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Mirabelle Desmaris

"I believe I'm either the talkative one or the funny one, depending on who you ask."

0 · 1,269 views · located in Thedas

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

Description

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"Believe me, you don't want to push your luck. You won't like it when it starts pushing back."



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Name: Mirabelle Desmaris
Pronunciation: MEER-uh-bell dez-MAR-iss
Age: 22
Race: Human
Sex: Female
Sexuality: Her former profession encouraged open-mindedness. She may actually prefer women, but men are alright, too.
Height: 5'4"
Build: Slim, slightly toned, but certainly not a good deal of muscle.
Class: Rogue
Specialization: Assassin
Master Class: Alchemical Dervish
Warden? Yes. Not her choice, but it was the only option she had left.

Appearance: Mira's confidence is in practically every aspect of her appearance. Her posture, the way she carries herself, the way she walks, her clothing, that look in her dark eyes. Her frame is relatively small, and quite slim, but there's certainly nothing unhealthy about her appearance. She takes good care of herself, and it shows. Her skin is somewhat darker than the average Orlesian, and is the influence of her Rivaini father, but other than that, she acquired most of the physical traits of her mother. Still, she appears more exotic than a typical Orlesian woman.

She walks with an undeniable swagger, particularly when she's in a good mood, which historically has been most of the time. Mira's dark brown hair is commonly done into a single, long braid that swishes behind her as she moves. Her skin has a delicate appearance, and is almost completely unmarked and, to be honest, quite flawless. The only mark she bears is a long, jagged scar running diagonally down her back, between her shoulders. This wound was acquired recently, and she typically hides it from view.

Mira dresses appropriately for her looks, and for her former occupation before becoming a Warden. She's particularly fond of the silks her homeland produces, and the color blue. She forgoes shoes when possible, lacking the obsession for them that many of her countrywomen have, although she does have a fondness for well-tailored, particularly stylish boots. The Wardens have sadly lacked these. In addition, she is rarely seen without some combination of earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. Gifts from old friends, mostly. The Wardens didn't actually have the time to get her the standard gear, and the only thing that even identifies her as one is the pendant she wears with the blood from her Joining.



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ImageDemeanor: Mira, as she is most commonly known, is in a transitional point in her life. Nearly dying of the taint, and then subsequently being condemned to an eventual bloody death at the hands of the darkspawn tends to do that to a person. In Mira's case, she is in the process of being humbled, of realizing that not everything in her life can work out like she wants it to. She has a long way to go yet, but those that knew her from before her Joining would be able to see the differences already.

She is very sociable, and not at all shy about approaching others. In fact, she views closed personalities as something of a challenge to overcome, and she'll commonly poke and prod those that don't do well at opening up. She typically avoids going too far, but it can happen if she's unfamiliar with someone and happens to hit a sore spot. She is extremely confident in who and what she is, and is largely unaffected when others try to dissect her life, or point out her flaws. She knows them well, and is unashamed of them. She is what she is, and she's fine with that. Mira will often be the cheeriest member of a group, and employs this tactic in forced measures when something is bothering her. She isn't good at hiding her feelings, and so her forced cheer when she's truly bothered is an easy illusion to see through.

Her opinions on bloodshed are not what one would expect of a typical Orlesian girl, but Mira isn't typical. If one watches her during a fight, they would find that she does indeed find a certain amount of pleasure in plunging a knife into someone, and that it's something she's done quite a few times before. She doesn't have a belligerent nature in the slightest, but she takes some amount of pride in her work when the opportunity arises. Her group tactics revolve around controlling the flow of battle, using the variety of vials she carries on her person, some of which are specifically designed to affect darkspawn. She also assists allies when she can, appearing at their side in a flash when they are in need, and slitting the throat of an unsuspecting enemy, before retreating back to safety once more.

Fears: Mira has a healthy fear of the darkspawn, a fear which she believes makes her fight smarter when facing them, but she is unnerved by shrieks in particular. She dreads the thought of the violent death that inevitably awaits her as a Warden, but more than anything, she fears the thought of being taken alive by the darkspawn, and would go to great lengths to prevent that fate from happening to others.

Hangups/Quirks: She's been slowly getting over this since her Joining, but Mira is rather irked by being forced to do things purely out of kindness, with no thought of reward. She understands wanting to kill the darkspawn, as it's a hugely important matter that affects everyone in Thedas, but she'll disapprove of being forced to go out of her way to help someone, with no kind of personal gain available. She prefers to be very logical with decisions, and dislikes being asked to take anything on faith.

Opinions:
The Chantry: Mira believes the Chant is beautiful, but that's about it. She believes in what her senses can tell her, which makes any religion unlikely to make an impression on her.
Magi: Not her problem. That said, she's always had an odd curiosity to talk with a Desire demon. Professional curiosity, of course.
Templars: A no-fun bunch of creepy Chantry boys and girls. If they want to spend their lives hunting abominations so she doesn't have to worry about them, she won't complain.
Elves: Mira loves elves. Hasn't met one she didn't like. They're adorable. She hasn't met many Dalish, though.
Dwarves: Not her type, typically. Too hairy, and way too serious. She could understand how fighting darkspawn for that long could do that to a people, though.
Humans: Some of her favorite people are human. Some of her least favorite people are human.
The Grey Wardens: Initially, she resented the Wardens being her only option for survival, but she's come to realize that most of them are just people, often like her. And even though they don't really have a choice, she's found their drive to end the Blight for everyone... oddly admirable. And that annoys her.
The Mission: She isn't aware of it yet.



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Weapon of Choice: Knives, and lots of them. Good for throwing and for stabbing. She isn't skilled in melee combat, but she's more than capable of slicing someone, or something, open when it doesn't see her coming. In addition, she can throw knives quite accurately, and it's a common tactic of hers.
Armor/Apparel: She never really got into the whole wearing armor thing, and the Wardens didn't even have time to give her any. She skirts around the fighting anyway, why bother with it? Unless her silks count as armor, in which case, she always wears her armor. It keeps her light on her feet and extremely quick, albeit very vulnerable to damage.
Mount: She can ride well enough, but she doesn't currently have a horse.

Level: 17
Skills:
Alchemical Dervish: Sandstorm, Fang of the Mistress, Lover's Embrace, Secret Ingredient
Sabotage: Miasmic Flask (Improved Formula), Confusion
Scoundrel: Blindside, Twist the Knife, Armistice (Truce), Goad (Corral), Back-to-Back (Invisible Friend)
Assassin: Bloodlust, Mark of Death (Enduring Mark)

Vial Types
Stunning: Yellow. It blinds, deafens and disorients targets within a moderate radius, duration depending on size of the target. Her first vial type, most common and easiest to produce.
Confusion: Green. Advanced chemical that alters mental processes upon inhalation, causing vast increases in rage and decreases in restraint, causing human and darkspawn opponents alike to turn on one another. In short supply.
Corral: Red. A grey Warden mage named Macs helped her figure this one out. It's a scent that attracts and enrages darkspawn. In grave circumstances, she can use it to draw attention to a strong party member and away from a weaker one. Requires darkspawn blood.
Truce: White. The opposite of Corral, this one repels darkspawn, causing them to simply not see or recognize a target enveloped within the chemicals. Requires darkspawn blood.
Corrode: Orange. Developed with materials collected from demons after the battle in Val Royeaux. A highly acidic substance that will eat through armor and cause massive amounts of pain. Requires demon's blood to make, preferably Hunger or Desire.
Invigorate: Pink. An altered bedroom concoction. Unlike the others, this one produces a rather pleasant aroma, and has the effect of restoring stamina to anyone who breathes the fumes, as well as giving them a temporary boost to strength and speed.



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Place of Birth, Nation of Origin: Val Chevin, Orlais
Social Status: She's currently a Grey Warden, fresh from her Joining. For all the good that does her. Before that, the kind word for her profession would be a courtesan.

Personal History: Mirabelle Desmaris has a rather worldly background. Her mother was an Orlesian noblewoman, the wife of a Chevalier, and a woman in very high standing in her home city of Val Chevin, along the coast of the Waking Sea. Her father was a traveling merchant originally from Rivain, and it is from him her more exotic looks come from. Mira was conceived after her father charmed her mother for some weeks, their affair eventually leading to a child, something they had not originally planned on, but rather something that copious amounts of wine had contributed to. Mira's mother could not bear the thought of the scandal that would arise from this. She was largely kept indoors at her husband's manor until Mira's birth, claiming to be battling some sickness. Once she was born, Mira was given to her father to be raised, and the pair cordially ended their relations, in order to spare Mira's father the wrath of the Chevalier's mace. Mira has always suspected she has half-siblings somewhere, but never got a straight answer from her father.

Her father had actually not been to Rivain in many years. Despite her Rivaini father and Orlesian mother, Mira was raised in the Free Marches for the most part, bouncing back and forth from Starkhaven and Kirkwall, mainly. Her accent, as a result, is very hard to place, a delicate combination of sophisticated Orlesian, sultry Rivaini, and the proud strength of a Marcher. Her father was loving, and cared well enough for her, but his income did not amount to what was necessary to give her the life he wanted for her. However, he had developed very good relations with a particular brothel on the outskirts of Cumberland, a town about halfway between Kirkwall and her birthplace, Val Chevin. Though it may have seemed cruel for a father to willingly push her daughter towards what could only be called prostitution, this indeed proved to be a positive turning point in Mira's life. She was extremely well cared for by the girls at the brothel, and parted on good terms with her father. She came to enjoy her life, such as it was, and even her work, which was expanded beyond intimate matters once she began receiving teachings from the mistress, Selena.

There were several criminal organizations in Cumberland, and Selena's skills made her valuable to all of them. She was a skilled alchemist, a creator of potions, poisons, and numerous other substances that could produce interesting effects. Mira was a natural once she began receiving instruction, and had soon developed something of a reputation for her skill. She was reliable, treated all her customers fairly, and gave preference to no one. Inevitably, she created many friends for herself, and very few enemies. She had the protection of several different criminal organizations, and the adoration of her coworkers at the brothel. Selena also taught her girls techniques for self defense, with Mira growing skilled at throwing knives. It was the logical next step for her to begin charging the gangs for... quiet removal, of enemies. She led a number of men, and even some women, to their deaths within her bed, and developed something of a pride in her work. It was just another way in which they were indebted to her.

ImageJust as she began to grow convinced that she was blessed by some hand of a divine, that her life was touched by luck in ways others could never experience, the Blight hit Cumberland. Orlais had previously been mostly spared the ravages of the war, and Mira had been certain it was an issue she wouldn't have to deal with. It was something far greater than she, surely it would overlook her. Not so. The darkspawn struck in the night, and she woke to the sounds of pitiful screams as her friends were dragged from their home, hopelessly thrashing against their captors. The darkspawn meant to take them alive. A few struggled too fiercely, and were killed instead. They were the lucky ones. The rest, including Selena, were dragged away. Mira of course chose to fight, taking down perhaps a dozen darkspawn through precise use of stunning vials and quick knife work, before a shriek took her unawares, slicing her back open and leaving her bleeding out among the bodies of darkspawn and innocent girls. The timely arrival of a group of Grey Wardens drove the darkspawn away, but not quick enough to do anything about the girls that had been taken alive. They found Mira clinging to life, impressed by the number she had taken with her. A mage with them healed her wounds, but the taint had already worked its way into her blood. She was barely coherent enough to accept their offer to undergo the Joining, as it was her only remaining shot at life.

Perhaps luck had not yet abandoned her, as Mira survived her Joining by some small chance, and mastered her taint. As soon as she was able, she departed Cumberland with the Wardens, heading west, for Val Royeaux. Her introduction to the Wardens was extremely rushed, as the group had an important mission to carry out within the city, and even they were not fully clear on the details. But in the short time she spent with them, the mage within the group showed her techniques she could apply to her alchemy, to alter some of her vials to specifically affect darkspawn. Though she was not nearly as effective a combatant as the other Wardens, Mira did prove useful to them, using her alchemy to stun, confuse, repel, or even enrage the darkspawn, as well as her skill with throwing knives. However, subsequent events turned against her, and things did not go as planned upon arriving in Val Royeaux, and Mira has now found herself as the last remaining Warden of the original group that had rescued her, and the only one who knows what the group's plan had been.

It seems to Mira as though she is doomed to watch everyone around her die, while she is always spared by some strange roll of the dice.

Professional History: Mira's training is largely the work of her former mistress, Selena, and her skills consist of considerable knowledge of alchemy and poison-making, as well as knife-throwing techniques. She can craft a wide variety of beneficial potions, from healing draughts to drinks that will temporarily increase strength or speed, as well as poisons to slow, cripple, or flat-out kill. She applies this knowledge to create liquids she contains within glass vials, sturdy enough to not crack from simple running, but fragile enough to shatter when thrown. These vials have various effects, such as violently exploding and stunning those caught in the blast, enraging a foe and making them attack anything nearby, including each other. The Grey Warden mage also helped her create vials to both attract and repel darkspawn, and she can use these to draw them away from vulnerable allies and push them towards hardier ones, provided one doesn't mind the smell they produce.

Her training in conventional battle is nonexistant, however, beyond her accuracy with throwing knives, and her knowledge of anatomy. She knows just where to slice to cause massive bleeding or crippling wounds, but likely won't have any success doing so unless her opponent is either stunned or distracted with something else. Her time with the Wardens was also too brief, and too hurried, for her to receive any training in this area. In fact, her avoidance of direct combat is undoubtedly the main reason she survived while the other Wardens were killed.

Idea for a Personal Sidequest: Broodmother business! She watched some of her friends be taken alive by the darkspawn, and would be frantic about rescuing them, or putting them out of their misery, if some way to do so came to her attention. In fact, if the opportunity presented itself, she would rather face down the darkspawn herself, and inevitably be killed, than live with the knowledge that she abandoned her friends to their torment. It's perhaps the one thing she would do without any thought of her own well-being.

So begins...

Mirabelle Desmaris's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro

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Suicide wasted little time after the order (though it was phrased more like a request) was given, giving a nod to the Dreamer before hopping up upon the ship’s railing and leaping off, bursting into raven form mid fall and flapping away from the ship, gaining altitude. The sun was lazily working its way into the sky, and was it not for what lay below him the world would have seemed an entirely warm, peaceful place at the moment.

They were not far from the city of Val Royeaux, and with his wings, it took little time for Suicide to reach it. Perhaps it was simply due to the morning hour, but everything seemed quite still, far too still for any city, even one as embattled as Val Royeaux. The first motion he noticed from the skies were the plumes of smoke drifting slowly upwards towards the heavens. He flew close to one of these. The smoke smelled of death. Bodies were being burned in piles around the outsides of the city. Perhaps it was simply disposal of the dead, slain by the darkspawn. But Suicide smelled corruption, darkness in the wind. The taint of the darkspawn was strong among them. No doubt they were fighting it as much as the actual spawn.

His attention was drawn towards the center of the city next, to the magical barrier of which he had heard. It was indeed a dome that enveloped entirely the area in which it covered. It was black, opaque, although slightly shimmering. As he drew closer, he began to question if the corruption on the wind had been the taint from the bodies. The barrier was exuding something foul, something utterly corrupt. A disgusting perversion of nature. It made him caw in anger, though that certainly did little good. And it reeked of the Fade. As though the barrier was the Fade itself, even. It called to him as though he were in a dream, and for a moment he felt himself drifting towards it, before ripping himself away with an internal growl. This magic was not something he was familiar with. Perhaps Ethne would be able to fare better, or have some way of bringing it down.

Around the magical barrier the darkspawn had their wall set up, sharpened stakes around a wooden wall as was predicted. Beyond that, the signs of resistance were clear. Walls quickly constructed between buildings by the locals in their attempts to both protect themselves from the darkspawn, and to lay siege to them in turn. As much as the darkspawn were terrorizing the people, they too were trapped in the city, surrounded by the Templars and Chevaliers. Whether either side had the strength to make a push, it was unclear.

There was something of a concentration to these fortifications on the western edge of the city. Gliding over for a closer look, the shapeshifter discovered greater, or perhaps simply more numerous, fortifications from the Templars. The reason for this was clear: this was where the darkspawn gate was located. No doubt the Orlesians hoped to better defend the people by confronting the creatures where they had to come and go. This would be their way in, if the plan still held. He banked a sharp turn back towards the group, to relay the sights.




"I'll start things off, then. I spy with my little eye, something... ooh, big, and black, and probably going to kill us all..."

She'd get something out of him yet. It had been... what, a week now? Not constantly of course, but Mira had been poking the poor Rivaini Templar off and on for most of that time. In that time, she'd decided a few things. One, she was correct about how little fun Templars were. Two, this guy would make an excellent Grey Warden, much better than herself, obviously. And three... she'd concluded that there was a good chance this man was just as big without the armor on. Not that there was any chance of confirming that.

His name was Emil, though he hadn't actually been the one to tell her that. She'd been firmly denied his name, even as generously offering her own name, in its entirety. It seemed he was not satisfied with the way Mirabelle Desmaris rolled off the tongue, and so she had to go hunting instead. Wasn't that his job, hunting? She thought she'd heard as much. Anyway, one of the younger, softer, less deadened by the constant violence and threat of death Templars that happened to populate this hellhole had been kind enough to pass along the information for free! The guy's name was Emilio Alessandro, but everyone called him Emil. Emil. Lovely. She'd gone promptly back to Emil and said hello. He seemed as good a man as any to die alongside.

Though they weren't exactly fighting for their lives at the moment. The ugly stinky barrier was still there, of course, and the darkspawn were still skulking about behind their wall doing... darkspawny things inside, or something Mira didn't really care to know the details of. The Templars and the Chevaliers fought them off whenever they poked their heads out, and the darkspawn kept everyone adequately depressed and hopeless. It was a good relationship they had going. Mira and Emil currently had a view of the whole thing, lounging about on top of a building that was Emil's watchpost or some such Templar business. Lounging likely didn't describe Emil's posture very well, but it certainly did for Mira. She was seated on her rear, elbows propping her up, slender hands folded neatly across a bare midriff, shoeless feet kicked out in front of her, one leg draped lazily across the other, the foot bobbing up and down slowly.

"Come on, Emil. Give it a guess. I bet you'll never get this one."

"By the Maker's bloody grace, I deeply hope it kills us all. It would save me from listening from your incessant chittering," Emil muttered with obvious disdain. Surprisingly, that was the most he had said to Mira in the week he'd been stuck with her. If only she wasn't a woman, if she wasn't unarmored, and if she wasn't a Warden... The local Chevaliers frowned upon laying hands upon a lady (the self-righteous bastards), and he'd have to play their game for now. That didn't stop him from hoping that a Darkspawn would happen upon them and put him out of his misery. As it stood, he was placed a fair distance away from the frontline, set up perch on the corner of a building like a hawk, upon orders of the Knight-General himself. He scanned the area waiting while leaning on his heavy bow, wishing for anything, anything to poke it's head out from the blighted barrier to at least alleviate some of his frustration.

Believe or not, Emil wasn't always this cheerful. The certain mix of Darkspawn sieges, Darkspawn Barriers, and even more bloody Darkspawn could turn even the brightest moods dour. Unluckily, Emil didn't have a bright mood to begin with, and the Darkspawn only made this worse. A lot worse. He glanced back at the woman reclining with a cold stare and couldn't help but feel frustrated and angry with her. She was a Warden (at least that's what the other Templars said. Emil had his doubts), how was she that relaxed at a time like this?! Emil sighed and resumed his lookout, the need to find something to shoot quickly intensifying. Alas, sadly it was relatively quiet, and a number of deceased Darkspawn at the entrance of the gates already had a number of arrows protruding from their bodies. No use to fill them up any more, they've served their purpose.

Though there was an odd raven flying above. No doubt checking out the carrion for it's next meal. The thought of testing his aim on the bird crossed his mind, but he thought better of it. No need to waste arrows on something trivial like that. He hated the waiting the most. Waiting for the Darkspawn to attack at their leisure. It made him sick. What he wouldn't give just to storm that bloody barrier and take out as many of those tainted bastards out with him as he could. Instead of doing something fun like dying in a blaze of glory, he had to put up with a silly Warden who he doubted would last a couple of seconds against the Darkspawn.

"If the Maker has a sense of humor, it's not bloody funny," Emil growled. He had to put her out of his mind, and put it on the job at hand. He was a look out. As he peered out across the streets of what was once beautiful Orlais. He wasn't a remorseful sort, but the devastation they had caused... It was something else.

"But seriously. Big. Black. Going to kill us all," she repeated, her face settling into a contented sort of amusement. This was a success already, so far as she was concerned. He'd practically just given her a speech, compared to the other responses she'd gotten. Much more than the straight-faced no from before. At this rate, they'd be inseperable friends by month's end.

It had crossed her mind that there were other things she could be doing. She certainly looked the part, but Mira was no civilian. Not anymore. It was well within her power to actually help the Templars with the whole siege and battle thing, rather than just take advantage of their hospitality and the fact that she was a Warden. Call it cowardice, or laziness, or a case of having a cruel heart (which she didn't, really!), but Mira just didn't want to throw herself out there like that again. Not yet. That was what that group of Wardens that had saved her had done, and look where that got them! Splattered across rocks and streets and walls, turned into a fine gooey paste by the horde. She'd barely been able to scamper away from that one. A few timely stun vials helped to put enough distance between her and them for her to get clear. A few knives in a few throats, too.

And now she was the last one left. The only one here wearing the magically prepared blood of the Joining in a pendant around her neck. Not that she really considered herself a Warden. She'd gone through the ritual half-coherent and fading fast. They'd never even given her a uniform, not that she minded, those things were hideous. And while a few of them had certainly made something that came dangerously close to an impression on her before they died, she hadn't really gotten close enough to them for her to consider herself as one of them.

That didn't change the fact that her blood was now tainted, that she got to happily enjoy the Archdemon screaming at her every she wanted to get a few winks of sleep, and that she would eventually go waltzing down into the Deep Roads to go find a good looking darkspawn spear to fall on. It was either that, or the fact that she may have liked a few of the poor bastards, that kept her hanging around these Templars. Her fellow Wardens had been given a mission, and she was the only one left who could complete it for them. They had saved her life, after all. Mira wasn't much for charity, but a debt she understood. She wasn't in the habit of paying off debts to dead people... but just this once, she supposed it would be best.

"Hold still," she commanded suddenly, rising to a more sturdy cross-legged sitting position, before sliding her fingers around the blade of a very small knife at her belt, swiftly twirling it into a throwing position, and then deftly flicking it towards Emil's feet. The blade stuck into the head of a rather large, black rat that had been creeping about behind Emil's heels, remarkably quietly, in fact. It twitched for a moment, before laying still. Mira let out a satisfied exhale. "See? Big. Black. Maybe it wouldn't have killed us all, but it's a pretty fearsome little guy."

She rose smoothly, sauntering over towards the Templar, placing one delicate-looking foot in front of the other before she reached his side, at which point she bent over and swiped the knife back, wiping the small amount of blood off on the rat's fur, before sliding it back under her belt. "The Maker's funnier than you think. He's a bit of an ass sometimes, but we'll laugh about all this someday, I'm sure."

"I highly doubt that," Emil answered. It was the closest he'd came to personable the whole week. Though the icy stare he gave her defaming the Maker as she did was a different story...

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: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro

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As word spread from the Knight-General that an attack was eminent, Emil readied himself by hunting down his Templar's helm he had managed to "misplace" and sat it back on his head. His peripheral vision was shot to hell when he wore the thing, but he had a feeling he would need it this time. He returned to his perch on the corner of the building and nocked on of his white-fletched arrows on his thick ironwood bow. The weapon was a dangerous tool in the right hands, and it just so happened to fit the Templar Hunter's hands like a pair of gloves. Now all he had to do was wait for the signal that began the battle. As he awaited the ring of battle, he called back to Mirabelle and said, "Ready yourself Warden. If they attack and manage to get to us, I will not play the stalwart knight to your distressed damsel. You will pull your weight-- or die trying."

Despite his coldness and pessimistic words, he would see that the Warden would survive the battle. It wasn't that he particularly liked the woman, hell no. Emil just saw that the survival of the woman was his duty, and Emil was nothing if not dutiful. Despite all of his grumpy rumblings, Emil was a loyal man. Mirabelle was-- no matter how much he hated to admit it-- important in this battle. She was a Warden, and would be able to sense the approach the Spawn. He may not had known the exact mechanics behind actually being a Grey Warden, but in a fight with Darkspawn they were vital. His gaze lingered upon Mirabelle, gauging her. He prayed to the maker that his earlier assessment of her would prove wrong... For both of their sakes.

He broke the lingering gaze and his eyes fell upon the barrier with renewed hate. He was a Templar, it was not his duty to fight Darkspawn, his was to hunt down apostates and maleficarum. Yet here he was, watching over a dome of magic, an affront to the Maker himself, hiding leagues of Darkspawn behind it. It made him sick, both figuratively and literally. The tainted magic on the air was thick and forboding. It suffocated and oppressed him as the fade pressed down heavily on his shoulders. It was enough to make even the imposing figure of Emil despair in its shadow. He had faced Blood magic, abominations, and even shades, but nothing he had hunted and faced ever felt this... Wrong. He nervously shifted his grip on the bow and anxiously fingered the nock of the arrow.

"Pray to the Maker, Warden. Pray that you may see another day, or if that shall fail, pray that you may walk beside him in the end."

Mira rolled her eyes. "I'll bet you do enough praying for the both of us, darling. I'll think about how to stay alive, not where I'm dumped when I die, thanks." It crossed the Warden's mind that it probably looked bad for her to not have warned anyone about this attack. Wardens were supposed to be able to sense darkspawn, but according to those that had inducted her into the group, it wasn't something that happened immediately. It took time, more time than she had, it seemed.

By now the Spawn were swarming about the base of the building. It served as something of a watch-post for the main body of the Templars and Chevaliers, and as such it was on the edge of their defenses. The chances of getting any help seemed pretty poor. The darkspawn were coming inside, and as such, the two of them were trapped here, their only hope being to weather the storm until help arrived. Not an ideal situation. Mira wasn't so good at weathering storms. She needed to be able to maneuver, outsmart, confuse the enemy. Up here it looked like a straight fight lay ahead. She swallowed.

Mira hastily unbuckled her satchel to see what she had at her disposal. She hadn't gone anywhere unprepared for a fight since her Joining, and she certainly wasn't without her tools now. Glass vials were secured by soft leather pouches, separated into groups she knew well. The yellow liquid was a simply stunning gas, enough to leave a group of spawn vulnerable for a few moments. The blue one would serve to repel the darkspawn, to overlook anyone hit with it. The red, on the other hand, would attract them, direct their attention, and anger, towards a specific individual. These last two she had only recently created with the help of a mage-Warden. And the green? That one had interesting effects. It caused severe cases of rage in those it hit, and a tendency to attack anything nearby, friend or foe.

It was one of these green vials that Mira took to hand as she pulled open the rooftop door. A few hurlocks and a genlock had already reached the second level, snarling at her when they saw her. Her Taint had them flocking to this tower. Great. She tossed the vial towards the darkspawn, the glass shattering at their feet, a green cloud bursting outwards around them. Almost immediately they turned on each other, driving swords and axes into their former allies, spilling dark blood across the room. Even as they did, more charged forward, shoving them aside and cutting them down. A practiced hand snatched a yellow vial from her satchel and flicked it down, this one exploding with a more violent bang, leaving the initial group of seven or so darkspawn momentarily reeling in place.

"Care to shoot a few of them, archer? I don't have enough knives for them all, I'm afraid."

Emil grunted in answer, lifting his longbow and drawing the arrow back. To be fair, Mirabelle had managed to impress the jaded Templar with her unique set of vials. He particularly enjoyed the one that caused the bastards to turn on each other and rip their once comrades throats out, though she would never hear a praising word from it. He found himself hoping once again that she was as good with her knives as her vials. He drew a bead on the first 'Spawn stunned by the Warden's vial and sent the arrow ripping through the air and impaling itself to the fletching in the beast's throat, the white fletching now drenched in the black ichor. He nocked another and repeated the deed on another, and when the bowstring snapped this time, the arrow bit deep into the thing's chest and pinning it's lifeless form to the wall behind it.

In the time it took to singularly pick off the 'Spawn one at a time, the others were beginning to come back around and regain their senses. Instead of wasting time and arrows continuing his one-at-a-time approach, he opted for another strategy. He reached back onto his quiver and removed another arrow, though this one had red fletching in the place of the normal white. The shaft was also unique from the normal arrows as it was thicker in diameter. He nocked this arrow and aimed down the flight of stairs, and instead of drawing a bead on a 'Spawn, he aimed for their feet. The bow threw the arrow with a heavy thump, where it impacted in a brilliant display of fire and shrapnel easily quelling what was left of the stunned 'Spawn.

"They will overrun us in time," Emil stated in an emotionless matter-of-fact way. As if to prove his point, another wave of Darkspawn began to ascend the stair, eager to get their hands on the Warden they had sensed from the ground below. Emil made sure the first bastard on point payed for his transgressions with an arrow to the thigh, tripping it and causing it's body to slow the trampling procession behind it. "Let us hope our weapons keep in time for someone to reach us before the inevitable," if they were to be saved. Emil held no illusions that he may possibly end up dead in the battle, but that sort of pessimism only made victory all that more satisfying.

As the darkspawn forged ahead in their relentless assault, Emil sensed a disturbance in the air. It was a feeling he knew all too well, and one he was trained to deal with. Magic. Somewhere in the river of Darkspawn racing towards them, an Emissary approached. It wasn't often that Emil dipped back into his pirate tendencies, as he was a man of the Maker now. However, the feeling of a Darkspawn mage approaching was enough to make him cuss as he did back in his youth, "Shit... They got a mage in their damned ranks... Magnificent." he monotoned. He was not amused.

Mira sent a small throwing knife flipping through the air, to embed itself squarely in the skull of the hurlock closest to the stairs. "And here I was starting to think you were a Tranquil! Good to see you let loose." Her quip didn't change the fact that she was none too comfortable with having an Emissary trying to get its hands on her. Damn beasts were so impolite, thinking they'd get a handout from her or something. Well she wouldn't put up with it! She ducked out of the way of an incoming arrow, before sending a knife back the way it came. She couldn't afford to be too reckless with these things. There were only so many places she could hide razor sharp knives on her person, after all.

The Emissary made his appearance, identified by his fancy headdress and crooked, blackened staff. Mira aimed a throwing knife in its direction, but some fool hurlock was nice enough to step in the way, using his brains as a shield. That gave time enough for the mage to charge up his spell. Now, Mira didn't know a whole lot about magic and its various forms, but from word of mouth, she had concluded that it had a tendency to light people on fire. Or perhaps electrocute them, freeze them solid, or turn them to stone. None of those things sounded like something Mira would enjoy, and so the Warden found herself scrambling away from the doorway almost before the darkspawn had even cast its spell. A good choice too, as a mere moment later an angry looking fireball fell from the sky and burst where she had just been standing. She turned to look at the scorch mark, eyes rather wide.

"Did you see that?! I almost died! Again. One of these days I'm--" but she was cut off by a second fireball that fell behind her, the blast slamming into her back, heat wrapping around her like a warm, not so friendly embrace. She hit the ground face down with a grunt, barely having the sense to roll around, which she had learned could put out the fire, if her silken skirt happened to have caught flame. The darkspawn had conjured up a whole storm of fireballs. That, or there was way more than just the one mage. Hopefully the former.

She pushed herself to a knee, but found herself rather dizzy, and nearly toppled over again, using a hand to steady herself against the ground. Her ears were ringing, and she was only vaguely aware of the continuing explosions around her. No doubt the rest of the spawn would be coming up soon, their little blockade broken. Mira hoped Emil was a little more experienced in dealing with mages than she. He was a Templar, right?

"There he is... The bastard," Emil hissed as the Emissary made his appearance. Emil drew his arrow back and began to draw a bead on the heathen cretin. However, much like Mirabelle's issue, the onslaught from the storming 'Spawn refused him a clear shot at the tainted magi. He bared his teeth in a growl, given a intimidating effect as it reverberated through his helmet as he let loose the arrow into the sternum of a rank and file Genlock. If he could not get a shot off at the Emissary, then he wasn't going to waste time and give the advancing beasts breathing room. He had just nocked his next arrow when he felt the magic nearing it's completion. He took a number of steps backwards to escape the coming fireball. It still wasn't far enough to completely dodge it, and his thick armor had a roasting effect on the man inside, magnifying the flames and cooking him. He had to stop the fireballs soon. It occurred to him too late that he should have mentioned the effect of the spell that the Emissary had cast.

Luckily, the Warden had a quick mind and quickly scrambled out of the way of the intial blast. However, she paused and took the time to examine where the flames had landed. It wasn't over yet. "Don't stop! Keep-- Dammit!" he called too late. By then the next fireball had hit behind her and tossed her to the ground. Angry at himself and Mirabelle for not being more cautious, he dodged between the raining flames, still feeling the heat on the metal of his armor, and approached the Warden. He arrived just as she rose to a knee, looking worse for wear and catching herself from falling back down. He stopped next to her as the flames danced around them, which was when he decided he had about enough of the magical flames.

He quickly fired off the arrow nocked in his bow, tagging the first 'Spawn through the rooftop door in the shoulder nonfatally, but still dropping it to the ground with the force of the blow. With his primary hand now free, he raised it up to the heavens and drew a fist. Drawing from the Lyrium in his blood, a light began to emanate from his fist and when it seemed at it's brightest, he opened it. A dazzling blue light danced around them extinguishing the flames and dispelling the firestorm. With one issue dealt with, another presented itself. The charge of Darkspawn.

He didn't have time to nock another arrow as a Hurlock approached, twisted blade shining wickedly. He swung his ironwood bow with savage might, stunning the Hurlock and sending it reeling. In a whisper of steel on steel, Emil drew his blade a drove it into the chest of the offending creature, slaying it. "I told you, I'm not going to play your Knight. Stand and fight! You say you want to stay alive, I want to see it!" Emil scolded the woman. He looked back over to the rooftop doorway just as the Emissary strode out onto the roof, looking rather cocky behind it's personal horde of meatshields. Frankly, it pissed Emil off to no end. As it began to weave another spell, Emil thrust forward his offhand, holding his bow only by the thumb as he opened his hand in another flash of blue light. The Emissary would find it's voice silenced, and his spellcasting interrupted."Cast your foul spells now, cretin!" Emil howled at the silenced Emissary as he embedded his blade into the torso of another Darkspawn. He wouldn't be able to keep this pace for long however as his fatigue was mounting, and the silence would only be temporary. He found himself hoping not for the first time-- nor last-- that Mira would continue to prove herself useful.

By this point, Mira was getting her wind back, the ringing had subsided, and the dizziness had past. Most importantly, no major damage had been done to her skirt. Now Emil was shouting at her about something or other. Trying to get her to show how much of a powerful warrioress of a Warden she was. Funny thing about that... Mira didn't really know the first thing about fighting. She could tag things with throwing knives, and manipulate a fight with her vials, but in a straight up fight? Her slender form didn't hold up well under blows, nor did it deliver them very well. There was one thing she could do to get the odds more in her favor, and a way she could take out that Emissary Emil seemed so irked by, but the Templar certainly wasn't going to like it.

"Right, you asked for it. Get ready, they're about to dogpile you." And with that, she slipped a red vial into her fingers and tossed it at Emil with enough force for it to shatter on his leg, sending a small plume of red gas swirling around him. The effect was pretty much immediate: any and all attention the darkspawn had been directing at Mira was suddenly and abruptly turned on Emil. In fact, they no longer seemed to think she existed. The effect would last for a minute, perhaps more. It would be enough time. She took a slightly larger, curved knife in hand, immediately darting off in the Emissary's direction. The other darkspawn charged on past her like she wasn't there, and even the Emissary's eyes were locked on the Templar, though he still couldn't cast any spells.

She sidestepped a passing hurlock before arriving at the Emissary, shifting around to get behind him, careful not to touch any of the other darkspawn on the way, as certain things could get their attention even after goading them into attacking something else. Reaching up with her left hand, she quickly grabbed hold of the mage's headdress and yanked back, exposing the neck, which she then slashed across with her knife, sending dark blood spilling forward from the darkspawn. Even with his throat slit, the mage reacted instinctively, thrusting his staff backwards, the butt end catching Mira in the stomach, sending her stumbling back, right into a genlock, who growled angrily upon noticing her. He went to slash at her with his blade, but she caught him with a foot to the face first, kicking him backwards and off the edge of the roof.

She turned to see the Emissary clutching his throat, having fallen to his knees. She rushed forward and plunged the knife into the side of his breastplate, just under the armpit, the blade hitting the heart, at which point the mage stopped struggling, and Mira looked back to Emil to see how he had handled the swarm. That all the darkspawn hadn't bludgeoned her to death yet meant he was still breathing. That was good.

Emil glanced back at Mirabelle and had just managed to fire off a glare as he felt something shatter against the back of his leg. The red plume that followed did... Not look promising. The effect was immediate and obvious. All eyes now fell squarely upon him and paid Mirabelle no more mind. He could see the obvious tactical benefit of such a stunt, but that didn't mean he liked it, hell no. "Oh.. Maker preserve." Emil grunted as the force of the horde began to bare down upon him.

It was a flurry of motion with him at the epicenter. The first thing that struck out was the bow, gripping it on one end and using the other to bash the jaw of an encroaching Hurlock Alpha. The force was enough to throw the 'Spawn down, but it would be up again eventually, even more pissed off. Though he would have to worry about it when the time came as he was pressed. Emil's arm jarred in it's socket as he blocked a vicious looking axe with his sword. Drawing back to his swashbuckling years on the Black Raven he tilted the blade and guided the axe away from his person and then began to pivot around the axe throwing a heavy armored elbow into the Genlock's face, grounding it. A stomp on it's neck quickly ended the issue.

A sword eventually found it's way into his shoulder, but the armor served it's purpose and held against the slash. The shoulder was bound to be bruised and tender, but that was preferable to the alternative. The only indication of pain he gave was an irritated grunt and the chopping of the offending arm. Black ichor then stained his armor, providing a stark contrast on the white steel. The 'Spawn gave a pained howl as it stumbled backwards clutching it's newly recieved stump of an arm, though it's comrades seem to not notice or not care as their singular purpose was on him. He found himself cursing Mirabelle for putting him right in the middle of a brawl. Luckily, just as he finished the thought, the tainted magic he felt emanating from the Emissary was suddenly silenced. Apparently the Warden had an idea and saw it to fruition. He still didn't like the fact that she painted a bulls-eye on him to accomplish it...

Another sword came, this time in a piercing motion for his abdomen. Unlike the previous sword, this one managed to slip between the plates and embed itself in flesh. The shock of pain managed to twist Emil's face into something other than mild irritation-- a corsair's snarl--, though none could see it through the metal visor of his helmet. He dropped all pretense of control and began to put every ounce of might into his swings. The first swing came diagonally to cut the Genlock through his shoulder and nearly to his spine. A vicious kick unlatched it from his blade and he struck out with his bow, hoping to make room for himself. The 'Spawn had become privy to his wild bashes with his bow and either step out of range or ducked. One such creature was the Hurlock Alpha from earlier. Once it was clear of Emil's bow, it rushed him and got inside his defenses to where he couldn't strike effectively with either weapon. It grinned wickedly, it's razor sharp teeth haphazardly placed in it's head as hit reared back it's sword to skewer Emil once and for all. The smug grin enraged Emil and he did the first thing that came to mind. He reared back his head and sent a hard headbutt to the creatures mouth, sending it stumbling. To make sure it would never grin again, Emil lopped off it's head.

He then turned to the rest of the Darkspawn, silently daring the next one to step forward and meet their fate at the Hands of the Maker.

There were probably only a few moments remaining for Mira to work with impunity, before the gas wore off and the darkspawn's aggression would be under their own control once more. Seeing as there were quite a few between her and Emil at the moment, she figured it would be a good idea to get back to her ally. She darted forward, knife in hand, taking advantage of the fact that the darkspawn's back were to her. She slit a throat here, sliced the back of a leg there, stabbed a back and carved her way through. Her strikes were light, but precise, and the darkspawn's lack of ability to defend against them allowed her to pinpoint vulnerable areas and hit them. She had cut down perhaps five more by the time she reached Emil's side again.

"That worked out well, I think," she said between breaths, "I'll ask for your permission next time, by the way." She did feel somewhat bad about turning every darkspawn against him, but she didn't really have a choice here. Emil could survive a straight fight with a bunch of spawn. She couldn't. She had to use what she had at her disposal.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro

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The Darkspawn were thinning out, now that the Templars and Chevaliers were getting their swords out of thier arses and into the battle properly. Lines were actually gaining some coherency and solidifying, presenting a plethora of nice, shiny targets for the Tainted bastards to take aim at. That didn't mean their problems were through, however, because she was sensing that there were a hell of a lot more where that other Warden was. Chances are, they'd been drawn that way like moths to a flame. Let nobody say that the ritual ingestion of Darkspawn blood wasn't a double-edged sword, one that would cut you down in the end.

Still, Solvej mused, swinging her spear in wide, bloody arcs, there was something to be said for delaying the inevitable, even if it was for thirty more years at the most. Thirty was more years than she'd yet lived, and when you considered how young people could die without that guarantee hanging over their heads, well... she probably wouldn't have liked being an old crone anyway. Dark red ichor spattered over her face, but she ignored it, smoothly turning another wide slash into a stab instead, hauling so that the impaled 'Spawn crashed into his nearest neighbor. She released, striking the stumbling one with the butt of the spear, a dangerous blunt weapon on its own. Its face obliged her by caving in, and the sardonic smile crept onto her face with customary ease.

Was it wrong, to be satisfied with a kill well-executed? Not if it was what got you through the battles.

Punctuated by the occasional flash of her more will-driven abilities and the sporadic flicker of Rhapscallion's appearance or cloud of smoke as he vanished, the two made a bloody parade in the direction of the other Warden and whatever Templar was unlucky enough to end up facing down a dozen or so 'Spawn with them. When she reached the spot, she was momentarily confused, and then heard a scuffle above. Ah, so they were on the roof. Solvej's weighted leather boots thudded steadily on the wood comprising the veranda of the house, and she flanked the incoming Darkspawn, body-checking one of them in order to rush up the stairs before it, trusting her friend to be hot on her heels. There was one more beast at the top of the stairs, and her spear eruped from its chest cavity as she stabbed into it from behind and below, on the stairs. Bracing her arms, she shoved forward, following the corpse up. It'd be a useful shield if anyone up there decided to shoot first and ask questions later.

As was expected, Rhapscallion dogged Solvej's heels at a respectable distance, occasionally swiping his blades forward, between Solvej's arms, legs, and over her shoulder, when the opportunity presented itself. He tarried a few steps behind her, always watchful for her sweeping spear. It would not do if he accidentally bumbled into her line of fire. His dual scimitar's infrequently blinked into sight, then disappeared just as quickly, before snapping forward and slicing through important tendons, meant to cripple. They'd prove to be short work against Solvej, as she gracefully whipped herself about, walloping her weapon in bloody circles, while Rhapscallion ducked between her wild attacks and pranced off to the side to further debilitate their enemies. They were getting closer. Once they'd reached the stairs, the half-breed huffed up beside Solvej, whilst cleaving passing ankles so that'd they howl, enraged, and tumble down across their neighbouring 'Spawn.

Speaking of which... "Oy up there! The cavalry's here, so try not to kill us, eh?" She alighted on the roof, kicking the corpse off her spear with a shove and whipping around to face front. "More Blighters on the way, of course." Backing up a few paces, she chanced a glance over her shoulder. The guy in Templar armor was an archer, and the woman (who must be the Warden) was hardly armored at all. That meant she got to play damage-sponge until this was all over. So be it.

Emil was too much worried about the Genlock in his face to notice the speartip bursting through the chest-cavity of the 'Spawn at the door. He thrust his sword into the beast and left it there, quickly realizing that there was now enough room to actually use the bow he prided himself on. He kicked away his new meat-sheath and took an arrow in his hand. He nocked and drew, aiming for the 'Spawn at the entrance. His tunnel vision hid the fact that the creature was already dead and was already pierced by something too late as the arrow flew into the creature's chest with a dull thunk. It was then he realized that something else was behind him... Something friendly.

"Of course," Mira echoed the spear-armed woman. "Give me a minute, will you? I'd like to get my knives back." She proceeded to poke about the bodies of the darkspawn, pulling a small knife or two from one here and there, sliding them back under her belt, onto an armband, onto a holder strapped about her thigh. The gore-covered spear-lady had hacked all the way to her, surely she and Emil would be able to hold them off while Mira collected her weapons. There were only so many to go around, after all, and efficiency was key. If she lost knives, she'd have to find or buy or make more, and that was a pain.

She'd actually made it through the fight so far with only minor injuries, mostly bruises and small cuts. Quick feet and quicker reflexes had done that, as well as a good amount of hiding behind the big Templar, and taking advantage of distracted darkspawn. She had no doubt that if she had taken any of them head-on, she wouldn't have been in nearly so good of shape.

"I'm Mirabelle Desmaris, but you can call me Mira, and this handsome fellow is Emilio Alessandro, but you can call him Emil. Oh, and I'm a Grey Warden, which is why all the darkspawn around here seem to think I insulted their mothers or something." She tiptoed through the bodies of the darkspawn they'd killed to the woman's side, her knife still in hand. "Thanks for the assist, by the way. Don't think I've seen you around. You new here? If so, welcome to beautiful Val Royeaux!"

"Always with the stupid jokes," Emil muttered, ripping off his helmet and braining a 'Spawn with it. The helmet would only be a hinderance in close-quarters with his bow, he'd need his peripherial vision in order to not get gutted from the side. He tossed the bloodied helm away, making a point of collect it later. He too had approached the spearwoman, though not for the mere warm and fuzzies another companion brought. Another body increased his own chances of surviving, and at the very least she'd be another layer between him and the pointy end of a blade. In the midst of the battle, Emil quickly sized the woman up under his dull stare. She had a Templar feel about her, yet she did not wear the standard Templar fair. No, she wore black mail and plate. Something bothered him about the woman but he couldn't quite place it.

Besides, there were things that were more bothersome than one woman who's appearence could very well decide whether they lived through the push, or end up as a fine meal for the heathen darkspawn bastards. He grimaced, "Do be more useful than this one," Emil stated flatly, jerking his head towards Mira. At very least, he prayed to the Maker that this one wouldn't surprise him by drawing all of the 'Spawn's ire on him and him alone. With that said, he grabbed an arrow and placed it between the eyes of an encroaching Darkspawn.

"Another Grey Warden?" Came a disconnected voice, seemingly coming from over Mirabelle's shoulder. Followed by a hazy flicker, barely registering as a person, until the billowing smoke sizzled around the weaving image and out stepped the lanky man, fingers still pressed against his bleeding abdomen. He smiled brightly, tossing his head like an agreeable mare. He pointed figuratively towards the heaps of fallen Darkspawn, waggling his fingers. “They just want love, is all. Don't seem to like us Warden's spanking them for misbehaving.” Rhapscallion made a point to inconspicuously look at his new companions – because, honestly, he'd already shuffled them into that tidy little category, filed neatly into the envelopes of childish reliance. The woman toting the daggers reminded him more of a travelling gypsy, full of song and dance, then any Grey Warden he'd come across. It was refreshing. If she came from Val Royeaux, then perhaps he'd known her? His memory was shoddy at best, but he believed he wouldn't forget a face once he'd seen it. On the other hand, the archer seemed dry-boned and humorless. Eventually, he'd have to coax a smile out of that one.

Mirabelle had jumped slightly at the appearance of another in their midst; she hadn't noticed him at all. She'd have to get a few pointers on hiding from him sometime. Once she got a look at him, however, she smiled right back. He instantly seemed much more her type than the two other brutes up here. And he was a Warden too! Excellent. "Yep! Fresh from Grey Warden academy, that's me. Drank the blood, had a lovely dream, the works. I got the pendant and everything." She gestured towards her necklace, the small vial of blood resting on her chest.

"By Andraste's bloody grace, Are all Wardens like this?" Emil pleaded to the Maker. If they are, then please strike me down now. If they were, he'd seriously have to rejudge his previous notions of respected warriors of stone-hard determination and grim stoicism. Right now, they seemed more like an order of mewing cats than a sacred order that held the doom of the world at bay. Emil couldn't nor wouldn't hide his disappointed sigh.

"Mm," Solvej hummed in the back of her throat, skewering a Darkspawn in the shouder and throwing it off the roof. "It's called gallows humor, Templar. It means that when we're done here, we'll all be able to laugh about it. Much more productive than praying about it, I assure you." Glancing over at the way they'd come, she could see Suicide, Kerin, Ethne, and the pirate advancing in their direction and smiled.

"Would you look at that? The gang's all here. Looks like it's about time to make for the gate and go kill us a nice, fat general. Whaddya say, kids? I'd understand if the big, bad Templar was too scared, of course."

"Kill the general? Do you really think your sorry rag-tag band of misfits can pull that off?" Emil asked as he followed her line of sight to couple of more combatants that decidely did not look like either Templar or Chevalier. Though one of the misfits had a.. Ethereal glow about her that just screamed mage. Emil grimaced in disgust, and not just because of the macabre way blood spewed from a Genlock's neck as an arrow struck an artery. So the once-templar had a mage in her company. How far had she had fallen if she had truly been a templar once? Yet now was not the time to have petty squabbles over idealogy, now was the time for action. "No one but the Lord-Seeker himself has entered the barrier, and that's been nearly a week ago. What chances do you believe your people have?" Emil asked with contempt. Did they really believe that their pitiful excuse for a team could do anything? It was suicide, plain and simple. Though, he would admit, they needed to do something and get off of the bloody house.

"Lead the way and see if we make it to the gate alive first," Emil said begrudgingly. With his sword sheathed in a 'Spawn elsewhere, he would be least effective on point, unless he began to use his bow as a club. He had way too many arrows for that to happen.

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: 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: 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.


Level Up!
The Mission Briefings have been updated!

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: 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: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris

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Surrounded on all sides by people of around half her height and half again her width, Solvej was at something of a loss. Normally, she'd be moving about, packing supplies, checking on weapons, and the like, but all of these things were for her squad (hers in the loose sense of the guardianship she felt for them, not in any other- she was well aware that, ready or not, the magelet was in charge) completed, and the Legion seemed to have such an efficient system that any action at all on her part would be more hindrance than help. She recognized proud warriors when she saw them, and this group had pride down to their bones. It would have been insulting to act as though she knew their work better than they. She did not, after all, expect them to tell her how to be a Warden.

Which left her with a perplexing (and vaguely unsettling, though she'd never admit it) dearth of responsibility. Never one to waste time or an opportunity, she decided there were a few in-house matters that she could settle now rather than later, which might well be to her advantage.

A few quick questions yielded her her fellow Warden's location, as it was rather difficult to miss a colorfully-dressed, unarmored human woman in a camp full of dwarves encased virtually head-to-toe in steel. Some of those suits of plate made Kerin's look unimpressive, much less her own half-plate. The Legion moved in them like they lived in them, which she supposed was true. Much less to her satisfaction was that a few sets were even a burnished obsidian color, much as her own was. Shaking her head at one such sight, she internally berated herself for even sparing the thought, wondering when it was that her blackened armor had become a vanity of all things.

Oh right. That was when she'd been forced to make her weakness into her strength, to cloak herself in that which would never, could never, be denied her: her sins.

Desmaris looked rather deep in thought, staring off into the distance as though vaguely troubled. It was odd; from the limited amount of observation she'd been able to do, she'd supposed that this one too wore her smiles like shields. Perhaps it was something less complicated than that. Maybe she was just happy a lot, like the magelet. Maybe Solvej just needed to stop bloody well overanalyzing everything. She'd probably be much happier herself. With a short sigh, Solvej cleared her throat, raising an eyebrow in the closest face to 'good-humored' she could manage, being neither particularly good nor finding any real humor in the situation, at least for now. "Desmaris," she greeted. It was not overly friendly, but it least it lacked harshness, she supposed. "I've been meaning to speak with you, if you have a moment?" It was pretty clear that the woman wasn't really doing anything, but then who knew?

"Unless of course you're developing a method to stare the Darkspawn to death, in which case, do carry on."

Mira had almost felt the need to salute or something in response to being addressed by her last name, something she was highly unused to. Not even the last bunch of Wardens had done that. She resisted the urge, though, with the help of the fact that she had started to feel a bit nervous, an irksome gnawing in the belly, something she found highly unsuitable for her. She'd also been hoping to avoid a talk with the head Warden-lady, but it seemed the preparation for their little attack was one downtime too many. It was indeed possible that Mira had only one moment left. Maybe it was fitting that she'd spend it in conversation with a Grey Warden.

"Now that would be something. It's Mira, by the way," she said, though she had her doubts the Warden would start using it. "I have to say, even despite my expectations, the Deep Roads are pretty underwhelming. Wouldn't you say?"

Solvej snorted. That was true enough. "I'm not surprised you think so. They way they talk about it, you'd sort of expect lava geisers and pits full of brimstone, wouldn't you? Frankly, I can do without; it smells bad enough down here already." The former Templar's nose crinkled slightly with disgust. It was a fair mixture of Taint, dank cave, and unwashed body around the camp, though she was sure she'd get used to it eventually. Not one to dally too long away from her point, however, she returned to it.

"Pardon the official bullshit, but I do have to ask a few questions. I take it the magelet explained our situation to you, more or less, so it shouldn't be hard to guess why." There was a pause, and Solvej tried to decide exactly how she wanted to get at the information. She was a good deal more tactful than most people would likely give her credit for, mostly becuase it was a talent she used only rarely. She skipped it here, too. "I don't get the impression you've been a Warden for long. If I'm wrong, excuse me, but I'd know your rank and how you came to be here. It may turn out to be important, somewhere down the line." She resisted just barely the urge to cross her arms, in what was by now surely a habit associated with the interrogative mood.

Rank? The Wardens had ranks? Mira had been certain there was some kind of command structure, at least in her little group, because everyone had followed Morand's orders, but she'd never really thought about rank before. "Uh... whatever the lowest one is. That's me." And if she could have her way, she'd get an ever lower rank. A nonexistant one, and freedom from the obligations she'd never asked for. Her debt was paid now that Val Royeaux was, at least to some degree, rescued. All she wanted was to get back what she'd lost and get the hell away from all of this.

She began idly playing with the end of her braid. "There wasn't really a ceremony or anything. I don't actually remember joining the club, see, due to blood loss or shock or something, but apparently Morand and his merry band found me among a bunch of dead darkspawn back in my brothel, and were impressed enough to offer me a chance at not dying." She shrugged. "I guess I chose life, which doesn't really surprise me, and that's the story of how Mira joined the Grey Wardens."

"Morand..." Solvej murmured. The name was familiar to her, and she knew him to be of slightly higher position than herself. A good Warden, if she remembered right, if a trifle... staid. Of course, now he was proabbly dead, if Mira wasn't still with them rather than Team Early-Grave.

Mira watched some of the dwarves scuttle about for a moment, a thought about how sad it was for the short people to have to deal with such a nasty thing as the darkspawn for all eternity flitting through her mind for a passing second before it was gone. "As for how I got here? The Wardens were already on their way to Val Royeaux when they found me. They were to investigate the mess that this merry band ended up fixing. I traveled with them from Cumberland to the capital, we found the darkspawn... and they all died. An ambush. I stayed in the city... paying a debt, I guess, and then you guys came along. You know the rest."

Well, not all of it. Mira supposed it wasn't immediately apparent why she had tagged along, other than the fact that they were a company of armed and dangerous individuals, and easily the safest people to be with during a Blight. That didn't explain why she followed them underground, heading towards the darkspawn, when she hadn't been given any kind of orders to do so. A question came to her, one which she decided to ask in spite of her better judgment. It was worth a try, right?

"I don't suppose Wardens are allowed to... leave? I mean, I didn't sign a contract or anything, I just drank the blood. Maybe they'd make an exception for a misunderstanding?" She hoped she wasn't disrespecting the Wardens or anything, seeing as she was talking to one. Mira was also well aware how small she seemed next to the armored spear-woman. It wasn't comforting.

There was always more to a story, but Solvej wasn't going to push it. She had the relevant details, though she would probably inquire at a later date as to what had actually happened to Morand's company. It was certain to be interesting, if the new-blood was the only one to make it out alive. There was something vaguely suspicious about that, but it was a question for a later time.The final question honestly surprised her, and for a moment, the redheaded woman seemed to consider it, eyes falling half-lidded. She'd often wondered, though not for her own sake. She'd be doing this until she died, one way or another, but surely not everyone spent all their years at it, assuming the Blight was stopped. Malik had been vague at best, and she'd not had the time or the patience to make a more academic foray into the subject.

"Honestly? If you went about it that way, you'd get told to suck it up or die, probably. You're in a bit too deep right now, Des- Mira." She was going to try to remember to address the woman as she preferred. No guarantees it would work; Solvej tended to default to family names with people she did not know that well. Most of the group's members were an exception for one reason or another. Knowing her news probably wouldn't be taken that well, she cracked a wicked grin to take the edge off. "Dunno why you'd want out; best damn retirement package I've ever been offered." Was sarcasm the kind of thing that could drip? If so, it was quite feasibly dripping from her words now.

"Let me put it to you in better terms: if the Blight ends, our purpose will be less immediate, and the Wardens will probably be less likely to care if one or two of us just disappear. Especially if we were kind of a big deal in making the archdemon go away. Until then, I'd say you're probably screwed. That whole Darkspawn-detection thing that we can do makes it relatively simple to track down deserters, you know?" One part warning, one part dark joke. Just how she liked it.

No whore jokes yet. That was good. Not so good, however, was the answer to her question. "That's better terms, huh?" she said, looking a bit defeated. "Figured you people wouldn't be so easy to get away from. Ah well, worth a shot." She forced herself to stop toying with her braid. It was a stupid nervous habit. She suspected no one would judge her for being nervous, being an unarmored Orlesian courtesan about to go into a battle in the Deep Roads, but still... she crossed her arms.

She supposed there was really no point hiding it from Solvej anymore. Maybe it was better than throwing it on them last minute, anyway. And, well... if she was stuck being a Warden, this Templar woman was probably her best shot at getting a handle on all the... issues, that came along with it. "So here's the thing..." she began, forming words carefully. "I would have bolted long before now, but I need your help. Well, the group's help with one thing, and yours specifically for the other. See, I managed to pull some information out of our darkspawn friend back in Val Royeaux, in the dream. A lot of the girls I grew up with were taken underground when the darkspawn attacked our place, and I figured out that they were dragged somewhere under Cagliari, which we're headed for. I don't really know how... but I want to get to them. To save them."

She wondered how stupid the request was, or if it wasn't at all. Mira didn't actually know what darkspawn did with captives. She assumed they probably held them for a time, maybe ate them later, something horrible like that. It didn't matter. She wasn't going to let her family go through any of it, not if she could help it. If it wasn't on their way, this was a tall order. Especially since she didn't know just how much she was asking for.

"I know I haven't really done anything to help out. You probably don't even know what kind of skills I even have. I'm a selfish bitch, I always have been, and I know that. Ethne already knows about this, but I figured I should probably run it by you, being the head Warden-lady here and all. It... would mean a lot, is all." She shrugged. "There's that. I also don't really know much of anything about being a Warden, besides the whole fight darkspawn, have nightmares, die early part. You've already got a student, I know, but hey, nothing wrong with a threesome, right?" Mira couldn't help a bit of a smile at that.

Solvej was following along, with about as close to equanimity as she could manage for someone who admitted wanting to desert the people who'd saved her life. To be fair, she wasn't doing a shitty job of it- though it had made a rather poor showing of itself of late, she did have a pretty good game-face, and she wasn't that much of a bitch. Mostly. The Warden was willing to bet that the majoriy of people would have done worse than Mira had- but then, the majority didn't wind up saddled with this much responsibility either. Tough luck for her, but it was sink or swim out here, and she only had so much time before she'd have to be able to deal with it or die. Not a great thought, but realism kept you from getting gutted, so there was that.

So she was more or less with her fellow Warden until the last comment, at which point she tried to chuckle, but wound up sighing instead. There were some things you just didn't want to think about. She'd be a bald-faced liar if she said she didn't love that silly oaf who called himself her pupil, but it definitely wasn't that way, and frankly, the half-formed imaginings were best left unfinished. Maybe the stupid pirate was right and there was a little bit of the Chantry left in their pariah after all. That thought didn't sit well with her, though it was hard to decide if that was because she was a bit more prudish than she'd like or because he was right about anything at all. "I'm going to pretend you didn't just say that," Solvej quipped cheerily, grinning for the sake of grinning more than to put either of them at ease.

"As for the rest, well... that just means you get to learn this like we all do: on the field. Here's a tip, think about why you're still alive, and keep doing that, only better." She was avoiding the topic of Mira's friends, and with good reason. Solvej wasn't sure she wanted to make a detour for the sake of "saving" a bunch of people who were already long past salvation, especially since she had a fair idea of what the Darkspawn were about, dragging a bunch of women alive into the Deep Roads. It... wasn't pleasant. Her smile dropping, she chewed the inside of her lip, at last giving into the urge to cross her arms and relax her posture slightly, shifting her weight to one foot. For a long moment, she closed her eyes, and when she opened them again, her head was tilted slightly back to stare at the ceiling.

"You won't like it, if you go," she said with a contained exhalation, angling her eyes down to meet the Orlesian's. "And that's all I can promise, for now."

The warrioress and dutiful protector in her wanted to go, if for no other reason than to wipe out more Darkspawn and put those women out of their misery, but she wasn't sure the Captain and the pragmatist in her was going to allow it. This was one thing- it was making an efficient path to their goal. But that... well, it was harder to justify, much as she hated to say so.

Mira was still alive at this point due to her lack of heavy lifting, avoidance of conflict altogether, and letting others take blows meant for her... but she decided to keep that to herself. As for her request, well, it had gone about as well as she'd expected. It was a lot to ask of people who owed her nothing. But if there was one thing she wasn't selfish about, it was this.

"I figured," she said, gaze falling momentarily before returning to the Warden, "But we all do things we don't like for our families, don't we?"

Solvej was quiet for a few heartbeats too long, and the silence grew noticeably awkward before she broke it, stonefaced and monotone. "Yes. We do."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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When the time came, the questing adventurers were directed to the west side of the camp while Dov's men prepared themselves for the main charge. When the Darkspawn were sufficiently distracted by it, this smaller, more specialized assault team would flank the 'Spawn from a narrow side tunnel that opened up into the fort, on the other side of the palisade wall and traps the foul creatures had set. Dov had informed them, once they gathered, that they would be led there by his Lieutenant, who also happened to be his daughter, and that she was waiting for them here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life was good.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was also making quick work of the Darkspawn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good day, indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Don't get shot."

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

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

It was a magnificent day, fighting underground once more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Level Up!

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His will was that of the Maker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was Broken, but she would share her pain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tides, Rudhale knew well, could always turn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, the glory of metaphor.

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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Emil's Song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro

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Mira found herself somewhere near the edge of camp, perched upon the most comfortable rock she could find, wrapped in a blanket Rhuddy had been kind enough to provide her with. From the blood loss, she was still pale as death, her normally exotic complexion whitened until she appeared rather ghostly. Her fingers traced the scars left behind at the base of her neck, marks that would forever remind her of Selena's ruined final moments, and her teeth sinking into her flesh. The kris knife that had ended her life was sheathed on the ground next to her, the steel still stained with blood.

As she heard it retold from various members of the group, they had made their escape the only way possible, by outrunning the horde on their heels. Only when the last of the straggling pursuers was gone, or killed, did they stop, a much needed rest for all of them. Ethne had probably overextended herself trying to heal all of them, so many were hurt. But they'd made it out, all alive. Well, all except for the ones they had gone in to save. Mira simply... didn't know what to feel. Now that she thought about it, she wasn't sure she'd ever really expected to find them alive and well, but actually seeing what they'd become, and ending their lives herself had been... terrible. She thought to find some kind of solace knowing they were at peace now, but she couldn't. Mira had truly wanted to return home after this. They were supposed to come with her. And rebuild.

Instead, they were dead, the last remnants of her old life destroyed, and yet she lived. She wasn't sure how to feel. She supposed she should thank Ethne and the others for going down there, for saving her life, but frankly... at the moment, she wasn't feeling like they'd done her much of a favor.

Ethne, who had spent most of the time since they'd camped either healing, drinking mana restoratives or fighting to remain conscious, was slumped against a wall, half-slumbering, half-fadewalking. It wasn't by choice; as soon as she neared the line between wakefulness and sleep, she was inexorably pulled forward and across the Veil. Sometimes, it felt like coming home. Right now, she just wished she could stay on the other side. She was exhausted, not simply physically, but psychologically as well. Even the gentle hands of her friends on this side could only do so much for that, and Mercy looked always upon her with pity. As such, she was unaware of Mira's awakening, though she'd berate herself for it later.

Rudhale, on the other hand, was quite conscious of the occurrence, and though he was not perhaps precisely sure what to do about it, he knew firsthand that being left alone to stew, while sometimes necessary, was never pleasant, and his general sense of goodwill moved him from his place by the fire and at Kerin's side over to Mirabelle. He sat crosslegged on the ground beside her stone, picking up the sheathed kris and loosening the blade a bit, inspecting it with a discerning eye. "You should clean this, you know," he offered with what seemed to be his customary lightness, smiling thinly and sliding the knife back into the casing. "A dull blade does nobody any good." It was more an invitiation for Mira to speak than anything else, and as usual, if he'd had nothing more meaningful to contribute, he wouldn't have made his way over at all.

But this wasn't about him, and though several people might accuse him otherwise, he did understand the difference. Even if Mira said nothing at all, he'd be quite content to remain silent and in her company, because he remembered, once, that someone doing that for him had been of more help than he would have ever expected.

Even Emil for all of his posturing and sour moods, still felt for the girl. He didn't pretend to understand what she was going through, everyone dealt with their losses differently. The woman just had her friends snatched right out from her grasp. He was stationed nearby, leaning against a rock under the guise of taking up watch. Perhaps it wasn't so much as watching out for enemies or Darkspawn, but rather watching over Mira. He wasn't the emotional sort. His harsh language didn't have a soft undertone. He was the last one to expect a pat on the back from and an "it's alright". He wouldn't even know what to say to her even if he wanted to. Even if he did, he'd just make things worse. He figured a prayer wouldn't do either. Instead, he did what he believed best, a quiet watch and the mere presense of another. If she wished to speak, he'd listen, if not, he wouldn't be far.

Unsurprisingly, it was the pirate to speak first. Never the one to leave well enough alone that one, though Emil couldn't fault him for it, personal animosity aside. If it was one person who could use their words for their intended effect, it was the pirate. He was the one who managed to light a fire in the Templar with a couple of those words. A glance back to the Pirate and Mira was the only clue as to whether or not he was listening.

"I'll be sure to do that next time we come across a stream," Mira said half-heartedly. The blood had long since dried on the blade's surface, and proper maintenance of her weapons wasn't something she felt like attending to at the moment. They were quiet for a time, gazing out at the sights, or lack thereof, Mira once shuddering at the cold she felt. She wrapped her arms tighter around her chest, trying in vain to will some warmth back into her bones. After another long pause, she slowly shifted, wincing at a twinge in her side. She moved off the stone and lowered herself slowly down beside Rudhale, taking a moment to readjust the blanket, pulling her knees towards her chest and wrapping her arms around them.

"I miss your ship," she admitted, remembering the scant few occasions she'd been able to come aboard with some fondness. She missed the salt smell of the sea, the rolling waves, entertaining moments with the crew, long nights with Jack. "I want to see it again when we get out of here." She wasn't sure why the thought had come to her, but it had been relatively strong. She felt... detached, from more or less everything. Maybe she was instinctively searching for a home, now that her old one was guaranteed to be lost forever to her. She had never been more than a visitor to Rhuddy and Jack, but the amount of real friends she had left was beginning to dwindle.

Rhuddy simply smiled mysteriously in response, though he offered nothing else, determining by whatever methods he had that she probably wasn't yet done speaking.

She could feel Emil's watchful gaze hovering around her. Maybe in a better time she would have teased him for it, celebrated her victory at getting him to show that he did indeed have a heart after all. She was only grateful now, though. Glad she'd met him in the aftermath of the calamities at Val Royeaux. Where she was wobbly and unsure, he seemed steadfast, a rock standing firm among crashing waves. She considering trying to get him to come over here, but for once, she no longer felt like prodding him. Maybe when they had some privacy she'd giggle mischievously and hang it over his head, so far above hers as it was. Who'd have thought the person she could rely on the most would be a Templar? Certainly not she.

"We're almost there, aren't we? Out of this place? I... don't think I can take this much longer."

"Well, I could certainly do without the smell, that much is quite clear. In proper answer to your question, yes. I do believe we're well past the halfway mark, now. A week of good travel should take us back to the wide world above." He fell silent for a moment, apparently contemplating something, then sighed. "It wouldn't be this hard if you recognized none of them, I think. Was it Selena?" He'd been a visitor to the mistress's brothel more than once, to say the least, and it was certainly Anthea's favorite, mostly for the woman beside him, and so he had a passing (and sometimes much more than passing) knowledge of the other women who'd worked there. The impression he'd recieved was that the majority of them looked quite well upon their employer, and he could understand why. She'd had nothing but goodwill for her girls, at least as far as he could tell.

Shifting slightly in his spot, the pirate adjusted so he was more directly facing Mira. If his conjectures were indeed true, he thought he could sympathize, perhaps a little too well.

He was right; it would have been fine had they simply been nameless monsters, husks of the girls they'd been, mere targets for her to release from their torment. But to find one of them like that, to find her like that... it got her to thinking. She had been just beyond the fringes of sanity, too far gone to recall who Mira was, and too far gone to see her as anything other than something the darkspawn would force her to consume, but not so far that she had become as the others had. So what if Mira had been faster? What if she had stressed the urgency to her companions more, or had more urgency herself? She had been so worried about getting them to help at all, that she'd forgotten that she needed their help quickly. The idea that it had somehow been her fault tore at her like Selena was still clawing for her life.

Mira just nodded weakly to Rhuddy's assumption. "She was the last one left. We found two who were... beyond the point of being recognized. But some part of her must have still been there, even after she'd... to the others..." She shuddered again, this time not from the cold. "It only makes sense," she continued, wiping her eyes with the blanket. "She was the strongest. The others girls would have given their lives for her. I just... hope that she... and the rest of them... knew that I tried. I hope they knew that they were everything to me. Without them... I don't really have anywhere to go."

"You'll find somewhere. We always do," Came the Templar's first words. Now that it was clearly apparent that he was listening, he approached the pair of Mira and the Pirate. His words held something of a memory to them, a tone of knowing. Survivors guilt. It was something that Emil knew all to well. That kind of guilt was the worst kind, something that festered deep in the pit of your heart. Why me? Why did I live and everyone else died? He knew those feelings from the look on her face. "They loved you," Emil said, with a sudden turn of softness. "Family is the hardest bond to break, even in death," Perhaps too soft. He felt... strange. Awkward almost. He never was good at these things.

His steps drew to a close nearby, where he leaned against rock. Instead of well wishing, and back patting, he decided on something different. He looked off to the side in contemplative thought. "Fifteen years ago, I was just a lad. I had everything torn from me off of the Wounded Coast near Kirkwall. Our vessel got caught in a maelstrom worthy of the Maker's Wrath, and our hull got torn to shred. I must have hit my head when I was thrown overboard. When I woke, I was washed up on the coast alone with nothing but the debris," He said with an even tone. He had come to terms with what had happened long ago. Still, he wasn't shielded from the odd bout of homesickness.

"All of my friends, my family, the people I grew up with for fifteen years, gone just like that," He snapped. "I'm still unsure if I was the only one to survive... But I did survive," He said, as he turned his gaze on Mira. "I didn't know where to go either. So I did the only thing I could. I took a step forward," He said. For all of his words, he knew he no stronger as she. She had fought against her friends in order to ease their suffering. Emil didn't think he could have done that if it was his friend. For all of his words, he still had fallen to his knees at that memory in Morpheus' nightmare. "I can't help you. I can't tell you how to make it better. But you aren't alone," He said firmly turning away from the woman.

He felt like a fool. He wasn't some sage, he was a Templar with his share of scars. He wasn't supposed to be consoling this girl, he was suppose to follow through on his mission. His words left him feeling awkward. He was better with his arrows than he was with his tongue. Still. He knew her pain.

No... she wasn't alone. It was peculiar to realize it. She was beginning to see that she had wanted to feel alone, because it had felt right. Surely she didn't deserve another family, after she'd let the first one be taken from her and made no efforts to immediately retrieve them. It hardly mattered that there had been absolutely no way for her to find them until recently. She had failed to save them, and yet blind luck saw fit to place her with another group willing to look out for her even before her first was even truly gone. Was this the true fate of a coward? Of someone too weak and too small to do their fighting when they desired? She had lost her first home, but instead of losing her life there, she was saved by another group. She traveled with them for a time, came to know some of them, perhaps even as friends, but they too fell while she lived.

Would that happen to these friends, too? Would she flee rather than stand with them when their time came, when the horde truly surrounded them, and death became the only option? It seemed like such was her fate. She was doomed to watch them all die while she alone is spared by some strange roll of the dice. It actually made her kind of angry to think about it. Mirabelle Desmaris was not someone who let fate tie her down. She believed in no gods, refused to allow any outside hand to push her along through life. No, if these friends were destined to die somewhere, to decorate some darkspawn spears together, then she would die with them. And if they somehow were going to defeat the Blight, then she would defeat it with them. She was a Grey Warden, after all... and maybe this was her home now.

She gave Emil a close-lipped smile before shrugging out of the blanket, leaning over from her seat and wrapping her arms around his nearest leg, hugging it with a solid squeeze. She was going to tease him for this one like no other. "You always know how to make a girl feel better, Emil." She released the hug, standing slowly and taking a minute to make sure she was balanced. "Now... I need to find Solvej. Got something to tell her." She carefully made her way off to find the Warden.




Rudhale chuckled softly, shaking his head and standing as the young woman left. "You're never going to live that down, my friend." He was thoughtful for a moment, regarding the Templar with a slight tilt to his head. "I know nearly every boat that makes a living in real waters these days. What was the name of your vessel? I might have news, if you're of a mind to hear it." Perhaps Emil preferred not knowing. If he didn't, the pirate wasn't going to press the point, but he knew that he at least would always want to know. Always. No matter what the knowledge would do to him. It was the only thing he had left to give her, after all; he wanted to be able to tell her the truth of everything he'd seen, one day.

Emil scoffed, trying his best to play the whole thing off. Far too late for that however, and the hug to his leg left him feeling as if he'd made a grave mistake. He didn't need the Pirate to understand that she would hold this little moment over his head for the rest of their time together. It was something she needed to hear though, if she was to be of any use on their little venture, at least that's what he told himself. Instead of stewing in the mess he managed to find himself in, there was a quick change in topic courtesy of the Pirate. "I doubt it, that was a long time ago," there was little hope and Emil knew it. Had someone survived, then they were good as lost in Thedas. Finding a singular person was like finding sane thought in the Pirate's head.

Still, it wouldn't hurt to tell him the name. He wasn't ashamed of where he came from, he carried it with pride. It wasn't like it was some secret that he was once a corsair. "The Black Raven. A simple name for a simple crew, though she flew across the sea as fast as any bird."

"Aye, I know the name. Heard that story in a Rivaini tavern, once. Lad survived, who was just a whelp at the time, a lookout, if I remember properly." Rhuddy mused, palming his cheek. The texture of the stubble reminded him that he needed to shave. "He was convinced the rest were all dead. The Captain, he saw go overboard. Fellow named Valentin, right? The only one he wasn't totally sure of was the first mate. Last one to go overboard, close enough to the shore that it might have been a miracle. Still, nobody's heard anything from him, so chances aren't good." He didn't attempt to downplay that, well-aware that it wouldn't be appreciated. This was likely news Emil had already accepted anyway, even if he hadn't heard it as such.

"If it helps, that one's doing all right for himself, now. Ran with a few other crews for a while, then took up business dockside. Makes a nice living on... less-than-authorized imports, but nothing dangerous."

"Sonny," Emil answered, "The only other fellow beside myself that took up lookout duty." It was good to know that he wasn't the only one to survive. He made a note to look him up after the mission, but quickly decided against it. He'd have to survive the mission first, and he still didn't have very much faith in that happening. It was a fact that he had accepted a long time ago, that he'd never see the rest of his crew alive. It was simplier that way, kinder in a sense. Holding out hope would have been too painful had it been dash along the rocks along with the ship. "Didn't expect to hear that any of them survived... Good to know that I wasn't the only one," He said, carefully avoiding thanking the Pirate.

"So it is," Rudhale replied, carefully avoiding behaving as though he'd been thanked. As though he didn't know better. Still, if the Templar wanted to act all chilly and pretend he didn't have a heart, who was he to complain? Emil's actions spoke for themselves, and the pirate knew how to listen.




Solvej, as things turned out, was seated by the fire, absentmindedly chewing over whatever edible substance someone had managed to produce that night. It certainly wasn't her doing, as anyone who'd been forced to endure her efforts could easily attest. It was pretty certain that she could burn water, really, though she wasn't bad with tea, all things considered. At this point, her body was basically moving itself mechanically, with minimal input required from her mind at all, and so she was mostly letting her thoughts wander, staring off into the flames and thinking of something long past and melancholy. It wasn't precisely uncommon, on nights like this one. Besides, the pirate wasn't around to tell her to lighten up, so she could ruminate in peace for now.

Now that Mira was no longer feeling like avoiding everyone, the fire looked awfully comfortable to sit next to. Careful not to sit on the blanket and get it too dirty, she eased herself into a seated position somewhat close to Solvej, sighing pleasantly at the heat and warmth the fire brought. "I wanted to thank you," she began, gazing into the fire and trying to choose words more carefully than usual. "I... have to assume you knew what I would find in there. Or that you at least had a pretty good idea. It seems like something most Wardens would know, anyway..."

She tugged the edges of the blanket tighter around her. "But you let me go anyway, and gave me the time to do what I needed. And I do think I needed that. I needed to see, to understand for myself. I never would have been able to live with myself if I hadn't tried. I understand what you... all of you, had to put on the line to try and help me."

Mira turned her gaze to the Warden, stronger than she'd ever looked at her with before, even despite how pale and weak she was at the moment. "I guess what I'm trying to say is... I'm ready to start being a Warden now. Whatever that brings."

Solvej was mostly silent while Mira spoke, the steadiness of her slanted gaze the only indication that she was even hearing anything the woman had to say. When it appeared that the Orlesian Warden had reached her conclusion, the Aderfellan one nodded simply. "You're right; I did know, and it was dangerous. But I think you're also right that you needed to do it. You had it the first time: sometimes, we do stupid things for the sake of our families. Maker knows I have." She paused to take another spoonful of stew and swallow before she continued, allowing the silence to speak for the solemnity of the situation. Then she sighed, and shook her head.

"I believe you. But for all our sakes, I do have to say this: you can't choose this just because you have nowhere else to go anymore. You've seen that one road was cut off, but there are others. If you want, we can leave you in Antiva, when we get there. I know I'm kind of an insensitive duty-bound jerk, but I don't think even I'd force anyone into this who didn't really want to be here, so sorry if it seemed so earlier. If you want out, say so. We haven't got much longer for you to decide." The former Templar shrugged, producing a minor clinking sound in her pauldrons. She slept in the armor, most nights. Uncomfortable as hell, but necessary in a situation like this.

"This is where I want to be," she said with a relative level of certainty; it was still rather difficult to say considering how blatantly it went against her former nature. "I'm tired of letting everyone carry the load, and watching people die while I think about only myself. Don't get me wrong... this mission is crazy and so are all of you for undertaking it, but you're good people. I've never really had blood family before, so I've always just taken my own. I'm taking this one, dysfunctional and suicidal as it may be."

Her gut screamed at her that she was being stupid, that Antiva was her way out, but she no longer wanted a way out. All that was left was to take the way forward. She didn't know if her words would satisfy the Warden, but she did know that losing everything had lit a desire within her to do something meaningful, with people that meant something to her. This was as meaningful as it got.

"All right," Solvej replied plainly. "Then all you need to do is stick around, and stay alive. The rest of us will appreciate whatever help you can give us in that, but I don't expect we'll all survive anyway. Do everything you can, and give your opinion on things that matter. That's it, really." She debated a moment, then offered a hand. "Welcome to the Suicide Squad, Mira. You get used to it."

Mira took the hand. "Stick around, stay alive. I can do that."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro

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Emil hung back in the rear of the severely dimished group, as half of their number had be reallocated to go hunt for Darkspawn in the ratways surrounding them. Oh no, not any normal hunt either, a hunt for the stark white dwarf in so that she could be a Warden or die trying. A foolish choice, if there ever was one. If she wanted to die by darkspawn, that was up to her, but did she have to drag half of the team with her? That left him alone with the rest of the females of the group, Mira, the mage, and Templar turned Warden. Still, he counted himself lucky that he wasn't picked for the dwarf's inane task.

He found their recent pace to be a moderately lazy one. He sat in his saddle, reins held loosely. He was more than happy to allow his horse follow the pace of the others. As for himself, he dozed as he rode, immensely glad for the chance to rest.

Ethne, for one, was glad of the break. She wasn't sure how Scally and the others did it, just picking up their weapons and striking out again for yet more 'Spawn-hunting. That said, it seemed important to Kerin that it be done, and the mage was hardly going to protest if that was the case. Hadn't she dived into a fortress of them for Mira's sake not a day ago, after all? What had happened therein had been occupying her mind ever since, and her dreams last night had replayed several of the more horrifying things she'd seen, to the backdrop of the death throes of the last man she'd killed before she fled Tevinter. Those... she'd never wanted to hear those, not the first time and not again, but even she wasn't fully in control of what the Fade showed her, forced her to hear.

But thankfully, they had not been all she'd heard. At first, the song had been entirely unfamiliar; it was not one that she knew, by any means. Something, though, had clicked, and she'd remembered from whence the words had issued. Things did not show up in the Fade without a reason, and she'd always found that to ignore such things was to invite great peril upon herself, so it seemed a matter worth investigating. Nodding to herself, the young woman allowed her horse to slow, falling back until the was riding nearly next to Emil. "If you don't mind me asking," she prefaced cautiously, aware that he had no good reason to like or trust her even slightly, "what are the rest of the words?"

The templar's eyes shuttered open as someone addressed him. It took a bit before he was fully awake and realized who was speaking to him. He held her in his glare for an uncomfortable amount of seconds. Normally, this tactic would be used to intimidate, this time, it was used to figure out what she had just said. Words? Words for work? He tilted his head and raised an eyebrow. "I know a lot of words, mage, you're going to have to be more specific," he said bluntly. His face scowled, as the mage had wakened him from what little catnapping he could manage, but he didn't immediately turn her away. Despite evidence to the contrary, he didn't actively hate mages. Just stupid questions. He was wary of mages, and there was a distinction, though mages surely had the capacity to ask stupid questions, as this one had just demonstrated.

Ah. Oops. She'd rather forgotten to specify, hadn't she? Of course it would not have been so immediately on his mind as it was on hers. Ethne smiled, somewhat bashfully, and clarified. "Sorry; I meant the song. The one you sang for Mira. I'd never heard it before, and I was wondering if you might teach me the rest of the words." She'd always been fond of music, actually, and had even convinced the pirate to teach her a few shanties here and there, though she suspected that he was intentionally choosing the ones with bawdy lyrics just to entertain himself when she flushed or coughed upon hearing or repeating them. Sometimes, her comprehension of the actual meaning was on a bit of a time-delay, which made him laugh, and she also thought that maybe she sometimes missed the implications altogether, if that glint of amusement in his eye was any indication. It would be nice to learn a song that was obviously not like that.

He had a hunch that little stunt would end up biting him in the ass. His only saving grace in the matter was that Mira was unconscious during the exchange. Even now, Emil hoped the woman was far enough away to not hear what was being discussed. She already had a list of things she could torment him with, no use in adding to it. "It's an old seafaring song, something sang in my childhood on a ship long forgotten." he said dismissively, though the seeds of memory were sown. Partly looking to humor the mage, and partly to remember his past, he added, "We sang it once, after a poor haul on the seas. We were on our way home with our food and water stores dangerously low and a storm on the horizon. As the rain fell, our first mate began the song. Sang it all the way through the storm." His tone had shifted from indifference to something of a fond rememberance.

"A lot better than the diddies I hear the pirate reciting to you. We weren't all as raunchy as him," Emil snipped. Still, the conversation had dug the song up in his head, along with a number of others. Despite the gruff and indifferent exterior, Emil actually enjoyed music as well. During his pirating days, when a song arose on the deck, not a single voice was silent including his. Oh yes, he enjoyed his share of filthy lyrics, but he wasn't going to tell her that. To her, he was nothing but the upstanding Templar fellow. With all of these thoughts and memories swimming around in his head, he decided to further indulge the mage by reciting the lyrics.

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

Captain hollered the Cabin Boy
Stared into the sun
Shadows waltzing so close behind
Ever far I run
Back into my babies arms
Safe from this world of woe
That was such a long long time ago

Sirens capture my trembling heart
What's to be will be
Moon is hidden, the deal is done
Spread your wings for me
Back into my babies arms
Rising soft and low
That was such a long long time ago..."


He coughed, then looked away, quickly adding, "And no mention of a whore anywhere."

Mira's horse had actually wandered dangerously close behind the Templar's, but thankfully for Emil the Orlesian woman was sound asleep, slumped forward in the saddle, a little less pale than she had been before, but clearly still recovering. At the conclusion of the song she mumbled a bit in the saddle. "Who're you calling a whore, you..." she drifted back into sleep, quite clearly having never come fully out of it.

Ethne's hand rose to cover her smile at Mira's sleeping mumbles, and she nodded, humming the last few bars to herself as if to fix it in memory. "It's lovely," she said honestly, and her expression shifted, her lower lip pulled beneath her upper row of teeth. She glanced at him one, askance, then spoke quietly. "The master's home was actually not too far from a Chantry. When I was little, I used to sneak away from my lessons sometimes, when all the brothers and sisters were singing the chant out in the courtyard. It was nice, actually, and I sort of... picked up the words. Beati sunt, qui stant coram corrupta et non supplantabuntur mali. Beati pacis custodes, auctores justo." She paused, and shook her head.

"It's a nice thought, that there's something out there for the people who try their best to do good. But I think... I think a sentiment like yours is more..." she hesitated, unsure how to complete the sentence. "Warm? Realistic? I don't know; I suppose I can't claim to understand the Maker any more than I understand people. It all feels so... foreign to me. What drew you to it, initially?"

"He saved me," He said simply. "I wasn't drawn, but pulled. I survived too much for it to be considered mere luck or coincidence. I was a lost boy, who found the light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "While I was... Lost," After the shipwreck, "A number of Templars found me and took me in. They fed me, clothed me, and gave me a home. I believe the Maker sent them in order to guide me to the light." He left out the part where he traveled with a band of apostates, who then turned to demons at the sight of the Templars. He wasn't easily frightened but even he suppressed the memory of what happened next.

He chuckled for what seemed to be the first time during the entire quest, "They beat the piss out of me there. I was a pirate through and through, and they tried to iron out that wrinkle in character. I got a rap on the knuckles everytime I cursed. Some days I couldn't even use my fingers." Once out of his daydream, his chuckle was cut short and his face hardened. It was beginning to get harder and harder to hide the fact that he actually had a soul under all of that sourness. He was glad that Mira was currently asleep... "They taught me the Chant and trained me to be a Templar. It'd be a waste to let a strapping boy rot away as some brother," He said.

"I shall not be left to wander the drifting roads of the Fade for there is no darkness, nor death either, in the Maker's Light and nothing that He has wrought shall be lost. Trials one, fourteen," He said, regaining his composure. He let the verse hand in the air for a bit before he asked his own question. "What you said before. That was Tevinter? Were you from there?" He asked. No use in letting the conversation grow cold. They had a long way to go yet before they could get out of these forsaken tunnels.

Ethne's posture eased a bit when Emil laughed; it was just another reminder that beneath all that armor and righteousness, he was human. It was... a nice thing to be reminded of, considering. "It was," she said, almost surprised that he didn't know this. But then, of course while it had been made more or less common knowledge among the Wardens, he had not joined them until Orlais, so it made sense. "Benedictions four, ten, to be precise. I... yes. I was born in Tevinter, and lived there until just about a year ago." She took a deep breath; the memory of her flight was not an easy one to recall, exactly, not when she'd almost been caught so many times.

"In all honesty, I should have left sooner, but... finding the courage was... difficult." and that was the understatement of the century. She still trembled when she recalled too actuely exactly what it had cost her. "I think... it might not be such a bad place to live, for a Magister, or anyone beneath their notice, even. I was, for a little while, but then... well, magic tends to get their attention, magic like mine especially. The first time I used it, I froze a boy to the ground. He was pulling on my ears and calling me the most awful names... well, awful then. I suppose they'd be mild compared to some of the things I've been called since," she smiled, though whether the situation actually called for it was not immediately clear.

"Whats the training like? Erm... if you can tell a mage, that is. I'm sorry I don't know; the Templars in the Imperium are a bit different, I suppose."

"It's not anything secretive," Emil stated, "We are the military arm of the Chantry, that is, an army unto ourselves. Therefore, we train like any other army, with the addition of Lyrium. We harden the body to stand against those who would oppose the maker and we harden our arms in order to strike them down. In other words, a pissload of push-ups, every day," his dead-pan delivery had managed to suck the humor out of the little joke. Or perhaps it wasn't humor at all, his face gave no indication otherwise. "However, a strong body means nothing with a weak mind and weak faith. Any pile of muscle behind some armor can become a soldier, any fool with enough treated Lyrium can dispel magic, but you need complete devotion to the Maker and an iron will to be a Templar. We are charged with destroying the enemies of the faith," During his speil, his gaze had drifted from the mage's face to the road in front of them.

"No matter who they are." He stopped the tangent there, as continuing any further would ruin the light conversation. The implication was there, if a mage was weak and suspecitable to the allure of the fade, it was their job to make she he or she did not fall to the demons. No matter who they were. Solvej flickered into his sight for a moment before he returned his gaze. "The Templars are recruited for the martial prowess and their devotion to the Maker. It's through our hands that He guides us. It's nothing complicated."

"We take our vows upon Knighthood, and that's when we become true Templars. I'm not a Templar because I can shut down your magic, I'm not a one because of the Lyrium in my blood. I'm a Templar because I'm a soldier in the service of the Maker," he said rather proudly.

He let the boast sit idle for a moment before returning to the conversation. Now it was him who was curious, "I hear it's the Magisters in Tevinter that control the Templars, is it true?" Mages that control the Templars, it was supposed to be the other way around.

"In Tevinter, the Magisters control everyone," Ethne replied sadly, shaking her head. "Some more directly than others. I don't think they publicly have command of the Templars, no, but the Chantry is weaker in the Imperium than other places, and the politics... well, the Magisters hold all the cards. Powerful magic, contracts with demons, sometimes. Assassins, even people who can find you in your dreams and slay you there." There was a bitter irony there, and it tasted like ashes on her tongue. "That sort of thing, they mostly use on each other, though. It may be a place where the Magisters rule, but none of them are safe. The entire system runs on fear, and keeping people afraid."

It wasn't often she spoke of Tevinter, and why she was doing so to a Templar, who could so easily take everything she said as more reasons why people like her should never be allowed to walk around freely, was a little mysterious to her. Maybe it was simply because he'd asked, and nobody else had. Usually, it was enough to know that she was from there but had fled. "I'd like to think I left because I saw how wrong it was, but that's not true. I've always known it wasn't right, but... it's funny, how if people tell you something enough times, you start to believe it. Sometimes, that's a good thing, like if someone tells you you're wonderful or that there's something out there who always cares for you, no matter who you are or what you've done. But... it's not nearly so lovely to be convinced you're powerless and capable only of obeying. Maybe that's why I like your Chant so much. Parts of it, at least, had almost made me believe that Gaius would be punished by some divine force, and I'd be set free."

He'd been punished, certainly, but it wasn't the Maker's doing. Probably just as well, since the deed had not been a good one, regardless of how much more he'd inflicted.

"Magic exists to serve man, and never to rule over him. Foul and corrupt are they who have taken His gift and turned it against His children. They shall be named Maleficar, accursed ones. They shall find no rest in this world or beyond. Transfigurations one, two. This title, 'Magister' sounds like a dolled up word for Maleficar. This Gaius, if he has not already, will be met with retribution in this life or the next," Emil said with a flat tone, indicative of his belief. "It's not my job to play missionary, so believe what you will. You are with the Wardens, and I have no authority over you. But I believe that if you believe in the Maker and believe in his will, then you'll know true peace. You'll wash your sins away in that belief, and become a better person for it." he said, shrugging.

She could agree that believing made people better, she just wasn't sure it had to be belief in the Maker. Still, she supposed that was why he was a Templar, and she was as she was. Which one of them had wound up worse for all that? Her, no doubt, so there was likely something to what he said. Still lodged in the grip of her most unfortunate memories, she nevertheless found the wherewithal to smile, and nod amenably. "That's... thank you, Emil. For your candor, and for the song." She couldn't fault a person for saying what they really thought, and it had given her a lot to think about, besides.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland

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Kerin found herself sitting on the back of their cart, greatsword spread across her lap. An oil rag ran down the length of the long blade and back again vigoriously. It was better than thinking and stewing in her thoughts at any rate. Thinking lately only made her more and more frustrated, and that only led to her further scarring her knuckles. She'd rather not venture down that path, and besides, blood was beginning to crust up along the blade, putting friction on it when she pulled it from her back. Time passed with her still doing the same repetitive motion when her thoughts began to trickle back into the front of her mind. When she noticed she immediately stopped and looked around for something else that would provide a distraction. Sadly, there wasn't anything at hand, only what provisions were in the back of the cart and Rudhale's bag.

... Rudhale's bag? Kerin looked back at it, studying it for a moment. She remembered the pirate pulling all kinds of random items from it, from Buttercup's blade to the Joining chalice. She began to wonder just what was in the bag. She straightened up and looked over the lip of the cart, surveying her surroundings for the flamboyant pirate before returning to the bag. The curiosity was there, and as was the bag. She regarded it for a moment before she shrugged, grabbing it and pulling it closer. Curiosity won over respect of personal property, so she opened it and began to rifle through it. She wondered just what kind of surprises the pirate had stocked away in it.

Solvej presently found herself breaking the last of camp and loading the supplies into the wagon, so it was with some degree of surprise that she glanced towards the bed of the cart to gauge the landing of the large quantity of stuff she was in the middle of tossing in only to observe Kerin rifling through what she had mentally labelled 'that damn pirate's sack of miscellany.' Blinking, Solvej compensated for this information by aborting her throw halfway through, and as she had little of that fool's grace to compensate, she staggered a step or two backwards, fumbling with the lot of it, before she was able to right herself and set the bundle down instead, frowning. Shoving it further forward, she was able to put it more or less where she'd been planning, this time without the added risk of beaning Kerin in the head with pots and pans.

"Do I even want to know?" she asked lightly, placing her hands on her hips and fixing the newest Warden with a pointed look. Though... she did kind of wonder what else the man had in there. "Yeah, you do. Just as much as I do," Kerin said, moving the bag closer where if Solvej wanted, she could see it too. She knew that the more experienced Warden was just as curious as she was, if not more. She... Tried to ignore the fact that she was nearly plastered with the camp's cook gear.

"I think everyone wants to know," Mira said from nearby, "but not everyone wants to ask." She'd been just about to mount up when she overheard the two of them, so instead she hiked the strap of her bag higher onto her shoulder and moved a little closer. Mira was feeling very good lately, almost her old self again, though she was beginning to get the sense that she would never be exactly as she was before. Too much had happened. Still, she had restocked her store of potions, poisons, and vials, and any lingering effects of the wounds she suffered in the Deep Roads were finally receding altogether. She had noted that Solvej had also taken quite a beating, but for all that it hardly seemed to show on her face. Mira couldn't help but admire the woman's toughness. She probably had to go through hell to get it.

Mira gently laid her bag on the cart before lifting herself up and plopping down on the edge, draping a largely bared leg over the other, her delicate little foot bobbing up and down. She propped one elbow upon the side wall of the wagon to rest her head in her hand, while the other hand found the end of her braid and began absently twirling it. She looked at the newly-Wardened dwarf expectantly, a corner of her lips twitching upward along with an eyebrow. "I hope there's nothing too scandalous. We've certainly had our fill of that, recently."

Well, Mirabelle was always up for more interesting news and shocking revelations, but the last one had put the religious types in none too fine a mood. Considering how few of them seemed to be in high spirits, she hoped whatever was in the bag wouldn't do more damage.

"Well, unless there's proof in there that I'm somehow related to him, I don't think it could get any worse," the Warden replied with some humor. Glancing surreptitiously from right to left, she appeared to give up and took hold of the other side of the sack, reaching inside and extracting the first thing she grasped. A spare one of those punch-knives, from the looks of things. Nothing too terribly interesting about that, though she did sort of wonder where he'd come across them. She'd never seen their like. "Probably supposed to use both at once," she observed rhetorically, but of course someone like that couldn't be bothered with things like convention. She had to admit, it was helping her out a bit with her own survivability, since he'd agreed to help her learn to do damage with nothing other than her empty hands.

"What've you got there, Kerin?" she asked as the dwarven woman withdrew her first discovery of the day. "A flask. Unsurprisingly." Kerin remarked as she withdrew a bare metal flask. She swished it around in her hand to gauge the amount of liquid still in it. A good bit, but then the pirate didn't seem like a man who would go dry for very long. With a shrug, she pulled the top off and took a sniff of its contents. Alcohol, of some sort, that much was obvious. She looked up at Solvej and the others, saying, "Between us." With that, she pressed the flask to her lips, taking a sip. The bite was a lot sweeter than she was expecting.

"Blech. Wine. Too weak for my tastes," she said putting the top back on it and tossing it back into the bag. However, there was another flask that caught her eye and she picked that one up too. She swished it just like the last one checking the liquid and opening it just the same. She pressed the flask up to her lips and attempted to take a drink of this one as well. Though, this flask didn't agree with her near as much as the last one did. She turned to the side spit the foul liquid out into the dirt shaking her head. "Not wine. That one was oil-- why doesn't the damn fool have these things labeled?" She asked, wiping away what leather oil remained on her lips. How does he even tell them apart? Either way, she tossed the flask back into the bag, marking the end of her tasting strange liquids, at least for a while.

"Maybe he secretly wants to be a Warden like us," Mira mused lightly, "by drinking things that are utterly disgusting." Considering the rather rushed nature of her own Joining and the choice, or lack thereof, that she had in drinking the blood, Mira figured it was probably best to leave it at that. She'd caught some resentment from Kerin's direction, and was hoping to avoid stirring that up, considering that they were within feet of each other at the moment.

"Or maybe he smells them before drinking?" Solvej suggested with a grin. This was...surprisingly fun.

"Let's see... what do we have here?" Mira said, deftly slipping a hand into the bag among the others and retrieving a small stack of folded papers. She took the first one into both hands and gently unfolded it. "My, my, who might you be?" It was a wanted poster, depicting a lovely elven woman, Dalish judging by the beautiful patterns tattooed over her features. She flipped it around so that the others might see. "La Fantasma," she said, reading the title of the wanted woman with a flourish, "an assassin with hair like fire and a gaze to pierce the soul..." that was her own addition. "Dangerous and beautiful in equal measure, I'm sure. She sounds like my kind of woman." Truly, she found herself intrigued why this was in there. "Sounds like the Pirate's too," Kerin noted.

"Aren't most people your kind of woman?" Solvej asked blithely, though there was no bite of insult to the words. Rather, they were touched with humor. She shook her head, though, peering over Mira's shoulder at the portrait of the flame-haired elf. She was rather pretty, as far as people went, and the former Templar blinked. "Attractive, exotic, and a criminal? Might be his lover, for all we know." A similarly-folded bunch of parchments was next in the pile, and she unfolded these, only to break out in a fit of unexpected laughter, which she tried with little success to stifle. "These certainly look like people he knows." The wanted posters were all incredibly silly or awkward-looking, and most of them seemed to depict various members of the pirate's crew, though admittedly not well.

"Wanted: Captain R. Bryland. Scourge of port towns. Reported to be a woman, around seven feet tall and garbed in... what looks to be a striped tent? How drunk was the tosser who made this report? Or the one who believed it?" The next one had Jack depicted with a weasel-like face, sharpened teeth and all, looking quite like she was about to leap off the paper and sink them into the next exposed neck she found. There was also an incredibly-hairy dwarf, another of Rudhale with what looked to be a hurlock's left arm, and a trio of flamboyantly-dressed elves. "I'm starting to wonder if some of his absurd stories may be true, if people remembered them like this." Kerin uttered what sounded like a chuckle and added, "Makes you wonder what he did to earn these," she mentioned, letting their imagination do the work for her.

Mirabelle giggled at each wanted poster in turn, particularly at the one of Jack, whom she was certain would be rather proud of the image she'd left behind in whoever had drawn such an image. She certainly hadn't looked like that the last time they'd met, but then again, that had been in a constructed dream formed from her memories of the woman. It was a good thing she had an excellent memory.

It was at this point that Ethne wandered over, having seen the odd gathering of her fellows and being quite curious what had them all so amused. She noted the papers in both Solvej's and Mira's hands with some puzzlement, but picked her way on over anyway. "Um," she ventured cautiously, honestly a bit taken aback by the universal grins adorning the three very different faces in front of her. "What's so funny?" She blinked owlishly, noting the open bag but not recognizing it as belonging to anyone in particular. She hadn't paid much attention when the wagon was loaded, and truthfully, she couldn't tell anyone's things apart from anyone else's; she had so few herself that she didn't need anything to hold them, really.

"These," Kerin said, taking the poster of Rudhale listed as a woman from Solvej and handed to Ethne. "He carries around the stuff you'd expect him to. Knick-knacks and curiosities. His entire bag looks like a bloody nugs nest." She said, sticking her hand back in for the next prize. She grabbed something thin wrapped in cloth. Raising an eyebrow she fished this item out peeled the oilcloth off of it and looked her grab. It was an ordinary leather bound book. "Looks like our Pirate friend is a learned man as well," she said, flipping it open to the front page. However, the book wasn't academic as she first believed, as she was just about to find out... She read the first letter in the book out loud:

"Rudhale,
You've always told me that one day, you'd have grand adventures.
Take this, and write them down, so that I can share them, too.
If you're not too busy for your poor old mother, that is.

All my love, dearest.
"


With that, she stopped reading and slowly closed the book. She looked up and around awkwardly. She didn't know it was his journal and she felt like she crossed a line by even opening it. She wouldn't like it if someone cracked her head open and laid her soul out to bear. While she wouldn't admit it, she saw the pirate as a friend, and reading his personal thoughts just seemed like a kind of betrayal. She quietly wrapped it back up in its oilcloth and set it back in the bag. She then looked up at the gathered women and shrugged. "Not a book," she said simply.

Mira nodded in approval when Kerin put the journal back. The brand of snooping they were performing was of the good-hearted variety, and diving into the man's personal belongings would have turned it into something else entirely, something Mira didn't want to be a part of. As it was, she felt comfortable with what they'd found. A fun little diversion.

"Just trying to lighten the mood, lovely," she said pleasantly to Ethne, returning the posters she'd grabbed to their folded state and back into the bag, her hand finding its way to the end of her braid again. "I've heard that people who laugh frequently tend to live longer. After the Deep Roads, I'd say we have a bit of catching up to do." Her most of all, perhaps. Everything about this, from the sun on bare skin, a gentle breeze through her hair, the honest fun with her newly acquired friends... it all had her feeling quite content for once. "Rudhale's bloody immortal then," Kerin said with lazy eyes. The idea of the pirate living forever already made her head hurt.

Ethne hummed, at first a bit uncertain of the endeavor, but noticing the way they seemed to leave the more personal bits alone was enough to convince her, and she reached into the bag herself, withdrawing a small, silvery object that appeared to have several holes along the side of what was essentially a thick disc otherwise. It was small enough to fit in the palm of her hand, and she smiled a bit. "I wonder if he's ever needed a pitch pipe, or if he just carries it around for fun?" Ethne being Ethne, her head was filled with rosy images of the entire party grouped around the fire and singing, humming, or playing something, laughing when someone (probably Scally) forgot the words, and somebody else (probably Rudhale) replaced them with sillier ones instead.

It was a lovely thought, however unlikely, and she grinned.

"Who knows?" Solvej replied. "Half of these things could be pure memorabilia for all we know. Though he does hum a lot." Especially in battle, for reasons she didn't really understand. Maybe it just helped him keep a proper battle tempo or something-- he did always look rather like he was dancing when he should be fighting. She tossed a few dice onto the floor of the cart, surprised when they all came up ones. Furrowing her brow, she tried again, with a similiar result. "Well, don't gamble with him. Looks like he cheats, though I'm hardly surprised."

"Only when the opponent cheats first," the pirate put in, sticking his head up over the rim of the cart with a bright grin. Laying one forearm atop the side and the other on that, he propped his chin on both and raised a brow at the collection of women apparently rifling through his things. "Having fun, I hope?"

Ethne startled, entirely surprised to see him there, though perhaps someone who knew more of sneaking and such might not be. A few owlish blinks, and the full situation rather settled in her mind, and she turned a rosy shade of pink, feeling rather like a child caught raiding the larder. He didn't seem to be upset though, as his expression was much closer to laughter, eyes crinkled with the force of his grin and lit with easy amusement. It was enough to bat away the burgeoning guilt, actually, and so she simply nodded. It was fun, doing something silly and not thinking at all about Darkspawn or dreams or all the things that would go wrong if she-- if they messed things up somehow.

Mira wasn't all that shocked to see the pirate himself turn up eventually. Maybe Emil wouldn't be comfortable around a bunch of women actually having fun, but Rhuddy was no stranger. That, and well, they were all traveling in a group together. She smiled at Ethne's expression, particularly how adorably childish she looked, then she turned the smile to Rudhale. "Quite so," she said, before retrieving the poster of the elven woman she'd nabbed before. "I don't suppose you could tell us anything about this lovely creature, could you? Maybe we get to meet her?" She was rather hoping for that, as long as the assassin wasn't trying to kill them.

Rhuddy huffed a short laugh. "Mm... maybe. If so, not for long, I think. That is Shoshana Zurine, mage, Crow, and friend of a friend, once upon a time." He shrugged lightly, the motion a tad awkward-looking, given his current leaning posture. "I'm actually looking for the lass, so if you happen to see her, do share the news." He said no more on the topic, however, choosing instead to spin himself sideways with unecessary flourish and right on by Ethne, plucking the pitch pipe from her grip with a deft movement and drawing a note from it, a clear, mid-range one.

"Now, while I do love to be the source of entertainment for my friends, lovely women nonetheless, I do believe the rest of them would become quite jealous if we did not take the road in short order. So. If I have successfully piqued any curiosity with my oh-so-deviously laid trap, feel free to ply the answers from my charmingly-reticent self as we move." As though he were ever reticent. Still, it was clear he was in high spirits, as he tossed the pipe back into the bag with a flick of the wrist, bumping shoulders with Solvej as he went by and ruffling Kerin's hair in a way that was probably going to irritate her, just a bit. The former Templar just rolled her eyes and punched his bicep lightly as he passed, amused despite herself.

"The sooner we leave, the sooner we're in Antiva proper, I suppose," Mira said, vaulting gracefully from the cart and taking up her mount. "I do hope we run into some Crows, friendly ones, anyway. I've found that Crows and ex-Crows are generally the best at having a good time." Not that she'd met that many Antivan Crows or ex-Crows, but Rudhale would certainly know who she was talking about.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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For the rest of the journey to Antiva City, passage was mostly uneventful. Indeed, there wasn’t a Darkspawn in sight nor sense, and the worst the group had to deal with over the entirety of the countryside was the occasional sudden storm over the plains. It was nearing Spring this far north, and that was the rainy season in the northern part of the world. Within two weeks from emerging out of the Deep Roads on the Nevarran border, the group was approaching the jeweled city with good pace, its white domes visible on the horizon, the glimmering blue of the Amaranthine Ocean just beyond.

It was here that they encountered the first sign of trouble.


Ethne couldn’t understand it. Though her every dream for weeks had plunged her into darkness, Erebus rarely spoke to her, and when he did, he did not taunt her. Indeed, though he was stern, his voice reverberating and deep, there seemed to be nothing wicked about it at all. She could feel the Taint, hanging about him like a cloak, but it was as if it wasn’t so mighty, not within his darkness. If anything, and most strangely so, his manner reminded her of Emil.

It was not a thought she had chosen to share with the Templar, nor with anyone else. It would likely be taken the wrong way, and in all likelihood, it was a needless complication anyway. She heard the other voices, too, sometimes, the Antivan ones, and occasionally a man spoke Ancient Tevene instead, something she understood. They would carry on entire conversations, the man and the Darkspawn, as though there was nothing odd about this at all, but for some reason, she could scarcely catch more than a word or two, brief snatches of phrases that jumbled about in her mind, with no glue or frame of reference to hold them together. It was, though, a bit… comforting, at least compared to the cold Dark.

Sighing, she slumped forward against her horse’s neck, more out of frustration than actual fatigue. Her breath stirred the creature’s white mane, and she smiled to herself. The past few days had been nice; a chance for everyone to get a bit of rest and recover from any lingering injuries the Deep Roads had given them. She’d been able to apply some deep healing to both Mira and Solvej, as their persistent wounds seemed to be the worst, and it hadn’t exhausted her to do so. They were in high spirits, at least for them; she wasn’t even sure she’d heard Emil and Solvej snipe at each other for a week at least.

Sitting up again, she fiddled with the end of her braid for a bit (she’d taken to mimicking Mira’s practical hairstyle), gazing off into the distance. They could just see the city, now, and already she could tell it was going to be a very different experience from Val Royeaux. But then, she’d known to expect that much, at least—Tevinter magisters didn’t bear the same hatred for Antiva they felt for Orlais, and many had second or third homes in the wine country of this region. She’d been a few times, but never to the city…

”Hear that?” someone asked, snapping her from her reverie. Uncertain what Rudhale was talking about, she strained her ears, and was just barely able to catch the faint sounds of shouting and clashing steel. Were there Darkspawn out here? “Sounds like it’s just over that hill,” he continued, pointing. Unfortunately, 'that hill' was directly in their path, but he didn’t seem to find it so disappointing. “And to think I was just beginning to get bored. Shall we, friends?”

Suicide had been padding alongside Ethne's horse in wolf form, but upon hearing the sounds of battle his ears perked up and he bounded off ahead of the line at a run, his mouth open and tongue lolling slightly to the side. He skidded to a halt upon the top of the hill, peering down with honed eyes at the scene of the fight below. The fight had clearly gone on for some time and covered a good amount of ground, as there were bodies spread out across the field, some wearing a wide array of mismatched armor, others garbed in uniform, a more organized force. Bandits attacking an official force from the city, he concluded. They would now die, of course, their poor timing resulting in their end.

By the time Mira had reached the top of the hill with the majority of the others, the wolf had bounded off towards the fray, a painful death approaching on swift and silent paws. The comfortably light weight of her kris sword was on her back once more, and in a moment it was in her hand, the Warden descending gracefully from her horse. Considering that she was feeling entirely better at this point, a fight actually seemed like a lovely thing to stumble across. An excellent way to get the blood flowing. "Looks like we're fashionably late," she commented, noting those already fallen. The sight of the enemy with their back turned was too tempting to overcome, however, and she soon found herself moving in as well, braid swishing behind her.

"I knew there was a reason I liked you lot. Besides your charming personalities, of course," the pirate quipped, and he too was off his horse and running towards the fray. Honestly, it may have been halfway between running and skipping, though somehow, he managed to look only moderately ridiculous doing it, probably by dent of sheer grace. Ethne was a little less sure that charging into the fray was the right thing to do, but she wasn't about to let them all run off alone, and she turned to the ones that remained and shrugged thin shoulders helplessly.

"Off we go then, I suppose." Lighting the fireball at the end of her staff, she urged her mount up and over the hill, taking a moment to peer down at the field before releasing the flames. From the looks of things, the well-dressed people were at a disadvantage, standing roughly back-to-back in a tight formation and facing opposition from all sides. There were two women and two men, and tallest among them was a caramel-skinned woman in shining white armor, accented with the Antivan royal green, a jadelike color, in a sash about her waist and the band around her left bicep. She wielded a large, two-handed sword of some description. To her right stood a lady carrying a bow, her hair brilliant copper and her sash the same verdant shade. The men were both slightly less well-armored than the first woman, each bearing a longsword and a shield stamped with a crest in yet more green.

Thinking quickly, Ethne shot the fireball from atop the hill and into a cluster of their more ragged, much more numerous opponents, clearly bandits from the looks of things. There were about thirty of them, all told, though the hit damaged five of them, taking one down immediately and leaving the other four reeling, and prime targets for someone else. She watched the pirate slice through one on his way down, leaving only three more in that outside cluster. The rest were too close to the soldiers to risk hitting from this distance. She'd need to get closer for that. Two more of the inflamed bandits went down next, one from an expertly placed arrow from the resident Templar archer, and another from a barreling dwarf trying to keep pace with the Pirate and Suicide. "Suppose it was too much to pray that we would reach the city without fighting-- for once," Emil mentioned pulling his horse along side Ethne's. Judging by the giddiness the rest of his group displayed, it seemed to fall to them to act as their ranged support. Still, he supposed there were worse people to be stuck with on the backline-- the Pirate immediately coming to mind.

"Let's get this over with then," Emil stated plainly, as if he was merely dealing with an everyday errand. Meanwhile, ahead of the Templar and Magelet, Kerin was already in her berserker rage. It'd been too long since the last battle, and her frustration and anger had built up. There was bound to be an overflow soon, and the battle proved to be such a distraction to see that she didn't explode. The bandit she scythed through, injured by Ethne's flames as he was, was nothing more than thin paper to her greatsword. Kerin didn't even spare a backward glance as the bandit fell in two pieces. The next bandit on his list was in her immediate area, and he'd find out about his misfortune soon. They might not have been darkspawn, they may have been smarter, but they'd all die the same.

She spun on her heel and brought her greatsword to bear, snarling at the remaining bandit. He proved to have more bravery than sense, however, as he immediately rushed his diminutive combatant, mistaking size for skill. He realized his mistake as soon as she brought her sword up and blocked his own blade without an ounce of trouble. Despite the force behind the blow, Kerin would not be moved by some mewling kitten's piss-poor attempt at an attack. She shoved the blade back, pulling her greatsword and driving the pommel squarely in his belly, flooring the bandit. What came next was hardly a surprise, as Kerin dropped her sword like a headsman's axe, a shattering blow, burying the sword into the bandit. The spurt of blood ignited the drum beats in her head, and her bloodlust grew insatiable. Her heart beat in tune with the drums, a fast, reckless tempo that demanded more. She'd happily oblige, as she turned toward the next knot of bandits, striding in that direction, her sword dragging along the ground.

It was a rare and unexpected stroke of luck that Solvej had been able to fully recover from her previous injuries by the time they were called upon to lift weapons again. There must be something to Malik's confidence in the Dreamer, for she continued to acquit herself well. Solvej, on the other hand, felt that she needed to get herself back to her usual form; she'd been laid out by injuries worse than anyone else had sustained at least a few times now, and when you were damaging yourself as badly as someone like Kerin, you clearly weren't being smart enough. Even so, that was no excuse to get left behind while your junior Wardens charged off to meet the danger, and she wasn't planning on it.

Leveling the poleax like a lance, so that the spear-tipped end of it was parallel to the ground and held in a firm jousting grip, the Warden urged Wagner forward, and the horse's mucles bunched underneath her as he charged, catchign her first target in the chest in the same moment that Kerin's blade fell upon the first of her own dead bandits for the day. Letting go of the reins, Solvej steered with her legs alone, passing her polearm over to her other side and using it to clothesline another incoming bandit. The ones the magelet had lit on fire were all dead by this point, but she'd noted the pause the girl and Emil had taken atop the hill, and figured that ranged support would be plentiful for this battle. It seemed like the best thing to do would be to cut their way to the small grouping of soldiers that remained, but there were yet quite a few bandits in between here and there.

Attempting to catch Mira's eye, she jerked her head towards Kerin, who was (by luck or design, it was hard to tell) heading in the appropriate direction, towards a grouping of bandits about seven thick.




"Mm," Ethne agreed, though the elf was too focused on properly casting the heroic aura spell to reply with words just yet. It likely wouldn't extend to many of the others from this distance, but it would help keep herself and Emil sharp, and that was enough reason to do it. She followed with a stonefist, punching a large dent in the ramshackle armor of a bandit trying to flank the group forming around Kerin. "Close, but no luck, I suppose." She didn't embrace violence like so many of her friends, but she accepted it without complaint. It had been a part of her life for so long that it was hard to imagine doing otherwise. It would be like taking issue with her magic, or the fact that she breathed or needed to eat. Survival wasn't something you decided to do, it was something you did by nature. Since it seemed apparent that they were going to stay on the hill, she dismounted her horse, slapping the beast on the rump and sending it back towards where the others had left theirs, for the most part.

"I wonder why there were so many soldiers out here, anyway? Shouldn't they be protecting the city?"

Emil clucked in the background, pondering those same questions. The city walls should have been enough to protect it from a simple bandit raid, not to mention the tactical advantage the high ground would have offered. There had to be some reason why these soldiers were drawn out of their city like that. "Humph, maybe a patrol got ambushed? Sloppily, from the looks of it," He added. His Knight-Commander would have never been caught in such an obvious trap. However, his own explanation didn't seem to sit well with him. Even as conceited as he was about his own unit, they were talking about the basics. Grunting, Emil nocked back an arrow and sent it off to finish the Bandit with the rent armor-- courtesy of the Magelet. A screaming lance tore through the weakened armor and brought the unfortunate victim down for good.

"Bandit purge?" Emil offered in return, feeling that the answer was more satisfactory than the last. He nocked another arrow and sent this one careening low into a unsuspecting bandit's ankle, pinning him to the ground. Far be it for him to take the fun away from the rest of the group. He wasn't in the thick of it after all, risking life and limb on a macabra ideal of sport. Besides, he just set up the bandit for another to take advantage of, so in reality someone should be thanking him. Eager to get rid of all the charity in his bones, he followed up with another pinning shot to a bandit next to the last, giving him comrade's a veritable gallery."If they survive, we can ask them," he resolved. Though that was a big if for four individuals at the heart of the fray.

That sounded like a more probable answer, but still; if the city was besieged by the Darkspawn as Val Royeaux had been, then why on earth would the army be wasting time on bandits? Still, there was probably some reason or another for it, but she was abruptly prevented from further consideration of the vexing problem before them by a sudden incredibly-sharp pain blooming across her back. Unable to do more than gasp, Ethne collapsed forward, tumbling uncontrollably down the hill, and it was all she could do to tuck her limbs in as much as possible and try not to break anything on her way down the incline. Where she'd fallen, a bandit stood, flickering as he emerged from stealth and watching with disinterest as she toppled downwards at gravity's solemn behest.

He took a moment to smile at Emil, which would be the Templar's only warning that another man was behind him, about to sink a knife into a joint in his armor. Ethne, meanwhile, had at last rolled to a stop, unfortunately ending up on her injured back. With a strangled whimper, she grabbed weakly for a tuft of grass and tried to use it to leverage herself onto her stomach. She made it to her side, which was apparently as far as she was going to get without splitting agony. The film of tears that had sprung unbidden to her eyes were making it difficult to see, and the best she could make out were two darkly-clad figures up the hill, a much shinier one between them. Sucking as much air into her lungs as she could, she shouted up to her ally. "Behind!"

Padded feet thumping lightly over the grass were all the warning the bandit nearest to Ethne would have before a massive wolf leapt upon him, the outlaw barely able to turn and face the new attacker before he tumbled to the ground on his back, teeth sinking into the flesh of his throat amidst choked screams and Suicide's feral growl of anger and bloodlust. The taste of blood was hot and thick on his tongue when he ripped out the man's throat, quite nearly severing his head from his body. Blood dripped from his snout as he backed off and planted himself at Ethne's side, his fur bristling and teeth bared in a low growl, a warning to go along with the mangled corpse for anyone who thought of trying to harm the Dreamer further. Had he any skill in healing he would have done so, but as it was, ripping out throats would have to do.

Like he materialized out of thin air, a bandit forcefully took Ethne's spot next to him. His soldier instinct took over and her whirled on the bandit, taking a step back and reaching for an arrow. Time wasn't in the Templar's favor however, as a voice from down the hill caused him to abandon the arrow. Behind. Foolish, letting his guard down like that. He was more mad at himself than the bandits. He opted for a more immediate, though less graceful response. He loosened his grip on his bow, grabbing it by the upper arm and swung the weapon in a wide arc behind him. He felt the crack under his grip as the bow struck bone. Stunned, maybe, but that left the other bandit behind him a wide open target of his back. Again, he spun on his heel bringing his bow up.

Steel bit deep into the wood, and another crack came from the rapidly splintering bow. A symphany of curses rained within Emil's mind as his weapon quickly became tender in his hand. Though all that his face showed of this was a furrowed brow and an irritated grunt. A kick to the gut bought Emil enough time to get his breath, but a movement in his peripheral spun him right around once again. A knife came for him from the bandit he had bashed with his bow. Instead of blocking this one with the weapon though, he threw his arm up and blocked it with his armor. The blade sank it's teeth deep in his arm, and he could feel the blood beginning to pool out of the wound. He hissed in pain, but he would not be done in that easily.

He twisted his arm and grabbed the bandit's arm and pulled him in tight. Emil reeled back and surged forward, knocking his forehead against the bandit's, dazing him. With that, Emil spun the bandit and threw him at the other who was recovering from a steel kick to the belly. He deftly dodged his ally and returned to the offensive. Say what he would about the bandits, Emil had to give it to them. They were tougher than the Darkspawn. Acting quickly, Emil grabbed his bow with both hands and snapped it clean through. It was now nothing but two sticks tied together by a rosin string. He held it by one of the sticks and swung the broken bow at the bandit.

The string, carried by the weight of the wood, wrapped around the bandit's neck, and a jerk brought the bandit into the range of Emil's naked blade. The blade passed through the chest of the bandit, reddening the steel. He let the dead bandit slump as he strode past, eyes on the last bandit. Standing above the bandit, Emil glared as he raised his sword above his head, awash in an intense blue light, and smote the enemy with the fury of the Maker. With the job done, he turned and descended the hill, discarding his weapon and approached the Dreamer and the Shapeshifter. As blood dripped frow his arm and a resolute look on his face, he looked down at the Magelet.

"Heal yourself, Dreamer. We'll make them pay yet, Maker as my witness."

It was not as easily done as said. The effort it had taken to shout had seemingly knocked from her what little sense of her surroundings remained, and the skin of her back felt like it was on fire. She was only dimly aware of a feral growling and some kind of commotion, but that was enough to tell her that Suicide was somewhere near. She must have blacked out for a few moments, though, because the next thing she knew, she was laying not next to a wolf in the grass of a field, but in the orange-brown haze of the Fade, and she had not brought herself there. Surrounding her were several indistinct forms, their hues to her eyes a spectrum of blues, violets, greens. One new stood among them, and his form was red, but he did not speak. The distant murmur of voices sursurrated in her dreamscape, and she could pick out the distinctive cadences of her oldest companions easiest of all. It was strange, how many new spirits she'd accumulated since she began here.

Most never did much but speak, and only a few lent her active assistance, but she knew without asking that they were all protecting her. So, too, had they all drifted closer, so that the faint mist where their feet might have been could be no more than inches from her Fade-self. Compassion regarded her with sorrowful eyes, and Hope smiled gently, but it was Amity, he of the blue-green essence, who crouched beside her and reached out his hand. They often wore familiar forms, these spirits, and this one had chosen a face frozen somewhere between her teacher and (of late) Rhapscallion's much more youthful visage. She knew not why the spirit of loyalty and devotion chose to aid her in this moment, but when he reached out his hand, she took it, grasping the ephemeral and shuddering deeply when she felt it pour into herself. It was as though she were an empty thing, needing only something to fill her shell.

She woke on the other side to Emil's exhortation, but her wound was already closing over, the pain of it gone. This was apparently not the only side effect, for as soon as she cracked her eyes open, it became clear that she was quite obviously leaking Fade-energy, in much the same way she tended to do when channeling Vitality, she who wore the faces of Solvej and Kerin. The feel of it was a little different, though, and suddenly, it was almost as though she were hardy as Suicide himself, though naturally she doubted that. Pushing herself to her feet, she used the wolf's shoulder for a brief support, hoping he wouldn't mind. Emil was bleeding, and instinctively, she reached for the healing magic, surprised when it sprang with the simplest of ease to her hands, in greater quantity than she would have expected. Sending it to the armored man, she opened her mouth to say something, but was cut off by the approach of another knot of bandits, this one four strong.

"Thank you," she said instead, to the both of them, turning herself to face the oncoming group.

Emil's nose twitched at the sudden change in Ethne. Ripples in the fade echoed out from the girl and he felt disconcerted about her new presence. A warning sprang to his throat, though now was not the time for a lecture about the dangers of the fade. Now was the time for action, and if this new form allowed her to fight, then so be it. The pain sizzled away from his arm, and Ethne's form instilled him with a queer strength. He was reluctant to accept it, but it seemed he had little choice in the matter. He merely shook his head and stood beside Ethne, grasping his blade with both hands. "Thank me when we survive. You ready Shapeshifter?" Thankful for what, he did not know, and he didn't spare the time to ponder on it.

Even if his mouth had been capable of forming coherent words, Suicide probably wouldn't have spoken any. Ethne's spell was making him feel like the unstoppable force of nature he'd always known he was, and all he could think about for the moment was how those four men in front of him needed to die violent, painful deaths. He sincerely hoped they were in love with the life they led, for that life was about to come to an end.

No ordinary man could match the speed of a wolf in full sprint, and so it was the shapeshifter who reached them first, front paws plowing into the chest of the nearest bandit, the dagger blow on the shoulder feeling like the bug from some overgrown bug instead. His powerful jaws snapped shut around the man's throat, teeth sinking in and blood pouring out with the first rend and tear. He went down with Suicide on top of him, a single sideways pull from the muscles on his upper back tearing the throat open entirely, sending a temporary spout of blood shooting upwards and falling like rain around the wolf.

His nearest companion, a young woman of a slightly smaller size, moved to avenge her ally, slicing at him with short swords, which Suicide leapt backwards away from, snarling and glaring into the eyes of his next prey. The ease with which he evaded her attacks seemed to strike a blow into her morale, that along with the brutal and unceremonious fashion in which her gang was being obliterated, and a moment later she decided to change her tune entirely, turning and making a run for it, scrambling towards the edges of the fight.

A foolish thing to do. The sight of a fleeing quarry only served to ignite more of the shapeshifter's bestial nature, the prospect of a chase stirring him until his teeth were bared and tail swishing contentedly back and forth, and in an instant he was off, sprinting through the fighters after this one who would flee. Even leaving the Dreamer's side did little to calm him, as the effect he was feeling was something entirely different from the workings of a fellow mage. It built on top of itself until the moment when Suicide leapt upon her back, paws planting her face first into the grass and dirt, teeth biting around the entirety of her little head, her screams drowned out by the blood pounding in his ears and dripping onto his tongue. They were quickly silenced, however, when he snapped her head sideways, her neck easily breaking under the pressure, leaving Suicide to savor his kill as the battle wound down around him.

Ethne bounded off after the shapeshifter and Emil, staff to hand. Amity, whatever he was doing, made her feel as though she'd rather be closer to the fight than she normally was, a shield and a bulwark of the kind she'd never be capable of on her own. Which was perhaps why, when the largest of these four singled her out, she was not afraid. The blunt end of her staff was the first thing to hit, and she drove it into his stomach with all the ferocity she could muster, doubling him over. Unfortunately, she was not particularly trained to melee combat, and lacked the knowledge of exactly what to do with this advantage. Her indecision granted him the time to recover, and he swung his broad sword in a great arc, which she blocked with the middle part of her staff. It clanged hard on the metal, but a force that would have knocked her over before now merely forced her a step backwards, her feet digging into the loamy ground of the earth below.

But she wasn't without other options, and, shifting her grip to one hand, she gathered her magic in the other, firing off a point-blank stonefist that hit him square in the jaw, snapping his head back with a wet crack. His neck had broken, and she stepped in to finish the job as he sank, almost in slow-motion, to his knees. Retaking her grip on her staff, Ethne whirled her entire body, Amity guiding the strike of the bladed end of the weapon into the joint between the bandit's helmet and pauldrons. The jarring force with which she hit bit deep into his neck, racking up her arms as well, though she scarcely noticed in her present state.

Emil hated having to fall back to his longsword. He wasn't like his brethern, he didn't carry the literal sword of the Maker in his hand. Had he still had his bow, the last bandit would have been child's play to dispatch, but now here he was, up close in the middle of the fray. A worrying trend these days it seemed. Still, hating the fact, and being entirely useless were two very separate things. He was a ferocious warrior, with or without his bow. These bandit's would soo figure that out. He took the challenge to the last remaining bandit, a woman with both sword a shield. She'd fall, just like the others. The tip of Emil's blade dipped, and then struck forward attempting to pierce the woman's belly. The shield was having none of if it though and the blade harmlessly glided across and off the wood.

Then the shield came rushing to greet his face. Had it not been for Ethne's spell, the woman's blade would have easily parted Emil's clavicle. Instead, he only received a deep gash running down the length of his armor having thrown himself backward away from her swipe. Stepping back into the woman's guard, he sliced horizontally only to be intercepted by the shield once more. The shield was quickly agitating Emil's nerves to no end, and he wished for nothing less than to put an arrow in the woman's eye. A momentary lapse in fighting and an idea came into mind. Deflecting the woman's sword with his own, he rushed her and brought his sword down vertically. Again, this was blocked by her shield, but instead of bouncing off he held the blade against it trying to push it through.

As she reared back her own blade to stab from the side, Emil's off hand left his head and went to his quiver. Once again, he found himself in Ethne's debt as the spell allowed him both the quickness and the strength for this maneuver. He grabbed an arrow by the shaft and shoved forward-- imbuing it with the blue light of the Templar's power as Solvej does. The arrow head pierced the eye of the bandit and dropped her into a heap before she could finish her own attack. He knelt down and grabbed the shield from the body, taking it for himself. If it caused him that much irritation, imagine the trouble he could put his enemies through. Alas, he wouldn't be able to test it out immediately, as the number of foes ran dry.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Andaer Ophalion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

Well, that was new.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



New Codex Entry!
The NPC Dossier has been updated!

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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Llesenia exhaled a long breath, straightening and sheathing her sword at her back. It was over, thank the Maker. rolling her shoulders to ease some of the tension out of them, she turned around to face the group. Presently, she could see a mage, a small thing and elven by the looks of her, releasing some kind of spell in a burst of blue-green light, swaying slightly before she caught herself on the shoulder of a large grey wolf. Smiling down at the animal, she managed to regain her own feet and cast some kind of spell. The effects were immediate; the Antivan woman felt a gash on her abdomen close up, and moved the limb experimentally. It was like it had never been cut at all. Useful, that.

The rest of the party seemed to consist of the rogue Ashley knew, someone in shiny Templar armor, a woman astride a massive horse (Anderfels shire, if her memory served correctly), a dwarf with a large sword, a woman wearing... no armor whatsoever, a very young man with dual blades, and an older one with a sword in his hand and a knife between his teeth. Well, she'd never seen a group of Grey Wardens-- if this was the standard, then they were a very strange order indeed. Still, strange or not, they had saved her life, and the lives of her three remaining soldiers. That warranted her immediate respect, and a warning. "Hail, friends. Fortune smiles upon us, that it brought you thus. But I must caution you against further travel in this direction-- 'tis not safe, and I do not know if all the Wardens in Thedas would be of much aid against what troubles the city."

"Which is...?" the black-clad ruffian asked smoothly, sheathing a curved sword at his back and an odd triangular knife at his waist. She was almost certain she'd seen him somewhere before, and not in a lawful context. Wanted poster, maybe? No, none of those looked much like him. She set it aside and answered instead.

"Darkness," she said simply, her voice echoing some untouchable melancholy. "The majority of the city runs as it always has, but we labor now under a shadow impenetrable, where once the grand white palace stood. Our queen and... and her family are lost to the abyss within. None who have ventured in have returned. The Darkspawn demands of us only that we do not make the attempt. Would that I could anyway, but my men and women are few, and I do not dare hope that we would do anything but die and leave the people defenseless against predators such as these." She nudged a bandit corpse with her foot. "And worse." She resisted the urge to spit at the ground. Even thinking of the Crows put her in a foul mood.

"You know," Mira said, fiddling with her braid, "considering where we've come from, that doesn't sound so bad. No offense. Val Royeaux was practically blown to bits. Total warzone. And hell, maybe all the Wardens in Thedas wouldn't be much help, but we're not all the Wardens in Thedas. We're just four Wardens... so we should be fine." The logic made sense to her, and that was really all that mattered, wasn't it?

Ignorant of whatever ill effects her possibly unwarranted good mood was having on others, Mira pressed on. "I'll do the introductions, if you all don't mind." She waited a very brief moment before beginning. "That's Ethne, the sweet and lovely one, and she's standing next to Suicide, the quiet one. And no, not just because he's a wolf. That there is Solvej, the tough one, and those two are Kerin and Rhapscallion, the loud one and the cute one, respectively. Then there's Andaer, the graceful one, and Emil, the grumpy one. Looks like one of you already knows Rhuddy here, he's the charming one. My name is Mirabelle, but you can call me Mira. I believe I'm either the talkative one or the funny one, depending on who you ask. Those three there," she pointed to Solvej, Rhapscallion, and Kerin, "and myself make up the Wardens of the group. I think that about covers it."

She looked very satisfied with her explanation, though she soon added, "And yes, our wolf is named Suicide, it's a rather long story, but the important part is that he's great around people and darkspawn alike. Smarter than your average mabari, that one." She gave the wolf a wink, which he responded to with a perplexed stare. Still, rather than confuse things by shifting back to human form, he chose to remain a wolf. It wasn't like he ever said much to these random people anyway. He'd let the talkative one do that.

"Not again," Emil grumbled behind the party, timely proving Mira's introduction correct. He had had enough of black swirling Darkspawn magic back in Val Royeaux. The thought of having to experience that again did little to allievate his "grumpiness". He was beginning sense that the Maker did have a sense of humor, only mean-spirited and centered solely on him. Still grumbling curses under his breath, he wiped his blade off in the grass and sheathed it. Before that take on the Darkspawn inside that blackness, he'd have to get another bow first. He was not going in only half-armed. "I'm not loud, Buttercup," Kerin corrected. Yes, she did tend to be loud, but that didn't mean she wasn't going to defend herself, despite evidence to the contrary. She was still caked in a shiny veneer of gore, thanks to the one darkspawn that literally exploded under her blade. "Loud, maybe not. But you've got bits on you," Rhapscallion added softly, clicking his tongue in dismay and waving a checkered handkerchief in his hand, "Always. It's a good thing you're a Warden."

Ashley tilted her head at the introductions, remembering each of her savior's names. "Right. I'm buying each and every one of you a drink," Her eyes fluttered to her commander for a second before adding, "When I'm off-duty." It wasn't like she was going be drinking... "I suppose I should introduce ourselves as well. Bella mia here is Llesenia, the Queen's Champion and I am Ashley Riviera, her second. We are part of the Queensguard... With no Queen to guard," She said sadly. "I don't suppose that's why your merry band is here, Rhuddy? Warden business?" she said hopeful. She was not a Warden, she did not have their knowledge on such things. If anyone could tear down that blackness, it was the Wardens. She had to hope, it was all she could do at this point.

Each and every new ally seemed prim and proper, professional and very much grateful for their timely interruption. Rhapscallion beamed a smile in their direction, bobbing his head along with Mirabelle's introductions, coupled with their own accurate descriptions. He still reddened when Mirabelle called him cute, flapping his hand indignantly before settling his hands behind his head, intertwining his fingers. He didn't want to be caught squirming in his boots, acting like a little boy who'd never heard such a thing before – but he was admittedly young at heart, so little comments, or even the smallest fledgling sentiments managed to catch him off guard. His eyebrows raised slightly when Llesenia mentioned darkness, and Darkspawn who made demands instead of slaughtering every human denizen, dragging them off to whatever dark hole they'd managed to crawl out of. They were becoming smarter, more organized, and a helluva harder to kill. If they wanted the Queen, and they were using her for something in particular, other than transforming her into a broodmother, then they were dealing in politics, in calculated warfare. It sent shivers down his spine.

“We need to be there, now!” Rhapscallion sputtered, hands falling away from his head. Passion fled from his lips, often whistling out in incoherent babble. He was reckless when he wanted to help, always leaping forward with the wrong foot out. He didn't bother looking over his shoulder when he should, but he felt it in his bones that going to this place, to this occupied city, was the right thing to do, and wouldn't his companions feel the same way as he did? They were following after the Darkspawn like hound-dogs, sniffing out intelligent Generals and systematically exterminating them for the greater good of all of Thedas. If a Queen was in trouble, then it made sense of them to offer their aid. After all, they were unlikely heroes. A few of them might have balked at the very idea, dictating how horribly-thought out the plan was to simply waltz into an occupied city crawling with Darkspawn. Though, they always ended doing what was right. Justice, it seemed, ran thick in their blood. It didn't really matter what their reasons were.

Though the one named Ashley's question had been directed at Rudhale, it was Solvej that fielded it first. Hiding the small smile that had ticked her mouth upward at Mira's (admittedly milder than expected) color commentary on the group, she nodded solemnly. "As might be implied from the grumpy one's sentiment--" she was not going to let the seriousness of the situation stop her from having a little fun at Emil's expense-- "We have in fact dealt with something... similar before. We're here to kill that Darkspawn, but we'll rescue the Queen if we can." She certainly wasn't going to make any promises about that, not when the woman could well be dead. It was strange, though, this behavior. Morpheus had been intelligent, certainly, and in his own way, he had held hostages, but his forces had seemed bent on destruction of the entire Orlesian capital. Was it some kind of elaborate diversion, here or there, or was this one truly intent on something different? If so, what?

It probably didn't matter much. Their job was the same either way. "Perhaps it's best if you tell us everything you know-- on the way back to the city." There was little point in standing around when they were fully capable of walking and talking at the same time, anyway.

At the back of the group, Andaer's expression turned down into a frown. Maria was hostage to a Darkspawn? That certainly did not bode well. He hoped she would be all right, and privately thought to himself that even if the Wardens were willing to make no particular committment to her safety, he would. Though he had many acquaintances and was not on bad terms with any of them, the Dalish man had always had very few friends. The Queen of Antiva had long been counted among them. When the rest turned toward the White City, he followed.

Llesenia was a stern woman, but she was not entirely humorless, and she had to smile a bit at the flavor of the introductions. The mounted Warden, Solvej, had a sense of urgency and business she could respect, though, and she nodded shortly. "Fiorino-- search the bandits and take care of the others. After that, take the rest of the day off. Riviera and I will handle this." The remaining male soldier snapped a salute and set about doing just that. It was not normally in their line of duty to be undertakers, but as she would explain to these Wardens and their allies soon, nothing about this situation was normal. Gesturing with two fingers for the group to follow her, she allowed them time to recover their mounts. Hers and Ashley's had been slain in the fight, so she'd just have to walk.

Or at least she would have thought so, until the redheaded mage identified as 'the sweet and lovely one' Ethne pulled up beside her and offered a hand up onto her mount. A few yards away, the pirate Rudhale offered Ashley the same, and Llesenia shrugged, swinging astride behind the girl. Settling herself into the saddle, she glanced back at the rest as the horse started to head into the city. "I'd not heard of what happened in Orlais. Few people go in or out of the city these days, and none from so far. I doubt he would much notice or care if they did, but perhaps the road's treachery was supposed to be guard enough." Actually, not much about Erebus's behavior made any discernible sense, but that didn't make him at all vulnerable, it seemed.

"Perhaps I should start at the beginning. About three months ago," three months, seventeen days, and eleven hours, though she wasn't going to let on that she was counting that closely, "The Royal family was taking supper in the main dining hall as usual. Myself, Ashley here, and about a dozen other guards were in attendance, which was slightly less than the full compliment, but nothing scant. All was quite ordinary, until one of the young captains burst in through the door to the hall, shouting something about invaders and Darkspawn. It was hard to tell exactly what, and he collapsed immediately afterwards. Regardless, we armed ourselves and barred the door, and I set a few of the scouts on opening the covert exits in the room."
"Tunnels?" Rudhale inquired curiously, and Llesenia nodded.

"Yes, a network of them, underneath the White Palace." The pirate noted this, but for now left the woman to tell her tale.
"It was to no avail. They were upon us in moments, but the strange thing was, they barely killed anyone; only those that came directly at them in fact. The regular 'Spawn didn't act like the always do in the stories, you know, or the few times I'd ever seen one. Usually, they're supposed to kill everything in sight, but these ones... they were more like an army than a horde, some kind of vanguard unit, by their behavior. Their commander was... most strange." She fell silent for a few moments, apparently contemplating something, and her mouth turned down at the corners. "He spoke, Antivan as good as any, and told us that he wanted the Royal family as hostages, and nobody else. Naturally, we weren't going to stand for that, and so we attacked in retaliation. Erebus... I tried to hit him, but it was like my blade passed through nothing at all, just a shadow. He knocked me aside like I weighed nothing, though, and it was then that the Queen gave her order."

Llesenia swallowed, glancing down at her hands for a moment, but there was part of the story that was far too personal for her to tell. She'd left behind the person she cared for more than her own life, torn between her duty to obey and her desire to remain beside him. It was the only choice she could have made, but she still thought it was the wrong one. "We were ordered from the chamber, and we left. We know not what happened then, but as soon as we were clear of the palace, the darkness encapsulated it, and anyone who has ventured into it has never ventured out. In three months, not one Darkspawn has emerged to trouble us, and not one word has been heard from any of our royalty. The worst we have to deal with are bandits and the damn Crows. It's like he's not even there at all." She had no idea what he was planning to do, but most people had continued on as though no cloud of shadow sat over the crown jewel of their city, as though they were not every moment in danger of total destruction. She couldn't stand it.

"Without access to proper armament and rest, and with lawlessness so rampant in absence of the Queen's judgement, more of my soldiers die by the day. The city is festering, and it will eat itself, even without the Darkspawn's help. Perhaps that is what he means to show us by leaving us alone." It was a bitter thought, mostly because if that was his goal, he was succeeding.

This was nothing like any Darkspawn behavior she'd ever heard of. Some groups of them were more organized than others, yes, and the existence of these 'Generals' alone was enough to prove that there was some kind of command structure, but the military-like designations-- Emissary, General, Archdemon-- these had only ever been meant to be analogues, ways of making their relative importance easier to understand. She'd never believed that they were dealing with an actual army, just a devouring horde, like a plague of locusts, that would comsume and slaughter until there was nothing left, then turn on each other, in all likelihood. That what she'd believed, known of them was not the case here was deeply unsettling to Solvej, and she almost didn't want to suppose that the woman was telling the truth. Yet she clearly believed what she was saying, and there was no evident reason for her to lie.

But that wasn't what mattered here, was it? She was a Warden-- she was to kill Darkspawn. She would admit that in her earlier days, she'd felt some strange pity for the creatures she was now almost kin to, but in the end, she'd had to snuff it and get on with her duty. Learning that they were capable of human levels of organization was disturbing, but in the end it changed nothing, did it?

"I remember the tunnels," someone mused quietly, and Solvej turned to glance from the corner of her eye at the halla-mounted elf. "Do any of the entrances yet remain outside the sphere of Erebus' influence?" He had a point-- if they could bypass the confounding dark and get in more directly, they might have a shot at the General without having to wade through every last one of his underlings.

Llesenia nodded grimly. "Just one, that I know of. But... I sent a small scout group in there shortly after the initial attack, and they never came back, so they may not be beneath his notice." She sighed, running a gauntleted hand down her face. "If you're here to kill him, though, it might be your only shot. Sent someone in the usual way, tied to a rope so we wouldn't lose him, and he was so confounded we had to drag him out screaming. Said afterwards he couldn't see the nose in front of his face, and heard things, besides. No rope long enough to get you all the way in, besides, and no guarantee you'd even find the palace. At least the tunnels only go one way." There was a pause of a few moments, after which she eyed the group speculatively.

"Let's hope this goes better than the last black sprawling mass we encountered," Emil commented, tired from the thought of the last fight alone. He wasn't going to bloody sleep through this one, that was for damn sure. He'd be on the frontlines if he had his way. He had some of his pride to win back.

"Might as well get you to the inn, anyway. That's where the tunnel goes, and you might want some rest before we enter. Lilyfoot's a dolt, but he runs a fair establishment."

At this, a wide grin split Rudhale's face. "Lilyfoot? That bastard's still kicking around, is he? This should be fun."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

Blood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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