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Solvej Gruenwald

"Sometimes, you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. No use trying to control anything but yourself."

0 · 877 views · located in Thedas

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

Description

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"It's always something, isn't it?”



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ImageName: Solvej Gruenwald
Pronunciation: SAHL-veh-jh GREW-ehn-vahld
Age: 27
Race: Human
Sex: Female
Sexuality: Heterosexual
Height: 5’9”
Build: Solvej is muscular for a woman. Not of the bodybuilding sort, but the smooth, practical muscles of a lifelong warrior and one trained to discipline and hard work. Her corded, wiry strength enables her to dead-lift considerable weight, but her true strength is in motion.
Class: Warrior
Specialization: Templar
Master Class: Sentinel
Warden? Yes.

Appearance: Tall and sturdy, Solvej has been careful not to neglect any aspect of physical fitness. She may specialize in front-line destruction, but she has not failed to train her flexibility or speed, either. The result is a figure that, while hourglass at its base, is also replete with hard musculature that ripples beneath her skin. Her hair, an almost alarmingly-bright red, is kept coifed at her shoulders, so as to stay out of the bloody way, as she would be inclined to put it. She’s a striking woman, though not conventionally pretty. Her face is a bit too rough-hewn for that, though she was once told by an ill-advised suitor that she would make good statuary.

She carries herself with a notable saunter, and her typical facial expression is a nearly-feral half-smile, full lips that might otherwise be sultry stretched over even, white teeth, a mischievous glint in her gunmetal-grey eyes. Something about her seems dangerous, and it has nothing to do with the weaponry. Still, it’s the intriguing kind of danger, with just enough mystery to stay that way for the foreseeable future. She tends to attract daredevils and death-seekers for friends partially because of this.



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Demeanor: Solvej is an extrovert on the surface, always happy to tease or laugh with or mock (with good humor) her comrades. She believes that unit cohesiveness comes from trust, and though she isn’t the kind of person who can win that by outright kindness, she does have a certain way with people. A sense of gallows humor and flair for understatement are complimented well by a lack of anything resembling a mental filter and a taste for battle.

She’s a woman of action, and prefers to fight first and ask questions later. That said, she isn’t without intelligence, and can be extraordinarily canny at the strangest times. Though not as book-smart as some, she has an adroit understanding of international and Chantry politics, perhaps part of the reason she’s no longer a Templar.

Her love of chaos and mischief don’t always mesh well with the chain of command, but she knows that when it comes down to do-or-die, she’ll follow any order that doesn’t sound completely stupid. Even so, she’s gained something of a reputation as a loose cannon among the Wardens, largely a reaction to the circumstances that drove her to them in the first place. To be perfectly concise: she doesn’t mind recklessness or suicidal odds, but her priority will always be the well-being of anyone she comes to care about. Granted, there aren’t many such people, so it usually isn’t a problem.

Fears: Nothing puts that cold feeling in the pit of Solvej’s stomach like the Fade. She absolutely despises it, but as a Templar, she learned to put up with it.

Hangups/Quirks: Solvej is very hung-up on the death of her brother two years ago. It’s something she sees as her fault, and the crisis of faith that resulted slowly caused her to lose her most deeply-held beliefs. For a while, she retreated into the comfort of thoughtless violence, but she has since emerged on the other side of that. There are still those, however, who know her as the Black Templar, a figure of inconsolable grief and unslakeable bloodthirst. Underneath the mask of jocular friendliness is someone still suffering the burden of immense guilt. She tends to keep people at arms’ length.

Opinions:
The Chantry: Solvej was once a woman of most devout faith, having memorized the entire chant in several languages and always willing to put duty above anything else. Her twin’s death has put things in perspective, and she is now deeply unsure of what she believes, and somewhat resentful of Chantry authority structures.
Magi: She tends to avoid talking about mages, because she feels very conflicted about them. Her now-deceased brother was a mage, and the kindest, most good-hearted soul she ever knew. On the other hand, she’s seen the worst maleficarum and demons have to offer, and she is not impressed.
Templars: The words she would use are “duty-bound idiots in chains they can’t see.” Her relationship with the Templar Order did not end on good terms, to say the least.
Elves: What about them? They’re there, they’re alive. She’s not exactly indifferent to their struggles, but she has enough problems of her own at the moment.
Dwarves: Surface dwarves are fun; though their mushroom beer tastes like shit. The Orzammar ones like rules too much.
Humans: Seen one, seen ‘em all.
The Grey Wardens: Put bluntly, Warden-Commander Malik saved her life. She owes the Order everything; enough to willingly take on a task that likely ends in her demise.
The Mission: Hey, we’re the Suicide Squad. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? She’s not one to overanalyze or worry if she doesn’t have to.



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Weapon of Choice: A spear, wielded with the same skill-set as any other two-handed weapon.

Armor/Apparel: Solvej wears less armor than the average Templar, usually black ringmail and a few bits of black plate on her shoulders and chest, plus gauntlets. Her boots are reinforced leather with a some plates sewn in, and heavy metal worked into the soles to give her kicks more, well… kick. She’s got a blood-red hooded cape as well, and a unique dwarf-forged helmet (also black) with stylized wings sweeping back from her temples.

Mount: She owns a hardy Anderfels shire: big, durable, and with endurance a Mabari could envy. He’s the traditional brown in color, with white lower legs and a white stripe down his face. His name’s Wagner.

Level: 17

Skills:
Master Class, Sentinel: Dangerous, Warden, Shockwave, Impervious
Templar: Holy Smite, Cleanse, Silence, Righteous Strike, Anullment
Two-Handed: Mighty Blow, Giant’s Reach
Warmonger:: Taunt, Bravery
Defender: Stonewall, Turn the Blade
Vanguard: Control, Cleave, Destroyer
Battlemaster: N/A



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Place of Birth, Nation of Origin: Just outside Hossberg, The Anderfels
Social Status: Formerly a commoner, then a Knight Templar, now simply a Grey Warden.

Personal History: Solvej was born a twin to a family of devout Andrasteans. Her parents were both farmers, and she and her brother Efriel grew up tending to the animals and working hard. They were “thick as thieves” her father liked to say, and completely inseparable.

At least until the day that Efriel discovered his magic. The two were simply walking along the road to the city when Solvej challenged her brother to a race. Always the more reserved of the two, Ef only reluctantly ran after her. She’s lucky he did: without seeing it, the young Solvej ran in front of an oncoming cart. Efriel noticed what was about to happen to his sister and instinctively reacted, throwing up a wall of earth to stop the oncoming horses.

His parents were shamed by the birth of a mage into their family, and he was given to the Circle the day after. Solvej swore to her brother that she’d find a way to see him again, though she wasn’t sure how. Without him, she grew into a teenager, as faithful as her parents but also feeling like half of herself was missing.

Instead of marrying the miller’s boy down the road, the young woman decided to join the Templars. It was the only logical choice if she wished to both avoid the domestic life and see her brother again. At first, the order was reluctant to take her, as women in the ranks were very rare, but she proved too stubborn for even the Knight-Commander to resist, and her training began thereafter.

It was the hardest thing she’d ever done until that point, but the strict discipline and arduous training of the Templars turned the farm girl into a warrior to envy. She was the pride of her more liberal teachers and the bane of those who thought women had no place in the Order. They could find no chink in her armor, no flaw in her faith or obedience or adherence to duty. She was a paragon of knighthood, called the Lioness for her skill and ferocity, but she wasn’t truly happy until the day she was allowed to see Efriel again.

The years had changed them both. She had been hardened into an efficient, graceful sentinel and he had seemed only to grow kinder and softer: though he had not given into sloth, he was at ease, relaxed, at peace with what he was. A figure that the younger mages looked up to and the older ones treated like a favorite son. He had lost his faith in the Maker, but gained the gentle strength of a good man. Even so, their reunion was a joyous one, and he was understandably flabbergasted that she remembered such a childish promise.

Solvej was content in her new life, serving the Chantry and living always near her brother, but it was not to last. Just after both had turned twenty-and-five, several of Efriel’s friends were accused of performing Blood Magic. The ensuing Templar investigation was botched at the very least, and some suspect to this day that Efriel was implicated out of a desire to get to Solvej. Either way, his Rite of Tranquility was ordered.

The ensuing inner battle Solvej waged with herself was nearly as great as the bloodbath that resulted. She was forced to be in attendance for the Rite, but as soon as the Templars went for the first man, the entire room erupted with violence. Blood Magic was flung everywhere, but Efriel, always nonviolent by nature, did not fight. In the ensuing battle, Solvej watched with horror as her superior officer ordered every mage in the room killed. She tried to protest, but before the words even came out, the noncombative Efriel was slain.

Solvej saw red. Unable to contain her anger, she worked through every other person in the room, killing them all, including her Knight-Captain, who had ordered the executions. When it was done, her face and silver armor were spattered with the blood of mage and Templar alike, for to her mind, all were responsible for the death of her innocent brother. She was arrested that day, and left to languish in a cell as she awaited her trial. It didn’t matter- her gentle twin, practically half her soul, was dead, and the faith that had propelled her through every challenge was shattered and crumbling to the core. She was empty, without purpose, and already branded the “Black Templar” for her sacrilege.

That was when he appeared. Commander of the Grey, they called him, and he’d come to see the broken Lioness in her cage. He asked her if she wished to die, and she answered him truthfully: everyone dies, and what we want has little to do with it. He seemed somehow satisfied by this, and informed her that he was using the Right of Conscription. She would be a Grey Warden, and she would be a good one.

She never quite got over her hatred for command structures that valued obedience over sense, and admittedly her bloody history was something not all of her fellow Wardens were comfortable with, but she acquitted herself well on the field, something of a protégé to Malik. She was given the option to refuse this mission, but he confided that he was assigning it to her because he yet held hope for it. Since she owed him a life-debt, Solvej accepted, taking this impossible task as payment for a kindness undeserved.

Professional History: Solvej’s training began when she was thirteen, though she did not earn her knighthood until seventeen. Having started a bit younger than most and being female at that, she was never really expected to succeed, but she surprised everyone by rising to the top of her class. Her faith was strong, her will to succeed stronger still. Her training was a tad unconventional; her mentors knew that she would never have the strength of a muscular man, so they trained her also for flexibility and versatility. Her use of a polearm rather than a sword was also unusual, but it gave her a bit of extra reach, and she took to it well. Her accomplishments and skill earned her the name “Lioness,” and she had a reputation for being stern, but fair, and utterly devoted to the letter of the Chant.

That all changed after her brother’s death, and her massacre of her fellows earned her the Black Templar appellation. It has, unfortunately, stuck.

Idea for a Personal Sidequest: Maybe, should we visit Anderfels, Solvej could return to the Circle and attempt to find evidence to exonerate her brother permanently? It really depends, I guess, but I think she needs closure of some kind.

So begins...

Solvej Gruenwald's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen Character Portrait: Blathnat Ashling
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A rather impressive litany of Anderfellan oaths accompanied the redheaded ex-Templar into the gates of Starkhaven, though truly, the only sign that she'd encountered any trouble was the occasional gore-slick spot on her black armor, more reflective in lamplight than the rest of the tempered metal. Everything in this place was so bloody shiny; it was a wonder that the Darkspawn hadn't torn it down already just for assaulting their eyeballs.

A long stride carried her to her destination, and if she could still read time by the moon all right, she'd actually manage to be on time despite the unnecessary delay. Some nameless village whose residents weren't smart enough to evacuate when the Wardens passed on the word of the incoming horde had been predictably attacked by a dozen or so . There were many cries of "please, my lady Warden" and exhortations involving saving the children and the elderly and whatnot, and in the end she'd sighed and taken up her spear, marching out into the field where an assortment of farmers were attempting a pitchfork-based defense that could only be described as sad.

Cue one spinning polearm of death, and really it didn't even qualify as music to her ears, the whistling of the blade through the air and the squelch of darkspawn flesh spilling blackened ichor onto the grasses beneath her feet. They were nothing but the lowest of the low echelons of 'Spawn, and all fell easily enough, relieving the siege-in-miniature. She did not wait to hear the thanks, or worse, the lamentations that these fields would never yield the same way again. Her own home had been ravaged far worse than this, the farmsteads worn to ragged wasteland, and she could not bring herself to entertain the hypocrasies of people who could still eat.

She could hear the low, dry tones of Balthnat's voice, and the wolfish smile teased the corners of her mouth, a reaction so automatic is was second nature. "Oy hag, seems like you're a bit early to win this one-" Her jesting words immediately ceased as she rounded the corner and saw exactly who was with her friend and fellow Warden.

"You. Maker's breath, no wonder Malik didn't give me a name, the bastard." Despite the words, her tone was fairly even. She'd seen this man only once before, and while that would normally be no issue whatsoever, that time happened to be the darkest moment in her entire life, and it was hard to forget it when the Seeker was standing right there in front of her. Mask or no mask, she knew him all right.




Yet another voice intruded on Revaslin's reflections. This one was slightly familiar, however. He looked back on all of his encounters, and realized why this voice, though had the taste of recognizability, was still somewhat strange to him. When he had last her this voice, now a rather full and feminine voice, it was a voice used chiefly for screaming, crying, and uttering various lamentations.

Yes, he remembered this woman. It confirmed Fenlen's belief that Commander Malik certainly had a dark humor. His reasoning in providing this particular Warden was certainly questionable. Their past interactions had not been in the best of times, and meeting so long after such circumstances would be... interesting, if not completely awkward.

But perhaps Malik judged correctly. This one, (what was her name again? Solvej?), a Templar who left her order not on the best of terms, might be willing to trust our Seeker. Afterall, trust was one of the more important qualities of a good squad like the one he'd be working with. He was fain to have to trust these people, for he knew what trust meant. It was a dangerous weapon. Still, feigning trust without putting oneself into precarious situations was easy enough. He'd done it before.

Come to think of it, that fairly accurately described most of his relationships with other people.

The blank stare he threw at her with his black-within-black eyes, he felt, should not be prolonged any further, lest these Wardens feel that he were wanting in some strength. Engaging in short discourse would both alleviate this problem and allow them to return to less abrupt standings with each other than their departure.

"Indeed. I was not expecting you." Came the reply, short and indifferent. Afterall, it was merely an observation.




"Girl," said Blathnat as soon as she heard a familiar greeting. The templar-warden had made it after all, bloodsoaked, too. Blathnat had nearly gotten worried, lost sleep over lacking immediate knowledge of a companion's health, but she didn't see why she had to share that tidbit of information. She ignored the abrupt change in pace and demeanor, clasping a hand on the nearest shoulder to encourage her to budge in closer, in that way that was so often used to express Don't be shy, now. when one's daughter was burying her face into one's skirts.

Well, that was one way to finish up introductions. "And now we all know each other," concluded the warden barbarian, lifting her hands up to her shoulders momentarily as a gesture toward the exit. Nice as dancing elves were, they had a suicidal mission to get to, and it would be more prudent to hurry to one's impending doom than to wait it out. She did, however, note the mention of the Commander. Wiley bastard, indeed, that one. She liked him. Blathnat had begun slinging her furs back over her shoulders--for with any luck, nightfall will only bring with it more of Winterbreath's blessing.




"I suppose that makes two of us, then," Solvej replied blithely, "because the hag here seems to have been expecting both of us." She blinked once, slowly, and then shrugged. "Good to see the uptight bastards haven't managed to get you killed yet."

And that was, frankly, the long and short of her feelings on the subject. She followed after Blathnat without hesitation, dodging around a few less-than-graceful drunks and sidling out the door after her senior Warden.

The outside air was crisp if not exactly chill yet, but that might just have been the Anderfels upbringing talking. Her homeland was almost exclusively mountains and wasteland now, which made for winters of a kind with Ferelden, though admittedly, her youth had not been as...outdoorsy as her friend's, and she was still more comfortable in front of a nice fire. Either way, the temperate climes of the Marches weren't much of a bother. Their horses were saddled and waiting for them, her own never having been stabled in the first place, and the ones on loan from the Wardens had been likewise attended by some hand or another.

There was little time to waste, and she'd never been much of a dawdler anyway, so she swung astride the Wagner without pause. "To Kirkwall, and our oh-so-special destiny," she quipped lightly.




Her indifference to the matter of their reaquaintance seemed odd, if not strange outright, after all, Rev had seen the bloodshed. Heck, he had caused a whole lot of it, but she had the worst. She was in the middle of the incident, and she had both taken and recieved a gruesome beating. For any warrior that would not be too much to handle, but to see her brother like that...

Fenlen remembered the screams, the anguish. Simple indifference was simply... extraordinary. No doubt this suddent reunion brought back painful memories. Yet this woman, Solvej Gruenwald, showed no signs of it. Either she was really as lighthearted as she seemed, in which case she would not be a firm ally, or she excelled at hiding her feelings. Least likely of all was that she was truly at peace, but if that was really the case, she deserved respect.

It was strange, thinking about how these past two years were spent differently for them both, how two people who shared a moment of pain, could be so different.

Almost inperceptably, Fenlen shook his head.

But that was then, and this is now. He stroked the neck of the horse he was supposed to ride. His cloth gloves, he imagined, were soothing to the creature, as the animal pushed up against the hand.

"...Horses aren't my thing." Revaslin answered, somewhat cautiously. "I think I can keep up on foot."




"Nor are they mine," reassured the warden darker in flesh, "but if I can handle it, messere, surely a Seeker of your caliber can, too?" It wasn't sarcasm. Horses. Neighing, stomping, head tossing creatures with big cylindrical feet. She had nothing against them, but nothing for them either. She never bothered to name the one that Wardens insisted she trod around on (because "he likes you more than he likes the rest of us," which was bullshit talk for "if he goes starts doing crazy hoofstands like a circus beast, you would get by with a little less than a broken limb"). The creature's nostrils flared when she touched it, but Blathnat had a secret weapon, a weakness to all living beings.

A red apple she'd nicked from some market stall. The man tending it was fat, he didn't need that many. Blathnat sunk a knife into it, and found the wedge tender and white. The horse sniffed. This tribute would be sufficient. "Don't bite my hand off," she cooed at it warily, before lifting herself onto its saddle in one movement. Or maybe two, should one count the initial uncertain hop.

She cared not for history when the present was at hand. It seemed Solvej was eager to move on (which netted approval points), while the Seeker was dwelling. Almost hesitating in his steps. Not enough to fall behind, but enough to indicate concentration on a line of thought. Subtle things like these are tools for a duelist, she was told; handholds on a rockface... Typical man. There seemed to be a pattern of the "less fair" ones to drown themselves in the past. Likely why so many more took to boozing. "The Wounded Coast is a ways away. Wouldn't want to leave the animal here to be made off with. Malik would cry."

And at that, Blathnat prodded the horse's hipbones with her heels, clicking her tongue in the way it tended to respond to (perhaps it thought that was its name: Click-click). She'd heard talk of mysterious, ghostly harp-playing in the area, and was almost eager to see whether there was a reality in that rumor.

Rev got on his horse in one fluid motion. Once more he pet the mane of the creature, before squeezing his thighs to make it catch up with the others.

"I beg your pardon, but I'll leave you with the horse ere we get too close to the rendezvous. I will scout ahead and make sure everything is clear. You probably won't hear from me until we meet up again, unless there really is a problem (though I sincerely doubt there will be)."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

The great blue that buffeted shore in heaving waves.

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Blathnat Ashling Character Portrait: Lukas Hoffman Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell
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Solvej had spent most of the return journey in an uncharacteristic silence, for what was there to say? She found herself in the unusual position of being caught between two parts of her life that she had thought to keep separate. Here, she was Solvej the Warden, valued if not entirely-reliable ally and proven time and again to be worthy of her place among the skilled ranks of the Grey.

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

It made it possible to tolerate his presence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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




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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

.



You killed another templar!

My lady, he was not undeserving of it.

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

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

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

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

Looting off a body!

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

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

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






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

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

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

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

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

These visions will be the end of me.





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Blathnat Ashling Character Portrait: Lukas Hoffman Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell
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Ethne did not have to wait long to discover the source of the rustling. As she watched, tension writ into the lines of her posture, someone approached, mounted on a pony. The beast was a hardy thing, compact and dense of musculature. The rider, she noted, was no different, encased head-to-toe in formidable armor, dwarven make, judging by the simple, sturdy lines of it. Well, that and the fact that it was hard to imagine a dwarf wearing armor made by anyone else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mission Briefings have been updated.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone was calling demons from the Fade.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

Damn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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




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

Darkspawn.

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

You would certainly make a great knight.

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where had his blades gone?

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

Well, frankly, they sort of scared him.

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

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

Probably.

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

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

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

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

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

The NPC Dossier has been updated.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Codex has been updated.



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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen
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The things were dead at last. Were those truly darkspawn? They seemed more like the ogres of the old wives’ tales used to scare children into submitting to parental authority. As he looked about, Rev beheld the devastation that those beasts could create. Solvej was barely living, her body contorted into a mass of exposed flesh, bone, and blood. It was a grueling sight. Though he had seen worse, Rev couldn’t help but feel a bit taken aback by the gore.

The Elf shook his head. He was exhausted. After all, he hadn’t slept in two day’s time. Perhaps it was getting to his head. The stench that lingered about his leader certainly was a factor as well, not to mention the stress he received from trying to deal with such a reckless team. He rubbed his temples, when he felt some rejuvenating power flow through him. The minor scrapes and burns he had received this battle had healed instantly. He drew his gaze to the source of this healing power, and sure enough, it was the Dreamer. Rev was a bit unsettled that she chose to apply a general spell before she gave her attention to the Black Templar, but as her efforts were soon directed that way, he did not think too deeply on it.

The Fade around her was a bit different than that of what the Seeker was used to dealing with. Bubbles of the Fade gathered around her, and yet they were not the harsh razors of the fade that were so familiar. They exhumed an almost… pleasant aura. He felt reassured by their presence, comforted even. As opposed the rough gray feel of the disappearing Veil in more primal magical arts, or the acute fiery crimson sensation of bloodmagic, this was a nice, soft sky-blue feel.

Rev suppressed a smile. Truly, if something so insignificant made him happy, he really was tired. When was the last time he chewed on a Coca leaf? He reached into his pack and drew one out. Stretching the cloth that was his mask, he proceeded to place it in his mouth. Then he pierced the plant with his teeth and sucked on the juices. It would have to last until the party got to its destination.




Fenlen was now ahead of the group as was his habit. Though he was not concerning himself with stealth as he was before, he kept to the side of the road in order to be less noticeable. Da’mi landed on his shoulder almost unfelt.

I’m going to back Orlais, my friend. This mission I’m on, I may not return.

A reproachful caw answered him.

You’re staying here as usual. Viru will take over once we get there. He is as good a Halla as any.

Another disapproving caw.

You’re staying here. That is not up for dispute. I need you here in case I come back. You know the lay of the land better than anyone else, and I can’t have you damage yourself out of inexperience.

An offended caw.

I’m not allowing you to come with me, that is final. If you don’t hear from me in a span of two years, consider me dead. Go find yourself a mate, and have many hawk-babies.

The shadow of a smile that began to form on the Seeker's face was quickly shattered when he received a peck on his head as a reply. Before he could swat at the aggravation, Da’mi lifted herself off of his shoulders and circled his head.

Just go. If my pleading is not sufficient incentive for you, it shall be an order.

The cry the hawk gave as she flew into the sky was not unlike that heard when she hunted. It spoke a deep meaning to Rev. To hell with you. When you die, know it was because you were without me. Live or die, I don’t care.

You’ll regret having that as our last farewell if I die.” The elf muttered under his breath. Whatever was left of the day would not go well, it would seem.




The Seeker’s drug had kicked in by the time he arrived at the boat. He wasn’t too far ahead; the disagreement he had served to slow him. Da’mi certainly did mean a lot to him, and her peck seemed to have been directed at his resolve as opposed to his cranium.

When the group assembled, and the pirates gave their introduction, Rev sighed. He’d have to analyze the situation tomorrow, but the current objective for him was to get some rest. He was no use to anyone in his tired state.

As the party made its way aboard the ship, Rev followed silently. The casteless was almost hysterical in her fear of the water. The water was unpleasant, but it certainly was not something to go into fits about. He had heard about dwarves fearing falling into the sky, but this one had seemed past that fear, and this was simply… absurd. Had Fenlen still his youth and puerile nature, he'd have mocked her for the sloth that she appeared to be.

It would not matter, were he even still young. Getting to sleep was what mattered. He asked a crewman of the place of rest he was expected to use. The burly sailor pointed him below deck, to the crew quarters.

When the elf made his way to the mentioned area, however, he abstained from using it. The suggested barracks were just that, barracks. There was little space between the beds and hammocks they were supposed to use; if anyone chose to stab the Seeker in his sleep, there would be little time to react.

Thus began the quest to find an adequate place to sleep in. Rev popped another leaf into his mouth. This was going to be a long night.


Just where did that damn Seeker take himself off to, anyway? Solvej wondered, casting her eyes about the deck. It appeared that most of the group had gone below already, though Kerin was still here, clinging to the mainmast as though her life depended on it, and Suicide was there as well. On any other day, she probably would have joined them, if only to return the dwarf's ribbing about her injuries with some about lacking sea legs and intestinal fortitude. Right now, however, there was pressing business to deal with, even if she was the only one who realized it. Blathnat might have backed her up, but the Avvar woman had correctly supposed that Malik needed to hear about those creatures. Ogres, Rhapscallion had said, like they were something from childish fairy stories. It was close enough for her, and that was what she would call them.

Gritting her teeth together, the Black Templar contemplated the merits of letting herself cool off before confronting someone who was supposed to be an ally, but her anger tended to get worse the longer it was allowed to simmer, so she decided now was as good a time as any. Taking her best guess, she headed belowdecks to the cargo hold. As she remembered him, the Seeker was never a people-person, and that was the place on the ship least likely to have people on it.

Hurling open the door with absolutely no ceremony, she called into the dim room. "Oi Seeker! I've a bone to pick with you, and I'd like to get this the hell over with, so do us both a favor and show yourself." This will be less pleasant for both of us if I have to come find you.

At last, only one more sensible area remained. By Elgar'nan, Rev would find a place to sleep. The cargo hold seemed to be a seldom-transversed area, and it was as good as any to close his eyes. When he saw the light emanating from what he presumed to be an open door, the Seeker gave no more heed than was absolutely necessary. People usually came back and forth through the cargo hold to load the goods that were brought onboard. Besides, he was much too weary to be well alert at this time.

When he heard his name called from inside, however, his body tensed. He stepped forward into the hallway leading to the cargo hold. A lone figure stood silhouetted against the light of the cargo bay. It was the Black Templar, and she did not seem in too temperate a mood.

"Ms. Gruenwald," The Seeker began, facing her back. He took out another coca leaf and began to chew. This could take a while, and he'd need the plant if he wanted not to collapse.

"I do not believe we ever formally introduced ourselves. I am Revaslin Fenlen. Humans who can not pronounce my name or find it distasteful usually call me 'Rev'. It is good that you sought me out. I have news for you."

Solvej whirled, her hand behind her and on her spear before she realized who it was. Of course, she was still tempted to draw it anyway; idiocy was a particular pet peeve of hers. Instead, she raised an eyebrow and defaulted to acidic humor. "Well, I thank you for the consideration towards my delicate species and our clumsy tongues, then." Pausing for a moment, she had a brief internal debate and yielded to herself, stepping aside that he might pass into the cargo hold in front of her if he wished. She also removed her hand from her weapon, leaning against the doorframe and crossing both arms over her chest.

This conversation did not seem to go well for the Seeker, as per usual. "It is up to you what you deem correct to call me. There is no need to be offended, as I was only trying to give an adequate method of reference. Our languages differ, and as such, some words and phrases may be difficult to say, not that there are no humans that can give my name proper use." Fenlen adopted an almost monotone voice, free from emotion, especially anger or spite. He took the invitation to step inside, and did not go too far in. It was a maze of crates which blocked much mobility. Considering the clustering, however, it did seem like an adequate place to rest, provided he could finish this quickly.

Solvej huffed through her nose, but decided to let the matter drop. Linguistic matters were hardly the reason for her visit."I'm tired, so let's keep this short, Seeker: if you ever, for any reason whatsoever, decide to jeapordize our mission again, I will kill you personally, extenuating circumstances be damned. I don't know if you understand the gravity of what almost happened. That girl, whatever she may be, is our only chance to succeed at this. You're not a Warden, so maybe you don't quite comprehend the importance of doing what we've been told to do, but let me make it clear: if we succeed, we will cripple this Blight, maybe even end it. That will save countless lives, so you'll understand if I don't consider the loss of yours too great if it prevents our failure."

Taking a calming breath, she waited. She hadn't exacty intended to come in here and threaten him, but she'd be damned if the message didn't get across properly the first time.

Rev sighed inwardly and would have clutched at his head if he were not in company. It would either be considered rude or a sign of weakness, and neither was a considerable option. He drew more juice, and consequently, strength from the green mass in his mouth.

"I suppose then, you do not wish to hear my news for you then? It is all well, it concerns you more than it does me. As for your accusation of treason, I do not exactly see why you would bring such a claim forth. You have supplied neither motive nor means, nor opportunity. And what do you mean by your implication of my hand in any damage our leader has taken?"

"You're really going to play coy with me?" The ex-Templar's tone was incredulous, bordering on shocked. "Really? Fine. Opportunity: your little "scouting ahead" bit. Means: the fact that you didn't warn us about the incoming ambush, which resulted in our guide getting shot in the shoulder. Motive? Hell if I know, maybe you're just a sodding asshat. Mabe you thought it would be interesting to see what the group did. I don't care what it was, and no, right now I don't care about any news you have, because nothing is more important to me than the success of this mission. That's what diligence means, and you'd do well to remember it." A sigh; her gauntleted fingers pinched the bridge of her nose. "Do not think to test me, Seeker, for I will not hesitate to act. Do I make myself clear?"

She certainly hoped so; this was already the most unpleasant thing she'd dealt with all day, and that included having most of her ribcage and one of her legs reduced to bone-splinters.

This truly was an ordeal. Revaslin drew his hands about his hood and pulled it down. He was tired, he was sweaty, and he certainly did not need this. His long hair sprouted out from behind and draped his neck in a black veil. He gave an audible sigh as he hooked three slender fingers over his mask and drew it to his neck. That thing had been on too long, and it interfered with his chewing. The absense of the mask revealed a static face. Tendrils of black entangled his skin. His Velaslin, the sacred Blood-Writing of his people showcased his dalish roots. They highlighted several wrinkles about his eyes, showing weariness and experience. He looked a bit older than his age, but his youth was visible from the trained shape of his body. His eyes remained as they were always: black within black globes that seemed to pierce even into the black shadows from which he appeared.

"Your accusation is heavily based on assumption and is circumstantial at best. I will, however, grant you this one token. My loyalty is not in question, and is beyond reproach. Perhaps we can continue this conversation later, as I am as tired as you, no doubt. There are many things which I could point out flawed in your conception, but this is clearly not the time. Perhaps when we both have rested and are a bit less... irritable, we can proceed.

"As for now, however, I do not believe that you would hold the same sentiment about my news if you knew of its contents. It may not be as important as this mission, surely I can be one to attest to that, but I do not think it is beyond notice. It concerns your brother, the mage."


Rev's tone remained calm and precise. Certainly this little row was nothing worth worrying over.

All trace of anything even resembling humor or patience gracing Solvej's expression evaporated completely at his response. "I warned you not to test me, you fool." For all that her enunciation had been emphatic before, it was deceptively-dull in that moment, and the anger she'd felt simmering beneath her skin, the warm, prickling frustration, iced over, suddenly more chill than the worst Anderfels winter. Shaking her head just slightly, Solvej set her jaw and gave him no further warning. She advanced in long, quick strides, taking advantage of the confined space to lunge for Revaslin's collar in an attempt to hoist him bodily into the air and into the crate behind him, snarling.

The elf took a step back, when his left foot hit against a small crate, no larger than a footstool. It was enough to make him hesitate for a moment. It was a moment too late, as he felt her hand grasp by his throat. Though he shot his right arm to deflect that of his untimely opponent, it hit hard as she had a decent grip. Suddenly, this was getting way too exciting for someone who just wanted to sleep. Undoubtedly, his weariness had contributed to this predicament, and yet he should have seen it coming. His left arm cocked the bolting mechanism with a pump of his fist and flick of the wrist.

"I suggest we all calm down." He stated calmly, his bolt launcher trained at her head. He had a desparate urge to grab into his pouch and draw another leaf, but he suppressed it. Now was not the time.

Solvej, completely disregarding the weapon trained at her, actually smiled. "Oh, I'm calm as can be," she said flatly. "That's exactly your problem." Shifting her grip, the once-Templar wrapped her gauntleted fingers about his throat, moving so that her face was within inches of his and there could be no mistaking her for a woman intimidated, cautious, or uncertain. The message was plain- I die, you die. There is no room for hesitation. The mission was simply that important.

"You and I both know exactly what you did, Seeker, and I don't see anyone around to demand more evidence than that. Understand me: I will accept no tokens from you. Your loyalty is not beyond reproach, for you have not proven it so. All you have proven to me is that you are an evasive little bastard with no regard for the success of this endeavor. Nothing is free here, trust least of all. And that will not come until you earn it. You could have started by admitting the truth, but even now you play your immature games. I will not be your pawn. They will not be your pawns, your experiments, or your playthings. I am sworn to protect them, and if that starts by slaying you, do not deceive yourself. There is nothing I will not sacrifice to keep them safe. Nothing."

Releasing him abruptly, she stepped back, still not bothering to get out of range of his bolt launcher, her chin held high and her carriage proud. "If ever you have the desire to admit that you are fallible like the rest of us, I will hear it. Until then, know that I will not trust anything that comes from your mouth or your hands. You can take your information and do what you bloody well will with it. I slew my demons with those Chantry dogs." Without bothering to listen for his response, Solvej turned the necessary ninety degrees and strode from the room. Had she allowed things to get out-of-hand? Perhaps. But she was not a child, and she would not play childish games of guess-my-intent with a grown man who should have known better.

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Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar
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A night's sleep, even packed into quarters with several other members of their happy little adventuring party, had allowed Solvej the chance to regain some of her more typical composure, though there was no mistaking the fact that she was highly aggravated at the Seeker and would not be engaging him in any kind of interaction whatsoever unless the mission called for it. Still, a washbasin and a change of clothes from the cart supplies later, she was feeling considerably more at ease. Certainly, there were trials ahead, but if the Templar-turned-Warden was used to anything, it was having her mettle constantly prodded, hit, and otherwise tested for its strength and durability. She was sure the story was similar for many of them.

Armorless but armed, Solvej climbed up onto the deck of the ship, inhaling the morning salt-air and trusting the sun and sea-breeze to dry her shoulder-length hair, presently wet from washing. Sailors moved about here and there, adjusting the rigging or keeping themselves busy-looking as the first mate yelled out th occasional order. She could appreciate the woman's businesslike demeanor, and even if the Captain struck her as a fop, she was assured of his competence by both Malik's recommendation and the efficiency of his crew. Appearances could be decieving, sometimes intenionally so.

Kerin the dwarf was still beneath the mainmast, and Solvej wondered if she slept there. Approaching the berserker, the templar crouched beside her and offered her a waterskin. "Dehydration'll take you faster then the ocean does," she supplied, a grin the only sign that she might be a trifle amused by her comrade's predicament. "Have you eaten anything?"

Kerin had slept beneath the mainmast, her stocky legs in wrapped around the pole like a vice. Yet, at some point she did manage to shed her dwarven steel armor, and exposed the soft linen shirt and pants underneath. Last she had seen of it, she had told a sailor to pack it away with the rest of their belongings somewhere under deck. Her axe was still nearby and she still wore her empty sword sheath on her back. She wasn't going to venture away from the safety of the mainmast quite just yet, plus she had heard that the seasickness was worse when one went under the deck. So for now, she was quite content to stay her ground-- as it were. However, it wasn't all bad. She enjoyed watching the sailors go about their morning business, fiddling with the pullies, tinkering with the masts, and all the little things sailors did. They were a disciplined lot, and she respected that.

What she didn't like was the ease they strode across deck with. It almost felt like they were mocking her. She had already glared at a couple of sailors for chuckling, but there really wasn't anything she could do about that right now. By this time, the Warden had made her approach. Kerin took her waterskin gratefully and drank heavily from it. She was too busy trying to keep the contents of her stomach down to think about adding to it. "Aye. If it's going to take me then it needs to bloody well hurry up. I'd rather not suffer like this," she replied lightly rapping her head on the mast. "Not yet," she continued, "Though I have a feeling where it'd end up if I did," she finished nodding towards a now clean and empty helmet.

Pity the poor soul who she enlisted for that job...

Solvej nodded her understanding and shrugged, leaning back a bit into a sitting position instead of going for more food. "At least it smells better than a city out here. Or the Deep Roads. Damn, the Deep Roads stink." She scowled just remembering the last time she'd been down there. Bloody near-empty, with the Blight raging on the surface as it was.

Kerin wasn't going to argue that. "Ozammar smells just as bad. You put a bunch of short, hairy bastards in a pit with a sprinkle of nug ass, it's not going to smell like roses. But it's better than Dust Town. You can smell the desparation in the air there," all of this talking about smells sent Kerin's stomach rumbling, but she grabbed her belly and denied the exit. If she lost any more fluid, then she'd dry up like a prune. She had defeated bandits and darkspawn, she was not about to give total victory to the water.

There was silence for a moment, then the templar seemed to remember something, and her fingers worked deftly at her belt for a few seconds before the shortsword came free. Flipping it over in her hand, she held it out hilt-first to Kerin. "I figured I oughta return this. I have to admit, I was quite close to using it to gut someone last night, but... well, it's yours, anyway." From a pocket in her trousers, the woman drew what appeared to be a small satchel of nuts, loosening a drawstring and emptying a few onto her hand. These, she popped in her mouth, tilting back her head for a second. The crunch was nice, and she had always preferred salty to sweet.

"You're welcome to some, though I'd understand if you'd rather not, given your present state of despondency." She raised an eyebrow and grinned rakishly, though of course it was all in fun.

Kerin took the blade in her hand and turned it over examining it. It didn't look any worse for wear and nodded her apprectiation. "Wondered where it got to," she said before slipping it into the naked sheath. "Gut someone huh? Sounds fun," Kerin added, working out in her mind who it could be. Not Suicide, obviously. Twig-bean was too soft-spoken to want to gut, and same thing for Hopscotch-- unless the fellow doted on the Warden too much. The elf though... Kerin didn't know a lick about him, his name, his profession, nothing.

Upon her offer of nuts, Kerin raised her hand in decline. "Any other time, but now. Now, I'd prefer a hard drink..." She muttered. Alcohol sounded like a gift from the Stones themselves. She'd rather drink herself unconscious during the whole sea-trek than spend a moment feeling the rocking of the waves on the keel of the boat. She had to suppress another heave just to get through that thought.

"Hn. Sorry, fresh out. I'll see what these sailors have later, bring some up if it's any good. No promises though." Solvej chewed over another few nuts and a dried apricot, squinting at the horizon distantly. She'd known a few sailors before, and frankly, the bastards could drink anything with alcohol content, up to and probably including the medical stuff. The captain looked a bit like a dandy, though; maybe he'd have something nice. Some days, she'd almost kill for a nice Anderfels brandy or whiskey.

"We won't have to cross the water anymore after this... Right?" she said with hope in her tone.

The Templar gave her fellow crusader a sidelong glance. "Dunno," she answered truthfully. "Depends on what the girl sees in her dreams, I expect." She was a little wary for the whole somniari thing, mostly becuase nobody in their right mind trusted something Tevinter had invented without damn solid proof, but she was certain that at least the little elf herself meant no harm. If she'd wanted to pull any of that weird dream-stuff, she'd had ample opportunity before and also last night, when all of them had fallen off into slumber. The exact nature of what Ethne could do wasn't something Solvej knew, but apparently killing a body in the Fade seriously messed up their heads or something.

"So here's a question, if you don't mind. Orzammar... what's it like? I've never been, but I hear it's pretty much a standard in the Grey Warden retirement plan. Call me hasty, but I'd like to know what I'm in for if this doesn't kill me first."

"Orzammar..." Kerin monotoned. Even her best memories of that hole wasn't necessarily happy ones. The best ones were where they managed to survive the day with little incident. She didn't especially like talking about the place. Sure, she could dance around the issue, change the subject, but Kerin was not the one to shy away from the difficult questions. She wouldn't allow herself that weakness. It was her past, her history, and trying to run away from that wouldn't just make it go away.

"It all depends on whether you have this brand on your face," Kerin said, pointing at the tattoo under her eye. "And considering your pretty face doesn't and you're a Grey Warden to boot," she said, saying the word with what sounded like... Envy? "You'd be more welcomed than I ever was," Even despite her being born there. She sighed, and leaned back, looking at skies above. Even despite all of her time on the surface, the lack of a stoned ceiling still surprised her. She had gotten over her intial fear of falling up of course, but still. It was different. Almost... Liberating.

"You'll be treated like a honored guest. A sister-in-arms of sorts. If you wish it, they will throw you a banquet and hold a proving in your name before you set off on your walk into the deep roads," Kerin told Solvej, envy still present in her voice. It was the sort of celebrations she'd never gotten to see, much less participate in. She was usually the one mugging drunkards returning from such things for the Cartel. "It's... I don't know how to explain it. The city proper is big and elegent, Large stone buildings, palaces, all the stuff you'd expect in a large city. I'm more familiar with Dust Town. And I barely survived it all," she added before leaning forward and placed her head on the mast, resigned. The churning sea had managed to wear at the dwarf's stoney exterior.

"Sounds like I'd hate it," Solvej replied flatly, but there was a tinge of derision in her tone as well. Did there have to be bigotry everywhere? Mages catch flak for magic, elves get abused for having pointy ears, and apparently the dwarves decide to tattoo your face and then pretend you don't exist. Honestly. She hated fanfare anyway, and the whole 'feast in her honor' thing sounded like the kind of event she'd rather gatecrash than participate in.

She shifted her head and looked at the Warden. "A question for a question?" She entread. "What's it like being a Warden?"

"Fair deal," the other woman answered. "Being a Warden... well, it's exactly what you think it would be, until it's not. Huh, now there's a completely useless answer. Let me try that again." Solvej shifted, cinching the drawstring on her snack and setting the small satchel beside her. Pulling her legs into a criss-crossed position, she thought about how she wanted to phrase the answer for a few seconds before she tried speaking, tilting her head this way and that as though trying to decide the balance of something.

"Well, it's shit work for shit pay, and the end result is always getting killed by a darkspawn. You have horrendous dreams in which the archdemon speaks to you, but most of the time you can't understand it. If you can get past all that, though, it's not so bad. Grey Wardens are all kinds of people, from everywhere. The only requirement is loyalty to the cause and the chain of command. Everything else is negotiable. We've got former criminals, apostates, beggars, liars, thieves, nobility, farmers, and even the occasional templar," she executed a self-mocking seated bow, then staightened. "But I think the draw to being a Warden in the first place is that, invariably, it doesn't matter what you were before. I've taken orders from elves and knocked around the sons of lords, because nothing like that matters once you're one of us. Sometimes, the friends you make are good enough that getting killed by a Darkspawn doesn't seem like the worst way to go anymore. Still shit pay, though." Solvej smiled wolfishly. "Why so curious anyway? Thinking about Joining?"

The dwarf gave the woman a coy smile, "Maybe. It can't be that much worse than what I came from. Shit pay is better than no pay and it's work I know." The Cartel didn't so much as pay her as it made sure she survived until she became a Noble's trophy wife and a baby ferry for his son. The idea of being a Warden, owing alligence to no one but the Cause and to each other appealed to her, as both were things Kerin lacked. No cause but to survive, and no one but her brother. Perhaps all along all she really wanted was a reason to fight. A reason to live. To mean something.

"First thing's first though. We got to kick these Darkspawn's asses and end this bloody blight," she stated with a hint of optimism. Still, it was comforting to know that maybe, just maybe there might be a light at the end of the tunnel. Oh, how she hated tunnels... "Perhaps my Path will lead down that road?" She said with a wry grin, alluding to their own Dekton Hellas. Then the moment ended when Kerin suddenly snatched her helmet and heaved... Before that, she'd first have to survive the water. She hated the water a lot more than tunnels.

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Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald
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The esteemed captain of their magnificent vessel, should anyone have bothered to make a study of him, was a man of meticulous routine, and the height of the afternoon always brought him to the helm, where he'd relieve the man on duty there and steer his own ship for a while. He had not always been a pirate, and he was certainly not born to a life of seafaring plunder and grand adventure, but he liked to fancy that he had been shaped by it, into something worthy enough for his own purposes. The grandeur of his flourishing gestures, the flamboyance of his sweeping words and rakish smiles and sonorous laughter, well... he'd be lying if he said those hadn't been seeded in his personality much earlier than his criminal turn, but at least here they were given leave to grow towards the sun, fed by a brackish sea air and ferried on the capricious moods of a thrumming ocean.

The wind was about today, and he watched the horizon with no less a predator's eye than that of the bird always astride his shoulder, though it looked much less so. He was a wolf in fop's clothing, perhaps, but he enjoyed his guise and the freedom it brought him. Unbidden, the osprey, his Elspeth, took off, presumably to take her roost high above the crow's nest. His family had been falconers, once upon a time, and there was a certain utility in having a way to relay messages to people like Malik. The thought of the Warden-Commander (as he was called now, though it was to Rudhale quite the humorous thought still) quirked his lips and rolled his eyes skyward, but there wasn't really anyone around to see, so it didn't much matter. Anthea was doubtlessly lurking in his shadow; she was quite adept at that. He thought for a moment of drawing her into conversation, but ultimately decided against it, for he could hear the approach of another.

"One of my illustrious guests!" And surely it must have been, for the cadence of the tread was unfamiliar. He turned to look over his shoulder. Ah, the copper-haired Warden. Indelicate, but fair, in her own way. The Captain smiled widely, and, retaining only the barest fingertip-hold on the tiller, crossed his free arm over his chest and bowed. "To what do I owe the pleasure?" There was, as ever, laughter in his eyes and mischief writ in the crooked slant of his mouth, but he'd forgotten how to be otherwise long ago.

After a considerable number of days at sea, Solvej could feel the urgency of the mission encroaching upon her again, and she felt that it was her responsibility as the senior Grey Warden aboard to do what she could to prepare the rest for whatever may lie ahead. She did not know if the pirates would have any information for her, but it would be the height of folly not to at least ask. So thinking, she approached the front part of the ship (the bow? she was never too solid on the terminology involved), seeking the businesslike first mate.

What she found was the captain, strutting peacock that he was, and his greeting was answered only with the lift of a single brow at first. Still... she supposed it couldn't hurt to ply him with questions; he was probably a talkative sort, and it might actually be easier to extract infromation from him than from Jack. In his favor, Malik seemed to trust him, and she trusted the Warden-Commander's judgement. It was the one thing in the world that was to her above reproach. "I suppose," she drawled dryly, "You owe it to a combination of my need for information and my impatience. Condolences, Captain." Whether this was genuine remorse that she wasn't more pleasant to converse with or just oblique mockery was hard to tell, but Solvej had her tongue planted figuratively in her cheek even if she wouldn't give it away.

Her response, humorous as he took it to be, drew easy laughter from the man, and he waved a hand dismissively. "None, necessary, my dear. Come, stand here where we may speak instead of shouting like fools, and I shall tell you what I can." He gestured to a spot beside the helm he was steering, and moved his eyes back to the fore for the moment. Doubtless, she had come to inquire of Orlais. It would be the smart thing to do, given that it was their destination, and he was not so much an idiot as he first appeared. Still, he did not know much, unfortunately, and the rest of his crew even less.

Solvej shook her head. She was perfectly happy maintaining distance from someone she did not know she could personally trust, but Malik's faith and the man's entirely disarming demeanor made protesting feel a bit excessive, so she complied. The helm, as was perhaps fitting, was an ideal place from which to view the horizon and the churning, choppy grey-blue of the waters beneath and around the boat. From this angle, she could almost see why some people swore up and down that every inconvenience of living on a boat was well worth it for what you got in return: the view was momentous in sheer scope, panoramic in a way always blocked by this or that landscape feature on solid ground. The line of the horizon itself was slightly curved, even. Still, she preferred being able to move around a little.

"I was wondering what you could tell me of the state of Val Royeaux."

"Mm." Rudhale hummed in the back of his throat, rubbing absently at his closely-shaved chin with one hand. Glancing sideways, he studied the Warden out of the corner of his eye, as though assessing something. What, he wondered, drove people like Malik and this woman to seek their own deaths day after day? He was not so deluded as to believe the Grey Wardens unnecessary, though many did still hold that view, but there was something about the psychology of it that eluded him. Perhaps it was some warped version of the suicidal courage that drove him in pursuit of greater and greater exploits, building his reputation on tavern-whispers and murmurs in the dark. Maybe it was something akin to the cameraderie he felt to his crew, all of them strays plucked from one predicament or another and brought together to run his ship in an efficient dance of maritime splendor. Mayhaps, he was more like them than he had believed, but alas his thoughts were departing the bay of the present, and she probably still wanted an answer to that statement.

"I can't tell you much," he said at last. "Or, perhaps I should say, not much that is certain and verified. It's all a mass of unknowns and rumorwork, you see. Can you bear, I wonder, to stoop into the shadows of the subtle and play the game of conjecture? Does not your work warrant more certainty than a mere waterlogged vagabond like myself can provide?" That crooked smile was back, and he winked, more playful than lacivious, though now that he got to thinking about it...

His scrutiny was actually making her uncomfortable. Perhaps it was the fact that she wasn't wearing her armor and carried only a knife in the way of weaponry, but Solvej felt unusually exposed, standing uselessly as she was on the deck, and her arms crossed defensively over her person before she really had time to ponder the distinct discomfort. Worse was the fact that his demeanor was completely nonthreatening, but still the whole thing managed to make her feel like her entire shredded soul was staked to the floor for his perusal. It was probably the eyes, she decided; the honey-gold color was quite remniscient of Efriel's, and he'd never had any trouble seeing right through her, either.

"Andraste's flaming arse, Rhuddy, stop teasing the Templar!" The voice, its tone waspish and decidedly-feminine, belonged to Jack, who'd been watching the exchange with her usual exasperation at the captain's conduct, tinged of course with the amusement she'd never, ever admit to feeling when he worked that peculiar magnetism of his over someone entirely unprepared for it. The Captain was not fooled by her, or really by anyone else, though he did regard his guest with something approaching surprise.

"A Templar, is it? Well, well, we have a Chantry lass on board and nobody told me!" He peered at Solvej as though he'd never seen her like before, affecting some flippant mix of pseudo-scientific curiosity and pure trouble. "Could have pulled that one right over my eyes, but far be it from me to fail in showing the proper respect." With a deceptively-smooth gesture, he caught up one of Solvej's hands, pulling it from where it was crossed and brushing his lips over her knuckles with a rakish grin.

Just what was this man's game? It was certainly none she'd ever played, and Solvej was of no mean wit, caustic and more than happy to spar physically and verbally with just about anyone. Here, though, there was no easy prediction of what was to be said or done, or, more importantly, what he was going to say or do. For the sodding Maker's sake, all she wanted was a bit of information! This, this, man and his peculiarities had caught her completely flat-footed, ans she didn't like it one bloody bit. The anger was bubbling up from her belly again, but she found that there was no proper place to direct it, since he'd really done nothing she understood to be offensive. She still wanted to punch him. Instead, she made what might have been the least-inspired correction of her life. "I left the Chantry some time ago, as you should probably have guessed." There was no way he hadn't, so why bother with the flowery speech and the unnecessary gestures?

Jack, taking pity on the poor woman, left the railing she was leaning up against and approached the two, dealing Rudhale a solid thwack in his left bicep. Shaking her head, she did it again just for good measure. "Bloody stupid sea dog," she muttered, narrowing her eyes to slits when he gave her his best innocently-offended look.

"What did I do to deserve that?" he asked, adopting an air of confusion, though he was halfway to laughter and they both knew it. He hadn't truly intended to fluster the woman so (though that was not to say he hadn't enjoyed it immensely), but he never could resist the urge to have a bit of fun with the religous types. Being raised in such a strict manner left them woefully bereft of certain forms of understanding, something that he found incredibly, irresistably funny. Her response had been rather unprecedented even then, and he gathered that she still hadn't quite grasped the situation.

"Oh shut up, you tosser. Ignore him, Templar. He's just trying to flirt with you; it happens a lot. Now, what's this about Orlais?"

"Jealous, my love?" he shot back with no trace of hurt remaining in his tone. Jack ignored him completely.

Oh. Oh. Not for the first time, Solvej found herself considerably more embarrassed than her pride could reasonably tolerate by the shortcomings of her upbringing. Sparing the self-styled Pirate King a scowl usually reserved for incompetents, she addressed his partner instead. "Anything you know about it would be helpful. We're kind of running blind, and frankly I have no idea what to expect once we get there."

Jack leaned casually on the tiller, tipping her head back to think about it. "Thing is, there's nothing much to say. That's a problem, by the way- Orlais is usually a big, loud, slavering mess of news, and we've got nary a peep from any of our shore contacts." Rudhale, still standing between the two, cleared his throat to draw attention to himself. Jack glared, but said nothing, sensing that this was probably actually relevant for once. That would not, of course, stop him from being far more dramatic about it than necessary.

"Actually, I recieved a messenger pigeon from Lady Montsimmard this morning. She was on holiday in the countryside until last month, but apparently she can't get back into her home."

Though his words were pronounced with more gravitas than probably needed, Solvej found her residual irritation evaporating like saltwater from the deck, replaced by an apprehensive curiosity. "What do you mean, 'can't get back into her home'? Have the Darkspawn overtaken Val Royeaux?" If so, their task would be much more difficult than even she had dared expect. Solvej did not savor the thought of having to fight not only an army, but a seige to get at the general they were looking for.

Apparently, his news had lifted the discomfiture from the little Chantry-bird like the Veil from the Fade, to use a metaphor his mother had been fond of. Business was clearly the mode in which she was most comfortable, and he decided that for the moment, what she was after really was important enough to let her keep it about herself like the security it undoubtedly was. "Not quite," he offered by way of reassurance. It wouldn't be much, though. "My understanding of the situation is that somehow, the Darkspawn were able to take the Chantry, the palace, and the inner section of the city, which, if you've never had the pleasure of visiting, is where most of the nobility live. No word nor living soul has gone in or out of the place in months, and the perimeter is protected by both a guarded palisade and some form of magical barrier." He raised one shoulder in a diffident gesture. "Sounds like quite the adventure to me; it's a pity I'll be missing it."

The news was troubling, but there wasn't much she could do about it here and now. So instead of letting it crease her brow or tug her mouth downwards, she gave a half-cocked smirk of her own. "Hm. So it does. My kind of adventure at that. Thanks." Turning on her heel, she stalked off, deciding to inform everyone of the situation before they landed rather than immediately. It wouldn't do anyone any good to stew in it for now, not when they'd need to be closer to the ground to formulate a decent plan.

"That," Jack said as she left, "is an interesting woman, right there." There was a faint note of admiration in the pronouncement, and she exchanged glances with the captain.

"So she is," he replied with surprising equanimity. He wondered if the others were all so noteworthy.

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

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

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

I need sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I beg you, let us discuss-

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

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

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

You did this to her, you know.

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

You did this, you know.

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

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

You did this, you know.

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

Why did she have to…

YOU did this.

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Da’mi…"

A happy cry was sounded.

I told you to stay behind."

An even more self-satisfied caw.

You disobeyed orders."

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

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

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

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

The whimper that followed was little more than dejected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev hesitated shortly, but continued without much delay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

" Do not be sorry, I blame you not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A legitimate concern in Tevinter, not so here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This only made the subsequent conversation more important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell
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The sun dipped behind the horizon, pulling the light of day with it. To Solvej, it had always seemed as though those last few rays went kicking and screaming, streaking purple and pink defiance across the darkening canvas of the sky like a child torn away from his finger-paint, or else a mage-student who wanted to finish just this one spell, I know I'll have it soon Ser Templar can't lights-out wait for one more hour? She never had been able to say no, for while there was no magic under her skin, she recognized drive and dedication when she saw them. Those things had always resonated with her, striking some unheard chord in her soul that she could feel more acutely than she could comprehend.

It was moments like those in which she'd always wondered if it was the right thing to do, trap the mages in their iron-barred cages and watch the life bleed from them in stages. Truly, the windows in the Anderfels Circle were barred. Maybe it was a mercy; the outside world did not look quite so lovely punctuated with cold, dark metal. And it wasn't, but maybe it was unfair that they never got a chance to know that.

Solvej knew something of cages, and maybe that explained why she recruited magi almost exclusively when it was her turn for that sort of thing just a few months ago. There was no denying that they were necessary, and there would be no denying it if they succeeded, for three of them were magic-users, and had they been locked away in Circles, she had no doubt that they wouldn't even know where to find what they were looking for, much less be able to conquer it. Snorting, she rapped herself sharply across the cheek. Melancholy reflection ill suited her. Perhaps it was just something about a damn sunset that made her such a sentimental fool. Bracing her hands on the ship's railing, she leaned over a bit, staring into the choppy water below. Hadn't it been smoother this morning? The sea was a mystery to her.

She'd have to tell them soon. They were within two days of Orlesian port and they had the right to know what they were facing. She couldn't help but want to stretch out the respite for as long a she could- even if Kerin was hardly getting any rest. The thought brought a lopsided smile to her face, and she glanced back over her shoulder towards the mainmast. She was well away from it, but it was the tallest thing on the bloody boat. And the dwarf the shortest. Which was true. There weren't even any rats aboard, and the one dwarf she'd seen on the crew was just a few inches taller than Kerin. But really, damn sentiment anyway. It seemed to demand that she spare them the bad news, let this calm before the storm last as long as she could make it. Now there was a maritime metaphor that she understood perfectly.

The air was getting cooler as the afternoon slowly transformed into evening. It had always been a beautiful transition, with it's heavy clouds laced with golden washed textures, and bright pastels strewn unevenly across the retreating sky, sun slowly submerging behind the horizon. The stars were beginning to come out, tiny pin-pricks of light in the vast expanse above. Dusk held promising prospects of new beginnings, unfurling closer Ethne's dream garden. Vibrant pinks metamorphosed into wine-coloured lilacs, fruit capsules bobbing. Chromatic purples burst into lovely orchids, spreading it's petals wide like a hawks feathered wings. Kaleidoscope of colours swirled and bled into one another. Unfortunately, certain colours looked off. Pale, or revered, or mixed up. It did not, however, lack it's luster. The sun's warmth slowly leeched away, replaced by a fresh, rejuvenating chill. He listened hard, and never stopped listening, even if it was subconscious. Sounds were as beautiful, or even more so, then actual sights. The occasional soft squawks belonged to the seagulls flapping and busying themselves in the waters, seeking refuge in the choppy waves, dipping their heads in search of fish. It was the constant shifting of the ship, rhythmic rocking offering it's own hum. Gentle breath-beats obviously coming from the mast's direction. He'd seen Kerin's silhouette still wrapped around the mainmast, clinging on for dear life, it seemed, though he'd taken precautions to remain unnoticed. It was one thing he was actually good at. His heartbeat seemed the loudest, adding it's own crescendo to the breathtaking soundtrack eventide offered.

There were no marbled songs, two octaves too high, within the ship's belly. Not anymore. Everyone else had drawn back into their own quarters, pulling itchy blankets tight around their shoulders and drifting off into snuffling, wheezing, snorting sleep – unless he counted his own in their ranks. He wouldn't have been surprised if many of his companions stood vigilantly awake, far too concerned with their thoughts, with their worries. Rhapscallion cupped his empty hands, placing them gingerly in his lap. He regarded them seriously, squinting. It was ridiculous, but he wished, desperately, that he had a goblet of apple cider. Sun-bellied, sun kissed liquid of warmth and fallen leaves and a familiarity that did not leave you when you blinked or looked away. Overripe apples that left your hands smelling sweet, sticky. This was his vulnerability at his greatest; at his strongest. Hope fluttered in his chest at dusk, leaving him completely, utterly open. He closed his fingers, curling them towards his palms. He missed something.

Rhapscallion's legs crossed smoothly, retracting from the safety of the wooden rails, where he'd been kicking his legs back and forth like a thoughtful child. It was only then that he noticed, while leaning precariously backwards, inches from letting the back of his head touch the planks, Solvej leaning across the railing a few paces away. How hadn't he noticed her before? The half-breed was an inky smudge of shadows against a background of darkness, dusky skies hardly offering any light in the form of stars or it's half-moon – easily missed, easily overlooked if one was so focused on their thoughts. There was something etched across her face. Perhaps, she was worried? He stifled a small chuckle, pressing his knuckles to his lips, when she rapped her knuckles against her cheek, obviously reprimanding herself for a silly thought. Finally, Rhapscallion pushed himself to his feet, silently, quietly, and approached his companion from her left side, sidling beside her. “From the looks of it, I don't think Kerin's gotten a wink of sleep.” He commented breezily, arching his eyebrows, then knitting them together. He suddenly looked contemplative, etching lines at the corner's of his eyes, as if he were gathering something within himself. A flooded balloon growing larger and larger. He tapped his fingers against his elbow, scratching behind his stubby ear with the other. Like Solvej's unbidden melancholy, it did not suit him. Then, it spluttered out in one long string: a babbling sentence of truth. “I'm afraid, you know? Of going home. Of doing all this, Sol. Will there be an after all this? There. I said it, I'm afraid.” Her gardens, his bakery, their lives.

He needed to talk to someone about this. Who better, then, to abolish his fears than his Mentor?

Solvej actually jumped a bit when Rhapscallion appeared out of the umber-dark shadows of the ship. Normally, she wouldn't react so even when someone got the drop on her; she had grown quite adept at shielding herself from expressing disadvantageous feelings. At present, however, she was distracted enough that she simply forgot to steady herself. Her eyes narrowed as she glared at him, and she was halfway through some guttural admonishment in the language of her forefathers (and mothers) before her tongue stilled in her mouth and she turned abruptly out towards the ocean again.

He was afraid. And why shouldn't he be? She was quite certain she was not leaving this journey alive. The realization would not dim her cold ferocity, only feed it, for she was not quite ready to consign the rest to the same death she had predicted for herself, and that would keep her fighting harder, watching more carefully, and sleeping with one eye always open. Her bare-knuckled grip tightened on the railing, though she eased her face into a half-cocked smirk, the kind of reckless expression that fit her like she'd been born wearing it. Grey eyes sparked dangerously, and she tossed her short mane back in a careless gesture, ridding her face of the few copper hairs that had been plastered against it by the wind. Her breathy laugh was soft, a raspy chuckle from the back of her throat more than the pit of her belly where it should have been.

She glanced at him askance, that gloriously-dishevelled, half-rabbit protegee of hers, and one of her hands left the railing, curling into a loose fist before she knocked him in the shoulder with it. "Afraid? Afraid? Where's that would-be Chevalier they promised me? The gallant hero of women and children everywhere, the fearless Grey Warden who'd face down the whole horde with his hands alone, bare as the day he was brought into the world he was meant to save?" Her tone was flippant, irreverent, and entirely unconcerned, but the dark circles beneath her eyes and the unconscious crease in her brow spoke differently.

"Besides, if you're going to protect that ladyfriend magelet of yours, you'd best stiffen that jelly-spine, you bloody lout." She was certainly teasing him now, if the sly slant of her mouth was anything to go by. It had always been like this between them, some effulgent mix of stern advice and acerbic mockery, but she'd never, never, dream of making him other than he was. Solvej wasn't an optimist. Hell, she was a cynic, jaded-green as they come and entirely unapologetic about it. But the world needed people like him, and people like the Dreamer, more than it would ever need people like her. Cynics were a dime a dozen; true optimists, with real ideals and the innocent hearts to follow them without reservation, those were precious gems worth protecting.

He reminded her so much of her brother that it hurt, sometimes.

"You'd be ignorant of the danger or too stupid to value your own life if you weren't afraid, Rhap. It's not about preventing fear; never has been. It's about conquering it instead." Her voice was quiet enough that it was almost carried away on the ocean's breeze.

He smiled apologetically, lifting his hands as if to say he didn't mean to frighten her. Her thoughts musthave been fluttering through the winds, like ash on a breeze, for him to startle her. Usually, whether or not Rhapscallion's footsteps were masked or dampened, she would have immediately spun on her heels to flick his forehead, grinning widely. She always seemed to know he was coming. Perhaps, even before he'd decided to step towards her. He joked about it, often. As if she had telepathic abilities, or the fact, that just maybe, he was just too easy to read. Like fluttering pages whipping through the wind, outlining his personality, his bubbly thoughts, and all of his emotions that, usually, swept into one rampaging typhoon. Her glare was half-assed. So, Rhapscallion didn't cringe away like a pup who's snout had been taped. She'd turned so quickly, back towards the ocean, that he couldn't help but follow suit. It really was beautiful. There was a wildness, an uncontainable freedom, that frothed in it's gushing swells. If they were in the ocean, surely, they'd be swept away under it's currents, swept clear from the ship, where they'd be alone in it's depths. Still, even though that particular thought scared him, Rhapscallion couldn't help but think that the inky ripples, reflecting the pinprick stars and half-moon, was radiant, divine, breathtaking. Unapologetic, pure.

With sights like these, it was easy to forget what they were doing, where they were heading, and what hardships they'd have to face. It was easy to shuffle everything under a rug and leave it for a rainy day. Things were easier in moment's like this. He wished, fervently, that they'd freeze in time, and roll along like ponderous slugs. It was a childish wish. Rhapscallion had never been careful, had never understood why he'd have to sleep with one eye open, or ever be cautious, when he was surrounded by reliable people like Solvej, like Blathnat, like Ethne. He believed, wholeheartedly, in people. It showed in the way he slept around people, with his blades settled away from his calloused hands, regardless of the company he kept – and he was a heavy-sleeper. His assurance and confidence in others kept him from pessimism, whisking it away, promptly, from his mind. He watched Solvej as he always did when searching for reassurance, inspiration, support. Sometimes, Rhapscallion watched her because he was worried. Even in the darkness, he'd seen her hands tighten on the railing. He could imagine white splotches blossoming near her knuckles. But, like always, Solvej surprised him in the most pleasant of ways. Her expression transformed. She tossed her head as if ready to face the world, laughing. She, like the sea, was beautiful. He believed she didn't know this.

The half-breed had been peeking at her, and caught her glance, before arching his eyebrows, in awe. Her ineffective fist buffeted his shoulder, as if to say stop that, honestly, what's wrong with you. It was her next words that touched him, dipping deep in his chest to pluck, loosely, at his heartstrings. He couldn't help but smile, sheepishly. A fearless Chevalier? It'd never really occurred to him that anyone had truly, honestly, taken him seriously when he spoke of becoming one of Orlais' most devoted knights. It was a fleeting dream – nothing like becoming a baker, but still, even still, Rhapscallion wanted to do great things and become as strong as he could to protect those he cared about. It was the most precious: his companions. Even if Solvej's tone was flippant, carelessly silly, there lied some truth there. She believed in him, didn't she?

Ladyfriend magelet. His ears flattened immediately. Thankfully, because of the nightfall's gloom, she wouldn't be able to see them burning. Nor could she see the blush faintly painting his cheekbones, hopefully. Rhapscallion flapped his hands, indignantly. Ethne's strength came from a sunny brilliance that shimmered in every direction, banishing the shadows back to their corners. Perhaps, he was one of those shadows, waiting and watching from the sidelines. It was filled with kindness and generosity. Things that people often lacked. “She's strong, you know? Wouldn't need me, the great fearless Grey Warden, to protect her. Definitely not.” He playfully bumped her shoulder with his own, clearly embarrassed, before brushing his fingers through the fringe of his cropped hair, settling them at the scruff of his neck. Even in the darkness, you couldn't miss the dazzling flash of teeth peeking from between his lips, stretched into a toothy grin. They heckled each other, constantly, but even so, he knew that Solvej would always be there for him if he needed help.

Solvej just chuckled, a surprisingly-mellow sound, and shook her head with the air of one long-used to this sort of exchange. She couldn't see his face or his ears, but she knew from that tone, sheepish and bashful, that she'd struck home on that little thought. "Of course she is," the Templar replied sagely, though the gravity was what her levity had been before: just a shade false, for the benefit of the exercise. "But even the strongest among us couldn't achieve this alone." That was just a fact. She reached up to tousle his hair with her fingers, for no other reason than the simple fact that she could. It was not often that Solvej made friends, mostly because there just wasn't time under the present circumstances. Before, there hadn't been a need.

She was willing to acknowledge, perhaps only since she met Rhapscallion, that she'd always had need of friends, but hadn't known how to name that hollow feeling in her heart. Whatever the case, the time since had made her even more fiercely adamant on behalf of those she saw as hers: her comrades, her allies, and her friends all.

His fingertips slipped away from his neck, dipping quickly to dash the tears brimming at the corner's of his eyes. Quickly, and perhaps, unnoticed. Rhapscallion heaved a dramatic yawn and stretched his arms up above his head, curled fingers entwining together before he dropped them down over Solvej's shoulders, pulling her into an angled hug. It would've been a comical sight given their height difference. “Thank you.” It was a whisper, equally muffled. He released her, clearly rejuvenated. Maybe, just maybe, they'd be alright after all.

The woman responded to the half-hug by elbowing him in the ribs, then surrendered and reached up, patting him on the back. "Nonsense, you blighter. I did nothing at all."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Mission Briefings have been updated.
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Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Lukas Hoffman Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell
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It seemed as though they were out of one storm, and now headed for an altogether different one. The shapeshifter was pleased.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Revaslin "Rev" Fenlen Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Lukas Hoffman Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro
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Lord Guillame Delacroix watched the gate from behind his battlements, leaning heavily on his dwarf-crafted hammer. His face clearly hadn’t seen a razor in a week at least, and salt-and-pepper stubble only added to the haggard appearance of purple-rimmed eyes and a squarely-set jaw. He was a singular figure, head and shoulders above even the tallest of his men, and considerably broader as well. These things were the reason he was a Templar in the first place, as Chevaliers were only ever of nobility.

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Mission Briefings have been updated.

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Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland
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How hadn't he known? It was a foolish thought. His father hadn't spoken to him in ages, let alone heard from him. Disparity clutched it's talons through his chest, fumbling blindly through his thoughts. Intrusively shoving his rationality off the ship's planks, willing it back into the calmed swirls of the ocean. It was surprising how much he felt while glancing out the circular window, watching nothing in particular. The infamous docks of Val Royeaux, usually saturated with laughter and hardy business and exotic wares glinting in the sunlight, were barren, so completely, and unusually, empty. There was something very wrong. Even as Solvej explained the situation, occasionally sweeping her fingertips across the expanse of the map, pointing out important locations, Rhapscallion couldn't help but feel a swelling pinch of regret. When the sporadic, unpredictable tempest swept across the ship, displaying familiar weather, there'd been a sense of breathless harmony. His homeland cherished it's flighty climates. Anything you could imagine, and there it was – a possibility in the making. Overhanging slate roofs, slick with dew. Little balconies with guardian statues sheltering it's masters. Exotic bamboo blinds fastened shut. If he closed his eyes tight enough, Rhapscallion could imagine the details, vividly, with pronounced designs. Everything within the borders of Val Royeaux was an intricate maze, a thoroughfare to getting anywhere quietly, without being noticed. It'd been a lively game in his childhood.

Lingering shapes of the homeless, of the poor and sickly, offered a small glimmer of ironic hope. If they hadn't been slaughtered, then who could say that everyone else further in had been? Darkspawn weren't usually so organized. They'd destroy, plunder, rip, and tear until there was nothing left standing. Perhaps, there was an inkling of hope that his father was among the survivors. Everything was deathly quiet. A smothering blanket of thick white fog, staining the buildings a pale silver, enveloped the docks. The streets were silent. He imagined the tendrils, or tentacles, of mist snatching forward and weaving intricate patterns around the hunched forms. Instead of gawking out the circular window, so small that he had to cup his hands at the sides of his head, Rhapscallion decided to focus on his companion's voices. His eyes followed Solvej's gloved fingertips, encircling the richer estates, the Chantry, and the nobleman's quarters. He didn't contribute to the conversation. He merely nodded his head like a jerky marionette with each interjection, clearly concentrating on calming his trembling fingers, and perhaps, as antsy to get off the ship as Kerin was. Once everything was properly decided, or as decided as they appeared to be, everyone seemed to be moving forward. The half-breed only had a quick moment to catch the Captain winking at Ethne, before he retreated ahead of them. He hadn't the heart to feel any green-eyed apprehension.

Templars. From the moment that pirate said this endeavour would involve Templars, she'd known it wasn't going to go well. She did not delude hersef into believing that she was infamous, exactly, but there was no mistaking that a full report of her less-than-cordial exit from the order had been made, and also that at least a few of the more fastidious Orlesians would have read it and probably known what to look for. She wore her black armor with more pride than she'd had then, these days, as if to remind the world that the worst of her sins were behind her,and she was not afraid to own up to them, to face the scorn and the thinly-veiled hostility she might encounter with straight spine and up-tilted chin. She had done wrong, yes, but so had they. None were so clean and crystalline and without stain as the Knight-General's armor would suggest, and she was never going to forget it. Well... her eyes flickered over Ethne and Rhapscallion, drilling into the backs of their heads for several seconds. Perhaps it was only that very few were without stain. Those two had surely done wrong at some point, but they seemed cleansed of it, somehow, in a way that only sort of made sense to her. It was almost unearthly, in the girl especially.

She met the old man's penetrating stare without fear, narrowing her eyelids so that barely a sliver of iron iris remained visible. He was a towering figure, no less imposing for his calm, and though she did not understand his words until he switched to speaking Ferelden, she understood his tone. He called her traitor, and Solvej's breath huffed from between slightly-parted lips in a scoff. She had killed Templars, but she still consideed herself no traitor, for they were no true Templars, if they chose to abuse their power and slay an innocent. The revelation that by such critera there were few true Templars indeed would have driven her from the Order eventually if her own actions had not done so first.

She was opening her mouth- to tell him he could try killing her if he liked- when the pirate's smooth tones broke in instead, and she had to admit that his way of doing things was smarter at the moment. She'd always known gilded tongues could get someone far, but she'd never had one, and she wondered, when she wasn't distracted by the presence of the Knight-General or the horrendous number of Darkspawn she could sense (and the insidious magic that surrounded them), where he'd managed to acquire his.

Templars had always unnerved him. Especially, those of the Orlesian persuasion. It might've stemmed from the childish image of clanking armour and pounding boots following him down cobblestone streets, sweeping him up by the collar to reprimand him for stealing a knuckle of bread. Their voices were always low, as if they were telling you a secret you wished you could plug your ears against. As if they were threatening to stick you with the pointy end of their swords or steal you away in the night and bring you to the Circle. In his child's eyes, Rhapscallion continued to see massive men with the ability to crush with those, equally, massive hands. Those types of irrational fears were placidly shoved into his front pockets, tempered and controlled by the feeling of the smooth rocks he'd gathered before boarding Rudhale's ship. It calmed him. He still fears his voice will come out an uneven mess of mumbles and half-words, so he remains quiet and doesn't respond when the Templar demands why they're here, in the flowery language of the Orlesian people. How surreal. His shoulders slouched forward. How strange. He'd one left Val Royeaux as a frightened young lad. Now, he'd returned as a Grey Warden, sworn to protect those who were plagued by Darkspawn. It was only when Delacroix's impudent voice hissed through his thoughts, snapping whatever gracious considerations he'd been having moment's ago, cleanly, succinctly terminated. A wanted criminal and a traitor to the Order, here to help me? And they let a mage speak for them?It was one of the same – this hatred, this unexplainable disgust he'd tasted before.

He'd wanted to tell the man to watch his tongue. He'd wanted to place a hand on Ethne's shoulder to remind her that Delacroix's prejudice belonged to him alone. He'd wanted to gather himself up and make him feel sorry for what he'd said, but then, Rhapscallion's silent little growl, growing into a wheezy snuffle, was properly extinguished when Rudhale stepped in to smooth the wrinkles out of the conversation. He'd wanted to shield his companions. He whispered a soft, barely audible: “Ungrateful shem.

The agreement, loosely construed, was perhaps cemented when the call of alarm went off, and the former Templar sighed, pulling her spear from her back and hefting it easily in one hand. The way Delacroix laid into the first fool 'Spawn that crossed his path was impressive, and she realized it would have been unwise to pick a fight. What was it about these situations that clouded her usually-precise judgement? Was it really just the hatred, buried deep and festering? Or was it also her protectiveness? She didn't bother ruminating too long on the topic, choosing the much simpler route of shoving her spear in the nearest sickly-pale genlock chest, and concentrating on her Taint-sense. "That way!" she called, pointing in what was surely the direction of the other Warden and whatever Templar was with them.

"Pirate, you're with me." She trusted Kerin and Dekton to frontline the defense, keeping the sweeping tide of 'Spawn away from the most vulnerable members of the group, but she was going to need assistance in carving their route to the rescue. He didn't look too much like the heavily-armored men around them, but something she could not name assured her that not all was as it appeared with him. Maybe it was just the fact that he confused the hell out of her, and that either meant something was fishy with him or she was stupid, and she didn't much like the second option. Strengthening her defenses, Solvej waded into the sea of Darkspawn.

"Am I, now?" the captain replied with a quirk of the lips. "Far be it from me to countermand the lady's wishes." Despite the jocular, vaguely-teasing nature of his tone, Rudhale's actions were all business, his asymmetric blades- a kilij and a peculiar device Anthea had told him was called a katar- sliding from their sheaths soundlessly as he followed the black-armored woman's tread. She had assumed correctly that he would not fall so easily as it might have seemed; one of his favourite pastimes on his ship was training his men, in the sense of letting large groups of them come at him at once. His much more level-headed companion had always berated him for the idiocy of this tendency, but it was bound to serve him well here.

They never had beaten him, after all.

Their attempt to get around the body of Darkspawn and flank did not go unnoticed, of course, and it wasn't long before the group was flooded with the rather unhygienic creatures, and something that might have been a dramatic sigh passed through his nose as three of them charged him. "Tsk tsk," he murmured, sidestepping one and bringing his kilij around to clothesline the rabid hurlock. The combined force of his muscle keeping the blade in place and the headlong charge of the creature may have jarred him a bit, but he twisted easily with the movement, and its head was quite nearly parted from its shoulders. Close enough to count, at any rate. One of the others, he tripped with a foot, sending it sprawling to the ground. Rolling his eyes, he stepped inside the guard of the third and punched, driving the triangular blade of the katar into its gut and twisting.

Removing the blade, he stepped firmly on the back of the downed 'Spawn with his left leg as it tried to right itself. "I don't envy the Wardens their boredom if this is what they deal with," he pronounced blandly, placing the tip of his longer blade against the back of the writhing beast's neck. A bit of pressure, and the job was done; apparently, they died much like men. He hoped he wouldn't dirty his clothing too much with this muck; he was rather fond of the shirt he was wearing. Stepping off the corpse, he took to humming a sea-shanty and looked to see where that charming lass with the temper had taken herself off to.

Was he... humming? Who did that, right smack in the middle of a life-or-death situation? "Do you take nothing seriously?" she asked, a faint edge to her tone of voice. She understood the value of humor, certainly, and often employed it herself, but there were certain boundaries that didn't seem to exist for him as they did more reasonable people. There was hardly time for a lengthy discussion on the matter, however, as there were plenty more Darkspawn to deal with. Approached by a mass of five, Solvej realized it was time for a little crowd-control.

Sweeping her spear in a wide horizontal arc, she tore it through varying levels of armor and flesh, though really the effect was mostly just to keep them at bay. It worked, but more foes were joining the struggle, and a scowl settled over her face. Drawing upon years of extensive training in discipline and mental fortitude, she felt the light gathering at blade-point before she saw it. Reversing the momentum of the weapon, she twisted her arm, pointing the head down, and plunged it into the ground. The shock wave that resulted was silent, blue-white energy rippling from the nexus point outward, setting a fair few of the 'Spawn aflame with spirit-based fire licking at their legs, their arms, their faces.

It was not, however, enough to stem the tide, as new bodies simply filled in the places where the old had been, stepping over their comrades without heed for the smited dead. She met the charge without hesitation, stabbing the front most in the chest and deflecting a knife-blow with her obsidian gauntlet. The rogue genlock followed up with a narrowly-managed slashing blow to her left thigh, which threw her off-balance, forcing her to stagger to regain control. Unfortunately, it also placed her in the unenviable position of "about to take a hammer blow from a hurlock Alpha," and she grit her teeth, trying with the same deliberate, quick-thinking control to get out of the way of what seemed an inexorable conclusion. At the very least, she knew how to move to mitigate the damage.

All around him was the stench of dried blood and corpses and whatever pungent aroma wafted from the Darkspawn. It was frightening mix, reminiscent of a sewer teeming with undead rats. Perhaps, it'd only erupted when several guardsman shouted and hollered and hooted. Those alarms were met with pallid creature's storming their way past the gates, shoving at each other with haphazardly formed shields and weapons. The sight hit him like a punch to the gut, knocking him askew for a moment. Careening away from Solvej's cocked arm, from Rudhale's assured footsteps. He didn't allow his footsteps to falter, instead using the momentum to throw himself into a diving roll, where he released his duel scimitar's from their scabbards in a clean, slicing sweep, straight across one of the creature's bulbous stomach. He ignored the squelching slap of intestines, sidestepping away and towards his companions, once more. Rhapscallion hadn't waited for any instruction. He didn't need any, though he'd spared a passing glance in Ethne's direction, clearly satisfied that Kerin and Suicide were with her, though she could very well take care of herself. His mouth tightened, before twitching into a small smile. "As long as you keep those creeping fingers away from her, Pirate-Prince.” Muffled footsteps, and the occasional kicked stone, were the only indications that Rhapscallion shadowed their movements, already camouflaged into the background.

He saw past the putrid stench assailing his nose, and mouth, past the shuddering and choking, past the sweat-soaked hair, to the haunted, energized, terrified glimmer deep within spectral blue eyes. Twin scimitar's moved in unison, extensions of his entire being. Spurts of blood indicated wounds inflicted by an unseen opponent, only appearing for a split second before filtering back against the stone walls and wooden buildings. He ran. He leaped. He appeared, he disappeared. But, Rhapscallion's was always watching. Specifically, Rudhale's nonchalant, breezy movements. It almost irked him how the Captain could so easily dismiss the Grey Warden's duties. How he could so easily dismiss what they stood for, what they fought for. His eyes steeled immediately, shooting repelling 'how-could-you' needles. “Saving lives' isn't boring.” He sputtered, parrying a wild club swing, then quickly reversing it so that the weapon clattered away from the creature's swollen fingers. His scimitar's flashed up, severing the arteries pulsing at the Darkspawn's thick, mottled neck. A snowflake landed on his nose, and he lifted his hand to rub it away – small, tiny snowflakes, that weren't actually snowflakes, at all. It was ash.

"Oh, is that what we're doing here?" The pirate drawled lazily in response. "I rather thought the point of this bit was taking lives."

Weren't they? Taking lives, that is. What did he consider these creatures? He didn't have time to respond. He wouldn't have known what to say, anyway. Like swarming beetles, the Darkspawn's numbers swelled and pressed forward like a flood. Familiar flames brightened the macabre backdrop, catching his peripherals like shiny pennies in the distance. The creatures seemed nonplussed by their fallen comrades, scrapping away burnt flesh with their clawed toes as they scrambled over the growing heap of curled bodies, still breathing, and bloody corpses. He'd seen the hurlock Alpha before it's grotesque arm cocked backwards, violently throwing back it's hammer, before attempting to jerk itself forward to try and squash Solvej beneath it's girth. Rhapscallion's mouth dried, dropping something heavy into his stomach – a smooth stone. He shouted something unintelligible, before throwing one of his scimitar's forward with all his strength. It whipped through the air, flipping in maddening circles, before embedding itself into the hurlock's exposed chest. The half-breed's balance toppled, rocketing him into another genlock. He managed to bring his scimitar up in time, blocking a clumsy blow with an equally clumsy defence. He wasn't quick enough, it seemed. The creature's slender dagger found it's mark, slipping through the tender flesh of his waist, before slipping out, just as quickly, as Rhapscallion jerked backwards, sucking in his stomach a few second's too late.

Rudhale was right behind him, having nearly lost a few hairs when one of the youth's swords went whizzing by. Shaking his head slightly, he grasped Rhapscallion's shoulder, making sure he wouldn't lose his feet even as he slid around him, kicking the still-advancing Darkspawn in the shin, then abruptly using the same foot to dislodge its (rather sloppy) grip on its dagger. "Amateurs." There was a small pause, and he looked back over his shoulder. "Not you, laddie." Truly, the 'Spawn were rather inelegant, he mused to himself, stepping into the disarmed one's personal space and acquainting it with the business end of his katar. It seemed that the only advantage they had was numbers.

Well, that and the ability to Taint their foes and make more Darkspawn. Picking up the dagger he'd just removed from the genlock's person, he examined it briefly and handed it to the injured Warden. There was little he could do to treat such wounds, especially now, but it would be remiss of him to let a comrade wander around less than fully-armed, anyway. "There you are. Do introduce yourself to Irony. She's a lovely friend to have." It was, after all, the dagger the young man had been stabbed with himself. Hearing something approach from behind, Rudhale swung around, just barely ducking away from the fireball launched in his direction by what appeared to be relatively massive for an emissary. An omega, then, quite the rare sight, if he was given to understand correctly.

"Why hello there, my good man. Quite enthused to begin, are we?" he quipped, but there was no mistaking the challenge in the words. The duellist had thrown his metaphorical gauntlet, and the emissary answered the gesture with several potshots from his staff. "Ah, ah, ah," the Captain admonished, faintly amused, dodging and weaving with surefooted steps. "You're going to have to put in some effort if you wish to kill yours truly." More importantly, those hits would be aimed only for him, leaving the lady and the laddie to keep on moving ahead through the less-dangerous rank-and-file 'Spawn.

The scimitar whizzing by bought Solvej precious time, and she used it well, managing to get her spear up and level with the alpha's chest, surging forward with as much strength as her wounded leg would allow. It was nothing compared to the pain of crushed bones, and it was not like she had to worry about Taint-infection of any kind. The bleeding was trivial enough for the time being, so the only legitimate problem this new wound presented was weakening her forward momentum. To compensate, she drew on her will to fortify her defences and turn the blades, so to speak, and her hands wrenched, twisting the solid Anderfellan steel in them about inside the alpha's chest cavity.

Glancing quickly behind her, she noted both that Rhapscallion was injured worse than she was and also that the pirate was apparently of the opinion that one-on-one combat with an omega was a smart idea. More the fool he, but if he thought he could handle it... Solvej spent a brief moment in deliberation, staving off another three Darkspawn in the process. The wind had shifted, carrying more snowy ash towards them, as well as the stench of burning bodies, both human and fell 'Spawn, and her lip curled in a minor show of disgust.

Like it or not, they had to get to that other Warden, the sooner the better. "Rhap! If you can still fight, get your ass back in my shadow and stay there until absolutely necessary. The more surprise we've got, the better!" She didn't say it, but that abdominal wound looked bad, and until the healer could have a look at it, she wanted him out of danger as much as possible. To be fair, what she suggested was also solid strategy. She could fight her way through by herself if she absolutely must, but it would be excellent planning to have a hidden knife if she got in over her head, just the same. There was also no telling what they'd encounter when they reached their comrade, and frankly they could not rely on the pirate to survive his battle, much less be of use when it was over, still less to be of direct help to them.

Hell was breaking loose on Val Royeaux's killing grounds, between the pressing buildings and the looming gates. Rhapscallion's entire world, including his spinning visibility, was pitching forward, then backwards, guided by a strong hand clapped across his shoulder. He caught snatches of men hollering, throwing their swords in the air like trophies before spurts of blood exploded from their lips, successfully silencing any words that might've struggled out. He couldn't save them. He could barely keep his feet under him. If it hadn't been for Rudhale's secure grip, then he might've fell flat on his face. In fact, the half-breed hadn't even realized it'd been Rudhale mitigating his balance until the pirate swept around him, gracefully, using his shoulder as some sort of leverage to debilitate the still-progressing Darkspawn. The creature's mouth pitched open, as if it couldn't believe the strange turn of events, as if it hadn't registered it's clumsy fall. This man certainly was something else. As quickly as he had frowned at the pirate's lascivious attitudes, he'd already remedied his misconceptions with a slathering of respect and saucer-eyed recognition. It reflected in his eyes when Rudhale glanced over his shoulder, promptly smoothing any of his ascertained ruffled feathers – not that he would've been offended at being called an amateur, anyway. What kind of fearless, experienced, knight hefted their swords through the air? Amateurs.

In the heat of battle, Rhapscallion swore that his heart would beat straight out of his chest and gallivant down one of the alleyways, convinced that better warriors, much more skilled individuals, would take his place. Perhaps, it'd been Solvej's chiding voice reminding him, whilst renewing his acuity, that certainly, any belonging to the Chevalier, did not think such thoughts. Perhaps, it'd been in the knowing twinkle in Rudhale's eyes. He readily accepted the dagger pressed into his hands, balancing it in his palm. Instead of murmuring soft words of gratefulness, Rhapscallion's mouth twisted into a smile, eyes dancing, and added as an afterthought: “Irony? I like that.” Which was strikingly close to saying you're alright, I trust you, I trust you, I do. His fingers closed around the dagger's hilt, still hot with his own blood. To understand irony, you needed to have a good sense of humour. Thankfully, Rhapscallion's whimsy kept him from slouching on the ground like a heaping sack of potatoes to lick at his wounds like a stricken hound. It would do no one any good, least of all himself. Something brightened the back of Rudhale's head, throwing leaping sparks up like a flickering candle, and he'd had enough time to spring away in the opposite direction.

His hood flashed up over his head, shadowing his flickering features. The ragged remnants of his dark cloak billowed behind him like wagging tails. When living on a knife edge, life would always be a balancing act, a constant battle to keep all bases covered, though Rhapscallion was never foolish enough not to rely on his companions. The upper portion of his armour, hardly covering anything beyond his shoulders and forearm, were already caked in blood and dirt and whatever grime spilled from the Darkspawn's putrid blood. He would not be affected by them, because he'd already willingly infected himself with their blood. Rudhale busied himself with the freakishly large Omega – the one who'd been hellbent on removing the pirate's head with a scorching-hot fireball. Somehow, cautioning him against creature's strong magical abilities seemed silly.

As if I would do anything else!” Rhapscallion cheerfully asserted, pressing his fingertips against his abdominal to stifle the bleeding. It wept through his fingers, stained his nails, and oozed between his knuckles. His familiar smile faded, flickered, then disappeared along with the rest of his body. It melted away against the backdrop of carnage. The only indications of his whereabouts were the flecks of blood spattering like spiderwebs, with each graceful footstep, weaving around human and Darkspawn corpses alike. He couldn't feel any intense pain. Honestly, he couldn't. An exhilarating rush shot through his veins, pumped his heart steadily, and exterminated his finger-quakes. It was his throat that felt strange, like sticking nettles, like tick-trails, or centipede stings. His exhaled, softly, then stepped in line with Solvej. She would know he was there. She always did.

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: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro
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Emil took his bow from the ruddy pirate and examined it for nicks of abrasions. There was no telling where the pirate had been or how he might have contaminated his weapon. Satisfied that the pirate didn’t infect it or lick it, or whatever pirates do these days, he quickened his step and walked beside Solvej towards the Chantry. She shouldn’t be the first to step into such a holy place, she gave up the Maker the day she chose to abandon the order. She had no right to even be near the place, though considering present circumstances, one rogue Templar was favorable over a damned darkspawn. During the journey, Emil said not one word to the Templar at his side, and likewise, the graced him with the same politeness. Kerin herself traveled slightly behind the two parading Templars, closer to Rhapscallion and Ethne themselves. As they walked, Kerin wore the same bored expression as she had when the first arrived to the barrier. What was there to be excited about? The fight was behind and in front of them, what use was worry? They either died or survived. Despair did not register as it normally had. She was solid, placcid, just like the stones under her feet.

Before long, the group entered the Chantry—not so much by choice, but by some foul beckoning. Kerin hated the feeling with a passion, it made her feel like her body was not her own, when it damn well was. Emil suddenly felt cold, and another drop of blood fell from his nose. Neither dwarf nor Templar enjoyed this feeling. As they entered, they were greeted by Morpheus on top of his throne. Emil’s eyes widened in anger as he saw the divine laying limply on the floor. He wanted to shout at the beast who cast her aside, yet the words were caught in his throat, unforthcoming. Kerin, as always, took all this in as impassively as she always had. Then a man walked out from the shadows, one Emil knew. Finally, his words found footing and he yelled, “Lord-Seeker!” before falling silent and asleep. The last of his thoughts was anger at the man for allowing the Divine to be treated as so and for allowing the holy place to come to such. He fell forward, on his face, asleep before he hit the ground.

Kerin however, was more of a fighter than that. She forced her eyes open with defiance, she would not bow to this monster wills. Though she fell to her knees, she would not heed a foolish command such as sleep. She would fight him with all she had. But it was so hard. The embrace of sleep was so promising. So relieving. The last thing she saw before she fell to the ground was Ethne in her crystal prison. She looked at the elf girl in the eyes, her steel, unmoving eyes singing defiance all the way… All the way to the floor beneath.




Emil clutched helplessly to the railing of the Black Raven to help keep him from falling over from both the force of the storm and from the massive withdrawal symptons he was experiencing. The boat tumbled up and down, around and around while lightning danced in the air above him, thunder drummed in his ears, and rain pelted them like an angry God. The worse sound however, was not the thunder, nor the constant rythym of rain. No the worse sound was the cries of men and women he had known for his entire life fall overboard into the deadly currents below. It was all Emil could do to just keep a grip upon the railing and not joining his crewmates overboard.

It haunted him. He felt weak, he felt useless, and he felt angry. Anger at himself and anger at the Maker. He reared his head back and howled a wordless shout into the black abyss above before sinking down low against the railing again as the mere act of yelling sapped his strength. He had to do something, but even if the storm wasn't beating his ship, the withdrawal symptons would still send it spinning. What else could he do but sit there. Sit there and watch as his crewmates died in front of him and the storm tore at the ship. A vague sense of deja vu came over him... It was almost like his life was flashing before his eyes, but no. This storm would not take him, nor would it take the ship while he still breathed. The Black Raven had been his home for far too long for him to see it dashed in front of his eyes. He began to crawl, hands still wrapped around the railing, as he tried to make his way to the lines keeping the mast upright.

It proved to be a futile attempt, as just as he arrived, the lines snapped, sending a dangerous whip of rope into the throat of one of his friends. He.. Or she, Emil couldn't tell, dropped and the lifeless body slid across the deck and into the ocean below. Emil couldn't help but look away and curse himself and the Maker. What had possessed them to sail into the storm anyway? What were they doing out in this hell? What was the captain thinking!?

At a true physical proximity of no more than a hundred feet, Morpheus on his throne shifted his gaze to the silver-armored Templar on the floor, his lips twisting into a sadistic smile. The faithful were always the most fun to toy with, for the similarity between himself and the being they called their Maker was much more impressive than most of them would ever realize. In fact, if he twisted things around just so, there might be no discernible difference whatsoever. For now, though, it would be interesting enough to see what the once-pirate made of a little more interference.

Inside Emil's dream, the boat lurched, plunging into a wave with little grace. The captain of the boat held on at the tiller, barely keeping his feet as the ocean-water washed over him. There was little that could be done, of course; the sails had already been lowered, the lines already cut free or snapped from the force of the wind. There was little to do but ride it out. Looking back, the man saw what few of his crew remained working tirelessly to keep the boat from taking on more water. As lightning split the sky, illuminating the upper deck for only a moment, he caught sight of one who could barely hold on. "Emilio!" the man shouted, booming voice audible even over the din. In this reality, this man knew of his crewman's addiction, knew what it was costing him to remain here, abovedecks. They had been like family for the longest time, and perhaps because of this, the man did not hesitate, roping in his second mate with one whipcord-strong arm and pushing the man to the tiller.

He himself was going to see that boy below the deck and safe, no matter what it cost him. Gripping the starboard-side rail, the captain sloshed his waterlogged way down the stairs from the helm to the main deck, walking steadily, pulling himself arm-over-arm by the rail when the slick planks of wood gave his feet no purchase. Water dripped from everything, intermingling with that which lashed their faces and their arms with whip-force, the storm's rage not abating but swelling until it seemed that the sea was determined to swallow them whole and never relinquish them. There had been little sign of the oncoming typhoon earlier in the day, and such was not the time of year for it. Rather, it had seemed a cruel act of the Maker, almost as though he'd singled out the men and women aboard here for a punishment none of them could understand.

Reaching his youthful crewman at last, that captain grasped one of the lookout's arms and kept right on moving. "We have to get you below deck; you're useless in this state!"

"Who's useless! Emil cried, though it was an answer he already knew. He tried to find his feet once more, and again it proved to be a futile attempt. Still the fact that he could not at least stand on his own feet hurt his pride, and the fact that he could do nothing to save the rest of the crew weighed heavily on his soul. Each life lost to the sea added it's weight to his shoulders. He felt like he should do something for them instead of kneeling uselessly on deck. He growled as the Captain herded him towards the door leading below deck. No matter how much he willed it, he could not beat his afflictions, not now, not in the middle of a storm. Where did this sudden onset of his symptoms come from though? He did not think he had addictions on the seas... What happened to him?

There was no time to ponder that quandry as he allowed himself to be dragged along behind the Captain. He was right, he was no use on deck. Even being led by the arm, things did not stabalize for Emil. If the storm tossed the boat around like a toy, then the effects of his symptoms made it ten times worse. He couldn't tell which way was up, down, left, or right. Rain felt like it was pelting him everywhere, and the gnashing winds buffeted from all directions. This was truly Emil's hell. If there had been a demon wondering about, his sanity might had snapped in twain. Demons? Why was he worried about demons at a time like this? The only demon he had to worry about was the one spitting rain and wind at them.

The going was slow for Emil and his Captain. The man had to fight for every inch they gained. But they were moving steadily towards the door and Emil's salvation. His thoughts had shifted from helping his crew to just getting below deck and getting out of everyone's way. Maybe escaping the rain would allow him to better fight his own personal demons. However, Fate decided to intervene as it always does. A combination of a hard gale and the ship's bow crashing against the wave jarred all those on deck. A crack of thunder accompanyed what happened next. As the shipped rocked hard enough to cause the mast to crack, the man grabbing Emil found himself overboard, still clutching onto Emil's arm for his dear life.

A roar of pain escaped Emil's throat as he found his arm holding the entire weight of his captain. He quickly reached over with her other hand and grabbed the man by the collar. He would not give the sea this man. This man was as close to a father as Emil had ever known, he wasn't going to lose him without a fight. All evidence of his withdrawals vanished in that instant as addreline surged throughout his body and the only thought on his mind was that of saving this man's life and reeling him back on deck. He felt himself begin to slide forward on the railing as the weight of the Captain's was more than that of Emil's. Something that the Captain apparently knew. If something didn't give, they both would be in the sea before long. So, with one last smile, the Captain let of of Emil and fell into the water.

The relief was instant, but the pain was immense. Emil sunk back on deck, mind thoroughly destroyed. He had yet to give into despair up until that point, but that single action, that single loss pushed him pass the event horizon. Now, he felt truly lost. Dizziness, nausea, pain, despair, they all assaulted Emil as the rain hammered and the wind's bit. With one last ounce of strength, he reared his head back and yelled his pleas into the black heaven's above.

"Maker! Andraste! Please! Save us!" and for once in a long, long while, pain was clear in his voice.

As if in answer, a great boom of thunder rumbled deafeningly through the air, followed by streaking fingers of forked lightining. Any sailor worth his salt could tell you that those two things usually happened in reverse order, but perhaps none of them were paying enough attention, with the storm directly overhead as it was. Several more spilled over the side, leaving only abot five men remaining, including Emil. Like him, those others were by this point simply holding on for dear life, trying not to get pitched to their deaths in the dark water below. "Here lies the abyss, the well of all souls. From these emerald waters doth life begin anew. Come to me, child, and I shall embrace you, for in my arms lies eternity." This proclamation need not have competed with the thunder, for it was somehow much louder, resounding in the minds of those still present loudly enough to drown out perception of just about anything else. Two of the remeaining sailors lost their grip on the railings, distracted or simply willing to believe it and let go. The other two held on all the tighter, one mumbling words in Rivaini under his breath.

"Have I earned so little of your trust?" the Voice demanded, and it might have been their imaginations, but the rain grew only colder. "You ask me not to claim that which is mine? You beseech but you do not understand, you beg but you do not serve, you believe, but not in Me!" One of those pirates left clutched at his head, his nose bleeding profusely from the force of whatever was being done to him. The mumbling one was faring only a little better, but he and Emil were soon the only ones left, as a wash of brackish water took their suffering companion to his grave.

The last man looked up, meeting eyes with Emil over the expanse of the deck. The look on his face was one of mute shock, and though his lips still formed the words of his litany, it was obvious that he could no longer lend them the force of his voice. "Suffer, and know me!" The man's eyes went wide with shock, aware just a moment before the lightning struck him of what was going to happen. The sizzling sound was audible even over the din, the smell of burnt flesh carried to Emil's olfactory passages with uncanny precision.

He was alone.

Emil watched in silent horror as his last friend, crewmate, and family was just wiped out of existence by the Maker almighty himself. He couldn’t wrap his head around it. This.. This Maker was ruthless, extreme. Was this the deity he had worshipped so vehemently, that cared little for his people? The thought was unbearable. He clutched closer to the railing, his mind in rolling in turmoil, much like the sea around him. The Maker wished him to suffer? Hadn’t he suffered enough? He watched the man he would have gladly called his father fall into the ocean, watched his family fight futilely against nature and lose their lives in the process. What else was there to suffer? What else could he possibly suffer? What was his sin?

Nothing answered him. He was alone. Frighteningly alone. Even over the roar of the storm and the drumming of waves, the silence of the deck was deafening. No screaming, no orders, no one shouting encouragement. Just eerie silence. Everyone had left him. Even the Maker. As he clung helpless to the railing, his eyes, opened wide and unblinking, grew large and dull. His mind couldn't take the despair, the loneliness, the death. He was drained, emotionally, physically. He was lost. As the waves battered the ship, his body just rolled absently with it. Dead, alive, it didn't matter anymore to him. He had been all but abandoned. As the deep pit of despair ate away at his soul, he began a song. It was a song from his childhood, sang by all the sailors while they worked. While normally a cheery song, Emil’s emotionless delivery gave it a haunting melody.

♫♫♫
"What... Shall we do with the drunken sailor?
What shall.. We do with the drunken sailor?
What shall we do with the... Drunken sailor?
What shall we do with the drunken sailor?
Early in the mourning...

What shall we... Do with the drunken sailor?
What shall we do..."
♫♫♫


The song continued without end as the rain unendingly battered the broken Templar. However, the rain wasn't the heaviest burden on his shoulders.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald
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The solid clank of shackles and chains is regular, measured. The prisoners are forced to keep a march pace, and the clanging echoes of their bonds jangle a counterpoint to the lighter clinks of Templar chainmail, polished to a shine. These men are proud of their work, and never is a sash or a mere link of armor out of place. Their shields are buffed free of scratches, their regulation swords keen and stainless, not for lack of use. Their line of captives is another matter entirely, the mages bound, gagged, and wearing almost universal expressions of stark hatred, leveling the glares of feral, half-wild dogs upon their upright, dignified jailers. Robes are torn in places, and dirty from days of living on the land as well as they could.

Not well enough, when the Templars employ trackers and even a Seeker. That man, she glimpses through the door, placing a foreign plant-leaf in his mouth and nodding to the Knight Captain before taking his leave. The apostates have been captured; their fate is not in his hands. They are herded inside he room she occupies, and for the first time, Solvej is aware of herself in some strange way. She feels palpable weight on her shoulders, armor like these men wear, and glancing down at her gauntlets, she knows that it is the most pristine and well-maintained of all. Her appearance, she remembers, is supposed to reflect the light of her faith, a beacon in the darkness to the faithful and the righteous. It seems… strange, somehow, that she should be wearing this glimmering silver-white, almost as though she’d expected something else instead. But the thought is ephemeral, and it leaves her almost immediately.

The mages are forced to kneel, heads bowed, and all but one appear bitter. One man does not protest, sinking gracefully to his knees. His eyes are fogged, his robes more well-maintained than the rest. His gentleness seems to pervade the air around him so thoroughly that even those others around him resist less than their brethren further away. Solvej’s gloved hand twitches; she wants to bring it before her mouth, to cover her face from shock, to refuse to see what is before her. But she cannot.

She looks to the Knight-Captain, the tallest of all these strangely-tall figures, and something is off about that, too, but it is trivial and she cares about only one thing right now anyway. “Knight-Captain, ser, surely there is some kind of mistake. Enchanter Gruenwald is no apostate.” Her tone is measured, formal; conveying the extent of her horror at the situation will earn her no favors with those that know no law but the Maker’s. She would not expect it to. Her voice is pitched too high, but she easily attributes this to the strain of remaining calm. For she knows better than almost anyone what will probably happen here if the situation devolves any further.

The Knight-Captain, an imposing man on the best of days, had never much cared for Ser Gruenwald or her mage-brother, and he'd also never made much of a secret about it. Seeing in this an opportunity to put the troublesome woman in her place, he sneered down at her. "And we're supposed to take his sister's word for that, are we? Figures; women really are too sentimental for this kind of work. He was found out there, just like the rest of 'em, and there's better men than you that can attest to as much." His eyes narrowed to slits, daring the impetuous female to challenge his authority on this. She'd never been one to be silent when there was something she had to say, but until this moment, she'd always been so thoroughly above reproach in her conduct that nobody was able to fault her for it. Her superiors had, on more than one occasion, been forced to acknowledge her unusual wisdom and devout faith, he more than most.

He also hated it more than most, and was quite looking forward to the opportunity to push her to something less than perfect.

Solvej is torn between the instinctive bristle and the inclination to laugh at this small-minded man. But where had the latter come from? The Knight-Captain was her superior officer; she respected that, didn't she? It might make her angry that he was refusing to even consider her brother's innocence, but never had she thought of his intolerance as some kind of joke. These are serious matters, gravely serious, so why does she feel like hiding the severity of her desperate frustration behind a troublesome smile? She isn't that kind of person at all!

...is she? No, no, of course not. She could lash him with her tongue if she chose, but she respects the rank of his office more than most things, and for that alone, she will argue on his terms. Nobody that wore the sword of Andraste would act from hate alone, and so regardless of he bad blood between them, they could surely conduct themselves in the best interests of the truth. "Did you even ask him? Did you ask any of them? Blood magic and escaping the Circle are very different crimes in the Maker's eyes; surely you must see the importance in understanding who did what here?" It is obvious. Perhaps he is simply tired, after the march. Perhaps it is just an oversight, one easily-rectified with a bit of outside attention. Solvej flicks her eyes back to her brother's face. She doesn't like that look on him; it was one he'd used when they were children, when he was giving into her will despite his best inclinations otherwise. That... there is no need for such acquiescence right at this moment, is there? Why isn't he trying just as hard to fight this?

The Knight-Captain was spared the indignity of needing to answer her accusations when one of the other mages forced himself to his feet. "Enough of this!" the man cried, struggling aginst his bonds. "What right have any of you to decide our fates at all? You understand nothing of our suffering!" The ranking Templar gritted his teeth, a muscle in his cleanshaven jaw jumping with the force of it. Stepping forward, he backhanded the speaker, sending the physically-inferior specimen to the floor. He was forcing his mouth to relax enough to allow him speech when the sound of soft chuckling carried to his ears. Startling sharply, he looked down at the mage he'd struck, watching as the man's knees convuled inward, towards his chest, as his laughter increased in pitch. Before their eyes, the man rose from the ground, reorienting until he was floating right-side up.

With a snap, the chains binding his wrists and ankles in place broke, the links scattering across the stone floor beneath them, and the Knight-Captain watched the characteristic first stages of the transformation that no Templar wishes to see. Even as their leader moved, the others rose up, all save the blind man at the end, and the distinct sound of spells being charged registered with every armored individual in the room. The man in charge took a deep breath and loosed his zweihander from its sheath, drawing the longblade.

"Kill them all."

Her gaze swings to the chained mage- and he is large as well, his floating form looming above her like the specter from a nightmare she's told they all have. She is not jaded- is she?- but all the same she feels what is to come in the pit of her stomach, and instinctively reaches behind her. Her hand meets empty air, and her brows furrow together. That, that of all things is surely wrong. It feels as though something should be there, must be there, ready-to-hand and as much a part of her as her own arm. For she has made it so, has she not?

The thought flees her mind when she witnesses the gortesque transformation, the boiling and curdling of skin, parting from bone in places to hang off like so much rotten fruit. His height is now such that she has to crane her neck, but she doesn't want to. Even as the other mages spring into action, she has eyes for only one, the one that does not move does not attack, and will not even so much as twitch from where he kneels. The Knight-Captain's order rings out clear as a bell over the din, and it paralyzes her. All? Surely, it is a mistake. Surely, he can see that her brother does not act, and yet... her muscles tighten, the weight of dread and sudden foreknowledge dropping leaden into the pit of her stomach. She knows, somehow, that the feeling will fester there, always, attracting more bitterness and rot to itself than she would have ever thought possible.

Her light will instinguish, her shine will tarnish, her righteousness will give way to tightly-controlled despair, but in the face of what she stands to lose now, in this moment, what comes after seems so trivial.

She acts without conscious thought, the instinct to protect what is hers older than any training she could submit herself to. It is primal, this simple desire to save but one life, and for her, all the rest of the world can burn if she but succeeds. Solvej catches sight of the Knight-Captain, sees where his vision leads, and she interferes, jumping forward, unarmed and burdened by unexpected weight, or perhaps she is simply slower than she expected, somehow, but even so she is at Efriel's side, pushing at him, pleading with him in low, keening words that she does not understand, tugging at the hem of his robes, because if only he would move, then he might live, and what happens to her is of no consequence next to that vainglorious hope.

But he is not moving, not responding to her at all save to lay one hand gently atop her head and smile, and the Knight-Captain draws closer.

The smell of burning flesh filled the air, mixed with the metallic tang of blood. The soundscape was a cacophony of clanging steel and the rush and and crackle and crash of magic. Voices shouted incomprehensible words, rage and desperation lending their yells volume if not clarity. Through it all, Efriel Gruenwald's breathing remained steady, sightless eyes fixed upon some unknown point in the middle distance. He was listening, feeling, and waiting for the moment his sister was hoping would not arrive. He knew better, had known better since he'd left to chase the men and women who had once been his friends. He wasn't going to leave this situation alive, blood mage or no, but Solvej... she would live. He would ensure it, even if it was the last thing he ever did.

She was still frantically trying to move him when he heard the sound he was waiting for: the whistling of a blade almost as long as he was tall. As he'd suspected, it was aimed not for him, but for his sibling's back. Efriel siezed Solvej about the shoulders, turning them both around so that the Knight-Captain's zweihander entered his back rather than hers. It kept traveling, but the plate mail she wore protected her from the reduced velocity. Efriel shuddered in a breath, breaking his moratorium on speech at last. His mouth opened, blood dripping out as surely as the words he wished to say. "Sol..." Despite his best efforts, the rest of his message was only traced by his lips, no breath able to give them enough power to form speech more truly. Efriel lost consciousness then, collapsing onto his sister, long past saving.

With a single well-calculated maneuver, Solvej finds her back pressed into the stone ground, her buffed mail bearing an ugly scratch that represents a sword’s near-miss. From above, something hot and sticky drips, falling onto the polished silver and running down the plates, seeping into the spaces between the links of chainmail. She watches this, horrorstruck and silent, before her eyes find the hands on her shoulders. Their grip grows gradually slacker, and with slowness forced by foreboding and dread, she follows the visual path from the hands to wrists, up yellow-clad arms, along the line of a jaw shaped exactly like her own, to cloudy irises she knows better than she knows hers.

The blood dribbles from between Efriel’s lips, landing on her cheek and tracing a multitude of red lines over the planes of her face- into her hairline, sliding down her neck, hot enough to burn. The single whispered word he manages tears a wretched sob from somewhere deep in her chest, and her vision blurs as she reaches up; to do what, she cannot say. But his muscles go slack before she has the chance, and Solvej is knocked back by the force of her brother’s weight.

He is sprawled atop her, but she can’t bring herself to care that he is slowly making it difficult for her to breathe. His head rests just beneath her chin, and one of her gauntleted hands moves to brush its fingers through his hair. Saline tears mix freely with the traces of his blood on her cheeks, and her breaths come in tiny shudders as she fingers the silky locks she cannot feel through her damnable armor. Her other hand reaches down, taking one of his in hers. She smiles brokenly; lacing their fingers together, she lays her head back on the cold stone of the floor and presses her small palm into his much larger one. Her big brother, always her guardian unto the last day for both of them-

The thought brings not the utter devastation she was expecting, but rather a vaguely-troubled feeling. Why does that seem wrong to her? Her emotions are a swirling amalgam of guilt, fear, gut-wrenching grief and a faint underpinning of implacable fury: at the Knight-Captain, at these foul blood-mages, at the Maker and Andraste, but most of all at herself. But she is small, useless, she feels this- what about this could she have prevented at all?

Something in her mind urges her to forget, but she stubbornly pushes it back. Stirring, she struggles to rise, gently displacing Efriel and unable to look at his face. It’s… it’s her face, she thinks, but how is that? Certainly, siblings are often similar, and close, but why does she feel as though it’s more than that? Like half of her soul has been torn from herself and thrown into some hellish abyssal place, leaving the rest of it broken and torn and blackened?

She looks down at her hands, covered in the red life-essence of her sibling, and her eyes go wide. The color darkens, and then seems to sink into the surface of her armor, staining it. The effect ripples outwards until not trace of its former splendor remains. His blood has dyed her soul dark, and done the same to her plate and chain. Black… a Black Templar.

Something clicks, and Solvej suddenly understands. Her hands were never so much smaller than his because he is her twin. Efriel really is her other half, which is why she feels like less of a being without him. She isn’t powerless in this situation at all, or at least she shouldn’t have been. She remembers differently now. There was a spear in her hand when he died, and she used that familiar weapon to exact the vengeance he never would have wanted. She was not supposed to be defenseless, she was supposed to be mighty. Broken, used, and unworthy, but mighty all the same.

Rising to her feet, she casts her eyes around her with a mixture of fear- her natural aversion to the Fade- and carefully-controlled fury. This was wrong, all of it. Her empty hands curl into fists; she is without her weapon even now. But it does not matter. She will tear him apart with her bare hands if she has to. “Morpheus!” she shouts, the sound echoing even above the heedless battle still raging around her. “Stop hiding like a coward and show yourself!“

He had watched what made her, she intends to show him what it had made her into.

Now this one was interesting. It had certainly taken her a while, but when this woman had figured it out, she'd done so quickly, and moved right into calling him out upon it. Shrugging internally, the Darkspawn appeared, banishing the still-living partcipants of the fight and leaving the room empty, save for the woman (who was looking rather like a girl of no more than twelve at the moment; an interesing manifestation of insecurity) and her dear brother's corpse. "Ah, I should have known. You're cleverer than you look, and perhaps a smidge too attached to that weakling brother of yours, no?" He passed a disdaining eye over the body on the ground. Morpheus was categorically incapable of understanding sacrifice or love in any form. Which was why he'd underestimated Solvej, assumed she would be unable to discover the deception. Of all the dreams he'd conjured for this lot, hers was most closely linked to a real event in her life, which made reading the details from her memory a simple thing. Even the maliciousness of the Knight-Captain was no more exaggerated than it had been in reality.

"You called, Black Templar? I must confess I was rather surprised by you. Do your companions understand your wickedness, I wonder?" Relatively certain he'd not be able to tempt her with promises of a better dream, he resolved to break her into compliance instead. After all, there were those that went easy, and those that had to be forced. He almost didnt notice the troublesome girl flickering into existence behind him, but she was weak still, and he intended to make Solvej do the work of banishing the somniari herself.

"Weak? Weak?" Solvej repeats, almost incredulous. Her hands tighten into fists at her side, and for a whie-hot moment, she wants nothing more than to do as Kerin does and submit wholly to her rage, channel it into the tearing strength of something rabid and feral and honest. But this, she realizes, is not the person she has become. Her limbs slacken, the hard lines of her stance soften, and she folds her arms across her chest. "Do not pretend to know anything of strength, Morpheus. It makes you look stupid." Despite everything- her brother's blood drying on her face, the sinful black stain on her heart and her armor, and the hollowness inside her chest, Solvej feels the corner of her mouth tilt upwards into a sardonic smile.

And why not? Does the Darkspawn think this to be hell? She has lived her hell, and it was much worse than this hazy facsimilie of memory. It took her too long to realize it, but she has now, and the pain recedes into old bitterness once more, whitewashed by stubborn pride that ensures her agony will never make it to her visage, her body language. She will slay her demons when she sees them, and ignore them until that moment. The quirk of her lips becomes a full-blown grin when he strikes again, and misses completely. "You really think I would choose to make myself this obvious if I cared?" She could have ensured that nobody ever recognized her again, that Delacroix and Emil alike remained ignorant of her identity, but instead she wears it on her sleeve- and everywhere else, too. She is faithless, she is unbound, she is perhaps even completely untrustworthy, and she wants everyone to know it.

Catching sight of Ethne resolving into visibility behind Morpheus like some kind of diminutive shadow, she nods. "All right, magelet. I see you. Now get me the hell out of here. I'm done speaking to Darkspawn."

Ethne didn't really understand the tenor of the conversation. For her, the sight of Solvej smiling like that is an odd one, displaced. She didn't even look back down at her brother, and the mage wondered if there was perhaps something to this situation that she didn't understand. Nevertheless, the absolute certainty in the woman's conviction clearly took Morpheus off-guard, her deceptively lighthearted dismissal of his words weakened him and strengthened her ally, and the younger of the two women nodded sagely, taking advantage of the fact that the Darkspawn seems to be struck temporarily dumb. With a thought, Sovej first was returned to the world of the waking, and though Ethne slumped noticably with the effort, she too smiled.

Perhaps it wasn't so hopeless as she'd fist assumed.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro
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Rudhale woke to something sharp persistently poking into his back. He was laying on a hard, smooth surface, but apparently also on top of some small object, the persistence of which in causing him discomfort now bade him stir. He was groggy, and vision did not return to him easily. Sense was a fickle mistress, as always, and he wondered if it was the drink that had brought him to this state, his splay-limbed self scattered in multiple directions with the careless abandon of one who’d fallen unconscious after a touch too much revelry.

Pulling himself into an upright siting position, he gathered his arms and legs inward, testing everything to make sure that it worked. Once assured that all of his faculties were still with him, he rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, blinking and glancing about.

What he saw was nothing short of horrific. The surface beneath him was wood, fine-grained and smooth, now stained a dark red-brown with old blood. It pooled here and there, sticky and still half-wet. The pirate’s brows furrowed, and he stood slowly, wincing when he registered the presence of a painful cut on his left leg. It was, however, nothing intolerable. Favoring it slightly, he advanced forward, taking stock of his ship. He did know it to be his ship, but something seemed faintly… off about it. Well, aside from the conspicuous puddles of blood and gore, that was.

Approaching the mainmast from behind, he moved to the starboard side slightly, his eyes widening when he found what this brought into his view. There, piled in the center-fore of the ship, were the bodies of its crew. A few carrion birds circled above, but he was too absorbed in the sight before him to properly register their calls. Those faces… mangled and bloody as they were, he knew those faces. There was Tormod, the elven navigator, his facial tattoos cruelly deformed by the sharp point of some unknown knife, and there was Gabrath, the sole dwarf on board and the best damned rigger he’d ever met. Iowen, Hafter, Melah, Xander, Heidelberg, Seph… every last one of them was a barely-recognizable mess that plucked some unseen string in his guarded heart.

Rudhale was not the kind of man one expected straightforward benevolence from, nor did he ever attempt to give the impression that he cared for anyone quite so much as he adored himself. But this… this was precisely the worst thing that could ever have happened to him. These men and women… they were his. Each and every one of them, he had found damaged, seemingly irreparably broken, and he had thought them all beautiful. Not in the shallow sense in which other people meant that word, either. There was something in them, something that he saw or thought he saw, and that had bade him stoop to collect their battered half-corpses from whatever muck they’d been stewing in. Maybe he was just selfish and saw too much of himself in them. He’d always subscribed to that particular theory.

But regardless of the reasons why or how, he’d grasped their arms, dragged them on board, and bade his single apostate crew member, the ship’s healer, fix what was physically mangled, while he endeavored to take care of the rest. He believed in second chances, and third ones, and sometimes more than that. If there was any redeeming feature to his nature, it was his ability to forgive without forgetting, to endure repeated efforts to spit in the face of his hospitality and his offer without withdrawing either, until his work was done.

But this… this was the one circumstance he could not fix. This was what he’d sworn to prevent, at any cost to himself. He approached the bodies with increasing discomfiture, looking for what he’d least hoped to find. His first friend, his dearest companion, and his ever-willing counterpoint. As it turned out, Jack was atop the mass, and Rudhale breathed a sigh of relief, the anxiety melting out of his posture. His smile was dark, his expression one of carefully-masked displeasure as he glanced up at the churning grey of the sky.

“Wrong answer, I’m afraid!” He called, his tone brightly cheery.

Morpheus was confused. He’d sorted through the pirate’s memories and his aspirations, a complicated enough task on its own when deceptions and facades mixed freely with realities and half-truths, but he was quite sure he’d picked out the circumstance under which the man would suffer the most. Perhaps he should have moved the man further backward in time; there were many demons to be played with involving his mother and father as well. He was about to do this, to flip the illusion about entirely, since that girl seemed to be slow in interfering here, but the impudent human’s voice interrupted him.

“Don’t you want to know how?” Rudhale sing-songed, stepping carelessly over the scattered piling of bodies and leaping up onto the uppermost deck, near the helm. He relished the dramatic fluttering of the cape once more about his shoulders, and crossed his arms over his chest, his grin taking on an edge of manic danger.

Morpheus stopped, intrigued. “And what would the price of such information be?”

The pirate threw back his head and laughed. “And they told me Darkspawn were stupid. How about this? I tell you what you missed, and you let me out of here. I confess that if I’m going to die, I’d much rather go in a glorious battle than whimpering to myself in my sleep. That was mistake number one, by the way. I’m a generous man, so you can have that one for free.”

The general manifested just in front of him, shrugging bony shoulders. “Very well. If you’d prefer to die in the usual way, that will suit me just as aptly.”

“Your word, if you don’t mind,” Rudhale replied. Truthfully, he had no idea if such contracts would be at all binding for a Darkspawn or not. Did they even have a sense of honor? Probably not; the pirate hardly had one himself. Nevertheless, it seemed like the right sort of demand in this situation, and Morpheus chose to indulge him by giving it.

“Well, first of all,” the human began, “If you’re going to show a fellow his home, do him the courtesy of getting it right. My ship looks a lot like this one, but you’re missing the details. There’s a knot in the wood by the mainmast that’s missing, the starboard side railing has three notches in it, which is a superstitious notion that Hafter had from his Rivaini grandmother. Those sorts of things.”

He paused, and the smile disappeared entirely, his voice dropping in volume until Morpheus almost had to move to hear it. “I suppose that sort of thing can be forgiven. But you have to be even more careful about the people.” Rudhale leaned against his tiller, brushing one of the spokes with his fingers. “Something you failed to understand was that I would have died before letting such harm come to any of them. I can believe that I was somehow incapacitated. What I can’t lend any credence to is the idea that of all of them, she died last. Oh, I can see where you’d think so. She’s very good, dear Anthea. But she’s very much like me, you understand. She’d have gone down first, in the effort to slay anyone who so much as laid a hand on her crew. She’s like that.” His effulgence was back in a flash, and he darted forward, clapping the side of Morpheus’s shoulder like one would an old friend.

“That’s about the long and short of it, Serah Darkspawn. You just don’t understand sacrifice and love. Understandable, really; you look like nobody’s loved you in a long time. And you were in Orlais, too, a prime opportunity to fix that, but then you had to be all stodgy and send everyone off to fantasyland instead. I hope you at least wound up with a few nice, dirty dreams to enjoy vicariously? One of those would have kept me entertained for far longer, by the way. Ah, but I’m babbling, and what hero babbles? Time to go, I expect. Chop, chop!”

When Ethne at least mustered up the energy to pursue the pirate into his dreams, she found that she need not have done so, for he seemed to be returning to consciousness of his own volition. Perplexed, the elf withdrew. She’d done all she could, now all that remained was to release each of them from slumber. Emilio, Fenlen, and Mirabelle would not awake, but the rest would, and it would have to be enough. She would be of almost no use in helping them in her present condition.

Please let this work, she supplicated, though to who or what, she was unsure. With what little she had remaining, she awakened each of those companions who had managed to see through the deceptions of the Darkspawn.

Rudhale’s eyes snapped open, and he was on his feet in moments. Just as well; Morpheus was rising from his throne, the licking tendrils of smoke at his translucent feet growing thicker. He could quite nearly taste the magic on the air, and was hardly surprised when demons began to appear, seemingly from nowhere. A miniature army they were, too: ten shades, five rage demons, and three desire demons, plus two hulking Darkspawn the others would recognize as ogres and Morpheus himself, who started off the battle by hurling a massive fireball at the still-clustered group.

Rudhale braced for impact, but it never came. He watched with mild confusion as the flames simply guttered out in midair, disappearing in a flash of white light. When the afterimages faded, he caught sight of the familiar dark blue cloak and armor of the Lord High Seeker. “If you’re going to move, move now. I’ll free the girl.”

Rudhale certainly didn’t need the encouragement, and though he wouldn’t trust Du Lac as far as he could throw him (bad blood will do that) he complied anyway, racing into the fray after Kerin, who, perhaps predictably, was the first one in. He made it a point to stay clear of her range of motion, however. He’d known a few berserkers in his time, and when it was time to shed blood, they were the very antithesis of discriminating rationality.


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Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland
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Kerin’s eyes snapped open, yet she saw nothing. A fine red haze had descended over her vision. She heard nothing, only the rampant beating of war drums inside her head. Her mind was clear of all emotion, except one. Rage. Anger, fury, bloodlust. The drums beat even faster as she pushed herself to her feet. There was no more room for rational thought, for such trivialities like speech or foresight or memory. She wasn’t aware that her helmet had fallen off, that it had rolled away when she fell to the ground. Though it mattered little. Only one thing was on her mind. Her head lifted up and her clouded eyes were met with a small army. Yet she wasn’t intimidated. For every shade and demon she saw, she saw a dwarf nobleman’s guard. And at the rear of the the procession between two monsters, sat the man who killed her brother-- for the second time. She only wanted one thing in the whole world now.

Not freedom. Not equality. Not even acknowledgement. All she wanted, right then, was his corpse. Without even checking on her companions, nor even giving heed to the fireball, she rushed ahead. She didn’t know, nor care if she was alone in this battle, the only thing that mattered was that blood should fall. And it should fall now. Even if her companions did try to assist, in her state she could hardly tell friend from foe. Everything was an enemy, like it always had been. It was always a berserker’s saying that they must learn to control their anger and use it as a weapon. Right then, Kerin was controlled by her anger, and it was using her. She was the weapon. A congealed ball of hate, fury, and blood. Yet she cared little, she would give in to that beast, just to see the monster who had slain her brother fall once more.

She charged into the frontline of demons wailing a deathsong. Not of her own death, nor even the deaths of the creatures in front of her, but the death of someone very close to her. Her axe flashed as it cut across the chest of a shade—the thing having enough wherewithal to stay away from the blood-drunk berserker’s range. The swipe was accompanied by a thump of the war drums' song in her head. And another, and another, and another as she feverishly wailed on the shade. Though it may have dodged the first swing, it could not hope to dare to match her ferocity. She stood over top the mass of twisted flesh as it dissolved into ash—wasn’t much of a stretch considering the state the dwarf left it in. She looked up at Morpheus and gave him a look of utter defiance and rage. She would see his blood run, even if hers must run beside it. With that, she turned and threw herself into the fray with such reckless abandon yet seen from the berserker.

Solvej's face was still in that tight, close-lipped smile when Ethne led her across the damnable Fade into wakefulness once more. The dream was gone, but the shroud of its presence still lingered, and she found that she was left feeling strangely hollow. It was an echo of an old feeling, and though it could not hope to match the utter brokenness she had once nursed, brooding at the back of a cage while her pride forced her to stand tall, it still reverberated through her trunk and limbs, whispering formless doubts into her nooks and crannies. Not the ones Morpheus had sought to give her, but the ones her own mind- an infinitely more cruel tormentor- had seen seeded in the moment of her wavering. If the pounding of war-drums sounded Kerin's attack, Solvej followed on a breathy sigh, the sound of shoulders meeting their burden once more, of air moving through places where nothing else dwelled.

Her hands found her spear, and she gripped it with surety, using it to push herself up from the ground and stand. Chin high, she readied herself, watching the flaming orb descend and disappear. The Lord High Seeker stood in its place, a man of singular cunning if the rumors were anything to go by. To entrust a chess-player with lives was to submit to a piece's valuation, but there was no other choice to be had. Her mouth did not open, no admonishment or threat escaped her lips. Her knowledge was her own, and if he knew anything at all about them, he would know what to expect if his knife found the magelet's back.

The grim twist to her lips did not reverse direction, nor take on any more effulgent life, as she strode onto the field behind the berserker and the pirate. Her steely eyes gained no spark, no glimmer of determination, even as she branched off to one side, thrusting the polearm into the singular phosphorescent eye of a shade. Nothing changed when her arms twisted, nor when the creature's answering blow skittered ineffectually off of her darkened shoulder-plate with a resounding clang. Determination, anger amusement even: these were things for people filled with something, for people with other options, who acknowledged and embraced the possibilities of victory and defeat and who fought for the desired outcome.

They were nothing to someone for whom the outcome mattered no longer. She was a meat-shield, a thing by which others might be protected, but she fought not for her own life. She would never give up, never surrender, never consign herself to anything, but that was simply because her function would never end. The goal of protecting something- an ideal, a dream, a person or a world- was one never completed. Resignation was its own strength. Bend, but never break. Never stop. Never lose sight of the important things.

They were on the other side now, the shapeshifter and his prey. Unfortunately, there was perhaps more meat here than he could handle on his own. There were many to carve through on the way to the one that had imprisoned him, and many of them were foes capable of snuffing him out quickly if he weren't careful. That, and their healer was still imprisoned. Suicide didn't know if they could count on her abilities even if she were released in time. But the girl had surprised him before.

The shapeshifter had woken from his dream quite the opposite of Kerin; a very example of a calm center within a storm. At least, on the outside. He moved seemingly without thought, without emotion, but inside, he was reveling in it all. All that he could see, all that he could hear. The feel of the rough wood against his palm as he pulled his staff into hand. The sound of the enemy's fire roaring through the air, only to be dispersed into nothing by one of their own. The feeling of his allies beside him again. It all added up to make the man feel very much alive. The Path had led through the Fade and back, through his very past and his very soul. It had reminded him of who he was, and where he was going.

Which right now, was directly at the nearest desire demon, floating just above the ground and locking eyes with him. He broke into a dead sprint, ignoring other foes, intent on removing this one. He'd focus on the others when the time came. This one, he could handle by himself. As the distance closed, time seemed to slow somewhat, her gaze piercing through him, her voice echoing in his mind.

You could have them back, you know. Those that you lost. The years that you lost. I could give it all back to you, if you so desire. The peace of your youth restored, those that you loved by your side once more.

He was a few meters away, the distance seemingly having halted as time came to a standstill, and the shapeshifter gave his response.

The Path leads only forward, creature.

He launched himself into the air, shifting into a wolf in mid jump, heavy weight slamming into the creature's chest and taking her to the ground with an unearthly wail. He cut it short with powerful jaws clamping into the throat and tearing outwards, sending a geyser of blood into the air above him, darkening the grey fur of his face. His nose alerted him to a perilously close stench, and he jumped back just in time to dodge both massive fists of one of the ogres slamming into the ground, reducing the desire demon formerly under him to a mere pile of blood and bones.

Crimped rose petals, thick tufts of grass, and wooden rafters alike melted into the foreground. His father's stern voice faded to a faint hum, hardly intelligible. It didn't matter whether or not Rhapscallion understood them, because he'd heard those words before, replaying over and over again like a broken record. Useless fool; you're lucky I'm generous enough to feed you, to shelter you. No longer were Ethne's arms around him, though he still felt the embrace as if she were. His dream space, his nightmare, his greatest fears, were behind him, now. The Fade tingled across his tongue, flitted through his fingertips and lingered as an awkward weight pressed down on his shoulders, reminiscent of the spectral hands clutching the back of his neck like a disobedient hound. He would not be forced to bow to Morpheus, never to the likes of him. He gave his head a shake, then brushed his fingers across the floor – as if to test that he was indeed out of the Fade, out of that disgusting place when all of his companion's were suffering. Everything felt solid, real. He no longer smelt horse stalls, or leather straps, or sweat. Between hitched breaths, barely sniffling through his nose, Rhapscallion noted that all of his companions were in fact intact and whole and unhurt. His hands balled at his sides, trembling with the effort. Morpheus would not make his nightmare a reality.

Right now, in these moments, Rhapscallion was tired of smiling in the face of impossible odds, of laughing when he ought to be crying, so he didn't subject himself to any false pretences. He was wide open and he was rubbed raw; tears ran freely down his cheeks, swimming at the corner's of his eyes. It was easy, as simple, as laughing. His posture hunched again, curling in on itself so he appeared much smaller, much more vulnerable, than he'd ever looked. He had his elbow's on his knees and his head buried in his hands. Morpheus would not win. His hands dropped from his face just in time to see Kerin bolting forward with abandon, clearly past seeing any sense in bulldozing her way towards the miniature army of demons and shades and baddies Morpheus had conjured to face them. Perhaps, that had been what he needed to see to wipe his eyes on the back of his hand and stand for what he needed to fight for.

They would win this. They would get through it, as usual. Even though Rhapscallion heard no war drums beating madly, like it's own private battle ricocheting in his skull, nor did he seem grimly resolute in his efforts, or recklessly resolved to applying himself as a meat shield, there was no way that he wasn't moved by what he'd seen. He wouldn't let any of them fall – as unlikely, as impossible, as that particular outcome seemed. Determination rang loudly, as clear as swords colliding with each other, in his heart, swelling to disproportionate sizes. It was a stirring; in his throat, in his chest, in his thoughts. No longer was there a fluttering vacancy, or a hollowness, or a place filled with doubts. His companions were the only remaining necessity. Every stagnant cell in his body flourished, even though his wound still sluggishly bled through his tunic – it hadn't healed in his sleep, and he wouldn't have expected it to. Either way, it wasn't likely that he'd sit out of this.

Instead of stifling the flow with his fingers, as he'd been doing, Rhapscallion bolted forward, following behind Solvej and Kerin and Dekton, before springing off in his own direction. His sword, unbalanced and sticky with blood, danced in quick circles while he sidestepped a nearby shade's claws, admonishing his own sense of justice with a parry, then a side swiping blow that crumpled the creature into a hissing pile of ash. He broke into a run and weaved around the wolf-form Dekton who had already brought down the Desire Demon, gracefully manoeuvring himself so that he was in a direct course for the nearest ogre; a menacing creature who's roar sent shivers down his spine. There wasn't enough time to cower, flit away like the shadow's. He ran close enough for the creature to raise it's club, then skidded low, passing between the ogre's knobby legs and, in the process, whipped his swords crossways so that he could clip it's ankles. The movement wasn't without it's price, because Rhapscallion's eyes widened, tensing with the jolt of pain extending up his sternum, and blubbering out his mouth in a froth of red – the colour of rose petals.

The blade of Kerin's axe bit repeatedly into the shade, rending its flesh over and over, marring the purplish skin with jagged gashes. They oozed a viscous, blackish substance akin to the sort that came from Darkspawn, and the creature flailed in its terror, lashing ineffectually at the minature mountain of rage and bullheaded determination. Beneath the onslaught, it was no resilent thing, and it and its nearest two fellows sucumbed to the berserker's carnal rage, simply without the strength or the cunning to capitalize on her singleminded lack of awareness for her surroundings. The triad of rage demons that followed them were no different in this respect, but they could do something their lowly counterparts could not: meet her fury with fury.

Attracted to the obvious anger eminating from her, they attacked in tandem, lashing out with molten limbs, flinging globules of lava off their liquidinous bodies in the process. Their mindless ire knew no bounds; distilled from the very essences of people much like she, tormented by eons trapped in the Fade with no outlet for their wrathful designs, they sought to add another to their number. Two roared and struck for the dwarf's sturdy legs, the other wasting no time in reaching for her unprotected head. If they didn't reduce her to ashes, she'd cook in her heavy armor- either was acceptable to the mindless messengers of the world's vehemence.

Those that fell beneath the Black Templar's hand were not subject to anything quite so effusive in its draw; it was as if for the Demons Solvej represented a negative space, a zone in which their own attributions were sapped from them until they were nearly as hollow as she. This did not stop the assault, but it gave her next attackers pause. In the end, Morpheus aimed his next attack- a bolt of brutal lightning- squarely for her chest. The glistening spear of raw electricity would rebound, close enough to affect Rudhale if he didn't get out of the way quickly. It was followed by the remaining five Shades, all swarming in an effort to bring the warrior-woman to her knees.

Rudhale himself flickered to the side, aware enough of his surroundings to take stock of what was occuring. His first opponent, a singular desire demon, had promised the usual thing, but he was admittedly too close to his dream still to bother considering it much. Instead, he feinted to one side, abruptly reversing direction just before comitting to the strike. He was considerably speedier than the primarily magical, demon, and his kilij bit deeply into the exposed flesh of her neck. Really, they were pretty much asking for that sort of thing in a situation like this; he knew whores who wore more clothing. Several.

Quickly assessing the situation, he ascertained that most of the opponents remaining were occupied, with one very large exception. Though one ogre was occupied with Rhapscallion and Suicide, the other was presently making for the occupied Solvej, and Rudhale was having none of that. "I appreciate a good knock-down, drag-out fight as much as the next man- or woman," he mused aloud, with an aside glance at both of the female warriors in the group, "But surely even brutes like you must have some standard of fairness." Well aware that his next move would probably kill him if he went too long without assistance, he engaged anyway, throwing the metaphorical gauntlet and drawing the beasts attention with a shallow laceration to its thigh. He felt his focus narrow and his stance loosen as he concentrated on the duel. If there was anything he was made to do, it was probably this.

The ogre aimed, hurling an enormous fist towards the pirate, who percieved the blow as it was launched and ducked, rolling deftly to the side and back up onto his feet. Certainly, his main goal was to be a flashy distraction until some of the others could fight their way free and flank it, but that didn't mean he'd be content to let it remain unscathed. There was some pride underneath his ridiculous shamelessness, after all.

The second massive Darkspawn bellowed as its ankles were sliced into; Rhapscallion's blades bit deep enough to scrape bone. The tendon in the right side was cut nearly in half, hanging on by less than a third of it's thickness, effectively crippling its movement. The nasty side effect of this was that the behemoth grew frantic in its assalt, lending each of its blows a kind of devastating, desperate strength. Ignoring the shapeshifter for the moment, it shifted its focus to the annoyance who'd caused it the most pain, sweeping an arm out in an attempt to knock the half-elf off his feet. Meanwhile, the last two unoccupied demons, one a twin to the desire demon Suicide had already crushed and the other the remaining rage demon, converged on the mage, the frailer entity choosing to stay back and cast from afar. Morpheus joined this assault as well, launching a powerful collection of ice for Dekton's feet.

"Your allies are quite the fearsome lot," Du Lac commented to Ethne, quirking a brow. There was something almost sly about the manner in which he said it, the words drawling over his tongue in a way that possessed both confident assurance and a hint of something more sinister. It was a tone she was not unused to hearing: a very select few of the Tevinter Magisters possessed much the same one, and it uniformly belonged to dangerous men. She swallowed thickly and did not reply, without the energy to do much more than lie there and force air in and out of her lungs. The lyruim had made her feel sick before, now it was as though it was sapping her energy directly, and any faint illnes was drowned in the fatigue this new circumstance engendered. Ironically, she was only now called to sleep, when her friends had made it past their own somnolent trials... or not, as the case may have been.

"Ah, ah," the Seeker admonished sending her an aside glance in an almost-luminescent blue. It was like that power that Templars used was backlighting his irises, as though he were filled to the brim with it. But that was a strange thought, and it slipped away from her too fast to really register anyway. She watched with dull gaze as he stepped back from where he'd been kneeling beside the crystal, and caught the glint of something grey and almost opalescent in one hand. Flint...?

"The dwarves make use of lyrium in explosives," Du Lac pointed out casually, tossing the flint in the air and catching it again. "And of course, any such thing can be weakened or strengthened with the proper calculation and a bit of field testing." He smiled the fox's own smile, a subtle thing, full of grey-shaded promise. He'd left his words intentionally vague, and in her present state, she was in no position to be deciphering them on any level but the one he intended.

"What are you...?" her sluggish thoughts finally caught up with her, and Ethne's face registered a shock much more vivid than she would have thought herself capable of just a few minutes prior. He wouldn't... would he?

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland
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Two more corpses fell before the feral might of the berserker and three more stepped up to test themselves against her fury. It mattered not that these creature represented the physical manifestation of her rage, it mattered not even if they had been the same demons she had buried away deep in her very soul. If they dared to stand against her, dared to oppose her, then They. Would. Fall. Nothing would curb the path she would carve to Morpheus, even if she must fell the entire army single-handedly. The ‘Spawn dared resurrect her past, the symbol of all of her shortcomings, the very thing that forced her to rage against her very fate. He summoned his legion of demons to protect himself?

She would show him the face of a true demon.

The rhythm of the war drums became even more wild, feral as she laid eyes on the challengers. They dared stand against her, daring to match their rage against hers. Theirs was that of fire, of heat, and of fury. Hers was a substance that they could never hope to match. Where they looked to burn and immolate, Kerin merely seeked to snuff and destroy. She looked dully at the pale fascimile of her own rage, her own fury. Their anger was not hers, her anger had a singular purpose. Kill. Without words, without worry, fear, hesistation, she approached them, axe in hand and vacant look in her eyes. They wished to challenge her? They would recieve their challenge. They lashed out with tendrils of fire, spat molten lava, and even bleed red flame, though Kerin would not be intimidated. Instinct caused her to jerk her head and evade a tendril, leaving the end of her braid smoldering. Another tendril cut into the shoulder of her armor, leaving a molten streak-- though she would not be detered from her path, suffering only a minor stutter in her step. Another struck her in the belly, piercing the armor and cutting flesh, cauterizing to wound on contact, yet if Kerin felt the pain, she refused to show it. She grabbed the tendril with her hand and ripped it free and tossing it away. The only hint that she had been injured was the sudden jump in pitch of the war drums. They had their turns. Now. It was hers.

She lifted her great axe and smashed it into the ground with every fiber of her being, crushing the stones underneath and causing spiderweb cracks to race from the epicenter. Then she did it again, and again, all to the rhythm of the war drums. The tremor she had caused managed to throw the demons off balance, granting her enough time to lower her shoulder and ram into the nearest one. Flesh cooked under her armor as it melted and deformed from contact with the demon, but she didn't care, the pain merely drew the drum skins taut. The ferocity of her attack knocked over the creature and before it could regain it's position, Kerin dropped a killer blow, splitting it in twain. She jerked around, her eyes still clouded with the vacant stare as smoke rose from her shoulder. The metal was deformed and would hinder movement. Without thinking nor caring, she grabbed the soft metal of the armor and ripped, tearing the plates off of her arm and discarding it. Under the armor laid seared flesh and burned cloth. The wound was ugly, but pain could not reach her over the furious rhythm of the war drums.

She took her first step towards the remaining corpses, and with her next she surged forth, scything between the pair of demon. One of them got off a lucky slash, cutting her above the eyebrow, her blood now flowing freely from the wound. It mattered not, she wished for blood, craved it, and would not be sated until she got her fill. Then she spun with her axe outstretched, hammering the demons numerous times with the whirlwind of axe blows. It mattered little if the demons were finished then, for she lifted her axe once more. They would feel the full extent of her fury. She dropped it on the form of one demon. She then lifted it again and dropped it on the other. She did it again to the other, and again, and again. The war drums beat along with her wild fury. They would not relent, and neither would she until every last living creature who opposed her lay in a pool of their own blood.

The feral beast that was Kerin then laid her vacant stare upon Morpheus once more, a mixture of blood and sweat covering half her face and another injury drenching her arm in scarlet. The image she painted was a grim one, but despite her wounds she stood strong and defiant. These wounds would not kill her, not until she fulfilled her anger. She would not be defeated, her fate was Morpheus's to fear.

Rudhale’s battle-rhythm was much less steady than Kerin’s, a curiously-wistful aria made of multi-tonal refrains and haunting echoes. For all that, it seemed to serve him just as well as hers served her, and even while the grey-skinned ogre came at him repeatedly, his natural reflexes and balance kept him just enough steps ahead. It went left, he slid right, feet tapping frenetic, irregular patterns on the stone floor. There was no predetermined measure, no perfect stanzas or solemn chorus, just the liquid glide of improvisation. A massive fist crashed to the ground less than two feet from him, cracking the stone beneath considerably, buckling and pulling him towards the giant’s limb. Rather than fight this, he jumped, landing on the curled fingers and moving quickly, his gangly-looking legs proving themselves well-accustomed to the bucking and tossing of a ship on a wave as he ascended the arm to which the fist was attached, laughing merrily even as he sank the piercing-blade of his katar deep into the ogre’s shoulder.

Without a break in his movement, he allowed his momentum to carry him forward past it, and he jumped off the far side of the shoulder with finesse, the katar forced to drag through more flesh as he yanked it free on his descent. No sooner had Rudhale’s feet touched the ground than he was in motion again, tucking into a roll and just barely missing the sweep of its opposite arm as it roared its defiance and redoubled its efforts to end him.

“You lot don’t go down so easily, do you?” he teased flippantly. To be sure, it was hard to say if Darkspawn possessed the necessary intelligence to respond to taunting (Morpheus excepted, obviously), but it seemed that human voices themselves were something of a goad, or maybe he was just as annoying to them as he was to people- it was hard to say which.

The ogre responded with a headlong charge, something that he’d not been expecting, given the enormous tear in the deltoid muscles of its left arm. Nevertheless, he was able to move himself out of harm’s way- mostly. The transition left him somewhat off-kilter, and quick though his recovery might have been, it wasn’t quick enough. Morpheus, damned cheater that he was, had hurled a petrify spell, and though Rudhale literally bent over backwards to avoid it, it still caught one of his arms, encasing the limb in crushing stone. The pirate hissed, forced to drop his kilij, leaving only the short katar with which to fight. The sound of his arm-bones cracking was singularly unfortunate, and he bit down on his own tongue, a jagged groan escaping him when he regained the presence of mind to spit the excess blood from his mouth.

He was about to pick up his longer blade and sheathe his short one when he heard the distinctive sound of the ogre’s running footseps behind him. Rudhale threw himself to the side, barely able to avoid being trampled. He landed hard on the shoulder corresponding to the crushed arm, making a small choking sound when the pain rebounded throughout the entire limb. It felt as though it were simultaneously being stabbed with thousands of needles and set aflame. Gritting his teeth, the captain hauled himself to his feet, katar gripped firmly in one hand, and faced the ogre.

Suicide had been snarling at the massive darkspawn, his teeth dripping blood from the desire demon, when Rhapscallion had intervened, drawing its attention by shredding the creature's tendons in the ankle. The shapeshifter reverted back to human form when the ogre turned away to attack the rogue, and new threats may their way before him, a second desire demon, and one of rage. The demoness fired entropic magic his way at blistering speeds, a glowing white spell, attempting to paralyze him for the rage demon. The spell him squarely in the chest, as he had just shifted and was not prepared to move, and he immediately felt a constricting in his limbs, like being caught in so many spiderwebs, held to the ground and to the walls. Snarling as though he were still a wolf, Suicide raged against the spell and broke free, though his movement was still considerably slowed.

The rage demon charged forth, spewing fire and ash and leaving a trail of embers behind him. Dekton knew these things had but one tactic: burn and destroy everything in their path. He currently wasn't quick enough to avoid it, and with this paralysis spell still lingering, he figured shifting into a raven would simply cause him to fall to the ground, flapping about like a fool until the demon turned him into a little smoking pile of ashen feathers. If he couldn't go around it, he'd have to go through it.

Even as the demon prepared a gout of flame to direct towards the shapeshifter, Suicide's hands chilled, the magic flowing through the darkspawn staff. The blast of fire was matched with a cone of cold, flame and ice obliterating each other between the two combatants. Lowering his stance for purchase against the ground, the shapeshifter pushed forward, steadily overpowering the rage demon with sheer force of magic, the frost beginning to envelop the creature, causing it to roar in pain, and attempt to back away.

Just as he thought he would destroy the demon utterly, another combatant took its side. There was an explosion of cold at his feet, and not one created by himself. The shapeshifter was thrown from his feet, sent flipping through the air to crash against the nearest wall, his staff lost somewhere in the chaos. He felt blood running down his side, and found a large shard of ice embedded there. Morpheus. The master of the enemy himself had turned his eye on Suicide. The shapeshifter had little time to examine wounds, however, as the rage demon angrily sought to return the injuries it had suffered in kind.

The effects of the paralysis spell were wearing off, but Suicide still had only reached his feet when the rage demon was on him, spent of magic, instead swinging at him with burning claws. Suicide enveloped his arms with frost magic, lessening the burn when he blocked the demon's strike by hand. It landed one hit, fiery claws raking across his chest, leaving deep cuts that burned as well. He managed to get off a wintery strike of magic, cutting the creature's chest open, spewing fire and lava as it fell, forcing Suicide to leap backwards as it erupted into a explosion in death, becoming no more.

Solvej scarcely had time to wonder at the glimmer of light approaching from the corner of her eye before she was struck with the lightning, every nerve in her body taxed beyond the thresholds of pain. There were no apt metaphors, no adequate comparisons, for that sensation. It was not simply a charge of electricity- it was an attack from Morpheus himself, and he had not missed. The force of magic reverberated throughout her entire body so quickly and powerfully that it seemed like the waves of pain were almost crashing against one another, and all she knew was agony. Reflexively, her fingers tightened on her spear, planting the blunt end against the ground. She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out, the force of her breath completely stolen from her, lost in the paroxysm of torment that now afflicted her.

One of the shades was foolish enough to attack her in this state. Though its night-claws did bury themselves in a joint of her armor, finding the gaps in her chain-mail and piercing three idential holes in her left side, near her ribcage, it also became part of the electrical chain, and it had no inborn resistence to magic, no Templar's mental discipline. The only thing keeping the woman alive could not save the shade, and it fried from thie inside, blowing open from its belly, scattering discolored, half-cooked parts in a wide radius. The others were more content to wait, circling the armored female like so many vultures, just waiting to close on a corpse.

Slowly, too slowly, the charge faded, and Solvej at last inhaled a deep gasp, her erratic heartbeat regaining some sense of regularity. Aftershocks plagued her limbs, weakening them and setting her hands to tremor violently. Swallowing, she blinked to clear her sight, attempting and failing to lift her spear from the ground. It was then that the Shades attacked.

Gritting her teeth, the Templar let the spear drop and crouched, lowering her center of gravity and crossing her arms up to protect what of her face was exposed by her helmet. Shoring her defenses, she waited. Until she could regain better control of her body, she would simply have to endure. The blows were rain, and she put them from her mind. The majority clattered off of solid plate or skidded from tight-linked chain. One pushed her backwards, but she dug her feet in and waited, curled inward on herself and finding her center. Focus. Control. Discipline. Fortitude. These were the hallmarks of a Templar, trained into them from the first day they were lined up in front of their Knight-Sargeant, and though she was a very poor Andrastean, she was a very good Templar.

Pain is nothing. This body is nothing. I am nothing. Only the goal is important. I will endure. I will persevere, for they give me strength. Pain is nothing, this body is nothing... the litany repeated itself, over and over, and at last she could feel surety return to her limbs and her mind both. The tremors stopped, the doubt drained away. The emptiness returned, and she embraced it. Surging to her feet, Solvej cocked one fist and slammed it with extreme prejudice into the eye-like globule in its head. The force of the blow knocked it back several feet, and she transitoned into a kick, pivoting to catch one of the others unware and in the arm. The others backed off immediately, and she used her new room to take a few steps backwards, focusing on the one she'd punched first. With a running start, she dropped low, driving her shoulder into its abdomen and taking it to the ground.

The armor on her knees skidded with a grating sound on the stone floor, but she did not heed this information in any particular way, just as she had narrowed her focus to the exclusion of the pain from the wounds she'd taken thus far. The fact that she currently possessed no weapon was about all that registered, and so she instead picked up what passed for a cranium on the shade, slamming it repeatedly into the stone. There was nothing vengeful or angry about the motions, though they probably qualified as both viscious and brutal. She stopped as soon as the creature ceased moving, which was in just enough time to roll sideways off the corpse and avoid being decapitated by another. Decapitation, now there was an idea.

Something poked into her back as she rolled, but she knew on instinct it wasn't her spear. Unimportant, since it was a weapon and she needed one. Feeling blindly behind her, she clasped the hilt of whatever it was and swung it at the next shade, who hadn't ceased its pursuit simply because she'd dodged the initial blow. From the floor, she hacked upwards for the neck, and was rewarded with a gout of arterial spray when what appeared to be the longer of the pirate's swords opened up a broad line across the shade's throat. She might have wondered how that had come to be in this spot, but she chose to accept it and keep on moving instead. At last able to regain her feet, she slicked some of the gore from her face with the side of her free hand and faced the two remaining shades. Done wasting time, she closed the distance, shrugging off a blow from one and stepping past it to slash broadly at the other. To be perfectly honest, she was more accustomed to piercing weaponry, but she's learned how to use a blade, too, and it would be enough to end these things. Her target staggered backwards, but she pressed, reaching into her wellspring of power and drawing that magic, not-magic along the blade of the kilij. The holy smite ripped right through the injured shade, and she whipped the blade around to hit the second as well, and this time, the head really did go flying.

Solvej exhaled, a satisfied smirk playing across her feet, and chanced a glance around. There was her spear, for one. To her left, Rudhale was tangling with an ogre (stupid man, trying that alone), and to her right... flames take them all. Rhapscallion was no wiser. He was at least in proximity of Dekton, though the shapeshifter didn't appear to be having an easy time of it. Kerin was wailing away on a rage demon some distance in front, and presumably the magelet and the poncy Orlesian Seeker were still behind. Deciding quickly, Solvej ran to her spear, kicking it in Dekton's direction. "Do me a favor and help my idiot protegee if you get the chance, would you?" The question might as well have been rhetorical, because she had no time to wait for the answer. Time to go save a fool from his own ignorance, it seems.

It was impossible to wriggle up from his position like a snake; spring back onto his feet like he usually would. His endurance had whipped out of his mouth as soon as he'd slammed his back on the ground, careening through the massive Darkspawn's splayed legs. There was no way to fight gravity. It tugged him down by the shoulders, bearing down heavily on his sternum, and kept him skewed, and debilitated, on the cobblestones. The sounds of axes and swords and dancing spear-tips surrounded him, clashing with barbaric weaponry, and inevitably resulting in agonized howls. This was his own drumming beat of war drums. These were the only sounds that kept him from laying prone, underneath the massive, shifting weight of the Darkspawn. There is a splitting headache just between his eyes, churning away like a grotesque forge, or a familiar barrage of unkind words, and he feels oddly as if he is no longer connected to his body. His lifeblood pulsed between his fingers, staining the underbelly of his nail beds. It might take more than washing his hands to get rid of this event. Rhapscallion saw the world through fogged lenses, one's that couldn't concentrate on one thing long enough. His blood, his blood.

The hulking Darkspawn's massive arm swept towards him. If it hadn't been for his choice – what would be considered a little dark, and perhaps a little shameful, then he would've been done for. Rhapscallion's muscles tensed, flexed, and fluctuated. Blood still dribbled from his lips, painting a thick, steady line below his mouth, but at least he had enough good sense to hop away from the ogre's desperate swing. For a moment, Rhapscallion tipped forward and coughed – or that's what it seemed like he was doing until he finally straightened and dashed forward, stepping onto the creature's knee and throwing himself into the air like an unfurled coil. His blades were tainted; coated with his own blood. It would take a toll on his own life... but, it was enough to finish this beast and move on so that Kerin, or anyone else strong enough, could finally get to Morpheus. If they cut the head off the snake, then this would all be over. They'd be fine. They'd recover from this, wouldn't they? He gripped his blades tighter, wringing his hands into white-knuckled fists. The creature's movements were laughably slow, now. As if it were moving through a pool of molasses, slugging around oafishly. Rhapscallion utilized the Darkspawn's meaty shoulder for leverage, hooked his blade around the creature's fat neck and swung around so that he could drive his borrowed dagger straight into it's eye socket.

Tonight, he wouldn't be useless.

The triplicate of rage demons lay dead, and Morpheus scoffed. Useless creatures. The lower order of demons always disappointed him, though they had their place. While the intruders had been working tirelessly to make their way to him, their bodies had been weakening as they sustained injury after injury, both from the summoned minions and the pittances he threw at them. Their endurance was impressive, but none could last forever. Even so... it was time to intervene.

Hurling a frost spell at Kerin to slow her progress, he watched the ice climb up the dwarf's legs, locking her in place for the time being. Morpheus reached into the vast wellspring of power inside himself, drawing it out into the air around himself and weaving the magic in complex, interlacing patterns. It looked as if he were composong a tapestry of dark, sickly-pulsing threads, and cloaking himself in them. The air in the Chantry grew heavy and cloying, as though this were a more concentrated version of the barrier that had surrounded the center of Val Royeaux, but it was being turned to very different purpose here. Once the dome of green-threaded black had completed and solidified around him, Morpheus smiled from behind it, drawing the opaque energy back towards himself. The shape warped and twisted, molding around his body like so much clay. The lines of his form were pronounced through the seemingly-liquidinous casing, as though he were wearing seamless armor from head-to-toe. A hand-axe made of the same stuff formed in either palm.

All at once, the armor and weapons soldified, shelling Morpheus in pearlescent black casing that, if the way the worrying green still flashed through it at seemingly-random intervals was any indication, would function almost exactly like the barrier he'd created. Raising one hand, palm up, he shifted his grip on his axe and beckoned Kerin forward with two fingers. Come, vengeful one, and test your steel on this. The voice issued not from the 'Spawn's mouth, but once again from his mind, only... louder. Loud enough, in fact, that everyone in the room could hear it, as though Morpheus were somehow speaking over their own thoughts, however loud or single-minded those might be.

Mere seconds afterwards, the room rang with an explosion, shaking the ground and knocking both ogres off their feet. The one with Rhapscallion presently attached to its face still managed to grab the man by his torso and rip him free of itself, tossing him over Dekton's head and into the far wall. Its eye was not faring so well, however, and ti thrashed about blindly, doing great damage to its environment but in far too much pain to recognize what was going on around it. As a result, it couldn't regain its footing, and simply caused indiscriminate damage to its environment, which included crushing the Desire Demon still hurling spels at the Chasind mage beneath its massive body. Her bones snapped easily, rendering her at the very least unconscious, if not dead.

The second ogre was dealt several punishing wounds when it fell, the surefooted pirate capitalizing on his advantage, but it managed to use its one good arm to push to uprightness long before its brother would. Snarling incoherently, it prepared to charge the pirate, and the Templar, newly arrived to the confrontation. "Hello there, my dear. I have to say it's simply marvelous to see you," Rudhale asserted with a grin. Oh, there was no mistaking that his arm was still killing him, perhaps literally if it didn't get some attention soon, but that was no excuse to lose one's manners, now was it? At the sight of the charging ogre, he sighed theatrically and shrugged his good shoulder. "I'll go left if you want the right. I'd let you choose, but well, I'm only half as good as usual at present, I'm afraid." There was little time to spend debating it, however, as the rush was imminent, and he split off in the direction he'd indicated, aiming for the corresponding side of the beast. He'd left Solvej with the weakened arm, and with luck, she'd be able to cripple it permanently.

He, as always, would be a very distracting diversion.

The explosion, as it turned out, blew the lyrium crystal to smithereens, but where Ethne had expected to be vaporized or some such, she instead found herself encased in blue-white light and relatively unharmed As the smoke cleared from around her, the shield fell, and she was left rather closer than she'd expected to a still-smirking Du Lac, who was bent at the torso so as to be looking down at her from directly above. "I'm surprised. No begging for mercy, no screaming... you must be a lot more accustomed to the idea of your own death than people give you credit for." She shook her head dumbly, and he shrugged. "Oh no? Well, no matter." In a movement she could not quite follow, Du Lac produced a glass vial filled with an easily-recognizable bright blue liquid. Dangling it over her nose, he glanced aside at the battle.

"I do believe your compatriots could use some assistance. They have sustained heavy injuries already, and Morpheus is only getting started." She reached for the vial, only for him to move it just out of her reach. "But! This is only yours if you agree to take your injured and leave here the moment you are done. There are stories to be told about this incident, and you and yours will be in none of them. Is that clear?"

Ethne's brow furrowed, but she didn't see much other choice. The biggest problem she had with this was not the request itself, but that she could not discern his motives. The idea that he simply wished to claim credit for what was about to happen (if, indeed, they succeeded) presented itself, but it seemed far too simple for a man like this. Still, what other option was there? "Fine, we'll leave. Please," she need not have finished the thought, for the glass container was pressed into her palm quickly, and the Lord High Seeker flickered in her vision before vanishing entirely- to what end, she knew not.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland
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The Black Templar's spear slid to his feet, and the shapeshifter paused long enough to slide his foot under the blade and kick it up into his hands. He gave Solvej a nod of understanding, noting how Rhapscallion was currently attached to the eyeball of an ogre. The weapon was no magic staff, but it would do well enough, he supposed.

The rage demon dealt with, Suicide had been just about to charge the ogre when the explosion rocked the battle, taking him from his feet, as well as pretty much everything else. Suicide managed to hang on to the spear, and he angrily forced himself back to his feet, getting his bearings on how the battle had shifted now that Ethne's prison had been torn asunder. Morpheus had turned his attention on Kerin, after... changing. The mere sight of him conjured up feelings of nausea that the barrier had produced, something that would not occur from viewing carnage alone. He was an enemy born of foul magic, that much was clear.

The ogre he'd been asked to assist with was thrashing about now that it had regained it's feet, obliterating the second desire demon, as well as pretty much everything surrounding it. The shapeshifter couldn't see where exactly Rhapscallion had ended up, but he would do his best to comply with the Warden's wishes. He would at least put her weapon to good use, if the beast gave him a chance. Considering how disoriented it was, given its lack of sight, Suicide doubted it would see a blast of stone coming. Gathering up the necessary magical energy, the shapeshifter hurled a boulder at blistering speeds into the ogre's head.

It did not, as he suspected, see that coming, and the boulder collided with a wicked crack into its jaw, crushing what little shape it had for a mouth and teeth, and sending it crashing onto its back and writhing in pain, likely unable to see anything, or feel anything other than the mush that was the lower half of its face. Suicide examined the situation for the briefest of moments. These things did not give up easily, nor did pain seem to do anything other than to make them angrier. It needed to be finished, but none of his spells he could think of would quite do the trick. Perhaps it was time for the spear after all. While he did not expect to come out of a close quarters fight with an ogre, even a wounded one, without some injury, the healer was at least freed at this point, and quite possibly capable of healing, providing him with some measure of insurance.

And really, he needed no other justification to charge an ogre besides the fact that it would be quite the experience.

He took the weapon firmly in both hands, aimed the pointy end at the fallen ogre, set his eyes on his prey, and charged, closing the distance before the beast had a chance to collect itself. He launched himself into the air when he reached it, plunging the spear down into the ogre's chest, the weight and force behind the blow giving it great strength. Solvej's spear tore through the chest, cracked through rib, punctured lung, and quite nearly burst out the other side of the creature, before it finally halted. Still the thing was not dead, but the wheezing sound of its next breath told Suicide it was finding it quite impossible to breathe.

The shapeshifter wouldn't have much time to think about that, though, as one of its fists came up from the ground in a final show of resistance, and blasted him in the side, sending him floating across the length of the room, before he smashed through a pillar along the far side, skidding along the floor among the skittering bits of stone before coming to a stop, and not immediately moving whatsoever.

The explosion rocked the building as Solvej was making her way to Rudhale, and she loosed a string of Anderfellan curses more from habit than actual vitiriol. The ex-Templar wobbled, unsteady, but in the end, the same training that allowed her to stand her ground against large foes served her well. She wasn't quite indomitable, but she was close, and after she collected herself, reintroducing her right foot to the stone beneath with a pronounced thud, she moved forward again, reaching the fool pirate even as he spent his time cleverly stabbing away at the temporarily-downed ogre. He'd... done a lot more damage to it than she'd expected. Perhaps there was more substance to him than his style would suggest, though it clearly had come at quite the cost. One of his arms hung limply at his side, and she resisted just barely the urge to wince sympathetically. Not too long ago, more than one of her limbs had been in a similar condition, after all.

Whatever pain he was feeling wasn't enough to check his cheeky tongue, and she graced him with a tight-lipped frown, rolling her eyes. Playing the straight man in the comedy of life wasn't something she was quite so used to anymore, but she suspected that with him, everyone else was necessarily the more sane of the two.

There was no time for sharp, deadpan rejoinders, however, as the beast had regained its feet and set its sights on the both of them. Without an immediately better plan, Solvej was forced to adopt the pirate's tempo for this one, and she nodded succinctly. "Aye aye, captain," she mumbled dryly, splitting off in the opposite direction and digging her feet in, using her traction to propel herself powerfully forward. The ogre was commited to its charge, unable to follow the both of them at once, and chose to lock onto the more flamboyant combatant in an attempt to change direction slightly. Solvej hoped it wouldn't hit him full-on, but she had no recourse to help, and so chose to follow the half-cocked plan and do as much damage as was humanly possible. Adjusting her own trajectory, she tightened her grip on her borrowed blade and thundered past the creature, flaying open a broad slash along the inside of its elbow, just above the joint.

There was an unmistakable sound when the tendon there snapped, and the ogre tilted off-balance without that arm to aid its control. When the fist attached to that limb would have next hit the ground in its simian motion, there was no muscle strength to be had, and it fell sideways, collapsing onto its damaged limb.

The impact had not been without consequence for Solvej, either, and the combined momentum of both herself and the ogre had ripped her arm from its socket with a muted sucking pop. Gritting her teeth, she popped the joint back into place, hissing softly at the pain-spike that accompanied the motion. This was no time to be standing around, though; she had no idea where Rudhale was, and she could only hope that whatever his location, 'under the ogre' wasn't part of it.

As it turned out, Rudhale had indeed avoided that fate, though by dent of pure, stupid luck more than anything else. Quick on his feet he may be, but predicting the wild veering of an unbalanced and angry ogre wasn't really a skill he'd had time to hone into an art. Frankly, he'd not complain if he never had to. Well, no, that was a lie. He hoped to do this and more dangerous things dozens more times before all this was said and done. He was almost positive his wish would be granted, too, which made things all the better, assumng he survived this bit.

Rolling to his feet and careful to avoid his tender arm, the pirate quite nearly danced right on over to his still-prone foe, hopping over a weakly-swung arm and sinking the triangular blade of his katar deep into the ogre's throat, upwards from underneath the chin. As expected, it came back goated in blood and brain tissue, which he was intereted to notice was a very-ordinary grey in color, though with a tinge of blue he would not have expected. At last, the ogre fell still, slain for good. Straightening, Rudhale nodded as if to himself, then flashed Solvej a shameless grin and a wink. "I get this wonderful feeling life will never be boring with you lot around, my dear."

His head turned thereafter to the front of the building, where it appeared that Morpheus was preparing to make his stand. "Though I must say, that one is a little tiresome, do you not agree?"

The explosion rang through his ears like an unpleasant drum – hardly the heroic beat giving Kerin enough energy to plow through the ugly letches as if they were toys, aiming straight towards the source: Morpheus. It crackled whatever concentration he'd built, felling his building blocks in one swoop; as if a little boy had suddenly kicked them over. Where had it come from? He couldn't tell up from down, or how he was even managing to hold onto the ogre's flapping eyelid, occasionally spurting thick globs of what he hoped was blood. He might've shouted something about the shape of Andraste's breasts, but it was hard to tell with all that snapping about; voice undulating to a bouncing gurgle.Things had been going well until the Darkspawn's chubby fingers closed around his midsection, prickling it's knobby claws into his ribs while it bodily extricated his flailing person from it's face. He'd been clinging on for dear life moments before, hands tightly wound around the dagger he'd embedded into it's red-rimmed eye. Now, Rhapscallion was sailing through the air, without direction, without control; the ceiling winked away, spiralling into the floor, before he smashed into the far wall. Lights exploded. Whatever breath he'd been holding in was thrown out in a croaking gasp, forcefully expelled from his lungs. Golden leaves and silkspun wings speckled constellations and starlight’s in the corners of his eyes, closing its gloomy mitts, as if a heavy curtain was being pulled closed.

Pull yourself together. His hands dragged against the cement floors, seeking purchase between the cracks. Everything around him was slick and warm. Why was he in so much pain? He'd been on his feet just seconds ago. Rhapscallion moved his arms in front of him, pushed himself up so that he could lean his back against the wall he'd been thrown into – at least, it was good for something. He felt something on his back, a fly perhaps, it bites him, there's was a sharp sting; a permeating pain that stretched it's fingers across his abdomen, his midsection, his ribs. He was growing weak. A weak crackerjack smile, half-way between a grimace and a grin, spread across his cracked lips as he leaned his shoulder into the wall, gripping between the cranny's and crevices puzzle-pieced into the bricks with his fingers. His knees wobbled with the strain. His eyes were different, unfocused, glossy. Where had the explosion come from? How far was he from them?

He breathed, slowly, softly, through his nose, his mouth, to try and regain a sense of tranquillity. To still the sporadic beating of his heart. To harness some sort of hidden strength he wasn't aware he had. To stifle his trembling knee-buckling shakes. They were still fighting. Only a coward would lie down and give up. He'd promised – quietly, without ever telling them so – that he wouldn't see them fall, that he wouldn't risk blowing their dreams from his palms like dandelion seeds. Nearby, through Rhapscallion's wavering vision, he'd seen another form bulldoze into a pillar, knocking it into pieces, before continuing to skid beyond the wreckage – Suicide? Dekton. The fluttering organ behind his ribs clenched, annotating that he was in fact seeing his friends suffering at the hands of a known source, unable to prevent it from happening. But his hands weren't shackled. He could move. He could fight. He would.The grip on his blades tightened, rattling against his gauntleted fingers. Chevalier's wouldn't give in, wouldn't complain about a flesh wound, would they? Patches of his body flashed, mimicking his background, before phasing back to his original form. Useless – he gave up the effort, found his clumsy foals-legs, and drew his blades in front of him: this was it. Morpheus' voice, unspoken from his lips, rippled through the airwaves, invading the personal spaces of his mind. In order to stop all of the suffering, they'd need to put him down – cut the head off the snake, and it's body would die. The Darkspawn would flee from Val Royeaux: his home. He moved towards Kerin's flank. If there was anything he could do to assist her, then he would. They needed her strength; now, more than ever.

Something stalled her march. Her feet wouldn't move, no matter how much the war drums willed it. She didn't look down, merely kept her eyes straight, leveled coldy on the target, on Morpheus. She strained and pulled, but her shackles of ice would not budge. The war drums sang a maddening song in her head, pushing, forcing, commanding her to move forward and end the monster with a fell swoop of her axe. As she struggled against her icy prison, Morpheus beckoned to her, his voice barely audible over the pounding of drums. If she understood him, she showed no indication. She needed no goading for the task at hand. The outcome would have been the same even if he keep his voice out of her tulmutious mind. She would reach him, sooner or later, and she would cut him down. The entirity of her purpose right then, was the destruction of that abomination of a darkspawn.

Then she was realized she was free from her frozen shackles. An explosion shook the foundation of the Chantry, and Kerin, even on her war path, stumbled a step. A singular step that shattered the ice around her feet. Only one foot left the ground however, as her axe thrust into the stone to keep her balanced. She was not going to fall, no matter how many explosions he threw at her. She would not fall until her purpose was complete. With her foot now back on firm ground, she took a step. And then another step. Followed by another. Once again, she was on her war path.

The sudden sheath of black and green pearlescent armor didn't even register with Kerin, though it matter little. Just one more thing to get through before she could rend the soft flesh beneath. She approached her objected, her vacant eyes staring directly into Morpheus's face. If she had her way, it would soon be robbed of life. She hefted her axe, unaware that Rhapscallion was on her flank. It wouldn't have mattered if she did realize she wasn't alone, her goal was firmly in sight, within cutting distance. And so, she reared back her axe and let fall a Killing blow, hoping to end it all right there.

Rudhale saw the blow about to fall, he and Solvej jogging to reach Morpheus, Kerin, and Rhapscallion before the Darkspawn had a chance to retaliate. Having felt its magic, he could say with certainty that she wouldn't last long if all his attention was focused on her, determination of superhuman proportions or no. He winced when what should have been a limb-severing blow simply bounced off the shell like wood off steel, except with a much more resounding noise. A flicker of movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he watched the other ogre struggle for breath, Solvej's spear planted in its chest. He was debating whether or not he was in better condition than the Templar woman beside him and which one of them should go help Suicide finish it off when the point became rather moot.

All at once, each of them was flooded with a powerful cooling sensation, something like the ocean breeze on a sweltering Antivan summer day, and slowly, their damaged and battered bodies knit themselves back together. For his own part, the pirate was met with several wet clicks as his shattered bones rearranged themselves and fused. His smaller cuts and bruises remained unchanged, but he had his arm back, and he wasn't about to complain about anything else if that was he case. Flexing the fingers carefully, he grinned like a madman when there was no pain. Glancing over at Solvej, he jerked his head at the dying behemoth. "If you want your spear back, I'll take that," he offered. It didn't make much sense to rush Morpheus with a single katar, not if the mighty dwarf's axe-blow had simply rebounded like that.

His suggestion was punctuated by the whistle of a stone projectile as it whizzed past them and collided with the Darkspawn's head, breaking against the thick cranium but cracking its skull in turn. Behind them, Ethne wobbled forward, staff in hand and the extra energy replenished by the Seeker's potion already spent. Still, she'd tried to be as wise about it as possible, and hopefully it would help.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland
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Her axe rebounded off of the armor. Kerin didn't understand, couldn't understand in her state. The war drums pounded deep heavy beats, demanding his blood be spilled by the axe in her hand. The rhythym was coming to a bloody cresendo, restless, rampaging beats demanding she continue her war path, demanding that she cut down the being in front of her. The pounding drums would not relent, she would not relent until Morpheus lay dead by her feet, and only then would she be granted a reprieve from the maniacal drums. She struck again, her axe rebounding off of his fade-armor. Hairline fractures began to spiderweb across her axe, but it did not matter. Even if she had to use the bare haft of the axe, she would beat Morpheus to death.

Years of repression, of oppression, of being looked down upon, of being spit upon, of being insulted, hated, reviled. Years of being thought of lower than dirt, of being nonexistant were boiling over, tempering the dwarf into a fine honed point of black treacly hatred. Funny thing about hatred. It was stubborn. It would not relent, she would not relent, until Morpheus felt all of the pain and anguish she had to suffer through during all of her years. Him. Morpheus. The Darkspawn general. The dreamweaver. The puppetteer who resurrected a corpse Kerin had long since buried by her very hands, killed by her very hands. The unfeeling monster would never understand her pain, her struggle. With one gesture, in bringing back a familiar face she had consigned herself to never see again hoping to entrap her in a blissful dream, he had summoned a monster she thought she would never hear again. With it, it brought back the waves of guilt, of anger, of hopelessness. Tears began to stream down from her vacant eyes.

It had broken her.

And in those pieces, all of her emotions she had bottled up, only allowing the barest traces escape during her typical berserker rampages, allowed them all to escape at once. He stood in the center of her warpath, she would be relentless in her pursuit, she would find determination mere mortals could only hope for. She. Would. Break him. Just as he broke her. Her axe reared back again and met the unyielding armor. Again. And again. Her strokes were relentless, marching along with the rampaging drums. Perhaps it was the sheer ferocity of her attacks. Perhaps he was playing with her. But eventually, finally Morpheus struck back.

His own axe cleaved deep into her shoulder, rending flesh, carving steel, and cutting bone. Perhaps it was the dwarven resilience to the fade. Perhaps it was mere beastial instinct of preservation that saved her, as she moved away from the axe and managed to slip away with the limb still intact, though not without price. Blood ran freely from the wound, flowing past mangled steel and flesh. Yet, if she felt pain, she did not show it. Her determination, the war drums would not allow it. Yet his own onslaught wasn't done as he come down with another axe. The beast playing the war drums had enough werewithal to throw her axe up and intercept the blow. Yet it was more than one blow. Much like Kerin had been relentless with her own axe, Morpheus was just as relentless with his. One, two, three, four, the ringing ran concurrent to the march of her own drums.

Then something shattered, the axe in her hand felt lighter. She stumbled backwards as the haft in her hand turned to splinters and the axe head shattered into fragments. She stumbled back as her legs quivered, threatening to collapse on her. Yet she did not kneel. She would not bow. She would not back down. She could not break anymore. She would keep fighting until death. Her inhuman determination steeled her as she drew her shortsword.

She would see his blood run, even if hers must run beside it.

The shapeshifter's battle with the ogre was not met with pain or death, broken limbs and internal bleeding. Perhaps that had occurred at some point as his body was smashed against a pillar, but he felt nothing of the sort now. For his recklessness, for his headlong charge against a foe easily twice his size and more, Suicide was rewarded with sheer rejuvenation, bliss in the form of Ethne's healing magic. The little one always seemed to find a way to them.

He was compelled to rise, compelled to wake up and smell the fact that he was very much alive. While Kerin was lost to her aggression, the shapeshifter was distinctly aware of everything happening around him, as though his senses were on overdrive, his mind processing at a rate far above the normal. All had fallen before them, before their onslaught, save for this architect of prisons, he who felt their attacks were mere insults, who had thought them mere ants to be squished under his heel. He would feel wrath yet.

Suicide suspected there were enough of them pressing the darkspawn leader up close, and as such refrained from shifting to bear or wolf. He doubted mundane claws and teeth would do much against their enemy's barriers, which were clearly of a magical nature. Thus, the shapeshifter kept his distance, shifting his attack instead of his body, channeling primal forces through his hands, and giving Morpheus a taste of a typical day in the Wilds. Lightning, rock, and ice alike danced across his hands, before striking at the darkspawn from long range, attempting to slice, bludgeon, or electrocute through the barrier. Kerin's physical means had proved ineffective. This would perhaps prove if magical means were also as ill-suited for the fight.

Solvej's answer was to toss Rudhale's sword to him and jog off in the direction of the other fallen ogre. She'd have preferred to be running, but her body wasn't really having that at present, as each jar of her feet against the stone floor was reminding her. When the healing magic swept over them, she could have collapsed in her relief, but it wasn't that kind of rejuvenation, it seemed. Rather, her newly-whole skin seemed to be tingling, her nerves alight with some kind of vigorous energy. A shudder wracked her, and the Black Templar took off running, heedless of the large stone construct that went flying by behind her. Her hands closed over the familiar haft of her spear, and she yanked, working the end free of the ogre's flesh and bone.

Giving the polearm a test swing, Solvej nodded her satisfaction and advanced on Morpheus, circling around so as to flank him and still leave Kerin plenty of room to swing. It wasn't clear exactly what if anything would damage that armor he was wearing, but if it was anything like the barrier from before (and it looked pretty similar), then it was a good bet that her abilities would have some impact at least. For a moment, she simply watched the Darkspawn move, trying to figure out where any weak spot might be. For all that the armor seemed seamless, in order for him to move at all, there had to be joints somewhere. Given the fact that he swung an axe like anyone else, she figured they would be in the usual places.

Swallowing, Solvej concentrated, channelling her energy into her spearpoint. While Morpheus was busy dealing with whatever magic Suicide was throwing at him, the Templar struck, attempting to drive the business end of her weapon into the place where the shoulder-joint would be on any normal set of armor.

Morpheus was forced a step backwards by the force of the magic hurled at him, but aside from that, it didn't seem to have much effect. The stone and ice shattered agains his shell, and the lightning appeared to be absorbed without any negative repercussions whatsoever. Rather the opposite, in fact, as with a jerk of his arm, the Darkspawn channelled the very same bolt through his axe, firing it back at Dekton, amplified by his own powers.

He was raising his opposite axe to finish cleaving the dwarf's arm off when he realized it was no longer in such bad shape as it had been, and his uniformly-ebon head raised, the place where his eyes would have been pointing firmly in Ethne's direction. As a result, he was completely unprepared for the Templar-Warden's assault, and her spear contacted his shoulder-joint precisely, the energy at the point of the blow sinking into the spot. The armor here regained the liquidity it had had before he hardened the barrier into a carapace, and the spearhead sank further into the spot, piercing what would have felt like flesh underneath before the shell re-solidified, trapping the blade of the polearm as though in solid stone.

Whipping around, Morpheus used Solvej's grip on the spear to bend it, bringing one of his axes down on the haft, which shattered as easily as Kerin's axe had, the upper half still sticking out of his body. That was two without their primary weapons now, but something worthwhile may well have been discovered for the sacrifice.

Indeed, Rudhale had been watching, and was slowly forming a hypothesis. "The joints!" he called, "I bet he has to make them softer when he moves them!" How else would motion be possible at all? So thinking, the pirate slid in behind the darkspawn, watching and waiting for an opening. He'd be wary now, and wait for the telltale movement of an arm or a leg before attacking the corresonding chink in the armor. Of course, he'd have to be forced to move, first, but both the magic and the good old-fashioned beating seemed to have accomplished that just fine.

It was strange how things could change in the second of a heart's beat – mid-thrum, accommodating it's tune so that it would sing a little higher, a little more hopefully, a little less pessimistically. The bluebird euphony, serenading in his skull, chimed alongside his companions, accompanying Kerin's deafening war drums, and Rhudale's merry jig and Solvej's despondent refrain, as well as the adjudicated timbre that could only be Dekton's known Path. It was Ethne's song that threaded it's fingers through his wounds, closing the ugly gnash rippled across his abdomen, as if it were being mended by ghostly seamstress hands. If it could be called anything, then Rhapscallion would've named it a heart song. His ribs scratch-scratched against their knobby neighbours, disregarding the initial jolt of pain it sent through his chest, catching at his lungs like an unexpected punch. Icy fingertips grew gentle and warm, sending bolts of electricity fumbling down his spine, his legs, his arms. He nearly toppled over from surprise, only slowing his steps so that he could gather his bearings. He reached out, fingernails catching at the ripped fabric – no blood, barely a scratch. The aching in his ribs seemed more like a located bruise that could be ignored.

All dripping worries, like a heavy cloud that'd been relieved of it's weight, Rhapscallion's head reared up and measured the situation, taking in what he knew, and trying to figure out if there was a way he could possibly weasel his way past Morpheus' defences. It didn't seem likely. When Morpheus' macabre axe, splintered an unyielding ebony, bit into Kerin's exposed shoulder, effectively shredding through her armor as if it were little more than an inconvenience, Rhapscallion wasted no more time thinking of his route. His molars ground against adjacent teeth. He would not see Kerin kneel, as if that were even a possibility – this was not his nightmare and Morpheus had less control here than in the Fade. They wouldn't fall like discarded puppets, strings promptly severed. He was whole. He was there for them, and them only. They were a resilient force, feeding off each other's energy, and he would make sure that he wasn't left behind. Rebounding behind Dekton's mass of spells, Rhapscallion weaved behind his companions, before flickering out of view, perfectly blending into his surroundings, and leaving little than a small puff of smoke in his wake.

Her axe. Her spear. It seemed as if they were onto something. Rhapscallion's eyes focused, pupils contracting, pinpointing weaknesses in the creature's unusual armor – kinks that could be taken to their advantage, used to make Morpheus kneel. His body flickered, once, then again, so that he'd have time to trade a knowing glance in Rudhale's direction. If he could distract, or even surprise Morpheus enough, then his clever companion would have a clear shot at one of his joints, and attempt to debilitate the damned thing. The half-breed circled around the Darkspawn, flickering back into view, and slashing at Morpheus' midsection with his tainted blade, before bringing it up again across it's head. His movements were quick, spontaneous, and invariably fluctuating, fading into clouds of billowing smoke whenever he'd been spotted, succinctly trying to annoy the Darkspawn enough that he'd move to attack him.

Morpheus had a choice before him, and he chose to complete his rotation, facing Solvej and Rhapscallion rather than Kerin, Rudhale, and Dekton. The half-breed's distraction technique proved effective, and the Darkspawn focused on him first, crossing his arms in an x-shape and then thrusting outward with both in an inverse-scissor motion meant to flay open the shadow's chest. The move committed him to a half-step forward, shifting the majority of his weight to his left.

Kerin's head darted around, throwing her empty gaze at her companions who began to approach her enemy, her corpse. A twitch of her lips was the only thing that told of her displeasure at not being the one to draw first blood. The twitch turned into a bared teeth as Morpheus turned his back on her in order to deal with others. Fool. She was the most dangerous, it was her that he should have been focused on, not some skippy elf or former Templar. The war drums commanded that she make him pay for his trangression, to remind him of the bloodied dwarf. Her back arched and she flipped the shortsword in her hand so that she held it inversely. Then she pushed off with her foot, barreling toward the Darkspawn.

Her feet felt heavy like lead and her movements felt unsure, sluggish. Even the war drums were beginning to sound drowned. Their beat was slow, strained, but still had the power, still had the drive behind every crash. The Broken would not be denied her corpse. Kerin would be his downfall, and when he lay dying, gasping for breath but instead inhaling his blood, the last word on his dying breath would be her name. She charged recklessly towards Morpheus, completely uncaring to bodily harm. Perhaps it was her grim conviction, perhaps it was Ethne's healing magic, but she managed to reach Morpheus without falling. It was then that she threw herself in the back of the legs. She would not bow, but she would make him. Throwing every ounce of her weight behind the toss, she used her entire stock as a battering ram against the Darkspawn's legs, demanding that he topple, uncaring to her own safety.

The Broken would break him.

Morpheus, already less stable than before due to the force of his blow against Rhapscallion, took the blow harder than he would have otherwise, and it caused him to topple backwards, crashing to the ground and taking Kerin with him by sheer dent of his weight, which was double what it might have looked due to the incredible density of the artificial carapace. In order to regain his feet, he desolidified several of his joints, and that was precisely the moment Rudhale had been waiting for. Sidling into the unoccupied space between the Morpheus-Kerin pile of limbs and armor, he drew his kilij forcefully across the back of a knee-joint, leaping back again so as to allow someone else to have the same opportunity. He was certain a properly-aimed spell would have a similar effect, assuming it was something like stone or ice.

Of course, the problem now would be not hittting the dwarf, still entangled with the Darkspawn as she was, so the skill they'd need here was precision, not force.

Solvej looked once at the jagged, broken metal haft of her spear, then at the downed Morpheus. Surely, it was not the ideal situation, and her weapon presently was far from as structurally stable as it had been with point intact, but as long as it was still capable of stabbing, she didn't really care. A wound was a wound, and he wasn't going to die unless he sustained some. Probably quite a lot, really. She caught on to all of this a hair slower than Rudhale did (not that she would ever admit to losing to the pirate in anything), so she aligned herself behind him, sliding in as he drifted out, her metal staff lit with Templar skill, and aimed for the same spot she had last time, since she knew that worked. This time, though, she was careful to stab quickly; it wouldn't do to lose the only remaining method she had of damaging this thing save sheer determination and raw energy, which was unlikely to be nearly as effective.

He was bound to be back on his feet soon, though; everything had to count. Frankly, she hoped Kerin was all right under there, but there wasn't much any of them could do for her if they wanted to capitalize on the advantage she had so belligerently provided them.

Suicide snarled as his attacks bounced seemingly harmlessly off the darkspawn's armor, his magical energy wasted against an impenetrable defense. Even worse, the darkspawn was able to turn his efforts against him, sending a bolt of lightning back in his direction, which he was able to dodge only by ducking down behind the pillar he had smashed into earlier. Soon enough, however, his allies had revealed a weakness, one that required a careful strike of a magical nature, something that Suicide was certainly capable of performing.

Winter's Grasp was a very accurate spell, when wielded by skilled hands. As a mage who was practically born in ice and howling wind, Suicide had more experience creating and controlling the cold than most mages formally trained in its use. The others had exposed a weakness in their enemy's defense, and it needed to be taken advantage of. Perhaps they could slice him into bits by targeting the joints. The shapeshifter's hands ceased their storms and summonings of earth, instead chilling completely, frost rising from his palms like steam or smoke.

He targeted the same knee joint that the pirate had struck, summoning his last reserves of mana weaving a bladed ring of ice around it like a deadly noose, encircling it completely, before closing his hand into a fist, sending the precise attack slicing into the joint from all sides, hoping to sever it entirely.

Under the combined force of the assaults, something shifted. A hairline crack, no longer than the average little finger, appeared, running from the back of the Darkspawn's knee down his calf. Solvej's spear-shaft clearly scored his shoulder as well, and the effect was much the same; with a sharp sound, a portion of the black-and-green amalgam losing all color and etching itself in white instead. It wasn't much, but it was progress. Still, it was nowhere near enough. The substtance was magical, that much was clear, and something needed to be done to cancel it. Try as she might, Solvej's Templar abilities alone were getting nowhere fast, and neither magic nor brute force nor reasoned finesse was having much more luck.

Despite the new chinks in his armor, Morpheus was able to force himself to his feet without too much trouble, delivering the dwarf who'd put him on the ground a heavy kick to the ribs for the trouble. His hands tightened noticeably on his axes, and he made a swing for Rudhale, who managed to duck out of the way, thankfully with his weapons (and limbs) still intact. Whirling around, the darkspawn threw one of his weapons tomahawk-style, aiming squarely for Dekton. As soon as it hit or missed, it would simply dissolve, to be reabsorbed into his armor and reformed into his hand.

Some indeterminate distance away, under the cover of a very effective stealth-cloak, a pair of eerie lyrium-blue eyes narrowed, and the Lord High Seeker moved.

The motion required to throw the axe had weakened the solidity of the joint the Black Templar had been prodding at with mild success, and it was there, so close behind Morpheus as to be within a needle's reach, that he stabbed the Darspawn with something entirely different: a sharpened shard of the Templar's lifeblood. The pure lyrium did what nothing else so far had done, and the cracks that spiderwebbed across the surface of the armor were a testament to the success of the maneuver. It was right about then that Du Lac allowed himself the smug satisfaction of a plan well-executed. Why else would he have convinced the fool to lock away the somniari in a cage made of lyrium? Well, it worked, of course, but it also provided him the means to his own ends- namely, getting this foul piece of unholy chattel out of his city.

Nothing was ever as simple as it seemed, of course, and the fel howl that issued from Morpheus as his armor cracked and fell away portended more unfortunate things to come. "Get back if you want to live," the Seeker pointed out oh-so-helpfully, and he himself flickered and vanished once more, the shard of lyruim falling to the stone floor. Morpheus yowled again and clutched his own head, as if trying to contain something within it. To no avail, apparently, for his body seemed to swell before their very eyes, Fade energy practically leaking from him as water from a sieve. This was advantageous to Suicide and Ethne, who found their mana replenished for the trouble, but the benefit was almost certainly countermanded by the fact that Morpheus continued to grow, his arms and legs thickening to massive proportions and sprouting brutal claws, his mass of reddened, rotting flesh carrying him well over fifteen feet tall and likely twice again as heavy as everyone in the group combined. His body was simian in proportion, the arms much longer than the legs, his knucles dragging against the ground even from his elevation.

On the plus side, he no longer had near-perfect defenses.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland
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The shadow, weaving in and out of visibility, sucked in it's breath, willing it's smoky-stomach to fall inward, just enough so that Morpheus' wild scissoring scrapped against his crooked vambrace. It didn't fare well against Morpheus' axes, rending them with deep gashes, before Rhapscallion had the chance to circle around the Darkspawn and continue his maddening assault. He regarded his companion, in a titled world, between Morpheus' shoulder, between the spaces and gaps. His eyes widened. What was she doing? The sight of Kerin's unhinged, unrestrained charge clamped down on his heart, quickening it's pulse. She was hurt. She was bleeding. But, she wouldn't stop. Would any of them? Would they be willing to die here, now, for Val Royeaux? For something more. Of course. His lips part slightly, as if trying to intone a warning. As if to say something intelligible because he honestly couldn't bear seeing any one of them being struck down by this heartless monstrosity, who cared nothing for their dreams, for their ambitions, for their strengths. Instead, Rhapscallion scampered out of the way, unseen, and circled to the far side of Morpheus so that he wouldn't hamper Kerin's jostling canter. He could not, and would not, make her bow. None of them would.

The light flick of a wrist, seemingly appearing from the shadow's, had not gone unnoticed. After all, Rhapscallion was presumably gifted in seeing the unseen, at becoming nothing and just as quickly appearing in the most peculiar of places. It was the small, nearly imperceptible movement, that gave Du Lac away. He hadn't enough time to ponder why he was hiding in the shadows, and why he hadn't been helping them earlier. Was he waiting? Biding his time, perhaps. Rhapscallion's attention focused back on Morpheus, while he hopped backwards a few feet behind Rudhale. The creature's carapace skittered like spiderwebs, fracturing like a broken mirror. He eyed the shard of lyrium, flitting across the cobblestones to indicate the Seeker's unwillingness to participate further. His mouth went dry. The creature's very being was changing. It's limbs extorted beyond their normal length, proportions ridiculously large. This was Morpheus' true form?

Solvej didn't spare the time to think too hard about what was going on. She had probably less than zero trust for Seekers generally, it was obvious that they were currently in no position to be too picky about whose help they accepted. The fact that he used lyrium to undo magic was enough for her to internally berate herself for her own stupidity. She of all people should have remembered that correlation. Still, it wasn't as though this sort of thing came up often anymore; Darkspawn mages were rare, and usually went down as easy as any of the rest.

Either way, it wasn't a mistake she'd make twice. The Seeker dropped the lyrium shard; she dove for it, snatching the thing out of the way just as Morpheus's increasingly-large foot landed where it had been before. Rolling, she came to her feet and beat it, giving the thing enough space to swing without hitting her. Exactly what was going on, she was having difficulty deciding. This sort of thing, she'd seen on more than one occasion; whenever some fool got stupid enough to let him- or herself get possessed by a demon. But Morpheus was already a Darkspawn, how was it that he could be a possessed Darkspawn? Maybe he just was a demon to begin with. Solvej had heard no tales of such a thing, and frankly, the news should probably scare all of them witless. Either one of those two things was a nightmare on its own (unfortunate pun fully intended), but something that was both? No wonder the bloody bastard wouldn't just die.

"Well... doesn't he just look like a bag of kittens?" she murmured flatly. More than twice her height and probably almost ten times her weight, ugly as sin to boot. This was going to be fun.

Casting away the near-useless remains of her spear, Solvej tightened her grip on the lyrium, the jagged shard about as long and thick as her forearm. The explosion that had created it had effectively weaponized it- one end was quite sharp. She wanted to get it in his eye, but there was no chance of that when he was so high up. Looked like they'd have to bring him down first, and she doubted Kerin could just pile-drive him into it now. For the moment, she'd have to go with Plan B: distract him so everyone else could kill him.

Without anything to properly channel her abilities into, she settled for a simple blast of spirit energy- less concentrated, more flashy. Kind of like Emil. The blow left her fingertips with a crackle, aimed squarely for the Darkspawn... demon... thing's chest.

The flash of light carried more than a little power, and even Morpheus felt it, diverting his attention to the woman who'd launched it. She was weaponless, save for a gling of blue at the end of one hand- lyrium. He detested the substance, and those who let it snake through their blood, tainting themselves in ways they did not understand. Righteous, they thought, and holy, but what did any of them know of holiness? To them, he was a forgotten child, a test case for mortals that some divine creator loved more. As though anything so great as he would ever envy them, grow bitter and small over the favor of some second-rate god! There, now there was a delusion greater and more powerful than he could conjure, and he did not like that anyone was held to it.

The massive fingers of his right hand grouped together, the sharpened, jagged claws forming into a razor point, backed with the strength of a metal more refined than silverite. He drew back, thrusting his hand forward, aimed right for the Templar in black armor. She'd sought his attention, and she would have it until she wished she didn't.

Suicide was currently in the process of picking himself up off the floor, having been recently decked by an axe thrown tomahawk-style from Morpheus. He'd at last run out of magical reserves, and had been foolishly searching the ravaged interior of the room for where his staff had gotten too, to no avail, when the axe cleaved into his right shoulder, near the neck. The force of the attack had taken even him from his feet, sending him to the ground on his back with a roar of anger and pain. From the feel of it, the weapon had sliced entirely through his right collarbone. Moving his arm at all was a lost cause, at least until Ethne could summon up another healing wave to revitalize the group.

As quickly as the axe had come it was gone, dissolving into nothingness, leaving the shapeshifter with a useless arm and a lot of blood. Growling, he pushed himself into a crouched postion behind the pillar with his left arm, when quite suddenly he felt a different kind of rejuvenation. No healing was involved, as his shoulder was still losing blood at a rapid rate, but he felt his magical reserves replenish, the power of the Fade returning to his fingertips.

The change in their enemy's physical form was a startling thing to see, certainly, but at this point, Suicide was beginning to expect the unexpected with the darkspawn. All its size and strength and power aside, it was just another obstacle, a bigger giant to bring down, a greater prize to be consumed by him and his allies. For the moment, though, Suicide was weaponless, and his various forms did not seem of use at the moment. He imagined trying to fly as a raven and find his staff would be excruciating, what with the injury. Annoyed that he could not be doing more at the moment, he launched a Stonefist towards Morpheus, hoping to at least get him off balance, and disrupt the strikes he was currently aiming at Solvej.

Pain. For once, since the fight had begun, the sharp stabbing pain broke through the war drums' song and assaulted her. She grunted as she dropped her sword and grasped at her ribs. Broken. The strings tying the war drums together were beginning to loosen, the song was stuttering and straining. Yet, the song continued, slowly, but surely. Her empty gaze flickered from conscious to unconscious, but something deep within her troubled soul would not allow her to succumb to the pain. Something kept her from falling even further. A coughing fit wracked her frame as blood flowed freely from he mouth. Damn that Morpheus. Damn him. She would not be outdone by some errant kick to the gut. Kerin beat the cracked stones under her form as she tried to get to her feet. She was on her hands and knees when she wavered, her body threatening to topple over on itself.

But it didn't.

A resounding beat of the drums steeled her, and kept her from falling. She coughed again, spewing more of her blood. Her lips grimaced and she blinked as pain rocked her, but another beat of the drum and she forgot all about it. Another resounding beat, and she found her feet underneath her. Another, and she shoved herself up, now standing. She was hunched and panting heavily, as if the were the low roll from the drums. It was as if air couldn't fill her lungs fast enough no matter how hard she tried. Another cry of the war drums, and that too was forgotten. She threw herself up, straightening her back and stood proud. Blood flowed from the corners of her mouth, a cut drained into left eye, covering that entire side of her face with blood, her arm was reddened from burns and a number of cuts coated her arm with crimson. Her armor sheened red with the blood from her belly, but still, she stood staight, and she stood proud. She stood bloodied, but unbowed. Her weary empty eyes now laid evenly on Morpheus and beheld his new form.

It mattered not. One form or another, he would die. The drums commanded it.

Ethne, not at all unaware of the predicament currently facing Dekton and Kerin especially, nevertheless simply didn't have the energy left to do anything about it. She'd have to wait until her body could once again draw upon the power she required, and hope against hope that everyone would be okay until then. Solvej had fearlessly blasted away at the Darkspawn, and had gained his full attention for her trouble. Dekton had taken advantage, launching a great chunk of stone at the enormous demon... spawn? It felt both kinds of wrong to her, and so even though she didn't fully understand it, she'd have no choice but to think of it that way.

The Stonefist collided with the creature's elbow, several shards embedding themselves just beneath the skin of its arm. It didn't throw off the force of Morpheus's blow by much, but nevertheless it did have some effect, and those paying attention would notice that this form of the General bled much more easily than the last, black life-essence falling from its great height to splash over the stone in a viscous, ichory mess. It practically reeked of the Taint, and it was then that Rudhale at least became aware of the lingering urgency of another particular danger, especially for the bloodied and heavily-injured Kerin. With that many potential places for infection, there was a good chance that she or any of the non-Wardens in the group could wind up with a problem just as obvious as the one standing before them.

So for once, instead of making some kind of quip or joke, the pirate closed his mouth and got to work. The attack aimed for Solvej went just wide due to Suicide's interference, and the claws buried themselves at least a foot into the stone instead of impaling her, armor and all. This gave them an opportunity, and he at least was going to take advantage, moving in and slashing at the stuck arm with sweeping, whirling strokes from the kilij. With a limb this thick, there was no chance of simply cutting it off, but if they could disable it by severing the right tendons or muscles... the same probably applied to the feet.

For her part, Solvej took advantage of the opening her allies had presented her with and ducked under Morpheus's arm, making a beeline for his legs, lyrium shard still firmly in hand. While the 'Spawn struggled to remove himself from the ground, the Templar managed to get right in front of his feet. Gripping the shard in both gauntleted hands, Solvej raised them above her head, standing with her feet shoulder-width apart. "Dein Blut verbrannt werden zu lassen, Sache," she hissed, plunging the solidified lyrium downward in an attempt to quite literally stake the general's foot to the stone floor beneath.

And burn it did. The Black Templar's creative solution was partially effective, and the lyrium shard was driven through Morpheus's foot, drawing a howl of contorted rage and pain from the Darkspawn, who at last managed to tear his claws free from the stone, swatting at Rudhale, who earned himself a shallow but bloody cut to the stomach, as though what armor he bothered to don wasn't there at all. Worse was the retribution Solvej recieved, as her maneuver hadn't quit managed to nail him down the way she was hoping. That very same limb made full contact with her abdomen, sending the group's most defensive member flying end-over-end some distance away. Where she landed, Morpheus didn't really care.

It was then that Rhapscallion noticed the extent of Kerin's injuries as she knelt, spewing blood on the ground, and stubbornly forcing herself to stand, once more. He let out a low curse, eyebrows darting up, then clinching forward. There was no mistaking that Kerin would deny any efforts of aid, would refuse to sit out, would rather die then silence her war drums. Uncharacteristically grim, Rhapscallion gracefully whipped around Morpheus' legs, already coiling with new muscles, and it's clawed hands, knuckling the ground as if he were a bull ready to charge. He sidled beside Kerin, readying his only remaining shamshir. The dagger that Rudhale had given him was conventionally lodged into the ogres bulging eyesocket, where it remained at that very moment. It didn't matter. As long as he had something in his hands, or even if he was bereft of any weapon, he'd continue clawing, spitting, and fighting. “Until your blood stops boiling.” A strange statement, half-murmured from his lips. If she went left, then he would go right. This was not a battle for one – but for them all.

The pained drums only drowned out Rhapscallion's words, only coming across as a murmured whispered. She jerked her head to the side and silently regarded the man with unflinching eyes. Whether she understood him, or his intentions was unclear, what was clear however, was that the man was not her foe, her prey. The drums did not demand his blood. Her eyes slowly made their way back to the monsterous form of Morpheus. He was her enemy, it was his blood that was demanded. So she began her march. Slow plodding footsteps forward. She would not be be able to climb his back and slit his throat in her condition, no matter how much grit, and blood, and determination she had. She would have to cut him down.

Bring him to her level. She would have to cut at his feet. The weak tendons of the ankle. She would have to make him fall, to make him kneel before her, before she could drag her blade across his neck. But first, she'd have to get to him. Her steps were slow and heavy. Even painful at times, each jarring step sending a blade of pain into her ribs. Though she could not hesitate, the drums would not slack their pace on account of her pain. They were merciless drivers, but they kept her standing. They urged her, and she forged ahead, heading right for the ankle. Once there, she drove her sword with what strength she had left at the monster's soft tendons of it's literal Achilles heel, looking to steal his movements away. She would tear, she would rip, and she would destroy the heel with her shortsword, mangling it beyond use if given the slightest chance.

The fact that the Dreamweaver had shifted his weight in order to kick at Solvej proved a liability here. The shortsword wasn't quite enough to sever his Achilles' tendon entirely, but it did bite deep. Though the burn of lyrium did not accompany this strike, the black blood that welled from the wound was in no trifling amount, and there was no mistaking that these were not mere insect bites to him. Morpheus was faced with a choice: stand on the foot impaled with a still-agonizing lyrium nail, or else the one wekened by the wound to a vitally-connective tendon. In the end, he was forced to strike a balance, and this would considerably reduce his overall mobility. Enraged, he swept one massive arm in a wide arc, aiming to knock down Kerin, Rhapscallion, and Rudhale in one go.

For his part, the pirate managed to flip himself just out of range, but was left far enough away that an immediate counterattack was impossible. Ethne, who'd been hammering at the creature's arms and chest with mere staff-blasts, was at last able to provide some minor assistance, and prioritized Kerin, who seemed to be in the worst shape, sending a singular healing spell in the dwarf's direction, which hit exactly as Morpheus's arm would have, assuming the berserker couldn't get out of the way in time. It seemed that for the time being, they were simply going to have to outdo him in a contest of raw endurance.

Suicide frowned when the healing didn't come, but understood when he saw Ethne aiding Kerin instead. She was in worse shape, and also in more immediate danger, which she clearly wasn't willing to remove herself from. Seeing that Ethne was stuck resorting to staff blasts, the shapeshifter supposed she must have reached her limit. Perhaps it was time to find his.

Contrary to his namesake, Suicide did not seek death. Rather, he did his best to not allow it to factor into his decisions. Such was the case when he bolted out from behind his cover, running with only his left arm pumping, the right hanging limp at his side. It wasn't as though the pain would be too much if he moved that arm as well, it was simply that he couldn't. His arm did not respond to his thoughts, instead choosing to make itself a dead weight, dripping blood from his fingertips as it ran in a stream from his shoulder down his arm.

One arm or no, he needed to find his staff. Something to channel is magical energy through, something more focused than his hands. The others seemed to be keeping Morpheus busy enough up close for him to search, or rather, feel for it. There was a slight pull coming from the direction of where he had originally been struck by Morpheus' ice spell, a familiar call of a weapon almost asking to be wielded again. He spotted it on the ground amidst the remains of one of the rage demons that had exploded. His left hand slid along the ground until the sturdy wood touched his skin, at which point he closed around it, muscles in his arm rippling as he whirled the heavy weapon to face Morpheus.

Suicide channeled electrical energy through the staff, not simply the element inside the wood, but that force inside himself, amplified through the weapon. From the bladed end shot a twisted fork of lightning, exploding against Morpheus' upper chest and head, but remaining controlled, his focus preventing it from jumping from target to target, but rather jumping about between areas of Morpheus' body. He continued to press the attack, inching closer to his enemy, intensifying the continuous blast of lightning as long as he could hold it.

Morpheus's kick sent Solvej spiralling away from the group, only to crash bodily into the wall behind the Divine's throne. Her fingers instinctively scrabbled for purchase, seeking to keep her from plunging the extra fifteen or so feet to the floor, and met handfuls of a thick tapestry, red in color, with the image embroidered largely in gold. It didn't stop the heavy, blunt impact of her back and then head against the wall, and both her armor and her helmet took damage that her skin and bone alone would not have been able to withstand. The Black Templar tasted blood in her mouth as she bit down on her tongue, feeling at least two, possibly as many as four of her ribs crack and snap. Even that didn't compare to the pain in her head though, and even as her dwarf-forged helm rang against the smooth stone.

She barely held on to the tapestry as it tore beneath her weight, depositing her in a more-or-less standing position on the ground. Not that she could tell; it was presently difficult to figure out which direction was up, let alone whether or not she was standing. Trying to find her balance, she instead pitched sideways, landing hard on an arm and unwittingly rolling onto her stomach, seeking without thought the least-painful arrangement of her parts. Spitting a globule of blood, Solvej narrowed her focus once again to her breathing, trying to clear her head of the persistent diziness. Chances were good that she had a concussion; the feeling was quite familiar, and this wouldn't be her last. It certainly wasn't her first.

She needed to get her head out of this metal contraption. It had done its work and saved her life, but now it was only causing her more pain. She grabbed ineffectually at it a few times, frustrated when her grip skidded away or simply failed to work as she commanded it, and it was only with a frustrated growl and far too much effort that she managed to free herself and toss the thing aside. It was, she noticed as it rolled irregularly away, severely dented, and the same could be said of the chestplate she was wearing, though that damage was probably repairable, at least. It was also constricting her breathing, especially given her current prone position.

With a fortifying breath, the ex-Templar gathered her arms underneath her, noting but attempting to set aside the protests her injured torso voiced at this notion. She was looking to double her number of lifetime broken bones on this mission alone, she was certain of it. The thought brought the weakest of curves to her lips, and she pushed herself upright with a huff, glad that this time at least, she didn't just list sideways and collapse like some kind of drunken sailor. Glancing over at the scene she'd left behind only when forced, she observed Suicide letting loose a long burst of lightning and figured it was as good an idea as any. Not wishing to inadvertantly cancel anything he was doing, Solvej picked a different vital spot- the heart- and gathered what remained of her stamina to her. Without anything to direct it into, she simply focused on making the beam as narrow as possible and let loose, the blue-white joining the silver-yellow in an attempt to just kill the damn blighter, already.

Unlike the pirate, Kerin chose the other direction to avoid the massive arm sweep. Instead of backing up, the drums urged her forward. They would not allow her to back up, leaving only one direction. Forward. As the monster began his sweep, Kerin lunged forward with newfound energy, though she didn't quite realize that she had Ethne to thank for that. For once in her life, her dimunitive sized proved a positive as she painted a smaller, if not still a very important target. Using her sword as leverage, she swung around the foot, landing between the thing's legs. Thanks to the surge of energy, the war drums roared just a little bit louder. It did nothing to stem the pain, but it managed to erase some of her fatigue. That was the best thing for now. She could feel pain later, now was the time for fighting.

Now with more energy, she tried to resume her vicious sawing with her sword. Jabbing, cutting, ripping, tearing, she would be brutal, she would be vicious, and she would try her damnedest to seperate the appendage from the leg. If need be, she would fight tooth and nail to bring the foul darkspawn demon down. She had chosen her fate, now all she needed to do was show Morpheus his.

He'd seen her being flung unceremoniously away from the group, kicked away like a flopping broken-thing. In a brief instant of grief, because that was all he could afford as Morpheus' bulging arm swept forward, Rhapscallion imagined two-hundred and six bones cracking as Solvej collided with the tapestries, dragging them down in a knuckled heap before she came to a skidding halt against concrete and speckling bits of brick. His alerted sense of panic made up of rabbit-reflexes and childish cleverness forced him into a quick-handed back spring, instinctively tucking himself into a tight ball. He bared his clenched teeth, grinding his molars, as if to ready himself for another foolish endeavour. If his mentor saw him, she'd surely rap her knuckles across his ears for being so stupid. The air was heavy, slowing to a crawl. Time seemed to playing on his shoulder, forcing a sense of calm, of tranquillity, of solemnity through his entire being. Rhapscallion landed on all fours across the Darkspawn's extended wrist, slamming his shamshir deep so that he'd remain anchored. His feet scrambled for purchase, nearly swinging off from the creature's wild momentum. The creature's fat fingers, each as thick as small trees, wriggled below, presumably from the damage he'd done. His heart beat like thunder in his ears, roiling sideways as Morpheus' hand halted it's arc. The world wobbles a little. Then, steadies.

With a sharp intake of breath, and a grunt, Rhapscallion ripped the blade free of it's fleshy prison. There wasn't anything left to do but run, scamper up the creature's knobby elbow, with surprising alacrity, and clamber onto it's knotted shoulder blades. It would be enough to distract him, at the very least, if he wasn't thrown across the room. Better yet to avoid those rather large mittens and remain comfortably stable. He let the shamshir's blade drag against Morpheus' thick skin, though not deep enough to hamper his movements. “What have you got to fight for?” It came as a bestial snarl, gurgling from the pits of his belly. Morpheus did not fight for love, or for his companions, or for anything that would drive him through the most difficult obstacles, regardless of the damage it may do to him. He fought for no one. What alliances did the Darkspawn have? They didn't care about each other – regarded their lessers as pawns, necessary to throw away if it benefited them. Humans, Elves, Dwarves all had the ability to fight for more, for less, for the right reasons. His arms were starting to grow weary from the weight of his blade, from snatching handfuls of flesh, and throwing himself onto the creature's simian head. Nothing.”

Straddling Morpheus' thick neck, Rhapscallion hefted his shamshir over his head, clutched between both his hands, and aimed just between the damned thing's eyes.

Given the goings-on elsewhere, Rudhale took a cue from Kerin and attacked the opposite foot, the one with the lyrium still embedded inside it, hacking away at tendons and muscle with what could realistically be described as relish. The dual jets of otherworldly force from Suicide and Solvej were keeping Morpheus highly preoccupied, unable to move his body much for the lightning, nor his magic for the continual spirit damage supplied by the Templar. This left him open and vulnerable to the ascending assault provided by Rhapcallion, though it was only by virtue of the incredible control exercised by his comrades that the half-blood noble did not find himself electrocuted by the shapeshifter or smote by his mentor.

Ethne watched, wide-eyed, her position well away from the thick of things sufficient to presage to her several of the events that were about to transpire. Kerin hacked through her tendon first, Rudhale not far behind, and the sickly snaps echoed too loudly in the vaulted space they occupied. The reaction was immediate; the Darkspawn lost all ability to stand, and began a slow collapse. Perhaps it wasn't slow at all; perhaps it simply seemed so to her. Either way, gravity was taking over when Scally positioned his blade at the juncture of Morpheus's nose and brow. The saber was not a piercing weapon as a rule, but the blade did the job, sinking in deep with an uncomfortable scrape against bone.

"Timber!" the pirate's voice called, infected with a note of relieved cheer that shattered the unnatural air of the moment. For the Dreamer, things began to move once more in real-time, and she breathed a long sigh of relief she could have sworn came from somewhere in her soul as the Darkspawn at last collapsed, taking not one of her allies with it.

Morpheus was dead.

They'd achieved what had seemed impossible.

And at least right now, in this moment, it didn't seem to matter much that they'd have to do it all over again in the near future.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ethne Venscyath Character Portrait: Dekton Hellas Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Kerin Valar Character Portrait: Rhapscallion Linnell Character Portrait: Mirabelle Desmaris Character Portrait: Rudhale Bryland Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro
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The Darkspawn felled, an expectant silence descended over the group. The sounds of battle grew muted, reduced to the rasp of labored breathing and the muted clanks of steel arms and armor, though it was no stretch to say that far fewer of these remained intact than might have come about from ordinary battle. Then again, nothing about what they’d just done was ordinary in the slightest.

The spell over the Chantry broken, the other denizens of the building, still prone near the walls and on the upper levels, began to stir. Du Lac reappeared before the group, his attention focused on Ethne. ”Time to make good on your end of the bargain,” he said, eyes flickering to the Divine’s throne. “Begone from this place, and if you return, do it not as saviors. Ah-” and here he looked over the elf-girl’s shoulder, where Revaslin was just rising to his feet from his slumber. “You will be coming with me, Seeker Fenlen. I think it’s time your assignment was … reconsidered.” The Dalish man nodded in response, apparently not fazed in the slightest by his sudden change in circumstances.

Ethne might have protested the situation, but it was what she’d agreed to, more or less, and she recognized that Du Lac was Fenlen’s commanding officer, so there was that. Rudhale couldn’t have cared less about the man’s authority, but he also had no desire to linger, and he was quite distracted by something else besides. There, propped on the seat of the padded throne Morpheus had previously occupied was a leather-bound book, smallish in size. He was certain it hadn’t been there before, and he moved subtly towards the chair when Du Lac wasn’t looking, slipping the thin thing into his coat, placing a finger to his lips when he was quite sure at least one of his comrades had noticed.

Emil was too busy to notice the sneaky pirate pilfering the book as he was on a path directly to the Lord-Seeker. His eyebrows were furrowed and his eyes wore a hard glare. Without much warning, Emil cocked back a fist and sent it right into Du Lac's Jaw. "What in the Maker's name is the meaning of this?! We walk in to see you beside Morpheus's side? What game are you playing at?" Emil asked, enraged by the Seeker's apparent alignment with the Darkspawn.

It would have been difficult not to notice the enormous enraged Templar heading in his direction, but Du Lac seemed less than concerned about it. Indeed, though the man's punch was telegraphed well before it landed, the Seeker didn't even move, apparently content to let Emil's gauntlet cut into his cheek. The trickle of blood this produced was swiped away with the Seeker's first two fingers, and he surveyed the digits for a moment with what seemed to be a resolute lack of anything resembling shock, anger, or even pain. When next he looked up, he met the taller man's eyes easily, boredom playing very obviously across his face. "I knew Delacroix did not select his men for subtlety, but I must say you are in fact the most unintelligent Templar I have ever had the misfortune of knowing. I could have you killed for that." His tone indicated that he wasn't going to bother, but he also left the accusatory question entirely unanswered.

Emil's eye twitched and his hand balled back into a tightened fist, but then relaxed. The Seeker was right, he had more authority than him. If given the slightest indication of hostility, he would have him executed. Emil wasn't known for being suicidal. He met the Lord-Seeker's eyes for a moment, meeting ill-intentioned glare with bored expressions, but it was Emil who backed down first. There was something vaguely off-putting by the man, and despite Emil having a height advantage, he felt somewhat intimidated by the man. Emil simply spat to the side and turned around, walking away from the Lord-seeker. "Is the Lady Divine alright?" Emil asked.

"She will be fine, as will the rest. Your task, however, is not here. Leave before they awaken."

And it was then, without much ceremony, that they were forced from the Chantry, though that was not to say that many of them were reluctant to go. Kerin, who had fallen unconscious, earned herself a free ride across one of Rudhale’s shoulders, and though the pirate winced when the motion of getting the stocky dwarf there aggravated his wound, he said not a word of complaint. They’d all worked hard, perhaps none more than the sleeping berserker, and he wasn’t about to gripe about doing his part.

It was with weary footsteps and in many cases grievous injuries that they marched slowly outside the city. Their only stop was before General Delacroix, who passed several health potions to Solvej with a silent nod. His address to Emilio was equally brief, and he simply informed his Hunter that he was now under the command of the Grey Wardens, passing him what would doubtless be necessary doses of lyrium. For the manpower of both Emil and Mira, he asked to keep Lukas, who’d been trapped outside the gate and aided the Templar effort. The mage was willing enough, and the deal brokered swiftly. From there, the party made the outskirts of Val Royeaux by nightfall, able to set camp and tend to their injuries. Ethne saw to everyone over the next few hours, though the mood was sober at best.

At last, the sun set, and after establishing a watch, the group succumbed to their exhaustion and slept.

It was not in the nature of the somniari’s sleep to be restful, and this night was no exception.

Level Up!





The Fade had seen fit to deposit her in what appeared to be a twilight region, the usual brown, grey, and orange palette of the place swapped for one of dusky blues, inky blacks, and slates. Ethne blinked, flexing her hands experimentally. There was a chill feeling on the air, as though something insidious were caressing her skin with corpse-cold fingers. The feeling seeped deeply into her bones, in the way exhaustion did, and it brought with it a resigned melancholy she rarely knew.

The mage shivered, the hair on the back of her neck standing up as her skin pricked with gooseflesh, uncomfortable pins and needles that made her want to squirm. It was fear, but of the most generalized sort, for there appeared to be nothing immediately present to fear at all. Something slithered at the back of her mind, a hissing voice too quiet for her to hear. All that was left behind was a faint trace impression of snakes in the grass, sun-warmed but too smooth and marbled. Something gilt and shining but faintly discomfiting, almost lecherous, like a stranger standing too close to her back.

It was gone before she could attend to it further, that voice- that feeling- but the subtle dread still remained. Swallowing, she started forward, knowing that to linger overlong would accomplish nothing. This, she had always been told, was her world, as surely as it belonged to demons and spirits and gods. Here was a balance, struck between hubris and debilitating terror, one delicately maintained like a bird on a wire keeps hers. Here, thoughts had power, and the will was sovereign.

As she walked, her feet seemingly striking nothing with texture, the space around her grew darker, the colors fading into deep umber. After an indeterminate amount of time, her eyes were no longer of use at all, and even when she turned back, there was no hint that the direction from which she had come was any more bright than the pitch to her front. Sight was useless, and there was nothing to feel or hear or taste or smell. The sensation of nothingness was uncanny, and she placed her palms together in front of her collarbones to remind herself that there was something to feel. She sang softly, the words falling like drifting feathers into empty space, just to remind herself that there were things to be heard.

The last at least, was soon patently unnecessary, and Ethne fell silent when the space around her seemed to fill with voices, speaking a language she did not understand. The tones were smooth and rolling, almost as though every trilled r and elongated vowel was leaving the mouth only after being infused with sensuality. She may not know the words, but it would have been difficult not to recognize Antivan as a whole.

The voices belonged to from the sounds of it, people of varying ages, infused with laughter and good humor, and if she hadn’t still been experiencing that tingling along the length of her spine, she might have thought she were about to have a nice dream for once, one in which nobody was hurt or died and nothing got destroyed whatsoever. But that was not the way of things, and it wasn’t long before a new voice entered the mix, this one young, masculine, and urgent. The sound of a door being thrown open added itself to the clinking of glass and ceramic, and there were several rasps as steel was drawn. A female voice carrying a palpable weight of authority spoke next, clearly giving out commands, and there was much scraping of wood on stone, accompanied by shuffling and the thudding of leather-clad feet on carpet.

By the time the screams started, Ethne was crouching, folded in on herself as small as possible, trying in vain to cover her ears. The voices were in her head, not her audits, and that much was obvious. It didn’t stop her from trying, but of course, she was forced to listen to the screams, and the howls, and the feral snarling that she could by now identify as belonging to darkspawn. Her body was wracked with trembling shudders when something else in the atmosphere shifted, and something in the remaining voices grew more urgent.

There was a shrill cry, and all fell silent. It took a moment for Ethne to process, but she knew with certainty that it must have belonged to a child. “Cease,” ordered a voice, and it was of a kind with Morpheus’s. The difference, though, was that where the other General had possessed an oily, soothing tone until angered, this one immediately presented her with a sense of consummate authority and professionalism. The sound of blades being sheathed filled the dream, and Ethne blinked as someone, the woman again, addressed the Darkspawn in Antivan.

“For now, I require only hostages,” the voice replied. “Do as I command you, and that shall not change. Your guards will leave, your family will remain.” This pronouncement was followed by much rapid discussion, and then the sound of retreating footsteps. Confused, Ethne waited for the trap to spring, the Darkspawn to finish off whomever it kept hostage, but to her surprise, nothing happened.

“I am Erebus, The Gatekeeper, the Endless Night. I will be waiting, Dreamer.”

Ethne’s eyes snapped open, and she surged upwards, sitting up so quickly she felt lightheaded. Her breath came in shallow pants, and she attempted to regain balance by staring into the fire. Around her, the others slept on, oblivious to her revelations.

”Erebus…” she whispered softly, holding her chilled fingers out towards the flames to warm them. There was something strange about what she’d just dreamed, something she would never have expected, but she dare no put it to words, not just yet.


The Mission Briefings have been updated.




The next morning, the somniari relayed to the others their next destination: Antiva. As was common with these things, she would learn more specifics as they came closer to their goal. It may, as had been the case before, require walking in the dreams of a Warden before she could place the exact location, but Antiva was a ways away yet. To get there, they would have to travel north, and after consultation with Solvej and Scally, it was decided that the Deep Roads- relatively empty of Darkspawn during a Blight- would be the best choice for travel. Getting to the nearest entrance by horse took another day, and at the end of it, they camped in tandem with a wandering merchant, who professed his desire to reach Val Royeaux and what was now relative safety. The chance to reequip was fortuitous and well-earned, and spirits were much higher that night than they had been the one before.

The Codex has been updated.





Chapter Two: Erebus, The Gatekeeper
"One Darkspawn General vanquished, I doubt any will deny that they had the right to a little pride in their accomplishments. Most had overcome their greatest fears or desires, and they had surely conquered a mighty foe, capable of warping the very nature of reality. What the wise would comprehend immediately, however, was that challenges even greater lay ahead, and Erebus waited for them, casting a long shadow over the merchant nation of Antiva."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Solvej Gruenwald Character Portrait: Emilio Alessandro
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A night into the second leg of this little venture, Solvej still felt like she'd been hit by a charging ogre. Oh, wait. That was basically what had happened, only the truth of it was arguably worse. She was tired, she was sore, and she felt drained of her usual energy, but that was no excuse to slack off. There were two new factors in the equation now, and only one of them was a Warden. The other had the potential to make life completely miserable for almost everyone, herself included, and she figured it was probably the right thing to do to properly introduce herself anyway. Joy of joys.

So it was with resignation (but the resolution not to try and ruin the chances of getting along) that she sat a few feet from Emil, around the fire, a large pile of armor in her hands. It had endured far more dents, dings, and scuffs in this battle than it had in a while, and the chestplate needed the attention of a proper smithing hammer, which she did not have. Still, the least she could do was clean it. So, after cleaning herself in a nearby river and swapping her plate and chain for ordinary linens and leather boots, it was certainly time to get to it. Taking up part of what had once been a shirt, she dipped it in a shallow bucket of water, which she'd placed between them, about as close to a friendly gesture as she could get in a situation like this. Dents or no dents, regular maintenance was important, and he was bound to know that, given the shininess of his plate.

"So Tem- Emil," she corrected herself, "rough lot for you, ending up with this little suicide squad." It was meant to be vaguely sympathetic, though it mostly failed at that and went for matter-of-fact instead. With Solvej, it was often hard to distingush the two anyway; she wasn't much given to obvious displays of empathetic ability. Maybe she'd just been living a violent sort of life for too long... who could say? A log popped in the fire, and she glanced up into the flames, eyes lingering there for a few moments as she seemed to contemplate something before resuming her work.

"Don't patronize me Gruenwald," Emil grunted, never taking his eyes off of the fire in front of him. He had spent the entire walk to the campsite in complete silence, never even venturing a word to any of his new "companions". "If Delacroix didn't order it, I would have have happily let your group be on their merry way to whatever grisly demise ahead of you. But the Maker sought fit to stick me in with this ill-fated crusade," He spat with a generous dose of venom in his words. As he spoke, he refused to tear his eyes from the fire and meet those of the Black Templar. What went through Delacroix's mind to send him on this inane quest in exchange for a Mage. Emil scoffed at the mere thought, was the price of his head the same of that of the overeager mage's?

Emil, no worse for the wear physically from the bout with Morpheus, was still wearing his shimmering armor, but had acquired another sword from the Merchant. The blade jostled in the ill-fitted sheath, but it would have to do. While physically, Emil was fine, the dream he experienced still replayed over and over in his mind. He had long thought he had buried those memories, but a simple trick by Morpheus managed to unearth them and bring them back, effectively crippling him. Thus he could not participate in the battle with Morpheus, and protect the Chantry, as is the Templar's job. As he thought about this, Emil's grip on the steel plates on his shoulder tightened in frustration and cool rage.

He then sighed. It was his just punishment. As he was useless in the presence of Morpheus, the Maker placed him on this mission to atone. To test him, to test his resolve. Was he truly a man of Andraste? Or had Morpheus's foul game cracked his foundations. Emil believed the coming days would reveal to him. He had to affirm his faith, he had to believe, beyond a doubt, that the Maker walked with him. His patiences were bound to be tried, both by the group and the mission, but he must stand fast and prove his loyalty to his faith. And to do that, he must first find out what the mission entailed. So with barely hidden contempt, he asked, "Tell me, what is the point of this suicide mission? If I am to throw my life away for this cause, I wish to know what I am to be doing."

Solvej had snorted at his response. As if she'd waste the time patronizing someone like him. Still, if that's what he thought she was doing, she wasn't going to bother correcting him. If she wasted all the time she needed to rectify every false impression anyone had ever had of her, she'd never have any time to actually get important things accomplished. "Yeah, well, the Maker's a bastard like that," she replied with a shrug. As far as she was concerned, that much was patently obvious, though she was not blind to the fact that this was bound to ruffle some feathers. Before answering his question, though, she gave it the thought it was due.

Truth be told, not much of it had been explained to her. She suspected that she, the magelet, and Malik shared all the information between themselves, but she would not put it past her mentor to hide the better part of his intentions from both of them. Malik had always been quite clever, and not above keeping his silence when necessary. Solvej was tactless and straightforward by comparison, but even she knew how to keep mum on occasion, mostly in order to let Rhapscallion grow. This was another matter entirely, and it was not her mission to see this man flourish, nor would witholding anything acheive that in the first place. The woman rubbed at the back of her neck for a moment, brushing the bright-red strands of hair aside. It was still a little tender from that impact with the Chantry wall- there was probably something annoyingly appropriate about that.

"We're saving the world, Alessandro," she quipped easily, working at a particularly-nasty stain on her chainmail. Legs crossed beneath her, Solvej stooped forward over her task intently until the burnished black of the links reappeared and they moved with no difficulty. For a few seconds, it looked as though that was all she was going to say, but then she continued, sitting straighter and turning her eyes so that they were fixed on the side of his head, since neither of them seemed to be much in the mood for direct contact. Herself because she had this feeling it might lead to a fight, and she was too tired for that right now.

Sighing under her breath, she figured she might as well explain it properly. "The Wardens were able to figure out that this archdemon has intelligent minions, ones that command large portions of the Horde. It's suspected that these creatures are laying waste to important parts of Thedas, though communications broke down long ago with most places north of the Free Marches. It's just too chaotic to know exactly what they're up to. Anyway, there are four of them. Three, now, I suppose. As with Orlais, the thought is that killing them will free large portions of the continent to fight the Archdemon's army. Well, that and force the thing out into the open so the Grey Wardens can kill it properly. That little elf, the Dreamer? She's the only one that can find them. It goes without saying that she needs to remain alive." Well, it might have gone without saying, but she said it anyway, because it was a rather vital point that certain other people had somehow failed to comprehend adequately, and she wasn't going to take the chance again.

Emil greeted Solvej with a bored expression as she stated her blasphemous comment. He knew very well the only reason she had said it was because he was a man of faith. Most likely trying to get a rise out of him. Though in a perpetual sour mood, even Emil knew that meeting the comment with barbs of his own would only end up wasting more energy than was necessary. Besides... They were partners now. May as well try to get along. Decently. The thought made him want to violently vomit, but what other choice did he have? This was an order and his fate, he wouldn't try to fight it. If his fate was to die, then so be it. If it was to live, just as good. He was just a mere tool of the Maker, Andraste's sword. Tools didn't get to have opinions.

It was his turn to scoff when she revealed that they were saving the world. "Cute," he added. So they were playing heroes. Magnificent. The next few moments passed silently. Though the answer wasn't an answer at all, Emil wasn't about to repeat the question again, not to her. She would either tell him, or she wouldn't, truth be told, he couldn't care any less than he already did. A bit of curiosity was all that it was, nothing more, and nothing less. Though it would be nice to know what he was going to die for, it wasn't strictly necessary.

Yet, she did reveal some more details. Emil listened intently as she spoke. Though he was a cold man, he wasn't a foolish one. When someone spoke about the mission you were very likely to die in the process in, wisdom stated that one should listen. So he did. And it seemed like a wild and hopeless situation to be sure. If he had an ounce of self-preservation or if his mood wasn't in a constant state of emphatic coldness, then he may have been disheartened. Emil though, true to form, only ellicted a even chuckle. "Suicide mission is right. Chances are we'll all end up on some Darkspawns' pikes instead of accomplishing anymore than you already have," he stated with grim disposition. Though, that didn't mean he wasn't going to put an effort forward. He had his orders, and surprisingly he would enjoy not meeting a grisly demise over the alternative. He would fight with the Will of the Maker and show the heathen Darkspawn His might.

His eyes were drawn over his shoulder to the petit elf in robes, the mage Solvej spoke of. Emil's nose wrinkled in displeasure at thought of a mage having such importance. He could only pray and hope that she didn't end up as an abomination before the mission was at it's end. He sincerely hoped she wouldn't. Emil... Didn't enjoy the idea of fighting with abominations on this little sojourn. Of course, that thought brought his eyes to the other resident mage, the bare chested chasind. He especially hoped that man didn't turn into an abomination. His eyes then returned to the intial mage and nodded.

"So she will," Emil nodded, "Say what you will about Templars Gruenwald, not all of us would leave a mage to die. They may harbor a dangerous potential in all of their hearts, but they are also people. But if she's important as you say she is, I'll do my part to ensure she survives," Emil added, turning his eyes back to the fire. However, if she begins to turn, I will not hesitate to cut her down he thought to himself. "Where is our next destination?" he asked flatly.

"How remarkably enlightened of you," Solvej quipped dryly. The fact that some Templars recognized mages as people just meant that they occasionally gave it some thought before oppressing them. She was unimpressed to say the least, but this wasn't the place for the argument. It wasn't like Alessandro had the power to change what needed changing, and this was the mildest version of this argument she'd yet come across, so she was going to let it go. Difficult as that was for her to accomplish when one's entire present lifestyle was the result of people much like the one sitting next to her.

You're better than shallow hate, Solvej, she reminded herself, but of course, like all gentle reminders of her better nature, it was ever in his voice. She wondered if she'd ever escape that. He'd always been her kinder, more tolerant half, but he was gone now, and she'd tried so very hard to retain just a little of his personality within herself. Sometimes, she almost thought she succeeded. Right now, she was failing, and she despised herself for it.

"The magelet says Antiva. She'll learn more specifics as we get closer, I suspect. My best personal guess is Antiva City- it's the biggest, richest, and most strategic location in the country. Makes for an appealing target, but then, it also contains the main branch of the House of Crows, so who can say? Maybe the 'Spawn would have avoided it." Unlikely, but possible. Assassins were notoriously tricky, none more than the famous Crows. Laying aside her chain, Solvej got to work on her plates- she was going to have to take the largest to that merchant, though, and see if there was anything he could do about it as a temporary fix.

"Antiva?" The Templar asked in quickly hidden surprise. Before he continued, he rebuilt his indifference and spoke evenly, betraying no hint of his earlier solemnity, or later surprise. "That's quite a walk from here to there. I certainly hope that when-- if-- we get there, this... 'minion'," he said, using air quotes, "Hasn't left. Or razed the entire city, though considering the state of Orlais when I left it," a bit of venom edged the tone of his voice at this, "it doesn't seem too hopeful." However, Antiva was the home of the Crows, if nothing more the horde was bound to be hindered by them. Assassins are notoriously difficult to kill, and fighting on their homefront? He wouldn't be surprised to hear that the minion was assassinated before they got there. Marching on Antiva city, it sounded like a reckless tactic of the highest degree...

Though, considering the scope of the Darkspawn horde, it was by no means impossible. Just throw bodies at it until the city fell, much like what they did with Orlais.

"Indeed," Solvej agreed mildly. "That's the trouble with Darkspawn; they just keep killing things. Seems like they could use a less-violent hobby or something, doesn't it?" If the general was still there, it was still there. If not, well, they'd give chase. She doubted they'd bother leaving a strategic location so easily; Morpheus had been holed up in Val Royeaux for what seemed like a very long time, and there was no telling when or even if this one had established itself somewhere.

Her last plate finally as clean as she was going to get it, Solvej set it aside with the others and threw her now-bloody cloth into the fire. No use contaminating anyone else with the Taint. Sighing under her breath, she shot an aside glance in iron at the hunter. "Look, Alessandro. I dunno what they've told you about me, and ordinarily I wouldn't care. But, this is going to require all the both of us have to give, and I'm willing to put aside my reservations if you'll leave yours at the door too. You don't have to trust me, that's fine, but it won't do either of us any good to waste our energy fighting each other rather than the Darkspawn." Shifting her angle, she reached around and offered the man a hand to shake. Solvej didn't much like the feeling of swallowing her pride, but there was a very good chance that continued malcontent between them would affect something down the road, and she recognized the necessity of shoving all her lingering anger into a shadowed corner of her mind and locking it there.

Emil looked at the woman's hand and then up into her eyes. The same dull glare that was ever plastered to his face now pointed towards hers. "I was ordered to go along with this troupe, that I should aid your group in your endeavor. Unlike some I see my duty in to the very end. Maker knows I don't like you Gruenwald, and I know for a fact you don't like me. I am not going to be your friend, but-- for a while at least-- we are allies. If I am to do this, I'd rather the blades come from the front, and not back." Again, his eyes drifted to her extended hand and then appeared to contemplate something. He then shook his head. "I can't put you abandoning the Order, the Maker behind me Gruenwald. I will see your mission through to the best of my abilities, but only because I was ordered. You need not have to worry about sabotage from me. But that it all. We are not friends. We are merely working towards the same end. That is all." With that stated, Emil stood and began to make his way to the stream, ignoring the woman's outstretched hand. He needed to splash himself with cold water.

Of all the self-righteous, irascible, stupid people in the world, why oh why did the one I end up with have to be a Templar? Solvej inhaled deeply, forcing an iron clamp down over the temper that flared hot and red alongside her bones and sinews. Duty? Duty? She could teach this fool about what it was like to stand true to your duty in the face of real adversity, but that wasn't going to do anyone any good. So, while she was inclined to cock her fist and hit him directly in the jaw with it (using considerable force), she instead simply rolled her eyes and withdrew her hand. Malik had always told her that regardless of the truth, people would believe what they wanted. He seemed to accept this with a good-humored equanimity that she didn't think she'd ever be capable of, but if there was something she could do, it was bracket her actual feelings and pretend that everything was fine in her world.

For the others, she would do it. For the mission, she would behave as though it didn't still bother her. For if it didn't, if she had truly believed that every action she took was justified, then no pretending would have been necessary.

Alessandro would never be allowed to know that he'd gotten under her skin.

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.

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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