information, most of which he could not make out.

Though still dazed, after a moment he regained control. When he opened his eyes, the mage lay before him, preparing a fire spell in his left hand. Evidently, the mage wanted to take the opportunity handed to him by the elf’s hesitation. When their eyes met again, however, it was the caster who hesitated. “Your eyes…” he let escape before his opponent grabbed his left wrist, pulling upwards, and stabbed the apostate in the abdomen, and tore upwards. A fireball escaped straight upwards, and exploded forcefully in a brilliant show of light.

Rev disappeared behind a shroud of smoke and shadow, and though the battle still needed a bit of finishing, he took the remaining time to collect himself. He didn’t even notice the block of stone hurl its way towards a demon, or a couple of his companions hurl their way towards another one. He needed a short respite, and he needed it now.

He’d need to talk to the lass about this.




The battle was now done with, and Revaslin Fenlen was back to his old, chipper, self. The Dreamer cast a healing spell on them all, though the Seeker hardly needed it. Most of his opponents were dealt with from a far. She then began to address the group as a whole.

Ethne, for that was how she introduced herself, was trying to stutter something out about bandits and a cache that was described in a note from the corpse that was the reason they had been ambushed. When she finally collected her thoughts, she communicated her intent to go after said cache.

He heard the responses from the party, and as nobody was against the idea, it seemed that the job was left to him. Evidently, as always, he would be the only one focused on the task at hand. He left the shroud of darkness once more to make clear his disdain for such an idea.

I’d loathe being the voice of reason here,” he began, not a trace of sarcasm in his voice. His tone was almost servile, but most of all, calm. “but we have a mission to accomplish. We also have a crew waiting to transport us. We have enough supplies to get us through, we’ve all been provided well. There is no reason to go out of our way to meet another fight.” He paused, looking about the group for the looks of disbelief and nerve to assail him.

If we truly want to help people, we’d do good to continue on our journey to stop the Blight. The locals, I’m sure, would much more appreciate the end of the blight than our frivolous battles with some common highwaymen.

His last words were spoken directly at Ethne. He hoped that she would see reason and not simply follow the majority. He then turned to the side to look at Da’mi perched at a nearby oak. He could see the rest of the group in the periphery of his vision, but he simply wanted to look at the tree, who would’ve understood his position and left him alone.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen

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The Seeker stepped in, as she thought he would, but the situation seemed to grow worse rather than better in the aftermath. Funny thing, that. Solvej was kept from further rumination by a surprisingly authoritative tone pronouncing orders. It was no gruff bark or harsh command but Ethne’s diction was clear and apparently back with sound reasoning, so the former Templar saw no reason to do otherwise.

Still, one mage between her and the Seeker wasn’t much, and she locked eyes with the Dalish man, shrugging and backing off with a quip. The deed was his, if he wanted it. She was more interested in how they’d wound up in this situation in the first place.

Shaking the blood and ichor off the tip of her spear, Solvej studied the battle’s conclusion with sharp eyes. A scholar she was not, and she had been raised in no noble household. But the Chantry had taught her to read and write, and the Templars had taught her tactics. The bandits had hidden themselves behind a rise, which was not a bad move for an ambush on terrain like this. The first shot had been taken only after Ethne had searched the body and turned around, indicating that they’d probably wanted the little elf to find whatever she did, but timed to leave her without the ability to raise an alarm.

Well done, really. The redheaded woman replaced her spear at her back and joined the group as they formed back together after the battle. It still shouldn’t have been possible. Revaslin was scouting ahead, as he’d made it a point to do on their journey from Starkhaven. She knew that he was not an incompetent, and the ambush was not so clever that he would have missed it. Which meant that he knew, and had failed to warn them of it.

A muscle in Solvej’s jaw jumped as she clenched her teeth together. Rat bastard. Normally, she’d call him out on this right now, but they couldn’t risk such an early blow to unit cohesiveness. A Warden guilty of the same failure would have been expelled from the order at the very least. A Templar probably would have been stripped of his rank and publicly tried for some kind of treason, if not executed outright, for demons would have been suspected. It was only made worse by the fact that they’d nearly lost Ethne. A few inches over, and that arrow might well have been fatal. No other person in the group was singularly necessary: Wardens they had to spare, and the other losses would be felt, but not mission-ending. Without the Dreamer, they had no trail to follow.

The Seeker was going to have a nasty visit from her in the near future, but hopefully the matter would be something she could resolve without any of the others needing to know about it.

She’d kill him to save the mission, without hesitation.

It probably wouldn’t be necessary, and she’d really rather not, but things didn’t always go according to plan.

The others seemed to be debating the wisdom of chasing down the thread, and she shrugged easily. Her wounds, minor as they were, had been healed already, though she understood what the bear was getting at and strode to his side. “It’s clearly a trap,” she pointed out, “but as long as we know that, I have no problem springing it.” A short pause, then: “Hey Venscyath. They didn’t use barbed arrowheads, did they?”

The elf-girl shook her head. “No, um… they were the normal kind. Mine came out, er… cleanly.”

Solvej nodded. “Do me a favor here, Hellas, and try not to accidentally kill me while I get these out.” The woman’s tone was wry rather than truly cautionary, and she took hold of the first shaft, yanking without warning. Pain was always worse when you were expecting it, she had found, and tensing would not help matters any here. The second followed quickly, and she stuck both into the sand and stepped away.

“You want to take care of this before we go?” she asked the healer with a jerk of her head to where Suicide was still bleeding from the wounds.

If there was one thing Ethne was confident in, in was her abilities as a healer. They alone, she had always felt, were something that could not be taken and twisted into some wicked thing with dark purpose, and she smiled, brightly, nodding and casting another heal spell on the still bear-shaped Dekton.

“Lovely. Okay, well, I’m not hearing any protests, so maybe we should get this show on the road, yes?” Solvej was impatient to get going. They’d make their ship in plenty of time even with the detour, she was sure, because any friend of Malik’s was tenacious enough to wait a while, but that didn’t mean he wanted to waste the rest of her life killing bandits.

Of course, the Seeker chose the moment to protest, and Solvej resisted the urge to either punch him per her earlier realization or else just pinch the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger and sigh deeply. “The boat will wait, I know that for a fact. What’s more, Venscyath here lost her staff in the confrontation, and she needs a new one as soon as possible. If we want to be able to replace other damaged equipment, we need money as well. Missions that nobody knows about aren’t funded that well because nobody’s allowed to notice the missing funds, yes?” Actually, Malik had entrusted a token amount to her care, but other than that and their personal fortunes (or lack thereof), the group was completely penniless. The resources that would come from this, whatever they were, were probably saleable, and thus as close to a lucky strike as Solvej would ever allow herself to believe in.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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Suicide sent an annoyed growl in the Seeker's direction as he argued against "going out of their way to meet another fight." It was exactly what they should be doing! Well, it was what the shapeshifter wanted to do, anyway. Darkspawn, bandits, demons and blood mages... what difference did it make, really? There was still the mission, of course, but Suicide hadn't really signed on for that purpose, exactly. It was merely the prospect of meeting foes alongside worthy companionship that lured him. The foes didn't actually matter, only the fight.

He cared nothing for the locals. He'd never met them. He never would. Maybe focusing their efforts on stopping the Blight would help them more. Maybe if they didn't deal with these highwaymen now they'd be dead before the darkspawn reached them. Maybe Suicide didn't care either way. An enemy was here, right now, and they had the opportunity to meet them and stain the sand with their blood. It wasn't a decision that needed much argument, in Suicide's mind.

The spear armed woman, Solvej, came to his side, understanding the meaning of his growl, and asking him not to maul her when she removed the arrows from his side. She needn't worry, however, as Suicide relaxed his body when he felt her hand close around the first arrow shaft. All he gave was a low growl when they were ripped out. The Dreamer was quick to heal his wounds when the arrows were removed, further proving her worth. Once fully healed, he shifted back to human form, and rose to his full height.

"If a fight awaits us, then we should meet it," he said, trying to find a way to word things so that the others might become more agreeable. "And we would be wise to better learn how to battle as a group, before we encounter the true threats further down the Path." He rolled his head around on his shoulders, sending out a few audible pops from his neck. This first fight only ignited his appetite. It hadn't come close to sating it.

Huh. Had he always been so tall? She must not have noticed from the back of her draft horse, but now that she was standing right next to him, listening to the bass rumbles that constituted his voice, she came to the amused realization that he really wasn’t that much smaller as a person than as a bear. His sentiments were after her own heart, besides.

“No time like the present,” she added with a shrug, trailing after the elf with a lazy stride. Wagner would follow on his own. He always did.

The little one’s handling of her erstwhile mentee produced genuine laughter in Solvej, but she constrained it, leashing the mirth until it was only a constrained smile. She would perhaps not bother ordinarily, but perhaps it was best to avoid further delay. There was a certain kind of worthiness to Ethne, after all, even if it wasn’t the kind of thing most people made much of. Anyone who could get Rhapscallion to stop fretting without physical confrontation deserved a bloody medal, as far as she was concerned, and she shot him a sly look. “Someone’s got you all figured out, eh?”



Solvej could sense the Darkspawn long before they revealed themselves, but they were upon the encampment before her warning would have held any relevance, and she didn’t wait for the enemy to make the first move this time. Her spear was in her hand, held out and to one side as she charged, letting her momentum disembowel the first fiend as she crashed into the line. The sound of metal puncturing leather followed by the tear of flesh and several wet pops was an old one to her recollection. She vaguely heard Ethne’s entreaty towards caution, but she was a Grey Warden, Tainted already and made for this.

There were no happy endings for people like her, only bloody ones. Until she found hers, she’d keep on bathing in the ichor of the foulest beings in Thedas, without ceasing.

Refusing to allow her forward progress to tear her weapon from her grasp, Solvej pivoted gracefully, extracting her weapon from its flesh-sheath and blending the movement into a smooth slice across the throat of the next. The less wasted movement, the better.

Kerin found herself drawn to the naked chest of the shapeshifter... It was so large and muscled. What did these surfacers eat to grow 'em like that? And his words-- his need for the coming battle merely served to further endear the man to Kerin. Alas, her appreciation for the fine physique and bloodlust of this marvelously sculpted human would have to wait, as there were more corpses that needed buried. These ones however came in darkspawn flavor. True, while the foe didn't matter, she could have thought of better enemies to face than darkspawn. Kerin merely grunted her displeasure and slammed her helmet on to her head again. Once more into the breach.

"I'll keep my mouth shut twig-bean," Kerin answered Ethne's caution. Darkspawn and their taint were well known in Orzammar. She knew better than to get their tainted blood in their mouth, else suffer the side-effects. Unfortunately, that meant no battle cries as this battle waged. Which meant she'd have to get their attention in... Another manner. She charged forward, growling all the way, along with her companions and crashed into the line of darkspawn. Instead of whipping her axe about madly, she used the back handle to kneecap a nearby hurlock, dropping him into a kneel. Without hesitating Kerin vaulted on the creature's shoulder and used it as a springboard to launch herself into the air.

Kerin lead with her axe as gravity took effect, completely pulverizing the genlock under her and sending out a tremor from the point of impact, staggering those darkspawn nearby for her companions to take advantage of.

Suicide refrained from shifting into an animal form upon seeing the darkspawn. He figured he would end up chomping down on one and ending up with the Taint. He had other tools at his disposal, however. He rushed into the fray behind Solvej and Kerin, the two he felt most drawn to fight directly alongside. It seemed perhaps unwise, considering that he was unarmed, and unarmored, but it was acts like these that Suicide was known for. His name hadn't been earned for nothing, after all.

He came up behind one of the genlocks Kerin had staggering backwards, placing one powerful hand around the creature's chin, the other on the back of its head, before twisting violently, snapping the darkspawn's neck and letting it collapse to the ground. He sent a slash of ice magic at the nearest hurlock, carving its chest open. Its armor proved to be of little use against his spells. As Solvej was slicing across the throat of a darkspawn, Suicide caught sight of a Shriek hurtling its way towards her, to attack her from her blindside. Suicide blasted a cone of cold in its direction, hoping to freeze it in place, but it evaded the spell, which froze a pair of hurlocks instead.

"Behind you!" was all the warning Suicide was able to give her, as he shattered one of the beasts he'd frozen with a Stonefist.

A tremor rocked the ground, issuing a shockwave that stunned several nearby ‘Spawn, and Solvej grinned. That was Kerin at work, or she was an Orlesian whore. Steadying her own feet wasn’t much of a problem, and she slid her left foot backwards, about to whirl on the next fool Taint-creature with a laugh when she heard a warning over the din.

Truncating her movement, Solvej brought the haft of her spear parallel against her forearm, point behind her, and jerked backward. The exhalation of fetid breath and a raspy cry informed her that she’d struck the intended target, and a grim smile lifted her lips as she twisted the polearm, yanking it free and letting the shriek hit the ground. That left her free to shatter one of the frozen Hurlocks, an opportunity she took full advantage of. Long strides carried her forward, muscles bunching beneath her as she jumped, her height sufficient to add extra clout to her aptly-named mighty blow. The ice sculpture broke like so much glass, the Darkspawn within crunching under her weighted boots.

A glance over her shoulder informed her that though both of the others were holding court in self-made graveyards, there were yet more fools eager to test their luck. One such Darkspawn was sneaking and vanished just a few yards behind the mage. Well, only one thing for it then.

“Oi Suicide! Duck!” she bellowed, then hefted her spear in her hand. It wasn’t really made for what she was about to do, but she knew from much more desperate situations than this that it would work. She had no more than three running steps and a hop to make it work, but it would work.

With a perhaps inappropriately-gleeful “Yah!” Solvej hurled her spear with as much strength and finesse as she was able, bending to scoop up a discarded darkspawn shield while she was at it. Not the best weapon-situation to be in, but she liked to think of herself as flexible.

The thrown weapon did in fact collide with the stealthed Darkspawn as it was preparing to backstab the mage, but Solvej found herself surrounded by at least four more for her trouble. “Oh Fate, I’ve missed you, you sodding bitch,” she murmured with a dark chuckle.

Kerin growled, not risking opening her mouth for a true berserker roar. Her little stunt may have stunned the darkspawn, but it also catapulted her into their line. She quickly pivoted completely around to meet the exposed back of th darkspawn she had used as a springboard. He was still stunned due to the entire stock of a dwarf dancing on his shoulders. Kerin strode forward as she hefted the axe behind her. She approached the hurlock with cold steel eyes. She growled, "Kneel before the axeman," and brought the heavy axe down upon the spine of the beast, coating the weapon and armor with a fresh layer of blood.

She walked past the dead beast, ripping the axe free and approached the next victim. Rather, next pack of victims. Solvej managed to find herself surrounded by a group of four darkspawn. The ever present snarl painted on Kerin's face did not diminish in the least and she quickly dove back into the fray. She set her foot and held a loose grip on her axe. She then held the axe out and began to spin, the blades becoming a whirlwind of devastastion. She felt the cut of two darkspawn fall beneath her axe and stopped to find herself back to back with Solvej. An unarmed Solvej at that.

"No fate," she muttered so that Solvej could hear. She then used her free hand to quickly grip the shortsword in her sheath, pulling it free and presenting it to the Warden. "But what we make," she stated plainly.

The shapeshifter did indeed duck as Solvej hurled her spear where his head had formerly been. He heard it plunge through the chest of the darkspawn behind him. He turned to see the creature crash in a heap to the ground, before he ripped the spear from its chest in one swipe of his powerful arm. The dwarf had taken care of two of the creatures that now surrounded Solvej looking for an easy kill, but two remained. Suicide ran towards her, tossing the spear back at her before throwing his hands into the air, petrifying the darkspawn that had been closest to striking the woman, leaving it encased in stone, its sword arm hanging above its head. The other was a genlock, and that one's attention was fixated away from the charging shapeshifter.

He bowled into it, leading with his shoulder, smacking the smaller darkspawn to the ground, flat on its back. He then angled himself around the side of the creature, and with one swift thrust of his foot he brought his heel down upon the genlock's skull, caving it in with a sickening crunch and squish of bone and brain matter. He heard Solvej and Kerin trade comments about fate.

"The Path ends when we are finished with it," he said. "Not here."

Solvej’s spear thudded into the ground a few yards from her location, and she grinned even as the two nearest Darkspawn fell to Kerin’s onslaught. She accepted the shortsword, hefting the shield and shoring up her position back to back with the dwarf, deflecting an incoming swing with the shield even as dwarf spoke. “Ah, an optimist. My favorite kind of crazy.”

Fortunately, she didn’t have to block the next attempted strike, because the offending Darkspawn was petrified by an incoming Dekton. Shrugging, Solvej struck first with the pommel of the shortsword at one of its joints and then followed up with a heavy kick to the same location. It was the final blow from the shield that did it though, and the thing lost its arm and its structural integrity simultaneously, crumbling.

“The path, eh? Well, as long as it keeps leading me to the blood of my foes, I suppose I can’t complain.” Solvej took the opportunity to retrieve her spear, spinning and throwing the shield like a discus into a random cluster of ‘Spawn and sliding the shortsword into her belt before wrenching her trusty companion from soft, sandy earth in which it had landed. She was a little banged up, but the battle had only just begun.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Lukas Hoffman

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Lukas flung himself in a great bound almost recklessly into the thick of the fight, but found himself preoccupied with a couple of rouges mistakenly assuming the half-elf would make for easy enough prey as well as eliminating a mage that could give them trouble. Perhaps if they had blades longer than there forearms, they could have reached the force wielder, but as things stood it would take less effort on the mage’s part to keep them at a distance.

One of them became brazen and dove toward Hoffman, not unlike a wild-cat pouncing from the high grass, iron teeth ready to gash and knaw through muscle and marrow. In response to this Lukas jutted his fist at the rouge, which would seem odd and premature to the onlooker now that it was merely an extended and vulnerable limb. Except only a second later did that rouge find himself a careening pile of flesh sailing to a trunk of a tree, spine bent beyond limitations and repair. Soon after his partner met a similar fate. Unbeknownst to him at the time another couple of rouges were to take advantage of his current attentions, however they were dealt with by his companions, to which he was truly grateful.

After all was said and done, they regained their bearings and tended to what wounds they received. Their mouse like leader proposed to following information she had found on a note, pertaining to another bramble of bandits. Naturally Lukas whooped, “Yeah! Killing these bastards is just oodles of fun!” Most of the others were either just as excited, or content to follow it through. There was an objection with legitimate concerns, but it seemed that everyone’s minds had already been made up.




He felt a rumble in the back of his skull, and whatever bright smile he wore lessened into a near frown.

Darkspawn.

In no time at all they had another battle on their hands, not against mere bandits , whose bodies already littered the area, but against the beastly Blighters for which this team was assembled. Without being told, three of his comrades already pushed themselves into the front, and were dispatching foes with great tenacity. Regaining a bit of his grin, Lukas off-handedly commented, “Now why do they get to have all the fun?” And soon enough he went to join them, halfway to his comrades he did give them a gift. Expelling some of his magic anyone wielding a weapon now would find such tools aflame, an extra edge in the fight.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

You would certainly make a great knight.

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where had his blades gone?

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Lukas Hoffman

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The massive fist that headed her way belonged to the single-largest Darkspawn she'd ever seen. It was actually a bit surreal; she had spent the last year and a half doing virtually nothing that didn't involve these creatures. She had memorized movement patterns, typologies, learned just where to stick a spear in a genlock to hit a major artery, measured the amount of force required to decapitate a hurlock, and discovered just when to smite an emissary, but never had she seen the like of this incredibly-sized hand, curled in upon itself and intent on crushing her bones with its knuckles. Solvej didn't have much time to consider the implications of this, however, because she was fairly certain that a few good hits from this creature would be putting her in the ground on a permanent basis. Gripping her spear, the Templar moved under the swing, flowing forward smoothly and hoping that the creature would overextend itself. At least it didn't seem all that fast; it was perhaps the only advantage she had. In an effort to exploit her positioning inside its guard, she thrust with her spear, aiming for the monstrosity's lesser-protected armpit.

The ogre, committed to his strike, was unable to pull back in enough time to hit the woman, and he bellowed when the sharp point of the spear came in contact with his unarmored underarm. Unfortunately for the Templar, however, the ogre's grey skin was much more durable and hardy than that of the average darkspawn, and though Solvej drew blood, it was nowhere near a fatal wound. Enraged at the pain-sensations ricocheting from the shoulder joint into his head, the creature wasted little time in striking again, this time a lateral blow, open-handed and aiming to swat the armored foe away from this close proximity. His other hand withdrew, intending to capture the woman if she made to duck away like last time.

Up until this point, the thought had not occurred to him, but the comrade within his proximity seemed familiar, yet at the moment he could not place it. Such ponderings however were silenced by the bellow of a hulking mass of dense flesh, thundering footfalls, and voracious intent of all within its sight. As he gawked in awe upon the creature he found no recollection of any such like description discussed among peers, or written in any text he’d ever read. What’s more was that he could sense the Taint within it, but how could ‘Spawn come in such a goliath form?

Two others of the like accompanied it and divided themselves among the ranks of himself and his team. Solvej was the first to contend with one, and at first it seemed she struck success, but the hulk proved to be as hardy and dense as it appeared to be as little blood was let from Solvej’s infliction. Retaliation was inevitable, what the massive beast lacked in mobility it more than made up for in raw power, and though perhaps the Templar would be able to withstand an assault of that caliber, those were limits that our kinetic inclined manipulator wasn’t willing to test.

Drawing upon his own might, Lukas expelled a large portion of his power in the form of a Telekinetic Burst, plowing it way in full force at the oversized creature. If it hit, in the least it would give his friend time to counter attack.

The blast of raw energy struck the ogre in the chest, sending the behemoth creature stumbling backward a few steps. It was enough that his pinser maneuver would fail, though, and if anything, he'd graze the Templar with his open hand. Granted, that was still a hit that could pack considerable damage, but she was certainly at no more risk of losing her life. What she would do with the disadvantage the Darkspawn now faced, off-balance and stumbling, remained to be seen. For all its current positioning, the creature had no visible weak spots, and it seemed that the massive plates of armor at its chest and shoulders were largely unnecessary.

Solvej's exhale whistled through her teeth, transforming into an abrupt hiss when several fingers the size of your average greatsword clipped her hip, throwing her off-balance and connecting with enough force to bruise beneath her armor. That alone was not unbearable, and she thrust her weapon into the ground for balance, intent on remaining upon her feet. The giant was stumbling, but she wasn't really sure what to do with that information. It was clearly much stronger and more durable than the average Darkspawn, and certainly more of both than she was as well. That greyish skin, she noted, was more the consistency of smooth, hardened scales than anything else, but it could bleed. She had drawn blood already.

Straightening her winged helmet on her head, Solvej grimaced and pulled her spear from the sand. Sand. The former Templar's eyes sparked as if with some uncanny light, and she realized that if the sand was making it difficult for someone of her size and weight to stay on their feet under force, than it would be damn near impossible for the behemoth. And who was her ally in this mad rush but a mage who specialized in just that?

The slow grin that spread its way across her face had heralded more than a few untimely ends, her own never among them. What was it Suicide had said? The path does not end here? The words were as appropriate as any. Solvej, growing up fighting people that were bigger and stronger than she was, had forgotten if only for a moment that there were times when that was a disadvantage, if only the smaller, weaker opponent had the wits and the guts to make it so. "Lukas! Aim for the legs! We're gonna bring this sodding giant down!" For her own part, Solvej hurtled forward, glad of the fact that she wore a good deal less armor than most of those in her profession, for the extra lightness of foot it lent her now. Trusting her fellow Warden to target well enough not to hit her, she veered to the right, aiming her spear for the creature's corresponding knee.

Her call was clear and concise, and it was then he made note of the small dust clouds billowing with every step each person present made. Lukas felt his lips tug upward, relishing the spectacle he would participate in making. Again drawing upon his reserves, draining most of what he had left.

He focused his attention to the specified target as the energy bubbled within him, small distortions in the air around him occurred, not unlike visible waves of heat from a fire. And just before he released, he knew he wanted to say something memorable for all to hear, but there wasn’t sufficient time to think of one as the pressure reached its culmination. He did however settle for shouting at the top of his lungs, “Insert witty quip here!”

A focused pulse shot forth like a beam as sand and grime gave chase to the energy, but unable to match it.

The business end of a spear sliced across his kneecap, sharp enough to lay the skin there open and expose the cartialge and bone underneath. Roaring pain and rage, the Darkspawn, swiped for the Templar but missed, forcing all of his considerable weight onto his opposite foot, in order to alleviate the agony he felt. Unfortunately, this was exactly what he should not have done, for the concentrated blast of magic hurtling towards him was well-aimed, and his inability to shift his bulk away from the shot meant that it caught him just below his second knee, the kinetic energy sufficient to shatter his tibia and send him reeling. Perhaps he could have pushed past his injury and retained his footing, but there was simply too much give in the sand, and his feet came out from under him, topping him backwards with all the force of a small aftershock.

On the groud and bellowing his agony, the ogre abandoned all tactics and thrashed blindly, murderously intent on ending the black-armored woman and the loud mage that had reduced his lower leg to bone-splinters poking out of flesh. One hand alighted on a loose stone, knocked from a nearby outcropping, and he hurled it in the magic-user's general direction, but his efforts were concerted on the closer enemy, the one he could reach.

Solvej, unable to jump out of the way in time, gasped as the ogre's massive fist knocked her own legs out from under her. Luckily, she managed to retain her grip on her spear, and she rolled away from the flailing of limbs, well aware that she'd just cracked a rib or two. Spitting a globule of blood from where she'd bitted the side of her cheek, the warrior leveraged herself to her feet, controlling her breathing so as to avoid painful gasps that would only further pressure her torso and thus deprive her of more air in the long run- when she was forced to hold her breath against the sensation of being stabbed with a thousand hot needles.

By sheer bad luck, the ogre's madly-swingling limbs managed to find her again, and his left closed around the Templar, encircling her from thigh to torso, though leaving her hands free. Like a child with an oversized toy, the behemoth shook the woman, bringing her down against the ground- hard.

She choked back a scream as the thing squeezed, a wat crack signaling the breakage of yet another rib, and it was about then that the black and red spots began to fight for dominance in what little remained of her visual field. Without her armor, she surely would have died already, but even as it was, she couldn't be sure she'd survive. In fact, she wasn't certain of much at all, except trying to bunch up her legs as she was hefted high into the air and slammed to the ground. It saved one of them, but the other snapped, the bone at the back of her shin breaking cleanly in half. Her shout was not a scream, but it was ragged and hoarse. With an exercise of the mental discipline her kind were known for, the Templar forced herself to ignore the pain and the bile rising up in her throat, but most of all to ignore the sweet call of unconsciousness. If she went to sleep now, she was dead.

Her arms were still free, and by some tiny miracle of fortune or else her own stubborn tenacity, she'd managed to retain her hold on her spear, and with as much strength as she could muster, she plunged it into the ogre's forearm.

The strike, fueled as it was by equal parts desparation and determination, slid through the skin like an overlarge needle, traveling for a good two feet along the line of the creature's limb. There was no mistaking it: she'd hit a large artery, and the spray of Drakspawn blood that followed was itself monstrous, spattering Solvej with a good gallon of blackish ichor. The muscle, too, was damaged, and the grip holding her in place went slack, even as the ogre itself fell silent, still moving, but clearly bleeding heavily now.

Coughing weakly, Solvej watched the results of her handiwork with a certain distant satisfaction, even as she thudded to the sand with a muffled sound. With the last of her effort, she managed to roll herself onto her back, arms splayed out in either direction, one of her legs bent at an awkward angle, plated leather boot and all. Her head lolled limply to the side, and she wasn't able to do much but keep breathing and kep her eyes open. "Hey Lukas," she muttered, halfway to delerious with pain but refusing to succumb to it, "any chance you could take care of this? I think I'm a little... occupied." It was a poor stab at humor, but then she couldn't think too well right at that moment, so it was the best anyone was going to get. He could probably just snap its neck without much trouble now, anyway, right?

A clear frown was shown on the force mage’s face, seeing the Templar in such a state. Had he any more reserves at the time from that last expulsion of magic he would have seen to it that such injuries wouldn’t have been sustained. Hopefully it wasn’t anything their resident healer couldn’t handle. At her attempt of humoring the situation, however, he couldn’t help but let out a wry chuckle despite her state, “I think I could manage, sure.”

He needed to take only two steps toward the beast, reduced to an almost sympathetic creature, making pitiful moans as the life-blood slowly poured out. Yes, almost sympathetic. Having regained enough of his pool of energy, Lukas raised a tightly-clenched fist and looked upon the hulk with the grimmest of intentions. Lukas was not a man to hold grudges, or bear ill will or disdain for another, but the darkspawn had earned a special, dark place in his heart. He knew not if it was simply a Grey Warden instinct to repel the Taint, or his own sense of righteousness- misguided or not- that dictated such disgust, but one thing was for certain, as he said to the despicable creature with a grim throat: “You’d think by now you’d learn, Blighters. Never cross a Warden!”

And lo, did the Fist of the Maker did smite the hulking beast, as the vertebrae suddenly contorted beyond the limits of any creature with that short a throat. The mage was rewarded with a sickeningly satisfying snap that reached his elfish ears, the new corpse’s eyes bulging and tongue passing between its teeth, the tip tasting a mix of its own ichor and dust as its last meal.

Done, the force mage turned his attentions to his comrade, quickly coming to her side to assess the damage. “You miss, are an absolute mess,” he remarked, another wry smile creeping on his scraggly features. Not waiting to hear her response the man called to their rear lines, "Hey, miss twiggy! Think you could send some of your magic moonbeams our way?”

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His fingers, slick with sweat, clung on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They would have to act quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least until she heard Lukas's entreaty.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

Well, frankly, they sort of scared him.

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

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

Probably.

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

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

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

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

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

The NPC Dossier has been updated.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Codex has been updated.



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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar

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The shapeshifter was in a state of something remarkably similar to bliss. He was grinning darkly as he surveyed the crushed, ruined bodies of darkspawn, bandits, and these three massive creatures that had valiantly attempted to turn them into smears on the ground. It had been a brutal and bloody fight against a worthy enemy, surrounded by allies that, so far, seemed very much worth fighting alongside. Suicide couldn't remember the last time he'd enjoyed a day like this.

The woman who had armed herself with a spear seemed to have not fared so well, however, lying in a heap as she was. The healer quickly set to work on her. Suicide had a feeling she would pull through. She had seemed certain her Path would end here, but Suicide had not been so sure. She was a capable warrior. She had a purpose here. She would carry on. It was not her time yet.

Seeing as he was not in need of healing, Suicide began to search around the battlefield, eventually finding an intact staff still in the grip of the darkspawn emissary who had wielded it. It was a vicious and crude looking weapon, but made of a sturdy, if blackened, wood staff. One end was adorned with a lovely looking spiked ball that would serve as an excellent mace, while the other was fashioned with a crude, but sharp blade. He had never actually wielded a mage's staff before. The other mages he had encountered typically did, though. Perhaps he should try it. He ripped it from the darkspawn's grasp, feeling an electrical energy pulsing along its length. It would do.

"The Path led us to an excellent battle. We are better for it," the shapeshifter commented upon returning to the group. They soon left for the ship, Dekton choosing to remain in his human form, and walk with the others.




The seas did not daunt the shapeshifter, though he had scarcely experienced them before. There was little to fear from water when one could simply turn into a bird at a moment's notice, and put as much distance between themselves and the water as they wished. He had thought of spending the hours as a raven, at least for a while, but he remembered that he had done this already. The battles of the day had proven to Suicide that these people were indeed meant to accompany him along the Path, and as such, it demanded he speak with them about... various things. The actual fighting was only the half of it.

Making his way onto the deck, thumping the spiked end of his new staff into the deck as he walked, to the displeasure of the crew, Suicide peered over the side. The waters rushed below them, violent and beautiful. The occasional spray of water left him more or less glistening, though he did not mind. Nothing here was so cold as the Wilds had been.

He eventually turned away from the sea, to find a peculiar sight: the dwarf, Kerin, the berserker as she had been referred to, was... hugging the mast? Her arms and legs were wrapped around it as though she would perish should she let go. Suicide titled his head slightly at her, before taking a few steps towards her, and crossing his arms over his chest, attempting to understand. The Path took him to peculiar encounters, sometimes. Perhaps something would come of this that he could not yet see.

"What are you doing?" he asked with an entirely straight face, not seeming to find humor in Kerin's position, but rather appearing to simply want to undersand what he was looking at.

"Trying to make the boat stop swaying," Kerin answered in complete deadpan. "As you can tell, it's not working," She finished. The act of just speaking these words sent her stomach into knots which were jerked about by the waves slapping the hull of the boat. Her face turned green and she reached for her helmet beside her, which she then unceremoniously vomitted in. Finished expelling what little food she had eaten, she wiped her chin and set the helmet back down in close reach. She was bound to need it again soon. She hated the water.

She looked up to Suicide with weariness on her face. Despite the trip only starting, she was wishing it was over. Then she answered the why. "Have you seen a dwarf swim? Yeah.... Neither have I. We don't get many ponds down in the slums of Orzammar," she said in her typical blunt manner. "I don't see how you all can handle this rocking, and the water... But especially the rocking. Actually living out on the blasted sea?" She said, pointing at the pirates around them, "They must be insane."

"And they must think the dwarves insane," Suicide countered, "to live their lives without seeing the surface, let alone something like the sea." Suicide glanced around at the pirates as Kerin pointed vaguely towards them. "I cannot yet understand why one would live upon an empty expanse such as this, but if they find fulfillment in this life, then it is their Path, and they are right to follow it."

He shrugged. "Personally, I suspect I am not bothered because I can grow wings if I wish. The water holds no threat for one who can fly." The shapeshifter then decided to take another step forward, and take a seat, perhaps five feet from the dwarf, his darkspawn staff resting across his criss-crossed legs. "You fought well against the darkspawn and the others," he commented, changing the subject. "I expect we will encounter greater battles further along the Path. I will be glad to have such a warrior beside me in the bloodshed."

"Heh, thanks for that. Believe or not, I wasn't always this warrior," Kerin said, "I used to be quite the little duster. Scrounging around the heels of the higher castes for scraps to get through the day-to-day. Well. Used to. It turned out that life wasn't in my Path. My Path had a lot more blood in store for me... A lot more." She said in a hint of a wistful tone. It must have been the combination of the sea and rocking that made her talk like this.

Yet, there that word was again. The Path. Honestly, Kerin didn't fully understand the phrase that Suicide used. It was a curious thing, the way he spoke of it. She tilted her head and asked the inevitable question. "Hey, what is the Path anyway? You speak of it as if it's destiny. Fate," She said with a squint, trying to read the large man. As she asked her question her hand unconsciously went to the brand on her face. It had been a long time since she talked to anyone about fate. In fact, the last person she probably talked about it with was her brother...

Suicide had heard enough about the dwarven caste system to know that it disgusted him. They tried to determine the fates of their kind by birth. They were fools. Everyone had to find their fate for themselves. Those that submitted to such a system, and believed their fates were chosen for them, were truly blind to the Path. From what Kerin said, however, Suicide could be reasonably sure that she was not as blind as others of her kind.

"Forgive me if I make incorrect assumptions about your life," Suicide began, "but it sounds as though you follow your Path already. You see that the life your supposed betters deigned you fit for will not provide any meaning, and so you turn away from it. You seek something that gives you purpose, you make your actions have meaning. You seek out your Path. Your fate is not something that others can explain to you, but something that you must find. It is..."

He frowned slightly. The only other person he had spoken of this to was the Warden-Commander, and it was a difficult concept to put into words. "The Path is a feeling, more than anything else. A feeling that you are satisfied with your life and how you are living, enough so that should your death come upon you, you will not regret, you will not wonder what other roads you could have traveled. You are doing what you decide you are meant to do. We cannot know where the Path ends, should we find it. We can only know that when it does end, it will be our choice. We chose to follow the Path, and thus chose its end, a death that completes us."

He fell silent, holding Kerin's gaze for a moment, before looking down at the staff he'd acquired. Perhaps she would understand, perhaps she would not. He could sense that she was willing to search for the Path, but he could not tell if she was willing to accept it.

Suicide didn't even need to finish the statement. Kerin knew exactly what the man was talking about. She nodded along in understanding, she knew his words echoed her own heart. "Freedom. To decide for myself. To choose my own Path. I suppose I did know about the Path. This brand says I don't exist, that the Stone has forsaken me. We have a score of bodies behind us that tells a different story and hundreds more ahead of us that will come to the same end. True, I don't know where the Path leads... But I choose how to to travel it," she said in acknowledgement... Then her face turned green and she reached for her helmet once more.

When she sat her helmet down feeling a bit lighter she grunted. "I just bloody wish it didn't take me over the sodding sea. That was something I could do without," she complained. "You and I are not so different Suicide," she added, wiping her mouth. "Next time we're in a town-- If I survive that long-- I'll buy the first round, aye?" She said. As it stood, she doubted she could even hold a pint of liquor, much less enjoy it. She ventured a glance at the man once more. She wondered what kind of life would lead to the concieved notion of a path. Much like hers perhaps? Or was it similiar, but completely different as well. She didn't know anything about the Chasind people. Were they as free as the notion of the path led her to believe?

Such curious people, these surfacers. Though she found herself more kin to them than her own people.

"If the Path leads us there, then so it shall be," Suicide said with a hint of a smile. He was glad to have found someone of a similar mindset. Yet another sign that this was where he was meant to be.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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

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




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

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

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

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

He wanted, dearly, to believe they could.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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The Chasind shapeshifter had been standing at the bow of the ship for the better part of an hour, watching the sun come up in the early morning. It was quite a sight to witness from the sea. The way the fiery orange reflected off the waters ahead, but it was almost more of a feeling than anything. A feeling of something on the horizon. The feeling of the morning air against his skin, warm by his standards, but of course, Suicide came from a land where frozen tundra was considered normal, where it was a good day if the freezing rain came lashing straight down rather than sideways. The ship heaved gently on the waves beneath his feet, and though it was a new experience for him, he didn't react in the way Kerin had. It was exhilarating, to experience something he had never felt before. Like a new door opening before him. The Path was nothing if one did not occasionally stop to enjoy the sights.

There was also another reason Suicide had come here, though. He thumped the mace end of his darkspawn staff into the wood of the ship, as though that might make it more willing to display its power for him. It seemed a decent enough weapon. Versatile, at least. He could bash in a darkspawn's skull with the mace end, skewer one with the blade end. He would also be able to blast away at foes from a distance... if he could just figure out the trick. He could feel the magic inside of it, like lightning coursing underneath a thick stone, present, and powerful, but out of his reach. It made him frown at it, as though the staff denying him power was a personal affront, and that it should be intimidated into serving him if nothing else.

Though he would of course not speak of this to the Seeker, or probably the Templar-woman, power was not something Suicide shied away from. In fact, he actively sought it out. So long as the power's price did not impede his ability to live his life as he saw fit, there was simply no reason he should not acquire it. Possibilities opened with power that were closed to the weak. Thankfully, this did not extend to the realm of blood magic. The amplification of his power in such a way was tempting indeed, but to work with a demon so would restrict him in ways he was not willing to accept. This staff, however, was no threat to him. It was simply denying him another method by which he could dispatch his enemies, and he meant to pry it out one way or another.

Judging simple experimentation to be the best method for drawing its power out, Suicide began to thrust the staff forward, slash it horizontally, squeeze it with varying levels of intensity, flip it over and try it again, for a few minutes. More than once he accidentally smacked the mace end against the ship, only to receive rather dark looks from those attending the ship. It wasn't as though they really were going to do anything about him. He'd slept in the hold as a bear the last night, after all. Of everyone on board, Suicide was perhaps the most physically imposing, and outright dangerous looking, if only for how he seemed to embody the spirit of the Wilds from which he originated.

Getting impatient with the staff, Suicide spun in a rather graceful circle, snarling, before slamming the mace end of the staff into the deck. A small blast of lightning exploded before him, arcing up in front of his face, the force generated knocking him back onto his rear and sending him sliding a few feet before he skidded to a halt. He looked at the staff in surprise for a few seconds before erupting into laughter, a deep, growling chuckle that coupled with Kerin's laughter, still at the mast as she was, Suicide's laugh carrying a sense of pure amusement.

With each knot drawing them ever closer to their destination, Ethne's dreams grew increasingly troubled. Never mind that she, unlike most, was in full control of herself and much of her environment during them, for in the end, this only seemed to be making it worse. Desire and Pride pulled at her constantly, attempting to lure her with sweet, honeyed promises of the power she needed to achieve her aims, the power to protect the others, and the peaceful end she sought, the lovely piece of a golden world that she'd set aside for herself in the center of all her aspirations. She'd confessed that small thing to Scally, which meant it was now more than fair game for the beasts that tormented her when her spirit slipped into the Fade. Oh, but if only she were as inured as Kerin, or as strong-willed as proud Solvej!

But if she were, she'd be no use to the cause at all. So she'd done what she always did: focused her mind down to a single stream of thoughts and summoned them to her, those little pieces of happiness that she held close, her assurances that she needed nothing other than what she had, and perhaps Mercy had seen her and sighed knowingly, helping the fledgling summon her sanctuary to her until her dreams were fields of flowers and laurel crowns and happy songs on distant breezes. Either way, she rolled from her cot as nautical dawn encroached on the darkness outside, aware of the time even if she couldn't see the light. Setting herself to rights, she thought wistfully of days when hot baths were easy to obtain and she'd never been for wont of fresh clothes, but this was better and she knew it. A cage, however gilt and beautiful, was still a cage, and the glitter wore away to stark iron everywhere but nostalgia anyway.

Taking staff to hand, the mage picked her way around sleeping bodies, comrades and sailors alike, and ascended the stairs to the deck above. She was about halfway up when she heard a rather impressive thud, and alarm pulled her eyebrows aloft before the sound was joined by rolling laughter. Now more confused than concerned, she pushed open the door at the top of the stairs and squinted against the bare light for a few seconds before her eyes adjusted. Sunrise was scarcely half-begun, but it was so dark down below that her pupils had dilated considerably, it seemed.

Outside, she was met with a rather puzzling sight: the first thing she noted was that Kerin was still at the mast, likely having slept in just such a fashion. What was perhaps slightly odder still was the fact that Dekton was seated as well, not against anything in particular, but rather in a sprawling fashion, and also laughing. Still, if it was a surprise, it was not an unpleasant one, and she grinned without needing to know the reason. "Good morning," she greeted the both of them amicably. "It seems I've missed the fun."

"Hardly," the shapeshifter said, maintaining his grin as he rose to his feet. "I may end up blasted on my arse several more times before I figure out how to tame this thing." He tapped the sturdy wood of his darkspawn staff, before thumping it lightly on the deck. He seemed pleased by the weapon, even though most would no doubt be put off, or even repulsed, by the thought of wielding such a wicked looking tool, one that had no doubt taken the lives of many innocents over its life. Emissaries were no common troops among the spawn. But Suicide seemed to have no qualms whatsoever about using one's tool for murder.

"I have actually never used one before," he commented, shrugging. "The only other mage among my former clan was an old crone. As far as I was aware, her staff was nothing more than a simple walking stick. I certainly never witnessed the power of the elements being cast forth from it." He smiled to himself slightly, recalling the old woman. Hardly able to cast a spell without breaking a bone, and yet she still taught him the things he would need to know to survive on his own as a mage. The wild taught him the rest, once he came to know it like few others did. It was a rather sad thought. The crone had not lasted long when the warband had found them. In fact, she hadn't resisted whatsoever. She had seen the end of her Path, and met it with a smile.

"Never used..." Ethne trailed off, a fair shade of disbelief coloring her tone before she reconsidered and shook her head slowly. No, perhaps it made sense. What need would someone like Dekton have for a staff? Shapeshifting magics were an art unto themselves. Why bother with a simple piece of wood when one's whole being was a weapon, anyway? It was nothing like they taught in Tevinter, what the Chasind could do. The small woman looked first at her feet on the smooth wood of the deck and then at the smooth steel implement in her own hand, apparently pondering something, if the way she chewed her bottom lip was anything to go by.

There was no mistaking the fact that, try as she might to be otherwise, she was afraid of him. It wasn't his fault, really, it was just that he was very large and very male and very much not of her world. Ethne had been quite well-conditioned to fear all of those things, to varying extents, and overcoming those instinctive barriers was an accomplishment that came only with time and ample justification. But... that didn't make it acceptable to refrain from assisting if she could. "Um." A small pause, and she collected herself before smashing headlong into that first mental roadblock. "I can, well... I might be able to help, that is." She chanced a glance upward, well-aware that even at this distance, she had to crane her neck somewhat to meet his eyes. The humor of the previous few moments had been enough to banish her reservations for just a little while, but this was considerably more serious, and once again, she was conscious of how far out of her element she was. If her allies could intmidate her so, her enemies had half the task completed before they even began.

Suicide's face brightened once more at Ethne's mention of help. "Indeed? I would be most glad for any assistance you can offer me." His tone was serious, but certainly not unfriendly. Typical fare for the shapeshifter, really. He picked up on the fact that the girl was intimidated by him to some degree. After all, it was not the first time he had evoked such a reaction from younger and physically smaller individuals. That said, he wasn't really sure what the best way to put her at ease would be. He wasn't capable of making himself smaller while remaining in human form, after all, and he was quite incapable of conversing with her if he changed into his wolf, bear, or raven forms. It was debatable if his wolf and bear forms were any less scary, actually. Although, fur did tend to help matters. If Suicide was any judge, he would make for quite a magnificent pelt in some noble's house.

"The Seeker dealt with the Emissaries before I could study them much, and as such, I have had little to go on. I have been experimenting since first light, but I have only just produced any kind of force. The staff has the power of storms within it, I can feel that much, but I am blind as to how to bring it forth, or give it direction." He left out that he had woken so early because... well, sleeping in the company of others was still something he was getting used to. He'd spent years alone in the wild, finding caves to claim as his own in bear form, places where he alone was king. Here, there were dozens within a few steps of him.

His only choice had been to sleep as a bear. Only that way did he trust himself to sleep, as he had figured the crew would not be eager to bother a sleeping giant with wicked claws and teeth that could crush their bones with little effort. He also just simply slept deeper as a bear, for some reason. The shapeshifter still remembered that one glorious occasion in which he had eaten far more than usual one day before winter, gone to sleep in his cave, and woken up in spring.

In truth, probably without intending to, Dekton had presented Ethne with one of very few situations in which she'd be able to lay her misgivings aside: a quandary, involving a subject she actually knew something about. Peering at his staff, she decided it was not so very different from the one she'd used temporarily the other day after hers had broken. The magic had felt sickly to her, but that might well have been her natural aversion to the source than anything, and she suspected the problem lay elsewhere. It was almost funny, how different their educations must have been; the very nature of a stave made it an idea tool for teaching younglings without quite enough development to summon recognizable spells on their own. As a result, it was one of the first things any mage in Tevinter learned how to do.

"Well," she offered kindly, "From the way you talk about it, it sounds as though you expect the staff itself to produce the lightning. That's... well, it's technically true, I suppose, but misleading." How best to explain? It had all been very intuitve to her, in the way she supposed changing shape to mimic wild things must have been intuitive to him. Putting such concepts into words was difficult by nature. Huffing softly, she gave it a try anyway.

"It's like... hm. When you're a bear, you scratch things, right? It's like that. The staff will technically do the magic, like your claws do the, er... scratching. But really, you have to put the power and direction behind it, like your whole body does when you scratch or fly or what have you. Treat it like part of your body. A little bit of raw energy will do the trick; the wood is enchanted to do the rest." Unsure if the explanation even made sense, she leveled her own over the railing on the boat and swished it just a bit, launching a shard of ice into the ocean. "I suppose it's more a finesse thing than a strength thing," she mused thoughtfully, rocking back on her heels. "Which is probably a good thing for me, anyway. Try again and see what happens?"

Like a part of his body. That Suicide could understand. More so than anyone else in this group, he fought with weapons that were a part of him. Although, he personally would not have used the word scratch. It was so... pitiful. Suicide ripped, tore, shredded, or rended. He did not scratch. That was something a cub would do. It sounded almost playful. Word choice aside, however, and her explanation had made some degree of sense to him. The staff was not literally attached to his body, but he had to think of it as an extension of its being in order to draw its power forth, and to give it direction.

He wondered just how much mages like herself understood about the magic he could perform. Surely she could not recreate it. She had not lived in the wild as he had, she had not come to understand the bear, the wolf, the raven enough to assume their forms. But he was no doubt not the first to do so; perhaps it was documented somewhere. She seemed to have a decent grasp of things, from the way she had explained the staff. This puny little girl had proved her worth several times over already. Not to mention she was the reason he currently had direction. He would see to it that she did not end up a stain on the wall in Val Royeaux.

Finesse. Wolf and raven had taught him enough of that for him to understand. He did not always wish to emulate the bear, after all. He relaxed his grip on the handle of the staff somewhat, and thought of it as though it were his claws, his wings. Or perhaps his tail. As a wolf, it tended to act without his knowledge. A part of him that served a function without him thinking about it. Yes, perhaps that was the best way to think of it. He checked that he had sufficient room about him, before taking the staff in both hands and swinging forward, not thinking about the exact motion, but rather letting his subconscious do the work. There was a hiss as the electricity snaked forth from the weapon's tip, straight and true. He roared in approval.

"And there it is!" he said with a satisfied grin, before firing off several more blasts. His precision was lacking, the arcs of lightning not following the same path with each shot, but it was certainly progress. "It seems I was thinking too much about it, when it is a far more natural and instinctive process than I expected." He then turned to Ethne and gave her a respectful nod. "You have my thanks. I look forward to turning this tool against its makers in Val Royeaux, at your command. You are worthy of the leadership you have been given."

Ethne, who had never managed to be wholly either detached scholar or speciously-present vitally-involved compatriot, was surprised to find herself more the latter than the former in this moment. Whatever the compulsion that led her to it, she was duly proud of Dekton's easy mastery of what she'd said, and not for the fact that she'd managed to say it in a way that made sense to him. Instead, then, of doing what her own tutors would have done and recording the use of idiom and verse that did the trick, or the approximate trajectory of the result, she bounced up and down on the balls of her feet as the first collection of bolts skidded from the end of the staff and out over the water, cheery smile creeping over her features without her conscious input into the matter. She felt a little bit like clapping, but that would be silly and her staff was still in one of her hands besides.

His own enthusiasm was perhaps infectious, and that might well have been the cause, but the moment he was once again disposed to solemnity, she was turning several progressive shades of red and looking at the deck again. Worthy, was it? That seemed far too strong a word for what she'd just done, but she wasn't about to argue the point. Compliments were lovely things, only those entirely lacking in grace chose to turn aside the kindness demonstrated by contesting them. Modest deflection was one thing, but she wouldn't ever say aloud that she thought him wrong. How impolite that would be!

So instead, she cleared her throat softly and dipped herself into a shallow curtsy, more from habit than anything. "You're most welcome."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen

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Rev’s arm was still raised when his comrade had begun to leave him. His prediction earlier came to full fruition, and he began to despise this night. When she disappeared from sight, Rev released a breath of air that he had been unconsciously storing since she released him. His arm did not lower. His mind lagged behind as he realized that all threats had left.

You should have shot her when she had her back turned.

The evil tendril flowed through his mind. Hatred and thoughts of death lingered in his mind. When he came to himself, Rev was more displaced now in his thoughts than he had been the entire night. Why had he thought that? Where did the thought come from? Was he truly as untrustworthy as the Templar made him out to be? A dark mist clouded his mind. His mouth felt sour. He felt weary.

I need sleep.

By this time he had already swallowed the green bolus in his mouth, and began plodding along over the mass of crates. Though they creaked under his weight, they did not show the slightest sign of breaking, which was fortunate because the Elf would neither have noticed, nor cared. His senses dimmed and waned before him; his motions became sluggish. He would collapse if he did not choose a place of rest soon.

He eventually found what could be called a clearing, a roundish space with no crates. It would have to do; it was most likely the best he'd be able to find. As soon as he lay down, however, his ears were assailed with the loud shouts of recently departed comrade. Her clear voice ran through his very head, sending bursts of adrenaline through his body.

You should not have made me angry.” her voice descended down the corridor. “And you definitely should not have brought up my brother.

Miss Gruenwald…" began the reply. The adrenaline served to wake the man from his weary state. “I beseech you, let us not make any rash decisions. You have bested me, yes, but only while I was tired and unawares. You have already stated that you are calm; let us remain that way. I wish you no ill-

Save it.” Her bitter voice seemed to boom inhumanly loud and furious. She appeared through the open door that she had left. What was behind her was not discernible for it was very dark.

Knife-eared swine! You will face retribution for the death of my brother!

"I did no-” began the addressee, but was soon interrupted. Just as before, she would have none of his speech.

Say your prayers while you can!” she yelled, charging. She seemed as though a spectre, her movement was not impaired by the plain of crates before her. She glided along them, more agile than Rev could ever be.

I beg you, let us discuss-

There is nothing TO discuss, you will die!” She raised a battle-cry that was unheard on the deck above. Solvej raised her spear to hurl it towards the Seeker, but she was stopped short by a bolt that ripped through her face and lodged in her brain. Her cry stuck in her throat as she fell, vanquished, forward. A sickening crunch sounded through the large room as the bolt was driven through the back of the Black Templar’s skull.

I am sorry, Miss Gruenwald, I truly am.” Fenlen spoke quietly with sorrow dangling in his voice. He took step after step in what seemed a painful eternity. Each step was harder than the last, but finally his foot made contact with the soil surrounding the body. When he turned her over, he shriveled back in horror.

The quiet of the sunny forest surrounding the young elf disturbed him even more than the roaring of wolves. His fiancé was on the floor, her white dress turned crimson by the dagger that was lodged in her heart. Her hands were wrapped tightly around the weapon, more tightly than the young man could ever hope to untangle.

You did this to her, you know.

I did not! I told her I would accept whatever failings she would have. This tragedy was no exception.

You did this, you know.

Tears filled the eyes of Revaslin, the future Seeker, as he beheld his lost beauty.

I told her it was nothing to worry about, I would still love her- We could get through this.

You did this, you know.

The voice of the lad was breaking, and mangled words and cries choked him.

Why did she have to…

YOU did this.

The steady chant was rising, surrounding the boy, no older than the age of ten. He was wrapped himself in the fetal position in order to try and block out the accusation, but to no avail. A deep baritone laughter seemed to emanate from the forest itself, and snatched at the boy with its large claws.

Leave me alone! came the feeble cry of the boy as he ran away from the body, his companion. He ran as fast as he could, but his small legs did not produce enough speed to outrun the pack of wolves that were chasing him. Their roars made a chord with the laughter that seemed to spiral into the air as they overcame the boy.




Rev started from his makeshift bed, drawing his dagger at the throat of an inexistent enemy. He cursed under his breath as he withdrew his dagger and put it back in its sheath on the inside of his thigh. He was drenched in sweat and was breathing heavily. He was still in his armor, and his body ached in more places than he could count because of it.

He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and massaged his head in order to stop the throbbing. In this state he left the cargo hold, disheveled and stumbling.

It did not take long for the Seeker to compose himself, however. He drew his mask over his mouth and his hood over his hair as he did so, not wanting for anyone to suspect he was the slightest bit weaker than his usual unfeeling self.

The silence of the upper deck reassured him that there was no one around who could see his fallibility, even if they could. The only one on the surface of the boat was the casteless, but she was on the lower deck, hugging the mainmast.

The black sky communicated the reason for the large absence; they were all asleep. Judging from the position of the white specks of light and silver sliver that were the stars and moon, it was midnight, or a bit later. No doubt some were still having their merry time, but if they were, they were doing so below deck. Even so, the Seeker did not wish to be interrupted in his ruminations.

He sought out the rope ladder that led to the top of the mast and into that bowl of a crow’s-nest. He steadily climbed the shaky way to his perceived sanctuary.

When he reached the top, he noticed it was already occupied, but not by a human form. It was a bird, small enough that it could be overlooked, but large enough that it could pose a threat to any attackers. It was black in form and had red streaks on the edge of its wings.

Da’mi…"

A happy cry was sounded.

I told you to stay behind."

An even more self-satisfied caw.

You disobeyed orders."

The reply of the hawk almost gave the impression of that of a song bird.

If I cannot trust you to maintain orders, how can I trust you in combat?

The cry was confused, as that of a child who does not know what he is being punished for.

You shall not fight another battle by my side. If you wish to follow me, I cannot stop you, after all, I cannot fly. But if you wish to encumber me with your presence, I will not have you ruining my battles.

The whimper that followed was little more than dejected.

...Yet still I am unable express my joy at your appearance.

The bird was caught off guard as the Elf in Black propelled himself forward from the rope ladder and wrapped his arms around her.

I have had a terrible night, and the potential loss of our friendship only worsened it. I am glad, truly glad.

This is certain cause for celebration. Come, let us make merry.

Revaslin reached into the same pouch that held his coca leaves and drew a small cylinder from it. It was hollow, and the end was larger in than the top, producing the effect of a cone. This he attached to a long barrel that was hidden in a pack under his cape. The long tube had holes cut into it, and, like the short cylinder, was hollow and made of a wood-like material. Lastly, he attached a beak shaped projection to the top. The three pieces together made a woodwind instrument. With a booming smile on his face, the Seeker began to play a tune. He tried played quietly enough that no one coming up from below deck would notice, but as he lost himself to the rhythm and the song, he played steadily louder. Though normally he would not let himself lose control like this, there was too much joy in his heart at the current moment to contain.

The melody began to branch off from the calm waves that periodically pounded the ship. It spoke of longing, but soon gave way to a satisfied joy. It spoke of adventure, and soon turned into a happy shanty. It spoke of tragedy, yet soon grew into acceptance. It spoke of constraints, yet gave the sonorous cries of promised freedom. Every now and then Da'Mi chose to sing along, and though she did not hit any of the correct notes, it served to make the Seeker even happier.

It was a good song; the day had taken a much needed turn for the better.

Ethne knew more than a little bit about nightmares. It was of no surprise to her that they'd woken her after a scant few hours of sleep; they tended to do that. She was presently a tree unearthed, roots exposed and pale, twisted fragments of what had once anchored her in certainty: the will of a Magister. Ever since she'd thrown off those shackles, stolen that horse and freed herself from that other will, she had not found it as easy as she'd thought, to live the way she wanted. It was perhaps largely becuase she did not know what she wanted. The fledgling dreams she'd given Rhapscallion to share were entrusted to him as much for safekeeping as friendship, just in case she should forget them and need to be reminded. Maybe it was selfish, to think that way, but she hoped that maybe she was doing the same thing for him, cupping his aspirations in the tender flesh of her palms and holding it close to her heart, just in case he ever forgot and needed her help to remember. Just in case he ever wore too thin, tread so lightly that he failed to leave real footprints anymore.

It might not have been the case, he might be so much stronger than she, but it made her happy to think so.

The Demons preyed on her uncertainty, on the waver in her resolve that echoed across the Fade in haunting ripples. She was glad nobody else could feel it; she was surely much weaker inside than even her frail form would suggest. She was blown glass, stained with colors still unsure, faded, not yet rich and bright as they should be.
She'd woken gasping, with a tremor in her hands that would not leave her even now. Leaving her staff where it was, she'd sent a quiet thanks to her spirits that she'd woken nobody else with her frailty, and she'd climbed out onto the deck. Sleep would elude her for a while still, and she saw no good to be done simply laying in the dark and waiting for the terrors to retake her. The night air was chilly out here; she'd quite nearly forgotten that it was winter. For the moment, though, she found it bracing rather than freezing or numbing, and she smiled to herself when she caught sight of Kerin sleeping, still hugging the mast for dear life. She shouldn't be amused by the dwarf's fear of the ocean, and really it wasn't that, just that she found it... endearing. Like a fierce warhound that turned into a big puppy when it stormed outside, only she was pretty sure Kerin didn't really want anyone rubbing her belly or soothing her with gentle words.

She bit her lip to keep from giggling. Now there was a mental image she'd have to share with Scally. Puppy-Kerin.

Ethne was drawn from the thought by a unfamiliar sound, and her ears twitched almost thoughtfully. Music? She stilled, listening harder, and there it was. The elf-girl blinked and smiled, shaking her head. The musician, whomever it was, was certainly no bard, but there was a happiness to it that sort of made her want to dance a jig anyway. Curious as to who would be playing at this time of night, she followed the sound until she was on the opposite side of the mainmast from the dwarf, then looked up. It seemed to be issuing from above, and she figure it must be whatever one of the pirates kept residence up there. They seemed a friendly lot, and surely wouldn't mind a silly little thing like her asking about it, so she swung herself onto the rigging as quietly as she could and began her ascent.

If anyone had ever thought to say sailors didn't need to be fit, she'd be happy to correct them. She was feeling the fatigue in her limbs acutely by halfway up, and frankly she surprised herself by making it all the way. Grasping the rim of the crow's nest (what a cute name for it, she'd thought), she poked her head above the rim of the basket and looked around, face blooming into that silly grin again when she saw that the culprit was not a sailor at all. "Why hello. I didn't expect to see you here, Ser Seeker."

As the mage approached, Rev felt a shiver go down his spine. He could feel the Fade tearing at his mind, still half-weary from the sleepless nights he had spent earlier. He almost stopped playing, but felt that it would help him maintain control of himself, as a sort of therapy. The song wavered in a bridge, and soon came to a close as soon as her head popped over the edge of the barrel. Though he was mildly embarassed, he knew nothing could be done at this point. He was discovered, and perhaps now he would not be seen as the unfeeling and uncaring harbinger of order as he had tried to present himself earlier. Nevertheless, the Seeker was trained to find the good in even the worst situations, and the appearance of his leader was no exception. Now would be an excellent opportunity to speak with her.

"Miss Venscyath..." he began, ceasing his playing. "It is a pleasure to see you. Unfortunately, I have not introduced myself as of yet. My name is Revaslin Fenlen, though many people refer to me by the name 'Rev', for their tongues are torn at the mere attempt to pronounce it. You may address me as you will, I have endured many names, some of which were ridiculing."

For a moment, Ethne just blinked, apparently not really sure what to do with that statement, but then she shrugged. "Can't be any harder to say than 'Venscyath,'" she pointed out, intentionally deepening her voice and giving it false solemnity for the name only. She'd always thought it was a bit too stately-sounding for her, anyway, but the Magister had insisted that his favorite tool have a name every bit as unweildy and gravatic as the titles of those it would be used against. "What would you like me to call you, Revaslin Fenlen? I'd call you Fenly, but it probably doesn't sound very dignified." Her nose scrunched playfully, but the expression was ephemeral and fleeting, and it vanished shortly thereafter, as she clambered into the nest without asking, sitting far enough away that she didn't think she'd be in his personal space.

"I have no preference, to be honest. I would you call me Revaslin, or Fenlen, but if you truly gain pleasure from the name 'Fenly', so be it. I will not be the one to rob you of that joy.

"You must forgive me for being abrupt, but I would also speak with you. Much of what I have to say could potentially influence our battles, one way or the other. We can speak of more pleasant things after this crucial discussion." He paused as if to collect his thoughts, and took off his hood and mask. If he was to speak with his team, they would have to feel assured that he would not hide anything from them, much less his face.

"What I have to say consists of a plea, or a favor, as you will, a critique of our battles thus far, a warning which is more of a request, and..." he paused, somewhat hesitant of whether to mention the last item on the list or not. Solvej had indeed gotten through to him to some extent, for her logic was in fact sound. Though he felt what he did was necessary, Fenlen could see where it could be found to be distasteful to some.

"...and an apology." That last bit was almost ripped from him. Now the dye was cast, and he had forced himself to say it. Perhaps it was because her presense made his thoughts blurry, but he felt that it was necessary to talk to her about the "treachery" he was accused of.

"Take your pick." he said, with a trace of subservience in his voice.

"Fenlen it is, then," was her initial response, as she figured it would be smarter to deal with the thing that she actually knew about before breaking into any of those title-tags he'd slid in there. It was kind of like walking in a library, tracing her spindle-thin fingers along the spines of books, names etched in gold filigree, each one a precious artifact, but separate and discrete from the others. She almost didn't want to touch them, for fear that her hands were too soiled or something of the sort. Ethne understood that there were different kinds of people. There were people like her and Scally and Lukas, who wore their hearts on their sleeves, their feelings free for anyone to discern. There were people like Dekton and Kerin, who had borne their share of pain on stout, capable shoulders, but who were able to speak of themselves when the opportunity was right. Then there were people like Solvej and Fenlen, from whom she sensed pain, buried so deep that maybe sometimes they couldn't even reach it. Perhaps that was what they hoped for, that they could stow it under so many layers of secrets and mystery and things happening now that it would never resurface.

Maybe she didn't know anything at all about it, and maybe she as wrong for trying to understand. Either way, it made her a bit uncomfortable, and she shifted slightly, turning so as to be facing him head on. "I suppose... whatever order you'd like. The one you gave just now, if you can't decide." Her smile was gone, brought down with what appeared to be some unknown weight, and the situation itself was heavy in her thin arms. Even so, she managed to look open, earnest, and without the slightest desire to decieve. It was a shortcoming of hers, that she couldn't lie to save her own life. It made her own secrets that much more like curling tendrils in her stomach.

Rev sighed heavily. It seemed that once more he was making the situation worse. He was not a person who commonly enjoyed the presense of others, yet this mission that he was on would, in one way or another, force him to do so. Though he was indeed once very social, his more recent life had served to dull that part of him. Rarely if ever did he meet a soul who would act with sincerity towards him. Here was someone who represented the exact opposite of what made the Seeker so reserved, someone who seemed to appreciate his thoughts, and already it seemed he had taken the smile from her face. Though his usual facade would cause noone to pay the slightest bit of attention to him, in this case it was alienating him from someone that he may just have to give his life to.

"I am sorry if I make you uncomfortable," he began, breaking eye contact and looking away. If this were someone he would shed blood with, there was no use keeping the monotone visage that he found so protecting. His tone became more vulnerable than before, somewhat more relaxed. Perhaps one could even imagine it being relieving. "I am not used to speaking with people on common terms. My conversations tend to be more blunt and lack the comradery that one would like."

It was odd, speaking in such a manner to someone whom he did not know. Only with the exception Da'mi, who took the opportunity to fly onto the top of the mast, and Viru had been allowed into the inner sanctum of the Elf's mind. Why was he releasing himself to his new leader? Was it the fact that she was elven too? That would leave the other elves, many who hated the Seeker, as grave exceptions to such a rule. It was something about her manner, something about the way she spoke. Maybe she was rubbing off on him.

Rev paused, awaiting a reply. It would surely be considered churlish if he did not allow his young master to speak.

Ethne shook her head. "It's not that, exactly. I just... I'm not used to things like this. It's not your fault I'm uncomfortable." She smiled thinly, nodding so he'd know she didn't have any problems with him saying whatever he thought he needed to.

Rev did not take much comfort from the response he'd recieved, but that would simply have to be fixed in later times. This discussion would need to happen sooner or later, and its importance only grew with time.

"Thank you." Rev started speaking with his head bowed. Raising his head to make eye contact once more, he began to address the matter that was itching at his mind for a long while.

"I will proceed to discuss what I feel is most eminent. This concerns your affiliation with the fade. I gather that you are a Dreamer, Somniari in our ancient tongue, and that the fade clings to you like a wet cloth. I do not know how to begin exactly, I have never really spoken of this to anyone....[color]"

Rev hesitated shortly, but continued without much delay.

"[color=#CC0000]I have a sort of... for lack of a better term... allergy to the Fade. Though it allows me to detect the presence of magic and magi, it also tears at my mind. It attacks at my control and makes my more primal instincts take hold.
"

He drew breath before continuing, his voice uncertain. Never before had he revealed this weakness to anyone, and it was hard to do. The particular circumstances, however, nagged at him, and he would eventually have to, if reluctantly, speak of this.

"Normally, it is not a problem. In order for it to be truly detrimental, much magic needs to be cast, or the veil needs to be significantly altered. With you, however, this illness becomes rather intolerable. Though my grasp on my mind has been strengthening with your continued proximity, it still requires considerable effort to maintain. In our first battle together, I nearly lost it. I could have become a berserker like our dwarf, and not be able to discern friend from foe. It was when you did... whatever you did to those demons that I truly was uncertain of myself."

Rev sighed once more, feeling his restraint go with his breath.

"I do not expect you to cease casting spells, but I would ask you to hold me in consideration. Moreover, I would ask you," his voice filled with a tone of pleading, "if at all possible, would you allow me to train with you? I wish to become more in control, and I fear I cannot do so without your help."

Ethne chewed her lip, glancing up at her comrade with something approaching shame. "I'm very sorry," she said quietly. "I had not been aware that my magic caused you so much distress."

" Do not be sorry, I blame you not.

The elf-girl nodded subtly, then sighed. "This... makes things much more complicated. I suppose I can do my best to give you a wide berth, but I must confess that I am not like you or the others. My magic is all I have, and I am not so used to combat that I can easily avoid manipulating the Fade if I want to keep myself alive. Or heal anyone, for that matter. Still, I promise I'll do what I can." Cross-legged, her hands rested on her knees, fingers tapping in some foreign rhythm. "As for training, I... well, I honestly don't know how much help I'd be. You don't really develop a tolerance to the Fade in the same way you learn to tolerate a disease or the cold. It is always there, always more powerful than you expect it to be, and it seems endless to my eyes." She swallowed. That had been a difficult lesson to grasp, when she'd learned it. Who wanted to wake up one day and be told that they had to learn to control something infinite or else be its puppet? It was something only learned, never mastered.

"But if you think it would assist, I will gladly help in whatever way I may."

A shadow of a smile crept its way up the Seeker's face as the girl before him spoke. She had a constant modesty about her, something few mages ever even considered. This was that good type of mage, eh? The kind he was always told about, but never shown. It was interesting in the least.

Once more he bowed, this time in gratitude. His hand over his heart, he said, "I thank you earnestly, but I believe that it is exactly your magic that will give me peace. When you healed Miss Gruenwald after she had received a truly brutal turn in our last battle, I felt a sort of peace come over me. I can only describe it as seeing blue skies after living a life of storms. I felt the fade around you, but it seemed different than I am used to. It seemed... good."

His smile grew slightly as he remembered the sensation, but quickly snuffled the thought. Now was not the time.

"This leads me to believe that your affinity with the fade is not as much of a threat as I would have first imagined, indeed, I felt almost clear of my malady.

"It is, however, when you... I don't really know what you did exactly, but it felt as waves of the fade crashing, tentacles reaching from the abbyss to slap the demons away, that I truly felt out of control. It is that which we will need to focus on. If I had truly lost control, I would not dare to ask of you this, but since I have a meager hope, pray,"

Once more the elf paused. He was not used to asking favors. He kept himself alive by making sure others needed him more than he needed them, so that he would be beyond their attacks. Dependency was a dangerous thing, and Rev would fain toy with such a force. Nevertheless, this was of the utmost importance, and he would simply have to break himself.

"Would you agree to having magical practice session near me? Throw the fade at me with your discretion, so that I can realize the tolerance I need. "

Ethne wasn't surprised that he reacted well to her healing. It was always the one part of her magic that she'd never had an issue with. Calling the spirits to her always felt wonderful, like she was being absolved of her sins for even just a moment, cleansed in some baptism of fire. It always went away, in the end, but with them at her back, the tiny girl felt mighty and forgiven and cared for. The other process he indicated was a bit different, and she nodded. "I suppose I can understand the trouble there. It was a partial banishment; I had to tear a hole in the Veil in order to send the demon back from whence it came. If your, erm, allergy is to the Fade itself, you would have had more direct contact with it in that moment." She paused to consider, clasping her hands in her lap. "I'd happily practice with you around if you like; it is not as though I have to worry about other mages trying to sabotage me or something silly like that."

A legitimate concern in Tevinter, not so here.

Fenlen ran his fingers through his hair, with a sigh of relief. He half expected her to deny and simply keep a large distance from him. "I cannot give you enough gratitude, but I must say 'Thanks' regardless. It relieves me to share my burden somewhat. I would ask you to keep this between ourselves for I am very... embarassed... at this weakness of mine."

"Since it is related, I would like to proceed on to the warning." He spoke in a very delicate tone, for he did not know how she would react.

"At the risk of sounding insulting, I would ask you to remain away from my dreams. Until today I did not know your character, so I could not judge. Now that I have a grasp (how ever small it may be) of who you are, I can feel that this warning is unnecessary. You have a rather courteous tone, which I am sure extends to your actions. Years have served to drill within me a very cautious and explicit manner, which I am fain to release. The importance of this is paramount, therefore I feel that I must give my thoughts voice.

"I do not know what effect walking into my dreams will have upon both of us, and I do not wish to test our luck. I do not know how exactly the mechanism works, so I cannot say what will happen if you get hurt in one of my dreams, but know that many if not all of my dreams are unpleasant, and surely you would not want to experience them..

"In either case, I would not be able to stop you, so it would be more correct to phrase this as a request. Please," now there was a word that was seldom pronounced by this particular Seeker, "leave my mind, for both of our sakes."

Perhaps it should be expected, that someone would say something of this nature to her. It hurt a bit, that someone felt the need to request such a thing of her directly, as though she would by default wander where she did not belong, but she could not say he was wrong. If he'd been making the plea a scant half-year previous, she could have promised him nothing. That was what hurt most of all, the pang of old sin in her tender-soft heart. He was right; he would not be able to stop her, and he was wrong; when one could pull at the very fabric of dreams, twine the shining tapestry-threads about her fingers and tug, unmaking reality itself, becoming injured was hardly a problem. She hated it. Still, she chose to interpret that bit as concern for her well-being, and that, she decided was a little bit touching.

It turned her lips upwards, more a quirk than a smile, but she looked resolutely at her clasped hands. "That is a promise I cannot give, for we face I know not what, and there may be a time when entering your dreams is the only way I have of saving your life. Rest assured, though, that I would never do so for my own amusement or simple curiosity. I know better than a great deal of people what a nightmare is, Fenlen, and I know I wouldn't want someone to see mine." She chanced a glance upwards again, meeting his eyes. Though she did not voice it, there was an implicit apology in the gesture. Heart on her sleeve, feelings readable always on her face. She had no wish to be otherwise. It was poor assurance, she knew, but there was little she could do to make anyone comfortable with what she was; she certainly could not risk that keeping her word would also keep her from doing what was right.

"Then that," Rev said with a small smile, "is all I can ask of you.' Not a trace of suspicion or mistrust was on that solemn face. Though those qualities were omnipresent in the Seeker, the frank manner of the girl made it much easier to seem frank. It also helped that he began to feel trusting of this elf. Truly, it was an experience.

A smile, what a fascinating gesture. The smallest movement in a few muscles gave so much way into a person's heart. How long was it since he'd seen or shared a smile with another? It was a release, it was a freedom. He almost let his guard down.

What made her different from the rest? What made her "trustworthy"? No doubt about it; it was because she chose to trust first. Though surely it was a weakness, to be so trusting, to open one's self to the peering eyes of others, to those that may exploit one, the advantages were clear. It was good that Malik had chosen this one for a leader. Though she may be weak and frail, her ability to inspire trust from her comrades would make up for any physical shortcomings. Yes, Rev now understood why the Black Templar felt so strongly on the subject. This one would function as the adhesive the kept the group together, that made sure the group functioned.

There was no mistaking his purpose now. The sneak-elf would protect his leader with his life, without resigning to his duty. He would do so willingly, if only to save such an honest soul. No one would take advantage of her trust. Though Rev could not be as trusting as she, he would use his reservations to maintain objectivity in her stead. In that way would he serve her.

This only made the subsequent conversation more important.

"Let us continue then." he said, simply and with a touch of relief in his voice. "I would presently give you a critique, yet I feel before I get to it,"

Once more Fenlen paused, a touch of sorrow shaking his voice. It was hard to admit a percieved folly, for a folly was a weakness. Many would exploit it, but he felt that the girl that sat opposite him would not even imagine doing such. She was an honest soul, or else more versed in the arts of subterfuge and chicanery than he could hope to outmatch. In the former case, he had nothing to worry about, and in the latter case, she would know of it regardless. Either way, there was no sense in sheltering the thought any further.

"I must... I must apologize." It almost seemed as though he blurted out the final part of the statement. It was hard, unlearning his defenses, but he would have to do it, or else keep away from the group entirely while his services were unneeded.

"In our first battle, I had foreseen the ambush, yet I did not alert the company to the attack. This had meant that you were harmed as a direct result of my inactions. I crave your pardon and forgiveness. My only intention was to observe the group under stress so that we may acquaint ourselves with each other's talents and lackings. Though I have as a result of this some valuable comments, I cannot overlook the danger that I have placed you in. Once more I beg your condonation.

"Truly, this is hard for me, but you have thus treated me with respect and honesty, and, indeed, it woul be barbaric not to treat you in the same way."

Ethne blinked, a worried crease furrowing its way into her brow. She tried to understand this piece of information, supposing that it had not been easy to part with. It wasn't really something that she could comprehend, choosing that particualr course of action, but she weighed his reasons as given and supposed that, if she looked at it the right way, it made some certain kind of sense. Her shoulder twinged uncomfortably at the memory of that first battle, but it was purely psychosomatic, she knew. She couldn't quite condone it, and she couldn't quite make perfect sense of it, so she did the one thing she could do: she forgave it. "I can't quite say I wouldn't have preferred a warning," she said lightly, trying to bring a bit of humor to the situation at her own clumsy expense, "But as long as nobody got hurt for good, I suppose it's fine. I'd, um... well, if you could maybe not do so again, I'd really appreciate it, though. Arrows are kind of painful." She looked a bit sheepish at that; he probably knew that, so there wasn't much point in her saying it, but she was truly horrible at guarding her tongue.

"If you learned something from it though, I'd be grateful to know it." The whole business was, after all, still quite new to her at least, and she was nothing if not willing to learn what her comrades had to teach her.

In response to the jest, Revaslin gave a short chuckle, deep and somewhat hearty. "You are a child of good humor." He said, a misty smile on his face. If one peered closely, he would find the smile to be not entirely truthful, but not entirely false either. "I appreciate that, and I appreciate your forgiveness."

The smile faded as his thoughts drifted back to business. His face grew stern and once more became an immovable mask rather than a moving, breathing entity.
"As much as I am unused to social interaction, I am even more unused to the method of combat and mentality that this entire group seems to employ. Beyond all else, no caution is given; no thought is given to tact. In our first battle, you came to the body as fish does to the bait. Thus it was a simple matter ambushing the group.[/color]
"The steps this party takes are not light-footed, but heavy and quick. They charge to battle without heed of plan. If one would compare battle to a ballroom dance, then each person dances to his own tune. Some dance a steady waltz while others trample the dance-floor as the very beasts that we are trying to defeat. In my experience battles are planned out, choreographed, in a sense. Everyone knows his place; everyone fits into his own niche. Though our battle certainly kept to the common roles of large warriors in the midst of battle, frail mages behind, and rogues in an auxiliary position, almost no heed was given to what was occurring on the other side of the battle. While glancing at trees, one must not forget he is a forest, lest the wolves devour him, yes?

"Much of that was improved in the second battle, when the iron-clad warriors fought together as a unit, yet still the matter was unaddressed. Each danced to his own tune, as if on different fields. Some tact was introduced when the ogres appeared, but I do not find it to be satisfactory.

"If we know that a battle is to occur, let us take some time to plan out our course of action. Let us choose the melody and the general movements. The second battle could have been a minimal one, if we took the time to think. I could have prepared numerous traps that the enemy would have been lured into by our heavy units. The rest could have been defeated by the spells of our mages. We could have set an ambush and no one would need to be hurt until we would have eventually been surprised by the ogres.

"No doubt much of this is due to our inexperience as a team. I do not wish to blame this group more than I have to, but even still, it seems that some if not most members revel in the chance of battle. It may be something that needs to break years of training, but it must be fixed.

"I am no Grey Warden, but it is my understanding that we are heavily outnumbered. Though we may outmatch them in skill, it is only a matter of time before they defeat us, as the feeble wind may erode the large boulder in time. We will need every edge we can get, and most certainly this is important."

Ethne's face flushed a deep red. It was certainly not her brightest moment, running to the corpse as she had, but she could not say that the would do any different the next time. The truth was, that man could have been alive, and if she would have been able to save him, then the responsibility would have fallen to her. She would not abandon that principle, that instinct, because it was one of the few relics of her training that she could not find too much fault with. What use was a healer who was too afraid to go to a potential patient? The coloration gradually faded as she considered, turning his words about in her mind as though they were some fascinating new discovery. "I understand what you're saying," she affirmed quietly. "All the same, I don't think we can really expect tactical perfection from a group of people who barely know each other. That first battle... we were learning of each other just as you were learning of us."

Her words had started tentatively, but they gained some strength as she was speaking. "I agree that we should plan where possible, but it's hard to plan for being ambushed. If Dekton had stopped to plan before he jumped into that fight, I probably would have died. Those darkspawn were there before anyone knew; I don't think it's quite right to say that we intentionally charged into that one. Even so... I think that yes, planning is important. I just don't know if we'll always have enough information, and that's my fault. I can only get so much from the dreams before I have to wake up again. Sometimes, we really will be blind, and when those times come, we'll just have to trust each other, and know each other well enough to change tactics quickly... I think." She'd probably ruined whatever sense she might have been speaking with that qualifier, but her eyelids were getting heavy again, and she was reminded that the hour was late.

"Whatever we do," she continued with a yawn, covered hastily with a hand, "We probably shouldn't do it until we both get some sleep. It's important for our health, after all."

"What you say is understandable, and I agree.[/colot]" Rev could not have expected more, yet he did feel as though this one was missing the point. Mayhap it was her tiredness that covered her eyes to his meaning. "[color=#CC0000]Perhaps we can speak of this at a later date then. Before you depart, however, would you grant me one more answer?"

Ethne nodded sagely, standing but otherwise not moving from her spot in the nest. "What is it?"

"Why exactly are we heading towards Orlais? You said Orlais was our destination, not a stop along the road. I was not informed of our mission beyond its importance, and I have not been gone from Orlais long. Has something happened?"

Ethne shifed her weight from one foot to the other, her eyes taking on a distant cast as she seemed to look somewhere beyond the middle distance. "It is the first destination," she answered softly. "I do not know how frequently you have heard from anyone there, but... we venture to Orlias becuase he is there. First of the Four. Morpheus." The last word was uttered with something approaching dread, and a small shiver caused a tremor in her spine. "May your dreams bring you solace, Fenlen." With that, she clambered back over the side of the nest and began her descent.

"I thank you for your company and your ear, and I wish you the same." This fragile creature had acted humbly and kindly towards the Seeker, one who kept himself apart from everyone else. Perhaps this was a rare friendship that he would be able to experience. Two warriors shedding blood together did not always warrant a personal bond. Even if this did not result in a true alliance, Rev was still feeling much better.

"Come, Da'mi, let us make merry once more."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Mission Briefings have been updated.
New Codex Entry

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Mission Briefings have been updated.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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"Shall we pave our Paths with the Taint of Darkspawn then?" Kerin peered up to the large Shapeshifter, a grin playing at her face. She thought that was a clever quip, though she had never been sharp with wordplay... Only battle. She hefted her axe from her shoulder to her hand, eager for the bloodletting that was to come. She was eager for the chance to relieve the weeks of frustration she had from being stuck on that Stone-forsaken boat. The Darkspawn would do rather nicely for this purpose.

Suicide's eyes were unmoving from the darkspawn and oh, but there were many of them. Time for the group to once again show their mettle. Three of them he had seen depart in order to carve a path through the enemy to this Warden the Templar spoke of. That meant that the majority of these creatures would perhaps fall to him. The shapeshifter certainly didn't have a problem with that. He was off immediately towards them, expecting the berserker to be right at his side, eager for battle after the ship ride as she was. Perhaps if the healer remained close by, she could mend his injuries even as they occurred, and allow him to fight harder, longer.

The nearest he caught with a lightning bolt from his staff, knocking it on its back. He paid it no further heed; the horde needed to be dealt with, not the individuals. As he came upon the main body, he gathered energy within a hand, the power of storms, and launched an arc of lightning from his palm, letting it tear into the first victim, and jump to a few nearby as well, causing all of them to violently seize for a moment before the force was too much, and parts of their bodies burst before his eyes. A hurlock came to meet him, which he responded to by leveling the blade end of his staff in his direction and impaling the creature, the sword bursting out the hurlock's back and taking him off of his feet. As the beast crashed to the ground, Suicide became a beast of his own, body and weapon morphing instantly into the hulking form of a bear, and he immediately began to swipe, claw, and crush anything that came close.

Axes bit into him from behind, spears poked at him from in front, but he paid them no mind, dispatching the enemies with ruthless efficiency, and extreme pleasure. He hoped the dwarf could keep up, and that the sheer amount of gore didn't faze the elf girl at all.

And keep up the dwarf did. Running right beside the Shapeshifter right into battle, Kerin's face shone with the berserker's grimace. She had weeks of frustration to work off, and she dug right in. The first 'Spawn she came across gut cut off at the thigh. She finished the job by driving the hilt of the axe into the base of the 'Spawn's skull and went to the next one. Rather, the next group. She leveled her axe and with pushed off with her stout legs, scything through a number the tainted monsters with great speed. Now truly in the middle of the fray, Kerin felt alive as the adrenline surged through her veins. Euphoria, glee, and rage all swirled together and mixed inside the berserker. This was her element, this was where she belonged, not on some boat in the middle of the water-- in her armor, in the middle of a battle.

Gore sprayed Kerin, though she wasn't sure whether it came from her own deeds, or those of the hulking shapeshifter beside her. Though, she did keep enough sense of mind to keep her mouth shut, else risk going crazy from the taint. An enraged grin did manage to play at the ends of her lip as Suicide took the form of the bear. Things were getting fun now. Firmly lodged in the middle of a Darkspawn horde, the weight of their onslaught pressed upon her shoulders, but she was strong enough to take it. She thrived in predictaments like this, where the odds were stacked against her. She lived to prove that she was the master of her own fate. In order to create some breathing room for herself and cause untold carnage, she hefted her axe into the air and began to swing it in a whirlwind of blade and blood. When she came to a stop, a circle of darkspawn laid dismembered around her the beast's black blood beaded and dripped down the dwarven made armor she wore.

Her steel eyes shined with unbridled fury as a haunting grin painted a dangerous aura around the berserker. Suicide was not the only one to have the heart of a bear. Paying no heed to what wounds she may have recieved, she once again brought the fight to the Darkspawn horde, letting loose a feral yell before her axe bit into the next foe.

The fight was on, and Ethne let the others rush off in the directions they chose, the plan solid if not much communicated. With a shout, Solvej beckoned Rudhale forward, to carve their way to the other Warden the once-Templar sensed, and Rhapscallion disappeared into her shadow. Kerin and Dekton, on the other hand, would be taking on the majority of the horde in this area, and so it made the most sense for her to help them maintain cover for Solvej and the others, else they be surrounded in their press to move forward. This might work, if all she did was stand back and let them take the hits on her behalf, throwing healing spells with as much speed as she could muster, but that was not all she was capable of, and perhaps it was time she proved it.

Ethne, checking to be sure that Fenlen's proximity was not too close, slipped into the Fade, that strange amber filter dropping over everything she saw, until it was all connected, all pulsing with magic and energy and life. It was warm, the feeling of a human or an elf or a dwarf (though they were not as easily detected), but the Darkspawn were cold, so cold, sapping the force from everyhing around them. She dare not examine that barrier, not yet. Instead, she sent out a call, more a thought than a vocalization, and smiled when Vitality answered. Help me, please, she asked of the spirit, and he obliged, wrapping her in his essence until she was cloaked even to the naked eye in faint, shimmering white light. Ripples of it travelled down her arms and legs, and from her skin to her bones, she was flooded with that heated life-force, more energized than she'd ever felt in her life.

Her fingers tightened on her staff, and Ethne set her jaw. Looking past Kerin and Dekton, she watched the 'Spawn cluster, groups breaking off to engage the Templars, the Chevaliers, and her stalwart companions. Grasping the metal weapon in both hands, she brought it parallel to the ground and breathed deeply, imagining the charged smell of the air just before a great storm. Will it, and it shall be so. One of her tutors had told her as much once, and it certainly applied now. As the girl swept the focus-end of the rod downwards, the first glistening bolt of lightning struck, bringing down a genlock charging to flank Kerin. The rest hit further off, thinning the ranks before they ever made it to the line of confrontation. A sharp gesture summoned a stonefist to hand, and this flew effortlessly between her two friends to strike an Alpha square in the nose, snapping its head back with an eerie crack.

There was blood and ash everywhere, but for all that she did not waver, the line between Fade and reality blurred to her senses. She shifted in and out of it almost without noticing, but for a Darkspawn, there was precious little difference anyway. A death was a death to them, whether on this plane or the next, and many Darkspawn would die today.

A pile of tainted bodies was growing around him, and the shapeshifter did not let up. His strength was immense as a bear, darkspawn after darkspawn falling under shredding blows of his claws. His stamina could only last so long, however, and the spawn were vast in their numbers here. He would need to pace himself somewhat. Fight smarter now to fight harder later. It would put more pressure on Kerin, but he had already sustained several wounds already, and he had not mastered the techniques of a berserker as the dwarf had. After creating himself an opening by pounding several of the closest darkspawn away from him, he shifted back to human form, his staff immediately in motion as the Dreamer had taught him, arcs of electricity slowing down two nearby charging hurlocks.

A group pressed towards him on his right, and Suicide responded by lashing out with a cone of ice, the intense cold of the Wilds flowing through his hand. The blast of ice froze some of them solid, icicles impaling a few others. The next moment he had leaped into the air, shifting into a raven and flying in a backwards loop, coming down to the ground near where Ethne was casting spells. He shifted back and landed next to her, though he was sure to position himself slightly between her and the spawn, though not so much as to get in her way. He'd learned that the girl could look out for herself, but it would still be wise for him to engage encroaching spawn before her, given his massive strength and size over her.

"More of the blind, the unworthy!" Dekton bellowed between blasts of his staff. "Come and meet your end!"

Kerin didn't see the departure of the shapeshifter back towards Ethne, and as such, she didn't realize that she was the lone warrior in front. Not that the would have cared in her state. She was a demon in armor, swinging and twisting her axe so that all those fool enough to gather around her all got an equal taste of the steel and iron. Her face was twisted into some cruel visage, a mix of anger, hate, joy, happiness, and freedom. Her teeth bared like a rabid mabari yet the corners of her lips twisted into a smile, her brows were furrow in an expression of rage but her eyes twinkled with excitement and something... More. Something dangerous. Wherever she strode, a wake of bodies would be left behind. However, she could not keep up her pace for long. The berserker had immense stamina and could outlast many more on the field of battle, but she was the lone stone against an endless tide of darkspawn.

More and more blades and axes came for her, and the harder she had to work so that they wouldn't land a death blow. Blood began to run freely from between the plates and chainmail of her armor, and though she did not feel the pain, she knew that she had to change tactics. She could not last forever in the front-- though she did last the longest. A consolation prize as she would see it. Instead of pressing forward with long swings of her axe, she began to step back. During her blood frenzy, Kerin believed she saw evidence that Ethne was with them. If anyone was going to keep her alive to create her own fate, it was the elf. She struck out with the hilt of the axe, striking a Hurlock in the groin to bring him to his knees. As the creature knelt Kerin swung the axe and beheaded it before swinging the axe back around and slamming it into the ground-- creating a localized tremor.

With the 'Spawn around her stunned or tripped, she turned around around and began to run back to where she believed Ethne was. She could kill a lot of the bastards by herself, but together, they could kill them all. She stopped beside Ethne and grunted, "Glad you could join us Twig-bean. Thought me and Suicide would have to kill them all by ourselves. I'll try not to get blood on your dress"

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

“L-Let's finish this, shall we?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sleep.

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Mission Briefings have been updated.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was alone.

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

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

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

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


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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris

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Mira was not comfortable. She’d been to the Orlesian capital more than a few times, and had certainly never seen it like this. A warzone she understood, to some degree. People fought, stuff was wrecked, eventually it stopped, and then everything was put back up again and made normal. There was something extremely wrong at the moment, however, and something in Mira’s gut told her that there was a chance it wouldn’t just go back to normal eventually. Only if someone did something about it. Mira had never thought of herself as the heroic type, but she had made it this far… and though she didn’t know the first thing about magic or how to stop it, she happened to like this city a great deal. If it was within her power to return it to normal, then she would try. For herself, of course. She didn’t want to have to pick out a new vacation spot when this was all over.

But it wasn’t her desire to see Val Royeaux restored that pulled her into the Chantry. She found herself moving forward, quite drained of all thought, save for some lingering feeling of being uncomfortable. The actual sight inside the Chantry had Mira initially very confused, until the door slamming shut caused some amount of fear to well within her. A trap, if she’d ever seen one. The Divine didn’t just take naps on the floor. Well, as far as Mira knew. She’d never actually met the woman or anything, but she was fairly confident stuff like that would get around pretty quickly.

Mira looked about at the bodies, thinking she recognized a few, but certainly no one she had been close friends with. She was no more than the occasional acquaintance with people of this kind of standing. It suddenly occurred to her that they should probably be fighting something at this point, but if she were being honest with herself, she didn’t really feel like fighting at the moment. She lingered for a moment on the extremely sudden change of heart before deciding firmly that she was in fact a lover, not a fighter. All these others, these brutes and savages, barbarians in fur and shining steel armor, they could do the fighting and the killing. She no longer wanted any of it. At least, that was the last thought on her mind as she slumped heavily to her knees, before tipping over onto her side and falling into a deep sleep.




Was it odd for a girl to actually desire being back in a brothel, using her body to make her living? Mira thought it was perhaps odd, but paid it no mind. If other people thought she was odd, well, there wasn't very much she could do about that, was there? The White Diamond had been her place of refuge, her school, her home, and her place of employment. Why wouldn't she want to be here? She was no noblewoman, no one of standing or wealth, other than what she earned. She had a good many friends, close friends, people she could count on, people she could tell anything. They understood her. No, it was perfect here. She was glad to be back.

Wait... where had she gone? That was strange. She hadn't even left, had she? No, she certainly hadn't. The sun was just coming up, a gentle breeze stirring her from a blissful sleep, the light and warmth of the sun flooding over her skin through the open window. She smiled to herself as she rolled over in her bed. Not everyone had the chance to fall into a big, soft bed every night. She counted herself lucky. Blessed, even. Not by the Maker, of course. He was far too judgmental for her tastes... but blessed by something.

The day proceeded normally. After making herself presentable, the girls had breakfast together in the main hall, passing the night's news and gossip about. Mira didn't much care for gossip, but news she was interested in knowing. People sometimes expected them to know things, and it helped to not disappoint. It earned her returning customers, especially when combined with her other talents.

Mira exchanged a warm smile of greeting with the madame, Selena, at the head of the table. The woman had been more of a mother than any other woman had been, that was for sure. She'd taught her her skills, taken her in, and though their relationship was perhaps more akin to mentor and apprentice than mother and daughter, it was the closest thing Mira could have.

"Who did I have first today, Lilah?" Mira asked the brothel's book keeper after breakfast. It was an unusual question for her. Normally she was completely on top of her schedule, but for some reason she'd forgotten who she had scheduled for the day. Lilah cocked her head slightly to acknowledge the strangeness of Mira's question, but smiled warmly regardless. "I'm shocked you forgot, Mira. That pirate woman, Jack, has an appointment just after your lunch hour, as she only has a few hours leave before her ship sails again. She's a favorite of yours, right?"

A brilliant smile flew onto her face at the mention of her favorite sea-faring lass. The two got along wonderfully from the moment they had laid eyes on one another, and had since made rather regular meetings at the White Diamond. How could Mira have forgotten that she was coming? It was blasphemy if she'd ever heard it. Already certain this would be a fantastic day, Mira set about preparing her room for Jack's arrival, though there wasn't much to do. She passed the time by re-doing her braid, the tail of which fell down just about to her waist. To pass the time after that, she set to sharpening her collecting of knives. Seeing a girl like Mirabelle, in her vibrant blue and gold Orlesian silks, sharpening a set of throwing knives was an interesting sight, but Jack knew full well Mira's other skills and other activities beyond her work in the brothel.

At the knock on her door, Mira sauntered across the length of her room, leaning on the door after opening, her eyes taking in the sight of the pirate with a close-lipped smile. "I was wondering when you'd get around to seeing me again."

A dark eyebrow ascended Jack's suntanned forehead, and she smirked, crossing her arms over her chest. "I'd not leave Val Royeaux without payin a visit here, you know that." She shrugged casually, as if to say it wasn't really of much concern either way, and uncrossed her arms, taking Mira's chin in callused fingers. "They don't make girls like you out in Ferelden, anyway." Stooping down just slightly, Jack planted a teasing kiss on her favorite brothel girl before striding into the room like she owned it, which for the amount she was paying, she probably did, at least for a little while.

That was... odd. Jack normally wasn't one for teasing. Mira had expected to find herself flat on her back by this point, and her room more or less destroyed by the end of their session. In fact, she was actually quite an easy customer, as Mira typically didn't have to take the lead, but rather just hang on for the ride, throwing in a few tricks of her own along the way. She frowned slightly as she gently pushed the door closed behind them. Jack's hands were more rough and calloused than the majority of the men in Orlais. It was rather... refreshing, to occasionally have someone not so pampered. The idea that Jack had somehow gone soft crossed her mind, before she shoved it aside. She didn't think she could bear the thought.

There was that, and... well, they weren't in Val Royeaux. The White Diamond was on the outskirts of Cumberland, northeast up the Imperial Highway from the capital city, and Val Chevin, too. But... perhaps she had meant Orlais. But Cumberland hardly even belonged to any place, straddled right between Nevarra and Orlais as it was. Perhaps she had simply mispoken. Mira took in the sight of the pirate from behind, before sliding around in front of her, her right hand floating to Jack's shoulder, before descending along her side and to her waist. "Is... something wrong?" she asked softly. The fact that they hadn't really begun yet seemed to imply that there was something amiss, something Jack needed to tell her. "That captain of yours hasn't been rubbing off on you, has he?"

Morpheus frowned. Attempting to correctly portray the behavior of this woman named Jack was incredibly difficult compared to just about any of the others, because he was drawing information from two sources that seemed to conflict more often than not. Universally, she was aggressive, foul-mouthed, and cranky, but the details were… colored a bit differently in the minds of the pirate and the whore. Of course, everything was colored oddly for the pirate (to the point where the Darkspawn was beginning to suspect that the man was wholly delusional), and the fledgling Warden was hardly much better in this respect. Still, it was her illusion, and so he discarded the half of her personality that he’d obtained from the other and tried for a recovery of the situation.

Jack snorted derisively and shook her head, the beads woven into strands of dark hair clacking together. “Andraste’s sagging tits, if I ever start acting recognizably like that idiot, you have my permission to kill me. You’ll have to be sneaky about it though; it’s a game I play rather well.” She smiled tightly. “As much as I’d rather be playing a completely different one, I’m here for information first. The Comte de Morand is a client of yours, isn’t he?”

"I like to think Andraste had rather well shaped tits. Armies of men wouldn't follow her otherwise, and the Maker probably wouldn't have even taken notice of her. Just my opinion, though." There, now it was starting to feel more normal. Although it was disappointing that she had to discuss other, less exciting people before getting to something actually fun, Mira was more than willing to do so for Jack. She slipped her hands onto her hips.

But... wait a second. She flipped through a mental catalogue of her clients, noblemen (and women) down through penniless thieves and bruisers that saw her for her other skills. This name, Morand, was not immediately familiar to her. She knew a few Comtes rather well, as some of them had wives that were apparently not satisfying enough for their tastes. Morand... she wasn't sure why, but she was certain he was no Comte. No, she felt too strong a tie for him to be some stodgy nobleman. Then certain images came flooding to her. A shining longsword... a blue overcoat, lighter than her own favorite color, his family heraldry stitched into the chest, though his line had fallen into something akin to disgrace generations ago. Stubble lined a hard face. He had been a hard, cold man, one that was willing to do the things others could not. Why would she even know such a man? He certainly wasn't her type. And...

"He's dead, actually. Morand is. He wasn't a Comte, either, he was a..." What was the word again? And how did she know he was dead? Had she been with him? Yes, she had. She could see it now. Something huge, black, and hideous in the distance, ruins around them, arrows raining down on her friends. They were done for, all of them. The mage, though, the quirky one, he'd told her what to do. Take that vial that he'd shown her how to make. The red one. Throw that vial on him, and then run. Get the hell away from here. One left was better than none, right?

She'd done it. Hadn't even thought about it much. There wasn't time. It shattered on his chest, he made some funny comment about the smell she couldn't remember, and then she bolted, hearing him immolate as many as he could behind her. She'd felt something then, something that she'd just pushed aside, denied like it didn't matter. She was never really one of them. They hadn't really become her friends. Not like the girls. She had never really been a...

"... a Grey Warden. The Blight got him, I think. The... the Blight! Do you know where it is? How far it's come? It hasn't hit Orlais yet, but it could, couldn't it?" She'd never thought about it before, so certain was she that her luck would hold. But for some reason, she knew now that you could only push your luck so far... before it started pushing back.

Morpheus watched her think, the lights of realization slowly flickering on behind her eyes. It was so much better when they were confused. It just made the transition to hopeless suffering all that much more delightful to watch. He figured it was about time to welcome her properly to her nightmare, however, and the feminine form he wore let a slow grin bloom over her face, the disconnect between Mira's subject matter and the expression all too obvious. Reaching behind herself, the pirate-woman clasped at both ends of what at first appeared to be a short staff slung across her back. In reality, and Mira might know, it was a uniquely-designed sheath, which fit one sword-hilt at the bottom and one at the top. The knives slid soundlessly from their places, but more of interest would be the wet pops and cracks that registered into the empty space between them as Jack's skeletal structure reconfigured itself. The color bled from her skin, as did much of the moisture, leaving white, sandpapery flesh stretched over a skeletal face. Her beaded braids and loose clothing disappeared, replaced by rags and mismatched armor-plates, and the grin became fixed on her expression even as she let loose a gargling snarl and sprang.

The question's answer was obvious enough.

Not too long ago, Mira's response to such a sight would likely have been to simply scream and shortly be eviscerated, but for a reason she couldn't comprehend, her fight or flight instincts kicked in rather quickly. In this case, flight. One of her favorite people on Thedas had just warped into a hideous creature, one that was armed and looked more than capable of slicing her clean in half if it got her within reach. With that in mind, Mira darted to the table at her bedside while the thing was finishing up it's rather strange idea of undressing. She pulled open the top drawer, snatched the satchel within, looked inside. Yellow, that was the one. She chucked a vial at it, which exploded in a flash that would hopefully stun it for a moment, while she snatched up four knives, two in each hand. There obviously wasn't time to conceal them all on her person, and so she had to make due with what she could carry.

Fear propelling her feet forward, she vaulted over the bed and out the door before the thing could make a move, bursting into the hallway outside. That was when she noticed the screaming. Pitiful cries for help, sheer wails of terror, excruciating pain and anguish. Were these things everywhere? Were they killing everyone? How did they not have any warning? She flew down the hall, torn as to what she should do. She watched a monster of some kind cleave open a girl's head with an axe, while another was dragged out of sight, flailing helplessly against her captor's superior strength. Mira couldn't fight these things! Trying to save the others would only get her killed along with them, or worse, dragged off to who knew where...

She'd made the decision before she even realized it, her feet taking her towards the stairs to the ground floor. Every room she looked displayed a new horror, monsters inflicting cruelties upon those she'd known all her life. Where was Selena? She'd know what to do. A spurt of blood flew from a doorway on her right, and her side suddenly felt warm and wet, though looking down, she saw that she was not wounded. No, it was someone else's. She reached the stairs, overlooking the main hall, the dining area and such. A particularly wicked looking one with a crooked and blackened staff of wood was at the entrance, watching his subordinates (she assumed) dragging away a group of her friends. Her mentor included.

Selena managed to draw a hidden knife from her sleeve and cut into the arm of the beast holding her, but another decked her with a heavy fist across the face so that she struggled no further. They were pulled from the building, Mira simply left to watch in horror. A thumping sound of boots on wood behind her alerted her to a threat, and she sidestepped just in time to dodge a lunging enemy, before slicing her knife upwards and cutting a deep slice into its throat. She didn't wait for it to die, but rather ran down the steps as it staggered backward, clutching at its gushing throat.

It all felt too familiar. Like losing everyone she knew was a regular occurrence for her. She darted into the maid's quarters, past the kitchens. The sounds grew quiet back here. No one for the Blight to drag away, most likely. She could hear the sound of slamming doors, however. Were they closing the exits, and guarding them? Why? Why did they want to specifically drag away simple brothel girls?

Mira expected the sound of the crashing pots, and then it happened. A shorter one stumbled through the kitchen, a hand axe clutched in one fist, the other grabbing at his mangled eyes. The instant the half blinded darkspawn turned to face her, Mira hurled a knife into its forehead. She'd known it was coming. How was that possible? And as she touched the skin of its head in order to yank the knife free, the touch was something familar, not unknown. It was quite simply as though all of this had happened before.

And so it had. The bit with Jack and the dead Wardens was different, but the attack was the same. The girls being killed or dragged away everywhere she looked, her lack of willingness to do anything about, her simple desire to save only herself. Selena being taken away out the front door. The hurlock at the top of the stairs and the genlock in the kitchen. She shouldn't have even known to call them that. But she did because... she was a Grey Warden. She survived this attack, with their help. Which meant that, well, she was dreaming. Having a nightmare.

She had been in Val Royeaux, after Morand and Macs and the others had died. Maybe she'd fallen asleep trying to coax something interesting out of Emil. She couldn't quite remember. She also couldn't remember the last time she'd realized when she was dreaming, but that seemed a minor issue at this point. She needed to focus on how to get out of here. How did most nightmares end? With... the dreamer dying, right? Or at least, almost dying. Never actually dying. But if, say, a big darkspawn with a big axe burst into the room and cleave her head open like the girl in the room next to hers, she'd wake up right before the blow, right?

The idea was enough to make her lower her knife somewhat, and take a few small steps forward, back towards the main hall, taking a deep breath to steady herself.

Her fingers tapped slow, unsteady rhythms on the lyrium, one index digit repeatedly finding the crack, the chink in the armor keeping her from her powers. It wasn't much, but... gods willing, it would be enough. Ethne closed her eyes, searching with her sixth sense for any sign that someone else had discovered the deception. She couldn't just waltz into their dreams and force them out like she was accustomed; the work would have to be theirs, and their strength their own salvation. She already knew she wouldn't reach the Templar-man, but she couldn't dwell on it right now.

Something drew her attention, a place where Morpheus's control was faltering, though the Darkspawn himself did not seem to be aware of it. It would be their next battleground, the will of another companion tested against his. Ethne grit her teeth and tore open the Fade, unable to enter so gently as she would have preferred, diving in before it could close again. This time, when she regained her senses of time and space, she opened her eyes to find that she'd wound up in a hallway. The paintings on the walls bespoke wealth, but many of them were knocked askew. The air carried the faint scent of perfume, overtaken for now by the putrid stench of Darkspawn. Probably one of the Wardens, then, though the scene struck her as not particularly evocative of either Solvej or Scally.

As things turned out, she was right, for even as she drifted forward, through a wall (if she was still intangible, she might as well make use of it), she caught sight of the lovely dark-haired lady she'd been perhaps prematurely conversing with what seemed like weeks ago. As of the moment, there didn't seem to be anything else in the area, though she had no way of telling if it would remain so. "Miss Mira?" Glancing down at her hand, Ethne knew her presence here was not yet real enough to leave with the lady, which was a problem, since Morpheus could show up at any moment. "Do you remember me?" She'd need to, and hopefully the rest of the details with it.

"Definitely a dream," Mira said to herself, still not actually sure if she was seeing an elven girl in front of her, or if she was just going crazy. Which seemed wholly possible. Lots of people went completely insane in situations like this, didn't they? There was something extremely familiar about her, though. The hair, for some reason the hair stuck out in her mind. Maybe that was just the first thing she noticed about people. She had referred to her by name, but also with a miss in front of it, which implied that if she knew this girl, she didn't know her well. There were some other flashes, but it was all so fuzzy still, like trying to hear a conversation through a wall.

"I... remember the barrier. Val Royeaux. Fighting darkspawn with Emil. You... rescued us, didn't you? With others? And we were going somewhere. I remember your face. It was all a little sudden, though. We're not dead, are we?" The implications were unpleasant if that was the case. Mira supposed she hadn't been a very good girl for the majority of her life, and didn't much like the idea of spending eternal torment in this place.

Ethne's sigh was relieved, her smile entirely too bright, considering the situation. "You're right," she explained quickly, "none of us are dead. This is just a dream. I can help you wake up, but-"

"And why would she want to do that?" A lazy voice drawled. Morpheus remained disembodied, but let the syllables echo from all directions. "Surely, if she can look at Darkspawn dragging away those she holds most dear, she can appreciate that it might happen to her at any moment. And she certainly doesn't want that, do you, Mirabelle?" He paused, and the mage swore she could hear the indolent smile in his next words. "I could put it all back, you know. The building, the people. The life you can't have any longer. You don't even have to remember this part, if you don't want to. And, well, isn't it better that way? No Darkspawn, no death, just you, your friends here, and the life you never wanted to leave in the first place. A dream, but one so much more... comfortable than reality, don't you think?"

Ethne opened her mouth to speak, but the words wouldn't come out. It seemed Morpheus was not going to allow her to interfere, and until Mira made up her mind, she wouldn't be strong enough to force the issue, either.

Fairly certain that no further dream-darkspawn would attack her while she and the elven girl and the disembodied god-voice were having their discussion, Mira allowed her guard to lower slightly, and she slipped her knives under her belt for the moment. Her normally perfectly arranged hair had become rather disheveled in all the commotions, and she pushed some of it out of her face as the voice spoke to her. If he was indeed a god of some kind, he was certainly appearing to be the wrathful kind. The fact that he had conjured this dream of her friends being taken away proved that he had the ability to make her suffer eternally, just as he could give her peace. If an illusion would give her peace. Mira had never really seen the difference between illusion and reality, though. Although, recognizing an illusion for what it was took away some of the value, certainly. And she'd already recognized this one.

The ghostly image of the elven girl wasn't helping much, so Mira supposed she was on her own. She could not deny the temptation of the choice he offered her. Sure, she'd seen his illusion now, but apparently he could make her forget that. She could forget the little elven girl she'd so foolishly got caught up with, the battle she'd never wanted a part in. Everyone would be as she remembered them. And if she didn't notice the falsehood of it all, was it truly any different from reality?

It bugged her that the offer was so enticing. She'd taken for herself, earned every last drop of fortune that had come her way. Her intelligence at learning her craft, her wiles, her determination, those were what had gained her life for her. It hadn't been given to her. Luck came to those that didn't make stupid decisions. Could she really live with that choice? Even if she had no memory of her making it? When those that had saved her life lay dead, their bones picked clean, her debt to them fully unpaid. When her friends were underground somewhere, violated, mutilated, and tortured by those serving the one she was dealing with now. The darkspawn would not have simply taken them back to their lair if they'd just planned to kill them there. They could certainly still be alive. Or was she just trying to convince herself of that? Had it been too long?

A thought came to her. It was a stupid, stupid idea, but probably no more stupid than trying to fight a being that was controlling the very fabric of her reality. She'd seen the barrier fall. Others would reclaim the city if not her, at least she thought that would be the case. Perhaps that was as paid as her debt to the Wardens could be. And this way... there was a chance she could do something for her friends.

"Answer a question for me first. Well, maybe two. First up: you know about my friends, at least enough to conjure up a pretty damn convincing illusion of them. You know about your little darkspawn minions, I'm assuming. Do you know where they took my friends? As in, under what city? Where in your literally blighted Deep Roads they are? Give me a good answer to that question, and I'm all yours."

The voice chuckled, a sickly, rolling sound that had Ethne flinching. She was less-than-thrilled with this turn of events, but from the way things sounded, Mira had her reasons. She really hoped that the general would just refuse to answer, or that he didn't know, but that last seemed unlikely. Would she really just give up if she was given that information, though? It seemed odd, to ask for a direction, only to make nothing of it by giving in to the dream.

Morpheus had the same considerations, but unlike Ethne, he didn't much care. If the woman was dishonest, she would die like the others who dared to wake. If she wasn't, then she'd sleep under his sway for the rest of eternity. Either way, he lost nothing by holding up his end of the proposed deal. "The ones in your memories lie between here and Antiva City, underneath a small provincial town called Cagliari."

Mira nodded. It would have to do. The elf girl had heard it as well, or so she assumed, and her friends were a pretty powerful bunch. She certainly had more friends than Mira did at this point. In the event that this all went wrong, they were a pretty good bunch to have hearing a last request. She clapped her hands together, and turned to the elf. "Right, so that's that. Seems to me like there's a pretty big fight coming up back in the real world, and I've always ducked out of those if I could help it. Now, since you were the only one to hear that little exchange, could you please not die for me? You and I are too cute to die like this, you know."

She gave the girl a little shoo motion with her hands. This was all going to end horribly, she was starting to think. If any of the others did get out, they'd probably just get slaughtered by this ominous darkspawn guy and his hordes of friends. In that case, she'd have to just spend eternity in her illusion, at least until her body rotted in the real world or something. In all, not too different from normal life, right? She turned back to... well, away from the girl, since she didn't really know exactly where the voice was coming from. "If you don't mind, I had an appointment with a lovely pirate woman, and I'd really like to see how that goes."

Morpheus withdrew, resetting the illusion and erasing Mira's memory of the encounter, as promised. By the force of the action, Ethne was thrown from the dream with little ceremony, rebounding back into her physical body with a start. It was not often that she could be so ejected from the Fade, and it was a bit of a shock to her system. Frowning, she sat up and looked through the blue-tinged translucency of the lyrium crystal. Mira's body still lay there with exactly the same placement, so at least she was probably still alive. Ethne had no reason to believe Morpheus would keep his promises, but neither was there particular evidence to doubt it.

She wondered just who or what was beneath Cagliari.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald

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The solid clank of shackles and chains is regular, measured. The prisoners are forced to keep a march pace, and the clanging echoes of their bonds jangle a counterpoint to the lighter clinks of Templar chainmail, polished to a shine. These men are proud of their work, and never is a sash or a mere link of armor out of place. Their shields are buffed free of scratches, their regulation swords keen and stainless, not for lack of use. Their line of captives is another matter entirely, the mages bound, gagged, and wearing almost universal expressions of stark hatred, leveling the glares of feral, half-wild dogs upon their upright, dignified jailers. Robes are torn in places, and dirty from days of living on the land as well as they could.

Not well enough, when the Templars employ trackers and even a Seeker. That man, she glimpses through the door, placing a foreign plant-leaf in his mouth and nodding to the Knight Captain before taking his leave. The apostates have been captured; their fate is not in his hands. They are herded inside he room she occupies, and for the first time, Solvej is aware of herself in some strange way. She feels palpable weight on her shoulders, armor like these men wear, and glancing down at her gauntlets, she knows that it is the most pristine and well-maintained of all. Her appearance, she remembers, is supposed to reflect the light of her faith, a beacon in the darkness to the faithful and the righteous. It seems… strange, somehow, that she should be wearing this glimmering silver-white, almost as though she’d expected something else instead. But the thought is ephemeral, and it leaves her almost immediately.

The mages are forced to kneel, heads bowed, and all but one appear bitter. One man does not protest, sinking gracefully to his knees. His eyes are fogged, his robes more well-maintained than the rest. His gentleness seems to pervade the air around him so thoroughly that even those others around him resist less than their brethren further away. Solvej’s gloved hand twitches; she wants to bring it before her mouth, to cover her face from shock, to refuse to see what is before her. But she cannot.

She looks to the Knight-Captain, the tallest of all these strangely-tall figures, and something is off about that, too, but it is trivial and she cares about only one thing right now anyway. “Knight-Captain, ser, surely there is some kind of mistake. Enchanter Gruenwald is no apostate.” Her tone is measured, formal; conveying the extent of her horror at the situation will earn her no favors with those that know no law but the Maker’s. She would not expect it to. Her voice is pitched too high, but she easily attributes this to the strain of remaining calm. For she knows better than almost anyone what will probably happen here if the situation devolves any further.

The Knight-Captain, an imposing man on the best of days, had never much cared for Ser Gruenwald or her mage-brother, and he'd also never made much of a secret about it. Seeing in this an opportunity to put the troublesome woman in her place, he sneered down at her. "And we're supposed to take his sister's word for that, are we? Figures; women really are too sentimental for this kind of work. He was found out there, just like the rest of 'em, and there's better men than you that can attest to as much." His eyes narrowed to slits, daring the impetuous female to challenge his authority on this. She'd never been one to be silent when there was something she had to say, but until this moment, she'd always been so thoroughly above reproach in her conduct that nobody was able to fault her for it. Her superiors had, on more than one occasion, been forced to acknowledge her unusual wisdom and devout faith, he more than most.

He also hated it more than most, and was quite looking forward to the opportunity to push her to something less than perfect.

Solvej is torn between the instinctive bristle and the inclination to laugh at this small-minded man. But where had the latter come from? The Knight-Captain was her superior officer; she respected that, didn't she? It might make her angry that he was refusing to even consider her brother's innocence, but never had she thought of his intolerance as some kind of joke. These are serious matters, gravely serious, so why does she feel like hiding the severity of her desperate frustration behind a troublesome smile? She isn't that kind of person at all!

...is she? No, no, of course not. She could lash him with her tongue if she chose, but she respects the rank of his office more than most things, and for that alone, she will argue on his terms. Nobody that wore the sword of Andraste would act from hate alone, and so regardless of he bad blood between them, they could surely conduct themselves in the best interests of the truth. "Did you even ask him? Did you ask any of them? Blood magic and escaping the Circle are very different crimes in the Maker's eyes; surely you must see the importance in understanding who did what here?" It is obvious. Perhaps he is simply tired, after the march. Perhaps it is just an oversight, one easily-rectified with a bit of outside attention. Solvej flicks her eyes back to her brother's face. She doesn't like that look on him; it was one he'd used when they were children, when he was giving into her will despite his best inclinations otherwise. That... there is no need for such acquiescence right at this moment, is there? Why isn't he trying just as hard to fight this?

The Knight-Captain was spared the indignity of needing to answer her accusations when one of the other mages forced himself to his feet. "Enough of this!" the man cried, struggling aginst his bonds. "What right have any of you to decide our fates at all? You understand nothing of our suffering!" The ranking Templar gritted his teeth, a muscle in his cleanshaven jaw jumping with the force of it. Stepping forward, he backhanded the speaker, sending the physically-inferior specimen to the floor. He was forcing his mouth to relax enough to allow him speech when the sound of soft chuckling carried to his ears. Startling sharply, he looked down at the mage he'd struck, watching as the man's knees convuled inward, towards his chest, as his laughter increased in pitch. Before their eyes, the man rose from the ground, reorienting until he was floating right-side up.

With a snap, the chains binding his wrists and ankles in place broke, the links scattering across the stone floor beneath them, and the Knight-Captain watched the characteristic first stages of the transformation that no Templar wishes to see. Even as their leader moved, the others rose up, all save the blind man at the end, and the distinct sound of spells being charged registered with every armored individual in the room. The man in charge took a deep breath and loosed his zweihander from its sheath, drawing the longblade.

"Kill them all."

Her gaze swings to the chained mage- and he is large as well, his floating form looming above her like the specter from a nightmare she's told they all have. She is not jaded- is she?- but all the same she feels what is to come in the pit of her stomach, and instinctively reaches behind her. Her hand meets empty air, and her brows furrow together. That, that of all things is surely wrong. It feels as though something should be there, must be there, ready-to-hand and as much a part of her as her own arm. For she has made it so, has she not?

The thought flees her mind when she witnesses the gortesque transformation, the boiling and curdling of skin, parting from bone in places to hang off like so much rotten fruit. His height is now such that she has to crane her neck, but she doesn't want to. Even as the other mages spring into action, she has eyes for only one, the one that does not move does not attack, and will not even so much as twitch from where he kneels. The Knight-Captain's order rings out clear as a bell over the din, and it paralyzes her. All? Surely, it is a mistake. Surely, he can see that her brother does not act, and yet... her muscles tighten, the weight of dread and sudden foreknowledge dropping leaden into the pit of her stomach. She knows, somehow, that the feeling will fester there, always, attracting more bitterness and rot to itself than she would have ever thought possible.

Her light will instinguish, her shine will tarnish, her righteousness will give way to tightly-controlled despair, but in the face of what she stands to lose now, in this moment, what comes after seems so trivial.

She acts without conscious thought, the instinct to protect what is hers older than any training she could submit herself to. It is primal, this simple desire to save but one life, and for her, all the rest of the world can burn if she but succeeds. Solvej catches sight of the Knight-Captain, sees where his vision leads, and she interferes, jumping forward, unarmed and burdened by unexpected weight, or perhaps she is simply slower than she expected, somehow, but even so she is at Efriel's side, pushing at him, pleading with him in low, keening words that she does not understand, tugging at the hem of his robes, because if only he would move, then he might live, and what happens to her is of no consequence next to that vainglorious hope.

But he is not moving, not responding to her at all save to lay one hand gently atop her head and smile, and the Knight-Captain draws closer.

The smell of burning flesh filled the air, mixed with the metallic tang of blood. The soundscape was a cacophony of clanging steel and the rush and and crackle and crash of magic. Voices shouted incomprehensible words, rage and desperation lending their yells volume if not clarity. Through it all, Efriel Gruenwald's breathing remained steady, sightless eyes fixed upon some unknown point in the middle distance. He was listening, feeling, and waiting for the moment his sister was hoping would not arrive. He knew better, had known better since he'd left to chase the men and women who had once been his friends. He wasn't going to leave this situation alive, blood mage or no, but Solvej... she would live. He would ensure it, even if it was the last thing he ever did.

She was still frantically trying to move him when he heard the sound he was waiting for: the whistling of a blade almost as long as he was tall. As he'd suspected, it was aimed not for him, but for his sibling's back. Efriel siezed Solvej about the shoulders, turning them both around so that the Knight-Captain's zweihander entered his back rather than hers. It kept traveling, but the plate mail she wore protected her from the reduced velocity. Efriel shuddered in a breath, breaking his moratorium on speech at last. His mouth opened, blood dripping out as surely as the words he wished to say. "Sol..." Despite his best efforts, the rest of his message was only traced by his lips, no breath able to give them enough power to form speech more truly. Efriel lost consciousness then, collapsing onto his sister, long past saving.

With a single well-calculated maneuver, Solvej finds her back pressed into the stone ground, her buffed mail bearing an ugly scratch that represents a sword’s near-miss. From above, something hot and sticky drips, falling onto the polished silver and running down the plates, seeping into the spaces between the links of chainmail. She watches this, horrorstruck and silent, before her eyes find the hands on her shoulders. Their grip grows gradually slacker, and with slowness forced by foreboding and dread, she follows the visual path from the hands to wrists, up yellow-clad arms, along the line of a jaw shaped exactly like her own, to cloudy irises she knows better than she knows hers.

The blood dribbles from between Efriel’s lips, landing on her cheek and tracing a multitude of red lines over the planes of her face- into her hairline, sliding down her neck, hot enough to burn. The single whispered word he manages tears a wretched sob from somewhere deep in her chest, and her vision blurs as she reaches up; to do what, she cannot say. But his muscles go slack before she has the chance, and Solvej is knocked back by the force of her brother’s weight.

He is sprawled atop her, but she can’t bring herself to care that he is slowly making it difficult for her to breathe. His head rests just beneath her chin, and one of her gauntleted hands moves to brush its fingers through his hair. Saline tears mix freely with the traces of his blood on her cheeks, and her breaths come in tiny shudders as she fingers the silky locks she cannot feel through her damnable armor. Her other hand reaches down, taking one of his in hers. She smiles brokenly; lacing their fingers together, she lays her head back on the cold stone of the floor and presses her small palm into his much larger one. Her big brother, always her guardian unto the last day for both of them-

The thought brings not the utter devastation she was expecting, but rather a vaguely-troubled feeling. Why does that seem wrong to her? Her emotions are a swirling amalgam of guilt, fear, gut-wrenching grief and a faint underpinning of implacable fury: at the Knight-Captain, at these foul blood-mages, at the Maker and Andraste, but most of all at herself. But she is small, useless, she feels this- what about this could she have prevented at all?

Something in her mind urges her to forget, but she stubbornly pushes it back. Stirring, she struggles to rise, gently displacing Efriel and unable to look at his face. It’s… it’s her face, she thinks, but how is that? Certainly, siblings are often similar, and close, but why does she feel as though it’s more than that? Like half of her soul has been torn from herself and thrown into some hellish abyssal place, leaving the rest of it broken and torn and blackened?

She looks down at her hands, covered in the red life-essence of her sibling, and her eyes go wide. The color darkens, and then seems to sink into the surface of her armor, staining it. The effect ripples outwards until not trace of its former splendor remains. His blood has dyed her soul dark, and done the same to her plate and chain. Black… a Black Templar.

Something clicks, and Solvej suddenly understands. Her hands were never so much smaller than his because he is her twin. Efriel really is her other half, which is why she feels like less of a being without him. She isn’t powerless in this situation at all, or at least she shouldn’t have been. She remembers differently now. There was a spear in her hand when he died, and she used that familiar weapon to exact the vengeance he never would have wanted. She was not supposed to be defenseless, she was supposed to be mighty. Broken, used, and unworthy, but mighty all the same.

Rising to her feet, she casts her eyes around her with a mixture of fear- her natural aversion to the Fade- and carefully-controlled fury. This was wrong, all of it. Her empty hands curl into fists; she is without her weapon even now. But it does not matter. She will tear him apart with her bare hands if she has to. “Morpheus!” she shouts, the sound echoing even above the heedless battle still raging around her. “Stop hiding like a coward and show yourself!“

He had watched what made her, she intends to show him what it had made her into.

Now this one was interesting. It had certainly taken her a while, but when this woman had figured it out, she'd done so quickly, and moved right into calling him out upon it. Shrugging internally, the Darkspawn appeared, banishing the still-living partcipants of the fight and leaving the room empty, save for the woman (who was looking rather like a girl of no more than twelve at the moment; an interesing manifestation of insecurity) and her dear brother's corpse. "Ah, I should have known. You're cleverer than you look, and perhaps a smidge too attached to that weakling brother of yours, no?" He passed a disdaining eye over the body on the ground. Morpheus was categorically incapable of understanding sacrifice or love in any form. Which was why he'd underestimated Solvej, assumed she would be unable to discover the deception. Of all the dreams he'd conjured for this lot, hers was most closely linked to a real event in her life, which made reading the details from her memory a simple thing. Even the maliciousness of the Knight-Captain was no more exaggerated than it had been in reality.

"You called, Black Templar? I must confess I was rather surprised by you. Do your companions understand your wickedness, I wonder?" Relatively certain he'd not be able to tempt her with promises of a better dream, he resolved to break her into compliance instead. After all, there were those that went easy, and those that had to be forced. He almost didnt notice the troublesome girl flickering into existence behind him, but she was weak still, and he intended to make Solvej do the work of banishing the somniari herself.

"Weak? Weak?" Solvej repeats, almost incredulous. Her hands tighten into fists at her side, and for a whie-hot moment, she wants nothing more than to do as Kerin does and submit wholly to her rage, channel it into the tearing strength of something rabid and feral and honest. But this, she realizes, is not the person she has become. Her limbs slacken, the hard lines of her stance soften, and she folds her arms across her chest. "Do not pretend to know anything of strength, Morpheus. It makes you look stupid." Despite everything- her brother's blood drying on her face, the sinful black stain on her heart and her armor, and the hollowness inside her chest, Solvej feels the corner of her mouth tilt upwards into a sardonic smile.

And why not? Does the Darkspawn think this to be hell? She has lived her hell, and it was much worse than this hazy facsimilie of memory. It took her too long to realize it, but she has now, and the pain recedes into old bitterness once more, whitewashed by stubborn pride that ensures her agony will never make it to her visage, her body language. She will slay her demons when she sees them, and ignore them until that moment. The quirk of her lips becomes a full-blown grin when he strikes again, and misses completely. "You really think I would choose to make myself this obvious if I cared?" She could have ensured that nobody ever recognized her again, that Delacroix and Emil alike remained ignorant of her identity, but instead she wears it on her sleeve- and everywhere else, too. She is faithless, she is unbound, she is perhaps even completely untrustworthy, and she wants everyone to know it.

Catching sight of Ethne resolving into visibility behind Morpheus like some kind of diminutive shadow, she nods. "All right, magelet. I see you. Now get me the hell out of here. I'm done speaking to Darkspawn."

Ethne didn't really understand the tenor of the conversation. For her, the sight of Solvej smiling like that is an odd one, displaced. She didn't even look back down at her brother, and the mage wondered if there was perhaps something to this situation that she didn't understand. Nevertheless, the absolute certainty in the woman's conviction clearly took Morpheus off-guard, her deceptively lighthearted dismissal of his words weakened him and strengthened her ally, and the younger of the two women nodded sagely, taking advantage of the fact that the Darkspawn seems to be struck temporarily dumb. With a thought, Sovej first was returned to the world of the waking, and though Ethne slumped noticably with the effort, she too smiled.

Perhaps it wasn't so hopeless as she'd fist assumed.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Kerin Valar

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Orzammar was no different. Just like the stone it was carved out of, it was unchanging and it would stay that way for as long as time marched on. The great halls, the terraces with rows of homes and shops, the hawking vendors, the smell of mushrooms and dirt, they would never change. Kerin wouldn't want them to change. She had grown familiar with the sights and smells of Orzammar, and she had nearly memorized the streets she took to roaming. She was free here, free to come and go as she pleased, to visit the stalls, to watch the provings, to live and to work. She was free warrior, tasked to protect their homes from the darkspawn that. Even that tide had stemmed and become unchanging, Orzammar was in no danger, and she knew it. She was free to do what she liked that, and what she did was visit the local tavern and purchased a barrel of ale. The barkeep promised expident delivery to their house in the Commons.

Their house. Kerin and her brother, Marl owned a house. The Valar residence was located in the Commons right beside the bridge that led into the proving grounds. It wasn't as grand a place as one would find in the Diamond Quarter, but still, it was theirs. She pushed through the door and was greeted by the Valar coat-of-arms hung on the wall in front of the foyer. A pair of grand greataxes hanging menacing over the snarling maw of a vicious grizzly. A proud insignia, desinating strength, bravery, and the will to fight. Kerin couldn't help but grin at the bear's grimace. "That you, Keary?" A gruff voice resonated from the kitchen. Her grin widened as she shut the door behind her, "Of course it is Marl! Who else would it be?" she replied.

From the entryway leading into the kitchen, a familiar face poked out. It was youthful, with wild tussled hair and a massive dwarven beard. His hair, much like his sister's, was the rare snow white color inherent to the Valar line. His bone-white eyebrow raised as his doorknob like nose twitched. "Didja do what I said?" Kerin's grin vanished as she leaned on the wall beside the door and stared at Marl. "What do you think?" She answered. They locked eyes, neither willing to give the other an inch, as if they were trying to glare past each other's glare. Marl was the first one to grin. "I know. They just delivered it. I was just... Erh, testing it." he answered, vanishing from the entryway and back into the kitchen.

A smile flashed for a second on Kerin's face but was quickly replaced an amused half-grin. "You mean drinking it all you greedy hairy nug bastard." Kerin replied. A raucous guffaw came from the kitchen as the older dwarf found his sister's humor just delightful. Never the one to miss a party, Kerin took steps away from the door and towards the kitchen when something caught her eye. It was a mirror they had placed in the Foyer recently. It wasn't the mirror itself that caught her attention however, but what was looking back. It was Kerin, white hair, cherry lips, set jaw, and gray eyes, that was sure enough. Yet something was missing. Something wasn't quite... Right. Of it's own accord, Kerin's hand went right to her cheek, where she felt like she was missing something... Something immeasurably important to her. Where was her tattoo?

The more she tried to think on it, the muzzier the thought would become. Tattoo? When have I ever had a tattoo? The thought crossed her mind and she slowly lost the desire to inquire further about it. As if to punctuate the point, Marl's head poked back out onto the foyer from the kitchen. "Keary? Y'just gonna stare at yer ugly mug all day or are ya gonna help me drink this ale?"

She brushed the lone braid back to it's original position and tore her eyes away from the mirror. "Yeah, yeah I'm coming. Careful so that you don't swallow your beard along with the ale, yeah?" she said as she parted from the mirror, though not before she gave one sidelong glance to it. She entered enter the kitchen and came to view the reward of the day's purchase. A rather large barrel of ale sitting ontop of a table, already popped open with a spigot dripping the amber ale into a cup expertly placed by Marl. Waste not, want not, and it was something that he wanted. Marl was already beard deep into his second mug when Kerin entered. He didn't even take his lips off of his tankard as he handed her her own mug.

Kerin took it graciously as she swirled the liquid around and peered into contemplatively. Marl must have saw her facial expression change because he pulled himself out of the mug and extended it into a toast. "To life" he offered. A grin graced Kerin's life as she nodded, "To life. May the Stone preserve it." While Marl's lips found his mug instantly, Kerin gingerly took a sip of the drink. To life? May the stone preserve? Why did these phrases sound so strange on her tongue. She had all the chances a normal dwarf had, why did she not feel thankful to the Stone? If everything was so right, then why did it all feel... Strange? She dropped the mug from her mouth as she thought.

Marl, seemingly wishing to remove his darling sister from her contemplative mood, said, "What's wit' the sourpuss look? Looks like someone took a piss in yer ale." It actually managed to elicit a laugh from Kerin. "They could have and I couldn't tell. It all tastes like piss anyway," she replied. Marl stroked his beard as he spoke in answer, "Oh, aye, I'm not disputin' that. But it's mighty fine piss." another rare Kerin laugh. The simple joke managed to set her mind at ease, like it was all right. Like she was right where she needed to be. She finally allowed herself to indulge in the liquor in her hand. Marl smiled as she tipped her mug back and drained it, offering it back to him for a refill. A lovely blush graced her pale features. As Marl worked the spigot, Kerin spoke, "How did we get here Marl?" she asked curiously. Despite it all feeling right, the nagging sense that something was wrong never did leave her.

Marl snorted into his ale, then looked at it suspiciously. Satisfied that no snot had made its way in there, he took a long draw, smacking his lips together and fixing his little sister with an incredulous look. "Well, we walked in through that door right there," he answered matter-of-factly, pointing with one large index finger at the wooden portal to the foyer. "And then we sat our asses down on these uncomfortable stools and got to drinkin'. What? You already so piss drunk you can't remember, girl?" He laughed, smacking his knee with one hand.

Kerin covered her face with her hand. She walked into that one, how could she not have seen that coming? As if trying to wash the memory of the joke from her mind, she took another drought from her newly refilled mug. "Please, I can hold my ale better than you any day. You know this," She teased with a mock condescending look. The only way they could accurately gauge that would be if they had bought two barrels of ale. Alas, that was perhaps a contest for another day. But that didn't mean that Kerin wasn't going to try and keep up with her brother. Sibling rivalry and all that. Kerin found herself face first in her mug once again, drinking heavily. What was there not to celebrate? They were alive and they were free... Freedom. Why was she so fixated on that? Surely she would be used to that notion since she was born with it. She brushed it off and continued to speak to Marl.

"But you know what I'm talking about. How long have we had that door? These uncomfortable stools? How long have we had this house?" Kerin posed. Though her words were harsh, her tone was geniune curiosity with a hint of embarrasment and softness. There was no one else who had heard that tone besides Marl. She tried to remimense, yet something was fogging her memory. It was like the memory was there, but it wasn't fully formed. Almost dreamlike. Oh well, that's why Marl was here, to fill in the gaps that her drinking had eroded. "Hell, maybe I have drank too much," She said. That realization didn't didn't stop the mug from finding it's merry way to her lips though.

Kerin's brother paused in the act of lifting his tankard to his mouth, setting it back down and letting his brows furrow together. "Oy, yer a scatterbrained chit today, ain'tcha? Mum and Dad left us this place, Stone rest 'em. Ya were born innit, and don't let anyone convince ya elsewise. I was there." He grinned smugly; it'd always been a point of pride of his that he was the oldest sibling, and had been keeping her out of trouble since before she could hold a sword, much less swing a ruddy battleaxe.

Kerin closed her eyes and smiled while rubbing her brow. "Of course," She must had been scatterbrained like Marl said. Of course she was born in this house, why else would they be living in it. For all she knew she had lived in it her entire life without a worry or care in the world. She was beginning to feel silly asking Marl all of these silly questions. Had it been anyone but her brother she wouldn't have even posed these questions. She felt.. Safer in his presence, even if he was a stark white loon. He was her elder brother and she trusted him implicitly. He'd never knowingly lie to her. If he had said it must be true. The blush gracing her pale face came more from embarrassment than the effects of her ale. In fact, the only rewards from the mugs of ale was a light buzz.

She took another drink, allowing her eyes to wander the kitchen. Marl had a brilliant fire going in the hearth, causing the entire house to warm up to a cozy temperature. She'd have to make sure that he didn't trip over his beard and fall in it. She smiled at the thought of her having to bat out the flames licking at brother's beard. She always felt happy around Marl, and his constant stream of dwarf-brand humor. She played the straight-man to him for years and she wouldn't trade a day of it for anything different. She felt secure, safe, and happy when he was around, like all of Ozammar could put their boot on their throat and she would still be happy. Her head tilted at this curious thought. Why did that feel familiar? Was she perhaps dipping to deep into the barrel? No, that couldn't have been it, it was only a minor buzz. It'd be a couple more pints before she'd get to that point... Huh.

She shrugged inwardly, it didn't matter. Her eyes surveyed the kitchen once more and a curious through appeared. This one, she did voice. "Hey Marly, why don't we have portraits of mom and dad?" She asked. What she didn't say was that she couldn't remember their faces. Not even their names. The only reason she knew her's and Marl's surname of Valar was the fact that it had been with her their whole life. It was a... Troubling revelation. Who couldn't she remember her parents face? She couldn't even remember her parents at all. Her brows furrowed in confusion.

Trivialities, trivialities, Morpheus mused. Just how much did it take for one person to be satisfied? He'd given her a home, her brother, her freedom, and still she was asking questions. It was a curious thing, almost, and he wondered if it was perhaps the greatest difficulty doing what he did just to produce something as fickle as happiness. Suffering was easy; Morpheus knew all about suffering, in all its exquisite forms. But happiness, well... sometimes he envied them that, and other times he was certain they sabotaged it themselves. Mortals.

Marl blinked, looking around at the walls. "Huh. Guess I never thought about it much," he confessed. "I mean, we were so young when they went back to the Stone. Maybe they were both ugly as you and scared away the painters, eh?" He meant nothing by it of course, and his guffaw wasn't really at Kerin's expense. This was simply the way they were, constantly taking potshots at one another, usually in the looks and brains department, because Stone knew there was no mistaking that they could both maul something thrice their size without difficulty.

"Never thought about it?" Kerin asked, gray eyes piqued in surprise. She let the simple rib go fly pass as that was Marl. Affection hidden behind harsh words, it was their way-- if not the dwarven way. However, Marl was smart and clever in his own right. He always was. Why wouldn't he find it strange that they didn't have portraits in their house? Come to think of it, they didn't have anything of their parents. Nothing but the coat-of-arms signified that there were any other Valar but them. It was weird, Marl talked as if they lived in this house for all of their life, yet there was no proof to suggest otherwise. Something was wrong. What... Was Marl hiding something from her? He had to have been. He was dancing around the issues. If he even had a shred of her blood in his veins, he would not avoid questions. He would own up and tell it like it is in typical dwarf fashion.

"Marl, mom and dad didn't leave anything behind, much less portraits. Nothing. I don't know one thing in this entire house that belonged to them," she entreated. Her posture went from relaxed to rigid and she sat her mug down. Things weren't adding up. "I don’t even remember them Marl. Not what they looked like, not what they smelled like. Hell, I don’t even remember having any!” She exclaimed. She put her head in her palm viciously shook her head. "I don’t remember anything! Where did this house come from!? Who were mom and dad!? Why was everything so perfect? Why did she feel the need to fight everything, why did she feel much more weary than she should? Why did she feel like she was missing an important part of her? It was like she had fighting her whole life, but suddenly couldn’t remember why.

And it bothered her. It made her very bones itch. "”Who am I!?” There was nothing linking this house to her. The coat-of-arms wasn't hers, she didn't know where it came from. The mirror? She'd never owned a mirror in her entire life. This wasn’t where she came from, it couldn’t have been. Despite the hearthfire, the house was cold, distant. It had nothing that made a family, a family. There was and had only been Marl and herself… And now Marl was hiding something from her. "Marl, answer me. Who am I? Where did I come from?" she pleaded one last time.

The berserker's brother's facial expression transitioned quickly from confusion to irritation, and Morpheus's hand tightened on the armrest of the Divine's throne. Stubborn, foolish creature. "What the hell's gotten into ya, Keary? Yer bleedin' Kerin Valar, warrior of Orzammar, my sister, and right now, not making any sodding sense!" Just like his sibling, his temper was flaring now, and the bottom of his mug met the table with an honest slam.

Kerin... the voice was tiny, nothing more than a whisper in the back of her mind, and contained no accompanying image, but all the same, seemed urgent in some intangible way. Morpheus, realizing just what was happening, clamped down on the illusion before anything more could be said, forcing Marl to speak again to hopefully prevent the foreignness of it from registering with his captive. Oh, but register it did. The mouselike voice caused her to stiffen and hesitate, causing her hand to pull away from her face ”Wha-“ before she could even get a full word out of her mouth she was interrupted by Marl. "Sodding nugs, sis, I guess they musta put something in this ale. You sure you ordered the right stuff?"

Just like that, she forgot about the voice. "Dammit Marl, it's not the ale!" She snapped. He was still trying to change the issue at hand. This wasn't like Marl. If there was an issue, he would meet it head-on, fists clenched and teeth gnashing, not try to use his words to get around it. She glared at him with stormy gray eyes. "We're fighters Marl. We don't just sit around and get fat on Ale. We fight, we bite, and we struggle." She stated. The Valar's never had anything easy, they never had things handed to them. Yet here she was trying to believe that they had a house and life? No, she may have been granted her freedom, but it wasn't the sort of freedom she felt she had earned. A feeling, a gut instinct deep in her heart told her it was wrong. It was all wrong, that she did not earn anything. She did not fight for this freedom, it was handed to her. That was not the Kerin way. She fought for everything she had.

She wasn't the Kerin Marl spoke of. She wasn't this "Marl's" sister, she was the sister of the fighter, of the warrior, of the man who single handedly raised her from the sprout into the strong woman she was today. She was no warrior of Orzammar, she was her own warrior, by her choice, and her choice alone. That fate was not decided for her, it was one decided by her. This... Marl's Kerin was a fat, useless, thing that had things handed to her. Her Kerin, the Kerin she had heard whispered so deeply in her mind she thought it was an illusion, that was the real Kerin. The fighter, the berserker, the fatebreaker.

"No fate... But what I make." she stated with full conviction. She didn't know why she said it, but it felt... Right. Like she needed to say it. Like a true echo of her past. For once it was a thought of her own choosing, not planted nor offered, but found. Why was she fighting so hard against this? Why was she bucking everything she had ever wanted? The freedom, the home, the acknowledgement. Because did not earn it. It was decided for her.

And that pissed her off.

Marl, or rather the presence puppetting what looked like Marl, sighed resignedly. "It would have been so much easier for you if you had just shut up. I'll have you know that this is the fate you made, never mind that I crafted it for you." Though the voice issued from Marl's mouth, it had a somnolent sound to it, a way of whispering lightly, underscored by what sounded like echoing strains of some music that couldn't quite be heard properly. "This dream... I took it directly from your mind. It is what you wanted: your brother, your freedom, an Orzammar that will not look down on you for the circumstances of your birth. If you like, you can have parents, too, friends... anything your heart desires. All you need do is ask, and it shall be yours, with yourself none the wiser, should you wish it."

The sudden change in Marl's demeanor made Kerin reach behind her for a weapon that was not there. The voice was not that of Marl's but of some other entity entirely. Gone was the brutish accent, gone the cracks about her, replaced with a haunting voice. Her eyes narrowed as she stared at this facsimile of what was once her brother. She could fill something familiar bubbling up from inside her. "This fate? she asked through gritted teeth. If it wasn't glaringly obvious, things were not all right in her world-- if it was even her world. Everything was a blur and she was swimming in a sea of confusion. But she did the only thing she really knew how to do properly. Fight.

"This... Dream. This fate as you call it. It may have been what I wanted, but not the one I decided for myself. I will not be handed things," she said behind a barely contained snarl. "You take my memories, my shithole of a home, my own brother, and twist it. Twist it to suit my needs. You. You invade my mind, and play yourself off as my brother! Marl had more backbone than that you weasely nughumping git!" She yelled. So that what the bubbly familiar feeling was. Anger. Hate. Rage. She remembered it now. It was what guided her hands now, and it's what gave her purpose. Then the origin of her anger found her way into her mind. Like a clear window leading back to her past, she remembered. She remembered Marl's broken and bloodied body.

"You... You desecrate the memory of my brother... by mascarading around in his face. I am Kerin Valar. Casteless berserker. Bound no longer. That is my fate, the one I choose for myself. Not you. Not Orzammar. Not Marl. No one else but me." Her tone was cold and even. Her anger had congealed from a blazing inferno into cold, treacly black thing that wrapped itself around her mind. "You say that I can have anything my heart wants? My heart wants your head on a pike." and like a powder keg, she exploded and lunged at the cruel illusion of her poor dead brother. Far beyond the normal limits of her rage, she was a mindless beast now, desiring only one thing. Death. Death of the puppet master. Death of the demon who had tried to ensnare her with her own memories and desires. Hands guided by only unfathomable rage, she pulled back and threw a hard punch into the face of the illusion looking to completely destroy this thing.

Morpheus could not be hurt in dreams, but he could certainly have his influence weakened in them. Kerin's refusal of his terms, as well as her subsequent attack on his puppet, caused his control of the scenario to waver, and he frowned, swayed less by her insults and more by her reassertion of dominance in her own mind. He was, however, still the master in this world of his, and he was preparing to make those thoughts at the forefront of her mind her new reality when he found his power unexpectedly blocked. It was some combination of the volitality of the mind he was working within and some outside interference, and he watched with genuine (if understated) surprise as an image not of his own making flickered into a weak and hazy existence in front of him.

Somniari. For it was indeed her, though she was apparently not able to constitute herself as fully here as he could, doubtless a result of the lyrium's interference. "Kerin!" she spoke with emphasis, but her voice was weak, scarcely more than the whisper in the dwarf's head it had been before. "This is his world, but it's your mind! Your belief has power here. I can get you out, but you need to want it more than anything else." In this instance, it was probably true that the dwarf's rage would be working against the plan, and Morpheus chuckled through Marl's lungs and mouth, apparently unfazed by the blow he'd just taken, though the conjued body's nose cracked and bled.

"She's too far gone for that, girl." Truthfully, even if she was no longer unaware of her delusion, she wouldn't be able to escape it just by hating it. Perhaps this would be just as amusing as watching her believe she was happy.

The ghostly image of Ethne did little to deter Kerin from her primary motivation. Ending this mockery right now. But despite putting every ounce of her strength into her arm, the blow did little to the facsimile. Far from disheartened, it stoked her rage. She grunted and snarled, throwing another punch into the thing’s face, and another. The blow kept raining until she sat upon her once-brother, wailing blows from above. The damage was great, but still it laughed like the punches did nothing. She threw back her head, white mane flowing in wild untethered locks and she let loose a guttural primal roar. The roar was formless and without diction, a manifestation of her rage put into sound. The roar lasted for several seconds before it died down. Yet Kerin was not done. She threw another jab to the form beneath her and stood, placing a heavy booted foot on the it’s chest. Her eyes, now a dull gray, shown between wayward strands of white hair and now laid into the form of Ethne. The eyes pierced deep into her, not showing the spark of Kerin, but the spark of the beserker, the beast. Her shoulders were hunched and tensed. Her breathing was long and hard as oxygen rushing into her lungs to feed her rage. It was almost as if the dwarf would charge her at any point.

Though, instead of charging, she spoke in monosyllabic words without the usual intelligence of Kerin, ”My. Corpse.”

Though the meaning might have been unclear to ghost-Ethne, it was clear enough for Kerin. She would see Morpheus dead for daring to control her. Daring to choose her fate. For resurrecting things best left dead. The beast inside understood that the form of Marl under her boot was nothing more than a mere puppet. Beating it would do nothing to kill Morpheus, only to further play into his hand. No, if she wanted to taste Morpheus’s blood, she’d have to do it outside of this world, on her own terms, decided by her own hands. She was done playing his game. This was her life. Her fate. Her Path. She would spare no mercy for those who impeded it nor pity those who dared.

”My. World... My. Fate... My. Corpse.” She stated again. There was nothing more she desired than putting an axe into the skull of the foolish chit who believed he could control her. Nothing more than to see his blood run freely so that she may bathe in it. No freedom, no Marl, no Ethne, no mission, only his death. In order to do that, she must first escape this place, this dreamworld. She'd have to break through the bars of her own prison...

Rusty bars never were strong enough to hem Kerin in.

"Troublesome," Morpheus intoned blandly, turning Marl's bloodied head just slightly to look over at the steadily-solidifying somniari. A dangerous smirk played over the dwarf's lips for a moment, and he returned the force of his attention to Kerin. "Have it your way, then. If death is your only wish, it shall be granted. I make no promises that it will be mine." With that, he simply vanished, there in one moment, gone with the blink of an eye. Ethne, not willing to take the chance that this was some kind of trick, felt herself at last tangible enough to act, more due to Morpheus's apparent resolution not to interfere than anything. Without hesitation or heed for the berserker's rage, the girl pressed her lips into a thin line and laid a pale hand on Kerin's shoulder, dragging her forcibly into the world of the waking once more.

It was not an easy journey, lyrium-addled as she was, but Kerin would thankfully remember none of this part. Surely, what she had already endured was enough.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas

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For Suicide, the emptiness simply meant there were no further obstructions. He’d never known any of the people inside this barrier, and it seemed he never would. Perhaps it sounded cruel, but that was no great loss to him. There were many people in the world, and the shapeshifter simply didn’t have time to know them all. The people that he knew were still at his side, crushing the odds and darkspawn heads under their heels, and that was what mattered. His gaze hardly shifted left or right as they moved forward.

Suicide wouldn’t need any compulsion to step into the Chantry, but as it was, he felt as though his Path was simply pulling him along, and therefore it would be ridiculous of him to resist. Their enemy lay within, and they needed to confront him. It was only when he saw the unwounded bodies that something tugged at the back of his mind. This was wrong. The Path was not some physical force that literally guided one along through the world. It had led here, to this single darkspawn, but the pull had been that of the darkspawn, not his Path.

Suicide had recognized where the darkspawn wanted to go with this. He was not a physical warrior, it seemed, at least physical combat was not his preference, and thus he wished to combat his foes in the Fade. The others were already succumbing to sleep, all save for the Dreamer. That made sense. Nodding as if agreeing to the darkspawn’s challenge, Suicide shifted into bear form in a flash, stomped about in a small circle, and then plopped down on the ground, shutting his eyes.

See you on the other side, meat…




He felt so heavy. Groggy, forgetful, sluggish. Hibernation had a way of doing, or so he had found over the winter he had accidentally skipped one year. This one felt similar. He could feel himself moving, though. Just like before. He’d only actually woken up when the morning light at the front of the cave had hit his eyes. Powerful claws dug into the ground slowly, one by one, propelling his lumbering form forward.

The ground was the first thing he noticed as being strange, and what made him open his eyes. At first he thought he’d been blinded, seeing only the white before him, but then he looked down, to see fur-covered claws that clearly belonged to him. He cast no shadow. There was no visible source of light, and yet he could see quite clearly. What little there was to see, anyway. There seemed to be him, and… nothing else. He had first assumed the ground to be snow, but indeed it was simply nothing. His feet touched it, and… nothing. No hot or cold, no texture whatsoever. Was there even air to breathe? He inhaled through his nostrils, and though the action felt like something he needed to do, nothing came of it. He felt no better or worse after having done so. He paused for a moment, thinking on it. After a moment, he decided to continue breathing, for no other reason than he didn’t really know how to stop.

The bear’s thoughts turned to food. He had just woken. He would need food, wouldn’t he? It seemed like something he should do. Consume. Survive. His mind told him these things, though looking around, he couldn’t really say why they mattered. He didn’t feel anything in his stomach, his throat. What was that even called, the feeling he didn’t have? He couldn’t remember. Maybe it didn’t matter anymore. Perhaps he needn’t worry about those things.

The next issue arose shortly after: where to go? There didn’t seem to be anything of urgency to be done. There didn’t seem to be anything to do here, either. It was now that he felt anything that could be called a need, but even still, it was distant, and seemingly fading. He needed to do something. He was surviving. That was what the lack of feelings meant. Survival was not his concern. But still, he needed to consume. If not food, then he needed to consume the world. What did it hold? How could he find out?

He could walk, that was how. And so he did. One plodding foot in front of the other, the bear moved away from where he had woken. There was little to see on his walk. Nothing, actually. If he looked forward, a strange phenomenon occurred. Nothing changed, and so it was as though he wasn’t moving at all. It was… unnerving. His actions, his choice, had no effect. On anything. He couldn’t… feel… his claws touch the… ground. No. He couldn’t walk like this.

The bear’s head fell down, and the feeling was broken. He saw his feet. They moved at his thought, relative to his eyes. Whatever was below that, the continuous expanse of white, remain unchanged, his body having no effect on it, but at least now there was some kind of change before his eyes. It was a comfort. He held his eyes still, staring at the space between his two front feet, so that as he walked they shifted position up and down along the peripherals of his vision. It let him relax, let his mind wander. At first, his mind seemed to be filled with the same nothingness as his environment, but then things became to drift by, things he knew existed, but simply couldn’t remember.

Sounds. A chirping, regular intervals, an intricate tune. Changes in pitch, high to low. A whistling, it rushed by his ear incessantly, caused a shiver to run down his spine. Rustling in his surroundings as that same whistling tore through everything it encountered. It was a feeling. It tore through him as well, causing that same shiver. Cold. Why did he feel so cold?

There was a howl. Not in his immediate vicinity, but in the distance. Had it been real, or simply a memory? It carried a message, one that satisfied him to know that he could understand when so many others simply felt fear, or terror. It was a challenge, it was an opportunity, it was a chance to spend his life away from the loneliness that pervaded all he knew. He felt the need to answer, the need to explore. Something shifted inside of him. Consume.

The wolf sat back on his hind legs and arced his head into what he felt was above him, shut his eyes tight, opened his jaws, and howled. His ears pinned back, his call reaching his own ears, the sound filling them up with something akin to rapture. Sounds. That was real. He could hear himself. He howled and howled, jumping about in a circle, his tail swishing back and forth. He could send his own challenge, his own invitation, give others the same opportunity. Others. Was he not alone in here?

He shut his jaws, ears perking up to listen, eyes intently scanning the white horizon. Except there was no horizon, no end, only emptiness. There were no others. They clearly did not exist. He could see the entirety of his world from this vantage, from any vantage, because his world did not exist. He spun in a circle. Nothing. No others. But that wasn’t possible. He had experienced otherwise. He could remember. He remembered a wolf running at his side, a partner, an ally. She did not understand the world in the way that he had, and yet she understood things that he could never hope to fathom. Their minds were similar enough for them to experience one world together, but they would always belong to separate worlds.

He remembered her. She was real. She had no name, but she was real. She had left the world, but she had been real. They had ran together for a while, and with others, but not in this place. Not in this emptiness. Not in this… prison. A complex idea, but one that came to him easier than he could understand. This was a prison. No bars, no gate, no key, no entrance and no exit, but a prison all the same. He was distinctly aware that like this, he would never leave. This prison was not one that could be escaped alone.

His Path was not one that could be walked alone.

The wolf lifted his head once more, pinned his ears back, and let out another howl, longer, louder, heavier. He then slid to the ground, and waited. Something would come. He was not alone.

By this time, Ethne was scarcely able to hold herself upright. The effort of sliding in and out of the Fade whilst encased in magic-retardant crystal was beginning to take its toll, and her mercifully-empty stomach threatened to heave its nonexistent contents onto the floor beside her at any moment. She tasted bile in the back of her throat, and her nose was filled with the odors of her own salty sweat-slicked skin and the blood lazily dribbling down her hands. Panting shallowly through her nose, she put her head beween her knees and gradually shifted sideways, until her right shouler and the corresponding hip met with hard stone. There, curled in the fetal position and shaking, she began to wonder if Morpheus was playing tricks on her, too. Or at least on her ears, because she could have sworn she'd just heard...

...no. Not heard. Not in the typical sense, anyway. Something had reached her from across the Fade. Forcing herself to grow as still as possible, she waited, straining to try and percieve that not-quite-sound again. Her arms trembled, but she just squeezed them all the tighter about her knees, hugging herself into the smallest physical space she could possibly occupy. It might have helped, for all she knew, because the call came again, clearer this time. That something was reaching out to her rather than the other way around was not precisely unusual- spirits and demons did this with alarming frequency. But... something about it told her that this was neither spirit nor demon but a being more like herself, though the thought didn't really make too much sense.

Nevertheless, she latched onto it, letting her eyes fall closed and following. The path across the Veil was much clearer this time, and she went without quite so much effort, falling slack in the physical world even as her eyes adjusted to wherever she'd found herself.

The first thing she noticed was the absence of color. The fact that everything was white made it difficult to determine exactly just how much constituted "everthything." It was incredibly disorienting, and she felt herself listing sideways by virtue of some internal sense of balance only. There was nothing, not even the feel of solidity beneath her feet. Frowning to herself, she tried stepping again, willing it to make more sense, and breathed a sigh of relief when she felt something like smooth marble beneath her. It didn't look any different, but that wasn't so important for now. The inhale which allowed the sigh brought with it something interesting as well: a smell. Fur, to be specific, and she blinked slowly. Not exactly what she'd been expecting, but-

-a startled cry, entirely inarticulate, emitted from what was presently passing as her physicality when she looked down. In the area where she would have expected to see her feet, there was a snow-white... paw. She'd taken odd forms in dreams before, but this was certainly new. She could probably change herself back under normal circumstances, but... she lifted the tiny limb and inspected it. This wasn't exactly a normal circumstance, even for her. I think... I'm a rabbit. She was torn between hysterical laughter and tears of frustration by this point, but fortunately neither actually occurred. Instead, Ethne did what she usually did when the world seemed too big for her: she put on her best 'can-do' face and started forward.

Never mind that the face would have looked weird on a rabbit.

A wolf's nose was a powerful thing. Previously filled with simply the smells of himself, he now noticed something... else. It was perhaps the first foreign thing to register in his mind since he'd awoken. Up until now, all sounds and smells had been created by himself, but this was different. From the outside. The slate grey fur on his back pricked upwards subconsciously, and the wolf was instantly ready to respond to a threat, should one appear. What came next was a rather loud squeak, somewhere in the distance, but immediately known to him upon hearing it. His ears stood straight up and his head immediately shot in that direction, yellow eyes locking on a target.

It was certainly no challenge. The thing was tiny. Or perhaps he was large. He remembered being typically larger than those he had run with, but even still, he felt somewhat familiar with these little things, and this one was small. It didn't look to have noticed him yet, being some way in the distance as it was. Its mere existence gave him some sense of actual length and space in this white expanse. He began walking towards it, head drooping low, and bobbing back and forth as he approached, his tail swishing from side to side slightly. The fur on his back relaxed. This thing was no threat to him, and he was aware of the fact that if it ran, he could catch it. He was faster in a dead sprint, and though the little creature possessed slightly more agility and skill in changing direction than he, this was an empty exanse, one in which it had nowhere to hide. It gave him a certain kind of pleasure, to know he held this creature's fate in his...

Hands. What an odd word. The wolf supposed that paws would be more appropriate in this situation. He closed the distance slowly, unaware of what the rabbit's (for he remembered the name of the small animal) reaction would be upon noticing such a large predator approaching. As he drew nearer, there was something... off, about his quarry. The ears were what he noticed first. They were hardly moving, remaining still, listening in simply one direction. All those he had hunted before had swished their ears about constantly, listening for threats, signs that they needed to move quickly. And when it started forward, well... it didn't quite look comfortable in its own body. The way it was inspecting its limbs, the way it was moving, seemingly without an immediate purpose. These things didn't just offer themselves up to be killed.

And perhaps lucky for it, the wolf wasn't feeling particularly hungry at the moment. He felt more or less nothing within his body, and as such he felt no need to tear this little thing to bits and consume it other than what he felt he should do. His Path demanded that he do something. But it did not require him to eat this rabbit. So instead, he pounced in front of it in an instant, his paws spread wider than normal in a stance that enabled him to launch himself in any direction if need be. He greeted it with the only thing he could think of, a customary greeting he would give to something that threatened or challenged him, a low growl that rumbled through his body, teeth bared. Would it react as he expected a rabbit to, and immediately run? That was what he intended to find out.

Ethne had known her perception was skewed, possibly entirely shot, but even she would not have predicted that something so much bigger than she was could sneak up on her like that. As it happened, her visual (and auditory) fields were filled with something large and not-white and loud. Maybe that was just the half-upright rabbit ears though. Whatever the case, she started sharply, which more or less resulted in her hind legs (still an entirely strange thought) propelling her probably three feet off the surface that constituted the ground. She landed not at all gracefully, her natural lack of coordination combining with the unfamiliar rabbit-parts to ensure that she wound up a splayed heap in front of the wolf. Her brain caught up with her terror at this point, and she realized two things in quick succession: she was indeed looking at a wolf, natural predator of rabbits, and also that this was still a dream.

A couple quick conjectures and some optimistic hope led her to the conclusion that she probably wasn't about to be eaten. This had to be one of her friends, and she only knew one shapeshifter, though she'd never seen this particular form of his before. Well, dreams were dreams, and she knew nothing if she didn't know that. So, suppressing the very potent desire to back up very, very far from the large thing with teeth (she wasn't sure if this was rabbit psychology or just her own, which was vaguely unsettling), she picked herself up and sat back on her haunches. Now here was a conundrum. How in the world was she supposed to communicate anything to him? It would probably involve the use of more magic, unless she could pantomime or something... this was not on the list of things she'd ever expected to be doing, even in a place as inconstant and occasionally bizarre as the Fade could be.

It didn't run, and that alone was enough to confirm in the wolf's mind that this rabbit was more than it seemed. He stopped growling, letting his posture fall into something a little less threatening, though he imagined his appearance would make it difficult for him to convey that he didn't intend to be an immediate threat. He sat back on his hind legs, eyes studying the small animal intently. Did he know this creature? He was trying to think of possible reasons why it wouldn't simply flee from him. It must have been at least somewhat confident that he wouldn't attack, because for prey to simply sit still in front of a predator was, well...

Suicide. It stirred something within him. Why was that? Why did the prey simply giving up on flight make him feel anything? What in his ever-so-foggy memories would cause that? It was like digging his way through eyes with naught but his paws, trying to claw his way to something visible and yet completely unidentifiable underneath. He remembered... darkness. A night, the sky blanketed by thick clouds, an approaching storm. The wind howled, howled like the wolves he hadn't even run with yet. This was long ago. Back when he was still young, when he was the outcast, the omega, the one left to fend for himself. But he remembered no fear, no feeling of hesitance at being outnumbered by those that thought themselves the hunters.

The storm hit. Wind whistled by him, icy knives cutting through fur, a mere annoyance to be ignored. Rain lashed against him, but he knew the hunters, actually his prey, felt the sting worse than he. They were tired, they were sore. It had been a long day. Raping the land and its inhabitants was exhausting. Lightning struck, and he could see them flinch. He could smell their fear in his nostrils. Then he tasted their blood on his tongue, warm and invigorating. Throats he had so long desired to tear open. One by one they fell, lost in the storm, blind and unworthy.

When none remained... he had stopped. His fur dripping wet, his tongue lolling, panting amidst bloodless corpses. He sat down, no... he kneeled... among the bodies. Water ran down into his eyes, his... skin, glistening from the incessant downpour. One of the bodies had something he needed on his belt. He reached for it with his... hand. A knife. Just a slice was all it would take. He still felt the thrill of his murder, the taste of another's blood in his mouth. His goal was complete, his revenge exacted. There were others he had known, those raped and murdered by those whose blood he'd just tasted. He could join them again, couldn't he?

He could leave... if only he could be satisfied with what he'd consumed. But how could anyone resign themselves after such a short, empty life?

Suicide stared at the little rabbit with hard gray eyes. He was kneeling before it. His right hand was upturned, something cold resting against the wrist. A knife, clutched firmly in his left hand. He didn't recognize it as one of his own. Nothing he had ever owned. But it was the same, the same little weapon as the one he'd stared at for hours that night, years and years ago, before he'd ever ran with any wolves, slept in any caves for a winter, or flown over a landscape that he had come to know far more than any mere hunter could.

The shapeshifter dropped the knife, sliding it away from him, before rearranging himself into a cross-legged seated position. He scratched at his stubble for a moment, surveying the little rabbit before him. As he did, the world around him changed ever so slightly, the ground and sky becoming slightly more real with the appearance of a cloud-like texture to them. A certain warmth surrounded the white expanse. Comfortable and calm, like a summer day he remembered back in the Wilds once. A small smile formed on his lips.

"Remember who you are, and what you were. A rabbit isn't a fitting form for you. You may think otherwise, but you are no prey."

For a long stretch of time, neither of them had moved. Dekton had gone somewhere else, and Ethne knew it was a place where even she could not follow. His lupine eyes were just slightly glazed, and though she had no way of being certain, she would have guessed that he was lost to memory, in the event that someone should press her for an opinion. Either way, she waited, blinking her surprise when he shifted before her eyes. It occurred to her then that she'd never actually seen the process before, and she was surprised that it didn't unnerve her as much as she thought it would. She understood, perhaps better than most people could, that he was as much himself when he was a bear or a wolf of a bird as when he wore human skin. For once, the attendant fear of what any of those faces was capable of just wasn't there.

She noted the presence of a knife, and her whiskers twitched. The meaning behind its presence was lost upon her, but she wasn't really all that surprised. More startling were his words, which seemed to indicate that he now knew to whom he was speaking. Was it really so obvious? She might have been a little depressed by that, really, but as usual she was too busy being happy that things appeared to be resolving themselves. What remained was to do as he suggested, a prospect which reminded her immediately of her weariness. And yet... the way he put it, changing was to be more a matter of remembering than forcing. To will was the most intuitive of actions for her, but to remember, well, she'd spent the better part of the last some months trying quite hard not to.

It was easy to remember some things. Ethne had always thought her life was more about the people around her than anything, and their faces came to mind so easily it was almost effortless. Her recent companions, the Wardens she'd kept company with before that, even, to some extent, even Magister Corvinius and his household, her parents, and the figures from her childhood, muddled as their visages were by the passage of time. It could not be classed as difficult to remember what she was about right now, nor a month or a year ago. Beyond that, she was even willing to accept that she had been little at all, save a tool, a knife that cut the Veil and pierced the heart of many a dreaming lord or lady. Reconciling these things was always the trouble, and she realized with some trepidation that she was no longer at equanimity with herself. She wished to hide parts of her whole, and that was the rabbit-hearted part of her nature.

It wasn't peace, but it was resignation, and that was enough. Slowly, she grew, the white fur receding into her skin as limbs lengthened and tapered from blunt ends to subtle rounded points. Her colors shifted, resolving into the greens and blacks and golds of her usual attire, the alabaster-and-pink of her native skin, and the reddish-blonde of hair that didn't do nearly so well at keeping her warm. Perhaps comically, the ears were the last to go, receding until they left behind the pointed audits of her race. She blinked several times, feeling a little strange in her own skin, and shook her head briefly. She'd wound up crosslegged also, just close enough to her Chasind fellow that her knees brushed his. Smiling, she heaved an exhale. "I've been in many dreams," she said lightly, "but I've never been a rabbit in any of them. I think it's more your fault than mine, actually." She flexed her hands a couple of times, as if to make sure they still worked the way they were supposed to.

"But thank you. I suppose it's high time I return the favor and get us out of here. What do you think?"

The shapeshifter took a last glance at the knife, before rising to his full height, towering above the elven girl even if she did the same. "I think my Path will lead me by the corpse of the creature that thought to imprison me here. Thank you for hearing my call. We have to remember where we began to know where we want to go."

There were a number of things Ethne could have said there, and they all sort of fought for control of her tongue. In the end, she voiced none of the more urgent ones, instead rising to her feet and nodding wilth some solemnity. "You're welcome. I'm just happy I heard." So saying, she allowed the environment about them, given some clarity by the strength of Dekton's resolve, to blur again, bringing both of them outside the Fade once again.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forgive—

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

“This isn't real.”

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

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

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

They'd make it through this.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Setting

Characters Present

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

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

She would show him the face of a true demon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tonight, he wouldn't be useless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

It had broken her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Broken would break him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it didn't.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morpheus was dead.

They'd achieved what had seemed impossible.

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Level Up!





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethne’s eyes snapped open, and she surged upwards, sitting up so quickly she felt lightheaded. Her breath came in shallow pants, and she attempted to regain balance by staring into the fire. Around her, the others slept on, oblivious to her revelations.

”Erebus…” she whispered softly, holding her chilled fingers out towards the flames to warm them. There was something strange about what she’d just dreamed, something she would never have expected, but she dare no put it to words, not just yet.


The Mission Briefings have been updated.




The next morning, the somniari relayed to the others their next destination: Antiva. As was common with these things, she would learn more specifics as they came closer to their goal. It may, as had been the case before, require walking in the dreams of a Warden before she could place the exact location, but Antiva was a ways away yet. To get there, they would have to travel north, and after consultation with Solvej and Scally, it was decided that the Deep Roads- relatively empty of Darkspawn during a Blight- would be the best choice for travel. Getting to the nearest entrance by horse took another day, and at the end of it, they camped in tandem with a wandering merchant, who professed his desire to reach Val Royeaux and what was now relative safety. The chance to reequip was fortuitous and well-earned, and spirits were much higher that night than they had been the one before.

The Codex has been updated.





Chapter Two: Erebus, The Gatekeeper
"One Darkspawn General vanquished, I doubt any will deny that they had the right to a little pride in their accomplishments. Most had overcome their greatest fears or desires, and they had surely conquered a mighty foe, capable of warping the very nature of reality. What the wise would comprehend immediately, however, was that challenges even greater lay ahead, and Erebus waited for them, casting a long shadow over the merchant nation of Antiva."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris

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The first night after leaving Val Royeaux, when Ethne had made the rounds healing the group after their hard fought battle against Morpheus, Mira had made herself somewhat scarce, and politely declined any aid from the spirit healer. She certainly wasn't in need of healing... in fact, she had felt absolutely wonderful upon awakening in that cathedral, surrounded by corpses of demons and darkspawn, blood everywhere, and most of the companions she'd entered the room with hacked apart in at least one place. She'd noticed Emil, too, was fine, but he looked darker than ever. Something had gone wrong there, but seeing as she wasn't looking for a smack like the one the other guy got, she kept her mouth shut about it.

In fact, Mira kept her mouth shut about most things as they were herded out of the city they'd saved. Everyone seemed more or less haunted by what had taken place, or at least more or less dying from the battle that had taken place after they'd woken up. But Mira hadn't woken up, not until the fight had been won. All she remembered was the dream. Such a wonderful dream. She could still feel some of the... sensations, if she thought back on it. She couldn't help but smile privately to herself. She'd have to tell Jack about it some time, if they happened to cross paths again. Or maybe she could show Jack sometime. That would be better.

The issue remained, however, of what exactly she had done to deserve a free pass while the others she had been saddled with were battered and sliced by Morpheus, who looked strangely different when she awoke than she remembered before. They looked as though they'd been through the worst night of their lives, and here she was, no worse for wear, having awoken from what had been more or less a refreshing nap, wholly unharmed, and thoroughly satisfied with her dream.

The girl they called the Dreamer, as she'd heard the big man with the bear pelt of chest hair say, seemed the best candidate to speak to. The opportunity, however, wasn't immediately presenting itself. She occupied herself the first night by experimenting with alchemy reagents while the others healed up, having harvested some interesting bits from Morpheus and other exotic dead things within the cathedral. Eventually she came up with a violently bright green mixture, one which she quietly tested against a rock. The liquid ate through it to the core in short order, much to Mira's satisfaction. She would have to replicate more of these. They would be most useful against anything with a thick hide or armor, so long as she was careful not to get any on her new friends.

The second night, however, Mira could no longer hold her questions in. She wasn't entirely sure she should still be following these suicidal people at all, and the sooner the elven girl could explain what the hell had happened to her, the sooner she could make up her mind about where she wanted to go with the rest of her life. So as the others gathered around the campfire, Mira got Ethne's attention with a wave of a slender hand.

"Think we could chat a bit? Over here, maybe?" She didn't want to get too far from the warm fire, after all, but far enough so that their words wouldn't be overheard by the entirety of the group. Mira had no idea what the conversation was going to lead to, after all.

Ethne had mostly been walking around the campsite, rather listless and clearly without much of a destination. She'd made the trip to the slow stream earlier, so at least her own scent wasn't causing her to flinch anymore, but she was having considerable difficulty deciding what, exactly, to do with herself. The healing was done; everyone just needed to rest for now. Except her, apparently, because 'rest' these days was anything but restful. The camp was set, the watch was decided, and she was beyond tired, but walking about in irregular circles seemed to be the only activity that brought her any measure of peace.

Which was why, perhaps, she smiled a little brighter than was really called for when someone purposefully caught her attention. Mira pointed at a spot near the fire, and because she had nothing else to do and also because talking seemed perfectly lovely right now (never mind that it was probably going to be about Darkspawn), she consciusly had to refrain from skipping over to the spot in which she would eventually settle. Sitting crosslegged, the mage propped her staff against her shoulder, setting her hands in her lap.

"Of course! What would you like to talk about?" Never mind that it was most likely going to involve 'Spawn or demons or something similarly-nasty. She could always hope for botany or festivals or shoes or something, right?

Mira had to admit, this girl's demeanor was entirely refreshing, what with the incessant moodiness of Emil and the other Templars she'd gotten used to recently. She also reinforced Mira's notion that all elves were positively adorable. She wondered for a brief moment if Ethne would be the type for a romp every now and then. Probably not. Either way, it didn't really matter now, as they had things to talk about. Mira took a seat herself, folding her legs neatly underneath her, before beginning the work of rebraiding her dark hair, which she had recently washed off in the nearby stream.

"Let's see. I'm... not really sure where to begin. I don't really remember much, is the problem. I remember Morpheus, and falling asleep, and my dream, and then I woke up after he was dead. You know the rest. I guess... I'm just trying to figure out what happened, and if I did anything that I don't remember. I've heard you're called the Dreamer. Could you help me?" Of all the people in the group, Mira was glad it was Ethne she was going to for help. Most of the others weren't exactly approachable.

"I love your hair, by the way," she added, for no apparent reason. "Always liked that color."

Ethne's eyes were drawn to motion. Perhaps it was an old instinct, some little sliver of wariness bundled with nervous energy, moving always under her skin. Whatever the case, she observed the motion of Mira's fingers flicking strands of hair deftly, appearing and diappearing again into the thick, dark brown mass that was her hair. Perhaps it was silly to think of this, but Ethne had never learned how to do that- to braid. Something intrinsically simple, feminine, and yet practical. It was not a skill she'd ever needed, and so nobody had ever taught it to her. In her childhood, her hair had just been cut when it started to get in the way of things, left to lay in abbreviated, choppy locks with just a hint of wave. Now, she rarely bothered about it at all. Her circlet kept it out of her face, and that was just it. Never had the thought occurred to her that one might treat it as some kind of ornament, but Mira's was so well cared-for it was hard to see it as anyhing but.

The compliment, then, was perhaps more on-topic than the Orlesian woman realized, and the elf grinned to hear it, her hand reaching automatically to pluck a lock from the rest with her fingertips, and hold it in front of her face as if to remind herself of the color being discussed. "Oh," she replied, blinking and letting the tendril drop. "Thank you very much. You, um... that is, you're lovely. I mean. In general, that is to say." It was obviously true, and so she'd said it without really thinking about how it might sound, and of course only in retrospect did she come to understand how incredibly awkward she was coming off. Huffing out a breath, she pursed her lips and wrinkled her nose, an expression of gentle displeasure, clearly self-directed.

Mira laughed softly at Ethne's response, her smile more genuine than it had been in some time. The occassions in which she could speak to someone who didn't want something from her were surprisingly rare, and as such she found Ethne immediately refreshing. As she had come to learn, an awkward compliment often meant far more than one delivered with a silver tongue. She'd done enough of those herself to know that difference. Smooth deliveries hid motives, while Ethne's unintentional approach came from the heart. "Thank you," she said in return, her smile warm. "We'll keep this group looking resectable, you and I. Now, about the dream..."

Perhaps it was better to start over, this time with something she could say without sounding stupid. Looking down at her hands for a moment, she tried to decide exactly how much of what had occurred in the dream was strictly relevant. She didn't, perhaps, want to go into the matter of Mira's accepting a deal with Morpheus. She understood it, she really did. She'd seen strong mages, people who knew the Fade as well as anyone could, who understood the dangers of temptation and dreams firsthand, fall to its perils all the same. Weaker demons than Morpheus had lured away friends, enemies, fellows, and magisters with the mighty vows and promised dominance of Pride, the uncaring flare of Rage, the easy, apathetic restfulness of Sloth, and the softly-whispered purrs, the gentle lovers' caresses of Desire. The last caused her face and neck to heat somewhat, though thankfully they didn't tinge too deeply. Naive she could be called about many things, but occasionally walking in dreams, being tempted by those demons, well... it led to a certain kind of knowledge, or at least certain kinds of observation.

The point was, she couldn't really blame Mira for succumbing, just like she couldn't blame Emilio for being duped so thoroughly that she was denied any access whatsoever to his dreams. So, should she tell the woman as much, or let her bleieve that it was a fluke, or some mistake on the part of the Dreamer herself? She settled for the truth, but only in part. "I was only able to remain in your dream for a short time," she offered, keeping her tone mostly neutral, which for her was still a bit lighter than most. "Do you remember the part about Cagliari? Morpheus said that your friends were beneath it. I'm not sure what he meant by that, but you seemed to understand."

She could have tried to hide uncomfortability or sadness behind a mask, but there wouldn't have been much point to it. Ethne's words were something of a revelation to Mira. They didn't restore any memory, or explain a number of things which she was still curious about, but it gave the answer to an altogether different question, one she hadn't even been aware of asking. The thought must have come to her during the dream, whatever it had been, since it had clearly been something else before what she remembered. She had no recollection of Ethne entering her dream. She imagined the girl would be significantly more red faced at the moment if she had.

The idea never came to her that she would actually be able to speak with Morpheus, but now that she thought about it, that would indeed be the first thing she would ask him. He was a darkspawn, right? A powerful one at that. He would probably have knowledge of their operations, the locations they were striking next... the destinations for their captives. So Mira had indeed asked him where the darkspawn had taken her friends, and he had answered.

"My home used to be a brothel on the outskirts of Cumberland," Mira explained quietly, her voice growing more serious. "The town was attacked by the darkspawn. Most of the girls, including the mistress, were dragged off. I was nearly killed. It's how I became a Warden. They showed up and drove them off, then gave me the Joining, impressed with how many I'd taken with me. I survived, and that was that." She trailed off for a moment, thinking back. She'd been nothing but confused back then, a time that seemed like a life ago, even though it was much less than that. She had only wanted to escape, but her new companions demanded she accompany them, the price she had to pay for still drawing breath. They expressed regret at the loss of her friends and family, but stated that they could do nothing about it. Their mission was Val Royeaux, and they could not know where the girls had been taken.

"The darkspawn took the other girls into the Deep Roads, and I guess under Cagliari is where they are. That's... on the way to Antiva City, isn't it?" The question was significantly deeper than simply asking the location, and she knew it. But for the first time since, well... becoming a Warden, it gave her a location, a place to care about. Being completely honest, Mira thought herself far too small to make any kind of difference in the Blight, and judging by the state of the group after the battle they'd fought, they were brushing a little too close to death for her tastes. But if they were going in that direction... well, she would be a fool not to try and get their help. But she didn't feel very comfortable asking them such a thing yet. Maybe Ethne would respond well, but the others were harder, colder people. Why would they divert from their mission just to help her? No, she needed to make a few friends first, and they needed to get closer, to see if going after Selena and the others was really possible.

"It is," Ethne confirmed with a solemn nod. She knew she was answering more than a question about the arrangement of certain points on a map, but the answers were, for her at least, the same. What reasons could any of them ever have for not helping in this situation? It was on their way, it served their larger purpose, and it would bring some peace of mind to one of their own, clearly.

"That explains some of it, I guess. But what happened? How come I didn't wake up with the rest of you when you fought him? And, well... I get the feeling my dream was a little different than the others."

The elf swallowed. Letting her eyelids fall, Ethne took a breath, then blew it out and up so it teased her hair, lifting the shorter bits near her forehead. This sort of thing was never easy to explain. She'd never been sure if that was becuase it was such mysterious magic in the first place or becuase she just wasn't good at finding the right words. Maybe both had something to do with it. "Mmm... that's partly my fault," she said slowly, forming the syllables with great care, as though they were something precious. "Ordinarily, I can cause anyone who is dreaming to cease doing so, but... well, Morpheus was considerably more powerful than the average mage, and he trapped me in lyrium, which made matters more difficult."

Here she paused, glancing into the fire and chewing her lip contemplatively. "Not everyone else woke up, and some experienced more difficulty doing so than others." She refrained from mentioning exactly who belonged to what category; their dreams were truthfully their own business, and she would not speak of them aloud. "He kept everyone under the sway of either a dreadful nighmare or something so blissful they didn't want to know it wasn't real, and only a great deal of persistance let anyone see through any of them."

Judging by the outcome, Mira couldn't think of a way for all of this to have turned out better, given the circumstances. Instead of fighting her way out of some nightmare, only to have to fight through demons and Morpheus in the real world, she was allowed a free pass through the fight, preoccupied with what Ethne had accurately described as blissful, waking up afterwards to recover information she had rather cleverly left behind for herself through this Dreamer. Mira knew she was an intelligent girl, but sometimes she surprised herself still.

"I doubt I would have helped much, anyway," she said, a hint of her mischievous smile returning, "Demons and the like aren't exactly my strong suite. I probably would have just gotten in the way." It was settled, more or less, in her mind. She'd accompany the crazies, at least for a little while, as an escort and a rescue team for her friends, and then she could go her own way.

If there was a way to put all of this behind her, Mira would find it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland

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Bloodshot stormy eyes surveyed the camp where they had made their stop. The owner of the eyes had found herself a nice tree to prop against and had ceased all movement since. Kerin hurt enough without straining her tender muscles and aching bones that moving about the fire entailed. She even ventured a glare to the flighty magelet, becoming irrated by the elf's incessent movement. She had to tear her tired eyes away from the girl so that she wouldn't simply snap at her. Snap? No, snapping would require energy, movement. She wouldn't snap. Growl perhaps. Stare menacingly. But not snap. She had enough of snapping in her life time. Kerin rolled her shoulder, dislodging an uncomfortable bit of bark from her shoulder blade, but even that simple action was met with resistance.

While she didn't remember what exactly happened, she had more than enough proof that something most certainly did. The war drums were just a dull memory by now, the last thing she remembering is falling under Morpheus's spell and then suddenly waking up on the shoulder of the pirate in an unfathomable amount of pain. Even now, despite a larthargic dip in the nearby stream, her pearlescent hair thrown into a mishapen mess, even the single braid framing the side of her face was undone leaving the locks noticably out of place. Even now, a few flakes of dried blood could be found among the white hairs on her head. She even had a new scar on her upper arm.

She tilted her head and looked upon the scar once more. It was brutally ugly and fresh. It wasn't a clean cut, or even one that a warrior would be proud to have. The skin was puckered, discolored, and mishappen, the remaints of a intense burn wound. That posed the question of what burned her and when, but she figured that question was one left unanswered. She sighed and brought her eyes up, the gleaming blade next to her catching her eye next. It was a large greatsword, nearly as long as she was tall. It wasn't the greataxes she was used to, but it would do. She wasn't going to be picky as it was the answer to the request of "something big and dangerous". Leaning against the blade was a new set of armor. Again, when she awoke, the armor she had been worn had suffered a brutal battle. Rivets were rent, plates were gouged, and the leather was charred. Pity. She liked that armor.

Whatever hell she had went through, she doubted it would be the last... She just hoped she could remember the next one.

Perhaps one of the few people that had maintained his good humor over the last two days, Rudhale had picked up a good chunk of the camp chores without complaining. Once the wounds on his abdomen and arms had been closed up and his bones reset, he wasn't as weary as the others, simply put. Maybe it was the fact that he was used to being up and about on the ship for days at a time during emergency situations, maybe it was simply the fact that he hadn't been travelling for as long (or maybe it was longer; put one way, he handn't stopped travelling for years). Whatever the case might be, he'd pitched the few tents they had and started the fire with little assistance.

Presently, he was humming to himself, picking his way across the camp with purpose, but in the lazy, carelessly-graceful way that certain animals were known to have. With time, he found what he was looking for: the dwarf slumped under the tree. Smiling pleasantly, he set one of the plates down beside her. "Oughtn't forget to eat," he pointed out amicably, "or you won't be back on your feet in enough time to flay the next one, hm?" Taking notice of a few dried red flecks in the pristine silvery-white of her cropped hair, he decided it was a tragedy that required some retification and bent somewhat comically, his own plate still in one hand, plucking a few of the most egregious offenders from her coif with the precise motion of his thumb and forefinger.

"There we go. Much better, not that the bloodied version isn't lovely in it's way," he murmured, probably as much to himself as to Kerin. He settled himself beside her without bothering to ask, passing the warrioress a tin fork before lifting his own. Trail food wasn't terribly sophisticated, but it wasn't inedible, and more or less wound up about the same as the food on the Tide did when they'd used up all their perishables. At least here he didn't have to remind everyone to eat limes and avoid scurvy. No, they were far more likely to end up killed by wandering Darkspawn or some such. A much more exciting way to go, and if he was to die, that was the way he'd prefer to do it.

"You look contemplative, my dear. What's on your mind?"

"Wondering why a pirate is doting on me like a mother." Kerin called bluntly. Though, picking things out of someones hair was a bit motherly-- even if that thing was specks of dry blood. She tilted her down and looked the plate, grabbing it and sitting it in her lap with perhaps more exertion than would have been necessary under better circumstances. Once she did, she took the fork he handed her and began to stab at the food. Lifting a tasteless morsel to her mouth she finally decided to give the pirate a better answer. "Wondering what the hell actually happened with Morpheus," she answered truthfully. She skewered another morsel and stared it for a moment before popping it into her mouth.

Continuing on, "One moment, I watched as Morpheus put us all under some sort of spell, then next I wake up with you carrying me and every part of my body screaming in pain-- Couldn't have been a bit more gentle, could you? I have not been known to forget a fight, but this... Ancestors know I don't know what happened. I couldn't have gotten my arm nearly ripped off just because I tossed in my sleep," she said, shrugging.

To the barb, Rudhale offered only a foxlike grin, refusing to rise to the bait. He'd been called much worse things before. Kerin's actual answer, however, had him knitting his brows together in momentary confusion before something like comprehension lit his face. "If I'd been more gentle, you'd have accused me of coddling and thought me spineless. But that is unusual. Do you not remember the dream itself either? Hm." The pirate consumed his own food with the air of someone moving by habit alone- mechanical and, while smooth, certainly not imbued with his usual studied grace. Rather, it was apparent from the very intense few seconds he spent staring into the middle distance that he was thinking quite intently about something.

Whatever it was, he didn't seem inclined to share the revelation, and before long, he'd snapped back to himself with another flashy grin. "Shame you don't remember. It was quite the glorious affair, particularly for yourself. Assuming, of course, that you find your glory in bathing yourself in the blood and sweat of your foes and all that sort of thing." He had been known to, certainly. The flow of his words was swift and staccato, each syllable pronounced crisply enough to be understood, though clearly by someone used to rapid-fire exchanges of words and debate. "I could recount, if you like, with more or less dramatic embellishment to suit your tastes. I assure you, I have much practice at this. It'll cost you a favor though." He paused dramatically, shooting the dwarf a sidelong glance and a wink. "Not that kind of favor. Unless, of course, you're volunteering..."

"Easy pirate, I'm not so easily won," Kerin said with the beginnings of a grin. It did sound like her though-- Not the favor, but the battle. It wasn't the first time she was covered in blood, it wasn't even the first time she woke up covered in blood, though she believed she had long since buried that memory. His words stroked a curious streak in her, though she found herself wondering how much of was truth and how much was mere embellishment. Though she had not known this man for long, it did seem like the thing he would do. Though she could supposedly cross-check his story with the others... "Like I told you, the last thing I remember is walking into that building and dropping to the ground..." she said, her eyebrows furrowing in concentration. There was... Something else. An old memory kept coming back to her mind, a haze of red, and a steady drum. What it all meant, she had no idea.

"Not to worry, my dear; if I'd thought you were, I wouldn't have asked in the first place," he replied with good humor, though he fell silent when she continued. That was interesting; he'd remembered his dream just fine, and from the glum looks on some of the other faces, he'd rather thought that the norm. Perhaps it wasn't; it was fair enough to guess that the general fatigue of the battle had done that, too.

"So what is this favor? Though I would prefer the story without too much of your embellishment," she stated. Not only was she curious as to what had transpired, but now she was curious as to the favor the pirate was going to ask.

"Hmm..." Rudhale hummed, rubbing absently at his chin. Setting his plate to one side, the pirate crossed his arms and tilted his head to one side. "You know what? I hadn't actually thought about it. How about you decide? Whatever this knowledge is worth to you, pay it back sometime in the future, in whatever way you see fit, how's that?" He hadn't actually been after anything specific, or even concerned with getting anything at all, but of course one hardly looked the fitting rogue if one went about giving things away for free.

"Fine. Sounds fair enough," Kerin nodded. Truthfully, she expected something else than that answer. "Tell me one of your stories" was something that crossed her mind, and she didn't quite feel like weaving that tale to a new face. They may have possibly fought together, but she could neither remember it, nor does one scrap lead to a lifetime of unending trust. Though, perhaps if they survive long enough, she could be obligated to meet story with story one day.

His smile stretched over his face thereafter, and he steepled his hands in front of his chin, leaning back against their tree as though incredibly relaxed. His fingertips tapped one another in a steady rhythm; he was going to give this tale the telling it deserved. But of course, she'd indicated he should go easy on the embellishment, so he'd comply. It didn't need much, anyway. "Well, as soon as we'd all awoken, having fought our way through conjured nightmare and foul illusion, we were faced down by a summoned mass of demons, manifestations of rage burning beside whispering promises of desire and two mighty gargantuan darkspawn with wickedly-curved horns and brutish strength. You, oh angry one, were the first into that fray, and the flaming harbingers of the Fade's fury were drawn to you as though you were the flame and they mere moths..."

He went on to recount in gory, but strangely poetic, detail, the battle against the demons, and then Morpheus's effort to draw something like the barrier around himself, and then the shattering of Kerin's axe and the grievous slice to her shoulder she'd recieved in retaliation. When he got to the Lord High Seeker's bit (minimized because he disliked the man immensely), he paused slightly, tapping his lips contemplatively with two fingers. "You know, I'm not so sure you'll believe the next part, even if I tell it to you completely straight." That said, he plowed on forward anyway, by now quite absorbed in spinning the threads of the story and weaving them together with deft words and the occasional flourishing gesture.

"Well, suffice to say that once that mighty armor of his had cracked and shattered, the beast called some fel magic to himself, ripping the Fade open and absorbing its power for himself. It thickened his limbs, lengthened his spine, and split his skin, the cracking and wet clicks the sound of an entire anatomy rearranging itself beneath the surface. When all was said and done, the creature was more than twice my height and probably four times as broad across the shoulders, with ink-black claws the length of your arms. We threw everything we had into its extermination: our Black Templar nearly staked one of his feet to the ground with lyrium, you hacked its other tendon apart with naught but a shortsword. Yours truly-" and here he executed a self-effacing bow from the waist, which he knew just had to look silly from a seated position- "managed the same on the other leg. He was distracted by a double-effort of blue-white lightning from the towering shapeshifter, and a raw blast of energy from the bloodied Templar. Even as he lost the ability to retain his feet, the intrepid Warden shadow climbed his limbs and drove the point of a blade between his eyes. And that," he finished with relish, "Is how Morpheus died. You, who'd led him alone for a few minutes, collapsed shortly thereafter, and being the gentleman I am, I picked you up and carried you until we made camp."

"He... Changed shape. You are right pirate, I do call bullshit," she asked with skeptical eyebrows. Though, she found herself believing a part of it. Why would he completely falsify something like that? She would have to check with Suicide or Solvej to make sure the pirate wasn't just spewing nonsense from his mouth. "Apart from that, it sounds like I didn't just lay down. That's good. Wouldn't have laid down anyway," she said with a pleasing nod. She had her pride, she couldn't stand the thought that she could have just been taking a nap and gotten her injuries from being stepped on. That would have be humiliating. "I appreciate your story pirate. Next time we have some hard liquor, I'll pay you back," for more than just the story. He did manage to carry her to the campsite afterall. She wasn't the lightest member of the party, despite her short statue. Thick bones and all.

"Hm. Well, I'm sure most of the others could confirm, though their phrasing may lack a certain something. You're quite welcome, dwarf, since we seem to be using descriptive nouns now." He nodded with mock seriousness, but his face did take on a thoughtful sort of cast a moment later. "Speaking of descriptive nouns, I had thought you were a berserker? Perhaps I could have made it clearer, but, well, I would have expected a berserker to be... louder than that. But perhaps I'm simply being silly; it has been known to happen from time to time."

Stretching his arms up and over his head, the pirate flowed to a stand, collecting both plates as he went. "But! I shall not overstay my welcome. Get some rest, and I assure you I shall not forget about that liquor, my dear."

Kerin's head tilted at the pirate's query. "Aye. I am," was all she ventured as she chewed on his words. Colored as they were, there was bound to be some truth to them, the pirate was a showman, yes, but he wouldn't outright lie like that. She was a berserker, howling mad and demanding her foes to step up and give her a challenge. The picture Rudhale painted did not sound like her normal demeanor. There was no mention of yelling, of calling challenges, or roaring. Just a silent death machine-- That was another point as well. Yes, she did throw herself into the fray with reckless abandon, but she was not ignorant of the costs. She wouldn't willingly throw a shoulder into a creature made from literal flames. She would not approach a creature such as the thing Morpheus turned to (however manufactured the story seemed, there had to be a grain of truth) half-cocked with no plan in her head. Anger with no thought was a dangerous thing, both to her enemies, and herself.

That was what a berserker truly was. The controlled their anger like one would a sword. Though the Kerin Rudhale spoke of didn't sound in control, it sounded like that Kerin was controlled by her anger.

That worried her. She would have to ask Ethne what set her off like that-- Twig-bean sounded like she had a part of if from what snippets of her conversation she caught.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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She could hear the sound of people sleeping beside her, something that had only been the case since the start of this journey. Before falling in with the Wardens on their quest to slay the Darkspawn and preserve all the untainted life they could, she’d invariably slept alone, in a room that was hers only in the most nominal sense, surrounded by cold stone and uncomfortable silk and satin. It was, she supposed, a life that some would envy, but she had never been allowed to mistake it for one in which she was loved. Valued, yes, envied sometimes, and certainly well-used. But never loved.

Was that why she was so inclined to believe that the most important thing was to care about other people? Ethne drew her knees up to her chest, hugging them tightly to herself and closing her eyes, her ears following the inharmonious rises and falls of breath. She could almost pick them out, by now: Kerin’s strong and steady, but more abrupt than the others, Dekton’s bear-breathing, waffling and heavy, somewhere further away. Solvej’s sometimes hitched, and the elf thought that perhaps she dreamed of the Horde then. Or perhaps the Horde didn’t bother her anymore, and she dreamed of her brother again. Scally’s breathing was light but slow, with pauses, as though he were reluctant to let go of his gathered air.

It was calming, to be here, and a kind of warmth slithered over her skin, brought on only in part by her proximity to the fire. She was afraid of embracing sleep herself, for she knew what it would bring. More nights spent walking in an endless deep, one that grew only darker by recent development. There was no love to be found there, either, and it was practically where she’d grown up. Her spirit-mates, those who chose to walk beside her, lost their power in that darkness, lost their luminosity, until they were only whispers in the night. It called up a profound feeling of loneliness, one that she’d much rather forgo to feel like this, as she did surrounded by living, breathing, people who seemed altogether unconcerned with what she’d been before, what she was capable of.

But then, was that not the very reason she needed to brave the darkness at all? Were they not counting on her to divine the location of the next Darkspawn general, so that they could carry forth their burden on proud shoulders? Was she not to seek so that they might destroy? Even Emilio had chosen to bear that burden, reluctant as he was, once it was placed so unceremoniously upon his back. She could do nothing but the same. It would be an act of duty, of devotion, of sacrifice. But, she could not help but think, in the end, she would be glad to do it.

Because, for her if nobody else, in the end it would be an act of love.



The next morning, Ethne awoke to the sounds of camp being already broken. Solvej was directing the loading of their few tents and other supplies onto the cart, and already the horses seemed to be well-prepared to march. Here and there, new equipment and old was being checked and double-checked, and the somniari quickly rolled up her sleeping materials and loaded them on with the rest. Her staff affixed solidly to her back, she swung astride her painted mount and waited for the Lady-Warden’s command to move.

It was not long in coming. Kerin gingerly hopped onto the back of the cart-- not yet willing to face the uncomfortable ride on her pony while in her condition. She sat her new helmet on her knee and leaned the greatsword beside her, ever within grasp. Though still not quite recovered from her ordeal, she wouldn't be found useless once the fighting began. Rhapscallion watched as Kerin pulled herself aboard the waggon, and idly considered taking that route, as well. His own bay – a horse stolen long ago from his father's own herd – snorted loudly, pressing it's snout to the back of his neck before he jumped away, flapping his hands to keep it from harassing him. Everyone else had already prepared their weapons. They were already beginning to mount their steeds or bury themselves around crates of equipment, in Kerin's case. Conquest pawed indignantly, eyeing him sidelong, as if mocking his hesitance. “Don't kid yourself,” He mumbled, rolling his eyes. He tightened his belt, and pulled it down two more loops before tying it into a loose knot. He'd lost some weight since travelling with his companions. Nothing to complain about, really.

Once everything was set to go, Solvej hefted her new poleax behind her, assuring that the straps used to secure it fitted snugly over her re-hammered black chestplate, and then joined the rest in being mounted. “All right,” she pronounced, loudly enough to be heard by all but not much more than that, “The Deep Roads should be mostly empty at this point, but it’s not hard to contract the Taint if you’re not careful, so do us all a favor and be careful.” Not one for protracted speeches, that was all she said before pointing Wagner’s nose towards the cavelike entrance to the underground caverns that constituted the warren of the Darkspawn, and just like that, the next part of their journey was underway. When Solvej finished her speech – short, sweet, and to the point, Rhapscallion finally sidled beside Conquest, pushing it's muzzle away from his elbows, and awkwardly clambered into it's saddle. The Deep Roads? It stirred something within him. Something that would happen to all Grey Wardens, regardless of their deeds, or how hard they'd worked to save innocent lives. He frowned, shaking his head. He wondered whether or not Kerin was nervous to return so close to her home, Orzammar.



Two days into the Deep Roads, and they’d only encountered a single band of Darkspawn, nothing that took them more than a few minutes to rout, without any significant injuries at that. Ethne was beginning to hope that their journey would be like this until they left, but of course not everything was so univocally positive.

Her dreams were worse down here. So were the dreams of Wardens, if Solvej’s were anything to go by. Still, she’d managed to pinpoint Erebus’s location, which was indeed Antiva City. She had no idea if his occupation would be as obvious as Morpheus’s had been, or if he was using the hostages as mouthpieces to act as though nothing were wrong at all. Both were distinct possibilities, but she had no way of guessing for sure and he had not spoken directly to her again as he had on the first night. Whatever else was the case, the dreams were exhausting, and she now seemed to have permanent wisteria-colored shading beneath her eyes, and frequently slumped in her saddle to doze despite her best efforts not to. She dreaded camping more than she did getting up to move, but she kept at it anyway. Everyone else was giving this everything they had and she would not allow herself to be any different.

Well, everyone except for Mira. She kept largely to the rear, though not so far as to be the last, as she preferred to keep something of a buffer between her and the darkspawn, something Emil did quite well for her. She felt more than a little out of place among all the warriors and the mages, not sharing nearly the same drive they had. It was to be expected, considering that she thought their mission a suicidal one, and planned to cut ties with them as soon as she could extract the help she needed.

Underground was not the kind of place Mira imagined herself being. It was living up to its expectations so far. The pair of boots she'd purchased off the merchant several days ago were already showing signs of wear. They weren't exactly built for hard travel, but it wasn't as though she was going to plod around in the hideously thick contraptions some of the others wore. The encounter with the darkspawn had seen her maneuvering into an out of the way location and letting the others do pretty much all of the dirty work. She was well aware that she wasn't really carrying her own weight at this point, and was certain to remain mostly quiet about it. The Warden-woman at the helm looked like she meant business, and Mira wasn't keen on drawing her ire, or getting her attention at all. The dreams, however, could potentially change that. The courtesan was looking significantly more disheveled than usual. A nightly reminder that she couldn't push her luck forever.

The Deep Roads was an amalgamation of rocky formations, made up of ruined walls tumbled into a mess of pebbles and square pillars spanning the expanse of the roadway. Spiderwebs loomed overhead, as if to promise eight-legged creatures Rhapscallion would rather not spot skittering along the ceiling. The Deep Roads promised many things, and reminded you of its immortality. It was more specifically a silent, endless frontier. How long had it been there? In its perpetual state of stasis, with its network of tunnels and caverns seemingly going on without an end? The structures were beautiful, in a very overwhelming way. The sheer emptiness they'd experienced since entering the caverns sent prickles of unease down his spine – it wasn't that he'd wanted to run into Darkspawn, but the fact that they hadn't even spotted any spiders, or deep stalkers, didn't bode well. It was too silent. He might've enthusiastically skipped along the corridors, brushing his fingers against the various Paragon sculptures watching their progress, but his dreams had so completely impaired his optimism that he lagged slightly behind his companions, occasionally shaking his head to rid himself of his lethargic contingency.

Rhapscallion's relentless optimism slowed with their progression, thoughtfully rendering itself into disquieting silence, whittling away with each passing day spent in the Deep Roads. His eyes were slitted, opaque and shuttered. His jaw was set into a hard, thin line, and the boyishness of days gone past seemed fleeting. They appeared in small spurts of curiosity, when Rhapscallion spotted small channels of lava boiling underneath a bridge, or a peculiar vase left by those who once lived in the Deep Roads, and then, just as quickly, they disappeared. Dismounting had seemed like the most sensible decision, as he'd almost dropped from his saddle several times. Instead, he'd tolerated the horse's snuffling nostrils and walked with its reins clutched in his hand. The half-breed's long limbs hung heavy and loose at his sides, fingers poised towards the ground, as if he couldn't be bothered to walk properly, and his ponderous footsteps seemed unplanned, frequently clumsy. He'd nearly careened into Dekton's back a few times, snapping back to a bristle-backed awareness when his eyes drooped closed. He continued his plodding pace, occasionally glancing towards his companions. They must've been as tired as he was. Rhapscallion offered little in conversation, because his words bounced off the walls, and he much preferred not calling down hidden hordes of goblin-faced wretches. Lines of fatigue etch the contours of his eyes, rendering his eyelashes to slivered gaps.

Ethne, noticing his unusual reticence, laid a small hand on his shoulder from her position atop her own horse. The creature and she were both small enough- and Scally tall enough- that she didn't have to reach down much to do it, but she offered no words. What was there to say? This place was steeped in nightmares. She could offer nothing to change that, at least not in the daylight, when all that remained of them were memories and lingering impressions. All she had to give was a smile, and give it she did, though she suspected it was precious little balm to worries nestled so deeply, so close to their hearts. She could feel them, too, plucking here and there at her sinews and tendons, dragging her eyelids down and forcing her cheer to subdue itself, for respect if nothing else. All she could have said was that they needed to endure, to carry on, and he didn't need her assistance to know that.

Visions took him. Nightmares of a different flavour ebbed it's way into his sleep, snatching at his security like a thief in the night, always edging at the corner of his subconscious. It took a toll on his assurance, though he still offered reassuring quibbles, nodding his head towards the stalagmites, and asking Kerin questions of those who'd once called the Deep Roads home. What had they been like? Were they as tough as she was? Were their different fighting squadrons, too? It kept his mind off of the alarming dreams he'd been having. Of needle-point teeth gnashed towards the ceiling, bugling horrible sounds that sounded like dying animals. Of monsters that seemed to notice him watching. Of keen glances, crooked grins, and gripping hands clapping against his shoulders. He awoke violently, resolutely pressing his knuckles to his lips to quieten his heavy breaths, his terror, his panic. On the days he felt a bit better, a little more energetic, Rhapscallion traded light banter with Mirabelle, whom he'd already aptly coined, Dancer. He wasn't even sure whether or not she could dance, but her light-footed steps, and easy grace, told him much that he hadn't seen. Either way, it suited her. She seemed withdrawn, as if she wished to be left alone – which he was never much good at.

The Deep Roads did not bring with it foul dreams for the dwarf, as the dwarves were immune to such luxuries. What it brought instead was memories. Memories of Orzammar, of Marl, of the castes. Every now and then, a hand would find it's way to her cheek, tracing the brand upon her face absentmindedly. While the others had dreams to fight through, Kerin had to fight her memories. She became quiet-- more quiet than normal. Most of her time she found reflecting on events that had transpired in her home of Ozammar. Other times it were the events that led her up to this point, back under the ground in a Grey Warden Caravan. Kerin was back on her pony for the rest of the journey, despite any objections the others may have had. She was a warrior, and she had her pride. She would not have a free ride all the way to the next General.

Emil took up a rear-guard position at the tail end of the caravan-- far away from the Black Templar and still be considered part of the group as he could manage. Emil too had been quiet during the trip, yet that was to be expected from the broody Templar. He was still coming to terms with his lot. Forced into mission with a traitor to the Order and two mages. The days found him ingesting more of the Templar's Lyrium conconction than was necessary. He found it the only way to get through the days, that and fervent prayer to the Maker. Perhaps he would get out of this yet. Perhaps not...

The shapeshifter was intrigued by this place. He'd been in caves before for extended periods of time, of course, but the Deep Roads were something he had never experienced. He would wait to pass judgment. The scenery left something to be desired, and though he wouldn't have minded seeing a few more darkspawn, he understood that the past few days had served as a much needed reprieve for the group. He was well aware of the two new additions to the group, the Templar and the whore that stuck to the rear, but he felt no real desire to meet them. The Templar did not seem friendly, to put it mildly, towards his kind, and the whore, well... he doubted she would be around much longer, one way or the other. For now, he was content to prowl along near the front of the group, the mace end of his darkspawn staff making regular clunks into the rocky earth.

At the front of the line, Solvej stiffened. Voices were filtering back in their direction from the passage ahead, but she sensed no Darkspawn. Still, there was no way to know if the people up ahead would be at all friendly. She’d heard a while back that slave trafficking and the thievery of more honest merchants were now major industries in the abandoned tunnels, and though she wasn’t worried about the band’s ability to deal with a few muggers, she still didn’t want to just charge in there without knowing what they were dealing with. With Rhapscallion walking terribly close to Dekton, he'd nearly slammed into the man's hunched shoulder blades, and was forced to backpedal inelegantly to see what was happening ahead.

Holding up a hand for as much silence as travel would allow, she cocked her head to one side, listening. He peeped his head to the side of the shapeshifter's elbow, then meandered closer, pausing when Solvej's hand signalled their halt. Faint noises caused his stunted ears to twitch, picking up pieces of conversation that seemed uncomfortably close. Imperceptibly, Rhapscallion's fingers drifted towards the pommel of his blades. As of recent, it seemed, when it came to any confrontation, it always ended up bloodshed.

“You sure they’re there, Havar?” Came one voice, worn to a raspy edge with time and experience, most likely.

“Damn sure,” replied another, this one younger, but also male. “We’d all know that stench for miles by now, Dov.” There was a smattering of gruff laughter, and she could almost imagine the one called Dov shaking his head.

“Fine. Go get the elf. He’ll want to know.” The first voice spoke again, and there was a sound of movement. Solvej’s hands tightened on the reins, unsure of whether or not to prepare for confrontation. Thankfully, the steps faded in another direction.

“You sure it’s a good idea to help that guy, Dov? There’s something just damn unnatural about him, if you ask me.” This one was a female voice, no less scratchy and worn than the rest, though.

Someone, presumably Dov, snorted. “According to the Shapers, we’re all unnatural, Tara. Don’t see why we shouldn’t take what help he’s offering.” That appeared to be the final word on the matter, and Solvej frowned. It was hard to tell what was going on, but there was little point in debating on it, especially since they’d probably be heard. Instead, she started forward again, rounding a corner in the corridor and reaching behind her for her poleax when Wagner, much to his own equine surprise, came chest-to-nose with a bronto.

It wasn’t just a bronto, however, as this one appeared to be saddled, and sitting in that saddle was a dwarf. Raising a steel-grey eyebrow, he swept muddy-colored eyes over the Black Templar and then all those ranged out behind her. He appeared relatively unmoved by their presence, though his chapped lips did curl into a faint smirk.

“Well, well, well. What brings the Grey Wardens to the Legion’s doorstep this time? You can’t all be here for your Callings, surely? Or are they recruiting babes these days in their desperation?” Despite his words, his tone was indulgent, even humorous.

“Nobody’s here for the Calling,” Solvej responded automatically. She didn’t often act like she had much authority, but this particular situation was one in which it seemed best to behave like the Captain she was. “We’re just passing through.”

“Hmm,” the armored man hummed in the back of his throat. “If you’re headed north, you have a problem, lass.” He stroked his beard thoughtfully, leaning forward slightly on his bronto. There was the faint clink of metal from his armor, counterpointed by the heavier sounds of his compact bow, shortsword, and war axe all shifting on his back and at his waist. The casteless tattoo on his face was incredibly faded with age, bisected by enough scars that it was hard to tell its original shape anyway.

Solvej sighed. It hadn’t been her intention to give away their destination, even to such staunch allies as the Legion of the Dead, but now it appeared they had little choice. “And just what problem would that be?” she prompted tersely. There was always a problem somewhere, and she had this feeling that they'd be solving this one, too.

This just widened the dwarf’s smile, and he gestured for all of them to come forward. “A problem you might well be the solution to, Wardens.”

The NPC Dossier has been updated.




Another half hour found them at the main Legion encampment. From the way it was set up, it was clear that everything was ready to be moved at a moment’s notice, but the sharpened stakes of wood lashed together with sturdy rope provided a clue that they’d been here for quite some time. The dwarf who’d led them here had identified himself as Dov, commander of this particular unit of the Legion, a vanguard troupe.

Set in the center of camp was a low wooden table with a map spread across it, weighted down at all four corners by chunks of stone, likely taken from the crumbling wall at their backs. “If you want to go north, you have two options: the first is directly- this tunnel here will take you beneath Cagliari and then from there right up to Antiva City. Problem is, that passage in particular is clogged with Darkspawn. They’re starting to fortify it a couple miles up. The other route is less direct. It’ll lose you a month at least, but there aren’t near as many of the bastards in it.”

He fixed the group with an appraising stare. “With the lot of you, I think I can responsibly direct my men to take down those ‘Spawn fortifications before they go up. Without you, I’ll be stuck defending my own location in two weeks, maximally. The choice is entirely yours, but I don’t know of any third options.” Dov swept a hand over the map, which did indeed fail to yield any alternatives besides the one he’d presented.

The choice before them was clear. All that remained was to make it.

"I want that tunnel" Kerin demanded, jamming a finger on the first tunnel. "It's the shortest route to our destination," she explained, though it was clear that wasn't the only driving force of her decision. These people were the Legion of the Dead. Warriors with only one purpose, stymie the darkspawn horde and fight until their death. Casteless and caste alike fought together in the Legion, it mattered not your previous stature. There were no noblity caste, no warrior caste, no crafter caste, no casteless, only the Legion. And a Casteless, this Dov, was their leader. Yes, the route was the quickest way to Antiva. But more than that, this route would allow Kerin to fight with these men and women.

She admired them, warriors with little-- if no-- equal fighting together for a singular purpose. Purpose... Perhaps that's what she admired the most about them. They fought for something bigger than them. They were dead men, so they certainly didn't fight for themselves. She looked around at the warriors gathered. No they didn't fight for themselves. The fought for each other. They fought for their home. They fought so that their lives may slow the horde. They had purpose and reason, and that made them dangerous. More dangerous than she could ever be, no matter how angry she became. She admired them, and she wished to be a part of that, if only for a moment. She looked up to Solvej, "I say we cut through them. With the Legion at our side we can't possibly fail," she stated. A gruff snort was her answer.

"Why should we? Just to entertain your pride, Dwarf?" Emil rebuked to Kerin's glare. "We have a duty to do, and that's to kill the Archdemon's minions, not gallivanting about and aiding these dwarves," he argued. "We can't very well do our duty if we're all dead, now can we? The other path may be longer, but at least we'll arrive all in one piece. Unless you think you can kill something like Morpheus by yourself," Emil said with a flat frown. Kerin merely snorted but did not argue. What use would it be to argue with a man who's afraid of the fight?

"You're assuming that if we delay a month, there will still be Darkspawn in the same place for us to kill... or anything left to save," Rudhale pointed out, with what might have been a surprising level of practicality. He looked vaguely troubled for a moment, and then a wide grin split his face. "We have to protect the Maker's children and all that. It'd be awfully unheroic of us to show up when everyone's already dead." Had that sounded more like him? Yes, he supposed it probably had.

Rhapscallion merely nodded, bobbing his head like an agreeable mare. It wasn't with the same childish confidence of one who simply wished to agree with the majority, but rather of a man who'd been so unusually taken with the individuals who scrapped their whetstones against their weapons, laughing loudly, and gregariously. Individuals who seemed fearless, but in actuality, were very aware of what may happen against the hordes of Darkspawn they faced in the Deep Roads, protecting each other, as well as anyone who lived on the surface. The thought of death didn't hamper them. It hardly slowed them. They reminded him of an iron shield, banded together with loyalty and trust and nobility. Perhaps, quite similar to the Chevalier, or the Elven knights his nannies had told him about all those years ago. He, too, found that he wanted to fight alongside them. He smiled broadly, then swiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “I agree. Straight through, and we'll be there quicker.” He acceded, glancing at Solvej, then to Rudhale. He might've taken the pirate's statement a bit too seriously, far too close to his heart. “Exactly. What kind of heroes would we be if he left them unaided?”

Solvej had been very close to making a sarcastic comment about the pirate actually seeing sense, but then he'd gone and opened his mouth again. She still couldn't quite figure out if he was that ridiculous on purpose or if it was just second nature by now. Perhaps it was both. Either way, she rolled her eyes and said nothing, waiting for some kind of consensus (or near-consensus, because she didn't care if Alessandro was the only one who disagreed).

Mira, who had slowly made her way towards the conversation, could easily have made some sort of clever remark in taking sides between Emil and the dwarf woman, but she didn't do so, instead hoping to catch Ethne's eye. "We should go straight through," she offered, almost shyly, which seemed very unlike her. It was all she was willing to add. Surely the Dreamer would understand the value of haste, knowing what she knew.

Ethne looked up at that, understanding the implication. They needed to be under Cagliari at some point, and she was not willing to wager that their journey would take them past the same places twice. It was always a possibility; her dreams need not choose a logical order to present themselves, but...

Suicide surveyed the newcomers with interest, these dwarves. He was unfamiliar with the Legion, but the choice seemed clear enough to him. "The direct route leads to battle, and a quicker way to our goal, the other way rewarding us with nothing but lost time. The choice is clear, is it not?"

"Well, that looks like a majority," Solvej put in, "and frankly none of us is qualified to play dictator." She conveniently left out her own opinion on the matter, as it was highly unnecessary either way by this point. Rolling her shoulders, she cracked her neck to either side and leveled a stare at Dov. "What's the plan, Commander? We're not going to do all the heavy lifting for you." They still needed to be alive when all was said and done, after all. Kerin cracked a grin and laid expecting eyes back on the Casteless commander. This was going to be fun.

Dov chuckled uner his breath at the woman's words. "Wouldn't dream of it, lass," he answered, but the amicability was soon replaced by a much more businesslike demeanor as he too bent over the map. "It's hard to see on here, but the tunnel we want actually forks into two paths. The 'Spawn are building their fortifications just in front of that fork, which would allow them to get reinforcements from two separate directions. You can imagine why we don't want that, I expect. The plan is simple: we get in there, destroy as much stuff as possible, and then pull out before we accrue too many casualties." The dwarf's expression was grim; there was no mistaking that there would be casualties, but he was going to put his men on a strict time-span requirement to prevent the approach of too many reinforcements from the Darkspawn. Destroying their infrastructure was the key to his unit's survival: any kills beyond that were a bonus but not worth losing lives over.

"Ah, I see. And the fact that we need to get through will clear at least one of those reinforcement tunnels by default, no doubt," Rudhale mused, looking over at the other man with an amused expression. Still, if he was upset that they were being used in this way, he did absolutely nothing to indicate as much.

For his part, at least, Dov was completely up-front. "That is a benefit, yes. We've been entrenched in this spot for too long. The better chance we have of moving, the better chance we have to live. You need to get through, and I need a tunnel cleared. None of us will get what we want if we can't get past the fortifications, and for that, we'll need each other."

"That seems true enough," Ethne said, drawing both men's attention for a moment. Swallowing, she put aside the nearly-automatic fear that engendered and continued. "But it doesn't explain how."

Dove smiled. "No, it doesn't. My scouts report that the fortifications are strong, and besides that protected on all sides but one with tunnel walls. The bulk of our attack will be a frontal charge, and the Darkspawn will be expecting that. What they don't know is that there's a much smaller mining passage that lets out behind most of their lines, blocked by a small but moveable cave-in. You lot and five of my best men will be taking that way, while I and the rest provide a distraction from the front. We can't get the whole platoon in that way, but something tells me you folks and Ragna's squad will be plenty."


The Mission Briefings have been updated.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell

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Her offer to provide any assistance in the healing tent was turned away, which was probably for the best. She'd need everything she had for the journey she and her companions had yet to complete, but all the same, she couldn't help but ask. What perplexed her more than anything was that someone had mentioned another mage having taken care of most of it earlier, but she had seen no such person around the camp at all, just her party and the dwarves that comprised the Legion of the Dead. The name was something that didn't make much sense to Ethne, as they all seemed very much alive to her. More than just alive, in fact; most of them were positively vital. As though they lived with a special kind of appreciation for that fact. Perhaps it was because they constantly knocked at the door of Death itself, loudly, and with hammers? She supposed that constantly being under that kind of pressure would make one more inclined to appreciate what they had left, however much or little that might be.

It wouldn't leave much room for procrastination or delay. If you had something you needed to say or do, you'd have to address it in short order, or risk it never being said or done. There was no time to still tongues or dance around the important matters. You couldn't hold court in the Deep Roads, and your politicking would by necessity be minimal. How very different that was from magisters who thought they had ages, eons to manipulate all the pieces on their chessboards, to play each and every one of their opponents like a finely-tuned harp until the whole song and dance was exactly the promenade they wanted it to be.

If the risk of death were not constant and oppressive, she might have preferred it. She might prefer it anyway.

Speaking of things that needed to be said, Ethne set her course back for the group's gathered belongings, deciding that this would be the best place to begin her search. From there, she commenced a lightfooted sweep of the camp, looking for her closest friend. It had been clear from a few days into the Deep Roads that Scally was not doing well, but she'd had no real opportunity to ask him about it. Here and now, surrounded by these courageous people who had no time to waste, she thought she'd be best off making the time. He was important enough, there was no doubt of that, and if she had to put off something else, well... she would.

After a few minutes of searching, she found him, still looking the same haggard soul he'd been for days. Her displeasure was an understated thing, a small pursing of her lips, the edges faintly downturned. "Scally? I've been meaning to ask you... is something the matter?" The answer was obvious enough, and the question perhaps a little stupid for all that, but... Ethne interlocked her fingers, tugging lightly at them in something resembling a nervous gesture. It wasn't nerves, exactly, just the usual ever-present worry. He drew it from her with greater frequency and power than most, though she couldn't quite decide why. She had more faith in him than she'd ever had in herself, so it wasn't that- but suffice to say she'd never had much cause to fret over someone until she'd met him.

Rhapscallion knew, distinctly, that he was suffering nightmares brought on by the Darkspawn blood coursing through his veins. It was the unfortunate curse that all Grey Wardens suffered. Certainly a poor trade off for the ability to sense whether or not there were Darkspawn in the vicinity, and to see them hunkered in your dreamspace, like so many insects buzzing around in a bee's hive, always watching you with their beady eyes. Not to mention the less than subtle fact that Darkspawn were drawn to them like slabs of meat thrown to a ravenous mabari hound. They were human beacons, drawing out the creatures they'd always live to hunt down, to kill, to eradicate. The word "nightmares" did no justice to the dreams he experienced as an unwilling spectator. Even "night-terrors" fell short, shuffled under the sheets of something children braved; they were nothing short of horrific, unexplainable things. Full of mind-numbing shrieks, gurgling barks, and spears brandishing decomposing heads. Tongues lolling, eye-sockets empty. They went on throughout the night, the moment he shut his eyes, until dawn, where he suffered quietly, lips closed, nostrils flared, fingers digging into his chest to stifle his heart's erratic beats. Those vicious, eviscerating visions were of things he couldn't rightly describe to anyone else. How long had it taken Solvej to grow accustomed to such sights? Or else, had she ever gotten used to them? It seemed impossible.

Even among such courageous folk, surrounded by strong partitions, it was difficult for Rhapscallion to shake off his general unease. It wasn't so bad when he was awake. He occasionally drifted into the campsite, conversing with warriors belonging to the Legion of the Dead and asking for pointers involving where they struck first, how they parried, and how they operated as a unit. He always had questions, so many questions, that more often than not, the dwarves shuffled past, shooing him away with a flick of their hands. He didn't mind. There was an oppressive silence in the Deep Roads, only interrupted by the frequent sounds of hammers snapping against metal, skittering sparks, and hissing back into large vats of water. He took a greedy, grateful sip from his waterskin, wetting his chapped lips, moistening his parched tongue. Of recent, Rhapscallion had taken to sitting away from his companions to sort out his thoughts, to put them into proper order so that he could think clearly. The frequent rumblings of his stomach did nothing to brighten his mood, so he infrequently thought of sticky pastry treats with honeyed dribblings. Spicy peppers stuffed with cheese and scallions. Sweetbreads stuffed with figs. Lemon cakes frosted with sugar—

He raised his head, blinking slowly. He disantangled himself from his delectable thoughts, and regarded his approaching companion. Her Path really was made up of light, of things not meant to inhabit the darkness, though it'd eventually drive it away, anyway. He found it difficult to look her in the eyes and not smile. Both of them might very well spend a lifetime fighting in armies, running with wolves and loyal, but dangerous allies, and never settle down in little villages with their gardens or bakeries, but even still, Rhapscallion felt as if all of those things were possibilities and chances he could place all of his well-wishes on. It didn't matter if it was wish-thinking. It didn't matter that it might'n never happen. There was something in his throat that refused to allow abated words; an apprehension blooming in his chest. He knuckled his eyes, wishing the sleep away – he probably looked like a corpse, hardly worthy of worry. Rhapscallion whistled softly, scrounging up enough energy to arch his eyebrows, and smile a little wider. “I'm fine. Just a little tired.” It was a pathetic response, ringing with half-truths. Her worries warranted more than that. His smile wavered, then sunk into a frown. “It's almost as if they know exactly where I am, where we are, and it's too much at night. Or day, not that I can really tell with the ceiling and all that. Never liked any place that couldn't grow flowers.”

Ethne smiled at that, then shook her head slowly. "Any place can grow flowers," she replied wistfully. "It just depends on what kind." This was more-or-less literally true, as there were blooms that could survive in very adverse conditions, but it was fairly obvious that she was speaking metaphorically. For a moment, she worried her lower lip contemplatively, eyes downcast. There might be something she could do about that, but as with so many things, she was uncertain. The magic of dreams was a subtle, slippery kind, and frankly, the thought of somehow making an error in such a delicate matter as the psyche of a dear friend was nearly enough to set her a-tremble.

He looked at her, then. He was tired, as she was. The night held no prejudices, especially for those who wandered in the Fade, unable to steer away from errant dreams, or visions, or worse. Rhapscallion reached up, patted her interlocked fingers still. “You'd tell me if something were bothering you, wouldn't you?”

"I..." Would she? It was a good question, perhaps better than she'd thought before anyone had asked it. The reaction she wanted to have was an immediate, unhesitating yes. But that would require a freedom from guilt that she didn't quite possess. There were old things, ugly things, that she had to admit at least to herself that she didn't want him to know. Didn't want them to know, but him least of all. They knew, he spoke to, a different person than the one who'd worn this skin a year ago. What would he say if he knew? That she had been a nightmare every bit as terrifying as the ones that stalked him when he closed his eyes? That she'd been worse? It wasn't a consideration that surfaced too often, not when they were busy with problems more immediate, but every once in a while, she was reminded of it, and in those moments, she was bothered by it. More than she liked to properly consider.

He deserved to know. They all did. But perhaps they didn't really need to, and that was what kept her silence, folded around her like a cloak of protection. She wasn't that person anymore, and so she was no danger to them. Ethne pulled her own strings now, as much as anyone did, and so there was no somniari puppet of a Magister for them to contend with. There was only her, and she wasn't going to harm them. Quite the opposite: they were the first friends she'd ever had, he her first friend at all, and for them, she would do things she didn't think herself capable of surviving. So why did something as simple as words stick in her throat? That kernel of doubt, the one she'd always carried with her, had blossomed when she wasn't looking, unfolded in the fertile soil of a bleeding, guilty heart and twined its green-ivy vines around her heart and lungs, constricting her voice and her courage alike.

Any place could grow flowers, but not every place would. She had grown a thorny bramble, one which she'd tried to uproot. The strangling ropes that replaced it would harm only her, but they were still far from innocuous, far from innocent. Ethne swallowed, her throat drier than she'd noticed, and unlaced her fingers, wrapping them around his hand. A small gesture of comfort, that had been, but rooted as she was to the spot, she needed it still. "I wish I..." A small hesitation stymied the words; she shook her head minutely. "After this battle, I can try to help. Walk in your dreams. The Darkspawn, they... tend to avoid me in the Fade." She was at once glad that she could offer this pale facsimilie of assistance, and ashamed that she could not say what she really wished to.

It wasn't his fault she was a coward, had been so much worse.

The present was already passing into history, fading like sunlight behind clouds. Or like beetles skittering across stalagmites, ceiling-boulders, and the underside of pebbles rustling beneath his feet as he sidled forward, hunkering his shoulders so that he could hear Ethne better. He vaguely pondered what she meant by flowers, but shooed it off to the side. Hardy flowers could grow, like Kerin, in the unlikeliest places – but the dank, musty Deep Roads did not make him feel any better, even if it'd been littered with rosebuds. The uneasiness ate at him, carrying away small morsels of courage. This was a place that set your nerves afire, your thoughts ablaze, your toes curling with anticipation. Even worse, to any Grey Warden, it felt as if the Darkspawn were attending the shadows, waiting for any small chink in their concentration, so that they could sweep down on them like insects drawn to a dancing light. He was worried, most of all, for his companions. Small cuts, small wounds, and large amounts of physical contact with the Darkspawn, could bring upon worse things than death. The Taint was such an ugly disease.

He didn't need to know all of her individual habits to know that she was hesitant in relaying her worries, her doubts. He'd seen enough dewy-eyed veterans, hunkered in dirty taverns, unwilling to part with any of the things they'd seen in war-torn capitals, or what they'd had to do in battlefields, to know that Ethne was reluctant to part with something. Even so, Rhapscallion remained expectant, as always, and was not disappointed when she decided that, perhaps, it was best if she didn't agree with his submission to share her concerns – not yet, anyhow. His heart was permanently pinned on his shirt, flapping in the wind, as tattered and worn as any flag. Perhaps, as soft and tender as the underbelly of the newt's who called the Deep Roads home. If she so chose to badger him about his past, then he'd willingly share everything there ever was, everythinghe ever was before becoming who he was now; a Grey Warden, a protege, a man of the shadows. She'd seen glimpses, already.

There were things that, both he and she, might've been better of not knowing. Parts of a puzzle that were far from being beautiful, or kind, or anything that put someone of the mind of courageous men and women who always did the right thing. There were some things they could never get back, things that might've coloured their cores a little darker. Their souls were fragile things, prone to giving flight, or finding themselves clasped in shackles they never wanted to bear; always new, always of a different flavour. He understood that best of all. He did not know Ethne's past, nor had he ever thought of asking. She'd always been, in his livid eyes, something made of light, of flowers unfurled in the palms of your hands. Would he have believed her if she'd spilled her story out? Would he have believed that she could've done ugly, unforgivable things in her past? He wasn't sure of that, either. Perhaps, there were songs that weren't meant to be sung. He very nearly smiled at the thought, and he might've, if it weren't for the expression on his friend's face. Of course, all songs, and all stories, were meant to be sung if it meant lightening someone's burden.

If she had blood on her hands, then Rhapscallion would still give her an encouraging squeeze, settling his fingers around her own. He thought, more than anything, that he was sure of this. A thousand wrongs in the past, while not being entirely forgiven, could be changed by a future of rights. This was something he had to believe in. His hands told secrets in the spaces, silently laughing, directing his pains, his trials, his tribulations in opposite directions. Small action as it may be, it still gladdened his quick-beating heart. If it was time, or assurance, that she needed, then Rhapscallion would not press her to tell him anything. He offered a smile, patient and genuine. “I'd like that. Might make my nights a little bit better. I bet you drive them away with dreams of flowers, and ladybugs. Grumpy blighters don't seem to like anything cheery.” It was the only thing that he could think of to lighten the mood, to steer the conversation away from things Ethne would rather not talk about.

Not now, anyway.

Just like that, the worst of her feelings passed, and she smiled, shaking her head. The stranglehold on her heart loosened just enough for her breathe again, and it was enough. More than enough. "Oh yes," she replied amicably. "The Darkspawn fear nothing more than the scent of roses and the softness of lily-petals. I assure you there will be quite a lot of both." Whether it would help with the problem or not, it could certainly be made to happen.

"Um, Scally? ...Thank you. One day- one day I'll tell you everything, I promise."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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When the time came, the questing adventurers were directed to the west side of the camp while Dov's men prepared themselves for the main charge. When the Darkspawn were sufficiently distracted by it, this smaller, more specialized assault team would flank the 'Spawn from a narrow side tunnel that opened up into the fort, on the other side of the palisade wall and traps the foul creatures had set. Dov had informed them, once they gathered, that they would be led there by his Lieutenant, who also happened to be his daughter, and that she was waiting for them here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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