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Amalia

"Even a stone can change shape, given enough time."

0 · 1,106 views · located in Kirkwall

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

Description

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“Many things are certain. Few are ever simple.”



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Name: Amalia. Just Amalia. She might not even protest a nickname, depending on who tried.
Pronunciation: ah-MAHL-ee-uh
Age: 32 (Act Three)
Race: Human
Sex: Female
Sexuality: It's complicated. She'd prefer people consider her asexual.
Height: 5’10”

Build: She’s rolling muscle, smooth and elegant and designed to kill. It’s the compact, dense muscle of those hunting cats in the jungle, all soft-padding feet and sudden brutality. Never gratuitous, but unmistakably predatory. Tall and lean, but obviously feminine.

Class: Rogue—she was trained to do the duty of a Qunari Ben-Hassrath, and that can involve a lot of things, from stealth and subterfuge to poison and bladework.

Appearance: Amalia is tall, but can blend well enough so as to not be noticed for it. Should she not be consciously attempting to remain unremarkable, however, she is somewhat the opposite. A curious birth defect, she’s heterochromatic—one eye is an ordinary-enough blue, but the other is red, brightly so. Her hair is most often tightly-braided, but it hits her mid-back, the strands a vaguely-wavy, fine dirty-blonde. Beneath her garb, Amalia’s back is tattooed with the Qunari crest in crimson, and her face is oftentimes painted with the scarlet patterns appropriate to the priesthood, based primarily on equilateral triangles, intersecting in unique and beautiful ways. Much of her face is often disguised by a long, trailing muffler, which tends to obscure anything below the level of her eyes. It's actually kind of difficult to determine what she looks like, since she's covered from head to toe in fabric most of the time.

Her visage itself is the furthest thing from expressive, usually closed-off and grim, but it has been known to tilt into the occasional dry smile. Getting her to laugh is downright impossible, however. When she speaks, her voice is a low, slightly raspy contralto, which suits her aesthetic rather well. When she moves, it’s always deliberate, always smooth, and unless she’s in the heat of battle, it’s likely also consciously slowed. Otherwise, her reflexes are viper-quick.


Beneath all the clothing, it's worth noting that her body bears significant scarring, basically everywhere. Her face was left largely undamaged by whatever got the rest of her, but the same cannot be said of her arms, legs, torso and neck. Aside from a few irregulars, most of them appear to have happened at close to the same period in her life. There are neat white lines, jagged pinkish ones, and even a few splotchy burn-scars here and there, though she seems to have healed well enough that the tissue has not grown overly stiff- her habit of regular moving meditation and stretching can perhaps offer some clue as to why. As the back tattoo itself was clearly maimed, it can be inferred that she received the wounds after getting it.

Amalia is in fact incredibly flexible and reasonably strong. She can scale walls with what appears to be little to no effort, or walk about on her hands as though they were her feet. Of course, she doesn't do anything without a reason, so unless she's training, it's unlikely this will be obvious.

Act Two: Amalia is in peak physical condition, with a more defined musculature than most women, and indeed probably most men. Though her figure is somewhat inscrutable beneath the loose robes she favors outside of combat, her face is surprisingly... not. She most often keeps it covered, but it's actually kind of girlish, and makes her look perhaps younger than her years. Her features are proud and stubborn, but there's a sort of roundness to her cheeks and almond shape to her eyes that she dislikes. She prefers to go about with at least the muffler because her voice is much more mature, and she favors this impression, as it garners her more respect. Still, she no longer religiously maintains this disguise, and can occasionally be found barefaced at least in the Alienage.

Act Three: Amalia has… softened might be the right word, at least in terms of appearance. If it can be the right word for someone who has so clearly endured as much as she has. The woman has allowed her hair to grow even longer, and no longer feels the compulsive need to bind it up and out of the way, often simply leaving it loose, to trail to the backs of her thighs in loose waves. Her manner of dress, should she find herself without pressing need to enter combat, now primarily consists of short-sleeves or sleeveless shirts, perhaps still looser than those favored by most women in Kirkwall, and breeches long enough to reach her ankles or short enough to reach her knees, depending on the season. This makes her scarring more evident, and sometimes, she’s a little uneasy with it still, but she doesn’t seem to mind much overall. She is usually without the muffler, and though a few extra years have given her face some much needed maturity, she still looks a bit younger than her factual age. The most evident change to her appearance, however, is the new scar which cuts diagonally down her face from beneath her right eye to the line of her jaw. It is a pinkish color, pale against the tan of her complexion.


“Some have their histories carved right into their skin.
I do not resent being one of them.”



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Demeanor: The followers of the Qun have a reputation for being rather solemn, stubbornly-certain individuals with stoicism in spades. This is mostly the case with Amalia as well, though to be fair, she does have a sense of humor. It’s just bone-dry and appears only rarely. When in the skin of her ‘role,’ so to speak, she is all business, a perfectionist and liable to strike down anything or anyone that gets in her way. Her priority has to be the Qunari people, and it sometimes leads to friction with others. She is willing to accept this, however, and makes no excuses for what she is.

When her activities do not directly pertain to her nature as a Ben-Hassrath, she’s considerably easier to speak to and get along with. Outside of the parameters of her duty, she likes to keep herself busy, and though she does not hire herself out as a mercenary does (for to do so would be to pollute the purity of her role), she will assist others who she considers to have worthy causes, or simply be worthy individuals. The task’s completion should always be payment enough, and in this way, she can act beyond her tenets without violating them.

As a Qunari, born and raised to it, she is much more fluent in their language than the Marchers’ tongue, though her role requires her proficiency with both. Still, it can be a little startling to hear the Qunari accent from a human mouth, a female one at that.

She can come off as quite cold, for she has the tendency to offer answers only to the exact question she was asked, and when not teaching, she is very economical with her words. What most people fail to realize is that she is not averse to speaking further most of the time, but she does not bother answering that which is only implied. She understands the difference and often uses implication to get at things she cannot say directly, but this is exactly the reason she cannot answer implications from others. The Qunari have, on occasion, a particular kind of double-talk, and the exact phrasing of what she says is important, as it may point to things she is not saying more than the things she is. For this reason, conversation with her can be a chore, and many are inclined to simply give up on it. For those who do not, it is possible to coax some rather interesting statements out of her, because the only lies she allows herself to tell are those by omission, and she usually leaves enough hints behind that the clever can figure them out. It occasionally frustrates her that basra assume that the first thing she says is the only thing she wishes to, and do not take the time to probe further like a Qunari would.

Though she does not show it, she entertains doubt from time to time about her creed, particularly when she believes that the way the Qunari leaders choose to go about things is true to the letter of the Qun rather than the spirit. Amalia tends to think that the most important principles are the ones that are never directly given, those that linger at the corners of the words actually written. It seems to her that the whole enterprise is built upon a concern for the safety and livelihood of the whole, rather than any one of its parts. That does not, she thinks, give license to some of the ways in which such livelihood is enforced. Fortunately, she is offered (and takes) a great deal of discretion in her role and how to best execute her directives. She likewise interprets some of the other rules of her society... loosely, though she never defies those principles which she holds to be the most important. It is all, once again, about the difference between the explicit and the implicit, and she walks a fragile line between them with as much poise as she is able.

Act Two: Three years in Kirkwall does not seem to have had much effect on Amalia's demeanor, though she has softened a bit for specific people. Oddly, she has shown little if any reluctance to share of herself with other people-- they just usually have to request as much. As for her adherence to the Qun, well... contact with Kirkwall has strengthened her belief that the basra status quo is absolutely unforgivable, but she is perhaps not quite as sure as she used to be that the Qunari way of life is what is required to fix it. She still thinks the Qun would make for a better society, but she doubts that it is the only thing that would, and thus the part of it that is militantly assimilationist begins to bother her, just a bit.

Act Three: Amalia’s personality could best be said to have loosened, if indeed that turns out to be the appropriate metaphor. Given that she is no longer Qunari, she need not hold to the more inconvenient tenets of the Qun, though it would be a mistake to suggest that she no longer finds anything of value in it. She is still in fact, much the same in many ways. Her manner of speaking has hardly changed, and her self-discipline, core generosity, and silent watchfulness over those who most concern her remain firmly entrenched.

Since she has allowed herself to separate from her former ideology, however, she has found the things about Kirkwall culture that only barely came to her notice before are now profoundly alienating. These are her people, now, in some sense of the word, and there are things about them and how they live that she does not understand at all, things utterly and profoundly different from everything she has ever known. This is disconcerting at best and downright unnerving at worst, and she seeks to rectify it, to find her place in this world as she never had to in her first. As Qunari, she was simply told what she was, and it was plain as day why. As human, she cannot say if she is anything more specific at all.

Fears: Where once she feared almost nothing, she has come to concern herself with enough that now she fears many things. She never understood what it was, to value a person so highly that not only would she mourn their loss in ways she can scarcely comprehend, but enough that she consciously begins to think about losing them, in a way she never considered, for example, the possibility of losing Sparrow. Part of this is residual psychological damage from indeed losing the two people who prior to her time in Kirkwall had mattered the most to her, and both of them to betrayal. But part of it is just that she has never had bonds like these before, and so she has come to fear their severing like she has feared nothing else. Ithilian, Aurora, Nostariel… even Sparrow and Lucien concern her to an extent. It is most incomprehensible.


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Opinions:
  • The Chantry: She’s not quite as disdainful of the Chantry as she used to be, but that’s not saying much. Mostly, she just barely tolerates it, and tries to stay well away from the actual building itself.
  • Mages: She is not so foolish as to have embraced the idea that all mages should be set free to do as they please, but… the ones she knows have given her cause to question her former beliefs on just how closely they need to be watched. Aurora has proven a hypothesis for her, and Nostariel is simply an example of the benefits of moderation. Neither, she thinks, deserved to be enchained for what they are, by any means, but they may yet be the exceptions that prove the rule.
  • Templars: She has very little to say about Templars. They are the military arm of the Chantry, and she doesn’t particularly enjoy the fact that she Chantry has a military arm. That’s about the long and short of it.
  • Elves: It’s generally not wise to form sweeping opinions of a group of people by induction from a few cases. This applies even to a group as homogenous as the Qunari, and so naturally holds quite true of more diverse groups, like elves. She finds most of those in the Alienage to be in an unenviable state. Once, she might perhaps have disdained their apparent lack of drive to have anything else, but she has seen them, now, and she understands that there is something worthwhile to be found in the lives they live, even if they deserve more. Of the elf who has become singular in her life, well… there is much more to be said than could be inferred from observing his people, be they of the forest or the city.
  • Dwarves: She doesn’t know very many dwarves, aside from one viddathari and Varric Tethras. She doesn’t presume to draw any conclusions from that, either, as they are both quite unusual for members of their race.
  • Humans: Amalia’s primary concern with humans seems to be in trying to decide if she qualifies as one. She has human friends, and human enemies, and that is all one thing, but whether or not she is human may well be another. It was never a problem, because being Qunari had a way of making it so that she didn’t need to be concerned with being anything else. But now…
  • Qunari: She still respects them, and to some extent, she will always consider herself Qunari, and the Qunari her people. That much has not been lost, and probably never will be. But she knows that this is only the design of her own mind. If they were to be asked the same questions, the judgement would be different. She is Tal-Vashoth, a traitor to the Qun, and she might as well be dirt, for all her disgrace. This has left her uncomfortable and disquiet, but she does not regret the choice she made to leave the Qun, even so.
  • Kirkwall: She never thought she would find anything of lasting value in Kirkwall. She has been proven most incredibly wrong. That said, there are still more things about the city itself that she dislikes than that she doesn’t.


“The question of who and what I am was once one with a one-word answer. Now,
I am not so sure there is any answer at all.”



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Weapon of Choice: Amalia carries both a long length of chain, weighted on the ends, and also throwing needles coated in poison, though any object that can be thrown serves just as well. Recently, she has been experimenting with trigger mechanisms, and has also picked up a melee option: a large ring blade.

Armor/Apparel: As mentioned, her typical battle apparel is designed for swiftness and silence rather than protection outright. It is quite distinctive, and when not on an assignment, she tends to wear a high-necked, long-sleeved dress to cover it.

Act Two: Amalia's daily wear is now a set of tan robes, very loose everywhere and quite concealing of her shape, as well as her concealed weapons and suchlike. It's taken in at the waist with a sash, but other than that covers her from neck to ankle. Her armor, she has made adjustments to. The flexible areas are a toughened fiber, built to withstand more damage than ordinary linen, and the rest has been overlaid with the hide she harvested from the dragon, effectively sheathing her in obsidian-colored scales, which she darkens with dye to prevent them from reflecting. It's still fitted quite close to her skin for maximum mobility, but she took her lessons about open-field combat to heart. Fortunately, it's better for her more stealthy operations as well, so it need not be justified in a way that sounds like she's changing roles.

Act Three: Her everyday clothing may have changed, but her armor is still in good enough repair that it has not. She isn’t wearing it as often, however, having in some sense separated herself-as-combatant from herself in general. She no longer feels that she needs the protection, both physical and mental, it offers at all times—just the times when fighting might be involved.

Combat Overview: Something between a shadow and an assassin in tactics, heavily favoring stealth and subterfuge, including the use of poison, among these the saa-qamek. though most often, she deals in milder neurotoxins or paralytics. When forced into open conflict, Amalia’s style relies on unconventional training in a clinical hand-to-hand focused on striking key points on the body and the use of her weighted chain to hamper enemy movement. Her flexibility and reflexes are absolutely key here, as even a good hit or two will damage her heavily. She basically embodies the “glass cannon” archetype, capable of dealing severe damage in almost any situation, but highly vulnerable in a protracted conflict from which she cannot simply disappear.

Act Two: Amalia has gained a bit more protection, but her combat essentials are still stealth, speed, and nearly-unnatural flexibility. She's added more exotic weapons to her arsenal, and these days rarely carries all of them at once, instead selecting them as is appropriate for the task at hand.

Act Three: Amalia is approaching the peak period in the life of someone who fights with their body—the place where experience and youthful strength coincide as optimally as they ever will, and she is formidable, to say the least. Her arsenal only grows, as she adapts more tools to fit the ever-increasing demands of her life and the situations she encounters in Kirkwall. Her mind, too, is active, and she has engineered several new and interesting extras to add to her fighting style, such as a viscous, flammable liquid that allows her to keep a weapon on fire for an extended period of time, but also use as an incendiary for other purposes, should she have the need.

Even minus all the extras, though, the exotic weapons and the unusual methods of enhancing them, she is dangerous, perhaps most of all with nothing but her bare hands and her analytical mind. She is not sociopathic or cruel, but she can be exceptionally ruthless when the things she cares for are endangered.


“Victory is a function of two things only: preparedness and adaptability.”


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Place of Birth, Nation of Origin: Kont-Ar, Rivain
Social Status: Ben-Hassrath, a fairly high rank in the Qunari priesthood under the Ariqun, responsible for policing the Qunari adherence to their religion. The Ben-Hassrath also serve as overseas spies and assassins for the Qunari, fulfilling paramilitary “roles” unsuited for the actual warriors under the command of the Arishok.

Personal History: Amalia’s parents were Rivaini coverts to the Qun, both accepting the roles given to them shortly after her mother became pregnant. Of course, neither of them raised her, and she knows only as much as she does because of a fair amount of guesswork and a question placed to a Tamassran friend of hers.

From fairly early in life, it was evident that the slender girl would make a better Ben-Hassrath than anything else: she was disposed to physical activity but not without a necessary level of mental acuity. Her human heritage would make it much easier for her to operate abroad as well, and her gender precluded her from entrance to the Antaam.

Once her training was complete, she spent some time in Seheron, serving as a ferryperson for new viddethari from either the Tevinter army or the population at large, but was recently ordered to go to Kirkwall. Contrary to what one may assume, her presence there has very little to do with the Arishok’s shipwreck, though she is aware of the reason for his present stranded state. She has nothing to do with him, however, and so rarely spends any amount of time in the Qunari compound. Her job is among the female and child converts to the Qun, the number of which is few but steadily growing, especially in the Alienage and Darktown. She is housed in the former despite being human, though few people are aware of this.

Curiously, she had been known to spend a great deal of time in front of the tree there, playing the harp for elven children, a particular skill of hers. If asked, she claims that she is not a musician, since that role was not chosen for her, but merely a hobbyist, a casual observer of musicians.

Act Two: For more than three years, she has occupied a post as the only Ben-Hassrath in Kirkwall, watching over and educating the ever-increasing number of Viddethari. At first, these were elves, and so it made the most sense for her to dwell where the elves did, and thus she resides in the Alienage. With time and growing unrest in the city, she has taken on many humans as well, and notably, one dwarf. All of these, she summons to the Alienage for their lessons, and any human who takes issue with this swiftly learns that the Qun holds all to be of equal worth. Her charges are therefore impeccably well-behaved, and a few have even started to freely mix with the elves, both their fellow Viddethari and otherwise. She neither pushes nor discourages this, at least not as far as anyone can tell.

Time in the city has also introduced her to many people, not all of whom she particularly likes, but each from whom she has learned something valuable. It is their choice whether they choose to learn from her in turn, and some have taken it quite literally.

Act Three: Amalia is no longer Qunari. To be sure, she writes the occasional report for the Ariqun, who seems to have tacitly accepted that this will be the extent of her contributions to the Qun for the remainder of her natural life, but she is not one of them. Not anymore. She still holds their values to be of importance to her, but not all of them, and hardly with the same rigid certainty as she once had. In the end, the reason was simple. In the end, after nearly four years in Kirkwall, growing and changing and connecting with people, few but important, Amalia has found what she wants out of her life. And what she wants is to be where they are, to protect them and assist them and support them. She has never had kin, and before she arrived in this place, she would not have said she had friends, either, but she does now.

And most of all, somewhere between the fights and the days sitting beneath or in the painted tree and the assassinations of magisters and the rescues from gallows, she has found kadan. Ithilian has come to matter to Amalia in a way that no one else ever has or ever will, a way that she does not fully understand. The Qunari expression, ironically, enough, says it best—he is the thing at her center, the person she holds closest and most dear. In the end, when the choice was to leave all of that or leave the Qun, it was not as difficult as it should have been.

And now she struggles, to find her place in a world she knows little about, to live according to customs entirely alien to her, ones she was always apart from when she dwelt here only as an emissary, an instructor. Now she is a denizen of Kirkwall like any other, and, friends or not, it has left her feeling a little lost. What she makes of it, perhaps only time will tell.


“I have changed, and that much, only a fool would deny. I change still, but the path
I walk ceases to have a defined end. Once, tomorrow was as certain
as yesterday. No longer.”








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Image| Ashton |

He seems vaguely daunted by her, which she doesn’t quite understand. Than again, she is given to believe that he is nervous around the majority of Qunari, so perhaps that is simply the extent of it. Whatever the case, she is not quite certain of her estimation of Ashton. He ran from the demon he should have fought in the Fade, and in doing so, he made the subsequent task more difficult for the rest of them. But he was efficient and useful during the events of Sophia’s birthday, and his skills as a craftsman seem praiseworthy. She’s more or less neutral regarding his presence—she’ll not go out of her way to be rid of him, but nor would she ever seek him out.

[url]Song[/url]
[url]Song[/url]



Image| Aurora |

It is in the nature of teaching relationships that both parties teach, and both learn. This was something Amalia knew in the abstract, but Aurora really drove the point home, without once realizing it. Through her, Amalia came to understand much of her world, especially the parts that living in the Alienage didn’t show her. She found imparting some of her skills and training unto the girl to be… rewarding, in a way she had not thought it would be. What started as basic necessity evolved and changed until honestly they were more like friends or sisters than something so sharply divided as tutor and pupil. The end of the relationship, such as it was, was bittersweet for Amalia. It was the end of something she understood very well, and though she knows that Aurora has much yet to learn and perfect, her role as teacher, something that came well and easily to her, is concluded now, and she is not quite sure how to feel about that, even if the rest seems to have remained intact. Aurora will always be important to Amalia, perhaps one of the most important people in her life, but there is no longer an easy way to define how.

Roses
[url]Song[/url]



Image| Ithilian |

There aren’t words, not really. The closest she can come to expressing how she feels about Ithilian is in the singular term she has chosen—kadan. It means, in a very literal sense, the thing at the center of the chest. The heart, the core, the fundament. Ithilian is essential to her life in the same way a vital organ is essential, really; there is no prying one apart from the other. They have changed each other, been changed by each other, in surprising ways, ones she never would have predicted but has grown to appreciate. Their alchemy is unique, and trying to reduce it to more common types of sentiment does it a fundamental injustice. Are they friends? Does she love him? Of course—but those are the wrong questions, and even asking them is already to have misunderstood something. A better question would be can you any longer imagine yourself without him?—and the answer is no.

Soul Meets Body
Never Back Down



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| Lucien |

The mercenary is not what she had been led to expect of basra with similar appearances and professions. The Qunari generally do not look well on those who fight only for coin, but then she knows that coin is perhaps the least of Lucien’s worries. Like the Arishok, she respects him. Unlike the Arishok, she does not respect him simply because he seems to understand necessity and honor. The mutual respect they’ve cultivated is not by any stretch the most significant relationship that she’s developed in Kirkwall, but it is surprisingly welcome all the same.

The Conquest of Spaces
[url]Song[/url]



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| Nostariel |

The Warden is a woman evolving. Amalia is not sure she’s ever seen another person change so much, not even over a lifetime. The Qunari tend to remain very much the same, and Amalia once thought herself very much like this. She used to think everyone like this. Many people have shown her differently, now, but Nostariel was the first, and perhaps in some ways the most drastic. Mage though she may be, it is abundantly clear that the Warden’s will is not weak, but steely, and her resolve nothing to be trifled with. This is a quality that Amalia respects, and she has never seen it coupled so closely with what otherwise seems to be innate gentleness.

[url]Song[/url]
[url]Song[/url]



Image| Rilien |

She has heard the story of just what the Tranquil gave up for Sparrow, and if nothing else, it’s convinced her that the elf is a man of merit. Not many would be willing to sacrifice so much for another, much less when that other is the flighty, inconstant thing that Sparrow is. Nevertheless, she understands, and respects him for this and his incredible craftsmanship. They have not interacted overmuch, but if they ever had cause to, he would find an ally in her, even if he doesn’t know it.

Midnight to Midnight
Anthem of the Lonely



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| Sophia |

Amalia finds herself with a surprising amount of respect for Sophia. It is certainly not something she ever expected to have, and the first time they met each other, it was certainly not present, but over time and with some observation, she’s managed to overcome her initial inclinations against human nobility and see something worthy in the Viscount’s daughter. Though they are not friends, Amalia has shown herself willing to assist Sophia when the cause is right, and in seeking to prevent or delay the Qunari attack on Kirkwall, their goals align quite well. They are allies, and not purely from convenience. For Amalia, at least, this is quite something.

[url]Song[/url]
[url]Song[/url]



Image| Sparrow |

Though she has tried to lay it aside, to pretend that it does not still sting, recent events have brought the memory of Sparrow’s flight to the forefront of Amalia’s mind again, and for the first time, she is perhaps willing to say that it hurt, to watch him go. The thing is, she could have stopped him—he thinks he snuck away so very quietly, but Sparrow was never quiet, especially not when compared to her. She followed him to the border of their settlement, and watched him walk away, without so much as a farewell. The abandonment was what she saw as the first major betrayal in her life, and at the time, they were both scarcely adolescents. That perhaps made it all the worse. Though she harbors no hostility for Sparrow, talking to him is neither the easiest nor the most pleasant thing she’s ever done, but they are taking steps to repair the relationship as much as can be done. Amalia will never be able to fully trust Sparrow again, but perhaps she has already forgiven her.

Little Secrets
Humanoid



“I was taught that truly valuing one person over another was a fundamental folly,
a weakness of character. I may believe it still--if so, then I have
become weak. And I will not endeavor to correct my mistake.”





So begins...

Amalia's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Amalia
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Lucien wasn’t particularly fond of Hightown. Everything, from the stones underfoot to the people chatting at market stalls, seemed to carry an air of whitewash, as though the sparkling cleanliness of appearance was merely a façade for manipulation and scheming. Of course, his cynicism was perhaps understandable, given that he’d once been elbow-deep in a similar mire with no desire to be there, limbs thrashing through the weighted honey of sweet lies that seemed feathered promises instead. How different could nobility be in the Free Marches?

If what time he had already spent here was anything to go by, then the answer was a simple, disappointed, not much. The names and the faces were sometimes different, but the game was the same, even if the players would barely be amateurs in his aunt Celene’s court.

He didn’t fit in with it. Never had, really; a man who preferred to wear his armor rather than his coronet, and speak with his actions rather than his words. Righteous was not the word; he was filled with no holy zeal. Surely, that was here and everywhere reserved for Templars. But he at least had his honor, and this alone was enough to make him a pariah. If that was what it meant, let it be so. Here, it was almost worse: his armor was not quite so rich or recognizable, and the weapon slung across his broad back was, of all things, a scythe, a simple farmers’ tool, modified to stand up to the increased pressure of battle.

The disgraced Chevalier looked down at the parchment missive in his hand. A general announcement, seeking those sturdy of body to return the Viscount’s missing son. Frankly, the details were a bit sparing, but if in fact the boy had been kidnapped, there was nothing for it but to find and retrieve him. It rankled Lucien that people would exploit a mere boy for political advantage, though of course he had seen far worse. If indeed this was the intent of the kidnapping, retrieving the lad as soon as possible would be imperative, lest he wind up slit in the throat and left for dead as soon as the assailants had what they wanted. Assuming, I suppose, that he is not already so.

Lucien’s long strides eventually carried him forward to the Viscount’s Keep, a great building with brutal architecture, the spires of it towering over everything else by the chantry, jutting into the sky as if to challenge the blue expanse for dominance in the eyes of man or Maker. The concept was familiar, though here I was executed in a manner almost Spartan. No sweeping buttresses, no painted ceilings, no ornately-patterned rugs, just crimson runners and more spikes than he bothered to count.

Pausing at the bottom of the steps, the mercenary palmed his cheek and rubbed absently at his slight stubble, turning his head this way and that so as to look around with his good eye. He managed to step aside even as a tanned woman nearly ran straight into him, eyes glinting with purpose. “Move before I move you,” she growled, and the former knight blinked, acquiescing mildly and allowing his tread to keep him moving forward thereafter. Discourtesy, he had grown used to, and he shrugged, proceeding up the flight of stairs and inside the Keep.

The Seneschal was in front of his office, looking a rather harried man. Lucien stopped a respectful distance from him and executed a shallow, but polite bow. Holding up the missive with a deferential smile, he ventured the first words. “I doubt I am the first to inquire, serah, but might you have any further information on the whereabouts of Lord Saemus?”

Bran had appeared slightly worried upon seeing yet another mercenary approach him, but Lucien's tact seemed to put him at ease somewhat. "Indeed there has been news, though the situation may soon be under control. A group of mercenaries has already departed to retrieve Saemus." It looked as though the Seneschal had been about to ask the mercenary to leave, when he thought better of it. "However, there is something I might ask of you, if you're looking to make some coin. The Viscount's daughter, the lady Sophia, has decided to follow these mercenaries to ensure her brother's safe return, and it is apparently not my place to stop her." He paused for a moment, as though searching for the best way to word his request. "Lady Sophia is a capable warrior, but these mercenaries, the Winters, have earned themselves a rather... dubious reputation, and they are numerous. If someone were to accompany the lady, and ensure her safe return as well as Saemus', they would be entitled to the same reward."

Lucien considered for a moment, thoughtfulness drawing his brows together, but he nodded in short order. A protection detail was a relatively complicated assignment, especially if the person he was to be looking after was to be willingly putting themselves in danger, but he did not think it beyond his capabilities. Besides that, he did not much like the idea of putting the safety of both a hostage and potentially the Viscount’s first child- reputed to be the most reasonable member of the family- in the hands of a group with a less-than-stellar reputation.

“It would be my honor,” he replied simply, distancing himself from the Seneschal that the other man might return to his duties. He took up residence against a pillar, crossing his arms over his chest and one leg over the other. He was the picture of unruffled composure, if perhaps slightly scragglier in appearance than one would usually associate with such a demeanor.




Errant fingers teased harpstrings, though there was precious little audience about to hear it. This was inconsequential; the Ben-Hassrath played for herself. If others derived enjoyment from the lulling tunes, then that was all well and good, but she of all people understood the difference between a fringe benefit and a real purpose. Playing was an aid to her thought process, as if hearing the harmony of chords and melody somehow reminded her that everything in the world had a place in it even as every note made a song better for its right placement and presence.

Sitting as she usually did, facing the entrance to the Alienage, back against the painted tree, the vhenadahl, one of the young ones had told her it was called. Its boughs stretched overhead, and she decided that if one had to choose a symbol of something better in a place like this, it was not a bad one. Of course, she had little use for symbolism, as letting things stand for other things did very little in terms of accomplishing goals. Were they so content to languish under one tree when they had once been masters of entire forests? Suffering ill-suited most of them, and yet they were apparently satisfied bearing it, to some degree.

In one sense, it was admirable, in another, deplorable. Amalia’s boat-light eyes narrowed slightly, and she plucked a few more strings in quick succession. For all that many things were certain, few were ever simple.

That was when the Templar entered. She watched him mildly, unmoving from her position, but clearly a sentinel all the same. Sometimes, the authorities from that foolish religion humans had bothered her charges for their conversion, and while she had not needed to intervene directly as of yet, she was not a fool and knew that the tensions in this respect were only growing more taut by the day.

The man approached Arianni, a woman who the Ben-Hassrath knew to have a son with a human, and to be formerly of the Dalish. None of this was information she had asked for, but whatever the reason, her charges seemed inclined to speak to her of little things, and she saw no reason not to hear them. Their voices were low, at least at first, but this did not stop her from hearing the gist of the exchange. So the boy was Saarebas. This fact was neither here nor there, but it had obviously provoked the Templar to action.

Amalia’s fingers stilled, and she pressed her palm to her strings to silence them. The heavy tread of armor-laden feet heralded the Templar’s departure, and it was then that she stood, flowing to her feet like so much silk and tucking the instrument gently beneath one arm. She was not Averaad, the leashing of Saarebas was not her responsibility, but… her role often constituted finding that which was missing, as few who left the Qun did so publicly or with courage, and this was therefore an extension of her abilities that did not fall to someone else. Reason enough to justify it.

Approaching the elvish woman on light feet, Amalia cocked her head to one side and spoke, words low but clear. “If you fear what might become of your child should the Templars find him, it would be best to ensure that someone else finds him first,” she pointed out plainly. This manner of hers, she knew, tended to unnerve people unfamiliar with the Ben-Hassrath, but she was a common-enough sight here in the Alienage that most no longer took offense to it.

Arianni appeared somewhat surprised at Amalia's words, or perhaps just her presence. "Hello, Amalia. You overheard that, did you? I... I am more fearful of what will happen to my Feynriel if he is not found, not the Templars. He... has had difficulty controlling his power of late. He dreams of demons, speaking in his mind. I'd rather lose him to the Circle than to himself."

It was then that a third party entered the conversation, when the Dalish, Ithilian, came forth, rather swiftly, moving through the shade cast by the vhenadahl. He was armed and armored as though he were about to go for a hunt, which he very well could have been. His bow was slung across his back, a full quiver of arrows at his hip, and a pair of long knives sheathed at his waist. He greeted Arianni with a small nod of his head. "Andaran atish'an, Arianni," he said. He gave no greeting to Amalia. Arianni looked perhaps more intimidated by Ithilian than she was by Amalia, even though he too was one of the People.

"Good day, Ithilian," she responded quietly. He did not wait for further reply. "If there's something to be done for your son, half-blooded as he is, it should be one of the People that aids you, not a shem." Arianni hesitated for a moment, looking between Amalia, who Ithilian had still not acknowledged, and Ithilian. "I... had been afraid to ask you for your help, Ithilian. I know you do not look fondly on my child." At this Ithilian crossed his arms. "Whatever you are now, you were Dalish once, and for that, you have my assistance. Perhaps it might help to remind you of what you turned aside."

Amalia could not say that she was particularly accustomed to being ignored, but then it was not as though she expected any different. This one looked at the world around him with hateful eyes, on every occasion she had seen need to observe, and she seemed to have done something to deserve at least one elf's ire. No matter; what bas believed of her was not her concern.

Even so, she had no intention of backing off here, and while he spoke, she stood, for all the world as relaxed as she had been under the tree, a single index digit resting gently perpendicular to her lips. A repose, really, and she cracked her neck first one way and then the other. Interesting, that he understood something of purpose, of differentiation, even if his parameters were in this case wholly mistaken. "Saatarethkost," she intoned, addressing him though she doubted he'd be so courteous as to return the favor. "Your understanding of boundaries is worthy, but here, you draw them in the wrong place. I will help Arianni regardless of your will, but if your true goal is success, you would understand that to accept my assistance is nothing shameful." She shrugged, a surprisingly light motion, and turned again to the woman.

"Does the dathrasi still maintain the shop in Lowtown?" she asked flatly, referring to the boy's father in no kind terms. Though she did not much go in for the bas methods of childrearing, even she could understand that to have so little involvement in the process was shameful in a society such as this one, and a man who shirked his role as father was not one worthy of any distinction. She'd been made aware of his return through the same gossips that provided her all of her information, and she had yet to hear of him leaving.

"He does. Vincento will be in the bazaar. He recently returned to the city from Antiva. Feynriel might have sought him out when he ran. But if Vincento knows nothing, you might also speak to Ser Thrask, the Templar, in the Gallows, to learn what ground he has already covered."

Ithilian had been scrutinizing the girl Amalia after she had greeted him with a word he was not familiar with. Something to do with her Qun, likely, the beliefs which he had heard she followed instead of the shemlen Chantry. "Your ears are as round as any shem's," he noted, "but if you would help Arianni regardless of my opinion, then there's little I can do to stop you. I'm willing to see if this Qun of yours can elevate you above the other humans," he paused for a moment, before adding, "though I have my doubts." He then turned to Arianni.

"We'll start with this Vincento, then. With any luck, I can tear your boy's location from his hide. We'll get him to safety." Arianni bowed her head in thanks. "Ma serranas, Ithilian. Thank you, Amalia. I will pray for your swift return." Ithilian gave Amalia a nod of his head, before heading off towards the steps out of the Alienage.

"Let's go hear what this shem has to say."

"Is that all it takes, then?" she mused, though truly more to herself than him. She had heard this word, shemlen, and knew it designated the same thing as human, though less charitably. Apparently, it was an entirely useless category, one that served no actual function other than to classify based on physiology. There was a reason the horned Qunari no longer referred to themselves as kossith.

Nevertheless, the battle against ignorance was not hers to fight, at least not at present, and he seemed about as willing as he was going to get to tolerate her presence, so that much at least was done. "Meravas, then," she replied, and it was answer to both Ithilian and Arianni. "So shall it be." Doubting very much that the other would wish to put his back to her, she decided that she might as well lead the way to Lowtown, as she had some idea of where the one called Vincento operated. If she was concerned about exposing her back to him, she certainly did not act it.

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia
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The shem chose to walk in front of Ithilian, perhaps as some kind of show of trust, or cooperation. Or stupidity. He welcomed the third in shemlen, but had no desire for the first two. But he made no complaints. Best to know where the girl was, and what she was doing, at all times, at least until he could discern her motives. There was no coin to be had from this job. Arianni had nothing to spare. There were toes that could possibly be stepped on, such as those of the Templars. And from what Ithilian had gathered in his short time in the city, the Templars were not a group to be trifled with, or a group to be made enemies of. At least, not publicly. And neither Arianni nor Feynriel were of her people. Arianni was Dalish, and Feynriel... had no place. His human blood would mark him as lesser among the People, and his elven blood would mark him as lesser among the shemlen. So what was she after?

"Why do you care?" Ithilian asked bluntly from behind her as they walked up the steps, in the direction of the Lowtown Bazaar. "The boy is no kin of yours, and neither is Arianni. What do you get from doing this?"

"Must it be about what I stand to gain?" Amalia asked, neither pausing nor looking back. "There is a task that needs doing. A boy who, by your reasoning, has no place in the world, needs to be found. I am both willing to and capable of finding him. Is there any reason I should not?" Truly, she had never understood thinking of this kind. Among her people, everything that needed doing was done, by those who were suited to do it. Personal gain was irrelevant. Care was exercised because other people were just as you were, but perhaps incapable of doing some of the things you could do.

As she walked, she fiddled with the loose straps on her back, slinging her harp next to her chain-weapon, careful not to scratch the wood. It was not a paticularly valuable thing, and she of course held no particular attachment to it, but this was no reason to be neglectful to it. Her stride continued uninterrupted, and she led him around a corner and into Lowtown proper. There was the Hanged Man, a popular establishment if she heard correctly, but Vincento was located further still, on the other side of the Bazaar.

Ithilian frowned at her answer, watching her carefully. He would have been much happier had she just admitted to whatever greed was driving her to help a half-elf, but instead she continued with this line of what seemed to be complete selflessness. She had nothing to gain. But because she was capable of helping, and because she couldn't think of a reason not to, she offered assistance? No, there was a snake here somewhere. He could hear it hissing beneath her words. There was something she was hiding from him. The Dalish ensured that his knives were loose in their scabbards at his waist.

Entering the Bazaar made him tense. Especially since he was armed. Depravity ran thick here. In the Alienage, the pitiful nature of the citizens made him feel sorrow for the fate of his people. The pitiful nature of these shemlen made him want to tear something open. Fortunately, he had a target, and a very good reason to carve answers from him. He picked up his pace to walk almost beside Amalia, knowing the location of this Vincento's market stall, as he had passed by the Antivan just the other day.

Vincento's Northern Merchandise it was called. Even from a distance, Ithilian could pick out the man's accent, his voice carrying over the crowds. The second he spotted Amalia, he turned his attention on her. "You, my lady, look like a woman who appreciates exotic garments from faraway lands! Would you care to take a look at my wares? I have a fine selection of goods from glorious Antiva!"

"Do I?" The Qunari mused, glancing down at her ordinary, threadbare dress. For the moment, it was a useful disguise, underneath which she kept more appropriate garments for dirtier work. No, she was quite certain that she looked nothing of the sort. "I believe you may wish to reevaluate your claims later. Presently, however, I am here to inquire about your son." She fixed him with a knowing look, more than a little eerie for the fact that one of her irises was an unnatural red. Crossing her arms over her chest and leaning predominantly on her right leg, Amalia cocked her head to one side, a bird-like gesture that conveyed nothing but the utmost patience.

The merchant gave a single laugh, though it was obviously infected with his nervousness. "Son? No... I'm afraid I have never had the pleasure. My wife, sadly, is back in Antiva, and cannot often--ugh!"

His gaze had been fixed on Amalia, likely distracted by her mismatched eye colors, and he hadn't been prepared in the slightest when Ithilian rammed his forearm into the merchant's throat, growling. His other hand drew a knife from the sheath at his waist, and he drove Vincento backwards, slamming him against the wall and pinning him there, the point of the knife pressed painfully into his side, in between the two lowest ribs.

"Listen very carefully," he said, his tone deadly serious, the look in his eye matching quite well. "If you know anything about Feynriel, and where he is at this moment, you are going to tell me. If you think for a second that I won't slice your belly open, watch your entrails spill about your pathetic little stall, and enjoy every second of it... well, you get the picture." Vincento struggled, but he was hopelessly trapped against the wall, so after a few tense seconds of this, he managed to sputter, "S...Samson!"

Ithilian reluctantly released him, allowing him to collapse to the ground in front of him. He flipped his knife around to point at the now sitting Vincento. "Speak," he ordered. After collecting himself for a moment, the Antivan did just so.

"The boy... he's in over his head, but... he came to me, after running away. I could do nothing for him, but... I sent him to the only man I know who does not despise mages. An ex-Templar named Samson." Ithilian sheathed the knife, crossing his arms. "And where can we find him?" Vincento coughed several more times. "He... he is a wanted man, so he stays out of sight. But he can usually be found near the entrances to Darktown. Please... you won't turn him in to the Templars, will you?

Ithilian shook his head. "I intend to make sure the boy doesn't end up a corpse. What he does with his life is his business. Gods know you've never made it yours." He turned back to Amalia. "Most shem don't respond very well if you appeal to their good natures. They have none. I find force to be far more efficient... and satisfying."

Amalia, perhaps more conscious than her companion of exactly how public this encounter was, had shifted, moving so as to obscure the exchange to anyone entering the Bazaar from Hightown, which she knew to be the patrol route for the city guard. She released a soft exhale from her nose that might have been a sigh when he went straight for the aggressive option, but in the end, results were the most important consideration, and as long as he was not so wasteful and foolish as to attempt to kill Vincento, she couldn't say she much cared. The man was clearly dathrasi, and the Qun had little use for liars.

Still, Ithilian's proclamation seemed to trouble her, if for no other reason than she still did not understand what the great difference was between being shemlen and being anything else. "There are many paths to the same end, Sataareth," she responded slowly, glancing between the winded merchant and the armed elf. "Not all of them require violence... nor will all of them see you arrested or killed by the shemlen you despise so much, particularly when executed in broad daylight."

"And not all of these paths lead us to Feynriel in time."

She shrugged lightly, as if to say the argument was of little consequence. "Perhaps we should seek this Samson. I suspect the dockside entrance is the one we want."

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia
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"Well, there's not actually a lot of places in the Bazaar itself, but losing a pursuer in a crowd like this is very possible, especially if you can change your appearance on the go, though... I'm sure you already knew that." Nostariel gestured at Aurora's hood with an approving nod. "Still, if you're really in a pinch and can't make it to the Hanged Man, there's always the sewers." It might have been expected of a tidy-looking woman like her to wrinkle her nose at the very thought, but this was a soul who'd been covered head-to-toe in Darkspawn guts and the vomit of her weak-stomached junior Wardens on more than one occasion, in no place less dangerous than the Deep Roads themselves. So yes, sewers were far from desirable, but certainly she could put things in perspective if need-be.

The two were just now rounding a corner, but the blonde elf drew up short upon looking around it. Having just passed a garment shop that tended to sell less-obvious raiment for mages, they were now within a few feet of a most disturbing scene. Vincento, an Antivan merchant who sold mostly luxury items, had his back to the wall and his posterior to the ground, clearly struggling to maintain even that upright position. Over him loomed a man the Warden had never seen before, an elf with some kind of covering on his head that sloped down to cover one eye. She was reminded for the barest moment of Lucien, but then decided that this small thing was where the similarity ended.

As she watched, the man's companion spoke to him, and Nostariel found herself puzzled by the exchange. The name, Feynriel, did not sound familiar, but it did sound Dalish. Nostariel had always had things to worry about besides the plight of her fellow elves, and indeed she was too much a mage and a Warden both to feel much more than a cursory connection to the People, as she understood they called themselves. Even so... there was an urgency in their actions that compelled her to ask. She was, if nothing else, an aide to causes larger than herself, always.

Glancing back at Aurora as if to beg her pardon, she addressed the other two. "My apologies, but... can I help you?" It was probably the most generic offer of assistance she had, but then she didn't understand the situation fully, only that it was somehow important enough to drive this man to violence. Whether it would be he and his companion she helped or Vincento, she could not yet say.

Ithilian had been aware that the scene he'd caused would draw some attention, but as he heard another speak, he found himself thinking perhaps he should have been more observant. He hadn't really checked to see if anyone potentially dangerous was around. But there were no guards grabbing him by the arms yet, and he had really wanted to hit a shem so he figured it had worked out well enough.

The Dalish found himself highly intrigued when he saw who was speaking to him, however. That she was an elf was the first thing he noticed, but he soon took note of what she was wearing. His old clan had encountered a Grey Warden once, Duncan, an older man with a full beard, and impressive skill with dual blades. He had been human, yes, but Grey Wardens were another matter. The Dalish had always respected them, and Ithilian's clan had been no different in that regard. This elven woman's garb was of the same make, and the sigil was the same; she was a Grey Warden.

She had no vallaslin however, and he had to admit, she didn't quite carry the same aura that Duncan had. Perhaps it was her age. Ithilian would have guessed her over ten years younger than he. Or maybe the way she carried herself. Where Duncan had appeared stronger than an ogre, she looked... different, slightly reminiscent of the other city elves. Perhaps she had been one of them.

"Andaran atish'an, Grey Warden," he greeted her, his attention occupied by her enough for him to not really notice that she was accompanied by a shem. "We seek a boy by the name of Feynriel, who recently fled the Alienage due to disagreements with his mother. He is also a mage," he said, lowering his voice significantly when he spoke of magic. He then gestured back to the still sitting Vincento. "I have just wrung a lead out of this shem, and we are headed there now. I would welcome the company of a Grey Warden, if you wish to offer aid."

A mage. Well, if Nostariel had entertained any doubts about whether or not she was going to help, they evaporated with that particular revelation. A youth, troubled by his magic (for truly, it was impossible not to have been troubled by something like magic at some point, she was sure), and now missing. Swallowing, Nostariel glanced back down at Vincento before kneeling in front of the human and checking him for injuries. He appeared to be mostly unharmed, but she cast a quick heal just in case, offering the man her hand to leverage him to his feet.

As soon as he was set to rights, she turned around to face to the other two. "It is Nostariel, if you prefer. I suppose I cannot ignore a story like that," she said, voice just as quiet as the Dalish man's had been. "My assistance is yours."

Sighing, she looked back to Aurora and managed a thin smile. "I must ask your forgiveness, Aurora, but it seems this cannot wait. I'll not ask you to put yourself at even greater risk. Remember what I said about the wards."

"You say this as if I'm not coming along," Aurora said, crossing her arms and grinning. The whole issue with the Templar had only momentarily dampened her mood, she was not the one to let it get her down though. Her interest was roused as soon as this Dalish said mage. She knew the troubles the boy had probably encountered-- and will encounter yet. What sort of person would she be to just allow this boy to stay missing? "Perhaps it will give me time for things to cool down as well?" She said, picking her words carefully. They were out in public among many prying ears, not to mention the Dalish and his friend.

Today had certainly been interesting, and it seemed that it had only began. Aurora began to brighten at the prospect of doing good for another fellow mage.

"Perhaps it will," Nostariel replied evenly, returning the smile with half of one of her own. She'd had a feeling the answer might be something like that, but who was she to stop someone from doing what they felt was right?

The appearance of two new individuals was not exactly unexpected, and Amalia was for the most part perfectly content to allow them to conduct their business through the Sataareth. If someone of his demeanor was capable of tolerating them, someone of hers would have no trouble. The first was dressed in blue and silver armor, with a staff slung across her back. Amalia had heard of the Grey Wardens, though she'd never had cause to interact with one. She understood that they were a group tasked with a very specific mandate, one that they held to, on average, with no less diligence than a Qunari. That bas could successfully understand the principles of duty and boundaries was impressive to her, though she was not even remotely tempted to say so.

The other was female as well, and apparently in some way associated with the Warden. When the blonde woman stooped beside the merchant, the Qunari caught the brief flash of magic, and her eyes narrowed. It was still difficult to get used to the idea of Sarebas without Averaad, but it was apparently woefully common in such societies as these. It was not her role to adjust situations of this nature, however, and so she like her kith behaved as tolerantly as they felt themselves inclined to be.

"If we are to go, it would make sense to do so now," she pointed out mildly. This ex-Templar did not strike her as a particularly trustworthy sort. Perhaps it was simply in her nature as an enforcer of law to frown upon those who could not be bothered to follow it. And basra laws at that- though she thought their systems fatally flawed, there was no mistaking the loose nature of their restrictions.

Ithilian glared in annoyance when the shemlen girl accompanying the Warden insisted on coming along, but it seemed more a matter for the Warden, Nostariel, to deal with, not him, so he did not object openly. That didn't mean he had to like it, of course. He'd be keeping an eye on her, as well.

"My name is Ithilian, formerly of Clan Mordallis of the Dalish, from the Brecilian Forest in Ferelden. This is Amalia, of the Qunari, who is right. We should leave before this shem decides to crawl back into his hole."

To them both, Nostariel simply nodded. Their words made sense, and rescuing that poor boy was clearly the priority in this situation. As she did not know where they were going, she gestured ahead of herself deferentially, allowing the Qunari woman (and how odd; she had thought that female Qunari did not fight, but this one bore weapons despite her civilian's clothing) to walk in front, since he seemed to have the best idea of where to find this person they sought next.

Still, her mind was troubled. Children with elven blood who went missing around here... she'd heard too many tales of this city's history to dismiss his capture by slavers as a very real possibility. And trapped, with nothing but his fledgling magic to defend himself with... she shuddered. She knew what that felt like, how strong the Fade-demons were in those moments, and she had been raised to resist them. She could not imagine what might become of a youth with no formal training and no other visible options. The musing suffused her steps with urgency.

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia
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"Very well. We seek a former Templar named Samson. I have some idea of where he might be found." Amalia let the words hang there for a few seconds, then turned, leading the group towards the Dockside entrance to Darktown.

The group made their way downwards, through the maze that was Lowtown. They passed the Hanged Man, bustling with patrons even at this relatively early hour, passed a rather disturbing view of the city's foundry district, a place saturated with the smells of smoke, burning metal, and generations of misery. Their surroundings grew steadily poorer as they approached the sewers and the entrances to Darktown, near the city walls and the stairs leading down to the docks. The streets were lined with refuse, of the physical and human varieties.

There were plenty of beggars and lowlifes populating this part of Lowtown, but one of them was set apart from the others by exactly what he was begging for: the dust. Dwarven dust. Lyrium, the ingredient the Templars used to enhance their trained abilities in combating magic, and also the means by which the Chantry held such a firm grip over their military arm. Lyrium was highly effective, but highly addictive if taken for a long enough period. But only those familiar with the Templars and their ways knew that.

Aurora didn't enjoy the look the elf, Ithilian gave her. It was glare of annoyance and... Hate perhaps? She knew that look. It was the look she had seen many times when others realized that she was a mage, and thus, this look from the stranger irritated her. What did he know of her to judge her so? He had never been in her shoes, lived her life. She returned his stare with a defiant one of her own, her jaw locked and set tight. She would speak out over such a small thing like a look, but it did manage to set her against the elf.

With that, the group descended into Lowtown proper.

As she said before, the streets were known to her. The winding mazelike pathways held no mystery for Aurora. If a templar was to appear and begin to chase her, she knew every sidestreet and back alley to take to escape. Though, this time, she wasn't the one being hunted, she was the one hunting. It was a comfortable change of pace honestly.

Trailing behind the others, Nostariel was likely the last to lay eyes upon the man seeking dust, but she had more reason than most to recognize the signs. Dark circles around sunken eyes, a slight tremor in the outstretched hands... she'd be willing to bet he was also light-sensitive, and found it difficult to sleep. Biting her lip, she toyed with the end of one of her braids. This could go very wrong in a number of fashions, most of them involving the Dalish man who'd apparently decided to extract information from Vincento in the least-gentle of ways.

Maybe this could be brought to a less-violent conclusion if she was able to obtain the information herself. "That man," she murmured to the group of them, "He's addicted to lyrium. If you're looking for an ex-Templar, that's definitely the best indication you'll recieve." Taking the opportunity to step forward, she was the first to approach him. Her smile didn't quite make it past her lips and into anything else about her demeanor, but she supposed it would do. People had to look closely to notice those kinds of things, and in order to do that, they usually had to care first. If he cared about a complete stranger, getting Feynriel's location shouldn't be a problem anyway.

"Your pardon, serah," the Warden began, her tone gracious. "But might you be the man called Samson?"

He was sitting on the ground as the Grey Warden approached, dark eyes scanning the people that passed, likely looking for a potential target to beg to. He had to look up to see her, and the act obviously took a bit of effort, as he squinted, and his hand reflexively went to block the sun from his eyes. Grumbling, he shoved himself to his feet, and peered at the members of the group that had approached him, before shrugging. "Depends on who's asking, I suppose. Why? What do you want from me?"

Ithilian stepped forward beside Nostariel, his demeanor significantly less... polite, than Nostariel's. "A location. An elven boy was sent to you recently, told that you were a friend to mages. Feynriel. Where is he?" Samson seemed to light up upon hearing the boy's name. "Ah, yeah, that was it, Feynriel. Been trying to remember that kid's name all day. Knew it was Fane-something, but I just couldn't get the last part. Good on you. I'll tell you now, though, there's not much I can do for you."

Ithilian had gotten out a good deal of his aggression on Vincento, but an elf like him always had more stashed away, ready to be pulled out on a moment's notice. He looked just about to recreate the scene in the market.

Amalia, having learned the sight of a near-violent Ithilian already and dutifully committed it to memory, flowed smoothly forward, reaching into her coinpurse with one hand even as she gently displaced Nostariel with the other, palming the other woman's shoulder and applying gentle pressure until she stepped sideways or back, whichever she preferred. "I have no lyrium, but I believe merchantile culture allows for the exchange of it for such as these," she said, though there was an underlying note of contempt in her tone. "We have little time, and the Sataareth even less patience. So tell me, basra, what did you do with the boy?" The Ben-Hassrath's tolerance for men who valued material things over other men was incredibly low, but she like her kith in the compound understood the value of using the customs of the bas when necessary. The Qun did not encourage those of her role to use violence, merely pointed out that it was sometimes necessary.

Sataareth were as a rule more militant, but this one, were he of the Qun, would have been reminded long ago that even the Antaam made great use of patience and judicious applications of diplomacy when more efficient.

The ex-Templar gladly accepted the coins Amalia offered, making a point of averting his gaze from the angry elf and holding it instead on the more charitable members of the group. "That's very kind of you. Been hurtin' lately, so this should help. Anyway, here's how it went. The boy came to me, but the Blighter was dead broke, didn't have two coppers to rub together. I don't work for free, you know? Help one apostate for free, and soon I'll have half the Circle banging on my door. Well... if I had a door for them to bang on, that is." Aurora twitched at the word apostate.

"So... what? You abandoned him? Turned him away? Get to the point." Ithilian was indeed confirming Amalia's words. His right hand rested on the hilt of a knife, but it was relaxed. Still, not the best sign. "I was gettin' there, my good man. No, I didn't just abandon him. I pointed him to a ship-captain I know, guy named Reiner. He takes on runaways sometimes. He took one on just last week, a girl I sent him. It, uh... might of gone wrong though. I heard some rumors, that Reiner took the pair of them captive instead."

"To ransom them to the Templars, perhaps?" Ithilian commented, in an unsurprised but disgusted tone. "Perhaps," Samson admitted, "or they could be holding them for someone else. Tevinter slavers, more like. The Templars make for poor businessmen." Ithilian slid his knife out an inch. "You should stop talking now, shem. And if anything's happened to the boy..."

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Something involving lots of blood, right? Anyway, you'll want to head to the Arthuris Private Dock, down on the water. I wouldn't expect a warm welcome, though."

Aurora pinched the bridge of her nose in annoyance. Things were becoming difficult real quick. No longer was it just Feynriel, but now Tevinter slavers were added to the mix. Magnificent. "I don't," Aurora agreed. "Shall we make our way to this Dock then? The more time we spend dallying, the further Feynriel gets," she said, leaving out the bit about wanting to meet this Captain Reiner. Selling mages like animals, she had a few words for the man. And spells. With that, Aurora turned on her heel and headed towards the docks as instructed. She hoped Feynriel was okay.

Ithilian approved of the human girl's need for haste. He locked a last glare upon the ex-Templar, before sliding his knife back into its sheath and turning to follow Aurora towards the stairs that would lead down to the water, and the private dock to which they had been pointed to. He had more than enough for slavers. If this Reiner did indeed plan on selling the boy into slavery, there would be no negotiations. Perhaps there were other paths, as Amalia had suggested, but the path of violence was the only one that would satisfy Ithilian if shemlen slavers were involved.

The docks, perhaps predictably, entailed the scent of salt, fish, and unwashed bodies, mostly human. As Nostariel understood it, though commerce of all kinds ran through here, the area was largely unsafe. The large, rough types that worked them probably didn't have much to worry about, but a youth with no combat experience was another matter. The roads beneath their feet were chipped and worn, large chunks missing from the off-white stone in places where it had fractured and none had bothered with repairs.

The private docks were set a bit away from the others, and as a rule a bit tidier, but given the complete absence of city guards, no more safe than anywhere else. Nostariel hesitated for the barest moment before pushing open the door to the storehouse they were looking for; she had a bad feeling about this. Of course, that was kind of the point, so she completed the motion with one hand, reaching behind herself with the other to grasp her bladed staff. The first room was largely empty, but it let out into an open cargo-storage area, and as soon as she stepped into it, she knew they weren't alone. "Look lively!" she called, an old phrase taken from a friend of hers in the Wardens.

Sure enough, several enemies, most of them rogues, seemed to emerge from the woodwork as she moved aside to allow the others to enter, readying the first burst of magic and letting fly from her stave, catching an archer solidly in the stomach. This just looked more and more ominous for poor Feynriel.

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia
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Reiner's men were obviously not looking to entertain company at present, as they attacked the group on sight when they entered the private dock. There was a high pitched scream of a young woman from the second level, and Ithilian caught sight of a girl being dragged into one of the back rooms by a pair of armed men. The one dragging the girl shouted something to the men, before shutting the door behind him, drowning out her pleas for help.

It was understandable that they would attack anyone unfamiliar entering their dock. Slavery was certainly still illegal in the Free Marches, and the city guard would crash down hard upon those who broke that particular law. Considering that none of these people wanted to spend any time locked under the earth in the dungeons located below the Gallows, it was no surprise that they were willing to commit murder to cover up slavery. A few deaths were more than worth the avoidance of a life rotting in the Gallows.

The group had prepared their defence by placing a trio of archers on the second level balcony, overlooking the door Nostariel had led the way through, with clear shots at short range. Those caught in the open would have a difficult time protecting themselves from arrows. A ramp to the left led up to the archers' balcony, but there were six armed men and women descending it to rush the enemy currently, armed with a variety of melee weapons and light armor, their faces covered by masks. To the group's right lay an open area, with crates for storage piling up on the right wall, and stairs on the left leading up to the second level, where Reiner had dragged the girl he was holding captive. There was no sign of Feynriel yet. More rogues and a few warriors were charging the group from the right, with another pair of archers holding at the top of the stairs.

Ithilian was glad there was no chance to negotiate. These shemlen had revealed their intentions to him, and he was more than willing to kill them all for what they were attempting to do. He smoothly ducked behind a wooden support so as to avoid getting shot while he drew his weapons, a pair of long, curved knives from his waist. He intercepted the first rogue on the left, who had been looking to blindside Nostariel, by plunging his right dagger into his belly all the way up to the hilt. The force of the stab lifted the rogue off his feet slightly, catching him by surprise. The Dalish wasted no time, slashing his other blade deep into his throat. Ignoring the spray of blood, Ithilian ripped his blade from the rogue's stomach, before grabbing him and turning him, pulling him close to his body as a shield just as a pair of arrows thrummed into his chest.

A woman heaving a battleaxe swung downwards at him, and Ithilian backed away swiftly, causing the blow to only crash onto her fallen comrade, splitting him open at the neck at least half a foot deep. Continuing to back away, Ithilian's knives were sheathed in an instant, his bow drawn and an arrow nocked. A swift aim later, and there was a thwack as his shot cracked through skull, and the warrior fell in a heap.

An arrow whistled by Amalia, catching her dress by the sleeve and tearing the thing as it went past. The aggression was all she needed to respond with the same, and she flickered before vanishing from sight entirely, stepping out of the useless garment and leaving only her much quieter fitted cloth-and-leathers beneath. Jogging soundlessly, she placed some distance between herself and the rest of the group, so as to avoid being hit by anything on accident, and half-unwound her chain, swinging the weighted end to build centripedal force. A deft flick of her wrist sent the weapon flying, tangling in the legs of a warrior trying to make a charge for the other three. The Ben-Hassrath yanked back hard, tightening the chain's hold and bringing the slaver crashing to his knees.

Gathering her weapon back up, Amalia held it loosely in one hand, a poisoned needle now resting carefully in each of the spaces between the fingers of her left hand. Still in a lingering shroud of stealth, the Qunari understood what needed to be done, and padded quietly up the ramp, passing by the archers undetected. There wasn't really a way to open a door without being discovered, and so getting into the room where the one barking orders had gone was going to be difficult. Perhaps if she... no. There was no telling exactly what was beyond. Though she trusted herself to handle most things, she was nothing if not realistic, and walking into that room by herself was just as likely to get the hostage killed as it was to save her.

Instead, then, she used her position behind the pair of archers to her advantage, tossing first one needle and then another with pinpoint accuracy, burying the steel projectiles at the base of each man's neck. Qunari poison was nothing to be trifled with, and they each swooned, shots arcing far off-course, then collapsed, the neurotoxin taking full effect very quickly. Choosing to hedge her bets, the now-visible Amalia stooped, taking first one head and then the other into her grip, wrenching sideways with speed that translated into great force. The wet cracks informed her that she had broken their necks, and she glanced back out to the center of the warehouse, swiftly taking stock of the situation.

Why was Aurora not surprised. Everytime slavers were mentioned, violence followed close on it's heels. Much like Ithilian did, Aurora found herself taking shelter behind a wooden support with an arrow thumping into the wood behind her. Suddenly, her lack of weaponry dawned upon her. She had left her staff at her home in Lowtown, hidden wrapped in some blankets under her bed. One couldn't just walk about with a staff slung across her back if she wanted to keep a sense of anonymity. She grimaced. It would have been helpful right now. Still, she wasn't going to let a little thing like lack of a weapon stop her.

She had caught sight of a group of archers above them before she took cover. She knew her target, but in order to get a line of sight on them, she'd have to wade out into the middle of the building. This thought only graced her mind for a split-second before it was decided. She looked to her sides, Amalia had disappeared in a puff of smoke and Ithilian was busily dispatching those who approached. She would not be the only useless one here today. However, the illusion that she was just some ordinary girl was about to be shattered. Still, that was a worry for another time.

Aurora crossed her arms in front of her chest and dipped into the fade, calling upon the natural elements of the world to come to her aid. When she opened her eyes, she was sheathed in a layer of stone. That should hold up against any errant attacks.

With her defenses set, she dropped out of cover and sprinted to the middle of the building, stopping suddenly and pivoting to face the archers above. Her hands danced around each other as she called upon another element, just as the archers were drawing a bead on her. Then her hands shot out, a streak of lightning erupting from her intertwined hands and zipped towards the archers. Upon impact, the lightning split and chained amongst them. The shock caused them to lose grip of their bows and two of the arrows hit wide while the third buried itself into the chest of her rock armor. She could still feel the bite of the tip, but it was just annoying more than painful. If not for the armor, the arrow would have surely pierced her heart.

She could hear the calls, "She's a mage! Try to take her alive!" Aurora frowned and echoed,"Try."

The group dispersed at once, each member going about their affairs as though trained for nothing more than this moment. Or at least she would not have put it beyond the ones called Ithilian and Amalia. She had no idea how the two had come to be working together, but they were both her comrades now, they and Aurora alike. Nostariel was only glad that her fellow mage had the sense to cover herself in rock armor before going after the archers.

Drawing upon more experience in the thick of enemies than she was truthfully comfortable having, the elf pulled protection from the Fade, draping both herself and her allies in the violet glow of an arcane shield. Where armor sought to protect, magic would help divert, and hopefully the both would be enough to do some good. The ranged combatants taken care of between the efforts of the clandestine Qunari and the bold human, Nostariel was forced to focus her attention on the more immediate problem presented by almost a dozen incoming melee combatants. Ithilian seemed to have a fair number in hand, but the two of them would not be enough on their own, and the Warden figured it was a good time to seed some chaos in the slavers' ranks.

Pulling a deep breath in through her nose, the mage released it in a whispered exhale, the rune of an infamous misdirection hex lighting the ground beneath more than half their tightly-clustered enemies. The insidious magic crept into the crevices of consciousness, and for a bare moment, Nostariel could feel the confusion fog taking hold of their minds, before the spell slipped from her grasp and sealed itself to them. The woman closest to her struck out with a knife, only to find that the blade went wide of its mark, whistling harmlessly past the Warden, by means of either her confusion or the shielding, it mattered not.

The chill crept into her left hand, and with a sad sort of smile, the ice arced from her palm in a half-circle, freezing four in place and making their flesh and bones brittle as crumbling ash. She did not relish in this, but she would not hesitate, grasping her staff in both hands. Twirling it with a cry, she brought the bladed end down on one frozen man's shoulder, and he shattered, nothing but shards of ice falling to the floor. Their efficiency was deadly, their ability to confound and enrapture and disappear more then men such as these would be able to handle. It was something she knew, down in her very bones.

Ithilian's mouth curved into a wicked grin as his companions did their work. The human girl revealed herself to be a mage. He suspected she'd had something hidden up her sleeve, if she were so willing to come into a base for slavers. She risked herself quite willingly, making herself a target for the archers into order to get at them. Amalia had disappeared, and moments later the archers on the stairs fell. And the elven Warden, Nostariel, had unleashed her own brand of magic on the close combat fighters of this Captain Reiner's. A hex and a well cast ice spell that effectively held off those coming from the right. Ithilian would continue his work on the left.

He switched back to his long knives, leaping into the air over the mercenary he'd shot in the head, and plunging both knives into the chest of the nearest mercenary, his weight taking the man to the ground. The merc had managed to get a knife stuck just under his rib, but the Dalish ignored the wound, snarling in his anger. A mercenary with a greatsword slashed horizontally, looking to lop off the elf's head as he rose, but Ithilian had the good sense to roll forward under it, getting a position at the merc's side while his momentum still carried him forward. He rose swiftly, one hand finding the top of the merc's head and pulling back, the other drawing his knife sharply across the throat, before pushing him forward, where he stumbled to the ground, clutching his throat.

He turned to catch the blow of a sword and shield armed mercenary, the sword getting caught in his blades, giving Ithilian an opening to kick the man backwards. The last of this group, a smaller female rogue with dual knives much like his own, flanked him from the right, scoring a slash across his thigh, and driving him back with swift blows which he parried madly, before finally seeing an opportunity to counter, blocking a strike that had been too slow to the side, and launching a kick to the side of her knee, twisting it at a wicked angle and sending her to a kneel, allowing him to get a firm grip on her head, and twist violently, snapping the neck.

The shield armed mercenary had returned by this point, blindside Ithilian with a slice across the back of his leg, causing him to roar in anger, and fall to a knee himself. Rather than waste any time down, however, Ithilian pushed hard with his good leg, and launched himself into a tackle, driving his shoulder into the man's gut and surprising him, causing him to drop his sword. They hit the ground with Ithilian on top, and he drove his first blade down, then the second, both burying themselves in his shield and getting stuck. Thoroughly frustrated by this one, Ithilian pulled an arrow from his quiver, shoving the shield aside with one arm, and then driving the arrowhead directly into the man's face, repeatedly, until there was little shape remaining to it. Only then did he take a breath, rip his blades from the shield, and turn to see the state of the battle.

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia Character Portrait: Numerai
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Another blade came down upon Aurora's head, which she intercepted by throwing her rock encased arm in it's path. The sword bit deep, cracking the stone off from her elbow to her hand, Before the swordsman had time to lop off an entire arm, Aurora balled her other hand into a fist and placed it an inch away from the warrior's chest. A sudden flash of magic and the man was being rocketed backwards with a heavy fist of stone, catching those who were unfortunately caught in it's wake as well.

The stoneskin was beginning to flake and crumble around her, it wouldn't be able to take many more blows in the condition that it was in. Though luckily, thanks to Nostariel, chaos was sown into the Slavers' ranks and what her stoneskin was losing was made up in her wards. Some were fighting against each other, and others looked confused as to what was going on. Two rogues however did not have reservations and advanced on the soft, squishy mage. Aurora held her ground, waiting for her moment to strike, if she telegraphed her spell, they could easily escape it. As such, Ithilian's roar was a blessing as it drew their attention elsewhere. Aurora didn't take the time to look at what was causing the cry, her hand already weaving for the next spell. When the rogues turned back around to face the little poppet of a mage, they recieved a fireball to their faces.

The force of resulting explosion sent both rogues cartwheeling back before their scorched bodies stopped short on the cold floor. Breathing heavily now, Aurora figured it was best that she escaped the heavy fighting and began to backstep. She came upon Nostariel and her statues of ice. Feeling particularly helpful, she reared back and shattered one with her heel before looking at the Warden and then back to the fray.

Nostariel methodically worked her way through the small enclave of fighters she'd been left to deal with. One more ice-sculpture fell to the shattering force of a staff-blow, and two confused rogues were downed with a fireball. A feral yell drew her attention momentarily to Ithilian, and she paid for it when a rogue slipped into her pacticed guard and scored a slice on her upper thigh. Wincing, Nostariel smacked him over the head with the blunt end of her staff, dropping him to the ground, then reversed direction, plunging the bladed end into the exposed skin at the back of his neck.

Aurora stepped in then, her rock armor a little worse for wear but otherwise apparently unscathed. Now at a point in the battle where she had to ease off a bit and allow her reserves of magic to recover, the Warden cast a simple heal in Ithilian's direction and went about smashing the remaining ice-statues before they could regain movement and control. There were a few more to go, at this point, but the majority of the foes in this area were down, and they wouldn't be getting back up again. Firing off a couple quick bursts of magic to keep two incoming warriors from closing on her, Nostariel carefully backed away, seeking to preserve that precious distance between herself and the end of the pair's weapon-range. Rogues, she could usually deal with, but warriors were simply too well-armored to take on up close and personal.

Sharp eyes took in the details of the battlefield with an apparent lack of concern. Combatants were frozen in ice, reeling from pulses of lightning, and falling beneath the press of anger and sharpened blades. Sizing up the remaining threats, Amalia determined that her best course would be to deal with the remaining archers first, and let the other three terminate the two remaining warriors. To this end, she did not bother cloaking herself once more in stealth, instead taking advantage of the siezing achers' distraction with the erratic movements of their own bodies. Pulling herself up onto the railing, she calculated the distance of the jump she'd ave to perform to get to where they were efficiently and nodded. It was well within the realm of possibility.

Lowering her body into a crouch, Amalia bunched her muscles beneath her and jumped, clearing the distance in a rush of motion that registered as little more than a sensation of weightlessness and the whistle of air past her ears. Flipping over once in midair, she landed lightly on her feet. Her last presently-held needle was nothing more than a glint in the air before it punctured one man's eye. She did not stop moving, shoving him back with a palm into one of his fellows, who stumbled but did not fall. No matter. Her chain lashed out with all due celerity, this time winding around the man's neck. The last vesitges of electiricity ingled her palms through the metal of her weapon, but what remained was weak enough, like the energy that built in rich carpets and tapestries, only to be surprisingly discharged on door handles.

A sharp tug pulled the man forward, and she caught most of his weight on her shoulder, in enough time for the arrow of the third archer, a female, to thud solidly into his back. Wasting no time disentangling her chain or withdrawing more needles, Amalia took the archer's dagger from her present corpse's hip and hurled, sending the knife flying end-over-end until it sank into the woman's chest cavity. Discarding the body with callus disregard, she unwound her chain and decided she might as well retrieve the knife also. The man who'd taken her poison to the eye was still writhing slightly even as the paralysis took hold, but she jammed her heel into his neck, producing yet another snap and stillness. Setting all her weapons back in their places, Amalia hopped the railing, jogging back over to the others, who appeared to have killed the ones that remained.

"There appears to be a door at the top of the stairs, but I do not think it leads outside. I suspect there will be an ambush on the other side."

The healing spell Nostariel had cast in his direction was invigorating, and expertly executed. She clearly had experience with such spells. He ripped the arrow from the mercenary's skull for a final time, surveying the battle. Amalia was gracefully crossing over to deal with the other three archers, and two warriors were approaching the pair of mages, who were visibly tiring from their spells, and would likely need assistance. In a smooth motion his bow was in his hands, the arrow drawn back, dripping with blood already.

His turned his shot towards the ground, noting the warrior's lack of armored boots, and loosed the arrow, sending it punching through the nearest warrior's foot and causing him to howl in pain. More important, it caused him to remain still for a moment, giving Ithilian's second shot a target that was not moving. A twang of a bowstring, and a sharp whistle of an arrow, and the projectile cracked through the eye slit of the helmet with a crack of metal and bone, causing the merc to collapse onto his back.

The Dalish drew his knives for the last one, armed with a greatsword and directing his attention towards the elf after he shot down his ally. Ithilian sprinted forward, covering the distance between them while the mercenary still had his sword raised over his head. He scored the first hit by slicing deep across his abdomen, sidestepping as he did so in order to not run into the man. The mercenary took the hit well, to his credit, and swiftly turned to attempt another strike, this one more diagonal than the first. Ithilian caught him by the wrist with his left hand, before slicing down hard with his knife, taking the mercenary's hand clean off at the wrist. The Dalish then slid his left knife into a soft spot in the warrior's armor at his side, burying the knife under his ribs for a short moment before he ripped the blade out, and the man fell to his knees.

Ithilian actually paused for a moment, standing over the shem and peering down as he cradled his stump of an arm, before placing both of his knives in an X in front of the mercenary's throat, and slicing across with a snarl. His helmeted head tipped over backwards and clanked onto the ground before the body tipped over on its side ath the Dalish's feet.

Amalia was saying something about an ambush in the next room. Ithilian shrugged, his blades dripping at his feet. "If they fight us, they die. If they run from us, they die later. Let's go."

With the last enemy dispatched, Aurora finally allowed herself to breathe. Her stoneskin flaked off and fell to the ground as she let out her first long exhale. She hunched over with her hands on her knees as she breathed, obviously tired. It hadn't been the first time she had been thrown into a fight-- Lowtown was full of unsavory sorts looking to prey upon a hapless-looking girl. Though she had never been in a scrap of that size, and if what Amalia had said was true, then she wasn't done yet. A fine layer of dust left over from her spell still graced her skin, but she brushed this off revealing only a couple of nicks from where a blade or an arrow bit too deep and pierced skin. Still, she was hardly in bad shape. She hoped it would stay that way.

Ithilian on the other hand... The man looked like a demon, his blades still dripped with the blood of his enemies. He fought like one too from what Aurora witnessed. He cut deeply and without feeling or remorse for his enemies. Truly, this man had frightened her, though she would not let it show. He was dangerous and lethal and she was merely glad that he was on their side. She made note not to do anything that which may set those blades of his against her. She was brave, not stupid and that surely would end her quicker than any Templar. Aurora averted her sight from the bloodsoaked man and to the flight of stairs and subsequent door Amalia had spoken about. Ambush or not, they needed to get past those door if Feynriel had any chance to survive.

Aurora took a couple more deep breaths and straightened up. Satisfied that she could continue and face whatever may be on the other side of the door, she nodded. "Yeah... Let's go. Talking about it isn't going to help Feynriel," she said, obviously lacking the blood and guts reply that Ithilian gave. With that they ascended the stairs

Ithilian led the way up the far stairs with the group at his back, sheathing his blades and drawing his bow. From just outside the door, he could hear the sounds of a struggle inside. Perhaps just a one-sided struggle, but a struggle all the same. He'd only seen two men go back there with the young girl as a hostage. Nothing they couldn't handle, nothing they hadn't handled already. Not delaying any longer, the Dalish pushed the door open, and the voices from within sounded out loud and clear.

He went in, an arrow pulled back and ready to be fired, to what appeared to be the captain's office. One man was struggling with their young female hostage, whom he had forced into a kneeling position on the far side of the room. The second was looking on, pacing back and forth slightly. "What in the blazes is going on out there? Dammit, bind her hands already, you fool! I heard they can't cast anything without their hands." The girl looked up to see the group having just entered, and she screamed out. "Help me! Please!" The next few things happened very quickly. The captain turned around, and Ithilian loosed his arrow into his chest, sending him staggering backwards, at the same instant the other slaver soundly smacked the girl across the back of the head.

She began to shake violently in her kneeling position, and not a second later flames erupted from her skin itself. An explosion with her as the source caused a blinding flash of light, and sent the man who had been restraining her flying backwards in a charred heap. Where the young mage had just been now rose a creature of nightmare, contorted flesh and warped appendages, bristling with magical energy and unchained power. The captain stumbled back into its reach from the arrow protruding from his chest, and the abomination made short work of him, burying fingers that were like knives into his back and literally ripping him open, before turning its attention on the four that had just entered the room. It cast a single spell, hands glowing with a dark energy, before charging.

The dead mercenaries outside stirred, before rising once more, weapons in hand, and making their way up the stairs with the singular purpose of death and destruction that the abomination had given to them.

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia
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Nostariel gasped sharply as the abomination's hands darkened with fel magic. It was, unfortunately, not the first time she'd seen it used. The trick was a favorite of maleficarum and the occasional Darkspawn Emissary, and she knew exactly what it meant. For one, this had to end quickly or it would end badly. Well, worse than it was already, at any rate. A glance at the shambling corpses rising from the ground outside, snapped necks, gashed bodies and all, was enough to confirm her guess, and the Warden swallowed thickly past the bile in her throat. Oh, how she hated the undead... "She's raised the others!" The elf warned. "I'll hold them off as long as I can, but as long as the abomination lives, they'll keep moving!"

Well, until they had nothing to move with, anyway. Renewing the arcane shield, she kept it contained to herself this time, knowing that if she was going to hold out long enough, she'd need all of the magic available to her, and every advantage she could muster. On the plus side, undead were slow and awkward. On the downside... they had incredible endurance. Bracing herself in the doorway, the Warden opened fire on the closest targets first- the incoming archers from the top of the staircase that Amalia had put down early in the confrontation.

She concentrated her fire on the legs, hoping, quite frankly, to blast them right off. They'd keep crawling forward with their arms alone if they had to, but these ones wouldn't be able to do that and attack at the same time, and all she had to do was survive until the others were done. Why... why does it always come to this? Can none say no?

Several events occurred in quick succession, and before any of them could get a word in edgewise, there was an abomination in the middle of the room, yet one more victim of this society's inability to control itself. Everywhere was excess, and everywhere was poverty. Of dignity, of duty, and most importantly, of anything resembling order. Like so many squalling children, crawling blindly toward the glitter of gold as though it were the only thing that mattered, as if freedom could be bought or experienced by sloughing off all restriction upon its acquisition. Utterly ridiculous.

The Grey Warden had moved to the door, informing the rest of them that the dead rose once again, and this too, was an unnatural symptom of their rot. A body was a dead husk, nothing of what it had once been, and it was not supposed to move again. But even corpses were drawn forth by greed, by that lust for power that inevitably overtook people who lived without understanding. When the blond elf informed them that she'd be blocking the door and staving off the undead, the Qunari realized the greater implication: to drop this corrupted creature would end the farce outside as well. "Merevas, Warden. So shall it be," she spoke quietly, the faint echo of the enclosed space sounding as if from nowhere when the woman vanished once more from sight.

The twisted thing was dominating the middle of the room, and she did not much like the chance of slipping past its flailing limbs without sustaining great damage. To the left side, however, was what appeared to be a shelving unit, little more than four long poles on which were braced slats of wood. Taking a grip on one of the supports, Amalia began to climb, ascending to the top by pulling herself up with her arms alone. The top shelf was about even with the abomination's head, and it was onto this that she stepped, pausing in her motions when the wood creaked softly. It was not a sound easily heard over the din or the creature's own roars, but it forced her caution all the same. Giving away her position would crush her advantage, and if they wanted this done quickly, she would need to be hidden and take advantage of the distraction that the Sataareth and the Saarebas were bound to provide.

The archer's knife slid noiselessly from its sheath, and Amalia perched herself on the edge of the wooden slat, waiting for her opportunity.

“This is why we are persecuted!” Aurora barked. However defiant she may have sounded, deep within the pit of her stomach, she was afraid. That Abomination in front of her was a very real reminder of what she would become if she ever faltered or her willpower lagged even briefly. For her, it was like she staring right into a twisted mirror. It made her sick to see what she might become one day. She didn’t want to fight this thing. Sure, she had seen abominations before, but she never liked them. They all made her feel the same way. Afraid, weak, and sick. Now she had to kill this thing, she just had to. Both for Feynriel and for the mage. She just couldn’t let the poor mage suffer like that.

Nostariel’s words and Amalia’s vanishing brought her back into the realm of reality and out of the realms of what-ifs and what-mights. Undead behind and an Abomination in front. They had to kill the unfortunate beast before they were overrun and snuffed out… Else she may end up like the creature in front of them. She shuddered but pushed it out of her mind. Now was not the time to dwell on such weakness, now was the time to act.

With quivering hands, Aurora once again dipped into the fade, though now with a bit of apprehension. An icy haze engulfed her hands as she readied her spell. She drew back her hands on either side of her and then suddenly pushed forward with both as if earnestly pushing the wall of ice at the Abomination. The Winter's Grasp barreled towards the Abomination and struck, slowing the creature down and causing icicles to form across the creature's body. It was a temporary thing, and it wouldn't be long before it broke out of the ice.

As she coiled her hands in wait for her next spell, tears ran down the corners of her eyes. "Not all of us are like this... Not all of us..." she murmured. Was she telling that to her companions... Or to herself?

Ithilian certainly didn't care for the human mage's murmuring, and he certainly wasn't going to have a debate with himself about the dangers of magic or what this situation signified. To him, it was a threat to be dealt with, nothing more. The shemlen had given in, lowered her guard, allowed the demon to take control of her. What was done was done. She was gone, and this abomination was her new form. And with Nostariel volunteering to hold off the undead on her own, with Amalia disappearing into stealth, and Aurora being physically inferior as she was, it fell to Ithilian to take this thing head on. They needed to work together to bring it down, and it that meant Ithilian had to face its claws, so be it. Nostariel had proven her capability as a healer. Perhaps she would need to demonstrate it once again in a moment.

He drew his knives, steeling himself for the briefest of moments before charging. He had never actually fought one of these creatures before, but surely they were not immune to mundane attacks? There was only one way to find out at present. He sprinted forward and leaped with a roar, his blades backwards in his hands and raised above his head. The abomination burst from Aurora's ice an instant before Ithilian's attack landed. He plunged both blades into the creature's back, the weapons sinking into corrupted flesh right up to the hilt, but the abomination had made attacks of its own, its knifelike claws stabbing into Ithilian's chest on both sides, dangerously close to the heart.

All became pain and chaos. The abomination had him lifted into the air and abruptly slammed up against the wall, his feet perhaps a foot off the ground. In such close proximity to each other, any of Aurora's spells would have hit them both. He reacted with instinct, lifting his feet up to the abomination's chest, and pushing with all the force he could muster. With a terrible shredding sound, the knives ripped free from the creature's back by carving their way out, and the abomination's claws retracted out of his chest, sending him sliding down the wall to a sitting position, leaving a smear of blood along the way. The abomination stumbled backwards into the center of the room, wounded, but not dead, and there was little Ithilian could do but sit on the ground and try to breathe, which was proving remarkably difficult.

Amalia's breath left her in a muted hiss when Ithilian launched himself at the abomination. From her vantage point, she could tell that it would likely end well for neither combatant, and furthermore, the proximity was such that either of the saarebas launching a spell was just as likely to kill the elf as it was to end the abomination. Still, she could not act too soon, lest she spoil what little advantage she had been able to gain by dent of silence and precision. Her eyes narrowed and her weight shifted in her crouch, from her forefoot to the one bracing her from behind. If she were visible, she even so would not have seemed so real, more like the most lifelike of carvings in stone, apparently unmoved even by the stirring of breaths.

Ithilian hit the wall, and that was as much a signal as anything. Perfectly tactical or not, if she refused to act now, he would die, and while that was technically no concern of hers, the baseline will she possessed was that others survive where they might, and so she leapt, her hard stare never leaving the abomination as her body twisted midair to hit where she intended. She was not incredibly strong, and when training against her kossith comrades, she had learned to compensate for that. Height and the resultant force of gravity were a particularly useful way to do this.

Her feet, together and knees locked, collided with the abomination's shoulder, and Amalia kicked off as though the creature were just one more platform, bouncing a bit back into the air and refocusing, this time striking with the dagger she'd acquired, unsure how needles would puncture skin not of ordinary consistency. An experiment for another time. A blade, as she'd already observed, bit deep, and hers slid smoothly into the opposite shoulder, her body weight serving to drag it further down, parting flesh like roughened leather, crisscrossing with one of the wounds the Dalish man had carved. The abomination cried out, as though many voices converged in a single syllable, and gave a great heave, bucking the now knife-less Amalia off. Without enough time to land on her feet, the Qunari tucked into a roll, hitting the ground safely but with more force than she'd anticipated, and she kept right on rolling until she was unceremoniously smashed into the same wall the elf presently occupied.

Red and black dots fought for dominance in her field of vision as she struggled to inhale. By the Qun, that thing had better be dead now or within a few seconds, because otherwise she was going to have to stand up again, and that was going to be difficult. At last, she managed a shuddering inhale, coughing several times as the dust stirred up by her slightly-undignified crash filled her lungs, and she braced herself against the stone with both forearms, pressing her back to the cool surface as she gathered shaking legs beneath her. She'd be a mess of mottled bruises in the days to follow, and the telltale twinge in her ankle was probably a break. Maybe just a sprain, but given the pain involved, that was unlikely.

The first two undead fell under Nostariel's magical onslaught, but she didn't have time to bother being relieved about that, because there were about a dozen more at various stages of 'on the way.' In stepping forward to launch a cone of cold at the first wave of melee fighters, she inadvertently exposed herself to a tricky flank attack from one of the three archers most distant from her, and the twang of a bowstring was the only warning she received before the head of an arrow buried itself in her left thigh, causing her to gasp sharply and nearly drop her staff in the process. Swallowing past the lump still in her throat, she decided to leave the arrow be for the moment, lest removing it cause her to bleed far too much before she could find the time to treat it.

Stepping back so that the doorframe and angle offered her temporary protection from more projectiles, Nostariel tried not to panic when the undead broke through her ice, continuing their shambling march to her location. Biting her lip, the Warden knew she needed something bigger, and quickly, so she sank into that peculiar mindspace that related to her magic and calmed her haggard breaths, drawing upon a wellspring of flame somewhere in the Fade to summon large globes of it into the sky above her enemies. The first crash of the firestorm missed, but the second impacted a corpse dead-on, the creature flailing helplessly as it was inexorably cremated. Ashes we were, and ashes we will become. She was not by any means a devotee of the Chantry, but that line had always held a particular kind of truth when stacked beside the events of her life.

For now, the corpses were delayed enough that she could turn her attention to the battle raging inside the small room. Thus far, the abomination had been distracted enough that Nostariel had not taken any spells or claws to the back, which she considered to be a good sign, but some of the things she'd been hearing...

Nostariel chanced a glance and murmured something unintelligible, blue irises rimmed with pristine sclera and her eyes grew wide with shock. Ithilian appeared to be struggling to breathe against the far wall, and Amalia was just now rising to trembling feet, looking more dazed than the sharp-eyed woman she'd been before. This left Aurora alone against the heavily-injured but still moving Abomination, and something that sounded suspiciously like a string of Starkhaven oaths tumbled over the Warden's tongue. Without another thought, she gripped the arrow still in her leg and wrenched, unable to prevent the jagged groan that accompanied it. Switching tactics, she pulled the healing energy from the Fade spirits with as much speed as she was able, pushing it outward to encompass the whole group. Her leg wound stopped bleeding and closed seamlessly, but without further treatment, she'd be limping for a while.

Aurora's allies were being thrown about like ragdolls from the onslaught of the fade beast. Her ice spell did little to even phase the Abomination, much less even slow it down. It even seemed to shrug off Ithilian's rage fueled slashes before picking him up with it's razor-like claws and slamming him against the stone wall. Aurora could not attack for fear of hitting both the abomination and Ithilian. The fade around her hands weakened as she began to feel more and more helpless.

Next to attack was Amalia, flying from the shelf across the room. While her acrobatics were impressive, the abomination bucked her right off and she too hit the stone wall hard. The roar the abomination gave caused Aurora to step back, frightened and hesitant. A groan behind her indicated that Nostariel too was wounded. They were being crushed and if the abomination didn't fall soon, they would all meet their end at the claws of the fade beast. If it was to fall it would be up to her. What could she do to this creature that the others could not? How could she hope to vanquish her own nightmare given flesh? She was weak before them... And weakness in a mage invited disaster. No. She could not be weak. For the price of weakness lumbered right in front of her. She could not afford the weakness, she could not prove the templars right for locking mages up. If she wanted to truly be free, then she had to have the strength to make it so.

She shut her mouth tight and set her jaw. She had to defeat this beast, else they would all perish. The fade around her hands strengthened again as she balled them into fists, ready to face the beast. For the second time, she charged forward, magic gathering around her hands. The abomination was ready for her, waiting to plunge it's claws into her neck. Then Aurora jumped into the air, right hand drew back in a heavy fist of stone. However, the abomination caught her in mid-air, driving it's claws deep into her back. It would snap her in half if she tarried. So with a cry of pain she crashed down with her fist and with a heavy stone burst, drove then beast into the ground.

Still, the abomination lived, prone on the ground with Aurora sitting on it's chest. Without thinking, she drew back her left hand, now encased in a blade of ice and plunged it into the beast's face once, twice, and then she hesitated before burying it for the third time in the beast's face. Panting heavily and with an excruciating pain in her lower back, she allowed the bloody ice around her hand to fade away, leaving her victorious over the creature.

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia
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Amalia watched with poised composure as the mage-girl charged the abomination. Once she was fairly certain the one called Aurora would not die, she was free to observe the woman’s hand-to-hand technique and cringe inwardly. Thankfully, the abomination was no expert either, relying on its unrestrained strength to dominate its foes… much as it had carelessly tossed her aside. A frown marred her visage; that would not happen again. That she as a combatant was so wantonly discarded by a foe, any foe, was a sting to her pride. Had it occurred under other circumstances, she might well have been obligated to admit she had failed her sacred task, and failure was not to be taken lightly.

The soothing warmth that mended the delicate bones of her ankle did not go unnoticed, and Amalia inclined her head in tacit acknowledgement of the Grey Warden- she at least had performed her task admirably, as not a single unliving corpse had wandered into the room as the confrontation dragged into its twilight moments. Knowing that Nostariel would also tend to Aurora, she made her own way to Ithilian, just a few feet from where she’d fallen.

Lowering an outstretched hand into his field of vision, she said nothing, merely waited. Whether he took the hand up was his business, but it was there if he wanted it. There was a chest over on this end of the room, but unsurprisingly no Feynriel. The Qunari was beginning to wonder if the boy was still in Kirkwall. Like as not, this room would contain any answers they were likely to get from the raiders’ warehouse.

Ithilian regarded Amalia's hand evenly for a moment, before he made his own way to his feet. He felt annoyed for some reason. Perhaps because a human had just offered him a hand, or perhaps because he was confused as to whether or not he should still have been regarding her as a human. She had still done nothing to imply that she had some kind of hidden agenda beyond simply offering her assistance. The human mage he understood. Mages looked out for each other, in order to prevent situations like the one that had just occurred. But Amalia he still couldn't figure out. For the moment, it seemed as though she was helping simply because she was capable of doing so.

He wiped his blades clean before sliding them back into their sheaths, his lone eye watching the mangled form of the abomination. He hoped to avoid fighting too many of those in the future. He and Amalia had heavily wounded it, and it was still managed to injure the human girl before she finished it off. The battle likely would have gone much worse had Nostariel not thought to hold off the corpses from attacking them from the rear. And her healing spell had Ithilian functioning again, his wounds healed enough to overcome. He certainly intended to learn more about her when this business with the slavers was done. She'd already proven to be a valuable ally.

Wordlessly, the Dalish moved past Amalia and made his way to where the abomination had torn Captain Reiner to pieces, callously shoving a half of his torso over with his foot to see if he had potentially had anything useful to them on his person, but that appeared to be a lost cause. He then moved over to the chest in the room, kicking it open, and rummaging around inside for a moment, shoving papers aside, before snatching one that interested him.

Sold:
- 2 barrels of fish, Viscount's Keep
- 3 barrels of rum, Hanged Man
- 1 male half elven mage, Danzig (Undercity. Exchange to occur at southernmost entrance to the sewers.)
- 25 Rivaini furs, Helton's Clothiers


He almost wanted to laugh. "The shem was fool enough to keep records of his slavery. Our Feynriel is being sold to one Danzig, the exchange occurring in Darktown, by the southernmost entrance to the sewers, it says. There's no time given. It may have already taken place. Regardless, we should leave before the shemlen decide to get back up again."

As soon as the abomination fell, so did the corpses outside, and the Warden straightened from her half-crouch, relieved that it was over for the moment. Shoulders slumping, she turned back to face her comrades, but froze when she caught sight of Aurora, still astride the corpse of what had once been as much a mage as they, apparently in some form of shock and bleeding. Of course. The poor thing has probably not often seen such horrors. Sympathy turned the elf's mouth downward, and she approached her fellow magic-user cautiously. Laying a hand on Aurora's shoulder, Nostariel knelt at her side and glanced briefly at the abomination. Several stab wounds to the facial region told her everything she needed to know.

The Warden's hands glowed with a soft blue light as she cast a concentrated healing spell on the redheaded Antivan, and it was not the first time that her sorrow had made her feel more than twice her meager years. "Aurora," she murmured softly, nudging the girl with her free hand. "Are you still with me?" She needed to know that the shock hadn't set in too deeply, or she'd be sidelining her companion here, no 'ifs,' 'ands,' or 'buts' about it. She'd seen more than one fellow Warden succumb to the psychological pressure of intense fighting with things so foul they must surely be unnatural.

Ithilian spoke then, and Nostariel rose, her hand still upon the apostate's shoulder, mouth compressed into a thin line. "Yes, we should. Lead the way, if you will."

Aurora looked down at what had been once a mage and shook her head. She felt terrible, she had killed another fellow mage-- No, it was no longer a mage. What she did was mercy. She had to keep telling herself that. Why couldn't the mage have resisted this? Why couldn't she had held on for just another minute? Why weren't they a minute faster? It wouldn't do, all of those what ifs were doing nothing for her mental state. She had to keep strong. Else... She averted her gaze away from the the lifeless fade beast.

Just as Nostariel's hand touched her shoulder. She jerked away at the sudden sensation of touch, but relaxed when she realized who it was. "I'm fine, mother," she said in a distinct Antiva accent, a sure sign of her fatigue. Despite her sarcastic emission, it was clear that she would need time to come to terms with what happened. Though she was strong. She had earned her dues as an apostate and as a circle mage. She had taken her harrowing, she had escaped the Antivan circle, and she had survived the most inhospitable place for a mage at that time-- Kirkwall. It was just another test, and though shaken, she was determined to come out stronger for it.

Ithilian's voice drew her eyes. "Let us hope he is still there... And let us hope he is still himself," Aurora said, her gaze lingering on the abomination before she rose. Either way, she needed to get out of that room and out of that building. Though haggard, she now had a spark in her eye. It was all the slavers' fault. All of it was the slavers' doing. She would see that this Danzig would come to pay for his crimes...

Shrugging when she was rebuffed, Amalia stood by patiently and waited for Ithilian to sort through the items in the chest, then raised an eyebrow. Truly a strange thing to do; she was under the impression that, backward as this place was, slavery was illegal. Why keep records of such things in plain sight? Then, of course, she looked around and realized that most curious interlopers probably would never have had the chance to read them, so perchance this was not so inexplicable after all.

At the Warden's behest, though perhaps it had been meant for another, she nodded succinctly and led the way out. Darktown was not the most familiar of locations to her, but she knew where they were going, anyway. Rolling her shoulders, Amalia resisted the inclination to render herself unseen, as it would rather defeat the purpose of leading anyone anywhere. Her life, her role, was by nature often a clandestine one, but there were many ways to achieve a single directive, and understanding this subtlety was even more important than any skill in her repertoire. Today, she walked in the sunlight. Tomorrow, she might well be called upon to slip into darkness again, but until that happened, she would make the most of what was, and not concern herself with what might otherwise have been.

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia
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Ithilian was no regular visitor to Darktown, but he'd learned the layout well enough during his brief forays into the depths. The weight of the city above them seemed to crush down upon the district, the weight of the shemlen elite in their lofty nest overlooking the scum of their own kind that they spat upon daily. It was the perfect example of human depravity, that they would allow even their own kind to be trod upon in such a manner. There was truly no compassion among them, no desire to see the entirety of their race thrive. But, disgusted by it as he was, Ithilian had made note of its usefulness. The shemlen law enforcement had little power down here. The Templar Order even steered clear of Darktown, for the most part. Down here the power was the Coterie, and the dozens of gangs that wanted to be like them.

It was the ideal location for slavers to make a deal within the city. Slavery was illegal in the Free Marches, but it was not so in the Tevinter Imperium to the north, and many of the gangs saw the potential profit in selling valuable individuals to a magister. The city guard would have a difficult time interrupting an exchange in Darktown, and the Tevinters could easily make their way back home with a new slave in hand.

Cold needles of apprehension pricked at Nostariel's spine; places like this reminded her of the Deep Roads, only the residents forced to live in such squalor were not unfeeling Darkspawn but living, breathing people. Human, elf, even the occasional dwarf, such distinctions had ceased to mean anything to her when she realized how each bled exacly the same way when cut, wept exactly the same way when they knew they'd never again see the surface...

The Warden shook herself, abandoning the memories to someplace deep in her consciousness that she could ignore for now. Usually, the numbing sensation of drink helped, but she had no such luxury right now, and there was no use wishing for it. Something more important than her comfort was at stake, and if there was anything that this life, that wearing this armor and its attendant crest had taught her, it was that the preservation of innocence and life was the greatest undertaking she could ever assume. She would not fail it again.

Her discarded garment slung across one shoulder and her harp tucked under the same arm, Amalia seemed unconcerned by her surroundings, flanking Ithilian and only occasionally casting her eyes over this or that dirty peasant human. The smell down here was offensive, but her passive expression remained untouched by the realization. In truth, the entire situation was offensive, and she did no understand it. Had she never been to Darktown before, she probably would have hammered at her compatriots with implacable questions, demanding an explanation for that which she could see plainly before her. No Qunari would ever have to live like this; the very notion would be considered a shameful failure of the entire society. Waste, waste, always with the waste. It was enough to stoke her temper, and in an attempt to bank the slow-burning flames of it, she resorted to reciting the words of the Qun mentally. Shok ebasit hissra. Meraad astaarit, meraad itwasit, aban aqun... and so on it went, the familiar syllables helpful for her focus if nothing else. She had been taught to solve problems; it was difficult to refrain from that tendency even in impossible circumstances.

So instead she walked, one foot after another, gaze straightforward and unwavering. Anger would solve nothing here, and so she abandoned it to the natural ebullient rise and fall of emotions inside herself, allowed it to slip away with nothing so ceremonious as a farewell. It had no use, and so it woud not remain. The dust would coat her feet, the grime slick her tracing fingers, and still she would walk. This was simply the way of things.

They made something of an odd group compared to the typical Darktown residents. A Grey Warden was among them, her clothing identifying her as such. Amalia had removed the simple dress she had been wearing during their previous battle, and was garbed in a manner Ithilian had never seen. The mage, Aurora, was the least conspicuous of the group, though she certainly didn't have the look of a Darktown rat to her. And Ithilian's own clothes were of Dalish make, making him look more fit for a hunt in the woods than a trek through Darktown.

The Dalish led the way with an urgent stride, not really caring for the group's appearance, but rather the haste they needed to make in order to interrupt this deal, if it had not yet occurred already. He had noted the southernmost entrance to the sewers on his first trip through the Undercity; it had been an excellent route to take if one needed a quiet entrance or exit from the city, so long as one didn't mind a bit of a stench. As he grew closer, he pulled his bow into his hands, slowly sliding one arrow out of his quiver and calmly preparing what would be his first shot.

Indeed, they weren't too late. The first indication Ithilian received was the direction all the nearby people were looking: away. No doubt questionable activities were a common occurrence in Darktown, and it only made sense for the locals to turn a blind eye, so as to not get pulled in. Looking in the direction the others were looking away from, Ithilian spotted the group he was looking for, at least twenty men, all armed, gathered in the small clearing before the sewer entrance, a view of the channel leading into the city behind them. One of the Twins, as they were known, the two massive statues of slaves covering their faces, overlooked the scene from afar. How fitting, Ithilian mused momentarily, before analyzing the threats.

They had a height advantage, as there was a single flight of stairs that led down to where the exchange was taking place. The enemies themselves were of course broken up into two groups: there were Reiner's men, a dozen or so of them, making the deal, oblivious to the fact that their leader, their comrades, and their base had all been torn to pieces moments earlier, and then there were perhaps fifteen or so men and women accompanying a single robed man. Ithilian was willing to bet that was Danzig. Probably a low ranking Tevinter magister looking for a useful slave, or perhaps an apprentice. Those that accompanied him were better armed and armored than Reiner's thugs, as they actually possessed a decent amount of chainmail or scalemail armor, and longswords that didn't appear as though they were forged in the Divine Age.

And there in the middle, held by the arm by the largest of Reiner's men, his hands bound behind his back, was Feynriel. He looked, for the most part, unharmed, though his clothes were filthy by this point, and he looked terrified. The slight point to his ears, and the slightly altered facial structure, were all that evidenced his race, half-elven. Ithilian drew his arrow back slightly, his mind working quickly, and certainly not waiting for input from the others. Danzig gestured for the boy to be handed over. The man holding Feynriel piped up.

"Not until we see the sovereigns, magister." The others of his group looked tense, uncomfortable. Danzig's men looked imposing, confident stances, greatswords resting casually on shoulders, hands resting comfortably on the hilts of longswords. None of them had seen Ithilian or the others yet. The Dalish decided he'd take the opportunity to sow dissension among the shemlen. They did so enjoy killing each other, and these two groups were primed to do just that.

Without waiting for any sort of agreement, Ithilian pulled his arrow back and loosed, sending a shot directly into the throat of the large man holding Feynriel. He staggered backwards, clutching at his neck, releasing the boy. There was a moment of confusion before it happened. "Shit! We had a deal! Swords! Kill them!"

The call had come from one of Reiner's men, and they clearly thought they were being double crossed by Danzig. The magister looked back at his archers in the rear, but all of them were preparing to defend themselves. Reiner's men clearly didn't intend to just be killed, and with that, the two groups attacked each other. Danzig roared in frustration, before hurling a fireball into the ranks of Reiner's men, sending two smashing against a wall, setting their bodies alight. He then cast a quick teleport spell, and appeared by the edge, with his group of five archers. Ithilian readied a second arrow. Whoever went down there would be attacked on sight, no doubt. It would turn into quite the bloodbath.

"Someone grab the boy. I'll cover," Ithilian growled. Feynriel had dove to the ground, covering his head in the center of the fight.

"Right," Nostariel replied quickly, though figuring out exactly how she was going to manage that task was considerably more complicated than agreeing to take it on. Chewing her lip, she decided it really didn't matter, and she was going to have to rely on the others to protect her no matter how she chose to approach it. Her customary shield rose into place, and she headed down the stairs, ducking around one large man who took a stray swipe at her with his axe before he was engaged by one of Danzig's men.

Dodging and weaving wasn't going to serve her so well forever, though, and she threw a fireball at another couple of rogues who'd broken off from the fray to pursue her. This was not going smoothly, but then she hadn't really expected it to. 'Run in, grab a scared and possibly dangerous young man, then run back out without dying' wasn't exactly going to go into the history books as a marvel of tactical briliance, but as long as it worked, it didn't need to. A stray arrow shaved a few hairs off the side of her head, and Nostariel swallowed. Right. Okay, just keep going. It was right about now that she was wishing she'd asked Amalia to do this; stealth would probably have been smarter than running about in the open like this. All the same, she was about halfway there now, and barring any major mishaps-

As it happened, a major mishap was waiting in the wings, and she almost ran smack into the incredibly broad chest of one of Danzig's men. Her jaw worked for a second, almost as if trying to produce some kind of greeting on reflex, but the words simply wouldn't come, and she settled for backpedaling quickly, nearly stumbling over her own feet in her haste to avoid certain death from a mighty swing with that lohengrin he was carrying. Most unsettlingly, the man let her go, smiling the whole time as though he were privy to some secret she did not understand. Well, there was little time to dwell upon it, and if she had, she might have remembered that she had quite a bit in common with Feynriel and had wandered onto the field like a rabbit into a trap, but as it was, she went for launching an ice spell at his legs instead.

Amalia was not entirely useless at range, but she had more versatility when confronting her foes directly, or indirectly as the case may be, but either way, she decided that the most useful thing she could do would be to shadow Nostariel. To this end, she set down her burdens and padded down the stairs after the Warden, chain in one hand and three needles in the other. It crossed her mind that she'd have to consider upgrading to lethal venoms if she was going to continue in this sort of work, and she found to her own surprise that the thought of doing more tasks of this nature was not entirely displeasing to her. Certainly, she would prefer that they were unnecessary, but as long as they were, completing them did not seem to be an untoward idea.

The axe-man that first swung for Nostariel met his end by point of two needles, the combined toxicity more than enough to shut down his nervous system permanently, but the better-armed swordsman he'd been engaging managed to avoid the third, and so Amalia stepped back, putting some distance between them and swinging her chain for his legs. Smarter than he looked, he jumped over the throw and landed on the weapon, which provided her with no small inconvenience. Shrugging, she drew her knife and approached with rapidity, ducking under his fist swipe. His shield clipped her hip, and she spun with the momentum of it to minimize damage, stepping forward so that they were side-by-side, facing opposite directions. Her blade bit into the shoulder-joint of his plate, greatly weakening his shield-arm.

While he was distracted by the obvious pain, Amalia took the opportunity to pull with her other hand, the sudden jerk enough that his foot lifted from her other weapon, and she slid the knife out of the man's shoulder even as an arrow pierced the eyeslit of his helmet. The Sataareth really was quite the exceptional shot. Without so much as a hitch in her movement, the Ben-Hassrath was moving again. The Warden Nostariel had run into trouble, but she was not going to be able to both help there and keep additional opponents from closing in on her position, so she went for the latter, disappearing on order to make her saboteur's intent less obvious.

It all happened so fast, but Aurora was quick enough to discern what was going on. A look over to Ithilian proved that he was the one who fired the first shot which broke the uneasy truce between the factions. With that one arrow, the magister, one Danzig teleported away from the front lines. Such use of magic put a thin frown on her mouth. "That's not fair, I can't do that..." She muttered. However the magister did provide a way for her to use her own magic to sow even more chaos among the battle and perhaps take the heat off of Nostariel, who had bolted after Feynriel. She didn't expect that out of the reserved Warden, as she was the one most likely to rush headfirst into battle. Though, recent events managed to change things. She hoped that Nostariel got to Feynriel before he suffered the same fate.

For her part, Aurora focused her attention on Reiner's men. Once more she allowed the fade to flow through her as she readied her spell and sent the force of magic up above the main body of Reiner's men. Moments passed as a supernatural cloud formed around the blast of magic and before long began it's purpose. A crack of thunder signified the first bolt of lightning that fell from the Tempest. Hopefully, the men would believe it was the doing of Danzig instead of the inconspicious girl standing beside the Dalish.

By this time, Nostariel had run into a road block of a man. Trying her best to help out her fellow mage, Aurora conjured another fist of stone and fired it off above Nostariel's head aiming for the man's head. She was completely unaware of the effect of Nostariel's ice spell had on the man's legs. With luck, it'll put the man down in order for Nostariel to continue her trek to Feynriel.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia
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A short time after the battle was rendered even more chaotic by bolts of lightning descending from the sky, a stonefist whizzed by overhead, missing Nostariel's assailant's face by a few inches, but colliding with his shoulder at about the same time as the Warden's ice hit his relatively underprotected legs. Because he was so heavily-armored, there was no telltale snap indicating that the bone had been broken, but she was willing to bet it had hurt anyway, and the ice successfully hampered his movements, which helped considerably when he raised his sword and attempted to strike.

The swing went a little wide to the right, a result of one arm packing considerably more force than the other, and Nostariel blocked his attempt to compensate with the steel end of her staff, deflecting the sword off rather than trying to engage in a contest of strength that she was sure to lose. Aware that she was making a target of herself and putting a great deal of pressure on Amalia to pick up the slack, Nostariel knew she had to act fast. A few blasts of magic from her staff forced the warrior to take a step backwards, and she pressed her advantage, following up with a nasty hex of torment and a fireball. The Warden only just held back a sigh as she watched magic reduce another physically-strong man to a trembling mess of apprehension and confusion. It wasn't even difficult to slide the blade of her weapon up into his chin, and that scared her more than anything.

Feynriel wouldn't wait for her fears to be assuaged, however, and she jogged to where he was on the ground, covering his head with his hands, apparently. She knew she needed to be careful with him, as his psychological state was likely incredibly fragile at the moment, but this had to be weighed against the urgency his predicament demanded, and she crouched at his side, gentling her tone even while she tugged- not roughly, but insistently- at his wrist. "Feynriel, you have to get up. We're here to save you, but we can't do that if you won't try to be strong for me. Stand up, we must get away from here." Please, child, be strong. I know it's hard. Rising to her feet, Nostariel attempted to bring him with her, though he was grown enough that her success would largely depend on him.

Nostariel was perhaps the perfect person to be persuading Feynriel to move, from the combination of her soft touch, gentle tone, and the fact that she was an elf who looked like she knew what she was doing in situations like this. He took a glance up at her, before seeming to decide that she was his best chance out of here. He struggled to his feet on shaky legs, and allowed himself to be guided by the elven Warden.

Ithilian sent an arrow whistling past them into the throat of one of Danzig's men, who had been looking to blindside Nostariel. The battle had quickly decimated both sides, between their vicious attacks against each other, the combined efforts of the mages Danzig and Aurora, Ithilian's arrows, and Amalia's agile tactics. The last of Reiner's men fell to a blow from a Tevinter mercenary, and with that, one of the sides had been obliterated, meaning that the group looking to see Feynriel safely out of here would receive much more heat.

Danzig himself was still remaining with his archers, two of which had fallen to Ithilian's arrows. With an angry scowl he watched Nostariel drag his prize away, until an arrow from the Dalish hit him, deflected slightly by the arcane shield he'd erected around him, but still burying itself in his shoulder. He snarled in pain, before launching a fireball in Ithilian's direction. He and Aurora were forced to dive away from the vantage point, the blast exploding behind them and temporarily enveloping Ithilian in an intense heat, though he suffered no real damage. However, it gave Danzig the necessary time to prepare a powerful telekinetic bolt, which he aimed at Nostariel, hoping to literally blast her away from Feynriel.

Amalia had been making swift work of the more lightly-armored and quick among the slaver's forces, but truthfully, she was really hoping Nostariel could get the boy up an moving towards the exit as soon as possible. Endurance was not her strong suit, and this battle was about to become considerably more pitched, as the last of the pirate's men hit the dirt. It seemed that her thoughts were answered, as the youth rose to his feet, shielded by the Warden, and the two began to make headway back across the area to the stairs. She was not unaware that this left her the sole acceptable target in the pit, and it was perhaps only because of the wariness this realization brought her that she was able to catch on to what Danzig was trying to do.

The exact nature of the spell was beyond her, but she knew enough of magic to know that it wasn't something as casually-ducked as the swing of a knife. It was considerably more inexorable than that, and she didn't trust the boy to know to get out of the way in time.

The decision was a split-second thing, one that perhaps she should have made differently. But she didn't, and so even as the Tevinter mage loosed his attack, Amalia jumped. "Move," she hissed emphatically at the pair of mages, a hand on each back shoving them forward with little ceremony. She was in no position to tell if the action had even succeeded in any measure, for all she knew was that she took the brunt of the telekinesis in midair, which in turn slammed into her with the force of a Tal-Vashoth at full charge, and she barrel-rolled at dizzying speed until she smacked bodily into the wall behind her. A wet, sickening crack informed her that two of the ribs on her left side were broken, and a thin line of blood trickled from the corner of her mouth as she slid the moderate distance to the ground, trying to keep her breathing even. Injury was a reality of what she did; fighting past it was rarely easy.

She didn't have much time to consider that; an arrow embedded itself in the wall about half a foot from her right eye socket, and Amalia forced herself to her feet, ignoring the screaming agony in her abdomen. One hand gingerly tested the wound, and she winced. If that was hit again, she was likely to pass out from the pain alone, but at least she could still move. Out came the needles, in both hands this time, because the use of her chain demanded far too much movement from her injured torso, and she needed to remain conscious.

The heat was intense on her back and the only thing that Aurora could hope for is that she did not catch fire. She laid prone for a moment, hands over her head hoping that she wouldn't feel the flames licking her back. Luck was in her favor as she did not catch fire and the fireball was gone as fast as it appeared. She looked up and saw that Danzig was preparing another spell, this one aiming for Nostariel. She opened her mouth to cry a warning, but the spell struck before she could find her words. However, Nostariel had a guardian angel in the form of Amalia who shoved both the Warden and her charge down taking the blow herself. She took the blow with all of its force and slammed into the wall. From the way she slid the rest of the way to the ground, Aurora just knew she hurt. She grimaced and got back to her feet.

The mage summoned a fireball of her own and chucked it at the magister, looking to give him a taste of his own medicine. At the very least it would occupy the man long enough for Nostariel to react. Then she approached the fray herself, erecting a partial rock armor around the length of her arms. Trying to erect and hold a full rock armor spell would take a lot more energy and she didn't want to risk it crumbling on her on an inopportune moment. As another of Danzig's men was trying to salvage the situation by trying to approach Nostariel and Feynriel, Aurora appeared, greeting the man by slamming a heavy armored fist into his belly, causing him to double over. Using her armor like a club, she bashed the man over the head and he was out. She called back to Nostariel, "Get him out of here! I'll keep them busy!" she said as she drew her armored arms over her torso.

A hissed monosyllable and a hand roughly upon her back were the only signs Nostariel had of the impending danger. Reacting instinctively, she wrapped her arms around Feynriel as they were shoved bodily forward, successfully cushioning his fall. Of course, there was no time to register the fact that she herself had landed none-too-delicately; the time that Amalia had bought them was ticking away already. Pulling herself to her feet, the Warden positioned herself to the boy's ouside flank, moving in step with him so as to keep her person between him and the still-raging combat. With a weary sigh, she summoned a healing spell and fired it off at Amalia, but her concentration had to remain on what she was doing, else something would catch her off-guard again as it just had.

Aurora appeared then, arms coated in stone, and Nostariel suppressed the agitated maternal fluttering that this would ordinarily have triggered and accepted that the young woman knew how to take care of herself and would do so as well as she could, with or without the elf's nagging. Besides, she presently had someone much less-able to care for, and she couldn't be everywhere at once, no matter how she wanted to. Within another half-minute, they were at the stairs and ascending. Of course, what they were going to do when they got there was not immediately clear. She wasn't sure they could outrun the slavers and give them the slip, and dragging this much violence all over Darktown was hardly warranted. Like as not, it would have to be a full rout, one way or the other.

The Tevinter mage threw up a powerful shield against Aurora's fireball, the blast enveloping him and yet harming him only slightly. The archer that stood next to him was caught in the blast, however, and found himself on fire, stumbling about and howling in pain. Danzig was looking more than a little frustrated at this point. "You fools! Perhaps your blood will be more valuable than your skills!" He took the blade end of his staff and plunged it into the chest of his fire-stricken archer, silencing him. He then outstretched his hands, consuming the man's life force to heal himself.

Aurora had come down to cover Nostariel's retreat, and Danzig watched angrily as the elf began her escape up the stairs. He quickly cast a tormenting hex in Aurora's direction, before preparing another teleportation spell. Four of his merncenaries remained. The two with melee weapons, one dual wielding, the other with sword and shield, made to attack Aurora, while the two remaining archers looked to take shots at Amalia, who had visibly slowed after taking the brunt of Danzig's telekinetic attack.

Ithilian had fired off an arrow at Danzig, but he disappeared just a moment before the arrow would have struck his skull. An instant later he appeared at the top of the stairs, to block Nostariel's exit. As the fight began to spread away from its once contained area, the nearby residents began ducking for cover, or running entirely. Ithilian turned to fire a point blank shot at Danzig, the arrow already nocked, but the mage deftly smacked his aim aside with his staff. He dropped his bow, drawing his knives instead. His staff sent two bolts of spirit energy into Ithilian, but he underestimated the degree to which rage dulled pain.

Ignoring the injuries, Ithilian charged forward, slashing furiously at the mage, scoring hits on his legs, arms, chest, abdomen, before finally Danzig collapsed to the dirt, crawling away and holding up a hand. "Enough, elf! I yield! Take the boy, I don't care!" Ithilian walked forward, lips curled in a snarl. "Tell it to your Gods, slaver." He then reached down, grabbed the top of Danzig's head with one hand, and drove his knife up under the slaver's chin, nearly up to the hilt. Danzig had long since been silenced by the time he ripped it back out again.

The magical rejuvenation was a welcome thing by this point, and though it did little more than set Amalia's bones and allow her to breathe more comfortably, that was at once more than a fortnight of natural healing and more then enough for what remained of her task. The melee fighters had diverted for the present, and the mage was encased in some kind of barrier, readying himself to teleport again, perhaps. Either way, that meant the pair of archers remaining fell to her to deal with. A burden she would carry gladly.

Ducking out of the way of a second arrow the second she heard the twang of its release, Amalia started forward, the slinking nature of her walk eveloving until she gained enough traction to propel herself forward in a half-bent sort of run, minimizing the size of the target she presented. Whatever the archers had been expecting, a direct charge was not it, and though one more arrow sliced a rent in her shoulder, it was not an apt-enough shot to remain lodged anywhere upon her person, and with that, they had lost what advantage remained to them. "Ebost issala," she hissed vehemently, abandoning caution for the moment and exploiting surprise instead. With a sharp motion, she pounced on the rightward archer, bringing him to the ground, her feet planted firmly in the center of his chest and her right arm cocking backward as if for a direct sucker-punch. The needles caught the incoming sunlight, and he threw up both arms to defend, which allowed her ample opportunity to insert the three needles in her left hand into vulnerable areas.

In the meantime, his friend had regained his wit, and perhaps sensing that taking on the Qunari up-close and personal would be a bad idea, had drawn an arrow back and aimed it point-blank for her face. Amalia raised a brow, tilting her head to one side. "I believe the word is...fire," she pointed out, diappearing even as it passed her tongue. She reappeared behind him, the long-bladed knife she'd acquired hilt-deep in his spine. Just in time, too, because the adrenaline fueling her movements dropped off just then, leaving her acutely aware of her unfavorable physical condition. Her shoulders sagged visibly, and she withdrew the knife, wiping it on the dead man's pant leg before sliding it home into the sheath. Breathing ragged and shallow, she turned back towards the staricase, hoping to discern the fate of her comrades.

A weakness washed over Aurora's limbs as Danzig cast his spell and teleported letting his cronies handle the apostate and Qunari. Her arms drooped and she felt a sudden tiredness envelop her body. "Damn.. Those hexes," Aurora muttered. She hated entropy magic, a vile distortion of nature. She prefered the pure magics of nature, of rock, ice, fire, and lightning. These curses were an affront to the world. Alas, complaining about them would do little to slow the blades of those approaching with murderous intent. She had to have faith in her companions to be able to deal with the threat of the magister on their own. She'd try her best to keep these goons out of that fight. WIth a huff of irritation, she lifted her armored limbs back into defensive position.

The first to strike was the quicker dual-wielder. The first blade bit deeper into the rock arm than she expected, the curse probably having a hand in that. Instead of trying to right out block the next blade, she batted it away. The rock armor felt heavier and she overcommited to the block, throwing her behind her block. From behind another of the fighter's blades came in a relentless assault. She contorted her body to get her arm up to block the blade with her rock arm and did so just in time. But the contortion took it's tool on her weakened body and she was driven to a knee. Fighting with the dual-wielder allowed the sword and board fellow to approach her from behind and then suddenly a shock rocked her entire frame and threw her face first into the ground. The shield bearer smirked as he recoiled his shield from the bash.

Aurora's head was spinning but she knew she had to get out of there, she had to move. On instinct alone, she rolled over to her back just missing a strike from one of the dual-wielder's blades. Now prone, Aurora did the only thing she could think of. Lifting both of her feet, she empowered them with her magic and thrust, sending two stone fists into the bellies of both warriors. The attack didn't have the power she had wished behind it thanks to the curse, but it bought her enough time to get to her knees. Panting heavily now, she quickly targeted the dual-wielder. His blades and speed would wear her out far sooner than the shield barrier. A small fireball to the face incapacitated him as he dropped his blades and reached for his face. It would serve as a distraction until she could finish him. Then she turned to the shield bearer...

Who had advanced quicker than she had thought. By the time he garnered her attention, he had his sword reared back and had committed to a pierce. She did all that she could think off, put both of her rocky hands infront of the blade. With little resistance the blade pierced her hands and entered her shoulder. It wasn't the kill blow he was looking for, but it still hurt like hell. She let out a injured howl but quickly searched for her next spell. While the warrior's blade was incapacitated by her flesh, she could attack without worry of him dodging. A blast of fire surged in her injured hands and flew up the blade and scorched the warrior whose shield could not stand the heat. He fell backwards dragging the sword with him. She let out another wail as the blade ripped flesh and she fell forwards, bleeding heavily, scrabbling for what little healing magic she possessed.

Nostariel scarcely avoided falling backwards when Danzig materialized in front of her, but she did step protectively in front of Feynriel, shielding the boy with her presence. Of course, that turned out to be unnecessary, as within the space of moments, Ithilian had him reduced to a surrendering mess, and then just to a dead one. Judiciously, she blocked the half-elf's view of that, but she had a feeling the boy had seen enough of this whole thing that it wouldn't even make a difference. The thought made her chest ache with a familiar heartsickness, but she pushed it away immediately when a pained yowl sounded from below.

Leaning over the railing, the Warden caught sight of Aurora, on her back and with the cold steel length of a sword driven through her hands and shoulder. Amalia looked on the verge of collapse not too far off, and she knew Danzig had gotten in at least one or two good shots on Ithilian. Nostariel's face morphed into a scowl, and she knew what she had to do. Firing off spells in quick succession was not particularly good for your stomach, should you be a mage, but it hardly mattered right now. The first was simple: a chilly shot of winter's grasp hurtled downwards, thunking into the dual-wielding fighter's torso and spreading like some kind of parasitic ivy, crushing his chest cavity and puncturing his lungs with his own ribs. The second was a mass healing, and the third was a smaller, more directed one, aimed for Aurora, who was far more in need of it than the other two.

The fact that these things all came within seconds of one another was enough to twist her innards a bit, and a thin line of blood trickled from Nostariel's nose. Heedless of it, she leaned heavily on the railing and climbed the rest of the stairs, Feynriel at her side. It was only fatigue; she'd dealt with far worse before, and probably would again.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia
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Darktown suddenly seemed rather quiet, now that the lightning strikes, exploding fireballs, and clashes of steel had halted altogether. The slaver and his men were dead, as were all of Reiner's mercenaries. And due in no small part to the elven healer, none of the group that had come to free Feynriel had fallen. Ithilian had wiped his blades clean on Danzig's robes, before sheathing them and heading back to the scene of the battle. Nostariel had healed the group at large before tending to Aurora more exclusively. None had gone through that fight entirely unscathed, though Ithilian had perhaps taken the least damage. He'd seen Amalia volunteer to shield the Warden and the boy from Danzig. He would have to speak to her about that, and this whole assignment... later. For now, there was the matter of Feynriel to attend to. Their search had not been in vain after all.

The half-elven boy stood at the top of the stairs, Ithilian arriving by his side. He initally flinched away from the Dalish elf, but upon recognizing him as one of the ones who had saved him, relaxed somewhat. Relaxed was perhaps a kind word, however. He gazed about in no small amount of incredulity at the carnage the three separate groups had wrought in this little pit of Darktown. He shifted about nervously as those below got to their feet.

"Who are you?" he asked. "I mean, thank you, of course, but who sent you? Was it the Templars?" Ithilian crossed his arms, watching the others get up beside Feynriel. "It was your mother, actually." He scoffed at that. "Hardly a difference. I can't believe her. My whole life, it was all 'I'll love you, and protect you.' Then I have some bad dreams, then it's off to the Templars!" Ithilian didn't have much of a comment for that. Magic was not something he dealt with in detail very often. He had not grown up with magic, other than of course the Keeper and his First. But he'd never really observed their struggles from anything but a distance.

Aurora inhaled as she threw herself back into a sitting position. The pain wasn't entirely unbearable thanks to Nostariel's spells, but she was still very tender and very weary. The Hex of Torment still hadn't completely wore off but there was nothing that could be done about that. She sat for a moment, trying to collect herself before looking down at the hole in her shirt. If she hadn't caught the blade, that surely would have hit something more important, like a heart or a lung. Nostariel could apparently heal a lot of things, but she had her doubts about her healing a serious case of death. She looked back to her companions at the top of the stairs and was relieved to find that they had escaped safely-- safer than she did at any rate.

Amalia approached and offered a hand to the Apostate to which she graciously took and managed to rise to her feet. It had been a hard day, but at least there were a lot less slavers in the world and one more mage relatively safe now. That alone made her feel like it was all worth it. She approached the rest of her companions at the top of the steps and arrived just in time to hear the comment Feynriel made about his mother. Aurora's pale lips turned into a thin frown as say weakly slapped the back of his head. "Don't give me that you dolt, she only wants the best for you and she's doing what she can for you. These nightmares aren't something to trifle around with," Aurora reprimanded in an Antivan accent. She wouldn't have this boy speak ill about his mother like that. She hasn't seen her own mother since she was taken to the Antivan Circle, at least this fool boy knew how she was doing. Though the idea of sending him off to the Templars didn't sit too well with her either...

Speaking of the nightmares, Aurora wondered. Nightmares were a common thing, sure, but what kind of nightmares was this boy suffering from to warrant sending him to the Gallows? Aurora looked to Nostariel for some kind of hint but then shrugged. "I don't like the idea of sending him back to the Templars for... Obvious reasons.. What should we do with him?" Aurora asked.

"I'm not going to the Circle, I know that much. It's different in other kingdoms, but here? You do one thing wrong, and you get the brand! There's no way I'm doing that." He looked to Ithilian then, noticing the markings upon his neck. He seemed rather enthralled by them. "I had been trying to get to the Dalish. That's why I ran away. They wouldn't be afraid of my magic." He looked to Ithilian as though expecting support, but he did not seem inclined to give it. He held his gaze on the boy, as though studying him, but did not give an answer. After a rather awkward moment of that, Feynriel looked to the other elf in the group, hoping to find support there.

Nostariel's expression was all soft lines and tenderness when Feynriel turned to her as if in appeal, and she nodded. "If the Keeper will have you, I'll take you there myself," she offered with resolve. She did not desire to impose upon them, but surely they would see the plight of the boy and agree to help. If they did not, well, she might well be forced to take other measures. She would not see him taken from everything he knew and locked away in a cage, not after knowing exactly how terrifying that was for someone like him. She was actually surprised that the dreams had only started to truly torment him now, and wondered if there was something more going on here that she did not understand.

"I promise you, Feynriel, one way or another, you will not have to go to the Circle if you do not wish it." This boy still knew his mother's face, and her affection, however much or little she understood of his plight, and she would not see him forget these things as she had forgotten them. She looked about at the others, as if to see if any would offer protest, but on this much, her will would not be moved, and she shifted uncomfortably at the thought of any protracted arguments about it. Aurora simply nodded approval at the plan. The boy would not go to the Templars on her watch. Amalia offered no words, nor even a hint as to what her opinion might be, shrugging as though it did not concern her in the slightest where he went, now that he was not going to slavers.

Ithilian frowned. Of course the Warden and the apostate wouldn't see him go to the Circle. It wasn't as though Ithilian wanted that, either. It was an installation of the shemlen religion, and he had no love for it along with anything else the humans had created. But Ithilian suspected he was the only one here who truly saw that this boy had no place. He would not go to the Circle. He could not remain in hiding, not with Templars searching for him. The part that annoyed him the most was Marethari. She would accept, he knew she would. She had too kind of a heart not to. That wasn't the issue. His blood was the issue. He would have no place among the People. He would be only a step above an outcast, and that only because of Marethari's word.

"Your blood will mark you among the People. You would have a lesser place there for your humanity, not your magic. As it should be. Marethari will take you in, this I know. But you will be alone, even among the clan." Feynriel seemed bolstered by Nostariel's support, however. "Compared to being imprisoned, or made Tranquil? I'll risk being lonely." Ithilian sighed, placing his hands on his hips and directing his gaze away from the group. "Since it has been made clear to me by the Sabrae Clan that my opinion is meaningless to them, I suppose I have little choice in this matter. Go with the Warden. Marethari will do what she thinks is best."

Though it certainly wouldn't have changed his mind one way or the other, Feynriel seemed relieved to have the Dalish's permission, even if it had been more of a grudging relent than a blessing. "Thank you! All of you, thank you for coming after me!" His thanks seemed rather directed at Nostariel and Aurora, however. "I will never forget what you've done for me."

Nostariel looked vaguely troubled by what Ithilian was saying. If it were true (and she had no reason to believe that he was lying), then the next few years of Feynriel's adolescence might be particularly troublesome. She resolved to do what she could to ease the burden of transition, but for now, she needed to get him to the Dalish emcampment. "Coming?" she asked lightly of Aurora, then turned to the other two. "You have my thanks for allowing me to assist, Ithilian, Amalia." With that, she grasped Feynriel lightly by the elbow, guiding him from Darktown with lighter step than she'd known in too long and Aurora followed close behind.




The Dalish, she knew, were camped at the base of Sundermount, apparently unmoving due to an accident that resulted in the loss or death of their halla. She did not know the exact circumstances, being aware of any of it only through rumor and the grapevine, so to speak. She had been to visit a Dalish settlement before, but not this one, and there was still much she did not understand of their ways. She might have even been Dalish, but it was just one of many things she would never know about herself. As ever, she was restrained by the fickle nature of a child's memory, and by a future wrought with far more tangible, dangerous things than journeys of self-discovery.

The trail itself was relatively clear, and the encampment, unlike the other she'd seen, was not at all difficult to find. They must really be stranded out here, she thought, a twinge of pity strumming an idle note on her too-vulnerable heartstrings. At their approach, however, they were stopped by a pair of guards. "Hold there, strangers," the one on the right, a male, began. "What business have you with the Dalish?" His accent was that odd lilt she had observed before, and her own Starkhaven brogue felt clumsy in response.

"We've come to see the Keeper," Nostariel began, inclining her head respectfully. "This boy is of Dalish blood, and he seeks her help to learn control of his ancestral magic."

Apparently, this was about as close to the right thing to say as she was going to get. "Very well, you may enter," the first guard's feminine counterpart replied, though there was no small amount of haughtiness to her tone, and she eyed Aurora with distaste. "But make your business here quick. There are Dalish arrows trained on you." Frankly, Nostariel thought the threat was highly unnecessary, but she did not reply to it, simply nodding and stepping past the guards, leading the other two into the camp. "Are all Dalish so... Hostile?" Aurora whispered to both Feynriel and Nostariel, noting Ithilian's own demeanor from earlier. Still, she kept her mouth quiet and her head down. She was already afraid of Ithilian's wrath, she didn't want to provoke a whole tribe of his kind. That seemed like the quickest way to an early demise.

Aurora followed closely behind her two companions as they approached what she imagined to be this Keeper Marethari that Ithilian had mentioned. She felt out of place here, in this encampment. She could feel the eyes of the entire tribe on her shoulders. She felt like she was an outsider-- and in truth she was. It was the story of her life really. Being an apostate tends to sow those feelings after a while. However she shouldered those feelings herself and tried to make herself seem cheerful, hoping that would make her seem less of a threat to the Dalish. She even ventured a smile at the Keeper.

Marethari was rather easy to pick out among the elves, due to her clothes. She wore not the hunter's garb, but rather a very ceremonial-looking robe. Every Dalish clan typically had just two mages, the Keeper, and his or her First, or apprentice. Marethari was Keeper of this particular clan, and just her eyes seemed to convey the wisdom necessary to hold such a title. She was a very small woman, not imposing in the slightest, and her face gave off a kind, warm, almost grandmotherly aura. But there was indeed a certain hardness, perhaps simply from her age, behind those eyes.

"Andaran atish'an, strangers. I am Keeper Marethari. You are a Grey Warden, are you not?" she asked of Nostariel, though the way the question was posed implied she already knew the answer. "You honor us with this visit. What business might you have with the Dalish, I wonder?" Aurora frowned as she was overlooked.

"Andaran atish'an, Keeper," Nostariel replied, the words unfamiliar on her tongue. Still, it was best to be polite whenever possible, and what she was asking was no small favor. "The honor is mine to be welcomed here." Welcomed was definitely an overstatment of their reception, but she'd had worse greetings before. Her smile was genuine, if a bit strained, and she stepped aside so that Feynriel was plainly in front of the Keeper. "I'm afraid I come with a favor to ask. This is Feynriel, and he seeks refuge among his mother's people, to learn proper use of his magic. I would be more than willing to help however possible, but... my posting is in the city, and right now, that's no place for one the Templars would call apostate and hunt so avidly." She glanced knowingly at Aurora, then fell silent, allowing the Dalish woman to ponder as she needed to.

"His mother's people, you say?" the Keeper asked, before looking to Feynriel. "Ah yes... it is starting to become clear to me. Da'len, you are aware that the path you wish to walk will be a difficult one, yes? I will not turn you away, but I must first know that you are prepared for this." Feynriel, nodding to assure her. "Yes, Keeper, I understand. The Dalish hunter who helped rescue me explained. I know my human blood will mark me here, but this is where I want to be."

Marethari nodded her approval. "Then you will join the People. To the pair of you," she said, looking towards Aurora and Nostariel, "I would ask a small favor in return. Feynriel's mother is welcome here should she wish to visit, or rejoin the People, and she should know such. And... this hunter Feynriel speaks of. He should know that the road he travels leads only to further despair. His mind may be decided already, but perhaps a friend could alter his course."

Aurora shrugged, "He's not the friendliest man I know and I know he doesn't count me as one," she said. Though her gaze did shift towards Nostariel, "Perhaps she would have more luck getting to him than I would. Still... We will take your message to his mother. Thank you for taking him in... Circle life is not for him," Aurora said, the hint of experience evident in her voice. "We'll also send your mother your goodbyes Feynriel," She added. She of all people understood the preciousness of a goodbye to a mother... Then she nodded and tapped Nostariel on the shoulder. "Let's get going yeah? I'm sure his mother would want news of her son," she said. Though unspoken, she also wanted to get out of range of the "arrows" that were trained on her.

Nostariel simply nodded, not trusting her voice on this particular topic of conversation, and followed her fellow mage from the encampment.

The Chanter's Board has been updated. Wayward Son has been completed.

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Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia
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The day after Feynriel's rescue, the group had since dispersed, and Amalia had made her way back to her home in the Alienage. Even she would not deny that the process of integrating herself as much as was warranted into the place had been no easy task, but after a while, the majority of the residents seemed to accept that the bizarre human with the harp was to be a fixture in their run-down corner of the city, and life now tended to proceed around her like a river around a particularly tenacious stone. Sometimes, she was even included in the ebb and flow of it, though always as an entity distinct, unusually proud and tall among a people whose eyes were most often downcast. Her viddethari were the bridge, those few women and children who had accepted the Qun and now required her instruction in it. They sought a way to live by its words without losing everything that did not, and at this, she was adept.

The midafternoon was usually a time of rest for the Alienage, especially in the summer, when the sun's hot rays struck just a little too harshly. People tended to take small respites in their homes, but being a creature more inclined to the outdoors than anything, she preferred to rest under the great boughs of the vhenadahl. Presently, she had assumed a crosslegged posture, hands resting loosely upon her knees, eyes closed. She might have been asleep, save that nobody slept in quite so upright a position. Indeed, she was more aware of her surroundngs than most, allowing her ears and nose to funnel her the information she needed about her surroundings. Active mediation, an excellent way to ponder reality and unreality, and think upon the words of the Qun.

Aurora on the other hand was a bit more... Active. While she wasn't in the process of running from Templars at the moment, she stode about Lowtown with an energy that she always had about her. It was another day spent not dead or in the Gallows, so what was there not to be happy about? She was a bit sore though, particularly her hands and shoulder. It could have been worse, yes, not many can take a sword through both hands and shoulder and still be as chipper as she was. The last day however... It did make her think. It made her think about a lot of things. Feynriel being abducted by slavers, a mage becoming an abomination before her eyes, and a magister using his magic for his malintentions. It was people like him that the mages were locked up in circles. Her thinking had kept her up most of the night until she fell asleep from the exhaustion. She realized she walked a fine line as an apostate. Between the Templars, the draw of demons and their promises of powers, and even magister slavers, every day was dangerous for her.

She had to become stronger. Mentally as well as physically. She could take the odd roving band of ruffians, sure, but her experiences yesterday proved that she could not stand toe-to-toe with trained warriors or another accomplished mage. She had to become stronger in order to survive, in order to keep her freedom that she cherished so much. She would not let becoming an abomination be the only option, she would never let that be an option. That wasn't freedom, that was a monster. It was what brought her on her sojourn that day. She didn't walk around Lowtown without purpose, she had a destination in mind. The Alienage in particular. She had a Qunari acquaintance on her mind. She had asked around Lowtown about her whereabouts and the unanimous answer was "The Alienage". Seems it wasn't hard to pick out a single Qunari among the depressed citizens of Lowtown.

As she descended the stairs opening out to the Vhenadahl, she couldn't help but look up into the branches. It truly was a magnicent tree, a glowing spot of green in the desolute browns and greys of the innards of Kirkwall. Her eyes fell down the tree examining the writing and drawings with a sense of wonder until she reached the roots. There sitting at the roots was who she was looking for, Amalia. She seemed to be in some sort of meditation or trance. Aurora hesitated about interrupting her, but forged ahead. She needed to do this. For herself.

"Hey. Amalia? I'm not interrupting, am I?" She began, "I want to.. Ask you something."

Amalia was aware of the fact that someone approached, and the tread struck her as vaguely-familiar, but she did not ponder much on it. If she was required, she would be sought. If not, she would remain undisturbed. The steps stopped within her proximity, and the voice that followed pegged her visitor as the mage from the previous afternoon, though not the Warden. Curious. Humans did not often tread here, especially the ones that knew of Ithilian's presence. Amalia cracked an eyelid, looking up at the girl with a light-blue ocular. "You are," the Qunari replied evenly, opening her other eye and rising to her feet in a smooth, controlled motion. "But this is not unacceptable. Shanedan, Imekari. I will hear you."

Aurora had forgotten how curt the Qunari was and it caught her offguard. She also noticed Amalia's eyes as she rose from the roots of the Vhenadahl. First was the sky blue orb, then the crimson one. It too surprised her, as she had not looked Amalia in the eyes the previous day. She had just met this woman and she was already proving to be extremely unpredictable. One could only imagine how she would handle Aurora's request. Odd, how readily she threw herself into the fray for the sake of another yet how awkward she was trying to ask a simple question. Though, it was a question that needed to be asked. Though how to put it in words... That eluded Aurora. She hesitated for a moment before measuring her words, "You are... You're strong. You are so sure of yourself. So... In control," she began.

"I'm... Not so. The sight of that... Creature," She avoided use of the word abomination, "Yesterday. It sent me into a spiral. I thought I was strong. It made me realize that I'm just as susecptible as any one else," She said, feeling as if she was finally gaining momentum. "I don't want to end up like that. My abilities are a potent force, but without the strength to back that up, they are more a liability than a boon," Feeling as if she was rambling, she decided to issue her request now, else the Qunari send her away for her longwindedness, "I suppose the question is- Will you help me become stronger?" There it was. She watched Amalia in the fight. She seemed so in control, so sure. She didn't hesitate when she fought, she didn't even pause when she saved Nostariel and Feynriel. Of anyone, Aurora felt she could help her become stronger. The only thing she needed was the Qunari's answer.

Amalia fixed the girl with her stare, hard enough that it might have seemed as though she were trying to pin Aurora into place with nothing but a look. Perhaps it was not so fanciful a guess, given wat she was, and that the kossith in the compound seemed to be capable of something similar at times. The child did not realize it, but she had presented the Ben-Hassrath with quite a conundrum. None would fault her for refusing point-blank, but the fact remained that this was not necessarily what Amalia wished to do. A conscious recognition of weakness, and a desire to correct the problem were both admirable traits, encouraged by her Qun and demanded of her as surely as any.

Yet. Aurora was also saarebas, and that made any intervention on Amalia's part highly subject to scrutiny. Crossing her arms, the woman leaned back against the vhenadahl, still silent and unwavering in her scrutiny. She was not one to speak wihout due deliberation, and when her words came, they would be exactly what she meant. "My strength, you call it. That certainty is not me. It is the Qun itself, and drawn from that is everything else I am." Her eyelids dropped, half-obscuring her irises. "Sometimes, I do not think bas can understand. The simplest way to give you what you seek would be to bring you to the Qun. But... there are always other paths." The blond rogue tilted her head slightly to the left. She seemed to be waiting for something, and would apparently not speak further until Aurora said or did something. What that something was, she gave no clue of.

Even under Amalia's piercing glare, Aurora did not recoil. She couldn't show weakness in front of this woman, not after asking her to teach her to become strong. Aurora took her stare on the shoulders and continued to maintain eye contact with the woman. It was then, she realized the height difference between then, Aurora had to look up to Amalia, a fact that did nothing to lessen the imposing figure Amalia painted. Aurora listened to her words, waiting for a forthcoming answer, but none came. Only a riddle. She spoke of the Qun, of differing paths, and it all confused Aurora, though she couldn't afford to let it show on her face. The only hint she gave was a simple tilt of her head. "Other... Paths?" Aurora said, more to herself than Amalia. "Always other paths, she repeated, nodding her head.

"If these other paths can help me become stronger, I would happily take them. I don't want to end up a monster, and I don't want to end up a slave-- To the Templars or to Tevinter Magisters. My gift, my curse, is meant to serve man. But if I am not strong enough, I'll only end up serving it. I need these other paths," she said with conviction.

"To struggle constantly against the danger from within is the burden of us all. Saarebas bear that more directly than most. Self-mastery is the noblest cause, for it is the only way to serve the Many." If it was an answer, it was an oblique one, but Amalia seemed satisfied enough with what Aurora had said to speak again, which was as good a hint as any that there was some connection between what the mage had said and what she was saying now. "Merevas, Imekari. My role is to teach, and yours shall be to learn. As I understand it, saarebas become demons because they become desperate. You must discipline your mind so that this desperation is never yours."

This was always particularly difficult even for viddethari, and she suspected that for Aurora it would be even more so. "What would you say," she asked, settling back down under the tree and assuming her former crosslegged repose, "If I told you that the turmoil you feel when the Fade calls you, the struggle you feel to not beome an abomination-" the word was not of her language, but she did not hesitate for the barest second to use it- "Was all an illusion?" She gestured for the girl to sit across from her, seeing no reason to move their conversation elsewhere, though they were drawing a fair few curious looks by this point.

"... An illusion?" Aurora posed as she took a seat in front of Amalia. She was entirely ignorant of the stares they were recieving, as she was too focused on Amalia's question to pay attention. Even so, she wouldn't ask for a change of scenery, Amalia seemed to know what she was doing, even if she was guided by this Qun. "It'd be... Hard to believe. The whispers, the promises, they all seem so real. The tug is always there, always wanting me to forsake myself and promising me their power," she said. "Sometimes they are hard to drown out," she added. It was hard to explain all of this to a nonmage, though Amalia seemed to know more than she let on. She had seen abominations before, and knew what she would become if she gave in to the empty promises... Ever since she was a young child, she had been afraid of abominations.

Amalia inclined her head; an acknowledgement. Though of what, it was hard to say. "I understand that to be often the case. Your Chantry does nothing to dissuade this opinion, this reality. In the beliefs of the humans here, the Fade is the world of the Maker, and even those who do not adhere so closely generally accept its reality. The Qun is different. Look around you. What you see is the Truth. The rest is only an illusion, and it is lies that corrupt." This was one thing non-Qunari had difficulty accepting, and she imagined that a mage would be even worse, in a sense. "Understanding that usually takes time. For now, it will suffice that the disciplined mind is much less vulnerable to the machinations of demons than the unfettered one. Take a phrase that means something to you. It can be anything: a motto, a piece of a song, I suppose even the Chant would do, if you must. When all else fails, repeat it, aloud, to the exclusion of everything else."

"A phrase..." Aurora repeated. "Well.. The Chant won't work. I'm not particularly.. Religious for obvious reasons," Of course, she never faulted people for their own beliefs. Having something to believe in did make life easier to live. However, the Maker has certainly shown her no kindness and the ideal of an uncaring God seemed silly to her. No, the chant wouldn't do. Neither would a motto, she would seem unhinged if she walked around chanting "Live free" repeatedly. No, it had to be something else. Something from her past. Her eyes lit up as she remembered. "Rosaline. It's Rosaline," she muttered. That would do nicely.

Amalia paused for a moment, growing thoughtful again and receding into silence. It was different, working with someone who had no understanding of the Qun. "Parshaara, but I have given you enough to think on already. Were you Qunari, the meanings to be understood from these things would be your task for the next weeks, if not months. You may return tomorrow, if you wish. You may linger, if you wish. There are many paths, after all." There was the barest ghost of a smirk on Amalia's face as she said it, but it disappeared so quickly it might well not have been present at all. She closed her eyes and resumed her earlier meditations, though she made no move to banish Aurora or speak further to her.

Feeling as if she wasn't going get anything else out of Amalia, she nodded. Sitting around meditating was not something Aurora did, but she was not going to fault the Qunari for it either. Instead she stood and bowed deeply. "Thank you Amalia, for the lesson. I'll think on what you said." With that, Aurora turned and left, her mind opened just a little bit wider for the experience.

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia
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Ithilian's morning had been entirely unremarkable until Elren came to him. He'd attempted to finish carving that halla he'd been working on, only to end up ruining the horns. He'd need to start over after a mistake like that, so his left the remains of the carving for one of the kids to find. No doubt they'd still find it interesting. He then decided to do something he was far more skilled at, and had far more experience in: fletching. His arrows were without match, a skill he had developed over close to thirty years. There was something about using solely one's own arrows that helped with his accuracy. He knew the way the weapon would feel in his hands before he even pulled the string back, knew the weight and balance by heart. Every arrow was the same. There was nothing left to chance, leaving only the skill of his shot remaining.

He had just finished his twentieth arrow of the day when he was interrupted by a middle-aged elven man, light red hair pulled back behind his ears. Ithilian had learned his name to be Elren. He was as city elf as any of the others, but Ithilian at least had some respect for him. He wasn't blind to the fact that elves were stepped on constantly in Kirkwall. He wasn't in a position to do anything about it, but at least he didn't close his eyes while the shemlen oppressed him. Were he in a better mood (not likely) he might have tried to convince the man to join the Dalish and find a purpose, but as it was, he couldn't help but feel he'd be of no use. Too old, too set in his ways. Extra weight for a clan to carry around.

"I... heard about what you did the other day for Arianni, Ithilian. How you butchered those slavers to get her boy safely to the Dalish. My name is-" Ithilian cut him off, not looking up from the arrow he was currently working on. "Elren, I know. Is there something you want?" He tentatively continued, obviously intimidated by approaching Ithilian. "It's my daughter, Lia. There's a shem who has been kidnapping elven girls. And... murdering them. My Lia wasn't the first. He targets us because he knows the authorities won't do anything about it. No one cares if a few elven girls go missing."

Ithilian paused his work, peering up from his chair in front of his home at Elren. He studied him for a moment before speaking "Go on."

Elren picked up speed. "But he slipped up after taking my daughter. The city guard was able to follow him to one of the old abandoned mines outside the city. They cornered him there." Ithilian shrugged. "So he'll be caught and dealt with. Where do I come into this?"

"He took my daughter into that mine, and he killed her. But the guards won't go in after him. I tried to find out why, and they said they got attacked by some kind of creatures when they went after him. And now there's a city magistrate trying to recruit people to go in and bring the killer out alive and unharmed. There won't be any justice for my daughter if he lives. No one cares if a shem kills a few elves here. We're nothing to them." Ithilian gave him a rather blank stare "You say that like you know better than I. Why not let these creatures kill the shem if they're so dangerous?"

"I think they're protecting him. I think he's controlling them somehow to keep the guards out. Please, Ithilian, you could go there, pose as a hired sword for this magistrate, and then go inside and get vengeance for my daughter. The man who took her is a despicably sick shemlen who deserves nothing more than death at this point."

Now there was something Ithilian could get behind. Vengeance. Retribution. Removing a twisted shem who would soon realize that murdering elves was the worst mistake he ever could have made. City elves or no, the murderer deserved death... and apparently word of his actions was spreading somewhat, if Elren was actively seeking his help. He certainly hadn't been spreading tales about his daring rescue of Arianni's boy from the slavers. Arianni must have spoken of him to others. Perhaps with more time and effort, he could get this Alienage behind him after all.

"Consider him dead, then," Ithilian agreed, rising, and sliding his just finished arrow into his quiver. "I will bring Elgar'nan's wrath to this shemlen." Elren looked mightily relieved, and he clapped Ithilian on the shoulder, to which the Dalish made no response. "Creators, thank you! I know it won't bring my Lia back, but getting vengeance will be enough." Ithilian fixed him with a hard look. "No, it won't. But we'll take it just the same."

With that, he pushed his way past Elren, slinging his bow across his back, and buckling his quiver at his hip. His two long knives were sheathed at his waist, as ever. He didn't plan on getting his vengeance for Elren alone, however. He'd meant to speak to the human, or rather Qunari, girl usually sitting beneath the vhenadahl before now, but hadn't been able to force himself to get around to it. Apologies typically weren't his strong suit. And so he looked more than a little uncomfortable as he approached her now.

"Aneth ara, Amalia," he began. The informal, perhaps even friendly greeting, and the usage of her name rather than shem, were both things Ithilian had not expected himself to say. "There is something I would ask of you, if you are willing to hear. And... I feel I must also apologize."

Amalia had spent much of the morning inside the home she presently shared with a fair few viddethari. Though it was her preference to be out-of-doors when conditions were suitable, she was aware that dragging a full assortment of alchemic equipment out in front of the dwelling was impractical, and she had no wish to inadvertantly teach the basra anything of the manufacture of Qunari poisons, nor expose them to the fumes. So she'd been working under a cloth "hood" of sorts for most of the pre-noon hours, mixing ingredients in various bottles, labeled only in Qunlat, then preparing a new assemblage of needles by coating them in the quick-drying substance, which was successfully double the concentration of the ones she'd used last time. The results were recorded meticulously in a book she had acquired for this purpose, as she was certain the Ariqun would have some use for the improved formula. Craftsman she was not, but the Qunari were a much more pragmatic people than most outsiders assumed, and things which had a use were welcomed.

The needles so made were stowed carefully in small pouches, which she strapped to the cloth-covered thighs beneath her disguise, and she'd needed only to clean and sharpen the knife she'd looted from the dead archer and slide it into a boot before she had successfully adjusted for the damage to her supplies caused by the last fight. The noon hour, she'd occupied with further tests on a different weapon, a spring-loaded blade designed to be disguised by an ordinary gauntlet. The triggering mechanism wasn't quite right yet, but she trusted firmly enough in her ingenuity to know that it would come to her in time.

By the aftenoon, she was outside again, in the same location as always, but one more set of extra eyes on the entrance to the Alienage. She watched without concern when the one calling himself Elren walked by. A merchant, she understood. As was strangely-common in this place, he had to her knowledge but one family member, though she'd never met the girl herself. He moved out of her range, and Amalia went right back to her business, which right now was nothing more complicated than transcribing a copy of the Tome of Koslun into a language her viddethari could actually read.

Apparently, she was not meant to finish the task upon this particular afternoon, however, for a shadow, darker than that cast by the vhenadahl, fell over her work, accompanied by the sound of footsteps she recognized. For a moment, Amalia said nothing, finishing the sentence she was working on before marking her place in both books and closing them carefully, with something approaching reverence. She looked up, then, and nodded. "Shanedan, Sataareth. I will hear these things, if it please you to say them." She noted the unease in his carriage, and though she did not show any signs of the feeling, it amused her. This ought to be rather interesting.

He still needed to figure out what that word meant. He hadn't heard her use it with anyone else. He also didn't know if that was a good or bad thing. Perhaps it was some kind of taunt in her Qunari tongue, that she hung over his head, knowing he could not understand... but she didn't seem the type to taunt. He'd ask her later, it was far less important than the current matter.

"I've taken up another cause for the Alienage, and I would not object to having another blade at my side, so to speak. There is a shemlen that has been taking elven girls captive. He kills them. The city guard cornered him in a mine beyond the walls, and have him a trapped, but creatures of some sort prevent the guards from retrieving him. A magistrate would see him brought out of there alive, no doubt to be put through this city's putrid system of justice. He would no doubt walk free in a small matter of time if the decision is left to the shemlen. Elren's daughter was the last to be taken. He would have me go to this mine and see to it that the shemlen does not leave it alive, so that no more of my kind might be murdered by his madness."

He looked about the deep roots of the vhenadahl, as if consciously making an effort to avoid looking at her. "I don't need your help, but I would like it all the same. Which... brings me to the apology. I assumed that you were acting on selfish impulses that I could not see when we tracked down Feynriel, and I was proven wrong. You even voluntarily sacrificed yourself so that the Warden and the boy might escape. I still don't know why you're here or what motivated you to put your life at risk for a boy you had no ties with, but... if more shemlen acted as you did, I wouldn't mind."

She wondered if it hurt, to carry around such pride everywhere one went. The anger was sure to be uncomfortable on occasion as well. For her, this was not a subject of mockery or something to judge, merely a question she did not know the answer to. Either way, she accepted that because of these things, asking for her assistance was likely difficult, and apologizing even moreso. "I wouldn't mind if more humans acted like me either," she replied, the faintest edge of wry humor coloring her tone. Standing with both books in her hand, she gestured over a passing elf.

"Viddethari, would you please return these to the house?" The boy, probably not more than twelve, nodded his consent and took them from her, darting off to his residence. Amalia, for her part, dusted off her hands and stood. "I will assist you, Sataareth. Your apology is accepted. Is Elren certain his daughter is among the deceased?" She took a moment to check over her equipment again, ensuring that her newly-treated needles were present. The chain was a solid, comforting weight on her back, and the knife less ponderous in her boot. Grasping first one ankle, she lifted the foot behind her and stretched, repeating the motion with the opposite side before she nodded. Making ready was never a long process for her, after all.

"No. He does not have her body, but the killer has not spared any of those he's taken so far." Again she was easily willing to help. She was important to some of the elves here, though certainly not all, and it seemed they were important to her, too. Her Qun was not something Ithilian understood, but from what he saw, it was... impressive. Such a certainty of purpose. He had wished to learn more even before meeting Amalia, but the Qunari at the compound in the Docks always kept their gate closed to outsiders, and none seemed interested in speaking with any not of their kind.

Elren approached the pair then, looking anxious to be off. "You are departing now, then? I will be coming along, if you don't mind. Not inside the mine, of course. I am no warrior. But I want to be there when the task is finished." Ithilian did not object. He was still trying to decide if he was doing this to prevent the deaths of any more city elves, or simply to take vengeance. "Let's go, then," he said, and Elren led the way from the Alienage.

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The journey to the mine was longer for Elren's presence, but Amalia made no indication of aggravation at this. It was clear that he was not intended for such treks, but he did not complain, which was more than could be said for many. The Qunari was content to follow a pace or two behind Ithilian, no longer seeing any need to make a point of presenting her back to him. If he didn't know she wouldn't slide a knife in his by now, then he never would, and she wasn't going to perpetuate a fruitless battle of that sort. Peace-of-mind was not something she generally went out of her way to provide for others, though it could perhaps be said that she was capable of gentleness when it was most required.

The three of them rounded a bend, and the mine came into view on the other side of it. Set deeply into the hill, the opening was little more than a person-height opening in jagged brown stone, perhaps two armspans in width. She had little doubt that a kossith would have trouble fitting through without considerable stooping. The Arishok's horns would catch unpleasantly on the rocky shelf, if he tried. The conjured image of this was something she'd do well not to remember when next she saw him, else she smile and ignite his famously-volatile temper. She was not his subordinate, but it was unwise to anger the powerful.

A few guards ranged about the outside of the mine, though even the closest were a conspicuous distance from the entrance, and she suppressed the derisive snort that threatened. And these men called themselves warriors. Were they of her people, such cowardice in the face of danger would ensure their demotion. Here, it was likely to be viewed as proper discretion. From the looks they were giving Ithilian and Elren, this was going to be unpleasant. Perhaps if she did the talking, they wouldn't all end up dead in the sand. Unnecessary death was a waste, after all, though some wasted more by living. She wondered which sort these were. "You may wish to wait here," she told Elren flatly. She raised a single eyebrow at Ithilian and tilted her head sideways, as if to signal him forward, though perhaps any entreaty to that effect would be wasted. He was unlikley to stand around as these guards did.

Still, she maintained her initial thought and spoke first, once they were within earshot of a guard. Close-cropped red hair, the stocky build of a native Marcher... and the closest thing to an air of authority that any of these men possessed. It would have to do. "This is where the fugitive has taken refuge?" She had nearly called the criminal vashoth before she remembered that the word would likely only earn her blank stares. Besides, one was only vashoth when one defected from something worthy.

The guard stroked his chin for a moment, sizing up the two that had presented themselves before him. "Huh... so you're the reinforcements the magistrate promised?" Ithilian gave him a sturdy glare in return. "We were sent to collect the fugitive that you cornered in these ruins. You have a problem with that?" The guard shrugged. "No, I suppose not. The fugitive's holed up in this mine, though I doubt he's still in one piece."

"It makes little difference to me. I'm going in to collect him, or to collect his corpse. You just keep cowering out here, and I'll have your job done for you soon enough." At this, the guard took a step forward. "Watch yourself, elf. You're speaking to a member of the city guard." But Ithilian was already heading off towards the mine entrance. "A fine example of the best the shemlen have to offer."

Killing them would have been to his liking... but it was inconvenient and unnecessary. He was here to kill one shem in particular. Also, murdering members of the city guard wouldn't get him far in the city, certainly. He didn't need the kind of scrutiny that would bring. As the daylight dimmed around them and they entered the mine itself, Ithilian slid his knives slowly from their sheaths at his waist. "And they call themselves protectors of their city. I wonder how many receive coin from the Coterie."

He took a glance around the interior. This place was largely collapsed, fallen into disrepair since the Tevinters had been driven out, which had been some time ago. Slaves, largely elven ones, had worked mines such as these, mercilessly whipped into servitude by their Tevinter magister overlords. Creators only knew how many deaths occurred down here, hidden from the light of the sun. In places like these, any number of unearthly horrors could present themselves. "This place reeks of death. These creatures Elren spoke of must be shades, undead of some sort. Restless souls of dead elven slaves. Our fugitive seems a fool to flee here."

"About half, if the sampling from lowtown is statistically average," Amalia replied, though she knew the question was largely, if not entirely, rhetorical. She tended to make it her business to know the business of her charges, and more than one had been harassed by the Coterie before. Not so much now, with a most unusual soul occasionally standing guard in front of the place at odd hours, but still it was important to know. The Qunari mind was designed for logic, for science, at least compared to the ones bent in the direction of gods and magic.

The first thing she noticed about the mine, interestingly enough, was the way it smelled. Sulfur, brimstone, and wet rot. It was enough to twist her face into a grimace, and she resisted the urge to pinch her nasal passages shut. She did wrap her scarf around her nose and mouth though. While it would muffle her voice to some extent, she didn't often use it anyway, and the lack of an olfactory distraction was well worth the price. Her hand slid into one of her leg-pouches, the slipped out to rest at her side. Her needles, longer and slightly thicker around than the ones she'd used before, rested loosely in her grip for the moment. Tempted as she was to take to the shadows, she realized that she was not working by herself, and it made more sense for the moment to remain where her companion could see her. Her steps still made no noise.

Rounding one of the ninety-degree corners in the mine, they were faced with several doors. From the rubble surrounding one of them and the hinges rusted over with age, it was likely immovable and certainly not a route recently taken. Of the two that remained, the one in the center looked serviceable, and the one on the left was set back at the end of a short hallway, filled, incidentally, with giant spiders. "I suppose that way is our best bet," she pointed out nonchalantly, indicating the door to the left with a quick jerk of her head.

Ithilian did not cover his face any more than it was already covered, but instead his features molded into the frown that they wore so well. He grunted assent to Amalia's suggestion, taking the lead on the way through the door, stepping over the remains of the creatures without much care. He'd seen far larger and far more sinister beasts in the Brecilian Forest. And far bigger spiders. The largest one he'd encountered was actually as big as some of the homes people had in Lowtown. That had been an interesting occasion.

Torchlight lit their way from braziers placed along the wall at various intervals, another indicator that someone had passed through this way. It wasn't long before Ithilian's shoe cracked down upon the rounded surface of a skull in the earth, the first visible skeleton they had encountered. Elven, by the shape of the ear holes. He frowned. Or rather, continued to frown. "There could be dozens, hundreds even. The magisters were not careful with their workforce in the slightest. Half of their lives were likely taken by their overlords themselves. Hopefully whatever force lurks in here cannot raise them all at once."

And right on cue, there was a creaking of bones from further in, and a pair of mangled skeletons rose from the dirt, beginning to shamble their way towards them. Ithilian was quick to sheath his daggers and draw the bow, pulling the string back and loosing an arrow into one, and then the other, the force of the arrows taking the heads right off the spines and sending the rest of the bones clattering to the ground. Silence returned, but only for a moment. After listening for further threats, Ithilian spoke again.

"The Qunari fight the Imperium, on Seheron, don't they? Is it purely territorial?" There was genuine curiosity in his tone. There were few shemlen as vile as those of Tevinter, and anyone who fought against them deserved at least some of his respect, regardless of the reason.

Amalia as a rule had little use for hope, but she understood that this turn of phrase was more idiom than anything and left it unanswered. At the skeleton, she cocked her head, examining it this way and that. The bones were, upon close inspection, slightly charred. With no braziers in the immediate vicinity, she'd have said, were she asked, that this elf had met her (for indeed her pelvic bones and skull were shaped in the manner of a female) end via fire spell. The lava flows that flanked some of the paths here would not have left even bones behind. In fact, the presence of them at all placed the most recent active use of this place far later than she would have expected, long after slavery had been legal in this part of the world. She chose not to mention this to Ithilian; chances were, he already knew, and if he didn't, she saw no need to make him angrier for no reason.

Moving on, she trailed a little ways behind, quickening her pace slightly to catch up. "Yes," she replied to his first question. "And no. Land is of no consequence to the Qunari." Her people were efficient enough to control populations and resources well enough that they would never overtax their designated areas, regardless of how small those became. They were more skilled at bare survival than those who aimed always for more, for decadence and wealth, but neither were they content to merely subsist. She thought, perhaps, that this was something Ithilian might understand, if he thought about it properly. She did not elaborate, however, because this was not the thing she had been asked.

Ithilian did not seem satisfied with the answer, but he did not press, instead choosing to focus his attention on their surroundings, another arrow nocked into his bow, his fingers pulling it back slightly, prepared to fire at a moment's notice. Amalia was as to the point as ever, not answering any more than was asked. To be honest, the Dalish had been looking for a condemnation of the ways of the Tevinter, some kind of indication that the Qunari fought against them for simply being the despicable and depraved things that they were. She gave him no such answer, only more questions. She was a frustrating one... but it was certainly better than the snake-tongued shemlen who told the elves only what they wished to hear in order to keep them in line.

The two eventually came to another door. Slipping past the Sataareth, Amalia pressed her ear to it, brow furrowing in concentration. She heard a piece of rubble hit the ground, and then echo for some time. After that, everything was silent, or else beyond her capability to detect. "The room is large, and mostly open. Nothing moves inside... yet."

Ithilian watched their backs while Amalia listened for signs of threats. There was an angry presence about, and not just himself. Perhaps he was imagining things, but it was as though the very walls seemed annoyed that anyone would tread where so many had died. This place was a tomb now, and they were disturbing it with the intention of adding yet another corpse to its earth. They needed to press further in, and would undoubtedly run into more resistance, and whatever force was raising the dead within. He wondered how useful those needles of the Qunari's would be against creatures that had no blood or flesh to speak of. Poisons were not the best choice against those already dead.

But the Dalish had learned (slowly) that it was not a wise decision to underestimate her. She'd likely had as much training as he had, if their previous exploits were any indicator. "We've already disturbed this place," he commented, "the dead know we're here. All that's left is to let them rest once more." He gestured with his head for Amalia to step aside, before lowering his shoulder into the stone door and pushing. It was large and heavy, but with force it moved.

Amalia was correct in her educated guess about the room. It was large and square, with a very high roof, being built into the mountainside as it was. This was perhaps a main chamber of sorts for the mine, no doubt a place where the magisters could convene away from their hordes of slaves. Here the darkness felt the thickest. It echoed about the chamber like the sounds echoed off the walls. The cause of this was clear, as Ithilian gazed towards the far corner of the room. A pride demon had possessed the corpse of a magister, creating an arcane horror. The bloodless, skinless corpse currenly floated about a foot off the ground, wrapped in tattered mage robes that the human had been wearing when he died. The dead rose around it, elves enslaved even in death. It seemed as though the horror had made this room its home.

"Fine by me if the magister wants to die a second death," Ithilian growled, drawing an arrow back and loosing it into the skull of the nearest corpse. He was aware that the floating form of the arcane horror was not a Tevinter magister but rather a demon, but it didn't hurt to think of it that way. It summoned forth its magic as the Dalish began his attack, throwing up a powerful shield around itself while the dozens of its skeletal minions advanced on Ithilian and Amalia.

Amalia scoffed gently beneath her breath at the sight, stowing her needles and for the moment remaining unarmed. She had thought the presence of the spiders indicated that more were ahead, but apparently she was to be dealing with the walking dead. Any moral reservations that she might have considered regarding the wastefulness of taking life vanished abruptly; for a Qunari, a corpse was scarcely of greater value than refuse. There was nothing here to be slain, only automata to be dismantled.

So thinking, Amalia took off in a dead sprint, veering abruptly to the left and very much intending to make a more tempting target than Ithiian for the ranged fighters among the dead. She noted from the corner of her eye that several archers were indeed tracking her with their heads, followed swiflty by their bows. This would have to be timed well, or she would very likely end up a pincushion. Waiting for the moment when they committed to their shots, she doubled back suddenly, altering her angle by a bit more than ninety degrees. The arrows whizzed by, aimed for where she would have been, though one of them caught her upper left arm. It didn't embed there, merely left a shallow cut in the region. Now, though, she was drawing closer, and the seconds the corpses spent aiming would have been long enough for her companion to drop two or three with well-placed arrows of his own, which was rather the point.

As they readjusted their aim, Amalia wavered from visibility and disappeared entirely, costing them yet more time if they wished to fire at a visible target. A few loosed in her general direction anyway, but firing blind yielded them nothing, and she was pouncing upon the first before any could shoot thrice. Knocking the once-slave back onto the ground, she crouched on his ribcage, grabbing either side of his head in a hand and twisting abruptly, snapping his neck with a much drier sound than would be expected of the living. Something- vitality, perhaps, or whatever foul magic kept it moving- seeped out of the creature, and it fell still beneath her, giving her just enough time to roll out of the way of a hammerblow from another. Drawing the knife from her boot, the Qunari rose and stabbed in a single motion, twisting the blade embedded in this larger foe's throat. It, too, sagged against her, and she concluded that what would have been fatal (physically) to a live person worked well enough on these possessed clusters of bones and rotting flesh. It might have been a comforting fact, even, had she thought comfort a notion that applied to these situations at all.

She didn't, really.

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia
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Ithilian's sharp eye followed Amalia as she took off towards the skeletal archers, his bow training itself on those that began to fire in her direction. He had taken a pair of them down before he noticed a change in the arcane horror's movements. The shield surrounding it had lowered, and it was actively following the Qunari with its gaze. Perhaps all of the corpses in the area were finally raised and on the offensive. Ithilian hoped so, since there were perhaps twenty or more standing in the room they were in.

Strongly desiring to kill the arcane horror moreso than any of the others, Ithilian turned his next arrow on it, sending it into the mage's skull with a thwack of piercing bone, but the attack did not take down the creature as it did the others. The Dalish growled. Perhaps they'd have to hack this thing to bits to put it back to sleep. That was fine by him. He had hardly finished the thought, however, when the former magister summoned forth a spell directed at Ithilian. A ball of energy grew in power just behind him, and Ithilian felt himself immediately being pulled towards it as though gravity had simply changed its natural course. He struggled against it, gripping the corners of stones in the floor to get better leverage, and forcefully pulling himself away.

Too soon, however, the spell exploded behind him, a forceful blast sending him flying to the side, his bow slipping from his grasp as he skidded along the floor a short ways. He'd put enough distance between himself and the spell to significantly lessen the damage, and as such, it was really only his pride that was injured by being tossed about by the mockery of a magister. The corpses descended on him before he could even rise to his feet, hacking down at him with ancient weaponry. He barely drew his knives in time to parry, before rolling away and scrambling to his feet, hacking the head clean off the corpse before him. He ducked under an incoming arrow, slashed an arm off another attacker, moving swiftly to ensure he was not surrounded. The arcane horror seemed content to let its minions deal with the elf, as no further spells came his way. He could only assume it had turned its attention on Amalia, or reentered the shield that had protected it.

Amalia wasn't in much of a position to do anything about the Arcane Horror aiming for Ithilian, as she still had three more skeletons to deal with at the time. Still, even as she parried an incoming swing with her poniard, using her other hand to grab the empty ribcage of the skeleton and yank it forward to break its lower spine over her knee, she registered the sound of a much more substantial body colliding with stone, and the clatter of wood as he presumably lost hold of his bow. Her lips compressed into a thin line, small but obvious evidence of displeasure, even as she caught the telltale dull roar of flames being conjured to life. The former magister was doubtless aiming for her now, and she needed to think fast. The Qunari's odd eyes flicked quickly over her two remaining menaces, and she grabbed the nearest one, earning herself a stab wound to the side in the process when a longsword sliced through her thin armor and into the right half of her abdomen.

Nevertheless, she pivoted, forcing the corpse to come along as she swung about in a half-circle, and as soon as the fireball hit the creature, she stabbed backwards with her knife, wrenching upwards to gut what flesh remained on the last of them. Ithilian, she could tell, was mobbed by many of the others, but they were slow and he was not. Of greater danger was the thing being allowed to throw spells about with impunity, and she was halfway to invisible, tucking her knife-handle between her teeth and drawing her chain, when it teleported, reappearing with a resounding noise perhaps three feet from her person. The disorienting spell it fired off caused her to stagger, unable to slip into stealth, and she was completely visible and at its mercy.

The ice that crawled its way up her left foot was some clue as to what was going on, and thankfully enough the biting chill was all she needed to regain her senses, and Amalia tugged, trying to free herself. The frost cracked, but did not give, and she was forced to the conclusion that unless she disrupted it, the problem would only grow worse. Her first chain toss went slightly wide when her side twinged in painful protest of the motion, still bleeding freely, though not particularly copiously. It would have to be ignored. The ice was up to her knee by the time she threw again, but this time she was much more sucessful, managing to wrap the length of linked chain several times about the Arcane Horror and pinning its arms to its sides. Its motion was now, more or less, hers to control. A precise toss of her knife embedded the weapon in the thing's other eye socket, but the arrow sticking out of the first had been enough to inform her that this alone would not be sufficient.

The corpses of the elven workers could not be simply ignored, even if Amalia had her hands entirely full with the magister, and so Ithilian steeled himself, going to work. "Souver'inan isala hamin," he spoke to the corpses as he tore into them, twin blades a flurry as he dodged, parried, countered, hacked limb from limb without hesitation. "Na melana sahlin." If there was any kind of release to be given to them from this, then he would see it done. At the very least, this demon had made a mockery of their deaths, and what was wrong needed to be put right.

His purpose clear, he blocked out the rest of the room, perhaps the rest of the world, as he tore the unwilling skeletal warriors to bits. If they wounded him, he did not feel it, or did not care. In short time, the last in the immediate area fell, Ithilian breathing heavily, but steadily. Given some room to breathe and work, the Dalish quickly went to retrieve his bow, seeing as the Qunari had gained some amount of control over the arcane horror. He quickly fired off a few arrows, each hitting the creature in a different area, and it struggled viciously against the chain restraining it.

A snarl forming on his lips, Ithilian drew steadily closer, walking towards the arcane horror, loosing arrows into it all the while. It was clearly weakening, and once both of its enemies were in range, electricity bristled from its fingertips, and even with its hands at its sides, it was able to cast the chain lightning spell, directing it at Ithilian. Spells were not an easy thing to dodge, and so Ithilian soon found himself roaring in pain and momentarily stunned as lightning coursed through his body, sending him to a knee before it arced away towards Amalia. Thoroughly annoyed at this point, Ithilian drew both his blades, intent on closing the distance. He wanted to see if this damn thing could keep casting spells without a head.

When the chain lightning rebounded towards her, Amalia had the sudden thought that ancient Tevinter must have been sorely lacking in scientific knowledge. "This is going to hurt you just as much as it hurts me," she murmured dryly, not even attempting to dodge the incoming bolt.

A Qunari scientist had once conducted an experiment involving lightning and metal. She imagined that it must have been much less painful, though perhaps no more informative, than this was about to be. Clamping her jaw shut so as not to bite her tongue off, Amalia tightened her grip on her chain and waited. It was... about as excruciating as she was expecting, give or take a few pins and needles. As it was, she was mercifully spared from the indignity of a very feminine scream by the fact that she was rather prepared for the endeavor. Not so for the former magister, and even as the energy from the bolt traveled from her body up her unconventional weaponry, leaving her numb and her skin tingling uncomfortably, she watched what must have passed for its musculature seize up, locking it in place as it was hit with its own spell.

She was not so foolish, and dropped the chain immediately, just in case.

The magister's spell had rebounded against it, and Ithilian would make certain to take advantage of the opening. He bolted forward, flipped his blades around backwards in his hands, and threw himself into the air upon reaching the creature, the same move he had used against the abomination the other day, but this time it was much more effective. The arcane horror released a shriek as the Dalish's weapons plunged into its chest, and it went down, chains still wrapped around its body. Even still, it thrashed against him, trying to muster up the mana for another spell.

Snarling, Ithilian ripped his right blade free from the chest, plunging it down just above the bridge of the creature's nose, the blade tearing through the skull between where the eybrows had been, to burst out the back end of the head, only stopping when the point of the blade was stopped by the stone of the ground. Still the thing struggled, refusing to die.

The elf was more or less lost to rage at this point, pulling the left blade free and plunging down through the chest several more times. "Ar... tu... na'din!" He shouted at it, the final word accompanying a horizontal slice across the neck, taking the arcane horror's head clean off, leaving it speared and stuck on Ithilian's other sword, and forcing the body to finally stop moving beneath him. Well, that answered that question. Indeed, the magister could not cast spells without a head.

He was still for a moment, breathing heavily, staring down at the arcane horror with his one remaining eye, at the severed head that still remained upon his blade. It was certainly no justice for those that had died here, and hardly what one could call vengeance, but perhaps he had given them some measure of peace. It would have to do. He stood slowly, looking about for any further threats, but the horror seemed to have been the source of them. Amalia seemed well enough, though there was the matter of the bleeding wound she had sustained, but Ithilian suspected she would be fine. He was done underestimating her. Instead, he moved back to the pile of bodies he had created, the corpses of the elven slaves. He gripped the head of the magister with a powerful hand, wrenching it free from the blade, and tossing it at their feet, before crouching down at their feet and speaking quietly.

"Vir sulahn'nehn. Vir dirthera. Vir samahl la numin. Vir lath sa'vunin. In uthenera na revas."

Amalia didn't need to speak Elvish to understand the general direction this one-sided conversation was taking. She couldn't say she shared the sentiment, particularly, mostly becuase she didn't make it her business to deal in sentiment at all, but she also didn't feel the need to be rude about it. So instead, she made herself useful, checking over her wound with a clinical eye. The first few layers of skin were sliced relatively cleanly, though she would not discount infection as a possibility given the amount of time these weapons must have been down here. It certainly didn't give off the impression of sterility, if indeed the ancients had actually known what that was in the first place. Somehow, she doubted it. The cut was about five inches long, and bleeding, though not profusely.

After a minor internal debate, Amalia shrugged and withdrew a vial from one of the pouches at her belt. Pulling out the stopper with her teeth, she downed the red concoction inside in one swallow, replacing the glass in a different compartment. It smarted rather badly, all things considered, but it was certainly better than the mix of yellowish pus and blood she'd be dealing with if the wound was left on its own and did take on too much dirt.

Waiting until she was fairly sure Ithilian was done speaking to corpses, the Qunari cocked her head to the side and spoke. "Injured?" She didn't have too many potions on her at present, but there was certainly one to be spared if he happened to need it. They did no good just sitting there, after all.

Ithilian didn't know what Qunari did with their dead, but he was glad at least that she hadn't interrupted him. Satisfied as he was going to get, the Dalish rose smoothly, sliding his blades back into their sheaths, his face rather devoid of any emotion, which was perhaps an improvement from the typical glare or frown or snarl of annoyance or hatred. "I'm fine," he responded to Amalia. The skeletons hadn't done anything major to him, and though the chain lightning spell was causing the muscles in his back to occasionally twinge in pain, there was little to be done about that but wait for it to pass. Amalia, as he expected, was fine, and the only remaining threat was this fugitive, who Ithilian couldn't imagine was more dangerous than the arcane horror, a pride demon possessing the deceased form of a magistrate.

"Let's be done with this," he suggested, moving onwards. Though the horror had made this room its home, the door was open to them to explore further. Perhaps the creature had simply been drawn to this place for the weakness in the Veil here, and refused to venture elsewhere. Or perhaps the fugitive had somehow controlled it or made a deal with it, and arranged for it to wait here for them. Either way, Ithilian suspected they weren't quite done yet, and he drew his bow, nocking an arrow in it as the pair ventured further into the ruins of the mine.

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia
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Picking her chain up from where it had fallen on the ground, Amalia wound it around her hand and elbow until it rested in an even coil, then fastened it to a quick-release leather loop at her back, adjusting the strap that cut diagonally across her chest from shoulder to hip. From the horror’s head, she extracted her poniard, wiping the blade relatively clean on a scrap of fabric from its beheaded body before stowing it in her boot-sheath.

But a single door stood open before them, the other possible exit blocked by too much rubble to have possibly seen recent use. “Convenient,” she murmured, a hint of a sarcastic drawl coloring the barely-muffled syllables. As Ithilian had expressed his desire to move on, she wasted no time inquiring further, and covered the intervening distance in long strides. She could not shake the feeling that they were drawing close to the end of this endeavor, and also that her role in it was even closer to a termination. She had not come here to kill the fugitive, after all.

The door led them into another hallway, the earth-red tiles running in between more streams of lava, the heat these released causing sweat to bead at her brow and between her shoulderblades, where it trickled slowly down her back. Looking for any length of time over to either side brought about a shimmering effect in the air, as the warmth radiated ever upwards. They must be deep underground, for the magma to be present. Why anyone would want to mine anything here was beyond her; all one was likely to find was porous stone and occasionally those compressed ones with little practical use but much aesthetic appeal. Diamonds- the Qunari made scarce use of them, and even then only for their durability.

Another two turns, and at least these rooms were moderately cooler. They seemed almost to be spiraling inwards, but they encountered no more hostility. What- or rather who they did meet caused the Ben-Hassrath’s eyes to widen just marginally for a moment, and underneath the covering on the lower half of her face, her lips pursed. Sataareth.” drawing his attention, she pointed at the half-prone form some distance away on the floor, what appeared to be a small female elf.

Amalia herself remained slightly behind, watching the area with wary eyes. She was more than satisfied leaving Ithilian to do most of the talking. It was not, expressly, what she associated with her inner determination of his closest Qunari analogue, but even she realized the name she called him was not perfect. Besides, the alternative was to do it herself, and she sometimes encountered… difficulty when communicating with people unsure of her due to either the shape of her ears or the carriage of her stride or else her relatively-impressive height, to say nothing of her brusque mannerisms.

Ithilian looked more like a deer catching sight of a hunter than a Dalish upon seeing the elven girl, but he managed to set his face quickly. He hadn't expected this. This hadn't been a rescue mission; it was simple vengeance, clean and clear. The girl before him was a beautiful child, just at the beginnings of growing into a woman, perhaps no more than twelve or thirteen, with short, dark brown hair pulled into ponytails behind her. She opened her eyes upon hearing the two approaching, big blue orbs that widened further upon seeing visitors. Ithilian sheathed his weapons, well aware that his appearance alone could scare her, as it had scared some children back in the Alienage.

The girl rose, taking a few tentative steps towards them. Though Ithilian did not distinctly remember her face, it was possible that she remembered seeing him about the Alienage, as she spoke towards him rather than Amalia. "Please, can you get me out of here? I just want to go home." Ithilian was unsure of himself for a moment. How was he supposed to handle this? It had been so long since he'd truly interacted with a child of his kind. Most just steered clear of him. "Lia?" was all he could think to ask, to confirm what he was seeing.

She nodded. Ithilian found his eyes falling to her feet. "Your father believed you were dead." She took a step forward at the mention of Elren. "My father? Is he safe? Kelder said that he'd hurt my family if I didn't come with him..." Upon hearing that, Ithilian was reminded of his purpose here. "This Kelder is the one that took you?" he asked, slightly more harshly, though his anger was obviously directed at the human, and not the girl. She nodded again.

Was she injured? It didn't appear so. She seemed alright, if a little shaken, which was certainly understandable for a small girl having just been kidnapped by a murderer. In fact, Ithilian was somewhat surprised she was functioning at all, given what he assumed she had been through. "Are you injured?" he asked bluntly, at which point she averted her eyes. "He hit me, told me I was nothing. I begged him to stop hurting me. I didn't think he would, but out of nowhere, he pushed me away and just... started crying." She paused, before meeting Ithilian's eyes. "Don't you see? He didn't mean to hurt me! He told me! There are demons, they make him do these horrible things!"

Ithilian crossed his arms, narrowing his gaze at her and studying her. She seemed to believe what she was saying, but that was hardly a deciding factor. And regardless of whether or not this human was in control of his actions, he was killing elven girls, and for that he had to die. Ithilian would not tolerate attacks like that. "Is he a mage? Are these demons with him now? Do you know how many?" It was purely a tactical question. Demons were dangerous enemies, as the arcane horror had just demonstrated. Lia shook her head, however.

"I... don't know. I didn't actually see any of them. But Kelder told me to run, to get away so they couldn't make him hurt me anymore. Please don't kill him, it's not his fault! Please..." Ithilian slowly shook his head. "I can't, da'len. The shem has killed others before you. Demons or no, vengeance is demanded. It will... protect you, and others. He can't be allowed to hurt anyone else." She shook her head. "No! He won't fight you, you'll see! Don't just kill him!"

"You'll understand someday. It has to be this way. The way out is clear, and your father awaits at the entrance. Go to him." his tone was... surprisingly fatherly. Stern, strict, carrying a sense that he was not to be argued with, and yet still retaining some sense of caring. Lia looked as though she wanted to resist further, but gave in under Ithilian's gaze, pushed her way by him, and made for the exit. Ithilian watched her go, before looking to Amalia, who had remained silent throughout the discussion. "That was... unexpected. You still with me? The way it looks, our killer is either a possessed mage, or an insane madman."

He was looking forward to slitting the shem's throat. Something to clear from his mind whatever memories that little girl had dredged up.

Though she kept her distance, ostensibly occupied with staring into space, there was a telltale crinkle at the corner of Amalia's eyes that on anyone else would have signified a smile, minus the actual tilt of the mouth. She watched the girl pass without comment, raising a golden eyebrow at Ithilian's inquiry. "You still need ask? Nothing has yet changed my mind about assisting you, and I am not here to kill the man as you are. What he is or is not doesn't concern me." She shrugged lightly, but added another observation, simply because it had occurred to her. "You are more Sataareth than you realize."

Ithilian studied her for a moment before speaking. "Perhaps I was once... but nothing of that time remains save for memory. It seems that's all my people are destined to do. Remember." He turned away, his face settling into a more familiar scowl, something between annoyance and anguish. He thought he was starting to figure out what that word meant. If he was correct, then it had indeed been true... in a time that felt like another life at this point. "Let's go," he said darkly, setting off again. "A shem needs a blade in his eye." They moved further in, encountering no resistance, but even still, Ithilian found himself sliding one of his blades from a sheath.

He found his quarry not far from where they found Lia, sitting on the ground, leaning against a pillar in the room they'd entered. A hood covered most of his face, but from the way he was dressed, Ithilian instantly recognized him as nobility. No man from Lowtown could afford such lavish garb. As Lia predicted, he did not immediately resist, but rather simply cast a glance Ithilian's way. He seemed to have resigned himself. "I knew someone would come eventually. I was hoping the beasts down here would get to me first." Ithilian studied him for a minute, narrowing his gaze at the sitting human. "We had to carve our way through them to reach you, shem. You must have had to run from them to reach this place. Why not simply let them kill you, if that was what you wanted?"

"Killing oneself is not so simple, I'm afraid. I... couldn't do it. But it's what I deserve. I should be torn apart, forgotten down here. Not protected by my father." Ithilian ran a finger along the edge of his blade, viewing the human before him as so much meat. "This would have been a lot simpler had you just knocked on my door. Or Elren's. Or any of the fathers of the girls you've killed. I'd have gladly ended it for you then. I'm still going to kill you now... I'd just like to understand first."

He stood at Ithilian's words. "Wait... my father didn't send you? He didn't send you to rescue me? Then... you came to kill me?" The Dalish nodded. "I am an instrument of vengeance, shem. It's what I do." It was unclear whether Kelder looked relieved, or frightened. "I had thought for certain that my father would drag me out of here. He's a magistrate, and he sought to cover up what I've done for years now." Ithilian almost snorted at that. Typical of the shemlen in this city. Charged with the protection of all within the city, including the elves, and yet he allows a killer to remain free and hidden because his exposure would make him look bad.

Kelder turned and took a few steps away. "Father is a good man. He tried to help, to stop me. But he can't... no one can. That elf girl. She had no right to be so beautiful, so perfect. The demons said she needed to be taught a lesson, like all the others. The Circle was supposed to help me, but they lied! They said there were no demons, that I was mad. This isn't my fault." To say Ithilian was looking skeptical at this point was quite the understatement. "Can even a shem be so blind? Your demons are the callings of a sick mind. You're simply broken." He sighed tiredly. "I'm not mad... but I suppose it doesn't matter what you think, if you're going to kill me regardless. Just... can you tell my father that I'm sorry? For everything?" Ithilian looked at him for one long moment before speaking.

"No."

His blade stabbed upward in a heartbeat, piercing under the chin and stabbing up through the brain, out the top of the skull, the way he had executed Danzig. In an instant Kelder was still, and Ithilian ripped the blade out, allowing the body to topple to the ground. He wiped the blade off on the man's Hightown made pants, before turning to leave. "He deserved worse... but the Dread Wolf will have something waiting for him, I'm sure."

"If it suits you to think so," the Qunari replied neutrally. She frowned lightly, looking down at the body with something approaching curiosity. Madmen, truly mentally unsound individuals, were rather rare as far as she knew. At least she had not run into many. Given that her job often consisted of reeducating those that strayed from the Qun, she suspected that she probably had some authority with which to proclaim as much. She briefly entertained the thought that the man was under the influence of something like saa-qemek, but discarded it nearly immediately. The Arishok had no reason to do so, and it was only on his authority that the stores the Qunari presently possessed could be distributed. She alone of those in this city joined the Antaam's craftsman in understanding the process of its manufacture. Perhaps, then, it was simply a natural defect.

The product of inbreeding among the classes of nobility, like as not. It was something of a problem in unregulated human populations, or so she was given to understand. Aware that her examination would have to be left incomplete, she pivoted neatly and followed after Ithilian, tightly-bound braid swishing steadily behind her.

The two exited to the beginning of twilight outside, but it seemed that all of those who had been present when they entered were still so, and she was expecting opposition. Truthfully, she could not say she thought the guards courageous enough to try tackling a strangely-dressed woman and someone as obvously-hostile as her companion, but who could say? Ithilian's oft ill-chosen words could spark a confrontation for all she knew; humans and elves were moved to violence in ways she still did not fully understand.

Ithilian's eye narrowed against the sunlight, and the sight of the shemlen guards. There was clearly some confusion among them, likely caused by the fact that a small elven girl had emerged from the ruins only moments ago. Elren was still checking his daughter for the life threatening injury he was certain she had somewhere, while a few of the guards were looking to their leader for some kind of direction. All eyes turned to Ithilian and Amalia as they appeared, however. The leader among them took center again, approaching. "Where's the fugitive?"

That was indeed the question. Ithilian had not been honest about his intentions upon arriving here, caring little what these men thought or did, or even caring if he had to carve his way through them to reach his quarry. His lip curled into a snarl as he was about to lash out verbally at the man, but catching Lia's eyes just before had a clear effect on him. He could not risk a confrontation, not here. These men posed little risk to Amalia and himself, but the girl and her father were another story. He forced his anger to cool; it was an unusual feeling, one he hadn't felt in some time.

"The fugitive lies dead, slain by my hand. His body is located in a chamber not far from the central room. You may collect it if you wish." The look on the guard's face was first one of incredulity, that Ithilian had killed the fugitive himself, rather than the monsters within the mine, but also that the elf was honest about it. Ithilian would have lied... but he wanted Lia to know the truth, if no one else. He would see to it that she understood this someday. "You care to explain your reasoning, elf?" The guard spat, clearly dissatisfied. Ithilian crossed his arms, keeping his temper under control.

"He had a broken mind. He was incapable of preventing himself from hurting more innocents. He wished death for himself, and I granted it to him. No more elven children will be taken by his insanity." The guard shook his head. "True as that may be... well, I feel as bad about the death of one of your kind as much as the next man. But going against the magistrate's direct orders? That's true madness, right there."

"My task here is done. If you'll excuse us," he said, moving around the guard and towards Lia and her father. It was clear that the Dalish was struggling to keep his blades sheathed at this point, particularly since the man had just valued following the orders of a politician over stopping a murderer. He gestured with his hand for Elren to follow him and Amalia. The girl followed Ithilian with her eyes, clearly shaken by his actions and the ordeal altogether. But there was still a certain... admiration, there. It wasn't often elves were shown a display of strength of the likes that Ithilian could perform.

The Chanter's Board has been updated. Magistrate's Orders has been completed.

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia
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There was no music coming from beneath the vhenadahl today. Ithilian was somewhat surprised that he found that odd. He'd become rather used to the Qunari woman's presence, something he wouldn't have imagined when he'd arrived in the city. She had been a simple shem then, nothing more than a nuisance to be removed from their pitiful home. Several eventful excursions later, however, and he had a new view on her, one he had not developed of a human in... well, a very, very long time. But, he supposed that was because she wasn't human. She was Qunari, as she said. And perhaps that really did make the difference.

Lia appeared from behind the great tree when the Dalish approached. He hadn't seen her. They met eyes for a moment, before the young girl looked down, and proceeded to scurry off towards her home. He thought for a moment about calling out to her, but thought better of it. It was still too soon for her to understand. She needed time. He had needed time as well. Far more than Lia would, he hoped...

Feeling as though the lack of music in the center of the Alienage was a problem that needed to be dealt with, Ithilian let his eyes fall on a small wooden instrument that had been left there, a communal item belonging to the village as a whole rather than any one person. He had played the flute once, and been quite good at it, in fact. Perhaps the talent still remained. Easing himself down to lean back against the solid support of the tree, Ithilian took the flute in hand and examined. It was certainly not of the kind of quality that the crafters in a Dalish clan could create. No ironbark, no detailed engravings, and yet it was created by skilled hands, that much he could tell.

He felt a small breeze pass under the tree, carrying as always the stench of the factories rather than the scent of the wild, but he paid it no mind, put his lips to the flute, and began an old song he knew, one his Keeper had taught him personally, in a time that Ithilian was quite certain was another life entirely...

Amalia was presently doing her best impression of a stone statue, standing unmoving in the middle of a Darktown hovel belonging to a too-large family of Ferelden refugees. Normally, she would not have bothered being here at all, for the plight of expatriots was not her problem to deal with, but as it happened, the oldest son of this particular brood had converted to the Qun. As he was still counted a child, he was exactly her problem.

His family was insufferable.

Her long fingers clenched slightly about her upper arms. She'd been maintaining the diffident cross of both limbs over her chest for the better par of half an hour, while she waited for the angry and hysterical parents to stop sniveling and get to the point. Her questions had been met with only incredulous stares or hateful remarks followed by more needless emotional displays, and so she'd simply ceased to ask them. If they did not come around to the actual reason for calling her here soon, she'd instruct them on the merits of brevity the hard way. Until then, she made the honest effort to leave open as many alternatives as possible.

"None of this would have happened if it wasn't for you damn Qunari and your heresy!" This was the father, and it was about the seventh time he'd said that. She'd stopped counting after five. He clenched his fists ineffectually, looking very much like he wated to strike her, but the fact that half her face was obscured and the eyes remaining to his sight were narrowed and completely without fear was enough to stay him. The wisest decision he'd made in a while, she suspected. "Our son, our boy Finn, he's gone!"

"And where did Athlok disappear from?" Amalia repeated, pointedly.

"That's not his name!" The mother shrilled, and the Qunari felt her legend-worthy patience giving way.

Her next words were clipped, thick with condescension of an angry kind, and razor-edged. "You can scream and wail and correct me, or you can do the only useful thing you bas seem to be capable of and tell me where he went. It is I who will track him, I who will find him, and I who will bring him back to this cesspool of filth you dare to call a home and praise your uncaring hissra for!" Though the words were scarcely above a hiss in volume, they had a notable impact. The male's face grew ever redder, fading into a shade of purple, and the woman flinched as though each iteration of the first-person hit her like a lash. Just as well it would have; Amalia's knife would have stung more painfully, and she would not hesitate if that was what it took to find the viddethari.

At this, a younger woman- girl, really- piped up. "Brother went to work in the Bone Pit," she said, the name of the place dropping from her tongue wth what seemed great difficulty. "He said... he said his role was to work, and that Hubert was the only one who would take him."

"Hubert?" The Qunari's mouth dropped, unseen, into a scowl Ithilian might have appreciated. She knew of the man, and now understood the family's emotional state. Athlok had misinterpreted his directive, and sought to find work anywhere he could get it. She met evenly the glares of the parents and spoke slowly, her equanimity regained. "The Qun would not codemn its greatest criminal to work of that kind." She'd know; she'd see many a Qunari work camp. Nodding to the girl, she ignored the others and left.

There were dark rumors about the Bone Pit; she had a feeling deep in her gut that she'd be in need of assistance. She considered asking Aurora, but the young Saarebas was not quite yet ready, perhaps, at least not for Amalia to feel comfortable calling upon her. That left exactly one person, and she smiled beneath her muffler. Ithilian may not care for her 'shemlen' charge, but he was bound to feel inclined to rid himself of a debt she'd never bother calling upon. Maybe, in a way, that meant she was.



She found him under the tree, in her usual spot, apparently whiling away the time in her preferred way, though his instrument of choice was one she left alone. She approached moderately, but with purpose in her tread. Stopping a good few feet from him, she inclined her head and waited, leaning back against the vhenadahl a few feet from where he was sitting.

The song wound its way down to a low, melancholy final note, finishing its tale. Ithilian had drawn no spectators as the Qunari was often able to do. Valued as he was becoming among the elven community, he was still certainly not on a personal friendship level with the majority of the people. It was partly his fault, of course, as he did not see the point in getting to know the many meek and helpless elves here, those he still couldn't help but consider to be wholly lost. He gave Amalia a nod of greeting, lowering the flute into his lap.

"Aneth ara. It's been some time since I've played. I had thought for a moment that I would not remember the song in its entirety, but it came back to me as I played. Seems the People do not forget easily." But forget they do, eventually, he thought to himself. Setting the flute aside, he rose smoothly to his feet. "Something you wanted to discuss?"

"The mind oft forgets, but some say it is best left to the soul to remember." She was paraphrasing, really, but it was an embedded thing, a piece of her childhood encapsulated in a phrase. Whether anything of it was relevant or understood was beside the point; it was an offering, even if only she knew so. Of course, for all a Qunari could be obtuse, she could also be direct, and his question was given a short nod. "I would ask something, were you willing. Ordinarily, the task would be undertaken with the asistance of another Ben-Hassrath, but here, there are none. A Sataareth is not so far. Might I request this of you?" She pushed herself off the tree, letting her arms unfold. This was not the collection of a debt- she hoped he would understand that.

Collection or no, however, Ithilian felt the need to pay. Especially with how... surprisingly well their last foray had turned out. He wasn't sure why he felt rescuing Lia from that mine had been so important, but he was starting to forget that he'd gone there not to save her, but to rid the world of a sick-minded shem. And he liked forgetting that part. Perhaps it was just the novelty of it. No doubt it would wear off in a few days time, and he'd go back to fletching more barbed arrows rather than remembering to play the flute.

"Is there some trouble? The Alienage has been quiet." His thoughts had immediately gone to the guards from the trouble earlier. Ithilian had realized that perhaps he should have thought his entrance through more thoroughly. He had humiliated them and caused them to fail in the task their superior had given them. And while the Dalish cared not for their feelings or their pride, when it potentially put someone other than himself in danger, it made things more... complicated. It was something he hadn't had to worry about for some time.

"Yes," she replied, answering both the question and the statement with the same syllable. "The matter concerns Athlok, one of the viddethari, our converts. He dwells still with his human family, in Darktown. They came to me because he was missing and they believed me responsible." At this, her brows drew together, a faint line forming between them. As though she would stoop to something as dishonorable as kidnapping, and for what? They'd produced no motive other than her simple existence. "Under questioning, his sister finally admitted what she knew: he has gone to seek work under Hubert, an Orlesian merchant who hires Fereldan refugees. He sends them to work in the Bone Pit."

She paused a moment, both because she suspected that name would hold some significance for him and also because she was trying to decide exactly how to say what she wished to get across. "Athlok misinterpreted his imperative. I... If there is anyone to blame for this, it is I, as his teacher. He did not return from his shift several days ago. I intend to find him, and this will most likely involve confronting Hubert. If I know anything about him- I do- it will probably also mean a visit to the mine."

The Qunari exhaled softly. Speeches were not her strong suit, but she'd felt it necessary to lay out as much of the information as she had. He may not wish to assist one he saw as human, even if the distinction meant nothing to her. He also might not care to visit a place so steeped in ill history for his own people, though the previous trip into danger quite nearly dismissed that concern entirely. Still, she would not let it be said or thought that she misled without reason, or for her own ends only. Amalia fell still then, though her silence was expectant. What she expected was as inscrutable as ever.

Ithilian was not familiar with every merchant that operated out of Hightown, and even though this Hubert and the elves with which Ithilian tried to concern himself with did not often cross paths, even still he had heard of the man. He'd heard of the Bone Pit first, the supposedly accursed mine outside of the city, one of the many in the area. It was rather big news when the Orlesian merchant had finally built up the guts to buy it, something no one else had been willing to do. He had filled up his workforce by taking advantage of the desperate Ferelden refugees fleeing from the Blight in the south. It could have been seen as charity, giving work to those that sorely needed it, or possibly as greed, giving work to those that would demand the least coin in return. Ithilian was willing to wager it was the latter.

This Athlok they were to retrieve was a concept he was still struggling to wrap his head around. It was difficult to learn a culture by simply observing one of its members, not even in her homeland. But he was able to gather that they were seeking a human, one who had converted to her Qun, or at least desired to. From the way she described him, it seemed to Ithilian as though he was still more shem than Qunari. No wonder, with the family she spoke of. Perhaps Amalia would be able to turn the human into something more useful if he were to survive under the Qun. It was preferable to his existence in Darktown, no doubt.

"We should drag him back, then, so that you might educate him better. I... would like to get out of the Alienage, anyway. It's been long enough since I've threatened a shem." He didn't really know why he added that other justification at the end. Helping her was enough, wasn't it? Certainly a good enough reason to get out of the Alienage, which he did want to do. He wasn't sure how much he would care for threatening more shemlen. Perhaps it would just be tiring at this point. In any case, he was willing to find out.

Amalia hooked her index and middle fingers over her muffler, tugging it down until it rested against her collarbones like any other scarf. The gesture revealed the wry twist to her mouth, and she shook her head just slightly. "You can certainly glare death at him if you choose, but Hubert is no madman nor Lowtown merchant. Indiscretion will be our enemy here, and if there is to be any, the ire will be drawn by the mighty army dockside, not by the innocent denizens of the Alienage. It is only fit that we defend our own, and bear the blows we must for doing so." She had no desire to draw the ire of the wealthy Hightown humans at all, but actions did not always carry the consequences one intended them to have. If there was backlash, it would be much more softly-leveled against her people than the ones hidden away in this dank corner of the city. She might not be a Kirkwallian in any sense of the term, but Amalia was no fool- she knew the score. The Qunari scared these weak-willed noblemen half to death already, whereas the elves they consigned to these corners were little more than refuse beneath their feet.

"Ma nuvenin, Amalia. Discretion it is. Perhaps you should do most of the talking, in that case," Ithilian said, the corner of his lips twitching upwards for a moment. He of course still remembered their encounter with the merchant Vincento. Apparently the approach of threatening to gut the subject wouldn't be as effective here.

If she'd been pressed, Amalia would have been forced to acknowledge an inconsistency. In accordance with her present logic, she had no reason to involve herself with Feynriel's disappearance, nor with the case of Lia and the magistrate's son. There was an answer to that charge, but she was much less certain of it than she was of other things. By extension, it made her uncomfortable, and even as it flickered across her mind's eye now, she straightened, the surprisingly-gentle amusement vanishing from her features as though it had never been there at all. "Meravas," she murmured, as if to herself. "My gratitude, Sataareth."

Ithilian nodded, not really sure what to do with the thanks. This conversation was... so much different from the first one they'd had, when assisting Feynriel's mother. He gestured with his head towards his home, eager to be off now that they had agreed on a course of action. "I'll just grab my gear, and we'll go pay this shem a visit."

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia
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It seemed her meeting with the Grey Warden was paying off already.

Sophia had received a brief missive from Nostariel, suggesting she speak with the owner of the Bone Pit mine, Hubert. An Orlesian setting up shop in Hightown among the nobles, looking to make his fortune by salvaging one of the old and lost (and rumored to be cursed) mines. Sophia certainly wasn't interested in helping the man become rich, as he had certainly already taken care of that if he had bought out the Bone Pit, and filled it with workers. According to Nostariel, however, it was the workers who were in need of aid. They were missing. Apparently they were, for the most part, refugees from Fereldan, desperate for work, and willing to stoop to the undoubtedly awful wages Hubert offered them. Sophia had to admit, it seemed possible they'd simply abandoned the man and his mine, but she was willing to investigate nonetheless. She trusted the Warden wouldn't send her on a needless errand.

She'd slipped out of the Keep unnoticed by Bran this time, glad to avoid his disapproving head shakes, dressed in a somewhat lighter set of armor this time, light plating over a suit of chainmail, a crimson skirt flowing down to her knees, Vesenia sheathed across her back as ever. She'd had the foresight to bring a few other weapons this time, considering the near disaster on the Wounded Coast, when she'd momentarily been disarmed by the mercenary leader, Ginnis. A shortsword was sheathed at her waist, and the dagger from the trip to the Hanged Man still sheathed in her boots. Her hair was once again pulled back into a ponytail.

The Viscount's daughter made her way to the market, where she had been directed. Hubert was not a hard man to find, and Sophia had more than enough experience to pick out his strong Orlesian accent from the crowd of merchants. He did seem so intent on selling his wares today, as well, no doubt preoccupied by his troubles as he was. She strode directly towards him until she had his attention.

"I hear you've been looking for help," she offered, coming to a halt, "something about the Bone Pit?" He appeared as though a physical weight had been lifted from his chest when she mentioned help. "Finally, someone comes to help me," he gave her a look-over, then, and appeared somewhat less relieved. "You... look a bit unseasoned, but I hope you will do!" It occurred to Sophia that this man did not know who she was. He likely hadn't been in Kirkwall for long. She found it immediately refreshing, and planned to keep it that way.

It was just a little bit apalling, how easy it was to mark the wealth of a certain area's residents just by the look of the buildings. Oh, there was no denying that Hightown was possessed of beautiful (if austere) architecture, but Amalia was more preoccupied by the fact that this was allowed to exist at the same time as Darktown. Within a mile, no less! Humans confused her, there was no denying that. They'd just climbed the stairs to the Hightown market, both looking about as unsuited to be there as it was possible to look. Amalia's manner of dress was probably scandalous, and Ithilian was a scowling, one-eyed, armed elf. This was more satisfying than troubling to her, anyway.

She'd been told that Hubert was an Orlesian who ran a stall here, though exactly what he sold, she did not know. As long as he didn't attempt to tell her exactly what she wanted as the Antivan had, she didn't really care, either. A breeze carried the sound of voices to her, and Amalia paused, cocking her head to one side. That accent... the male was Orlesian, the female local. He might be exactly the one they were looking for. Passing a dwarf with a small enchanting table, Amalia wove past a couple of pillars and emerged into both the sunlight and the market proper. Able to see the speakers now, she noted quickly tha one appeared to be midle-aged and indeed the proprietor of something, while the woman was substantialy younger, dressed in armor but still clearly of this area. It was irrelevant.

Some observation about the woman was made, but Amalia had no time to stand and wait patiently for her turn. There was a life at stake, a life she was responsible for. "Bas. You have information I require. Where is your Bone Pit, and what has happened there?"

Hubert at first looked slightly startled by the woman's tone, and then rather offended. Sophia had raised her eyebrows and crossed her arms, and Ithilian stayed a pace or two back, consciously reminding himself to keep his hands away from his weapons, and looking about to identify the positions of all the guards in the area. No doubt they would take offense to his presence if he remained here too long. Amalia would likely be politely asked to leave, being human, at least by their standards, but he had a gut feeling they wouldn't be so gentle with an obviously armed and clearly disgruntled elf.

"What happened?" Hubert said, raising his voice ever so slightly. "I had to suspend my operations, that's what happened! My workers are lost, or... have run off, or something! Serves me right for hiring Fereldan refugees." Sophia was clearly still maintaining her patience with the man, and her tone was not nearly so demanding as Amalia's. "So you have no information on what's gone wrong at the mine?" He shook his head. "I sent others before, but no word. Perhaps they are putting me off... in any case, I need someone competent to figure out what is going on."

"And you can think of no reason your miners would want to abandon you, I'm assuming?" Ithilian offered from practically afar. It took a moment for Hubert to realize who was speaking to him, but he shrugged at the elf upon locating him. "I am at a loss. No miner has reported in, and no one will take me seriously. They fear local superstitions about the mine, but the Bone Pit is harmless, I am sure."

"I'll go to your mine then, and see what I can learn about your workers," Sophia offered, before turning to Amalia. "It seems you've some reason to investigate as well? I know the way, and I would welcome the assistance, if you would like to work together."

Amalia spent a moment or two longer than was strictly polite in silence, contemplating the offer. Heterochromatic eyes narrowed, contemplating Sophia as though she were some curious specimen under a magnifying glass, and the Qunari was looking for something in particular. From the fact that Ithilian hadn't immediately (and obviously) made his opinion known, she inferred that much as he would dislike it, he was going to leave the decision to her, something the Ben-Hassrath appreciated. She could not afford to waste resources in a situation where her enemies were as yet unknown, should there be any at all.

At last, she broke her moratorium on speech. "Merevas. If you know the way, I will follow." She did not speak of her purpose, nor did she speak for her companion. Even if the same could rarely be said of those that lived in this place, she at least respected boundaries. To Hubert, she offered only a cold stare. Harmless, indeed. Lying basra. She wasn't exactly surprised that this well-dressed woman didn't know the rumors surrounding the Bone Pit, nor what the working conditions were supposedly like, and she wasn't going to bother enlightening anyone. All of those things would be clear soon enough, after all.

"Ahem," Hubert tried to break in, holding up a hand slightly, "The reward would be split three ways if I'm to have a team investigate, not tripled. You should be aware of that, of course, and that you'll be paid based on what kind of troub--" But Sophia cut him off. "You may keep your coin, Hubert. I'm interested in the miners, not the mine." The Orlesian looked somewhat shocked, but wiped it away quickly enough. "Very well, then. Please hurry, though. Each day the mine is not running costs me more than those miners make in a year, after all."

Ithilian chose a rather interesting time to speak up. "I'll take my share of the reward, actually. The shem does not speak for me." Hubert sighed. "Yes, yes. We will discuss rewards upon your return, is that acceptable?" The elf nodded, clearly not wishing to deal with him further. "Take us to this mine then, len'alas. Like the man says, quickly now."

Not appearing intimidated by the heavily armed Dalish, Sophia gestured with her hand for them to follow. "This way, then. And you may call me Sophia, should you wish."

Ithilian almost smirked. He didn't. Len'alas would do.

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia
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"I don't believe I ever got your names," Sophia offered, if only to break the silence. How these two could stand it, she didn't know, but the walk to the Bone Pit had been more than long enough and more than quiet enough to become rather awkward, in Sophia's opinion. That and, well, it wouldn't hurt to get some basics down, right? If they were going to be working together on something that could potentially become dangerous, they should at least have something to call each other by.

"That's because I never gave you mine, shem," Ithilian shot back, eyes off the road as ever, searching for other threats. "But if you must, call me Sataareth. It apparently suits me." He didn't so much as glance in Amalia's direction, and certainly didn't intend to speak for her. It had been enough of a challenge for Ithilian to accept that he'd be working with this len'alas. He supposed another blade would be useful in the event that they were attacked, but that was about as much use as he could think of for her at the moment. He had his doubts she was even competent with the hunk of metal strapped across her back.

Sataareth. Sophia rolled the word around in her mind. It was certainly no word she'd ever heard before, but she would be the first to admit that was not too difficult to accomplish. To her shame, she had little understanding of the languages of other races, only those spoken by humans. She could tell by his appearance, however, that the elf was Dalish, or at least had been. She had never seen an elf so... well, confident, before. Also well armed. And the tattoo along his neck was something she was certain was a Dalish thing. Perhaps it was a Dalish word, then. It would work as well as any real name he had. The woman, however... Sophia didn't have the slightest clue who she was or where she came from. She could only hope she'd be willing to enlighten her.

Amalia's tread did not waver as Sophia's voice dropped words like stones into the stillness of their silence, but upon hearing Ithilian's response, the Qunari did something most unusual: she smiled. It was not an overt thing, and she flashed no teeth, but there was a definite, perceptible shift in the set of her mouth, as though she were contemplating some small, but complex secret and wondering slightly at its depth. On another face, it would have almost been a smirk, but not so here. Her eyes shifted almost slyly in the Sataareth's direction, but he was still looking about in that way the vigilant (or paranoid, but it was a thin difference to begin with) were inclined to do. He was playing games with the human woman, and she knew that, but it didn't seem to bring her any displeasure that he was using her words to do it.

"I am Ben-Hassrath, and I have need of no other name. It pleases some to call me Amalia, and you may do so if you are among them." She had not so much doubt as Ithilian did about Sophia's competence; she rcognized a warrior's tread when she saw (and heard) one. It continued to confound her that humans saw fit to place their women in such positions, but that itself was no mark against any one of them in particular. Anyone could, with proper work and training, become skilled in just about anything- this itself was not something the Qun denied.

The mountainous incline was beginning to level out, presumably as they approached the mine. The ground here was well-worn and gritty with the passage of countless feet, though it took them precariously-close to dropoffs that would likely kill if fallen from. Amalia was not naive, and she had no doubt more than one unfortunate had met his or her end in this way. Likely most of them were not accidents, either, but beyond a certain point it was all conjecture, and she wasn't about to bother when there were more concrete matters to be taken care of. There was, she noted, a rotten smell on the air, faintly but certainly. She suspected it might be coming from the mine passages themselves.

Instead of focusing on how she'd been randomly saddled with perhaps the strangest pair in all of Kirkwall, which she certainly could have, Sophia decided to focus on the road ahead. They had nearly reached their destination. The Viscount's daughter had not actually been here in such small numbers before; she'd had no reason to. It had been a desolate, abandoned place up until not so long ago. Still, she knew the way, as perhaps any local would who had been in the city long enough. It was located not far from the city walls, and its infamy insured that all knew of its whereabouts if they listened long enough.

The skies had clouded over by the time they arrived, leaving the haphazardly paved stone roads and venturing onto the rough dirt path, which eventually became little more than sand beneath her boots. She took a single glance off the side, enough to know that she didn't care to do that anymore. There was an ill feeling in the air, one couldn't help but feel it. The land itself seemed to protest to being tread upon, but Sophia was not one easily deterred, nor did she suspect her companions were. Still, the fact that there was hardly a bird chirping in the trees was slightly unnerving.

After a sharp left turn and a small rise, the entrance to the mine itself came into sight. Sophia was immediately greeted by the stillness of the scene, for the most part. There was, as Hubert had predicted, not a worker in sight, and the equipment was strewn about the ground in a careless manner, implying that whoever had been here before had quite hastily made a departure. It didn't appear as though there had been an attack, nothing was burning or destroyed, but the state of the entrance seemed to imply some kind of flight on the part of the workers.

The movement that did catch her eye, however, came from directly in front of them, down the little hill, at the start of the abandoned equipment. A few people were poking about through the dirt, searching through abandoned sacks and pouches, looking for perhaps valuable left behind in the haste. Sophia's gaze narrowed in disgust. Looters. The first to be on the scene, no doubt Darktown dwellers who had heard from a miner why they'd left, and thought to brave whatever dangers there were in order to pick up a few easy coins. Sophia called out them, but made no motion to draw her sword.

"Hey! You there! Stop!"

It had quite the opposite effect. A looter's head darted back to where the trio of unnanounced visitors had appeared, before slapping his fellow on the shoulder, and the pair bolted away. A few others further in dispersed as well, far out of the group's reach. Ithilian made a lightning quick motion, his bow in his hand and an arrow drawn back before the humans had so much as ten paces from where they'd started. He aimed for a brief moment, steadied his hand... Before his bow was pulled down hard by an outside force just as he released the string, sending the arrow twanging awkwardly away into the dirt. "What are you doing?!" Sophia shouted at him, having interrupted his shot. "We don't need to start killing anyone just yet, regardless of how lacking in morality they may be."

Meanwhile, Amalia, who detested wasting time, had moved at just about the same moment as Ithilian, with precisely the same thought. The only difference was an operative one: she was not quite so obvious in her intent, and rather than drawing a weapon, she simply disappeared, vanishing from broad daylight. The sand, she took as sufficient disguise for the sound of her motion, and so she did not bother slowing for stealth, instead sprinting dead-on for the nearest pair of fleeing looters. She stayed out of the elf's most likely arrow-trajectory, and though she was puzzled when it landed far short of the goal and much closer to her than she would have expected, she did not pause, using her momentum to leap into the air, launching herself into a scissor-kick that caught one of the looters about the neck. All three of the parties involved hit the sand, but Amalia was (as she had expected to be) by far the first one to recover, and rolled over on top to the back of her intended target much faster than either of them regained their breath.

Twisting one of his arms behind him, she ignored his feeble struggling and leveled a glare at his friend, flickering back into view. "Leave," she commanded in a flat, almost-bored contralto, and the man shot a glance at his companion. Amalia hissed faintly, the exhalation of annoyance whistling past her teeth. "Now, basra. I will not ask twice."

Apparently, that was enough, and the second man turned tail and fled once more, though he did look several times over his shoulder, as if to confirm that he was not being followed. The one beneath her was whimpering slightly, and she loosened her grip just enough to relieve his pain. Removing her knee from its spot between his shoulderblades, Amalia stood, bringing the looter with her. "This way, bas. Cooperate and you will leave intact." So saying, she walked him over to where Sataareth and the woman Sophia were still apparently arguing about something. Amalia and her quarry approached the two from behind, and the Qunari cleared her throat, loud enough to be heard, but not obtrusively so. "This basra will speak, and he will start with anything he knows of a human boy named Finn." She gave the man in question a meaningful look, and then released him, dusting off her hands and crossing her arms over her chest. If he ran, he would be pursued, and not nearly so gently as the last time, either.

The elf looked as though he'd just been told by Sophia perhaps the stupidest thing he had ever heard, and took a moment to overcome his own incredulity, before he looked over the scene again. The majority of the looters were gone now, save for the one that Amalia had managed to ensnare, her approach having been much more subtle than Ithilian's, and thereby avoiding Sophia's attention. He quite forcefully pulled her arm from his bow, shoved it away, and moved forward to retrieve his arrow. "Len'alas. I aimed to cripple, not kill. They could have told us something." He flipped the arrow about in his hand, before sliding it back into his quiver, and glancing back over his shoulder. "Do not do that again."

The looter Amalia had captured, a young man of scrawny stature, freckled face and shaggy brown hair, cowered slightly before his attackers, breathing heavily from his futile attempts to struggle away from the Qunari woman. Having been released, his eyes flickered about left and right, possibly looking for a quick escape, but upon taking a better look at his captors, made the smart choice, and remained still. He held his hands out before him as to show her that they were indeed empty, or perhaps clean of whatever she thought him guilty of. "I dunno nothing, miss! I mean, I may'a seen Finn 'round the Undercity once or twice, but we wasn't friends or nothing! Haven't seen him since the miners started coming back to town, raving 'bout monsters in the mine or something."

"Be specific, shem," Ithilian suggested, his free hand resting on the quiver of arrows at his hip. Not deterred by the elf's earlier wrath, Sophia stepped forward, perhaps attempting to calm down the young man somewhat. "Any information you can give us will help. We're trying to make sure the miners are safe, that's all." Though she wasn't quite sure that was what her companions were doing. Apparently they were looking for someone specific. She wondered what for.

"Right, right," the looter said, nodding to himself, "I was jus' hanging about the Darktown, and I overhear some workers sayin' the whole crew ditched this place, 'cause they didn't want to get eaten or nothing. I asked 'em about it. They said there's some kinda monsters in the mine, they didn't know what. I asked if they was coming outside, too, an' they said no. I figured I'd go poking 'round the equipment out here with some others, seeing as they're not using the stuff no more. That's all I know, I swear. Haven't seen Finn, or any of the miners since I got here. Maybe the monsters got him, I dunno. Can... can I go now?"

That made things more complicated, Sophia thought. She was glad for the company of these two, seeing that they were at least skilled, although she still wasn't sure as to what their motives were. Monsters was such a broad term. She didn't like going into the mine blindly, but it seemed they didn't have much choice. They had to get rid of whatever was making the mine dangerous, and her two companions would no doubt want to go in to search for their lost person. She nodded to the boy. "Yes. Thank you for your help. Try to stay out of trouble, would you? Not everyone will be forgiving."

He took a few cautious steps away, as if waiting for one of the others to make a move, but when they didn't, he bolted like the others, taking off and out of sight. Ithilian scowled (or continued to scowl), but made no comment in regards to Sophia's mercy. The woman herself had turned to Amalia. "If I might ask, who's Finn? I'm just curious if we all have the same purpose here. My intent is to make sure these miners will be safe when they return to work. All of them."

"Their affairs are not mine to be concerned with," Amalia replied levelly, "but his are. Finn is Athlok, viddethari. A child, and so my responsibility. If our actions help others, then so be it, but such considerations are irrelevant." Her words were blunt, their tone factual, but all the same there was nothing patently unfriendly about either. It was as though she were simply commenting on the weather. So having spoken, she turned without further comment and headed for the mine's entrance. The basra's story had troubled her, though she would not allow this to be apparent. Her fingers twitched for just a moment, the motion curiously-simliar to the one she'd use for flicking a harpstring.

"Come. We are wasting time and breath this way. If we are to speak, let us at least move simultaneously."

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia
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Anger and frustration had become the norm for Ithilian, and so he did not feel that the day was going strangely or unnaturally at all. The human girl was wearing on him, but it wasn't as though he'd expected any different. She was a Hightown type, that much was obvious. He could see it in her, smell it on her, practically view her history from a glance. She'd never been made to feel low or beneath anyone, never been taught anything other than her superiority. She was still but a child. She'd soon find out that the rest of the world would not bow before her simply because she walked past.

But the len'alas was not his concern here. She'd swing at things with that sword of hers, possibly be of some use to them, and then go on her way, and Ithilian would have to deal with her no longer. He was here to help Amalia. She had found his own causes worthy of fighting for, and proven herself an ally at the very least. This was the first time he'd been asked for help by her, and as such he could only assume this was something important to her. Debt or no, he would be willing to repay the favors.

Making their way into the mine, it became apparent just how much the place had fallen into disrepair over the years. There was clear evidence of Hubert's workforce putting the place back together, but for the time being, Ithilian couldn't image much actual mining was taking place here. It looked as though they were still just trying to get set up. They didn't have to go far to locate evidence of the trouble. There were bodies scattered about the ground, most of them torn into several pieces, the skin of others charred either a bright red or an ashen black. The sound of snapping jaws and tearing meat reached Ithilian's ears.

The three entered a more open, cavernous area, before Sophia stopped quite suddenly, her face set as stone, if perhaps a little pale from the half-eaten corpses they'd already passed. Her right hand slowly reached upwards and back, closing around the hilt of her sword and sliding it from its sheath. Ithilian nocked an arrow and slowly pulled the string back. Across the open area from them were perhaps a dozen or more scaly creatures about the size of a mabari each. Little wings were tucked back against their sides, sharp claws digging into the flesh of miners, razor sharp fangs ripping and tearing away at their meal.

There was little time to discuss how they should proceed, as before they could do anything further, a shriek came from their immediate left, and Sophia turned just in time to see one of the little dragons leaping through the air at her, having been crawling about on the wall to their left. The Viscount's daughter was just swift enough to get her blade up in front of it and whack it to the side, where it tumbled hard into the ground. Quickly regaining it's feet, it lunged again, right into a downstroke from Sophia that cleaved its face down the middle, sending it back to the dirt in a heap.

The other dragons all looked up from their feast to see the three fresh bodies before them, hissed in greeting, and then moved forward to attack, some rushing headlong at them, others taking more indirect routes to come around the sides. Young as they were, it seemed they already knew how to fight as a pack. Ithilian loosed his first arrow into the head of the nearest dragon, but they were far too many to hold off in that way, and he quickly decided to switch to his dual blades. "They did not lie about the monsters," he commented, his remaining eye trying to keep track of all the separating dragons. It was a futile endeavor. This was going to get messy.

"Mm," Amalia replied noncommitally. From a pouch at her thigh, she extracted a small, breakable vial. Miasmic flasks, they were called. Nothing so dangerous as saa-qamek, of course, but useful all the same, especially when their foes were swarming in such a way as they were now. With a flick of her wrist, the Qunari deftly tossed the flask into the center of the group of tiny dragons (and that did not bode well- there were no tiny dragons without larger ones somewhere in the area) and it shattered with a soft tinkling sound. The broken glass issued a purplish cloud of smog, which had the rapid effect of halting the motion of many of the little reptiles, causing them to swoon back and forth as though intoxicated, which, strictly by definition, they were.

This motion was followed up with several barrages of needles, as a weapon like her chain would be of little use when the the creatures were so small. Thin steel projectiles glinted in what little light filtered in from cracks in the mine ceiling, embedding themselfes in necks, spines, throats. A half-dozen fell this way, before Amalia withdrew her singular knife from her boot and waded in among the rest, kicking the nearest one over and stepping with one foot onto its tail and the other just beneath the chin, at the start of the serpentine gullet. A clinical slash gutted the creature, even as another sank its teeth into her ankle, drawing blood. Frowning, Amalia hacked into it, rending it in half just above the shoulders.

Testing the foot, she found that it was still perfectly serviceable, if a little tender, and made a note to monitor her condition. Wyvern saliva was poisonous, but she did not believe the same to be true of these. A shame; for it would have made quite the exotic toxin indeed, and one not easily remedied.

Ithilian had entered the fray alongside Amalia, focusing his efforts where she could not see. Even one so skilled as Amalia could not account for all directions at one time, as evidenced by the bite to the ankle she received, and so the Dalish more or less put his back to her, dual blades a flurry as they cut through the numerous dragonlings that endeavored to surround them. One slipped between them, jumping onto Ithilian's back, claws digging in a short ways as it bit down hard where the shoulder met the neck. He growled, reaching up to grab the creature and throw it to the ground before him, before driving both knives down through the dragonling's chest.

A more resounding thud and a deeper shriek alerted them to the presence of a larger dragon. Sophia whirled about from her most recent kill to see the mid-sized Drake, surpassing her own height by a foot or more, armed with wicked claws as well as teeth that looked as though they could rend steel. She hoped she wouldn't be testing that guess shortly. Seeing that her two companions were cooperating very well on their own, and were rather preoccupied with the horde of dragonlings, Sophia determined herself to be the best candidate for tackling the larger dragon. She was the only one wearing armor that was at least superior to leather, after all.

A single smaller dragon got in her way while she closed the distance to the drake, but Sophia was able to lop its head cleanly off, her stride uninterrupted. The drake itself appeared outraged at the slaughter of the smaller ones, which was rather unfortunate. It wasn't as though they had given them a choice. The thought of Bran's horror stricken face at the current scene crossed her mind for the briefest of moments before Sophia and the drake were close enough to begin their battle.

She'd never fought a dragon before, nor had she really studied the best kinds of ways to combat one, but Sophia assumed the usual tactic of hack it to bits could also apply here. Glancing at those claws, she also figured speed would be of the essence here, given that she wasn't willing to bet her armor would stand up to those. Moving in, the drake snapped out towards her head with its jaws, an attack that Sophia was quick enough to duck under, before darting forward further and cleaving upwards with Vesenia. The drake was forced to lift a front leg up to block, and the blade sunk deep into the flesh, vibration shaking the weapon to the hilt when the blade hit bone. The drake shrieked in pain, smoke puffing out from its nostrils.

She withdrew her blade, dodging backwards when the next strike came from the claws, slashing horizontally, their tips missing her by inches. She used her next opportunity to lunge forward with her blade and attack at its exposed side, the sword plunging a foot into the drake's abdomen before she was forced to withdraw again. Death by small cuts would be how she'd have to take this thing down, since going toe to toe, so to speak, was not an option.

There wasn't much of a way to prepare for the fire, however, as she would find out. She'd put distance between them to avoid a melee attack, but the move had also made her an easy target when the drake extended it's neck forward, opened its jaws wide, and a blast of fire spewed forth, a short burst all it was capable of producing, but dangerous all the same. Sophia had just enough foresight to turn her face aside before the flames hit her with surprising force, sending her stumbling back, and then tripping over a rock. It was perhaps fortunate that she had, as the immediate roll she performed as a result served to put out any fires on her.

It did not favor her, however, when a dragonling took the opportunity to jump on her. With the creature literally on top of her, her two handed sword was virtually useless. Her arms immediately went to protect her face, and in short order she felt teeth bite into chainmail on her forearm, while claws tried to scratch at her chest and stomach. Having occupied the dragonling's teeth, Sophia slammed her arm to the side, throwing the relatively little enemy off her, before she yanked the knife from her boot and stabbed down hard into its chest. Determined to regain her feet before another dragonling got the same idea, Sophia scrambled up, tucked the knife under her belt, and grasped Vesenia once more.

Sometimes, being right was more troublesome than being wrong. Now was probably one of those times, but honestly, Amalia was willing to deal with it. The appearance of the drake was exacly the devlopment she'd been expecting, which was not to say that she relished the idea of being set on fire. As it was, however, she and Ithilian still had dragonlings to work through. Her knife was hardly visible, flashing in a quick series of movments that flayed open a series of the tiny reptiles, though the cries of the larger one overlaid any noise they might have made. It was only after she'd lunged in at the last one before her, tightening her fingers around the base of its head and slicing open its windpipe, that Sophia was thrown backwards by a brief gout of flames from the larger one.

The Qunari straightened from her half-crouch, necessary to combat creatures so low to the ground, and shot Ithilian a knowing sideways glance. If they didn't step in, it might well choose to press its advantage. She was not sure how intelligent such creatures were, but she certainly had no reason to believe they were any more foolish than the average predator. As if to question whether he was coming or not, she raised a brow and shrugged, tossing the knife at the drake, where it embedded itself in the delicate, membranous tissue of one wing. It wasn't going to be much use against something with a hide like that, anyway.

Vanishing, Amalia unwound her chain, swinging one end of it in her left hand so as to generate centripedal force, then loosed, aiming for the dragon's neck. The metal links coiled several times around the base of the esophagus, which would doubtless grant her some level of control over a beast whose strength was without qualification much greater than hers. Pulling back, she tightened the noose and, still holding the opposite end of the weapon, began a rapid circle around her foe, intent on reducing its mobility and ability to block anything the other two should see fit to launch at it. Preferably soon.

Deciding to view his next actions as attacking the dragon rather than saving the shem, Ithilian replaced his blades with his bow, seeing how the drake was preoccupied with Sophia, as well as the chain wrapped about its neck. The maneuver appeared to be royally pissing it off, but moderately effective for the moment. He began to loose arrows at a rapid pace, targeting mainly the body, but he switched his aim to the head whenever it held still enough, which was not often. It's breathing was becoming ragged, both because of the constricting around its throat, and because of the several arrow shafts that had now pierced its ribcage and likely its lungs as well.

Sophia waited for the right moment to strike, not wishing to time this poorly and run into naught but the dragon's claws. The dragon had seemed intent on her up until Amalia had chained it around the neck, and now it looked to be caught between the two, with the Dalish a serious annoyance, but otherwise out of reach. At last the drake reached up with a powerful claw and tried to pull down hard on the length of chain running away from its neck, giving the Viscount's daughter the opening she needed.

She moved forward swiftly, her sword leveled to the ground, and plunged into the drake's chest, just under the front leg it had raised. It looked about to snap down at her, but soon gave out entirely, toppling onto its side. Sophia withdrew her sword, slowing her breathing as she glanced around. That appeared to be the last of them, for the moment, anyway. "You two alright?" Ithilian came forward to inspect the corpse of the drake, grunting in answer to Sophia's question.

The sudden jerk on the chain pulled Amalia from her feet, but she'd been rather expecting that, and neatly flipped herself over, allowing just enough slack in the links to accommodate the drake's movement. It didn't much matter, it seemed, as her purpose had been fulfilled, and the other two were able to finish it off between them. The Qunari joined them at the corpse, crouching beside the head and lifting one of the reptilian lips with her free hand to inspect the teeth. She might have a use for those, or the scales. Still, her priority was not the collection of reagents, but finding Athlok, and so if it was to be done, she would come back afterwards. Rising once more, the woman plucked her knife from the creature's wing, along with several of Ithilian's arrows which were in the proximity and unbroken. These, she offered to the elf, absently wiping the blade of the knife on the edge of her scarf.

"Fine," she replied to Sophia's question. "You were hit with fire. Do you require a restorative? I have several." Even as she said this, the Qunari glanced in the direction they had yet to go, clearly of a mind to be moving as soon as possible if not.

Ithilian slid the unbroken arrows back into his quiver, while Sophia shook her head. "I'm alright. Skirt got burned worse than I did. Let's keep moving, see if we can't find any survivors. Or the source of these dragons."

They moved on, further into the mine. At this point, Ithilian was wondering if they'd even be able to recognize Finn if they found him. Some of these bodies weren't in good shape. As for the dragons... to be honest, Ithilian didn't really desire to kill them. They hadn't done anything to him, only to these miners. They were few enough in number already. But if it was necessary to help Amalia complete her task, he'd put them down.

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The Qunari examined the blade of her knife as she walked. The drake's hide had given it quite the beating, and in all fairness it hadn't been top-quality to begin with. She was going to need something to replace it with at close range for those situations where bare hands simply wouldn't do the trick. Still, it wasn't broken yet, and she like most of her kith despised waste, so back into her leather boot it went, and she returned her attention to the path they were taking. Those bodies that weren't scorched beyond recognition were easily identified as not-Athlok, and she did not linger on the faces of the dead for any longer than necessary.

As they wound deeper and deeper into the mine, the bodies grew generally more disfigured, and she noticed also that the level of burn occurrence was increasing steadily the further they walked, suggesting the possibility of running into another drake, or perhaps something worse, it was hard to say for sure. This, she noted without any real foreboding. If they ran afoul of some creature, they would kill it. If they did not, it would remain as it was now: none of her concern.

The group of three rounded a corner, to be met with a most interesting sight: a young man was driving the point of a pitchfork into the body of another dragonling. He, and a few others, formed a rough back-to-back circle, several of the miniscule corpses strewn about them. None were without injury, but aside from the corpse of one unfortunate, this little group was all alive. From the looks the older men were giving the younger one, he was obviously in charge, and indeed he nodded solemnly at them all as he slung the mining implement over his shoulder with a heavy sigh. He was perhaps Amalia's height, though still in the lanky way that adolescents had, and aside from a bit of sparse fuzz, he had no facial hair to speak of. One of the other men pointed at the three newcomers, and the lad glanced over, blue eyes lighting with the spark of recognition.

He grinned broadly, raising a hand in greeting and approaching the group. The others were equally-relieved, but less outright cheerful about it. "Amal- er... Ben-Hassrath! But am I ever glad to see you! Of course, I knew you'd come if you heard, but this lot didn't believe-"

He was cut off by the harsh glare Amalia leveled at him, her crossed arms and aggressive body language clearly not what he'd been expecting to see. "That is... uh... I messed up, didn't I?"

Amalia's nod was sharp. "Yes," she replied bluntly, and he winced visibly. Sighing through her nose, she relaxed her posture slightly. "But the fault for that is not wholly yours." She glanced at the pile of dragonling corpses, and then back at Athlok and the others. "You led them to this?"

"Well... yes. I'm, um... well, I'm sorry about that too. I know it's not my role and all, but it was that or die, and there's an even bigger dragon inside and I-" The Ben-Hassrath cut off the rambling flow of words by placing one palm flat on her viddethari's head.

"You still speak too much," she said, the words almost gentle. "The Qun does not demand of you your death. I ask because a re-evalutation of your role might be in order. Now, we must leave before that other dragon finds you." He looked vaguely troubled by the statement, and she waited patiently for him to find the words he was so obviously looking for, aware that their time may be growing short.

"But... if we just leave it there, Hubert will send the workers back and they'll get eaten all over again! Even if he does believe us, it could get out and kill more people! Can we really just let that happen?" His plea, such as it was, was certainly earnest, but Amalia appeared unmoved.

"We can," she replied evenly, but she could tell he wasn't going to let it go.

"Maybe you can, but I'm not that good a Qunari yet! If I go, you'll have to go, right? It's your role to protect your viddethari, and that certainly means you can't let me get eaten by a dragon, right?" He seemed rather proud of this line of logic, and she pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and index finger. This was what happened when the only people brave enough to fly in the face of their traditions and convert to the Qun were, well... brave. Sometimes to the exclusion of intelligence. She might well have reminded him that nothing in her duty bade her save him from his own suicide, but whatever the reason, she chose not to. It was nothing more than a vague inclination, perhaps something born of the base principles of her way of life (those that demanded service to the whole above all else), but whatever the case, she didn't want to let him die, nor let the dragon eat too many more of the workers.

"We are wasting time. If I go, you will not, Athlok, so take your companions and leave. Now." The irritation in the words was enough to bid him to immediate action, and they left posthaste, returning the three actual combatants to their solitude. Shaking her head, Amalia glanced askance at Ithilian. "I did not bring you here to slay dragons, Sataareth. If you wish to leave, I'll think nothing of it."

Ithilian had maintained a respectful distance from Amalia and Athlok as Finn was now called. He'd actually been hoping for this chance to observe her with one of her own, although from the words exchanged he wondered just how much this Finn was Qunari. With Amalia he had managed to look past her race for once, something he hadn't thought previously possible, but for this one, the miracle did not repeat itself. Perhaps it was the presence of the len'alas that had him annoyed, but his thoughts on Finn kept falling into the category of shem.

Sophia, on the other hand, had been in the process of a small flood of understanding. The woman was Qunari. She... had never really considered that as a possibility, mostly due to the lack of horns and... sheer muscle mass. But once she thought about it, she supposed it was completely possible. After all, following the Qun was a religion in the same way as believing in Andraste and the Maker, was it not? With that knowledge, the Viscount's daughter could safely assume the purpose of the pair's mission here: to rescue one of their own, this Finn, or Athlok as Amalia called him. Rescue him, and no one else. The idea seemed immediately selfish to her, and her disapproval showed on her face when the Ben-Hassrath stated her willingness to simply leave the danger unresolved now that she had her target in hand, even though she could certainly have made a difference otherwise. Had her pupil (as the relationship seemed to her) not convinced her otherwise, Sophia was left to assume she'd be about to face the dragon on her own. Her own morals were far too strong to allow a massacre like the one that had happened here to occur again.

"I'm with you, if it makes any difference," she said, planting the tip of her sword in the ground. "It's what I came here to do, after all."

Ithilian didn't really care for what he'd walked into. They'd accomplished their goal, saved Athlok, and the way out was clear. He didn't see why they shouldn't take it. He hadn't agreed with Finn's logic, either. The dragon was an intelligent creature. It would not attack unless it felt threatened, or unless it thought it had the advantage. For it to leave its home to attack the city or something of that sort would be suicide, and if Hubert felt the need to send more shemlen workers to the mine to die, it was of no concern to Ithilian. It wasn't his task to prevent the humans from making mistakes.

But Amalia was going to remove the dragon, and that carried some weight. He hadn't come this far in repaying her kindness to let her be killed by a dragon now. He didn't think of much of their chances if just the len'alas accompanied her. Especially considering their difficulties against the drake, which had likely been a relatively small threat compared to whatever dragon was at the head of this movement. He had no intention of letting his best ally in the city (and perhaps only one) slip away from him.

"And I did not come for the boy's sake," he said, pushing himself away from the wall. "Let's get this over with. Sophia's eyes flitted back and forth between the two. An odd pair, indeed. The elf she didn't think was Qunari like the woman, at least he didn't seem to exude the same qualities. There was a lot more anger and hate there than was present with Amalia. Given that they had the chance now, however, and considering the situation with her brother back home, Sophia wanted to try and take advantage of the opportunity presented to her. A better understanding was something she'd been hoping to gain for the Qunari.

"If I may ask, Amalia, would you really have left the mine in danger had Finn not convinced you otherwise? Does the Qun really not promote protecting those who cannot protect themselves?" Perhaps it was too blunt of a question, but the Qunari woman did not seem one to waste time in conversation, particularly in moments such as these, and so Sophia figured it best to get to her point, and figure out what she could.

Amalia appeared to consider the question, a faint line appearing between her brows. "...There are many paths," she said at last, and she might well have left it at that. Except... whatever this woman had so far heard of her people was likely untrue, and while she was not compelled to remedy the condition of the ignorant, it was something she tended to prefer doing. "The Qun rarely demands specific action. How we interpret our directives is largely a matter of personal preference and a weighing of the immediate against the long-term. It is arrogance to assume that we can save everyone. Priorities are necessary. My viddethari are mine. What I do beyond that... is my choice."

She was done speaking of the matter, though, and made it clear by returning her attention to their location, heading in the direction Athlok had indicated with sure strides.

Sophia did not appear satisfied with the answer. Of course it would arrogance to assume that everyone could be helped. Things went wrong. But that didn't mean it was wrong to try, did it? It seemed an awfully cold way of viewing the world. She also realized that she wasn't exactly used to being turned away from, as Amalia proceeded to lead the way, with or without her. Sophia looked about to open her mouth to speak, but the elf shaking his head made her think twice.

"Leave it," he growled, "we've a job to do." Not satisfied with that either, Sophia sighed discontentedly, before lifting her sword back up onto her shoulder, and carrying onwards.

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia
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"You know," Sophia pointed out, looking about the caverns as they passed, "I don't think a large dragon could even get in here. The spaces are too tight. It must have taken advantage of a hole the miners made, and sent the younger ones in so they could eat the workers. In that case... Maker, it's probably waiting to ambush us once we make it to the base of the mine."

Sophia recognized that that was where they were headed. The mine was leading down towards the Pit part of the mine, a large open clearing of mostly sand that lay at the bottom of the area, as they'd been able to see on the road towards the mine. It was flat, open, and empty, with little in the way of cover, things that could assist them if the dragon decided to use fire. It obviously had the advantage of maneuverability over them, given that it could cover much greater distances in much less time. Not to mention that a single mistake when in close combat with it would result in an invariably serious injury.

It didn't seem like an easy task for the three of them, to put it lightly. "I must admit, my experience fighting dragons is lacking. Some kind of plan should probably be in place before we go out there. Any thoughts?" The elf looked annoyed at simply being spoken to by her. Sophia had to admit these two were starting to wear on her, what with Sataareth's constant disdain towards everything he saw (save for the dragons. He seemed largely neutral towards them, even when killing them), and Amalia's impenetrably cold demeanor towards those not under her watch, or whatever exactly applied to her role. The elf was willing to see the reason of her request though, and reluctantly speak.

"Dragons made homes in mountainous areas more than forests, and as such I have not encountered many, nor had reason to kill one so large. That said," he continued holding the point of an arrow up, "even if the body is armored, there will be weak points. If we can make it keep its head still for a moment, I believe I could put one of these in an eye, and blind it on a side. Also, the underbelly is typically weaker, if it can be reached."

Sophia's brow furrowed in thought. Holding the head still would be no simple task, and she doubted Amalia's chain tactic would work as effectively as it had for the drake, given the massive increase in size and strength this dragon would have. But it was something, at least. If the elf could make the shot, that was. But Dalish were historically excellent archers, she knew, and Sataareth seemed quite skilled at his craft. Sophia looked to Amalia, to see if she had anything to add. She was willing to bet whatever it was, it would be quick.

In answer, the Qunari fished around in one of her many pouches, extracting what appeared to be a flask of a noxious-looking green liquid. "A potent toxin," she explained. "It will not kill a creature so large as a dragon, but it should slow it somewhat. Especially if it enters through a vulnerable area close to the brain." She held the flask out by its top, indicating that Ithilian should take it. "Also viscous enough to coat an arrowhead, if you like."

As for how they should get the shot lined up in the first place, she had less of a clear answer. Her repertiore was, plainly put, not meant for this sort of thing. Her tools suited the occasions she was called to use them for, and slaying dragons was simply not in the list of tasks she had ever expected to undertake. She had a feeling the woman Sophia was less-than-pleased with her reluctant cooperation, but the fact that she was doing any of this at all was something Amalia still didn't fully understand. It was illogical and by no means required of her. It also carried quite a good chance of her death; she was not well-armored, and her armament, while fine most of the time, left much to be desired here.

"We need to fix its attention on something, so that if the head moves at all, it will do so in predictable patterns, ones that we can control. I will be unable to deal much damage to something of such a nature, which means I'm the best choice for that." She probably wouldn't be able to hurt a dragon, but she was as agile and flexible and focused as she'd ever been, which meant she could probably survive long enough for Sataareth to put an arrow in its eye, which should in theory make the rest of the job easier for himself and Sophia.

Ithilian accepted the flask Amalia offered, certainly seeing the uses it would have. A lot would be riding on Amalia's agility (and how well she could draw its attention), as well as Ithilian's own archery skills, but to be honest, the elf would have it no other way. He certainly wasn't going to like any plan in which the len'alas played a more pivotal role. It was safe to say Ithilian didn't care for putting his fate in the hands of others, especially humans. If he had any misgivings about Amalia volunteering herself as little more than a distraction, he didn't show it.

Sophia wasn't too pleased with the fact that their best plan involved the use of bait and poisons, but she really didn't see an alternative at this point, and as such she couldn't complain. Amalia was correct in saying she was the best choice for getting the dragon's attention. The elf would need to make the shot count, and Sophia herself, while not slow even in her armor, couldn't hope to move fast enough to avoid the dragon's claws or teeth for long. Though she did wonder what the beast would do when Sophia began attacking it in earnest. A distraction could only last for so long.

"It'll have to do," Sophia admitted, taking her sword into both hands. "Let's go, then." She would have said something of a prayer for them, but she had a feeling they wouldn't be too appreciative of it, and so instead she let the words echo about in her own mind as they moved forward, passing through the Bone Pit's lower exit and into the open area beyond.

It was silent at first, and for a moment Sophia allowed herself to think they may have been in clear, but then came the piercing shriek on the wind, echoing off the walls around the Pit, making it unclear which direction the dragon was actually coming from. The sound of wings beating against the wind was all that told Sophia of its location. She looked up just in time to see the creature drop down directly on top of them. She was forced to dive forward to avoid being crushed entirely under its claws, the ground shaking with the force it had come down with. Pushing herself up off the dirt, Sophia looked to find her companions, seeing the elf scrambling away to put some distance between himself and the dragon, just as it exhaled an inferno in his direction.

She didn't have time to see what became of him, however, as the dragon's massive tail came swooshing sideways. Whether the attack was intentional or not didn't really matter, the effect was still the same. Her breath was taken from her in one blow as the scaly weapon slammed into her upper abdomen, a wet crack accompanying the stabs of pain that shot through her body as she was taken from her feet and sent tumbling away. Perhaps the pain had caused her to tighten her grip, because she somehow maintained her hold on her blade.

The gasp for air she performed instinctively backfired on her, causing more stabs in her stomach. It was a moment before she could even get past the pain enough to function, but she did so just in time, recognizing the shape of the dragon facing her through watery eyes. A claw came down towards her, and she was forced to roll to the side, the attack slamming to the ground where she had just been, the roll putting yet more pressure on her ribs. Whatever Amalia was going to do to distract the dragon, she would have to do it fast.

The draconian shriek rent the air, and Amalia pitched herself forward on instinct when the shadow passed over them, tucking her limbs into a tight roll and bouncing back onto her feet as quickly as she was able. Spinning around, she caught sight of the overblown lizard breathing a jet of fire at Ithilian, and her mouth dropped into a scowl. Gritting her teeth, the most trivial of signs that extra resolution really was necessary in the face of such a foolhardy endeavor, she nevertheless hefted her chain and tossed. She aimed not to entangle, for she maintained no illusions that her grip would match a dragon where a drake had nearly bested it. Rather, the weighted end was spun and hurled for no other purpose than to smack into the side of the creature's head, drawing its aggression towards her.

No sooner was the contact made than she abandoned the weapon, dropping it to the ground so that it would not burden her motion. The moment the dragon's slit-pupiled eye found her, Amalia was off like an arrow launched from a crossbow, her feet beating a staccato rhythm on the loose stones underfoot. Maintaining her balance would be important; running at full-tilt sprint here was unwise. She might have to do it anyway, and risk the fall.

The dry scrape of smooth scales over stone was the only warning she had; gathering her legs beneath her, Amalia jumped straight upwards, her heels just brushing the thickly-muscled tail that swept by beneath her. This dodge at least earned her the front half of the dragon, and she had to flip backwards thrice in quick succession to avoid the swipes of its claws as it switched tactics. The Qunari just caught the motion of its ribcage expanding, taking in air like a blacksmith's bellows might.

"Venak hol," she muttered under her breath, stilling her motion. This was going to take timing. If she could get this dragon to level its flames in one large gout, its head would probably remain still enough. Too much movement, and it would be no use at all. Too little, and she'd burn to death. Ebost issala, indeed.

She did not much relish becoming an idiom. All the same, she knew what she had to do. The glimmer of golden-orange in the back of the dragon's throat confirmed it, and even as the conflagration issued forth, Amalia waited. And waited. And waited. Just as she was feeling the underlying heat start to scorch her skin, she dove forward. The heat was blistering for an agonizing few moments, but she burst free on the other side, hitting the ground and rolling to put out the fires. The fortunate part of this maneuver was that the dragon couldn't see her through its own fire, and likely expected that she was cooking right now. Not too far from the truth; she had some nasty burns, particularly in the places where the fire had by chance scorched clean through her clothing already. One side of her ribcage and a good portion of her upper back were a visibly-blistering red, and Amalia found she couldn't move much at present.

Narrowing her focus, the Qunari controlled her breathing, hissing softly when even that hurt more than she'd expected. Still, she knew what to do well enough to keep doing it, even if it did feel as though a thousand of her own needles flayed open every square inch of those wounds. The smell of burned flesh was probably helping disguise the fact that she was alive, so there was that at the very least. Amalia's eyelids felt heavy, but she kept them open, knowing that to lose consciousness now would mean the end of her, most likely. Right now, she had to focus on getting her body to move as she willed it again. This would be the second time she'd attempted this seemingly-impossible task, but this occasion, dragon or not, paled in comparison to the first. She would survive. It was in her very name.

A rock had saved Ithilian, a relatively small thing, positioned at the mouth of the exit they had just taken. The Dalish had taken the rear of the group, letting the two who would be dealing with the dragon more directly go ahead. But the creature had instead dropped down directly on top of them, nearly crushing Sophia and Amalia entirely, and immediately facing Ithilian. His instincts had taken over, and told him to get behind something. The rock had been the closest thing on hand. He vaulted over, dropped low to the ground, and curled himself as tightly to it as he could.

The fire had washed over him, making his existence a temporary inferno, and for a moment there was literally nothing but the heat and the blinding light. But it passed almost as soon as it came, and Ithilian found himself intact. The sound of stomping feet and swiping claws alerted him that the dragon had elected a new target, and that time was short. Remaining behind the boulder simply because he did not wish to make himself defenseless while he prepared, Ithilian applied the poison given to him to an arrow, nocked, and stood as he pulled back the string.

Time seemed to slow as he gradually exhaled, relaxing his previously tensed limbs. His one remaining eye was as sharp as ever. He took in a scene in which the dragon was turned ninety degrees away from him, just about to release a second inferno on Amalia, who was seemingly standing still as though waiting for it. Sophia was on the ground on the other side, clearly injured. It was all or nothing at this point. As the dragon exhaled flame, it's neck extended forward, the head stilling itself. Ithilian's arm guided the arrow into place, releasing the arrow at the end of his exhale.

The string smacked against his bracer, the wood vibrated in his hand, the arrow whistled through the air. For a moment it looked too high, it was going to hit the creature's brow, but the force of nature pulled it down, and the poisoned projectile ripped into the dragon's left eye, burying itself halfway up the shaft. It's head recoiled, at first seemingly confused as to why half of its vision had simply vanished, before the agony clearly set in, and it reeled backwards, pain temporarily blocking its ability to act, or even think. It seemed to spasm for brief moments, writhing about in pain. It would no doubt give Amalia the opportunity the opportunity to get clear of the beast, if she could force herself to move.

Sophia was facing a similar issue. With the dragon no longer focused on her, she had a few moments to try and collect herself, though she wasn't sure that would be enough. Carefully testing the injury with her free hand, she was able to guess that she had multiple ribs broken, at least one on each side. The taste of blood was trickling into her mouth. Amalia had mentioned something of restorative earlier. Sophia was glad she turned down the offer, now that she actually needed them.

As it was, it was the most she could do to push herself up to a knee, planting her sword in the ground to steady herself while she fought to keep her breathing under control. The elf had made his shot, and the Qunari woman had done her part. The dragon was currently stunned more or less by its own agony, giving the three of them a window in which to recuperate, before they would need to set to the work of bringing it down. Sophia knew her weapon was the best suited for the task. She could only hope the Maker saw fit to give her the strength to wield it.

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia
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Pain was a sensation that Amalia knew very intimately. It had worn all its masks in her presence: dull throbbing drumbeats in the head, sharp stinging needles plunged into tender limbs, agony reaching into her skin to gnaw at her bones with razor-edged teeth. Fire, ice, lightning; physical, mental… even her soul had been seared before. Her body still bore the old wounds, writ in too many jagged, carefully-spaced white and pink lines, crosshatching the majority of her flesh. Most of the time, it was hard to tell- she made a habit of being clothed from head to toe.

Right now, it would have been plain as day, were the situation any different. The wounds of the past were overlaid, burned and blistered into red and black canvas splotches. Yet another tale to be inscribed upon her skin; of the time she was too stupid not to try playing bait for an ataashi, of all things.

Exposure alone did not immunity make, but if she knew anything, it was that an adequately strong mind, a hardy-enough spirit, could withstand just about anything done to the skin, muscle, and bone. When the force of it had softened its grip, even just a little, she seized the opportunity, pushing herself onto her hands and knees, shuddering when the effort pulled at the tender, burned flesh of her back and left side. Black and red haze swirled in her field of vision, and she swallowed past the bile that threatened to rise in the back of her throat.

Her breaths came raggedly, but otherwise regularly, even as she pushed herself to shaking feet, stumbling out from beneath the dragon at a shambling jog that nevertheless accomplished the task. The creature was evidently in no small pain of its own, but she currently found herself with precious little sympathy for it. Through the foggy spots, she could see Sophia trying to stand and limped in that direction, using her relatively-undamaged right hand to search for one of her potions. She’d brought just three, but from the fact that her hand came away covered in a slightly-sticky red liquid, she deduced that her fall had taken her down to two. Palming one of those vials still intact, she uncorked it with her teeth and passed it to the other woman, retreating shortly afterward away from the dragon’s immediate perception- and anyone else’s, for that matter.

The image of the burned and ragged Qunari shimmered like a desert mirage, then winked out entirely. She’d not drink the other, not when it might be more necessary later. Assuming she didn’t take too much more damage, she would live, and she could not guarantee the same of the others when all was said and done.

Pain and she were old friends, after all. Perhaps it was time to do some catching up.

Sophia accepted the healing potion with a wordless nod of thanks, not wanting to waste any breath on words that would certainly have no effect on the woman. She had to admire Amalia's strength, being able to pull herself out from under the dragon and make her way to deliver a potion to someone else, when she was clearly in a great deal of pain herself. Sophia almost felt bad about drinking the potion, considering Amalia's ability to carry on, but she quickly decided that it was entirely necessary. Wielding her blade required far too much motion from her torso, and in its current state, another hit would undoubtedly remove her from the fight altogether.

She downed the vial of liquid quickly, swallowing and shaking her head at the irrelevant concern that was the taste. She immediately breathed a sigh of relief when the tension was lifted from her ribs, and her ability to move more or less unhindered returned. She wasn't if the potion had healed them completely, or simply set them, as it was still tender to the touch. It would have to do. She pushed herself to her feet, readying her blade as she examined the best way to go about taking this thing down.

Ithilian had taken note of Amalia's current state with some amount of concern as he readied another arrow. "Suledin, Qunari. I didn't make that shot just so you could be killed later." Whether his cuationary words would be heeded, or were even heard, he didn't know, as he had lost sight of the woman. The dragon itself was still thrashing about in its pain, and Ithilian took the opportunity to put an arrow in the roof of its mouth the next time it screeched at the world.

It had been blinded on its left side, that much was certain. As it got its senses back together, it made a conscious effort to try and locate the attacks with its other eye. The Dalish took a shot at the other eye, but the head moved enough for the shot to bounce off the snout instead. Locating the source of all its recent pains, the dragon centered its attention on the elf, quickly turning to face him and unleashing a gout of flame from its mouth, arrow still embedded and all. Unable to see the target, however, Ithilian was able to relocate in time to avoid the blast altogether, moving to the dragon's blind side.

At the same moment came a resounding slice from beneath the dragon, as Sophia sank her blade deep into its softer underbelly, piercing a space between two of its massive ribs, and then cutting across, slicing nearly the entire length of the dragon's abdomen, allowing a staggering amount of blood to spill onto the dirt beneath it. The creature roared before reacting, hacking with its claws blindly in the direction the attack had come from, one swipe coming mere inches from replicating the wound on Sophia, but the Viscount's daughter was yet able to escape, putting some distance between her and the creature, while simulataneously remaining on its blinded left side. It would no doubt be a fatal wound, but the beast was certainly still dangerous as long as it drew breath.

IF Amalia had understood elvish, she might have even laughed. A short, gruff, contralto bark of the stuff, tinged with palpable irony. As it was, she guessed closely enough, and the ghost-smirk on her face only quirked her lips when she was already vanished, apparently into thin air. Unwilling to be entirely useless in any state, she prowled a circle around the dragon, knife drawn and in her good hand. There wasn't much it could do, and to use it would expose her again, so that was only happening if circumstances were particularly bad. As it was, Sophia managed to muster her strength, opening up a long line on the dragon's underbelly. Now, it was more a situation of waiting for it to die than anything else, and the Qunari's expression dropped into a frown.

So much suffering was a waste, to say nothing of the danger the dying thing still presented them. An ataashi was a noble thing, and by no fault of its own was its nature to kill things weaker than itself and consume them. They all danced about for survival, sliding blades here and there, and this was simply the way of the world. But suffering... to prolong a death in this way should be avoided if possible. Contrary to her presented personality, Amalia was not without sympathy, and it struck her now that she wanted to end its pain.

That alone as no guarantee that she'd be able to do it, but trying was beginning to seem more and more necessary. A second dose of the poison she'd given Sataareth coated her knife, and she flicked the excess away with a sharp hand-motion, lining up her shot as best she could. The poison wasn't intended for this purpose, but it was an anasthetic, working to slow the body's internal processes and dull pain. It would also hasten death. She was counting on that part especially. Inhaling only shallowly to aggravate her burns as little as possible, the Qunari decided to aim for the opened wound on the underbelly, which she'd be much more likely to hit than the the other eye or the inside of the mouth. Flicking her wrist sharply, she sent the knife flyng end-over-end. Injuries or not, the projectile struck true, the blade sinking to the hilt somewhere inside the slit Sophia had opened up. Hopefully, it was close to the heart or a major artery, either of which would speed the process.

Fading into sight once more a few feet from Sophia, Amalia sighed heavily, weariness weighing her limbs as even the sharp pain of her burns regressed into a dull throbbing, in tempo with her heartbeat. "Atash varin kata. Panehedan, ataashi."

The dragon was visibly weakening, and quickly, and though it valiantly struggled against its impending death, it was futile. Sophia relaxed her hold on her sword as the creature slumped to the ground, slowing her own breathing and heartbeat, although those were more symptoms of adrenaline now than the pain that Amalia was still in. She did not have an understanding of the Qunari language, but Amalia's words sounded like something of a farewell, which Sophia supposed was fitting. Even though the Viscount's daughter had been the one most in favor of slaying the creature, apart from perhaps Finn, it was still perhaps slightly sad to watch. Less so when she thought about how the dragon had almost killed her, but still sad. It probably hadn't meant anything ill in its attack, simply doing what it thought it had to in order to see the younger ones survive.

At last it let its head fall to the earth, and grew still and silent. The task done, and all three of them somehow still alive, Sophia let herself at last breathe a sigh of relief, wiping her blade clean before sliding it back into its sheath on her back. The Dalish came to join them as well, his eyes noticeably lingering on the Qunari's burns, or perhaps the multitude of scars underneath. Sophia couldn't help but wonder what the tie between the two of them was, but she certainly wasn't going to try and get them to open up about it. They didn't seem the talkative sorts.

"Are you all right?" Sophia asked Amalia, after noting that Sataareth was relatively unharmed. "That looks... incredibly painful. You're very strong." She didn't know if the compliment would carry any weight, but it was the truth, and she saw no reason not to commend Amalia for it. Most people would have let themselves be killed, in her situation.

"I am. It is. Not particularly." Amalia replied to the comments in order, but for all her brevity, a good portion of her ealier terseness was absent. Perhaps it was an effect of the fact that speaking (and drawing the breath required) was still a labor, or perhaps she had intentionally softened the usual slight edge to her tone in light of recent happenings. Whatever else may be the case, it was clear that Sophia was both courageous and skilled. Unseasoned, obviously, but that was no grave sin.

As soon as Sataareth appeared, looking not too much worse for wear, Amalia wasted no further time in such condition and immediately downed the contents of the other red flask, allowing her shoulders to slump in relief as the burns scabbed over and then cleared. The wounds left tender, reddened skin in their wake, but that was tolerable. An opportunity to mix a few more ingredients together and apply a cooling poultice, and even that would be little matter. She did pull her braid over her good shoulder though; no need to irritate the abrasions with hair.

Examining the corpse of the dragon, she knelt gingerly and fished her knife out of its chest, unsurprised when the thing came back too warped to be of any further use. Tapping a scale with an index finger, she glanced back at the other two. "It seems a dire waste to simply leave ataashi to rot here. I understand if your concerns take you elsewhere; you may leave without me and tell the basra that my share of the reward is Sataareth's to use as he pleases. I still think there might be some good to be had from this one, though." The scales, teeth, and heart were bound to be particularly useful, and she'd heard that dragons' blood was a powerful reagent besides.

"I should be off," Sophia said as Amalia began to make use of what the large dragon could offer. "The miners should know their workplace is safe once more. I very much appreciate your help today. Even if it wasn't your intention, you may have saved a good deal of lives."

It certainly hadn't been Ithilian's intention, but the deed was done, and the dragon was dead. He really had no further reason to stay, and though he didn't envy the thought of walking back to Kirkwall with the len'alas, he did intend on collecting as much of a reward from Hubert as he was capable of without physically hurting the man. The coin would no doubt help a good number in the alienage, especially since he had no real demand for money. He would take what he needed, of course, but little else.

"Ma nuvenin, then. I'll make sure the shem holds to his word. I should think fighting a dragon calls for a sizable reward. Until next time, Amalia." His bow replaced over his shoulder, Ithilian took his leave, returning through the mine the way they had come. Sophia too felt no need to linger any longer, and followed, although she did let the elf get a decent head start.

This was going to be an interesting story to tell to everyone.

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Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia
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A week from the Bone Pit episode saw Amalia returning to the site for the last time. It was often stressed in the Qun that waste was to be avoided, and she'd clearly taken the sentiment to heart. The hide had been removed in strips, followed by the meat and bones, the blood collected to the extent she was able to save it from sinking into the ground. The bones and teeth would prove most useful, she was sure, and even the majority of the organs were preserved and currently stored away on shelves in her home. It might, perhaps, have struck some as macabre, but there was no need to see it this way, at least not as far as she was concerned, and besides that, the effort was already paying off.

She was presently in her workshop, putting the finishing touches on the result of an idea that had struck her some months ago. The mechanism had been sorted, but it had been difficult finding a material strong enough to endure repeated triggering, and still allow for clean retraction. As it turned out, a small portion of the hide worked perfectly, and the tests had indicated that he wouldn't even have to give up a finger for proper use, which meant that it would also serve others well. What she was willing to sacrifice was not always congruous with what others were. That much, she knew quite well. Nodding to herself, the Qunari woman slid the gloves from her hands and plucked a sheaf of packaging paper from the counter beside her. Efficient movement wrapped the invention in a plain brown shell, well away from the prying eyes of city guards, merchants, and those who did not deserve to understand what she now did.

Informing her viddethari that she'd probably be out for a good portion of the day, Amalia shut the door with care behind her and padded out of the Alienage. She'd mostly dispensed with the need for disguises, aware that in this place, conflict was much closer than a careful few hours of preparation. Still, she didn't quite wander around wearing Qunari symbols all the time, and had exchanged her previous Alienage-made dress for a set of loose robes with a sash at the waist. Much easier to hide several weapons on her person that way. She had inquired after Imekari's dwelling-place following their last lesson, and now followed the directions she'd been given with surety to her steps.

The building she eventually arrived at looked exactly like those that surrounded it, which Amalia certainly considered to be wise. Approaching the door, the Qunari shifted her light burden so that it rested against one hip, and raised her hand to knock thrice before stepping back.

Aurora had spent most of the afternoon in her house. It was strange for her to voluntarily coop herself up for such an extended period of time, though truth be told recent events were strange. She found herself laying on her bed, legs crossed, hands behind her head and staring at her ceiling as she "meditated". It really wasn't meditation, she just thought really hard about things. Sometimes her past. Sometimes the present. Very rarely even the future. Today's allotted time though had been fixed on recent events, the whole de Carrac debacle.

Particularly, she thought about her companions for that little quest. A warrior-mage and a Tranquil. An unlikely pairing hardly-- if ever-- seen. She found herself wondering at the circumstances behind Rilien's Rite of Tranquility. He was obviously a bard if his bardsong had been any indication. Bards were known for being spies and inflitrators in Orlais, and the way he handled a blade told that he was trained, though. That led to the question on whether or not the Tranquility was a political thing, if he was an unruly apprentice, or if it was by choice. She had to figure it wasn't a matter of choice. For the short amount of time she had known him, she just didn't feel like he would be the one who would voluntarily consent to the Rite of Tranquilty. Whatever the reasoning, she felt pity for the man. Having one's emotions, and essentially their soul ripped from your mind and body couldn't be a pleasant thing.

Sparrow on the other hand, he had enough life and vigor for the both of them. No questions, no hesitation, he wore his emotions on his sleeve. Aurora found herself liking Sparrow. She doubted the man's name was his given name, though she didn't mind. There was no room for her to talk, as she had given two aliases since she met them, one to a Templar, and the one she used in Kirkwall. It just meant he was hiding something-- which was perfectly fine. Everyone had something to hide, and it was up to them to go about how they hid it. She in particular had a staff under her bed, wrapped in a number of sheets, from her days in the Antivan circle.

Before she had time to further examine what went on in the various recesses in her mind, there came three nocks at her door. She never gotten house guests before-- and she worked hard to make sure of that. It surprised her enough for her to bounce on her bed, almost shocking her into the floor. She did manage to get to her feet without mishap though. She hesitated for a bit before creeping to her door. Anyone could have been on the other side. She found herself hoping against hope that whoever it was, they weren't affiliated with the Chantry in any shape. She opened her door into a hairline crack and felt relief wash over her as it was only Amalia. That was soon replaced by curiousity. Amalia didn't seem like the kind of person to make housecalls to just see how she was doing.

She opened the door wider and welcomed her cheerfully. "Hello!" No one could fault her for being a bad hostess. "Amalia! What brings you to my quaint little... Hovel. I'd invite you in for tea... But I haven't tasted tea myself for ages. I guess I'll just invite you in," she said with a smile.

Amalia waited patiently for Aurora to cease speaking. There was a question in there somewhere, one that the Qunari would have answered, but it was soon overridden by further speech, and so the Ben-Hassrath just blinked her odd eyes and waited. The mention of tea brough several things to mind, but none of them were important, and so she banished them with an effortless exrcise of mental discipline, focusing instead on the interior of Imekari's dwelling-place. At least a dozen potential breach-points, more than half of which the average assassin could use for stealthy entry. She could use any of them. This was not, she knew, any fault of the girl's, but a fact about the lackadasical way humans built their infrastructure. It still bore rectification, and she would have to approach the matter soon.

Perhaps now was not the time, though. She had come here with a purpose, and lingering longer than was required to fulfil it seemed... unnecessary. Admittedly, Amalia felt a bit like she was intruding, and though her discomfort was not obvious on her face, it was perhaps evident enough from the way she stood in the entranceway, only moving further into the residence when it became clear that she was blocking the owner's path.

"In answer to your original question," she said, looking around and picking a wall to lean against, the package still propped on one robed hip, "I came to give you this." With a deft movement, she presented the parcel in one splay-fingered hand, holding it out to her young student with no further fanfare than that. What was under the wrapping appeared to be a bracer, designed oddly-well for Aurora's forearm, an indication that it had been crafted specifically for her. The thing was surprisingly lightweight, and made primarily of the skin of the dragon Amalia had helped slay some time before, with leather where necessary for flexibility and fit. Clearly, the thing was crafted to withstand serious damage, the scales at least as good as steel plating would have been, but much easier to wear.

There was more to it than this, but Amalia would stay her explanation until it was opened at the very least.

Aurora took the parcel with tentative fingers, turning it over in her hands as she examined the brown paper concealing it's contents. "A... Gift? For what occasion?" she asked reflexively. Then she thought such questions would misconstrued as rude, so she gave a little smile and opened the package. Beneath the layer of brown paper was a bracer, though not a bracer like any other. She was awestruck at the craftsmenship displayed in such a peice and merely beheld it moment with mouth agape. She turned it over again, and looked up at Amalia, "Where... Did you get this? You didn't buy it did you?" she asked with guilt in her voice. Such a piece had to be extremely expensive, and she couldn't stand the though of Amalia spending that much on her.

Still, she carefully slipped it over her wrist, still adoring the workmanship. The weight was perfect, the fit was perfect, it was like it was designed specifically for her. She tapped the exterior of it, and it produced a series of metallic-like clinks. Surely that would be much better the block a slaver's sword with than only the flesh on her arms. She looked back up to Amalia for the third time and shook her head, "I can't accept this. This is too fine. I've done nothing to deserve such a gift," she stated.

"It was not purchased; it was made." The Qunari pulled back one of the loose grey sleeves of her plain robe, exposing a matching gauntlet. It was similar in design to Aurora's bracer, save that the scales had also been finely-worked to cover Amalia's fingers. She'd thought to do the same for Imekari's, but it had struck her that with the magic her pupil worked, it might be more beneficial for the hands to remain bare. At the refusal, though, the taller of the two women tilted her head to one side, allowing a faint hint of her puzzlement to show through. This was something she did not quite understand, and she shook her head faintly.

"What anyone does and does not deserve is not at issue here, and it was made for you. Nobody else would make appropriate use of something so specific. It will not fit me, and the one other person I might offer it to has no need of it. You have need. It is yours." As if to puncutate her point, Amalia moved her arm sharply, causing a soft click as a tempered steel blade slid from the underside of the gauntlet, extending a good foot in front of her wrist. "Attached to the arm as it is, it requires little strength. There are places where it may be unsafe to use magic, are there not? With this, you will never be without a defense, and that was my intention. The material cost of the item is irrelevant- but if it satisfies you, I skinned the dragon myself, and therefore it cost me nothing but time and labor."

When Amalia revealed her own gauntlet, Aurora's eyes danced between the similiar instruments. The only difference being the uncovered hand on hers and the fit, but otherwise they were identical. That meant the craftsmanship she had been admiring had been Amalia's own. Aurora's regard and respect towards the Qunari woman grew even more as she nodded, struck speechless, as she continued to speak about need and use. She had a point that Aurora could not counter, and to try would only end in failure. Instead Aurora only accepted the gift. The sudden snap of Amalia's wrist and the extension of the hidden blade caused Aurora to twitch in surprise. Again, her eyes danced between the sibling bracers and on the third pass, she too flicked her wrist as Amalia.

Without fail, her own blade snapped erect causing another surprised twitch from the mage. She hesitated for a moment before finally finding her words. "That's... Going to take some practice," she stated matter-of-factly. Again, Amalia provided more reasons why she should except the gift. She was indeed restricted to magic, which was inconvienent in a place where Templars made their home. A memory fluttered back during the bout in front of Serah Emeric, where she was rendered useless under the gaze of the Templar. With the hidden blade, she would never be defenseless again. "I... I don't know what to say Amalia. Thank you. I don't know if I'll ever be able to repay you-- Wait..." Aurora stopped. Dragon? Did Amalia just say dragon? "Skinned... The dragon. Yourself? What.. Dragon?" Aurora sputtered.

Aurora's offhand, the one not sporting the deadly dragonskin gauntlet covered her mouth in surprise. When she had managed to reign in her astonishment, she asked, "Where were you at that you could skin a dragon? What have you been doing since I last saw you?" Suddenly the battle with the Pride Demon seemed relatively minor...

Raising one arched, golden brow, Amalia let a small smile lift her mouth, and decided it was probably best to address these issues in sequential order, else Imekari lose track of the conversation entirely. Out of context, it probably did sound a little shocking, or at least the Qunari would have thought so were she less stoic and jaded. "Repayment is unncessary. It is enough that you have it and use it." She left the fact that she explicitly wished Aurora to remain alive implied rather than stating it directly. It was, perhaps, an untoward sentiment, but she was not in the business of deluding herself, and it was there all the same.

"I was at a place called the Bone Pit, looking for one of my viddethari. He had gone missing, and it was my task to find him. The mine was infested with dragons. One of them was rather large. I distracted it, and Sataareth and one other killed it. Neither of them saw need for the hide, so I made use of what others would have wasted. These are a portion of the results." It was just as well her hypothesis had been correct and the parts were useful; she'd destroyed upwards of ten knives trying to get the job done, to say nothing of the hours that had gone into the task. It would, she suspected, be paying dividends for much longer than that, especially if her plans for the bones and the rest of the skin turned out as well as these had.

"While I'm here, I should tell you that your dwelling is very insecure. If you are unsure of what modifications need to be made to rectify this, I can draw up plans." Just like that, however, she was moving on, though she suspected that there might yet be a few unanswered questions. She was content to answer them, but she would not volunteer that which she had not been asked.

As it were, there were a few questions Aurora had. "The... Bone Pit. I'll make note to avoid it. Though if you and some others went through it, it should be safe," she offered a veiled compliment. "I take it the Sataareth was Ithilian, but who was the other one?" Aurora asked.

"You presume correctly," Amalia replied. "The woman's name was Sophia. From the craftsmanship of her arms, she resides somewhere in Hightown, but I know little else. If you should meet her... be wary. I do not think she would be hostile to you, but those who reap the benefits of the status quo are its staunchest defenders, in my experience." To be entirely fair, Amalia had no real evidence that Sophia would be particularly intolerant of mages, but the warning felt like the responsible thing to give all the same, given the patterns she had come to see in the fabric of this city.

"Sophia..." Aurora said, crossing her arms careful not to inadverdantly flick her wrist. It would be ashame for Amalia to go through all the work of crafting it only for her to gut herself with it. "I'll keep that in mind, though if she's from Hightown I doubt our paths will cross," she stated. Though, strange things have happened before. At that, she began to look around her home for the insecurities that Amalia had brought up. It was a Hovel, various structural weakness didn't surprise her, though she had never thought of it before. She had tried to keep a low profile so that those who would seek to do her harm didn't have a chance to use those weaknesses. Though, she was still touched by Amalia's concern. She didn't bring it up however, as she didn't seem like the person who would enjoy such sentiment.

"I won't stop you if you want to, just don't spend too much effort on my expense. I try not to draw undue attention to myself or my home. Though if a band of Templars wanted in, I don't think that some reinforcements would stop them..." Aurora mused. Though.. The idea of a trap door leading away from her home was enticing...

"Fair enough," Amalia replied, inclining her head. She glanced around at the room once more, taking a few approximate measures, then nodded to herself. "I will see what can be done."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merevas.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia
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The path to the Aliengage was one familiar to her, having taking the twists and turns through Lowtown many times already. Though this time she was seeking answers of a different kind. So many questions flew through her mind, and the bags under her eyes were not making the processing any easier. She'd been out all night after all, fighting thugs, rogues, and Qunari, and her day had only began. Things were bound not to get any easier for her. Had a bandit attempted to accost her presently, chances his friends would not find him in one piece again, if at all. Luckily for the bandits, none found their paths crossed with the apostate. Before long, she'd found her path had taken her to the top of the stairs to the Alienage. A quick scan of the area proved that her goal, Amalia, in the same place as ever, under the Vhenadahl.

She walked right up to the Qunari and spoke, her tongue getting the better of her once again, "So when were you going to sew my lips and chain me?" She asked bluntly. She was unmoving, her eyes never leaving Amalia's own. She wanted answers. What had Amalia planned for her? Was she really going to make a Saarebas out of her? Leash her? In her current state, that's the only thing she could think, irrational as it was. Why else would a Qunari take her in? They were so blinded by their Qun that they'd sentence another of their kind to a personal prison in their own body just because the were born wrong. She wanted, answers, no, she needed answers. Unbeknownst to her, her hand had unconsiously made it's way to Ketojan's amulet.

Tension had rendered Aurora's footfalls much louder than they were normally, and this was perhaps the reason that the meditating Qunari opened her eyes at all, blinking slightly against the invading light. She met the incoming stare with what appeared to be nothing but placidity, blinking slowly and tilting her head just slightly to one side. An interesting place to choose to have this particular conversation, but it had been inevitable that the Imekari would learn of Saarebas eventually. This reaction was no less than she'd expected, though she would admit some curiosity as to how it had happened, particularly because she recognized the insignia on the amulet that now graced her student's neckline. She almost shot a glance up the tree she sat beneath, but chose not to. It mattered not to Amalia who overheard their conversation; her words were spoken always as the truth she knew, and she was not afraid of it.

"I never had such intentions. Nor do I now." Her intentions had always been much simpler than that. Of course, as with everything else, information that was not sought for would not be given out freely, and it was clear that if Aurora really wanted to understand what was going on in her teacher's headspace, she would have to ask the right questions, for the Ben-Hassrath remained silent thereafter.

Was that it? A simple no? That Qunari stoicism wasn't going to work, the simplicity of the answer only further agitating the mage. Aurora gave Amalia a couple of more seconds to explain herself further, but when it appeared that no further explaination was forthcoming, Aurora began again, "Is that it? No such intentions? What other intentions could there be!? I've seen your kind try to force a Saarebas into death for no other reason than he may be p- different," She caught herself. Possessed was not a word to be yelled out where prying ears lurked around every corner and up in every tree. "Why would I be any different? It might be the same for me for all you know. How do you know that I'm not changed. Your Qun demands my death, does it not?" She asked, Antivan accent coming through cleanly.

"And just what do you presume to know of 'my kind'?" Amalia asked softly, tone curiously devoid of anything but an echoing inquisitiveness. "What you have seen is one Saarebas, in one situation. By your logic, I could as easily condemn you for more than that. I have seen your kind slaughter for nothing but the shape of a man's ears or the number of coins in his pocket or the ideas in his head. Am I to hold you responsible for these ills because you willingly live in the society that allows them?" Still, there was no accusation in the words. The questions were gentle, prodding, as though Amalia were trying to lead Aurora to something in particular, in the softest way she knew how.

"They-- I.. They weren't my kind," She tried to defend herself, though her words sounded less than sure. Amalia had pulled the rug out from under her and turned the argument around on her. The sudden change had tripped her up as she was currently stumbling over her own words. "I mean... My kind are persecuted as well. Just not... Just differently. The... We are perscuted as well, chained in one place. If we aren't strong, if we fall, then we are put to death-- or worse. But we are all chained, we treat the elves and everyone the same where we come from," The circle. It was a flimsy defense, and she knew it but she had to try.

"And what of the Templars? Those who use their... differences in ways condemned? The point remains, however narrowly you choose to see yourself." Amalia paused, sighing quietly. This was not what she was after-- as long as Imekari came to understand that her generalizations were dangerous, that would be enough. "The Qun may have demanded his death. I was not there; I cannot say with certainty. But it does not demand yours. You are educated, taught somewhere to control your difference. I endeavor to provide you with what control you still lack. The Ashkaari wrote of the dangers of Saarebas, it is true. He advises us that they alone understand what it is like to perpetually struggle. This is something we are told to pity and respect in equal measure. A Saarebas is always chained, whatever his physical conditions. How this is interpreted... varies." Truthfully, it was one point on which Amalia and the majority of her comrades seemed to disagree. There was no mistaking that she had a distaste for demons, and would not hesitate to kill a person possessed. But it was also true that there were many paths, and all the Qun truly demanded was that magic be controlled. How was a separate question entirely.

Aurora looked away, utterly defeated. Her hand dropped from the amulet and she was quiet for a long while. Amalia was right. Bloodmages were treated different, even if she thought the reason just, it mattered little. She sighed and found herself in the role of student once again, listening to Amalia and her wise words. At the end, she found herself quiet once again for a while, not even daring to look back up into Amalia's eyes. Finally, she spoke, offering a set words said for the second time that day, "There are many paths." she offered. Ever so slowly, she was beginning to realize the true nature of those words. It'd be a while, if ever, if she'd ever fully understand them, though she was glad for them. Still, she had one more question.

Amalia very nearly smiled, one side of her mouth quirking up at the corner. "And yet, there is only one choice. It seems a paradox, does it not? Its resolution is the heart of the Qun. A chained being might be free, if they understand it properly. But so few do, even, I think, among my fellows."

"How am I chained then? If I am Saarebas, then what are my chains?" she asked.

"We are all bound by something, Imekari. I could tell you where I see yours, but it would do you no good. They are something you must discover on your own. I cannot do your growing for you." Amalia paused, assuming a thoughtful expression, before nodding to herself and standing. "I can tell you that people are often held back by themselves more than others. We must constantly reexamine that which we believe to be true. It is the sincerest form of vigilance. I can also tell you that it is an ongoing process and need not be completed today. You look as though some rest would do you well. Take it, and return to these matters later, if you wish. The world will still be here when you awake, and I doubt it will change much in the intervening time."

She nodded, the irritation and anger she'd felt earlier completely bled from her. There was something about the woman and her ability to open the doors in Aurora's mind. How easily she could teach her, even though Aurora's head was hard and her heart fiery. The role of teacher suited her, it suited her very well. Though, like all students, she had another question, and truthfully, she'd probably always have questions, though this question was different. Personal even. "If that is true. Then... Where are your chains? Aurora asked, finally looking the woman back in the eyes. She was curious, she did not seem like the one who was held back by themselves, in fact she seemed to be propelled by it. Though, she still wondered. If everyone was bound by something, what was she bound by? The Qun? It seemed too simple an answer...

The question surprised Amalia, not because it was irrelevant, but because she would not have expected Aurora to have the boldness to ask it. Perhaps she should have; if there was a word that characterized the young mage, 'bold' might very well be it. 'Brash' was also a contender. Nevertheless, she answered. It might be of some help, and that was enough. "Mine? They mostly lie in the past, that which cannot be undone. There are some things there that are difficult to let go of, and if I am not careful, they will inhibit progress forward. Still others exist simply because of what I am, and who I have chosen to be. We cannot help but create those, and only the most fickle of creatures pretends to be able to ignore them." The notion of complete freedom was absurd, in actuality, but this too was something that had to be discovered, and not simply learned, so she did not say it.

Aurora nodded along, listening intently. The past. Fair enough, and she wouldn't pry further. The past was a personal affair and did not deserve to be delved into by others. Her own was far from tulmutious. Though now was not the time for stories of the past. She nodded and said, "Then I will go.. think on these matters. After a nap. I've had a long night." She then stepped back to exit the alienage before curiousity took hold again and halted her progress. She hesitated for a moment, believing she'd already asked too many questions, but figured at this point, what was one more? She looked over her shoulder and asked, "One... More thing. What does Saarebas mean exactly?" Aurora asked, a bit of blush creeping into her complexion.

"It simply translates to 'mage.' More literally, I suppose it could be rendered as 'something which is dangerous,'" Amalia replied.

"Something which is dangerous..." Aurora said and then chuckled. For some reason, she liked that idea. "Something which is dangerous", her. It tickled her. Or it could be the tiredness that was creeping into her mind. Either way, the next stop was her home, more specifically, her bed. She turned one last time and waved, "Thanks," her last word before she left the alienage.

Ithilian was fairly certain the shemlen mage had not seen him lounging in the middle levels of the great tree, his eyes closed and his face hidden from the light under his headscarf. Sleep hadn't necessarily been his goal, but rather simply the opportunity to relax somewhere the city couldn't find him. The breeze that ran across his skin carried not the scent of the forest, but rather that of industrial factories and smoke, so it was not nearly so calming as a venture to the wild would have been, but it was better than nothing. It probably didn't come close to the level of calm that Amalia's meditation could reach, but it was enough for him.

The conversation had been none of his business and little of his concern, so he hadn't thought to interfere. Amalia had been more than capable of redirecting and then utterly defusing Aurora's rage. Apparently mages were not treated as Aurora preferred among the Qunari. Again, it was little of the elf's business. The Dalish had their own methods for handling magic, but the Qunari were not the Dalish, and Ithilian did not want them to be.

When could no longer hear her footsteps moving away from the Alienage, Ithilian took his cap into his hands, slipping his feet under him and onto the branch, solidifying his balance before he slid to the ground in two rapid and agile hops. "Perhaps not the wisest place for her to speak of being a mage," he commented off-handedly, though that was about all he wanted to say on the matter. "I've taken a job for a dwarf, an expedition to the Deep Roads. It is to depart in a few days. I should be gone from the Alienage for a few weeks." While it was perhaps not correct to refer to her as a friend, she was certainly far more than what he'd initially thought. It seemed like information she would be interested in knowing.

Amalia's brows furrowed, and she looked at her unlikely ally from the corner of one eye. It seemed an uncharacteristic sort of thing for him to do, truthfully, but she pretended to no knowledge of his innermost inclinations, only the ones he wore on his sleeves for anyone to see. "Is that so?" she asked, entirely rhetorically. Of course, as ever, it was not a waste of words if one examined it closely enough, and echoed her mild confusion in form if not intonation. "Then I suppose I will watch yours for a few weeks as I would watch mine." A pause. "My people know little of Darkspawn, but it is not hard to discern that they are dangerous to the unwary. Do not die, Sataareth." Another pause, this time as Amalia ran some mental calculations on the number of labor-hours she could devote to something she'd been working on.

"See me the day before you depart, if you are so inclined. I am in possession of something that might interest you."

"She isn't mine," Ithilian was quick to remind, though his tone was not harsh. "I would do well to remember that. As for the Darkspawn, it's a good thing that I'm not unwary." There was some amount of humor in his voice, but it was half-hearted at best. "Whatever you have for me, you can be sure I will put it to good use. I don't plan on dying in the Deep Roads of all places, merely clearing my head and getting my hands on some coin at the same time."

Amalia's tone was clearly one of considerable amusement. "I referred to all of them, Sataareth." And that was enough, really. She felt she'd learned a little something just then, but it was not her way to point such things out in the obvious way, nor ask questions about it. So she didn't, instead choosing to take her leave. She'd need to finish her task tonight, and then make a trip into Darktown.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Amalia
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It would appear that the Tranquil did not need to locate his storefront conveniently in order to do sufficient business. Another person might have found this irritating; Amalia took it as a piece of evidence that his work was as good as she'd heard. This was not a matter on which she'd tolerate anything less than the best this cesspool of a city had to offer, and the word from anyone who knew anything about enchantment was that he was the best. This was the one part of the process of which she was not capable, and so it fell to her to find someone who was. That he seemed to be one and the same as the peculiar-looking man who knew Venak hol was an interesting coincidence, but not one that had factored into her decision.

The shop, like most Darktown endeavors, was run down to all appearances, the wood chipping away to the thinnest of boards. There was no sign indicating what it was for, and the door swung open without much noise. Amalia stepped through with less, casting her eyes about the room in an attempt to locate the elvish proprietor.

The workshop was much cleaner on the inside than it was upon its exterior, dominated by a large, central worktable and a singular chair. This surface was polished to a shine, and behind it stood several rows of open shelving, upon which were arranged the tools of Rilien's trades, all neatly aligned but not labelled. There was no need, as he knew what everything was, and nobody else needed to. When the door swung open, he glanced up, catching sight of a face he knew, but not well. This was Sparrow's acquaintance, the one she had seemed so distressed to meet. Conversely, however, she had also been somehow pleased, and though he did not pretend to understand it, he had noticed. The woman was much like Sparrow in her distinct lack of conventional appearance, but that, so far as he could tell, was where the similarity ended.

"You are Amalia. What do you require of me?" he asked bluntly, setting aside for the moment the delicate glass bottles he was working with, but not before stoppering each of them, content to ignore her until she spoke. The clear containers, he shelved, contemplating opening his singular window to rid the room of the smell of nightshade. In the end, he decided against it-- the scent was far more pleasant than Darktown's was.

Efficiency was something Amalia had always appreciated, and it seemed that this basra possessed the quality in spades. Far be it from her to dally in conversation when he was so clearly inclined otherwise, so she placed the wrapped bundle in her hands on the table, untying the ragged twine that held the cloth in place and flipping both ends of the burlap away to expose what lay underneath. "Can you enchant this? The material is most unusual, I am aware, but I was told that you were the person to ask." She stepped back from the table, giving him the space to examine the object if he so wished. In the meantime, she glanced around the shop's interior, paying particular attention to but not approaching the glass vials on the shelves. It would appear that the elf's trade was not limited to enchantment, but also included potions, and, if the smell was anything to go by, poisons.

An interesting fact. She might have even been inclined to inquire over it, were she not here for a very specific purpose and intent on its completion. Still, it was leading her to believe that things would work out after all. As someone who believed in maintaining a minimum of personal possessions, she did not have a fortune to offer in coin, and it had occurred to her that she was asking rather a lot, at least of a basra. Qunari did what needed to be done regardless of the amount of labor involved, but those not of her people were rarely the same.

Rilien's eyes narrowed, and he did cross to the other side of the table, though he did not place his back to the woman. He'd noticed how little noise she made; he was willing to assume that she was inclined towards stealth and no stranger to murder. Though he was not afraid, he considered himself relatively intelligent, and whether she would harm Sparrow was an entirely separate matter than whether she would harm him, had she the chance. Picking up the object on the table, he tested it with a small hammer, running a thumb along one edge. It only confirmed what the peculiar color and weight had led him to guess, and his brows drew together slightly. "An unconventional construction, indeed, but sturdier than most. I can enchant this. Lightning, flame, or nature would be optimal, but it would also tolerate an infusion of spirit or ice. The choice is yours."

He tested the heft and balance with a few deft motions of the hand, nodding ever so slightly. The workmanship was exceptional, actually, better than any of the Kirkwall craftsmen could manage. He also doubted they'd ever use bone. "You made this." It was not a question.

"I did," she replied. "But it will not be I that makes use of it." The Qunari pursed her lips momentarily, considering her options. The obvious choice was nature damage, but the more she thought about it, the more fire seemed appropriate instead. It was as much a gift from her as it was one to him, and she had burned for it, in a sense. It had also not escaped her that there was a certain violence in his nature that matched it well. "Enchant it to burn, and if you can have it done in two days, I'll pay you in this." Reaching into a pouch at her thigh, she extracted a glass vial of her own, filled with a viscous red liquid that was most assuredly not a potion of medicinal nature. She willingly handed it over, watching keenly for the Tranquil's reaction, though he was far harder to red than anyone else she'd encountered in this place.

Two days wasn't a problem, at least not in terms of the time it would actually take him to complete the task proper. Rilien could enchant an object within a few hours of intense concentration. Folding lyrium was not an easy task by any means, but it was also not a long one if you knew what you were doing. The demand in the time frame came from the fact that he'd have to move this job ahead of orders he'd received before it. Not that he cared in the slightest; this was by far the most interesting and challenging thing he'd been asked to do since he'd set up shop here. Most people just wanted rat poison or pain killers--it was only rarely that he ever received the opportunity to do something more than that. Most of the more complex brews he made were either for his own use or the occasional Red Iron contract.

He took the vial from the Qunari and examined it closely, unstoppering it and sniffing delicately. His eyes widened almost imperceptibly before he smoothed his face over. That alone was rare, but then, what he was holding was perhaps rarer still. "You would pay me in the blood of dragons?" he asked flatly, meeting the woman's mismatched eyes. He blinked slowly, then tilted his head. "If you part with three vials of this and the heart, it will be ready tomorrow." Were he more superstitious, he would be unable to believe his luck. There was a chance-- a slim chance, but still a chance-- that the heart of a dragon could be the key to something he wanted, not as a matter of necessity, but as a matter of what little emotional capacity he still possessed.

"It is done," Amalia replied immediately. Three vials was less than half of what she'd managed to collect and preserve, and the heart, while interesting, was not anything she had a use for. If he was asking for it without being offered, chances were good he had a reason, and that was enough to make the exchange a beneficial one for both of them. She paused for a moment, ready to leave, but found her steps pulling up short of the door. Frowning, she turned herself to lean against the wall. "Venak hol-- the one you call Sparrow. How long have you known him?" she crossed her arms and folded one leg over the other. She'd intended not to ask this question, but... it was unexpectedly difficult, ignoring the fact that this man knew things of her brother that she did not. It had been years, and perhaps she had no claim on the information anymore, but all the same, she desired to know.

Amalia could not say that she had ever cared for a particularly large number of people in her life. Well, that was perhaps not exactly true. She cared for all of her people, devoted her life to protecting them. She'd lost much in the effort to do so, endured much. It was still not the same as the sense in which one cared for individual other people. Though it was a common-enough word among the Qunari, none were kadan to her, and none had ever been. Venak hol was just as important, but she hadn't wanted to bind him with the appellation. Sure enough, he'd flown away from her in the end, as some part of her had always known he would. It was his nature and she did not blame him for it. Yet in the absence of true ties to anyone else, without anything to occupy that place in her heart, it had hurt more than it should have. Amalia, even as a Qunari, was an incomplete person, and she knew it. It was what prevented her from earning the last measure of the Ariqun's trust; the kossith woman had been explicit about this fact. What she had instead were empty spaces and a prodigal brother she could not let go of, even though she knew he was not capable of filling all of them in.

"A few years," Rilien replied tonelessly, beginning to pull certain tools and ingredients down from shelves and set them down on the table. He noted mentally that he was low on raw lyrium, and needed to purchase more of it. A minor irritation, considering the fact that the prices for which he was able to do so were very much above its market value. That sort of thing happened when you were not affiliated with the Circle and had to work through smugglers to obtain what you wanted. The independence was well worth it, however. He glanced over his shoulder, noting that Amalia was still present.

"She was hiding from debt collectors. In my house." There was the barest hint of dry humor there. "I took care of the problem and let her stay. She is... much the same still, but attempts to help, in her fashion." He could not ascertain if that was the answer the woman wanted, but it was the true one, if very abbreviated, and he wasn't going to mention the possession. Just because someone knew Sparrow did not give them the right to that secret. If Sparrow wanted this Amalia to know, she would tell her, and Rilien wasn't going to.

Amalia nearly smiled at the first part of the tale. That was just like Venak hol, to be hapless even when he thought he was being clever. There was something very honest about that quality, and it was the reason he'd earned the name she gave to him, because it had once worried her so. She'd always been concerned that the world would be too hard on him, given everything that he was but had not chosen to be. His very presence had convinced her that collaring Saarebas was not the right thing, and could not be what the Qun truly demanded. Collaring Venak hol would have killed him, like cutting the wings from a bird. Maybe Sparrow was an appropriate name, too, in its way. There was no way the Qun could demand that. She had firmly believed so then, and this much at least had not changed.

She was curious, though. "Why would you do that? He was not yours to look after. All I have seen of the people here leads me to believe that others would have killed him, or at least thrown him out. What makes you so different?" The question was clipped and blunt, but in this instance, it was something she could not help. The answer was important. If he gave a good one, she could breathe just a little more easily, knowing that her friend was at least being looked after, supported. Everyone needed that sometimes, even birds who wanted nothing more than to fly on their own.

Rilien was perhaps prepared for the question only because he had asked it of himself so many times. It had bothered him for nearly a year after he made the initial offer, because it seemed very much a rash, impulsive choice, and if there was anything he was not, it was rash and impulsive. He leveled a long stare at the Qunari, but she did not retract the question, so he answered it to her as he had to himself. "I did not know, at first. I still do not fully understand it. All I can say is that I was once in a situation where someone could have easily made life easier for himself by leaving me to die, and he chose not to. I had less to lose than he. I do not require extravagance. If someone could lose everything he cared about partially on my account, a few sovereigns was trivial. Perhaps I had simply known him too long. Now, she is my friend, and that is reason enough." He barely lifted one shoulder, then set about his work, a clear sign of dismissal.

Amalia took it for what it was and left without another word. For all the lack of certainty in the man's answer, she was satisfied with it, and knew now that Venak hol was well off here, perhaps moreso than he realized. Perhaps moreso than he had been with the Qun. That thought alone troubled her, but she banished it. Whether he knew it or not, Rilien was very much like a Qunari. She did not know what other person he spoke of, but perhaps she owed him her thanks, as well.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Amalia
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It was perhaps three months after returning from the Deep Roads that Nostariel finally plucked up the courage to go and talk to Amalia. This was no small feat, she was quite sure. The woman was intimidating to the Warden in a way that most people were not, including people with much more imposing physical presences. She'd thought it might be something unique to the Qunari, something to do with that absolute certainty that drove them all along relentlessly and only infrequently with anything like mercy, but though the Arishok had been plenty daunting, it was not the same. She'd put it down to just being some strange, indefinable quality of Amalia's after that, but whatever it was, it had kept her lingering only occasionally at the edges of the Alienage, never quite sure she really wanted to go in.

Today, though, fuelled by yet another nightmare, she decided that it had to stop. Her torment was not over, and maybe it never would be, but she was tired of it, and tired of letting the burdens of it rest on other people, no matter how gracious they were about it. She was the only one who could control how much she let the past get to her, and she was done dreaming about that day. At the very least, she was not going to let it spill over into her waking hours, too. She was chained, and she would be better off if she learned how to bear those tethers as the Qunari did-- they would not be of the same kind, as she had no desire to join the Qun, but if she could have even a fragment of that steady, steely certainty that Amalia displayed, she would count herself lucky.

As usual, the woman was to be found beneath the tree, shrouded in so many garments that nothing of her was visible save her face and hair. The plain robes were shapeless, even ascetic, moreso than the Chantry's, even. Was that a conscious choice? She was given to understand that Seheron was a hot environment, and the majority of the kossith she'd seen went about with exposed upper bodies. She'd never thought about it before, but for some reason it struck her just then, and she filed the question away, perhaps for later asking, but most likely not. She wasn't sure she'd ever have the fortitude to ask someone so intimidating something so personal. Nevertheless, she was about to ask a favor with nothing to give in return, was this not worse? Swallowing the thought, she approached with more confidence than she felt. If nothing else, commanding had given her a brave face to use when things got bad.

"Excuse me, Amalia? I don't know if you remember me; we last met helping Feynriel." When she said it that way, it sounded even worse. She was going to ask someone she wasn't even sure she'd spoken to directly for a favor. Nostariel didn't know where her sanity had gone, but it clearly wasn't with her anymore. Still, she needed this, and asking Amalia was the only way she could immediately think of to obtain it. "May I ask you something?"

This morning, Amalia was beneath the tree, legs crossed in meditation, trying to quell the rising agitation stuck somewhere between her throat and her stomach. It was primarily directed at herself, which was unusual but not unheard-of. She was agitated because she knew that hope and belief were entirely useless, and yet she felt them anyway. Each time a new pair of footfalls entered the Alienage, she looked up, even if she recognized no similarity between the tread and the one she was waiting to hear. Hope. It was entirely useless, and distracting furthermore. Believing in anything other than the Qun was even worse, much less believing in a person. What was a person? A fallible, mortal thing with no permanence and no use aside from what it could do for the whole. A person was simply not the kind of entity that one should be attaching belief to.

She needed to accept that she had been wrong. It was not, however, as easy as she'd thought it would or should be, given the relative ease with which she'd learned from past mistakes. Trust nothing but the Qun. Be prepared for anything-- anyone-- else to betray you. Expect harm when nobody else would. Death is inevitable. Things of this nature. Grim things, but true things, and ones that assisted the practical endeavor of bare survival. Beyond that, her goals need only be dictated by the Qun, her lessons found in its script.

A new set of footsteps entered the Alienage. She knew they weren't the right ones, but as ever, she looked up anyway, mildly surprised to find that these at least belonged to someone she recognized that did not dwell here. The woman approached tentatvely, and for a moment, Amalia was almost certain that some of her underlying irritation had shown on her face. Smoothing her expression over at once, she sat passively until the elf was done speaking, then nodded shortly. "You are the Warden, Nostariel. I remember." The request was given politely, but somewhat weakly. Perhaps that was to be expected. She wasn't exactly in a hospitable mood at the moment, if indeed she ever was, and this probably registered on some unconscious level with other people even if she did nothing to show it.

Forcing her shoulders to relax, followed by the rest of her musculature, Amalia nodded curtly. "Speak, Warden, and I shall listen." She would promise nothing else.

Well, it wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement of her continued presence, but it was something, and Nostariel supposed she should be grateful she hadn't been dismissed out of hand. She couldn't pretend to understand the Qunari, but something told her that they weren't the sort to just shoo a person off if they had something to ask or say. At the very least, even the Arishok had been understanding on some level, allowing them to clarify their involvement with the Javaris situation and leave without protest. Certainly, they weren't the most hospitable people, but they certainly weren't Darkspawn, and probably actually fell short of some of what the Chantry had to offer.

Now there was a grim thought.

But she was wasting her opportunity to say something, and Amalia was still waiting for her to get to the point. Her patience was surely not limitless. "I realize I have no real right to ask you for something, but... I thought that maybe since you'd helped Feynriel without gain to yourself, you might be willing to do the same again." Granted, she honestly knew nothing of the woman's motivation for helping the lad; perhaps she'd only done it because Ithilian had asked? He seemed to have a more readily-accessible motivation for doing so, but she doubted Amalia would ever do anything without an actual reason. But maybe she presumed to know too much.

"I have been... troubled, of late, by dreams that I can't seem to escape. They're connected to some events in the past that I regret, and I can't seem to be rid of them. I thought that maybe there was something you did, to maintain peace of mind, and that perhaps I could learn to be as you are. If... if you don't mind, that is." In words, the whole thing came out a little more ludicrous than she'd been expecting, and Nostariel shifted her weight uncomfortably from one foot to another.

Amalia snorted. "Asking is not about rights, and life is not a mere exchange of debts and obligations. If I act, it will be because I deem the cause worthy or necessary." She grew weary of this strange human's-world treatment of favors and kindnesses. Even that they were called such. Did nobody understand that she did nothing she did not see the merit in? Her choices were not always easy, but the actions she took were always justified by something. Standing, the Qunari dusted off the front and back of her loose garments, apparently ignoring the other woman, at least for a moment. It was ironic, truly, that the Saarebas seemed to flock like sheep to the one wolf in the entire city who would not slay them for being what they were. She wondered if she managed to project some kind of strange benevolence she was not aware of. Had someone decided to point out this, one of the few idiosyncracies she had, to the world at large? Perhaps tattooed it across her face? If so, she owed someone a disembowelment.

Still, she was not without sympathy, not entirely. And the difficulty Nostariel admitted to was one she understood well, too well, in fact, for her to ignore it. Tilting her head downwards, she studied the Warden for several long moments, unblinking. Exhaling shortly, she pointed to the spot beneath the tree she'd previously occupied. "Sit. Before we begin, understand this: you will owe me nothing. But you will do everything I tell you to do, and if I don't answer your questions, you will accept that there is a reason for this. You will answer all of mine. Those are the terms."

Feeling a bit... chagrined, perhaps, Nostariel sat where she was instructed, leaning her staff up against the painted tree and making her best approximation of Amalia's flawless lotus position, though she was fairly certain there were significant differences. The Qunari's terms were uttered in short, clipped phrases, her tone none too kind, but Nostariel thought she might be able to see the reasoning behind them. It was like any other kind of instruction, really; the teacher had to be in control of the rate and amount of information dispensed. That much, the mage was quite used to. It was often the same in the Circle. If a newly-found apprentice went about casting powerful elemental magics at first, widespread destruction was likely to occur.

Granted, she wasn't exactly sure how knowing anything about peace of mind too soon could be a bad thing, but maybe it would simply slow her progress. So the elf nodded. "I understand, and I accept your terms. Thank you."

Amalia simply nodded, prodding Nostariel's knee with a foot. "Not like that. Loosen up; you're far too tense for this to help." Crouching in front of the Warden, she moved the latter's feet and legs at will, until they were properly folded. It was uncomfortable for someone who'd never sat so before, she knew, but the appropriate muscles had to stretch. Eventually, it would be simple, and much more stable and balanced than most people were even anchored to the ground. She tapped the elf's spine, to indicate that it needed to be straightened. "Your posture is important. Don't slouch; it's counterproductive. There are physical aspects to this as well as mental. The better the air can circulate in your lungs, the more centered you'll feel after a few hours meditating."

Let it never be said that she did anything halfway.

Resuming her own seat, Amalia placed herself knee-to-knee with Nostariel, then placed her hands loosely over her knees. "For now, grow accustomed to sitting like this. There will be movement in the future, but that is not necessary now. If you have your choice, assume this posture at all times. Otherwise, at least keep your back straight. There is no hunching over bar counters to be found here." Though she was not particularly acquainted with the Warden, she knew enough to understand this particular habit of hers, and also to suppose that a more straightforward manner would be useful here than with somebody else. She was given to understand that people tended to wear the kid gloves with this woman, but the Qunari did that for nobody, and she did not desire that Nostariel come to expect anything of the sort from her.

Nostariel's repositioned self was in a fair amount of discomfort, but she supposed that was to be expected. She didn't spend a lot of her time twisting herself into pretzel-shapes, after all, but apparently Amalia did. Though she didn't know much about the correspodence between good posture and breathing, she supposed it did seem a bit easier this way. Or maybe that was just her trying to reassure herself that she could focus on something other than the awkward contortion of her legs. The comment about bar-counters caught her off-guard, but for all that, it was true. She just wasn't sure how Amalia had come to know it. Another thing to tack onto the list of 'things she didn't understand about the Qunari.'

The woman's words were spoken plainly, with no subtle gentling or tactful avoidance, and honestly, she wasn't really used to that anymore. It had at first almost started the guilt stirring in the pit of her stomach, but then the other woman was speaking again, and she was too focused on listening to the instructions to bother with being guilty just yet. She might even get used to this sort of manner. The bluntness maybe wasn't something she'd think appropriate for every situation, but at least she knew she could expect to be told of things as they were, with no attempt to save her pride or her feelings. Exhausting, probably, but... nice, in a way.

"Does... does the Qun teach this?" she asked, genuinely curious. It seemed like an odd pasttime for most of the Qunari, but then again it might explain that quietly foreboding stoicism they had about them most of the time. Well, at least until somebody made them mad.

"Not to all of its followers," Amalia replied evenly. "Certain members of the priesthood have cause to learn, but it is not seen as particularly necessary for warriors. Our ferocity is to be contained, tempered, sharpened; theirs is to be held back only loosely, and loosed in waves. Some artisans use it, if they find that a centered state of mind is useful to their craft." She herself had only learned after a situation resembling Nostariel's own. Troubled by nightmares, she'd sought the counsel of the Ariqun, who had appointed from the ranks of the Tallis, the solvers, an instructor in these methods.

"No more speaking. Close your eyes, banish your thoughts. Your mind is to be empty, blank. Hissra find no purchase when there is nothing to hold."

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Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Amalia
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The Qunari perched on the rooftop, a silent sentinel, and for the moment at least, completely still, poised at the corner of the building like a crouched gargoyle, hands gripping the stone ledge with the easy confidence of years of practice. Behind her, on the flat surface of the elevated platform, several human bodies lay in various states of unfortunate fate; some had clearly died much more swiftly than others, taken by the surprise of the Ben-Hassrath’s initial assault. One of several pockets of a particular nighttime gang terrorizing Lowtown. Such a thing would ordinarily be no business of hers, but she had it on good authority that they planned to expand their operations into the Alienage, tonight, in all likelihood.

That, she would not allow.

A breeze kicked up from over the ocean, but unlike on the Wounded Coast, it brought mostly the scent of fish and industry and human foundries. Sulfur, fish, sweat, cheap alcohol. It was the odor of Kirkwall, and she disliked how well she knew it. A flicker of movement below caught her attention, and Amalia shifted slightly, leaning out over the edge a bit and bracing herself with both arms and legs. Sure enough, there was another grouping of thugs below, these accompanied also by those hounds the Fereldan refugees seemed to favor. Mabari, she understood they were called, and smarter than the average beast. Smarter than any human who would trespass into the Alienage while she dwelled there, at any rate.

She had not lied to him; she could not protect them on her own. This did not mean she would not make the effort at all. The men below started to move, and the Qunari stirred, propelling herself to the adjacent rooftop with no noise. Clad in mottled dark blues and greys, she blended easily with the backdrop of the middle of the night; only the uninitiated believed that shadows were black, and these humans were clearly among them, making their dark shapes easy to trail after, even if they hadn’t been making more noise than any truly nocturnal creature had any right to.

From the Lowtown Market she stalked them, trailing behind them on rooftops, but the information had been good—they were unmistakably headed towards the Alienage, armed to the teeth and apparently somewhat intoxicated in several cases. Still, there were quite a number of them, and she would not be able to deal with them all before one of them managed to spot her. Even so, Amalia waited. If they did not set foot in the city-elves’ dwelling place, she would not touch them. The ones on the roof had died to keep her observations quiet, but she was not needlessly destructive.

They were rounding the final bend on their path, however, and as soon as the first had laid his foot on the steps leading down into the central common, Amalia let go of any remaining inclination to wait, reaching for the throwing needles at her thigh, loosing three before she capitalized on what remained of the advantage of surprise. Setting her jaw, the Qunari flicked her wrist, sliding the hidden blade there free of its home and leaping from the roof without so much as a whisper of sound. Flipping over once in her descent, she landed squarely on the shoulders of that first man, sliding the foot-and-a-half length of steel into his spinal cord before he had time to realize his knees were buckling under her weight.

Leaping from him before she could accompany his corpse in an ungainly tumble down the stairs, she landed in a crouch on the top stair, blade arm extended out to the side, and rose fluidly to a stand. ”You will leave this place in peace, or you will die,” she informed the rest flatly. There was silence for all of two seconds before they attacked.



Lucien was headed home perhaps a little later than he would normally have been, but apparently the client had been insistent that she could not show her face before the middle of the night, for fear of whomever was following her. He supposed he could understand that, but then in the end it had made precious little difference anyway, and the confrontation had been brief, but uncomfortable. One of the disadvantages of being willing to hear out absolutely anyone was that occasionally you were taken for a fool and someone tried to use you for petty revenge. It was only after he’d successfully explained to the jilted husband that he was not the second party to an affair that he’d been able to extricate himself from that mess, and now he was tired and really just wanted to sleep.

The universe seemed to have other ideas in mind, however, and it was some distance before he rounded the corner to his house that he heard the sounds of an armed confrontation, including shouting and the unmistakable clang of steel. If he wasn’t mistaken, there were hounds involved as well. Picking up his pace, the Chevalier jogged around the corner, a hand over his shoulder and on the haft of his axe, to be confronted by a most macabre sight.

A singular woman, slightly bent under the weight of exertion and what he presumed must be wounds, stood just in front of the steps descending into the Alienage, dripping blood from the end of a rather wicked-looking blade that seemed to be attached to her arm. She was also covered in it, but from the looks of things, not all of it was hers; perhaps not even most. Strewn about her in a rough half-circle were the unmoving bodies of several men, their dark clothes and the Mabari presence identifying them as members of the Dog Lords, a local gang. From the woman’s defensive stance, he suspected she was guarding the entrance to the elven slum, and though she was clearly human, he was almost certain he recognized her from the area. She held one hand to her side, glancing up at him as he appeared, but there was no readable emotion on her face.

The Dog Lords noted his presence as well, and it wasn’t more than a few heartbeats before half had split off to attack him. Lucien sighed through his nose. “Will you not leave without further death?” he asked, more than aware of the answer already. One of them spat at his feet and attacked, forcing him to take a step backwards and raise his axe to block.

Amalia had already given her warning, and she was ruthless. Taking advantage of their momentary distraction, she strafed forward and opened up a slash beneath one man’s chin, dropping him to the ground in a welling of blood. She kept her free hand clasped to her side, however, trying to stem the blood seeping from a wound there that one of them had inflicted as she tired. Hard to hit she may be, but the entire point of this endeavor was to hold a position, to not allow any of these basra beyond the spot in which she stood, and she was not accustomed to plying bulwark. That, indeed, seemed like something her happenstance ally would be better suited for, and she’d seen him doing just this on previous nights, close to here.

Ducking sideways to avoid a downward swing from a two-handed sword, she slipped in under her assailant’s guard, slamming her fluid-slick blade into his gut. He stumbled backwards with a choked cry, but she did not follow. That would place her amidst his comrades, and she could not afford to be so reckless. She played a delicate game of cat and mouse here, but with Darktown rats instead of mice. They were more than capable of shredding her if she did not remember her vulnerabilities.

Lucien fought his way steadily through his half of the Dog Lords, not so disadvantaged by open-field combat as the woman was, and certainly not injured at present. Making his way to her side, he glanced down out of the corner of his eye. “You seek to keep them out of the Alienage?” he asked, though the answer seemed obvious enough.

“Yes.” She wasn’t sure what reason this basra could have to care, but she knew his face by description, and what she’d heard was reason enough to trust his intent, for now.

After he took over as damage shield, Amalia was able to return to a much greater degree of efficacy, sliding effortlessly through the thick of the foes’ confused grouping, cutting them down from behind, and in the end, the Dog Lords had nothing more to show for their trouble than more dead members. The Qunari’s blade slid home with a muted click, and she turned to the armored human. “For what purpose do you assist me?” she asked, her tone steady despite her injuries.

Lucien regarded the woman with some concern. “There are few who would help these people, and I understand that one of those who did so with most vigor is no longer present.” Nostariel had told him of Ithilian’s desire to avenge the wrongs done the elves here, but he was fairly sure the man lingered in Kirkwall no longer, if the conversation he’d overheard in the Deep Roads was anything to go by. “You should get that wound treated; it looks bad. I know a healer, if you need one.”

Amalia ignored him, or at least the part of his answer that concerned her condition. She’d survived much worse than this; a few potions would do the trick just fine. “And what? You seek to replace him?” her tone was acidic, almost accusatory.

Lucien blinked in surprise; he hadn’t been expecting hostility. “Of course not,” he replied mildly. “but surely more than one person in the world can do the right thing? Was protecting them not your intent as well?” He replaced his axe on his back, as if to declare that his further intentions fell far short of hostility.

Amalia eased at this. “Indeed,” she replied, and it was answer to both questions. Straightening, she pulled a potion from her belt-pouch and downed it, rolling her shoulders as it took effect and closed off the wound in her side. “My suspicion is not unwarranted, but you are as the others say, basra.” It was not anyone who could show his face in the Arishok’s pavilion twice and come away unscathed both times, after all. “Your assistance is acknowledged.” She inclined her head as a means of thanks, and turned to depart.

Basra?” he echoed behind her, and she stopped. “You are of the Qun, then? I did not think there were any female Qunari in Kirkwall.” He had to admit to some level of curiosity about this; he had always thought that the Qunari did not allow their women to fight.

“I am Qunari,” she confirmed simply, half-turning again to regard him from the corner of an eye. “But I am not of the Antaam, the Arishok’s army. My role is different.”

”But you fight,” he pressed, interested in this detail he had not known before. “That was clearly not your first battle.”

She nodded, acknowledging the statement for what it was. “The body may face adversity that it can only answer with hostility, and the same is true of the soul,” she said cryptically. Studying the man for a moment, Amalia tilted her head to one side. It was something that had struck her during their joint confrontation—though he was of a size and stature with the average male kossith, he did not move like one. Something about his training must have resembled hers, where flexibility and movement were key, though she could not say exactly what it might have been. The ways of basra were often opaque to her.

“There are many ways to fight, and not all need be of the kind armies use. I think you know this.”

Lucien smiled, and nodded. He wasn’t sure what to make of her comment about bodies and souls, though it seemed true enough to him. Precisely how it was an answer to what had come before was a little more obscure, but that was all right. They were speaking from different places; common understandings were not always easy things, and he was simply glad she’d explained as much as she had.

“May I have your name? Or your role, rather?” he supposed that would be the more appropriate request, wouldn’t it?

Amalia considered this for a moment. “You may. I am Ben-Hassrath, or Amalia. What are you?”

He shrugged. “I’m not sure I could answer to your satisfaction,” he said honestly. “My given name is Lucien, but I suppose unless you’d be willing to let me borrow a Qunlat word for mercenary, I have no role anymore.” It was interesting, trying to explain himself in these terms, and he wasn’t sure they fit at all. Still, it was something he would admit to some curiosity about, one that had been kindled largely by his limited experience with the Qunari thus far.

“There isn’t one,” Amalia replied. “It wouldn’t suit you, anyway. If we had one, it would be pejorative.” Mercenaries were not the kinds of people who did what was necessary for no other reason or reward, as he had done.

Lucien chuckled softly. “I’ll take that as a compliment, I think. Well, I should be going. A good evening to you, Amalia.” With that, he inclined himself at the torso and left, heading back to his dwelling. She contemplated following; ally or potential future enemy, someone with his skill and demeanor bore watching, but she had a feeling the Arishok was already taking care of that, keeping tabs on anyone who had drawn his attention yet in this place. So she refrained, instead descending the steps to the Alienage, slipping inside the dwelling she shared with her Viddethari to more properly treat her wounds.

She wondered just how much longer she could exert herself for this entire district. She already had a role, and trying to take on two at once was not going to sustain either for very long. She was neither made nor trained to be Sataareth.

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Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Amalia
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"Better," Amalia conceded, blocking the incoming foot with the side of her arm. Twisting, she brought the limb around to grasp Aurora's extended foot by the ankle, then lifted it up and over her head, spinning a full circle beneath it and forcing the girl to choose between jumping off her other foot and rotating her own body horizontally in midair (which would make for a blind and tricky landing) or else drop like dead weight, in order to throw off her opponent instead. Both were good choices, provided they could be made quickly enough.

In the eight months or so that Imekari had been under her tutelage, she'd improved greatly, though in all honesty, one could do such exercises as these for half a decade and still hardly touch what there was to be learned. Their lessons, infrequent as they were, were not going to make the girl a master, but they would make her good enough, far better than most and quite capable of looking out for herself without needing to resort to magic. And that was all that mattered. In her year and a half in Kirkwall, Amalia had successfully avoided interacting with Templars in all but a few instances, but that was no excuse for ignorance about their practices, and thus she had learned what she needed to know. They called the Qunari by perjoratives like 'heathen' and 'barbarian,' and yet it was they who couldn't see sense enough to prevent their mages from turning into creatures little better than animals, then slaughtering them as though they were to be blamed for this event. Absurd.

The solution was obviously containment, though she and the rest of her people might disagree on just who could do it. Arveraad were certainly capable, but so was Aurora. Or she would be.

Aurora opted instead to drop all her weight to the ground. She was no bird, and so she tried to keep at least one of her feet on the ground at all times. Perhaps one day she'd become adept enough to pursue aerial acrobatics, but that day was not today. Dead weight it was. She fell backwards, dragging her foot along with her. If Amalia didn't let go, then she'd be pulled right along with her, and ther spar would quickly turn into a wrestling match in the dirt. She expected that Amalia would likely relinquish the hold and let her roll backward back to her feet. There she sighed and tilted her head, perhaps not as enthused about her own progress as Amalia was. "But not perfect," She corrected and stood.

"Perfect is a worthy goal," Amalia conceded, reqlinquishing the younger woman her limb so that she might regain her feet. The point was, after all, not to attack in all the ways she could, but to allow her pupil the opportunity to try breaking through her defense. Not that she was afraid of putting the girl on her rear, of course; she had done so many times before and would do so many more before their time together was ended. "But unattainable. The impotant part is in the striving."

Aurora made a mental note not to lead with any more kicks, and especially not high kicks. She rolled her shoulders and settled into the stance she had since adopted in Amalia's care. Her elbows were tucked in close to her centermass, arms bent at a forty-five degree angle, and her hands were open with the palms on the sides. She was relaxed, balanced, but structured as well Aurora shifted to her left, bringing her foot to the forefront and swapping foremost extended hand. "Again," she said, closing the distance between the two of them. The first punch she threw was a straight left aiming for Amalia's chest. Strengthen the body and strengthen the mind, Aurora had learned. A strong mind was the best defense against the lies whispered by the demons across the veil. While she was by no means perfect, she felt better about herself than she did a year ago. She was more sure of herself, and her ability to keep the fingers of the demons at bay.

Aurora would not be kept in a cage of iron and stone, but of strength and willpower. She would be collared, but it would be her hands that held the keys, no one elses.

The Qunari flowed out of the way of the punch, spinning sideways and aiming an open-handed strike for the mage's shoulder. "Where are your feet?" she asked rhetorically. "Keep your foundation firm, and none shall move you without your consent." As with most things Amalia said in this context, there was a mental meaning as well as a straightforward comment about physicality. This was her role; to deliver such reminders in a way that integrated them; body, mind, and soul, to be all the more effective and permanently remembered.

"But I must be flexible too, so I can bend without breaking. Rooted, but yielding," Aurora agreed with an addendum, and instead of merely ducking out of the way of the blow, she shifted her feet and followed Amalia's spin, deflecting the blow with her forearm. Her elbow never ventured far from her centerline, and she retained her balance throughout and ended up throwing her own closed fist strike at her belly. She was not a terrible student, and she learned the lessons quickly, committing them to heart, but she also came to her own conclusions. Simply memorizing what Amalia taught her was useless. She'd just be reciting words. She needed to learn, understand, and then make it hers. She needed to come up with her own way.

There was a gentle flicker of amusement in Amalia's eyes, and her lips curled up at one corner. It was not the sort of condescending thing one feels at the antics of a fool (she did not find fools amusing, after all), but rather the small satisfaction of a quandary finally making sense, or perhaps what gardeners felt with the first opening of petals in spring. "You've been thinking," she said simply, avoiding the blow headed for her midsection by dropping into a sweep, arcing her legs out to try and entangle them with Aurora's. It was a compliment, coming from the Qunari, though of course Amalia's compliments hardly ever sounded like them. More like observations, as it was rather difficult to find an instance in which she altered her tone from the faintly-disapporving neutrality her people seemed inclined towards.

Sometimes, she wondered if in communicating with others, the Qunari should start prefacing their sentences with their intent, as most people seemed incapable of the subtlety required to properly read into the words. Sarcasm: that sounds like a useful way to spend our words, speaking to those who will refuse to understand anyway. Still, at least the people she actually cared to converse with seemed to take her meaning mostly correctly in the majority of cases. And yet the most recent notable backfiring of this generality still bothered her.

"I needed to. I won't just suddenly have an epiphany and understand everything," Aurora answered. As Amalia dropped into her sweep, Aurora picked her foot up and batted her entangling legs away with her heel, and spun out of Amalia's front, instead coming in from an angle. "I need to think to understand," She said. As she did, her stance changed from the open palms to closed fists, one in front of the other. As she rushed Amalia, she launched a straight blast of fists, a barrage of quick rapid fire punches intended to overwhelm, stepping inside the guard all the while. The movement was clean and fluid, each punch rotating out for another, though her elbows kept close to her centerline. The straight blast was aimed downward at Amalia's chest. If Amalia didn't dodge or counter, then the flurry would rain down on her-- Aurora kept her strength in check just in the off-chance that Amalia wouldn't dodge.

Each of these, Amalia caught in a palm and delfected to the side, save the last, which she dodged instead, bending over backwards until her hands touched the ground behind her, kicking herself upwards into a deft flip, which reset the distance between them. Rather than retaliate, however, she remained still, the birdlike tilt to her head an indication that she was interested in hearing the rest uninterrupted.

"A thinking mind is a strong one. A strong mind is both a free one and a chained one," Aurora smiled. Chains of her own creation, one that she was free to create and lock herself. Aurora did catch the compliment however, she'd come to understand Amalia in the passing months. Though much of the woman was still a mystery, she'd begun to catch the smaller quirks of her person. The hidden compliments, the instances of warmth, to anyone else they might simply filter by.

"Then your thinking serves you well," Amalia replied with a nod. "Stretch to cool down, and tell me of your dreams." Taking her own advice, she moved into several flowing exercises designed to prevent muscles from cramping or locking up at inopportune moments, several of which she'd taught to Aurora as well. It was important to condition the whole body, and not simply the parts that did the attacking. Likewise, the opportunity could easily be taken to condition one's mind, to make oneself aware of the things that were still troublesome, and think through what the possible solutions to those troubles might be. For an ordinary person, this was important. For a mage like Imekari, Amalia suspected it may very well prove vital.

As instructed, Aurora stepped out of her stance and into the cooldown exercises, though she seemed less then enthused about them. It wasn't that she didn't see the value of easing her muscles into a resting state, she just found them to be immensely boring. She hated stretching. She did them without complaint however, as an admonishing remark from Amalia right now would probably spoil the whole session. When Amalia questioned her about her dreams, she was quiet as she thought. She had dreams, yes. Demons and such were the most prolific of them, but at this point they were to be expected. She figured Amalia was asking for something different. There were a couple of dreams between the usual ones.

She sighed as she opened her mouth to talk. "Aside from the normal ones, I dream of home, mostly. Back in Bastion, not the Circle-- that never was home. Sometimes I dream of my family, just sitting around, talking, and laughing. Sometimes even the horizon as the sun set. Sometimes I wish it could all go back to the way it was, you know? Before I was taken to the Circle," but it never would return back to normal. She'd always be a mage, no matter how much she wished otherwise-- even if she did wish otherwise. "It's been six-seven years the last time I even saw my family..." She said somberly.

"What stops you from making it so?" Amalia asked. It was not a derisive question, merely an honest query. "Is avoiding Templars in Antiva so much more difficult than avoiding Templars here?" As she saw it, if this was a time in Aurora's life that was impossible to return to (as most past times were), then it was simply another obstacle to be overcome. If, on the other hand, there might be a way to solve the problem without simply learning to avoid it, this was preferable. Amalia understood little of connection by blood; for the Qunari, your family was always the one you made, and never the one that you were born into. But this was not the case elewhere, she knew.

It wasn't that she hadn't thought about it before. Just uproot herself and leave for Bastion one day. In the years since her break from the Antivan Circle, Aurora had gotten good at staying below the notice of the Templars. It wouldn't take much for her to hope a boat and sail her way back home. The ability to go back home was in her hand. But the motivation was something else entirely. "I've thought about it you know?" she said. She thought about a lot of things. "Just leave and go back. I've thought about it a lot," She said, but there was something else that kept her chained in Kirkwall.

"It's just... It'd be too painful. I've changed. They've changed. They've probably moved on. Besides, it'd be too painful. Like ripping open old wounds, nothing good would come from it," She said, finishing up her stretches and taking a seat on the ground. "I don't even know if they live in the same house, they could've moved while I've been away. Even if they were there, then I don't know if I'd be able to leave it again. If the Templars found me again, then I'd just have to leave them again. It's easier this way, for me and them," That didn't make the pill any less bitter to swallow. It sounded like a lot of complaining to her, and she knew it. But she just didn't think she was strong enough for that.

Not now at least. There was always the possibility of finding them one day. She would never give up that hope, of seeing the Antivan horizon again, of seeing her familiy. She wasn't going to give up that dream. She'd have to become stronger, but she was getting stronger day by day... "One day though. I will find them again. It might not be soon, but one day when I'm stronger, I will find them," With that admission a sure smile crossed her lips. "How are your dreams Amalia?" She asked, turning the question on her.

"Hmph," the Qunari replied, dexterously untwisting herself from what appeared to be some kind of pretzel formation. "I," she replied, "am the instructor here, and not the pupil." This was not an arrangment in which they gave and took the same things. Nevertheless, she deigned to answer the question, after a fashion. "My dreams are as they have always been. I do not often change." Settling herself into a crosslegged position across from Aurora, she considered the implications of the other woman's statements.

"Easy and right are rarely correleated. But we do well to understand our limitations, and work to expand them." It sounded like a decent enough plan to her, if it was indeed this which Aurora wanted.

"It's something to think on and work towards," She agreed, laying back. Aurora was sad that she didn't manage to pry much more out of Amalia's dreams, but it wasn't entirely unexpected. She was still a mystery, after all, and just as difficult to figure out as a safe lock. Still, points for trying. "Easy and right, huh? If only. But then I guess that wouldn't make the successes all that sweeter," She smiled. Though with that bit of thought out of the way, Aurora pulled herself upright and cradled her hands in her lap.

"So what's my next lesson?"

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

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

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

The two had not been so readily distinguished, once.

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

The way she walked had always been different from hers; she walked lightly, quietly, hardly leaving any evidence that she'd ever been there, and Sparrow walked with large, lumbering steps, leaving tracks like a receding tide-line. The blue undertones of the sky promised of pleasant weather, of a beautiful day spent by the beach. She'd chosen simple clothes that made it look as if she'd just hopped off the nearest shipyard; a fitted, cotton vest with leather trousers and a silken bandana wound across her head, slithering down the right side of her face. For this particular meeting, Sparrow needed no armor, even if it made her feel vulnerable. She'd never been one for being prepared, anyhow.

As she neared the meeting spot, Sparrow removed her shoes, held them aloft and dangled them over her shoulder. She could just see over the cliff-side, and spotted blonde hair blowing in the wind, gentle as blades of grass. Her breath hitched, stilling her movements. It was stifling how she could still do that to her, without so much as saying a thing. Sometimes, Sparrow could muster the courage to do things she never dreamt of doing. Her recklessness was boundless, and often bordered on stupidity, but at moments such as this, whatever bravery she'd scooped up in her hands sifted through her fingers like sand. Only she managed to do this to her. Her eyes, brimming with fire and seriousness and seawater, shook her foundations, and made her want to apologize for something, anything.

She might have been a mirage in the desert, weaving in the distance with all of her aliases and locked doors, but her old friend was as solid and real as the tiny particles of sand squished between her toes. She pressed her free hand to her chest, instilling a calm she didn't feel in her thumping heart, willing it to beat with the steadiness of the ocean. How dearly she wanted to snatch up her elbow, pull her along the beach, like she'd done so long ago – but things were different, and they'd changed more than she'd like to admit.

Sparrow breathed in through her nostrils, tasting both the cleanliness of the air, and the saltwater of the coastline. It was cooler than Par Vollen. Her memories, however skewed, had not eroded like the smooth rocks she'd spotted freckling the beach. She remembered every detail, as vividly as if they'd happened yesterday. Perhaps, it was what made it so painful. She couldn't deny abandoning her friend all those years ago, for reasons beyond selfishness, and she couldn't explain exactly why she'd done it, either. With one final shuddering breath, ruthlessly snatched away with the breeze, Sparrow took another step forward, then another, until she picked her way onto the beach. The secret alcove, hidden away from the world by jagged rocks and a skeletal shipwreck, reminded her of home, of secret hideaways and sharing their worries, dreams, ambitions. She walked slightly behind her old friend, off to the side, idling in the water; knee-deep.

“This may be the only place in the Free Marches that doesn't make me physically sick,” she mused softly, kicking up bits of sand, “Do you think they call it the Wounded Coast because of Kirkwall? Anything close to that place must be in a little pain, a little tainted.”

Amalia's pace hadn't changed when she sensed the arrival of her once-fellow, and indeed, to anyone else it might have seemed as though she hadn't acknowleged his presence at all. But she had; it was in the subtle relaxing of her posture, the way she walked now with looser, longer strides, though still atop the sand rather than sunk into it as he was wont to be. He was flighty, so flighty, and she'd had to admit to the possibility that he wouldn't show at all and her day would be spent by herself. It was not that solitude bothered her-- she'd been alone, in the poet's sense, almost her entire life. Ever since he'd departed, in fact. That she still was could not be counted as his fault, however. By now, she had chosen repeatedly to remain so, though she might have chosen otherwise. She told herself her burdens were best borne alone, that attachment to anything but the Qun diminished her judgement and her usefulness, but in truth she knew not whether it would because she'd never really tried to find out.

He spoke, and she stilled her feet at last, turning a bit to look at him out of the corner of her blue eye. Qunari were excellent with subtext, and Venak hol's, as always, didn't much stretch the limits of her comprehension. Whether it was because they had once been close or because he was unsubtle didn't much matter-- though he did seem to have picked some up, from somewhere. He must have, else surely he'd be dead or in the place they called the Gallows by now. I'm in a little pain, a little tainted, he said to her without speaking the words, and she answered without them also.

"I expect it is called this because it is frequently attacked from the outside, wounded by raiders, perhaps. I do not think they realize that it is the coast itself which brings the most ruin." She eyed the ship-skeleton with meaning. You know as well as I do that the world can only hurt us if we allow ourselves to be hurt. Why else would a being, any sentient person, refuse trust, friendship, cameraderie? Because it opened them to harm, and some were more wary of it than others. Amalia was wary of it as the prowling tigers of Par Vollen were of the spear-laden kossith who moved through its tropical landscapes.

In comparison, Sparrow had lived frivolously, flinging herself in every direction and choosing to lean on whichever sorry shoulder was closest – though, only sharing when it was necessary and only offering small, slivers of truths in place of its entirety. Perhaps, they hadn't strayed far from each other, after all. While Amalia willingly adopted a life of solitude, treading a path of isolation and tranquillity, she'd chosen a life in which masks were worn, falsifications embraced and well-intentioned fibs strewn out like grains of sand. Her friendships were based on unauthentic foundations. They might've been strong to withstand things like disloyalty, but conflict and declarations between companions and allies alike reaffirmed, strengthened and solidified their bonds. She wasn't sure whether or not she was prepared to make that leap. The burdens she shouldered were not carried for the Qun, or for any sort of justified reason, aside from the fact that she was terrified of being left alone once all of her dirty secrets were spoken aloud, as if she'd become a stain on their lives, doomed to be avoided.

Small, insignificant parts of Sparrow sang clearly, noisily, at the very thought of standing on an unfamiliar beach with his once-friend, and other darker parts urged her to throw her hands out wide, offer her everything she'd managed to scrounge up after running rampant in Kirkwall's streets. All of her secrets, all of her hideaways, everything she'd managed to discover since leaving the Qun, its people, and more importantly, her. Each and every question she'd ever thought since abandoning them bubbled to the surface, gurgling in her throat, battling to be voiced, but she only managed a slight inclination of her head so that she could better see Amalia's face. To trace the slope of her nose, and the foreign angles of her cheeks. While it was true that Sparrow had flown far from her nest, further still from her comfortable perch, her heart still basked on Par Vollen's dusty beaches, underneath a brilliant sun.

She blinked slowly, letting her eyes fall away from her, and roll skyward. The smile tugged at her lips, then arranged itself into a knowing smirk – of course, only those who allowed themselves to be hurt, truly hurt. Sparrow thought it was impossible not to let miniscule pieces of yourself slip out, as if they were seeping through imperceptible cracks. Her chest had been clamped shut for so long that she was having difficulties cracking it open, and feared Amalia suffered the same unbearable fate. Did it eat up at her? Did she wish that words came easily? Did she have secrets, as well? She hadn't understood, for the longest of times, why it was Amalia's voice that she could hear the clearest, even though she was nowhere in sight, but it all made sense now that she stood with her on the Wounded Coast. She'd seen her in all of her entirety, once. Her weaknesses, her past, her truths, every part of her. There was no need to lie, or fib, or skirt around anything to stave away humiliation. She already knew everything.

“And they've even got unwelcome guests they can't seem to rid themselves of. It's a mess, this place.” Too cowardly was she to say I'm possessed, I'm possessed, and it'd be better off if you ended it for me. Had she asked, she wouldn't have expected a reply, or an answer, or worse yet: compliance. She finally threw her hands out wide, approaching the skeletal remains of the ship, with its underbelly sticking out like wooden ribs, “I'd rather be home.” Home was an objective, undefined term. Where did any of them truly belong? She'd sought out the answer to that question for as long as she'd been alive, never truly finding it. If she didn't include her happy childhood shared with her once-friend, then Sparrow could readily admit that living alongside Rilien, with new friendships always weaselling their way in, was the closest thing to feeling like she was home. She frowned thoughtfully, clambered up onto the rotten bowsprit, and hooked her arm around the wooden woman's eroding shoulders. “But, you've made some friends, right?”

She needed to know.

Amalia had stopped short at the phrase unwelcome guests, watching Sparrow advance further forward with a hard, measuring stare. This was their entire story, encapsulated: Amalia tugging down the muffler that covered her face, watching with an expression her childhood friend could not see as he opened his arms to the world beyond, the places she could not, or perhaps simply would not, follow. He'd leave her behind, and she'd understand the necessity of it. She'd never like it, but she would understand, so truly and deeply that she'd wish she didn't. He'd leave, and she'd occasionally return to stand at the edge, staring at the marks he'd left in the sand as though some piece of him yet remained in them.
What would he say, if she told him that this was the harm that had stayed her hands, on the way to prying open that foolish thing she called a heart?

But surely it wasn't. One incident did not close someone to so much for such a long time. His leaving had been the first in a series of incidents that had bound that harbor shut with massive boom-chains, a gate to remain forever sealed. She made study of his open, slightly coltlike stride, and her eyes narrowed. She had played at words for too long not to guess what his meaning could possibly be, but she avoided voicing the conclusion, even in her own head, for what she would have to do in response was immediately clear. Instead, she allowed the words to be more literal, a reference to the presence of the Qunari in Kirkwall. "A mess that should be careful, else it finds itself unwittingly cleaned by those suited to the purpose." The Arishok grows impatient; with me, you must guard your words. Meanings stacked atop each other in haphazard piles, woven into the fabric of even the drollest utterances. He always had infused chaos into the order of her being. They complimented, simple as that.

So it shall be. It had become a part of her, it was her. She just hoped, as dearly as any old friend did, that the Qun's wishes were never burdened onto Amalia's shoulders, and that she never conferred any orders to do away with her, and that they'd somehow forgotten about her. As if her presence were little more than a passing breeze, leaving nothing but wayward memories and faint traces of her laughter. It was easier that way. Though Amalia's face was hidden from view, obscured by the muffler she'd pulled up over her lips, nose barely peeping above the fabric, Sparrow imagined that she was frowning. She, herself, had never hidden her face from anyone (though, she'd hidden her identity well enough), because if anything needed to be understood, then all one would need to do is look at it, clearly, unobstructed. Her expressions told many things all at once. Far too much, at times. She squinted her eyes, as if she were staring into the sun, eyebrows flagged in question.

Sparrow's fingers absently tugged at the fabric of her shirt, where her heart thumped beneath. Wherever they might have ended up, they'd still pulled and tugged and lugged their individual chains – quite simply, the ones they'd latched onto their chests, tangled around their hearts, because it was too difficult to live simply, seeking friendships when loneliness hounded their thoughts. She was lonely, often. She chased those sentiments away with liquor, poor company, good company and lending a helping hand where it was asked, or not asked. Her nosiness and curiosity constantly kept her out of her hovel, kept her from withering away in Darktown's despairing corners. Kirkwall, with all of its prospects of confinement and plausible death, could not clip her wings, or keep her grounded enough to present her from escaping once more. Words, words, more words with hidden meanings. They danced around each other, holding metaphors and whispered colloquy’s aloft, knowing everything and yet still belying an animus of altruism, of delicate intentions. Whilst she offered stability and tempered discipline, Sparrow could only swing her mace, sending vibrations through her structure. It would always be this way. “A mess I care not to defend,” She mused quietly, tipping her head.

The question went long without answer, and Amalia took the opportunity she gave herself to approach the dead ship, tilting her head to look up at his perch. Fitting, for a bird, but he'd never remain there for too much time. Friends? Had she? Amalia had to give the question some deliberation. Nostariel was a student. Aurora was... the same, and perhaps also an apprentice. Something not quite identical, but friend was not the proper word; their relationship was too sharply-defined for that muddlement.

That left one, and maybe she hadn't closed herself quite tightly enough, because she was... uncomfortable, thinking about him. A constricting feeling tightened about her lungs, and she pretended to take sudden interest in the curvature of the vessel's wooden bones. Leave it to Venak hol to disturb so much with such an innocent question. Amalia had not ever given much thought to what to call the strange cameraderie between herself and Sataareth; a name had been unnecessary. In retrospect, perhaps that was part of the problem-- without a name, it had no such boundaries, and she may have overstepped hers without understanding that she was doing so. If they had been... friends... they were not now.
"Perhaps," she said quietly, and the word was heavy with implications unvoiced. Her own foolishness was only now beginning to become clear in its fullest extent, but she still knew not whether she was more the fool for overreaching what may indeed have been a friendship or for allowing it in the first place. Had her life not taught her beyond the shadow of a doubt that such things were impossible for her to sustain? Whatever the case, it was abundantly clear that she, not for the first time, had allowed herself to come to harm.

"Nehraa meraas, in the end."[/color] She shook her head, then looked back up. "And of you? The Tranquil was protective." Indeed, it had not been until she stated exactly what her purpose was for desiring a meeting with Sparrow that he had even admitted that he would be able to deliver her any message whatsoever, though Amalia had had it on good authority that they cohabitated. She understood; Sparrow tended to inspire that in people.

Unwelcome guests, indeed. Sparrow did not hate the Qunari, nor even dislike their presence in Kirkwall, and certainly held no aversion towards their teachings, for she'd once believed in the Qun with all of her heart. She'd flown alongside it, allowing it to pass over her like sheets of rain until the it became little more than a torrential storm, stifling her breath, slapping down shackles she thought were too heavy to carry. Flighty birds were not meant to be caged, or told what to do. Respect, honour, dignity, and duty as strong and unyielding as iron. These traits, as she'd begun to see, were embodied in her once-fellow, down to her very core. It was admirable, to say the least, but even in her youth she'd felt as if she hadn't been born with the makings of a good follower, of a resolute kinsmen who breathed and lived within her blade, only to extend herself out as the Qun demanded. Though, she still felt threatened by the Qunari presence in Kirkwall. It signified everything she feared – her freedom being stripped away, her secrets finally executing fatal consequences in the form of stapled eyes and stitched lips, and losing everything she'd recklessly, foolishly fought for. They would kill her for abandoning them, and she'd very nearly deserve it.

The half-breed looked down from her spiny, wooden roost, taking note of Amalia's approach. Like two matches coming together, igniting into something all-too familiar. She moved like a phantom, barely disturbing the ground she trod upon, but still leaving footsteps in her wake – and she found herself oddly relieved, for it meant she was really here. Reality and the Fade had become something intangible, difficult to separate in the days she did not feel her fingers wiggling.

She'd been concentrating on the sound of her once-friend's voice, occasionally leaning forward to hear her better. At times, when she's not quite prepared to hear it again, Sparrow was surprised. It was sharper than she recalled, full of wisps of confidence, as if she knew exactly what she might do and where she might go. Her shoulder blades press together, hand retracting away from the mermaid's wooden collarbone. Again, Amalia wore that iron expression of hers, one of tight lips and lines, a face bound so tightly, so adept at saying nothing at all, while she admired the vessel and looked away from her. Sometimes, her once-friend moved like clockwork, gears all bunched up, mechanically staggered, slow and cautious. Her heart, even now, seemed closed off to her. She'd closed it herself, when she chose to leave.

Her head tilted once more, craning to see Amalia's face. “You have, then,” Sparrow exhaled, breathy and clearly relieved. Her guarded heart, speckled with ramparts and crocodile-infested moats, would always attract a friend, a companion, acquaintances and allies. She might have disagreed, but there was something about her that reeled people in. Her inner core professed safety to all those who stood in her presence, sang of loyalty, honesty, and a guiding hand perpetually toughened by gauntlets. Amalia would never be without a friend. The question had been silly, if not rhetorical. She'd wanted to hear her answer, or see that her worries had always been childish, selfish things. She could pretend. She was good at that. She was the best at that; she'd convinced herself that leaving hadn't effected anyone, she'd convinced herself that lying was the only option she'd ever had. Sparrow adjusted her position, her behind promptly scooted across the figurehead's shoulder, hand extended to the horizon, fingers played. Ketojan kadan, is fitting. A bridge between hearts. You might disagree, but I don't think your path is meant to be walked alone.”

To that, Amalia exhaled in a huff, a gentle testament to disagreement. He didn't understand, and that was fine. He wasn't meant to. There were secrets she had shared with none, of things that had passed years ago, things that even now kept her a safe distance from others. If she had anything to say of the matter, they always would. Sparrow had shown her that nothing was permanent, but he had convinced her that nobody was trustworthy. It was a lesson she'd taken to heart, the only thing he'd done to her that could ever be considered a beneficence, and even that coated with malice the like of which she'd not seen before or since. She was scarred, and they pulled in places, insistent reminders that what was made broken could not become whole again, not as it had been.

She reeled her hand in, and turned towards Amalia. Rilien? In more ways than one, the unwavering, ever-present bard, had pulled her from the darkness, dusting off loneliness from her shoulders without so much as asking why she was there in the first place, in exchange for nothing. It was a kindness, what he'd done for her. She'd never seen him as someone afflicted by the Rite of Tranquility, and he'd never seen her as a hapless orphan, drug out from the rain. It was a bond she was willing to protect with everything she had – she'd die for it, as well as for the others she'd manage to care for. The half-breed crouched down from her perch, gauged the distance to the ground, and finally hopped down, brushing errant shards of wood from her trousers. She threw her head back, and laughed, then thoughtfully scratched her chin, grinning. “I think I've found a reason to fight, people to fight for.”

This, the Qunari understood. To live always alone did not preclude doing service for others, nor even living for their sake. That much was the very essence of the Qun. Each individual lived and died for the whole, but they should never expect the whole to count them for anything. Nothing at all; they had to be disposable, else their loss would do damage. It was not the same, perhaps, as what Sparrow had found himself, but it was something. Similar, on some level, and she was glad he had found it. It was something worth having-- something to protect, to love, to defend with all the life in one's body. If that was some group of people for Venak hol, it would do. "Then you should count yourself lucky," she replied simply.

It was her turn to frown, mouth struggling to find any chipper expression, flipping through into something a little sadder. While Sparrow moved around things, as transparent and mellifluous as the briny water that lapped over their feet, Amalia had been molded, or guided, into being something similar to an anchor, willingly drowning and professing that loneliness was her only, ever-present companion. Her own word were empty, flighty things, twittering on branches before taking flight. They didn't mean anything, anymore. She'd lost the right to offer advice, or stolidly counter that she'd always be here for her, that she'd always be there to chase away her distrust. This woman – who exuded poise, and grace, and a centre that did not move unless she willed it – was still a prevalent force in her life, as absolute and real as the fragment of herself she'd intentionally buried.

She approached Amalia, tentatively, at first, and stopped short of her right side, fingers already snatching the corner of her muffler. Sparrow did not pull it down, nor make any movement that might've given away her intentions. Indeed, she'd had none, but it had always been a familiar action; one she'd done several times in her youth. The half-breed would always be on the brink of leaving everyone she's ever loved, suspended over a cliff side, wings held aloft. Incessantly claiming that the distance called to her like songbirds, and that she didn't truly belong anywhere. She might have found someone, or many someone's, to fight for, but it would always be in her nature to run away. Difficulties, internal or external, frightened her more than anything. Amalia knew that better than anyone, and yet here they were, standing along the Wounded Coast, with secrets shackled to their ankles.

Lucky? She mused, allowing the fabric to sift through her fingers, “Everything comes with a price, I suppose.”

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia
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And he'd almost forgotten the smell.

It made Ithilian's nose twitch at first, mouth settling into an ever comfortable scowl as the scents of industry, poverty and oppression floated to his nostrils. For the briefest of moments he wondered if he had simply stayed in Ferelden... but no, he never would have been able to live with himself. Not after being here, not after seeing. The Relaferin clan was doing well, all things considered, but the elves here were not. And while he would no doubt have been a very useful and productive member of a clan such as they, Amalia's words had hung over him every day he'd spent away. I am not you, and I will not be enough. The Relaferin had the Brecilian as their protection, for it was not so weak as to be killed by a Blight, but the elves cornered into the Kirkwall Alienage had no one but each other, no cover from the oncoming storms, no one to stand up for them save Amalia. He wondered briefly if any of them had died while he was gone, anything he could have prevented. If Amalia had died. He'd find out soon enough.

As Ithilian passed the shemlen hunter's shop, he gave no thought to catching the eye of a passing guard, surprised at the lone elf who held an uncovered, disfigured and mutilated head above the others. His armor was not nearly so ragged as it had been when he'd left; his padded coat had been made anew, the patches and holes gone, the studded leather chestplate over that largely clean of blade nicks and repaired arrow punctures. It was as if the man himself had the wear and tear of the road removed, though of course some of the scars were impossible to cleanse.

He'd made the right choice. Even if some had died, even if their hope had sagged. Even if Lia and the Qunari woman were lost to him, he'd made the right choice. Reborn was entirely the wrong word for it, but it was hard to deny just how much he had needed time alone, time away, to return of his own accord to the place where his life had fallen apart before his eyes, and to let go of it. He'd been able to find the correct place, though the exact patch of earth was difficult to find now that the bloodstains had vanished into the earth or been washed away by the rains. How long he had simply sat there and listened for them he could not know, and though he knew not what words were said, Ithilian knew that when he left that place, his goodbyes had been said. Years too late, but late was better than never.

Vir sulahn'nehn. Vir dirthera. Vir samahl la numin. Vir lath sa'vunin.

He wondered just who the funeral had been for.

The vhenadahl stood strong as ever, Ithilian was glad to see. It was late morning, and the majority of the Alienage's inhabitants were out and about, though a few of them stopped to take note of the elven warrior make his way down the steps, vallaslin etched into his neck. A few gave cautious greetings, some he suspected too intimidated to speak to him personally, the pillar of elven defiance that he was. That was all well; there was one specific person he meant to seek out before any others.

In contrast to Ithilian's rather renewed appearance, the Qunari that sat in the boughs of the great elven-tree was a considerably the worse for wear of late. Forced to take on Viddethari at a much faster rate than she had initially suspected, she was now making daily trips outside the Alienage to see various clusters of them at clockwork intervals. None of the old ones were yet ready to be free from her instruction, either; the Qun was not something one learned in the space of a single year, no matter how long it had seemed. With no Tamassran present, what should have been the duties of several fell to one: her. Her nights were little more restful-- the City Guard did not bother itself protecting the Alienage, and the Coterie seemed only to grow bolder by the day. Perhaps she simply grew more weary. Aurora and Nostariel, too, were not going to teach themselves, and she had all but halted her pursuit of craft to accomodate everything she had to do.

It was an effort that had left her with darkened wisteria-colored circles beneath her eyes and an uncommon hitch in her stride; the result of the fact that her potions could not quite heal her injuries fast enough to keep up with the new ones she tended to accrue. For neither did the demands of the Qun slow, and it was not only for the elves here that she fought. Not even, perhaps, mostly for them, though it would be impossible to know that given her relentless continuation of the same task.

She had not reached her limits quite yet, however. Even so, she quietly chose to avoid the searching young faces that wound 'round the base of the tree, seeking her without calling her name, for this or that bit of entertainment, perhaps. She simply could not accomodate their wishes right now, and so she lay betwixt the branches of the vhenadahl, and wondered how long it would be until she failed them somehow. Back propped against the trunk, she had one knee angled upwards, forming a triangle with the wood she sat upon, her other leg dangling freely from the side of the limb. She was silent, and none thought to look up for what they sought.

Head tipped back against the bark, she'd let her eyes fall closed for what seemed the scarcest moment when she heard the approach of someone new entering the Alienage. She felt compelled to look, as she had every time for nearly a year now, and part of her openly mocked the rest for continuing such a futile endeavor. Still, she had to look, because it might be danger, and she was the only one left who could deal with that. Slowly, her eyes cracked open to the leafy canopy, sunlight filtering in through the gaps in the light green of the leaves. Tilting her head sideways and down, she almost laughed at herself. Hissra. She was surely conjuring illusions, now. But she did not laugh, and for a long moment, she did not speak. Blinking once, twice, three times, she managed to ascertain that her visual faculties were indeed working, which perhaps warranted... something.

"You have been gone long, Ithilian."

It was not her usual place, nor did she seem entirely her usual self. Ithilian felt a pang of guilt for that, but what he had done simply could not have been rushed. What he did needed to be his choice, else he never would have been free of it. Amalia looked... tired was perhaps the wrong word, for it did not describe it adequately. He imagined he had looked similar in the days leading to the fall of his clan, when he had pushed himself beyond his typical capabilities for months on end, waiting for something, anything, to relieve the pressure and let him rest. Of course, it never came. If she would let him take the pressure off of her once more, he would be more than happy to do so.

"Some wounds take a long time to heal," he answered back from the base of the tree, peering up at her perch with his remaining eye. His hands rested on the belt tied over his coat, where Parshaara was contained. His elven blades were kept in a pair of sheaths on his back, his Dalish longbow sheathed upon his rear. The elf was a small arsenal of weaponry compared to those around him. Again he almost felt guilty for the renewal he had clearly gone through, when compared to the wear that showed upon her very face.

"Before I left, what I said... I was a fool. It took me far too long to see that. I had to leave, had to return to where I lost everything, and... let go. I am sorry I was not able to return sooner, but I knew that I would not be able to help these people if I could not first come to terms with myself." There. He'd wanted to say that for a long time. Honestly, he wasn't really sure what he wanted in return. He did not need approval, or forgiveness. Maybe he just wanted to say that he finally believed he could be enough.

Amalia was silent for a while, letting the words hang in the air as she studied him, cataloging the changes in his appearance and demeanor. Finally, she nodded simply and shifted, jumping down from the tree branch to stand on a level with him. Though she landed a little harder than she would have preferred, she stood straight, rolling her left shoulder. There was still a large, blue bruise there from a few days ago. "If you were unwise, you were not alone in it. I have lived only one way, learned to see only certain things. I overstepped myself. I shan't make the mistake again." Her glance flickered to Parshaara, and a crease appeared between her eyebrows, but when she spoke again, it was of something else.

"In the meantime, little has changed here. If there is anything in particular you would know, I am likely in a position to speak of it." Presumption was what had driven her astray in the first place, and she would not at present say anything else unless he asked.

Ithilian silently agreed with her. He could not be certain, but he suspected that she had almost begun to see him as one of her kind. Qunari. But the one thing that he said back in the Hanged Man that he agreed with was that he was no Qunari, and even if she saw fit to call him Sataareth, he did not want to be Qunari. He was a Dalish elf, one of the People, and always would be. The Keeper of Relaferin clan had offered him the chance to officially join them, even if he chose not to stay, but Ithilian had refused. He was not yet ready to belong to a clan again, but he knew that someday, that was what he wanted to have again. It would not be the same, never be the same, but it didn't need to be. It would be different, and beautiful in its own way. That was what he wanted.

For now, there was the business here to attend to. He felt awkward asking it at first, but he was glad for the chance to ask the question himself. "How is Lia?" He did not need to be Qunari, and she did not need to be an elf, for their interests to align, and for them to have the chance to remain... friends. If that was the appropriate word. Perhaps there wasn't an appropriate word for it. They simply were.

"Taking care of herself quite well," Amalia replied simply, having expected this question at least. "Her father is deceased; an illness took him a few months into the intervening year. She was... distraught, at first, but she manages now. Admirably, for one so young." She considered mentioning that nobody else had died in the past year, but it didn't seem particularly important. She would have said so if anyone had, of course, but honestly nothing was all that different besides the rising strength of the Coterie. Rumors placed some new figure behind that, but nothing was yet certain about the situation.

Though natural curiosity bid her ask some questions of her own, she knew well enough what it was to need closure, and she didn't have to understand the particulars to know that these were matters best left alone, unless he wished to speak of them. She'd buried enough ghosts of her own, though she expected he had not yet had cause to visit his own grave, as she once had. But that was not for thinking of in daylight, was it? "Two new families have moved in, and one left, I believe to join the Dalish on Sundermont. The rest yet remain."

Ithilian sniffed slightly in displeasure upon hearing that the Sabrae clan was still here at all. They should have moved on by now. Lack of halla or no, Kirkwall was no place for a group of free elves to linger near. As far as Lia went... the Gods had an interesting way of answering prayers that had never been spoken. He could not deny that he'd wanted to be a father again when he met her, that seeing the fire and strength within her had reminded him of his lost daughter and wife, but such thoughts were what led him into the height of his misery, and he would not follow that again. Lia was not his daughter, and would never be his daughter. He would look out for her as he would any of his clan, but if Amalia spoke true, and he knew she had, she was capable of caring for herself. She did not need him, and he would not impose himself upon her without her request.

"She's strong," he commented. "Stronger than most of the elves here. She belongs with the People someday. Not in this Alienage." Of course, it would be years before she would be able to make a choice such as that, and strength was little without cunning to match it. He would see to it that her strength did not get her into trouble.

"And you?" he asked, almost cautiously. He noted the bruises, the heavy landing, the hitch in her step speaking of the healing wounds she no doubt hid. "I would say you look well, but... I think I would be lying." He would understand if she did not wish to speak of anything, but perhaps it was a lack of speaking that had led them into difficulty. When so much went assumed and unsaid, the messages could easily be mistaken.

"None of them belong here," Amalia replied, tone laced lightly with irritation. Nobody belonged in such squalor. The Qun would not have tolerated it; that she did was wholly from necessity. Nevertheless, it was there she stopped on this particular subject, aware that she needn't make the point any sharper. It was evident enough. The query into her personal state, she found peculiar, more for the sheer novelty than anything. She rarely gave others cause to inquire so, though she was aware that she was not in the best shape, presently. The Qunari woman huffed a light breath, her mouth flashing upwards for the briefest moment.

"I have endured worse. I will endure this. I expect it will be easier, now." Though she had on several occasions found herself the unwitting recipient of that mercenary's assistance, more often than not, she'd been dealing with the Alienage's more violent problems on her own. That would be unlikely, in the future. These were his people, after all, if he'd returned, and she'd allow him to do what he would for them. The word Sataareth would not pass her lips, not anymore, but that wouldn't stop it from fitting.

Her eyes fell again on the dragon-bone blade, and she ventured the question. Well, statement, more precisely, but the question was implied. "You kept it. I don't understand."

Since they were speaking of it, Ithilian slid the blade out and looked at it himself. "Maybe it was something you said. About it not finding a purpose unless it was by my hand. You etched a single word into it, and I warped it into something that agreed with my misery. Maybe some part of me knew that was wrong." Honestly, he didn't really know. He'd been well into his ale by that time, and really the conversation with Amalia was all he remembered clearly. Everything after that was a blur of pain and dizziness.

"I didn't forget what you said, you know. Even drunk as I intended to be. Perhaps I'd had enough of who I was. But rather than let that simply be the end of it, I decided to start again, and make the sacrifice of my clan mean something. Also... I really wanted to set some darkspawn on fire." The good side of his lips curled upward slightly, but it lasted only a moment before returning.

"I... actually brought something for you," he said, reaching into a pocket, and growing slightly red on the good side of his face. "Near where my da'vhenan passed, an ironbark tree grew. The craftsman of the clan I found offered to make something of it, but I thought it better to do myself. I am no craftsman of great skill, but I felt I needed to." He pulled out what looked to be a necklace of some kind, a talisman of gleaming ironbark attached to a thin silver chain, light by the way he held it in his palm. The symbol was a strikingly simple swirl shaped as a teardrop, beginning at the top and curling around into the center.

"The symbol is that of Mythal, protector and mother, she who leads alongside Elgar'nan, the force of fatherhood and vengeance. It... may not have any practical purpose for you, but I would like you to have it all the same, if you wish." He held it out to her, palm upturned. Perhaps they could both carry favors from cultures they would never belong to.

For once, words were not ready to the Qunari's tongue, and indeed, it felt something like a lead weight in her mouth. Her first instinct had been to refuse; she would only be flying in the face of everything she'd ever learned of other people if she didn't. And yet, the symbolism was far from lost on her. She was Dalish no more than he was Qunari-- less, since she could do nothing regarding the circumstances of her birth. But the blade at his hip was proof, easily recognizable by one of her people, that he was the concern of a Qunari, whatever form that may take. Perhaps... perhaps it was acceptable for her to be of concern to him as well, if indeed that was what this meant. If it had been any of her folk, the interpretation would have been obvious; the Qunari did not give of the work of their hands without purpose. But here she was not so sure.

Warily, as though she expected the offer to be withdrawn at any moment (and part of her always would), she reached for the delicate object in his hand, taking it with a nearly reverential solemnity. Brushing her bare thumb over the wood, she contemplated the symbol for a moment. Protection, was it? It was more fitting than she would have guessed, truly. Perhaps she had not inadvertantly burned all of her bridges in her carelessness, after all. Inclining her head, she worked free the clasp and affixed the thin chain about her neck. "Then I shall keep a piece of your people as you have kept a piece of mine." This satisfied her; had she been living among the humans this long, she may have found herself considerably more frustrated ere now, but there was something heartening in watching a group of people care enough to look out for one another, as she was used to.

A small pause, then: "...I am glad of your return, Ithilian. Thank you."

"Glad to be back," Ithilian said, pleased with how that went, "though I can't say I missed the smell. Now, I'll need to find the hahren, and see if there's somewhere I might be able to rest my head. I'm sure they've given away my old house. I trust you'll come find me if I can assist with anything." He was rather looking forward to some rest. He... had not fared very well on the sea voyage back here. The Dalish did not handle the water easily.

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Amalia
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"Look at you. Like fat Dathrasi you feed, and feed, and complain only when your meal is interrupted. You do not look up. You do not see that the grass is bare. All you leave in your wake is misery. You are blind; I will make you see!"



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The Deep Roads expedition made its members a potential fortune, though some of them chose not to accept more than was needed. Others used it to move up in the world, gaining a foothold in Hightown, and some passing interest from the Viscount himself. Their names were on many lips, but soon they passed beneath notice once more. There were still more pressing issues plagueing the city. Tensions between the mages and the templars had only risen in the intervening years, with a number of incidents flaring tempers on both sides. But despite the volatility of the issue, it seems to have been put on hold for the time being, in favor of seemingly more threatening matters.

The influx of desperate refugees created an impressive movement in the area of organized crime, none profiting so much as the ever potent Coterie. The corruption even spread so high as the captain of the city guard, and though that particular case was rooted out, still others threaten to rear their heads at the least opportune of moments. The forces trying to hold back this tide are spread dangerously thin as it is.

But perhaps most alarmingly is the fact that four years after their unexpected landing, the Qunari warriors and their Arishok had yet to depart Kirkwall. They continued to insist that they were waiting for their ship. They had been wrecked in a storm, but only fools couldn't see that there was a different kind of storm looming. Those who knew better, and were capable, would attempt to put a halt to the madness, before the Qun demanded something catastrophic...


The Chanter's Board has been updated. New quests are available.





Nostariel clenched the letter more tightly in her fist, worrying her lower lip with her teeth. It was the last one Feynriel had sent her, and he hadn’t yet responded to her reply. As it had been two weeks, she was worried about him. Though she was seldom able to visit anymore, and indeed tried not to, since he needed to grow accustomed to living with the Dalish alone, they communicated frequently via letters like this one, and he was always prompt. She suspected he wrote her more often than his own mother, and perhaps that was to be expected. She understood his struggles with his magic, with fitting in, in a way that Arianni, Maker bless her, could not.


Feynriel wrote:Nostariel,

Thanks for writing. I’m glad the Alienage is doing better. It never felt like home to me, but, well, the people there were good to me, as much as they could be.

My dreams are getting worse. I tried doing the thing that you said, about reminding myself of all the good things in my life, but the demons, they just talk louder, and it’s getting really hard to sleep. The Keeper says this is something I have to beat on my own, but I don’t know if I can. I don’t belong here, not really. I don’t belong anywhere. I feel so… I don’t know.

Anyway, I shouldn’t be bothering you. I guess sometimes it feels like you’re the only person who really understands. I hope you’re keeping well.

-Feynriel


Naturally, such tidings had bothered her greatly, and she’d written back at once, asking him if he’d like her to come and visit, see if they couldn’t work something out. But there’d been no reply at all, and now she was truly concerned. She wasn’t with him every day, so she couldn’t say for sure, but his predicament seemed to be more troublesome than what most mages had to put up with. If so, the Keeper just doing nothing about it was bound to become a problem, and she didn’t want to see anything happen to Feynriel. He was scarcely more than a child, perhaps sixteen this year, if she recalled correctly. She’d paid one of the Sabrae craftsmen to make him a staff of ironwood for the occasion, as it would have been about the time he took his Harrowing, were he in the Circle, the only rite of passage mage children received.

So today, she was going to see Arianni. She had no idea if the young man’s mother would know anything more than the Warden herself did, but if she did, Nostariel needed to know. If that didn’t work, she was going to trek to Sundemont. Today. Nodding resolutely, Nostariel donned her leathers, a set of light armor she’d had made a few months ago, after the fashion of some female mercenaries and hunters she’d seen. It wasn’t a lot of protection, but it was more than she’d had before, and still allowed her to cast unencumbered. Chestplate, laced braces for her upper arms, and another for her left forearm, to absorb any bowstring impact. Her shortbow was plain, but serviceable, and slung diagonally over her back, so she could wear it and her staff at once. Lacing her knee-high boots, she tapped the toes against the floor to test for snugness, then made her way out of the Hanged Man and around the winding alleyways of Lowtown until she reached the Alienage.

Arianni was standing outside her home, looking concerned, as though she were waiting for someone. Possibly coincidental, but it seemed a bit too unlikely. “Arianni?” the Warden asked cautiously. “Is everything all right?”

Across the Alienage from them, Ithilian sheathed the last of his weapons. It was still strange to wear Parshaara on his hip, and probably always would be, but it was only fitting. There was nothing that wasn't strange about his connection to the Qunari woman beside him. They'd been approached by the Dalish woman Arianni only a few minutes earlier, sought out to aid her in the cause of her son a second time. Apparently the Dalish hadn't been able to help him with his gift, or something of that nature. She had been quite closed off about it, only wanting to say more once they'd committed to assisting her.

Not knowing what to expect, Ithilian had decided to come prepared, armed with his bow, two short swords, and Parshaara, along with his remade set of armor. The headscarf had been replaced with a hood, but this was currently down around his shoulders. These people had seen his head uncovered before, and were no longer startled as they once were. Ithilian was not pleased about being kept in the dark when his help was requested, but she had mentioned Marethari, and his obligations to his people were more than enough to get him to lend his aid, especially when he was only requested to travel across the Alienage for what was needed.

As always, Amalia’s motives for acting as she did were less clear, though in this case, she would readily admit that she was going because she had been asked to go, and it was nothing more complicated than that. She, too, was bristling with weaponry, which was in truth but a small selection of what she now possessed. Her armor, dark with mottled blues, greys, and the occasional green, was fashioned from the hide of the dragon they’d slain, and she now wore its skin as though it were her own, darkened with pitch and giving her the appearance of a silhouette as much shadow as solid. Admittedly, it tended to unnerve, so most of the time, she disguised it with outerwear, but not today. A curious, bladed metal circle with three perpendicular handles hung from her back, joining the knife in each boot, her trigger-mechanism gauntlet, and the chain wound and hanging from her waist in arming her against whatever she may face. A leather bandoleer held an array of potions and poisons, but everything was muffled, designed so as not to clink together and give her away with sound.

The two of them reached Arianni shortly after Nostariel did, and the Qunari offered both a nod. She was unsurprised to see the Warden here, as she did bear more connection to the boy than either herself or Ithilian did, whatever his heritage may be. ”Perhaps she would be willing to share the details with all three of us,” Amalia suggested upon hearing the mage’s question. It seemed that something other than the distressed mother’s request had brought the Warden to this place, but it was unlikely Arianni would refuse another person willing to help her son for nothing in return.

Arriani looked skittish, about to respond to Nostariel when the others arrived as well. "Thank you for coming on such short notice," she said to Ithilian and Amalia, before looking to Nostariel. "I was about to seek you out as well, Warden. It's Feynriel. He's gone into a coma. Something to do with his magic, I don't know..." The trouble was obviously proving a little overwhelming with her, as it was something a mother without magic could do little to help with. This was so far beyond her.

"Keeper Marethari's coming to assist. She says she knows of a way to fix this. I hope she is right."

"Let's all hope," a voice agreed from behind the group. Before, when Ashton descended the stairs, he almost promptly turned around and left. The first person he noticed was, of course Nostariel. The second was Ithilian, which caused a hiccup in his step, and the third was the figure draped in the color of midnight who was the one that almost caused him to leave. Though, Nostariel was there. He wouldn't just leave, not after all he had traveled to get back. He had a promise to keep after all, and he never broke his promises. He'd take ten Ithilians to see Nostariel once. So he took one last long gulp of air and did what he did best. Firmly insert himself in the conversation, and to hell with the consequences.

He went so far as to wink at his pretty little Warden friend and added, "You're a hard one to track down-- and that's saying something coming from me," with that stupid little grin stuck firmly on his face. Oh good, he could still do that. He was worried that it may have gotten rusty.

Nostariel was a bit surprised by the appearance of Ithilian and Amalia, both looking fit to go off and fight a two-person war against… well, she knew not what, but she didn’t like its chances. They appeared to have business with Arianni as well, business which the woman seemed reluctant to speak of. The story soon revealed itself, however, and Nostariel’s face fell into a marked frown. Feynriel had fallen into dream and was unable to wake? That was not a problem she had ever heard of before, and started to confirm her suspicion that there was something special about the boy. She felt more the fool for not having detected it before, but she knew not what it could possibly be.

What scant information Arianni had wasn’t helpful in that regard, but the woman’s stress was evident. Nostariel placed a soothing hand on her arm, squeezing gently. If there were any people who could help Feynriel, it would be those who had helped him before, who understood his situation and sought to do right by him anyway. The hand fell away, however, and any words she might have spoken died in her throat at the sound of another voice, one she knew well, but had half-expected never to hear again. Her back had been turned to the entrance of the Alienage, but she wheeled to face it now, unable (or perhaps simply unwilling), to stop the broad grin from taking up residence on her face.

He’d kept his promise after all.

Of course, the reality of the situation hit her shortly thereafter, and her face fell into something much more neutral again, and she shot a glance at the other two out of the corner of her eye. “Well,” she said, “life keeps moving, and I with it. It’s… it’s really very good to see you again, Ash, but… we’re about to find ourselves in the middle of something that might be dangerous, and…” she wasn’t really sure how to finish the statement. She didn’t desire to be cold, and dismiss him due to being busy, but that was essentially what she had to do. Feynriel couldn’t wait, not any longer, and the Keeper would be here any moment.

Ashton chuckled, his shoulders bobbing along with him. What? Did she really expect him to not go on this adventure with her, despite the strange company she kept? "How very sagelike of you," he began, patting her on the shoulder, "Dangerous somethings? It's good to know nothing's changed while I was gone." After the past six months, he could deal with a little danger in the city. At least a bear wouldn't attempt to eat his face in Kirkwall... Of course, Ithilian was mere feet away. Best to not think of it, he told himself. Though he was loath to, he tore his eyes away from Nostariel and sat them upon the elven lady they had been speaking to before. "Ma'am, I'd like to aid your son as well." Nostariel had told him about Feynriel, the half-elven mage child. From the way she spoke of him, they were good friends-- though Ashton never met the boy personally. He doubted the Dalish would let him get anywhere near him.

Hey, any friend of Nostariel's is a friend of his.

"Thank the Creators for your kindness, all of you," Arianni said, while Ithilian had mysteriously crossed his arms and visibly resisted rolling his eye.

"Marethari's here. I hope this will all be over soon."

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Amalia
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Marethari came alone, or at least she entered the Alienage alone, another thing that Ithilian felt an urge to grumble about. The Keeper could defend herself, of course, but Lowtown was a safe place for very few people, and none of those people were elves, certainly not elven mages. Surely bringing a few of the clan's hunters along could not have hurt. She was a stark contrast to Arianni's frantic lack of composure, coming down the stairs with slow, measured steps, taking in the sight for Ithilian had to assume was the first time. She paused at the base of the steps to gaze up to the heights of the vhenadahl, with an expression he couldn't place. Not sorrow but... pity? That such a beautiful thing should have to live in a place like this? If that was it, then Ithilian knew the feeling well.

The elves that recognized her for what she was stopped and gave respectful greetings, some bowing, others falling to a knee, a few children waving shyly at her. She moved elegantly to the base of the great tree, touching it for a moment with the palm of her hand. Ithilian knew not what connection her magical abilities gave her to the tree, but she did not seem rushed. He expected she would have been if the situation required extreme haste. When she was satisfied, she turned and made her way to the group standing before Arianni's house. The elven woman bowed before her Keeper briefly in greeting, before indicating that they should all head inside.

Arianni's home was as humble as any in the Alienage, the sparse interior decoration an indication that it had been hardly lived in over the past few years, as Feynriel and Arianni both had been spending most, or all, of their time among the Dalish outside the city. For the moment, Feynriel rested seemingly peacefully in the room that must have once been his. The group gathered in the living room around Marethari, awaiting her explanation.

"I apologize, Arianni. I did not wish to tell you by letter how grave your son's situation is. The magic he possesses makes him what the Tevinters called 'somniari,' a dreamer. Dreamers have the power to control the Beyond, what humans call 'the Fade.' Feynriel is the first in two ages to survive."

Ithilian kept his eyes fixed on the sleeping boy as he spoke. This was indeed the first time he'd seen Marethari since departing her clan years ago, so he wasn't sure what to expect. He had been... quite different then. At least, he liked to think so. "Controlling the Beyond? What does that entail?" He had no familiarity with magic, other than the knowledge that it was dangerous, and needed to be taught carefully to avoid needless destruction.

"Dreamers are unique for their ability to enter the Fade at will," Marethari explained, "without the aid of lyrium. In the Fade, they can shape dreams, and even affect the world beyond the Veil. Tevinter somniari used to enter the minds of sleepers, and slay them in their dreams."

"And you know how we can help him?" Arianni asked. Marethari nodded uneasily. "The elves of the Dales were experts in the somniari arts. They could even help those with no power enter the Fade. I have done my best to recreate the ritual. We will use Feynriel's childhood home as a focus to draw him back through the Veil."

Going into the Fade. Ithilian crossed his arms and sighed quietly, but made no complaint. He would certainly be willing to trust Marethari's knowledge of the magical art, moreso than anyone else, and if she had chosen to take Feynriel into her clan, then it was Ithilian's responsbility to assist him, regardless of what he might think of the boy's race. "Still looking to come along, shem?" He said rather harmlessly towards Ashton. He certainly couldn't deny that he'd prefer it if the human weren't here.

Nostariel’s jaw was tight as she took in the sight of the poor child laying there. She’d not heard of somniari before, but… the consequences weren’t hard to figure out. If someone like that, someone like Feynriel, ever became possessed by a demon… the Warden shuddered. It couldn’t happen. What they’d deal with in the aftermath would be something no amount of Templars in Kirkwall could fix. A demon with the ability to manipulate the Fade, to bend reality itself? No wonder they plagued him so often. His very existence was like dangling a fresh kill in front of a starving wolf.

I’m so sorry, Feynriel. I should have come sooner. But I promise you, I will save you. No matter what I have to face to do it. She was done being too late, or not strong enough. Turning from the youth to the Keeper, Nostariel nodded. “I’m going. It’s been a while since I’ve walked the Fade, but it’s not wholly unfamiliar.” The last time she’d been in there while awake was her Harrowing, and it had been aptly-named, but that was still one more time than any of the others had.

A cocky smirk spread across the lone shem's face. Once inside Arianni's house, Ashton had posted up against the wall, away from the elves and the the one dressed in midnight (which he had come to recognize as Amalia, Sparrow's... Friend? Acqauintance? Anyway, he vaguely remembered the woman) and generally stayed out of their way. He was certainly the fish out of water. "Dreamwalking? We certainly live charmed lives, but you'll find I don't scare easily," He said, pushing himself off of the wall and putting himself back into the gathering proper.

Even six months away, he still remembered Nostariel's mannerisms. He could see the worry hitched in her shoulders and written plain as day on her face. He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and nodded, first looking at Nostariel, and then Arianni, "We'll pull him out." His tone was sure and as optimistic as ever. Like diving into the dreams of a mage wasn't as dangerous as it sounded, and just another chore that needed done.

The Fade, was it? More smoke and mirrors, and hissra. Amalia knew well enough the power illusions could hold, however, and she did not envy the boy his torment. If this, to enter the realm where nothing was real and everything was dangerous, was the way to save him, then she would do it. She knew not the consequences of doing otherwise as well as the mages in the room would, but even she could understand that a Saarebas of such a sort possessed would be a problem. The thought of possession brought her thoughts around to Venak hol, and if anything, this solidified her resolve. She would not allow this boy to become like him, tormented unendingly by a creature who could make the impermissible seem reasonable, even enticing.

”It would appear that we must make ready to face what he does, then,” she pointed out flatly. She did not suppose for a moment that the matter would be as simple as tracking him down in the dream. There were bound to be such creatures about, and, illusion or not, they would not be simple to deal with. Of late, nothing had been simple at all, much as she might have desired otherwise.

Ithilian nodded as well, seeing as the others were all in agreement. "Let's have it done, then." Arianni smiled at the resolve of them all. "I told you their courage was legendary!" Marethari nodded her approval, but did not seem as heartened as the boy's mother. "Now, Arianni, please excuse us. We must prepare." Arianni jumped slightly, as if she suddenly realized she was trespassing in her own home. "Oh, of course," she said, taking her leave.

When she was beyond the range of voices, Marethari sighed. "There is more I must tell you that is not for her ears. Feynriel... he cannot become an abomination. The destruction he would cause is unimaginable. If you cannot save him from the demons, you must kill him yourself. A death in the Fade will make him as the Circle's Tranquil are. He will be no threat after."

Ithilian nodded his understanding. "If it must be done, we'll handle it. I won't allow him to endanger the Alienage." Marethari nodded approval, knowing she could count on Ithilian to do what needed to be done.

Nostariel had spared a smile for Ashton, but it quickly fell away, and what Marethari had to say thereafter was… discouraging, to say the least. ”It won’t come to that,” she said firmly. She would save him. She would. She must. On some level, she knew that she was making this into more than it was, that she should be thinking about the consequences. But despite herself, all she could really consider was that this was another opportunity for her to save someone… or let the worst of ends meet them. And this time, she couldn’t let herself fail.

"I wish you luck," Marethari said to the four of them. "Be strong. All will face temptation in the Fade. Now, let us begin."




The Fade felt... surprisingly natural. Perhaps that was what the ritual was meant to do. But dreams, after all, felt normal until the dreamer awoke, so maybe only afterward would Ithilian recognize the strange nature of the place he currently inhabited. Apart from being in the Fade, he did not recognize his surroundings. He had thought to see the interior of Arianni's home, only different, but this was not there, nor anywhere in the Alienage. They were surrounded by cold stone, statues of the Tevinter slaves hung from the pillars, giant bronze peons covering their faces.

It was definitely somewhere in Kirkwall, then. No other city made such a point of how the low were trod upon than Kirkwall. But this specific location must have had some significance for Feynriel, else why would they be here? "What is this place? Is this the Gallows?" He had yet to see the inside of it, though he imagined Feynriel hadnt either. Maybe it was simply what he thought the Gallows would look like.

Ashton's first instinct was to look at his hands. A light orange-greenish hue overlayed his vision, giving everything a sickly kind of look about it. What else he noticed was the faint blur surrounding everything from the edges of his hands, to the tiles at his feet. It was almost dizzying in effect, but fortunately, nature sought to give him impeccable equilibrium. He wouldn't fall down in heap because of his eyes. His next instict was to take in the visions from around them-- which was something to be expected in the nightmares of a mageling. The Gallows were unique in their oppressiveness, and made quite the metaphor for newly minted mages. He took a couple of steadying steps forward, pulling away from the party and taking in his surroundings.

"No doubt about it. These are the Gallows, I can't think of anywhere else statues cheery as these would be. Depressing that his nightmares would-- Umph!" He wasn't able to finish his sentence. A book had come from somewhere inside the dream and rammed itself into his belly, doubling him over and then passing over him unimpeded. Ashton took the moment to go to his knee to avoid getting attacked by another dream book, and to catch his breath. Once the initial wave of pain was gone he spoke again, though irritation twinged in his voices. "Dangerous flying books I do not remember. Pretty sure that the Templars would throw a fit over that," He said, retreating back to the party with sharper eyes this time around.

Amalia raised a speculative brow as the unwary man was hit in the abdomen by a flying book. She might have smiled, even, but truthfully, nothing about this place was inclining her to it. She had a strange feeling of vertigo, like this place could at any moment turn upside down and that would make as much sense as anything. Being someone quite grounded in reality and even science, she detested it on principle. Magic was not something she ever desired to be involved with, but she had committed herself to this course of action, and she would see it through to its end, no matter how bitter that turned out to be.

She would not, however, stand around and waste time in this place. The blurs at the edges of everything, the nonsensical floating furniture… all more illusion designed to pollute the mind, doubtless designed to ensnare, to placate them with muted colors and sleepy surroundings. She would not be lulled. This was not the world, this was not of the Qun. Her truth lay long and far outside such farcical fantasy. “Let us proceed. It does not matter where we are, only where the boy is.” As good as her word, she strode forward, down the strange hallway that lay before them.

Amalia’s irritation was palpable, and any amusement that Nostariel would have felt at her friend’s not-so-cordial run-in with the floating books swiftly dissolved. She supposed she could understand the Qunari’s reluctance to be here—the Fade could be… unsettling, especially for those unused to it. She supposed that Amalia must dream as every human and elf did, but that didn’t mean she dreamed quite like this. Nodding quickly, the elf scurried after the Qunari’s longer strides, past several alcoves and other rooms… she supposed it might be a representation of the Templar quarters, from the décor, but it was as Amalia said: it didn’t really matter where they were, only that Feynriel was here. Her Harrowing, she remembered, had taken her to a dark tunnel. She probably should have thought about that a little more before she decided to become a Grey Warden, really.

They passed rooms asking to be explored, peculiar puzzles begging to be solved, and time-wasting endeavors various and sundry, all strangely tempting. Perhaps this part was the realm of a demon of Sloth, then. It would explain the faint sleepiness she could feel, the vague inclination to take a short break, that Feynriel could wait just a little longer…

Nostariel slammed the door on the thought with an exercise of willpower. There was no way she was making that boy wait any longer than he already had. The hallway, which had seemed to stretch before them, led at last out into what appeared to be a replica of the Gallows courtyard. It was empty, but as they descended, she spotted an approaching figure. Dark in color, it had the typical amorphous shape of a shade, its single glowing eye sitting where the head would be on a more human creature. It floated towards them languidly, with undulations of its dark form.

“Careful,” she warned, “We have company, and it’s not Feynriel.”

"Well... it's rare to see--"

“No,” Amalia answered the Warden tersely, eyeing the approaching creature and drawing something from her boot, “We do not.” She threw the knife with a lash of her hand, burying it in the demon’s eye. Assuming arrows would work just as well in the Fade as they did in reality, Ithilian's bow was in his hand the moment he saw Amalia move to attack, the arrow released and thudding into the demon's chest. Another followed side-by-side Ithilian's, pinning the demon likewise in the chest, though opposite side of Amalia. Ashton lowered his bow and spared an eyebrow raising glance for the nearby elf. Apparently, they had the same idea.

Nostariel blinked, then shrugged, finishing the creature with a spike of ice. It would have been rather unimpressive to hit slightly off center mass next to these particular archers, after all. "Well... I suppose he didn't have anything good to say anyway. Perhaps we should try the stairs."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Amalia
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They had two paths to choose from, and they chose the door on the right first, the Warden leading the way in their search for Feynriel. When she opened the door, however, her companions presence in the Fade wavered momentarily, before they were soon blocked from the dream entirely. They had not been removed from the Fade, merely pushed out of this scene Feynriel's mind had constructed. Perhaps he felt the most comfortable with her out of the four of them (certainly not an unlikely possibility), and chose to only allow her to see this. Perhaps more strange, however, was that Nostariel took on the appearance of Feynriel's mother, Arianni, as the door closed behind her.

"That's it, Feynriel. Hard on the downstroke, then lift. Good!" his father said, looking over a young Feynriel's shoulder as he learned to write. Feynriel set the quill down, satisfied with himself.

"I'll have you scribing all my letters soon," Vincento continued. "If I'd known you were such a bright lad, I'd have brought you into the business years ago." Feynriel glowed at the compliment. "Does that mean I can come with you to Antiva, Father?" he asked. "Mother said maybe this summer... right, Mother?"

Nostariel glanced back at the doorway, but it seemed to be blocking the other three, and she frowned. Well, it was Feynriel’s dream; there wasn’t anything she could do about that. She happened to glance down at her own hands, noting that though perhaps the same size, they were certainly not hers. These were softer hands, and lacked some of the small nick-scars hers had acquired over a lifetime of wielding the power of the elements. She didn’t know who she was, but here at least, she was not Nostariel.

Noting the presence of Vincento, she had a decent guess, but chose to leave it aside, approaching the scene with cautious steps. There was little doubt that whatever had taken the form of the young man’s father did not mean him well, and she had to stop this. Now, before he inadvertently made a deal that would destroy him. “No, Feynriel. You mustn’t trust him. Remember what you told me? Your father never wanted anything to do with you. That’s not him.”

Feynriel seemed inclined to believe his mother. "Why are you lying to me?" He questioned Vincento. He shook his head in frustration. "Don't listen, Son. She's always been ashamed of you. She wanted you gone so she could go back to the Dalish. I'm the one who loves you." Feynriel looked like he wanted to believe him at this point, but couldn't.

"But... why can't I remember you?" he asked. "Why... that's right! I spent my whole childhood waiting for you." Vincento threw an arm up, growing angry. "Your mother never allowed--" but Feynriel cut him off. "My mother loves me! She showed me the letters she wrote you. You never wrote back. And it was Mother who taught me to write, not you! I've never met you before! Who are you?"

The illusion broken, Vincento began to glow with arcane magic. "Don't... question..." A flash of light later, and he had transformed into the Desire demon masquerading as Feynriel's father. "... me." Feynriel yelped in terror, turning to run, and when he reached the wall he disappeared from the Fade here. Nostariel had returned to her self, and her companions appeared behind her. From the lack of surprise registering on Ithilian's face, he had been able to witness what had just occurred, but not do anything to take part.

"You!" the desire demon said, pointing an accusing finger at Nostariel. "You turned him against me."

"Did I?" Nostariel asked mildly, but her glare was withering. "I was only trying to help, honest." Her jaw tightened, and she drew her bow from its place on her back, nocking an arrow to the string. "Take away my pets, and I'll take away yours. How loyal are these friends you drag into the fade?" She puzzled, clear in her intent to find out.

The desire demon then morphed in front of them once more, although this time it wasn't Feynriel's father. The girl that now stood before them was hardly out of her teens. She was an elf, her petite ears sloping into a fine point, protuding from under the cover of soft chestnut hair. Her features were delicate, her mouth and nose small though pretty. Her large round eyes were hazel with flakes ago. And though this was the form the demon had taken, she would be recognized by none, save Ashton.

The hunter was taken aback, taking multiple steps away from the demon. His face dropped and what color he retained in the Fade quickly drained. His words were quiet, surprised. "Y-you? What kind of game are you playing demon? Where... Where did you see that face?" He asked stuttering. Clearly distraught over the sudden change in appearance. It wasn't a face he ever expected to see again.

"Ah, so you do remember her. I thought you might have forgotten. But no... You can't forget, can you?" She said, taking a calculated step forward, which in turn sent Ashton a step back. "She's in every one of your dreams, is she not? every one of your nightmares. No matter how hard you try, you can't ever wash her face out your mind, can you? She sits there, like a devil on your shoulder, reminding you of your weakness, of your cowardice." No, he couldn't forget that face. No matter how many drinks he had, no matter how many shots of whiskey, not even all of the alcohol in Kirkwall could kill that memory. He'd never forget the ghost that stood in front of him.

"It's your fault, you know? That she's not a free as you are, as your friends are. All it would have taken was a simple action on your part, and she would have lived, and not only in your nightmares. It's your fault. She repeated, her delicate features turning angry. That anger twisted the knife further into his heart and his world was giving away from under him. "You were a selfish coward, and you couldn't help her because of your fear. Instead of helping her, you ran. But that's all you're good for, isn't it? Running? You're still a coward, aren't you? You still try to run, even now. Run as far and as fast as you can, it never helps does it? She still haunts you, doesn't she? You can't run from her, and you can't run from yourself."

"I wonder where she is now? Does she still yet live? In some Magister's tower tending to his every whim perhaps? I wonder, does she curse your face every time she closes her eyes? Is she haunted by you, by the man who could have saved her from that life? Or maybe not. Maybe she's dead. Maybe her breath was wrung out of her long ago like some discarded wash cloth. It'd be kinder if it was, she wouldn't have to suffer. It matters not, it's all your fault. You brought her into that hell," the girl said, crossing her arms and narrowing her eyes.

Every word crashed on Ashton's ears, driving him deeper and deeper into the pit of despair he had dug. He was silently shaking his head. He wanted it to not be true, he wanted to believe that all of her words were lies. But he couldn't. He knew they were the truth. "Wherever she's at, whatever she's doing, whether she lives or she doesn't. You can try to blame anyone else but yourself, but it's on your head, and your head alone. You had the power to save her, and yet you turned your back on her. That guilt you feel? You deserve every ounce of it that weighs down upon your shoulders, you pitiful coward. In a breath, you've doomed her, and damned your soul."

Ashton couldn't handle it anymore. He couldn't handle the ghost of his past standing there and throwing all his failures back into face. He had to get out. He had to leave. It began slowly, a couple of steps backward. "Look. The coward runs even now. It really is pitiful, attempting to escape the hell he's dug for himself," the girl taunted. That was it, Ashton turned and ran, and never looked back.

The demon’s shift was abrupt, and its words cutting. She would have expected more enticement, more false promises from it, but if its goal was indeed to rid Feynriel’s dream of those who sought to help him, then it was effective indeed. She tried to say something, to make her mouth move, but no words would come out. In all the time she had known him, all the confessions, small and large, she’d made in his company, she’d had not the faintest inkling that something of this nature lay on his shoulders. It made her feel like a failure of a friend, and more than that… she just felt… apart. Like maybe there was some reason she didn’t know. Like maybe he’d concealed it on purpose. How many times could he have mentioned this? And he never had. Perhaps she wasn’t the kind of person he could say things like that to. Maybe nobody was.

Her eyes tracked him as he left, but she made no move to stop him, setting her jaw and scowling. Swallowing thickly, her expression practically dared the demon to try something like that with her. For one reason or another, however, she was not the next of its targets.

Ithilian didn't know the man's story, but whatever it was, whatever the human's weakness was, Ithilian would not be surprised. It was but one more reason to hate a race he'd long since condemned, and if he ever learned the entire story, he had no doubt it would only reinforce his view. He thought Nostariel seemed bothered by his disappearance from the Fade, but it occurred to Ithilian that this may have been a necessary evil. Whatever the shem had done to this elven girl he did not know, surely the Warden wouldn't allow it happen to her now that she'd seen.

"And you desire much, brave hunter, do you not?" the demon said, wandering before Ithilian and drawing his eye. "You believe yourself to be free of your past, to have let go of what you loved. But what if I told you that you could have all of it back?" And as she'd done for Ashton, the demon changed before his eyes.

There were many faces he could not remember from his old clan, many names he held onto without knowing any longer what it was like to look upon them, but this face he would never forget, no matter how hard he tried. The exquisite violet of her eyes, the way her thick dark brown curls spilled over her shoulders and down her back. Her body was rolling muscle beneath her Dalish leathers, able to match him and more on any hunt, any run.

"You weren't strong enough to save her," the demon said in Adahlen's voice, causing Ithilian to visibly strain. It had been so long since he'd heard that sweet sound... he gritted his teeth, setting his jaw square and refusing to look away from her. "But if you only let me, I could bring her back to you." She took slow, cautious steps towards him, reaching out to touch his cheek with the back of her hand. He did not move, clearly using every ounce of his being to remain still. She continued forward, draping her arms around his shoulders and planting her lips against the base of his neck. The smell of her was almost overwhelming, as if it were amplified here in the Fade, only for him. But still he did not move.

"And not only her, but everything that you lost..." Ithilian knew what came next, but it made it no easier when it did. A second pair of arms, smaller and lighter, wrapped themselves around his torso, and he would not look at her. Tears fell freely from his remaining eye. She had her mother's hair, her mother's grace, but her eyes were bright emerald. He could not look into those eyes.

Only after what seemed to be an eternity did they relent, the demon banishing the illusions and returning to her true self, backing up to their former distance. She seemed irked by his decision, but not upset. "Have it your way. Unlike them, your regret will never leave you."

The demon considered Nostariel for a long moment, her lips turning up in a smirk that would have been almost pitying if there wasn’t so much contempt in it. “Oh, how many faces I could show you. His,” she shifted, until her form was that of a vivacious youth made of stocky muscle and tightly-coiled ginger curls, eyes so bright and blue they could have belonged to an ocean lit from below by the sun itself. They were crinkled with the force of the easy, pristine smile on his face, its gleam brighter even then the immaculately-polished armor. Tristan had not really been a conventionally handsome fellow, but his smile was lovely and catching, and his eyes were perhaps the most lovely color she had ever laid eyes upon, as though the splendor of his spirit shone right out through them. She swallowed quickly and looked down at her feet. He was dead. There was no bringing him back. She had… she had accepted that. He’d known the risks, taken them alongside her, with her, for her, and she for him. But he was no more, and she had to live with that, was living with it. As he’d have wanted her to.

“No?” the demon asked in his gentle baritone. “Then what about these?” She morphed, and suddenly, she was a lanky Dalish youth with intricate tattoos themed around the sun. Scarcely more than a child, there was something in his eyes older than most ever became, something almost ancient. “The boy who just wanted to go home?” Another shift, and now she wore the face of a dwarf, a middle-aged woman with a cockeyed grin and a noticeably-missing eyetooth. “The braveheart, who threw her life away for yours? No?” Nostariel’s breathing was increasing in pace, shallow and uneven.

“How about the rival? Who jumped in front of an arrow for you?” A woman, this time a redheaded human, grim and stern looking, wearing a pair of knives. “Or the silly little sot with his boyish crush?” Another elf, this one clearly city-born, who hadn’t lost his wide-eyed naivete, not even on the day he’d died. “Well, Captain? What will it be? Will you abandon them all, fail them again? Surely, the third time is one too many, even for you. Or can you tolerate more failure than anyone has a right to, hm? I could save them, one and all. All I’d need… is you.”

She would be lying if she said it wasn’t tempting. The opportunity to wipe her ledger of all her failures, to just go back to when she’d been innocent herself, their blood no longer on her hands. Then she’d not have had to spend years drowning herself in ale and the stench of misery. She could… what? Save them? No, no she’d already lost them. She couldn’t lose another. ”You’re right,” she said. “I can’t… won’t fail them again. But the only way to fail them now would be to waste the life they gave me as a demon’s thrall. Give me Feynriel, or get out.”

The demon sighed as if put-upon, looking at the shaking Warden with disdain. “How very dull you are. Perhaps there is yet one who will see reason.” Caress turned last of all to Amalia.

The Desire demon shifted again, growing taller, leaner, its shape resolving into that of a man built like a predatory cat: smooth, coiled musculature, beneath skin with more than a hint of sun. His features were sharp, aquiline, and easily describable as handsome, breathtakingly so, if one were inclined to poetry. His pitch-dark hair fell to his shoulders, and he wore a confident, subtle smile. His attire was much like Amalia’s: dark, fitted to his skin, with the crest of the Qunari emblazoned in deep red over his chest. ”And you, Ben-Hassrath?” He questioned, void-dark eyes glittering with some strange mirth. “Poor, scarred, damaged thing. Even the Ariqun doesn’t believe in you, not anymore. All you ever wanted was for things to go back to the way they used to be, before you clawed your way out of your own grave and dragged your forever-mangled self back to your precious people. But they never reverted, did they? Because the most important parts were gone.” His face softened, regarding her with something like pity, and for all either of them seemed to notice or care, there was nobody else in the room at all.

Amalia reached up, tugging her muffler down with one hand. The expression on her face was unreadable, but she stared intently at the figure, her own musculature tense. The demon took this as a cue to continue speaking. “So loyal you are, Amalia. You always have been; I would know better than any of them. Look at what you have endured for your Qun, what your loyalty has put you through. And how does it repay you? By sending you to this cesspool to watch the humans rot. You and I could have had so much more, you know. We still could. Come with me, kadan, and I will make it right again. You know I have the power.”

The smile that bloomed over Amalia’s face was bitter, acidic. Nehraa maraas, hissra. Parshaara— ashkost kata, bas. You are grasping at straws indeed if that is the only face you could think to show me.”

"And yet it is the one you wanted to s—" the voice was cut off by motion, Amalia swinging the ringblade from her back and around in one hand, its movement constant but unpredictable. “It is not for illusions to claim to know my mind,” she hissed viciously. In fact, it was perhaps the angriest Amalia had been, visibly, in more than half a decade. The strange weapon whirled, slicing into the tough leather armor upon the man’s chest, bisecting the emblem there. Jumping back, he lost his shape, resolving once more into the demon, who bore a matching injury across her abdomen. It seemed that even hissra could bleed.

And if it could bleed, Amalia could kill it. Though... she was far from alone, and, completing the blow, she spun away, vacating the spot for whomever next wished to strike.

They had all given each other the chance to resist their own illusions, and now that Amalia had had enough of the demon, Ithilian took it as his cue to slay her and allow them to move on. His short swords were out in a flash as he darted forward in place of the backstepping Amalia, immediately pressing the attack while the demon was still reeling from her injury. Both his blades sank into her midsection and he let them stay there, letting go and drawing Parshaara as well, which he plunged up under her chin. He ripped the blade loose and sheathed, grabbing his two other blades as the demon fell backwards to the ground with a satisfying thud.

Ithilian turned to the others, satisfied that it was now the three strongest of them who remained. "More yet to go. Let's get on with it." If there was a time and place to discuss what they'd seen of each other, it was certainly not here.

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Amalia
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Now without the fourth member of their group, they passed through the other door, Feynriel's dream once again wiping out the others aside from Nostariel, whose features this time took on the form of the elven First Enchanter, Orsino. Before Nostariel was a gathering of Dalish, the Sabrae clan, with Marethari in the center of them all, presenting Feynriel to the group.

"My people, I present to you... our hope." She held out her arms, and Feynriel came forward. "His features may mark him as human, but in his heart beats the blood of the Dales! He came to us to learn his heritage, to release the power from a lineage as ancient as our race." Feynriel seemed overwhelmed.

"I... I don't know what to say..."

Apparently, she had swapped forms yet again, and this time she was fairly sure she was… male. Choosing not to ponder the intricacies of that situation, Nostariel focused her attention on the scene before her. Oh, Feynriel… you really do just want a home, don’t you? It was incredibly sad, in its way, and she understood it well. Enough to know that this wasn’t the way to get it. “Feynriel, wait. Don't say anything. It’s a trick.”

Feynriel seemed surprised to see Orsino of all people here. "First Enchanter? What are you doing here? Mother told me the Dalish are honorable! Why would the Keeper lie?"

This was going to be a bit harder. Feynriel had been living with the Dalish for years now, and though it was far from perfect, it was still probably better than the Circle, which was apparently what she got to represent in this phantasm. Thinking quickly, she echoed something he’d expressed to her once, something that ironically, she’d always tried to dissuade him from thinking. “Think about this, Feynriel. Why would she entrust her people to a human?” It almost hurt to say it; she was playing right into his insecurities and she knew that well… but insecurity, if not modesty, was one of the better ways to combat Pride.

"You are one of us, Feynriel," the Keeper argued. "Your magic will restore our greatness." But now Feynriel looked confused, Nostariel's words striking a chord. "But... you told me this magic was outlawed for a reason. Even the Dalish don't practice it anymore."

Now Marethari appeared to be growing angry, a sure sign that the illusion was cracking. "The first enchanter is trying to keep you from realizing your greatness, Feynriel." But now Feynriel had seen through the trap. "No, he's trying to keep me from temptation, just like you were. You're not the Keeper! Begone, fiend!"

Marethari, or rather the demon posing as her, did not wait for Feynriel to run this time, instead simply banishing him with a wave of her hand, before snarling at Nostariel. "You! Why did you interfere?" She then rose into the air, arcane energy swirled around the Templar's courtyard, and a massive pride demon dropped to the ground in her place. "With my power joined to his, Feynriel would have changed the world!" Ithilian and Amalia reappeared as well, once Nostariel had returned to herself again.

"Yes, precisely as you dictated. Waste not your words on me, demon. I am not here to bargain." Nostariel was clearly rather upset by the whole situation, having to enter and then help shatter Feynriel's illusions. It wasn't an easy thing, to overcome such temptation, and to have to do it with others to bear witness was worse. At least they were almost done. She could nearly feel it, the most malevolent powers losing their grip on this dream.

"Perhaps you will not bargain, but your friend here is of a different mind, is he not?" the demon looked to Ithilian, at Nostariel's left. The elf scowled, crossing his arms. "What could I possibly want from you, demon?"

"Everything," he replied, waiting for a brief moment for Ithilian's reaction. Upon receiving none, he continued. "The Dalish have been spit upon, subjugated, oppressed for centuries, and you have been forced to watch those you love come of age in an atmosphere of hatred and death. As you are, there is little you can do but hold the tide back, but with a friend like me on your side, we could bring about something incredible, a change in the circumstances of the Dalish, of all elves, like the world has never seen."

Ithilian remained silent, staring down the creature that was easily twice his height and more, but he said nothing, and so the demon pressed on. "Think of the young girl you look after, and the two possible worlds that await her. The first is a filthy, dust-covered hellhole that she currently inhabits, her burgeoning prowess responded to with only fear and anger. The humans spit on her, or desire to take her as their own, for their putrid purposes. The other... it's a world even the Dalish can hardly remember, one where humans are nothing but the faintest shadow of a thought on the horizon, where life runs into eternity, a place of peace, prosperity, cooperation, and beauty... a world where the Dalish hold power, where they are no longer chained. With our combined might, that world will be closer than you would ever expect. Without me... there will never be a better future for you and those you care about."

“Ithilian…” Nostariel’s tone was much softer, almost hesitant. ”It’s lying to you. It can’t give you that.” Frankly, she wasn’t sure anything could. “You saw what that girl turned into, three years ago. That’s all that happens.” Just an abomination and more death. Maybe, if he was lucky, the possession would be for him as it was for Sparrow, but that was the most anyone could hope for, and in the end, even that would resolve itself the same way as that poor child had: a monster that was more demon than whatever it had been before, destructive but hardly powerful enough to change anything so drastically as it promised.

Try as he might... he couldn't seem to remember that girl. His mind was unable to move from the vision of the future, a place where they didn't have to breathe dust and inhale smoke and death every time they stepped out of their front doors. Closer, was all he had said. Ithilian knew what it meant. He'd die, but he'd always known he would die, it was just a matter of using the remainder of his life to do some good for his people, for the people he cared about. He would do anything to make that vision come even a step closer...

Amalia scoffed, a half-disgusted sound that she didn’t quite succeed in keeping below her breath. There were many things she could say, and many things she wanted to, but as she had once told Aurora, it was not her place to shatter the illusions of others. That was something they had to do on their own. It wouldn’t be of any good, in the end, if someone other than Ithilian refused this for him.

She was, however, disquiet about it, the words halfway to her tongue anyway. A reminder, a scolding, a plea, even. But she had not the right to argue with him about his decisions, because they were not of a kind. Was this not the barrier that not stood, at his behest and with her compliance, between them? I overstepped myself. I shan’t do so again. That had been her statement, and she would not make a lie of it. So she swallowed her words, and grew further apprehensive that she didn’t trust him to succeed. At least, not enough to stop her from reaching back for the ringblade again. She could tell herself it was because she desired to slay this demon like the rest. But the brutal honesty Amalia displayed before others carried no more softly to her ways of thinking, and she would not do herself the discredit of delusion. It was exactly why she was so clearheaded now, even when these hissra thought to cloud her with promptings of what could never be.

Silence had never felt so stifling, nor waiting such a trial.

"I'd put the future of my people above anything," Ithilian finally said. "Even if it means my life. You know that."

The pride demon grinned wickedly at Ithilian's choice. "Excellent. Help me with these, and then we'll be on our way." He leapt forward quickly, bringing both massive fists down, attempting to squash both Nostariel and Amalia, while Ithilian leapt away, drawing his bow and taking aim at his former allies.

Nostariel leapt out of the way of the crashing fist, pulling her own bow from her back. “You vile…” she spat, unable to finish the sentence in a way that would adequately express her disgust for the demon. Running off to one side of the room, she decided to draw the creature to herself, and leave Amalia to deal with Ithilian. She hadn’t been able to change his mind, but the Qunari hadn’t even tried. Honestly, the Warden really wasn’t sure what to make of that, but then, she seemed to defy anyone else’s understanding more often than not. That, and… Nostariel didn’t really think she could bear to hurt a friend. That she was going to burden someone else with such a task was not at all good, but it was all she really could do. Against this… creature, she would have absolutely no reservations whatsoever.

The first arrow she nocked to her bowstring was coated rapidly in a layer of frost, cool air billowing from it and downwards, toward her feet. It was definitely a big-enough target. Releasing the string, she watched as the arrow sailed a bit too far right, hitting the demon in its shoulder rather than at center mass, as she’d intended. The arrow exploded on impact, a sheet of ice, equivalent to a point-blank Winter’s Grasp, spreading outwards over the pride-thing’s flesh. This clearly surprised it, but with a great heave of its thick arm, it cracked the majority of the ice, allowing it slightly-restricted but otherwise normal, movement.

Next arrow. Focusing, Nostariel gathered the energy from the Fade around her and focused it into the arrowhead, which glowed an angry cherry red. Nock, draw, aim, release. The string snapped against her leather bracer, and this arrow was a bit high, but this time to her benefit rather than her detriment. Hitting the demon’s collarbone, it burst into a ball of fire, scorching down its chest and up the lower half of its face. The swing it aimed for her took her legs out from underneath her, though, and Nostariel found herself looking up at the not-sky, the breath knocked from her lungs.

At least she’d managed to draw its attention. She really hoped she wasn’t about to get shot for her trouble.

Hmph. This crude-fisted creature thought to hit her with that attempt? Amalia jumped back, springing off her hands for another good five feet of distance, landing in an easy crouch and taking her circular blade into the hand that was not bracing her against the floor. While Nostariel lined up her first shot, the Qunari darted forward, swinging the implement in rapid succession to leave several cutting welts over the still-grounded arm. Admittedly, it was not nearly so surprising as a new coat of ice, and perhaps this alone was sufficient to draw its ire in the Warden’s direction, instead. She pursued.

Unopposed, Ithilian was allowed to aim carefully, though both targets were moving erratically, and would likely make a fatal shot not a possibility. His mind may have not been entirely his own, though certainly a good portion of him still remained, and in that moment, it fell to him to make a choice of which target to attack first. The arrow moved back and forth once between Nostariel and Amalia. For whatever reason, it stopped on the Qunari, and he released, drawing back a second arrow immediately.

Amalia hissed as a sharp pain blossomed in her side, an arrow thudding into one of the less-protected joints of her armor, the one where the back was buckled to the chestguard, about halfway down her ribcage. Gritting her teeth, she left the demon to Nostariel, and turned to face Ithilian. There were no words for the keen sense of betrayal she felt, but her face conveyed only irritation and not even the vaguest sense of surprise, as though she’d been expecting it all along. Some part of her certainly had—for longer than she cared to think about. She threw her ringblade like a discus in an attempt to interrupt his aim, then reached for her chain, the weighted end just beginning to swing as she flickered from view.

If history was to repeat itself, it would not end in the same way.

Ithilian got off his second arrow just before the ringblade smashed into his bow, deflecting it enough so that his armor was not cut through by the uncommon weapon. It had sliced almost clean through the bow, however, and so he discarded it, drawing his short swords instead, lowering himself and remaining light on his feet, moving slightly in the direction of the pride demon. Parshaara remained notably sheathed at his hip.

The invisible Amalia tracked Ithilian’s movement, the part of her that was discipline and control clamping down on what might have otherwise been a surprisingly-miserable train of thought. A Ben-Hassrath had to accept that they might be called upon to hunt anyone, at any time. It was never an easy lesson to swallow, but she’d learned it all the same. Spinning the chain around several times, she let fly, anticipating his continued movement in the direction he was heading, but the act of aggression revealed her again, and she resolved into visibility, ripping the arrow out of her side and tossing it away with a terse ‘tch.’

Nostariel barely rolled in time to avoid the enormous fist that came crashing down into the spot she’d once occupied, and she scrambled to her feet with rather less grace than Amalia had taught her, desperation making her perhaps a bit forgetful of how to do these things properly. At least she hadn’t been shot yet; that dubious honor appeared to belong entirely to the Qunari. There wasn’t much time to think about it, though. In fact, there wasn’t time to think about anything at all, for she found herself, delayed in her stand, immediately enveloped in a crushing prison spell, the sickly-green sphere encasing her before she could think to escape it, closing over her head like some bubble of liquid.

Someone had once told her that the dread of pain was worse than pain itself. That person had obviously never been caught in one of these. It was like gravity itself rebelled against her, forcing her to her knees—or it would have, if she could move at all. Instead, it felt like she was caught in a vise, utterly unable to do anything about the increasing pressure on her arms, her legs, her head.

It was as the first bone in her left arm snapped that she felt the flames ignite.

Their experience with each other meant that Ithilian knew how this attack would go, but she was still lightning quick, and near impossible to put eyes on. The chain came from his side and clanged loudly on one of his swords before twisting around his left arm several times, constricting it painfully and preventing much motion on his left side. That would work against him defensively, of course, so he resolved to go on the attack instead, yanking backwards hard with his ensnared arm, trying to pull her towards him, before he moved to where she had appeared, slashing out with several swipes of his still unrestricted arm.

Ithilian’s superior strength was enough to yank Amalia forward a few steps, right into the path of his free blade. She caught one of the strikes on the arm, the blade finding yet another joint in the dragon’s hide near her elbow, and a third hit to the opposite side of her abdomen, this one slightly lower, near her waist. The all-too-familiar sensation of bleeding was ignored in the same way her conscience presently was, and she stepped forward rather than trying to retreat, attempting to drive the heel of one gauntlet-enclosed hand up and under his chin, then dropping into a low sweep, that intended to knock him off his feet and onto the ground. The necessary rotations of her abdomen pulled at the wounds, increasing the bleeding and slowing her somewhat.

Ithilian's current tactics weren't incorporating a good deal of defense, and so he continued attempting slashes even as her hand struck up under the chin, and he felt fractures crack his jaw. The stun was enough to let the sweep connect as well, and his feet were taken out from under him. He hit the ground hard on his side, responding by trying to take the Qunari woman down with him, attempting to stab into the back of her calf with his right blade.

The armor protection there stopped the hit from severing the muscle entirely, but not from doing hefty damage, and Amalia stumbled uncharacteristically, regaining her balance only by shifting her weight almost entirely to her other leg. Even so, the hit one shook, visibly unable to support more than a little burden. She didn’t like her chances in a grapple, but with her ability to maneuver hobbled so, she was left with few other choices. Invisibility would help, but only for a little while, and he would regain his feet and be faster than her as well as stronger if she didn’t keep him down.

Surrendering to gravity, Amalia tipped herself forward, falling in a controlled motion, leading with the left elbow, which was aimed squarely for the arm he was still attacking with. Her right hand yet held the chain, which would hopefully keep him from rolling too far away from the hit.

Nostariel couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe. All she knew was pressure and heat and pain, building to a pitch so feverish she was praying to gods she was almost sure didn’t exist for deliverance. She was also screaming, but just as nothing from outside entered the sphere, nothing from within it—no blackening flames or shrieking sound. After what seemed like an eternity, she was released. Curiously, only the break in her arm, the first one, remained, as though the rest had been merely an illusion, but she was dazed, and with only one good arm, no longer able to fire. At least, not for the moment. The Pride demon looked faintly amused, as though her pain pleased it, but she was far too addled at the moment to remember her healing, or much at all really. Except… what? Something, something important. But what?

The blow was enough to disarm Ithilian, and though his left hand still clutched his other short sword, he could do next to nothing with it that would be of any danger to Amalia. He certainly made no effort to roll away from her or create more distance, instead choosing to fight unarmed, striking first with a headbutt, before pushing forcefully with his right arm to try and roll himself over her and into an attacking position, or at the very least side by side. Several punches from his right would follow.

Amalia muttered something under her breath in Qunlat when his head cracked against hers, dazing her for long enough that his pin attempt was quite-nearly successful and she found herself on her back, at a marked disadvantage. Well, at least being punched wasn’t going to kill her quickly. “Nostariel!” she shouted, taking a punch with an uncomfortable grunt and raising the hand that still clutched the chain in an attempt to leverage him off by applying its pressure to the throat. “If I kill him here, is he Tranquil on the other side?” She had to know. She had to.

The sound of a voice she knew stirred something within Nostariel. It was enough to bring her from her daze, whatever it was, and she glanced over to see Amalia and Ithilian in a tangle of limbs, definitely not of the kind Aurora had hypothesized. It took a second to register why the question would matter, but then it hit her like a ton of bricks, and she answered quickly: “No! He’ll just be ejected from the dream! Nothing permanent!” Speaking of which… Nostariel reached for her magic and sent a healing spell to both herself and the Qunari, knitting her arm together and following up with two brutal blasts of fire for the Pride Demon’s face. It was only a matter of time now, before this creature fell to her. She wasn’t going to give it another opportunity to crush her.

Amalia took that as all the confirmation she needed. Parshaara, then,” she snarled venomously, “Lose your resolve elsewhere.” A flick of her wrist, and the retractable blade inside her gauntlet slid outwards. She drove it upwards, towards his heart, then changed her mind at the last second and angled it for the throat. It was something she’d seen him do countless times, to people he thought unworthy of living. She didn’t quite echo the sentiment, but she was dangerously close.

Perhaps unwittingly, unconsciously, however, she closed her eyes and turned her head when she knew the course was inevitable.

Blood spilled quite normally in the Fade, and it did so from Ithilian's throat. When it was done, there was little point continuing his struggle, and so his last prepared blow never came at all, hanging in midair for a moment before his arm fell to his side. He pushed himself away from her as well he could, before slumping over in a kneeling position, motionless.

Nostariel’s fireballs lashed the pride demon repeatedly, each sending it staggering a little further back than the last, but she did not let up. She was not, as a rule, an angry person, but what was being done to them here, done to Feynriel here, deserved any rage she could muster. She didn’t let up, either, advancing forward with more lit in each hand as soon as they went out, burning through her mana at a pace with the speed she burned through the demon. It began to let out horrid screeches as the tongues of fire ate through its thick hide, and she was relentless enough that she did not give it even a moment to thrash outward, a moment to charge another of those spells, nothing. She would give it exactly what it deserved from her: a death, and not one whit more.

At last, the creature toppled over onto its back and moved no more, and Nostariel straightened, panting, only to see Ithilian roll off Amalia, who bore a bloodstained blade from somewhere in her armor. It was something the Warden would never have thought to see, and for they who were both so devoted to their causes, and disposed to violent means, that was rather saying something. It was a little bit devastating, when she considered what the aftermath of it might be. She’d seen the way the Qunari treated those who they felt betrayed them—she’d been that treatment, actually.

“…Amalia?” she asked cautiously, taking a few heavy steps towards the prone woman.

Amalia rolled to her feet, gathering her chain in silence and replacing it at her waist. Trotting on her still-tender leg to her ringblade, she picked that up, too, replacing it at her back. She eyed Ithilian’s broken bow for a moment, but in the end simply turned back towards Nostariel, expression so perfectly blank it could only be hiding something else. “Come, Nostariel. We must still save the boy.” She faced the exit and walked unerringly towards it, not once glancing backwards.

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Amalia
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The two women followed the stairs back down to the courtyard area, and, much to Nostariel's relief, there was Feynriel, looking relatively unharmed. At their approach, he turned to look at them both, clearly enough himself to recognize their faces. "I'm not sure if this is real," he confessed, "but if so, it is the second time I owe you both my life." Though he was mostly speaking to Nostariel, it was clear that he recognized Amalia as the one who'd thrown herself in front of a slaver's spell for the both of them.

Nostariel smiled faintly. She was tired, and sick of this place, but seeing him here, standing unharmed... that made this ordeal worthwhile. "Feynriel. I'm so glad you're all right." Whether the same could be said for Ashton and Ithilian, or even Amalia, remained to be seen, but he was alive and well, and that... she couldn't measure her relief.

He nodded, echoing the expression, then glanced around him, as one studying something. "The Fade feels different now. I feel the stiches, seams holding it together. I feel I could wake at any moment now." He sounded vaguely awed by that fact, and she could not help but be so herself. These things were not things she could see, for all her years learning to manipulate magic. There must really be something special about him, as Marethari had suggested. It filled her at once with equal measures of pride and sadness. In such a state, he would be always alone, as he'd never wanted to be, singled out not only for his heritage, but for his power. He would always be in danger, and she thought that perhaps he knew this.

"What will you do now, once you wake?"

He contemplated this for a few moments, his expression turning downcast as he came to the same realization she had. "The Dalish do not have what I need," he replied. "Perhaps Tevinter. If these powers could be trained, it would be there." This gave Nostariel pause.

"Tevinter?" she echoed. "Tevinter is a dangerous place for people like us, Feynriel. You have no guarantee that any of the mages there would be willing to train you, and even if they were... they may very well use you for their own ends." As much affection as she felt for the boy, she did not believe him terribly strong of will. This journey he wished to undertake would either bring that out in him... or it would destroy him.

He seemed certain, however. "I know," he said, more firmly, "but only if I let them. And I won't. I've learned that much already." He paused, looking down for a moment, his brows drawn together with worry. "My mother would not look kindly on such a journey. Can you give her my farewell?" He looked earnestly between them, settling his eyes on the Warden, and she nodded, stepping forward and pulling him (he was already taller than she was; when had that happened?) into a brief embrace.

"I will," she promised quietly. "May you find always what you need, Feynriel." Stepping back, she patted his cheek just once, then folded her hands behind her back.

He sounded relieved when he spoke again, as though something had been lifted from him. "Perhaps... there is a way out of this, after all." turning away from them, he stared hard at the air on front of him, an intent look of concentration on his face. "I can do this." With a wave of his hand, the Veil shimmered, and he looked back just once, over his shoulder. "Thank you, Nostariel. For everything. Goodbye." With that, he turned and disappeared, walking out of the Fade as though it held no reality for him at all.

Amalia would have advised against going to Tevinter, had she been of a mind to say anything at all. But she was not. This was not her business. None of it was, and none of it ever had been. Why was she even here? Nothing here was any of her concern, of the Qun’s concern. Her reasons for acting on this boy’s behalf the first time had been simple: there had been no discernible reason not to. But why bother? Why not be exactly as Sophia had assumed of her, concerned ever and only with her own? None of these people were her own. Aurora was not her own, either. She was floundering, and this place, this rotting pit of a city, was making her forget.

She didn’t need to see in other ways. The Qun was the only thing in her life that had ever been constant, and it had never let her down. It would be better to stop pretending that anything not of it would ever share in that quality. What kind of stupid creature was she, that she was able to continually believe that the next time would be different from the last? She let the Warden and the boy do all the talking, and remained, quiet as a shadow, in the background, tipping her head just faintly when acknowledged. Beyond that, it was simply a matter of waiting for this all to end.

She’d had enough.




When the two remaining members of the party awoke, it was to find Arianni hovering anxiously. Seeking to placate her worry as much as possible, Nostariel stood at once. "Feynriel has mastered his powers," she told the woman with a soft smile. This caused Arianni's eyes to wide, a hand lifting to hover over her heart.

"Then he lives? You saved him? I cannot thank you enough!" She turned to her former Keeper. "Keeper Marethari, may I return with you to the Sunderlands? I would like to ask my son's forgiveness." The Keeper seemed torn between being pleased and ever so slightly amused. "Of course. It was you who chose to stay away."

Unfortunately, it was here that Nostariel had to interrupt. "I'm sorry, Arianni. Feynriel decided that he must go elsewhere to train. None in Kirkwall can help someone like him. He asked me to say his farewells." She would have preferred it if he'd at least stayed to give them on his own, but she understood his need to leave as he had. What he'd detemined to do took a great deal of resolution, and if the pain of parting would have provided him temptation to stay, it might have been too much to overcome, and he needed that training.

Arianni took this about as well as she would have expected, which was to say not terribly well. "My son! No! I must find him before he leaves!" Marethari, though, seemed to be in agreement with Nostariel, giving the Warden a nod before addressing the distressed mother. "It is wise for him to seek guidance. Kirkwall cannot provide what he needs." To Nostariel and Amalia, she continued. "I truly did not think it was possible to do what you did. You are rare souls, indeed."

Ithilian had stayed to see the end of the venture, sitting with arms crossed in a corner of the room, but he couldn't help but feel Marethari's words were not for him. Only when he woke did he realize the stupidity of his decision. And still... ill-advised or no, he couldn't seem to make himself fault his motives. The actual decision had been unwise, of course, and it had been the demon's influence that had prevented him from seeing that, but... he would still do anything for his people. That had not changed, nor would it ever.

He suspected neither Nostariel nor Amalia would have any desire to speak with him, but he would stay to at least give them the opportunity. The Warden no doubt wished to chase after her shemlen friend, and Amalia... well, he'd thought they had been on the path to mending the damage he'd done years ago, but it seemed he'd undone that tonight.

Amalia stayed exactly as long as was required to ascertain that the task was indeed complete. She met the Keeper’s eyes, once, and nodded in acknowledgement of the thanks, but she looked at nobody else. As soon as the matter was concluded, she simply walked out the door, jaw tight and face still unnaturally blank. She was going to spend some time in the compound. While she did not generally prefer to be there, she was certainly allowed, and it would grant her the opportunity to be… away. From the evidence of her own folly more than anything else. She paused, just once, to glance at the large, painted tree that stood in the Alienage’s center, but then shook her head and continued onward, up the stairs and out of sight.

Nostariel watched Amalia depart, worry evident in her expression, then turned to Ithilian. Marethari and Arianni were still talking, so it was doubtful they were also listening. “Are you all right?” she asked him, resisting the urge to lay a hand on his shoulder. Contact probably wouldn’t be appreciated right now. She wasn’t really sure what she expected the answer to the question to be, but honestly, she doubted anyone came out of that unscathed. They’d fought each other in the Fade, regardless of the whys or wherefores, and the Warden doubted very much that either one of them was truly unaffected by that. She wasn’t, and his aggression hadn’t even been directed at her.

She would find Ashton, eventually, and see what she could do for him, but Ithilian was her friend, too, and what he’d undergone was in its own way no less trying, she suspected. Falling victim to a demon was not an experience she’d had so directly, but nothing that usually resulted in abominations could leave a person free of injury.

Ithilian leaned forward in his seat, placing his elbows on his knees. "I don't know why the demon seemed so compelling. It seems so stupid to think it would remain true to its offer now, but in that moment..." He shook his head. "I am no mage, the Fade was no place for me. It is good that Amalia was there. She did what she had to." The things he left unsaid told the rest of the story, really. He regretted his choice only because the demon would not have granted him what he sought, not because of the motive. And Amalia... if their friendship had only ever been an alliance of convenience, born because they both sought to protect the same plot of land... he didn't know what to think.

“Demons are supposed to be convincing,” Nostariel assured him sadly. ”They can see into our minds, every insecurity and hangup we have. The Desire Demon… it had its pick with me, certainly. It chose wrongly, but on another day, it might not have.” It was an unfortunate truth. Caress had given her a chance to rectify her mistakes, something she wanted more than anything else, yes, but also something she was now taking steps toward on her own. If it had chosen to show her what she wanted, but felt she would never obtain… she knew not how that would have ended.

“It might not be my place to say, but… I don’t think she wanted to. And I don’t think she would have, if my answer had been different.” Amalia was incredibly hard to read, but Nostariel knew her better than she had before, and the Qunari was not as cold as she behaved most of the time. One only had to watch her with children long enough to understand that. Still, she sighed and shrugged. Though she didn’t want to see her two companions fall out over this, that wasn’t really anything she got a say in, so she left it be.

The Chanter's Board has been updated. Night Terrors has been completed.

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia
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Amalia spent a night and half another day in the compound, mostly making herself useful by handling a few small tasks the warriors were unsuited for, and otherwise attempting to regain her equilibrium. For as long as she’d been alive, moving amongst her own people had been the best kind of meditation there was. The Qunari acted as if all had one mind, one soul, and one body. The separation between individuals was hardly present, not even conceptually. Everyone did what needed to be done, what must be done, with no hesitation or thought for personal feelings or inclinations. They had their bonds, of course, and their emotions. Nobody was without them. But such things were simply pale imitations, ghosts of the bond that drew them all together as a singularity.

For the first time, it brought her no solace. She could not help but feel as one apart, even though her mechanical movements integrated her inexorably into the whole. She walked betwixt her people, and it brought her nothing but a vague sense of unease, of dissonance. Perhaps it was because she moved with the Antaam, and not the rest. Yes… surely, that was the only reason.

Whatever it was, she found it deeply unsettling, and returned to her dwelling shortly thereafter. The viddathari were slightly more comfortable company, but all the same she made it clear that she was not going to be doing any teaching that day. Nor, in fact, was she planning on venturing out of the house at all. On anyone else, it might have been considered sulking, but Amalia did not sulk. And indeed, she was productive with her time, cleaning and sharpening every instrument of death she owned— and there were quite a number. These each found their way onto a hook in the wall of the room she’d claimed as hers, a small one at the end of the short hallway. There was a hard sleeping pallet in one corner, with a pile of blankets, as the occasional cold snap did not sit well with one so used to deserts and humid jungle.

Pushed against the opposite wall was a worktable, accented with various dried plants hanging in bundles from the ceiling. The only other pieces of furniture were a pair of stools and a shelving unit. It was clear to look at from the outside that despite the number of people she found herself surrounded by on a daily basis, her existence was quite solitary.

For once free of her armor, Amalia had donned only her robes and a pair of gloves, and was presently working on mashing several substances together with a mortar and pestle—one of the viddathari was suffering from a number of poisonous insect bites, and required a poultice. The repetitive motion helped keep her mind away from other things. She could feel her chains tugging at her again, the ones she’d told the Imekari about. Perhaps she should send her a letter, explain that no more lessons would be forthcoming? No… such a thing bore saying in person, to she and the Warden. She found, to her irritation but not her surprise, that she didn’t want to say them at all.

Ithilian had spent the majority of the day after the Fade business in the woods. Lia had insisted on joining him, and he found he was unable to refuse her. He suspected she meant to tell him something, but he couldn't keep the sour mood from his face, and it must have convinced her to keep it to herself, whatever it was. They hunted mostly in silence, which was honestly more effective, and brought back a large deer quicker than Ithilian would have liked.

Amalia's decision to remain indoors (he had asked around some of the children he knew to be her students and learned where she'd gone) had spared them the inevitable awkwardness of seeing one another, at least for the time being. Ithilian didn't really want to know what that was like, speaking to someone who had killed you in a dream, someone you thought you might have cared about more than was possible for not being an elf. Lia stopped him once they reached his home.

"I'll take care of the deer, you go... fix whatever's making you like this." He looked down at her, unsure whether or not to be annoyed that she would prod him like that, or happy that she would be able to read him like that. "Really, you're no fun at all like this. Go on, shoo. I've got this. We'll have a nice dinner when you get back." He didn't really know what else to do, so the corner of his mouth quirked up slightly, and he gave her a rough rub on the head, the way he used to do for his daughter. "If I don't come back, it's because the Qunari woman's murdered me," he said, quite honestly. Lia responded with a laugh, though.

"Hah! I bet she would beat you in a fight. Good luck!"

Once she could no longer see his face, Ithilian scowled, stepping quickly past the vhenadahl, though he pulled off his leather chestguard and ringmail shirt there and left them. It wasn't like anyone in the Alienage would steal from him. When he arrived in front of Amalia's door, he paused, a closed fist hanging in the air, but then he went through with it, hitting the door with three soft thuds.

"Amalia. The air in this city is thick enough without this hanging over it."

The door was answered, not by Amalia, but one of her viddathari, a solemn-eyed boy of perhaps fourteen, the pointed ears marking him as a native denizen of the Alienage. He regarded Ithilian steadily for a moment, bereft of the usual touch of fear or awe that the other elves showed him, then pushed the door open widely enough for him to step through. “She’s in the back,” the lad said, and then his eyes narrowed. “She hasn’t been speaking very much, though. You might not get her to talk to you.” He pointed to the hallway, then gestured left to indicate which door the man would want.

Amalia did not initially look up as he entered. Instead, she finished her crushing with a dull scrape of granite, then scooped the contents of the stone bowl onto what was clearly meant to be a bandage of some kind. The cloth was far from pristine, but she’d boiled it beforehand, so it was clean regardless. ”There is something you require of me, basra?” she asked flatly, setting the bowl aside for cleaning. She’d told her students not to let anyone in today; apparently, one of them thought he understood what she required more than she did. That would be a matter for some discussion later.

He knew what the word meant. Perhaps it was somewhat of a parallel to him referring to her as a shem. Something of that nature. It wasn't unexpected. He'd tried to kill her, after all. He wasn't sure what the best course of action here was. Should he shoot back at her? Should he beg her forgiveness? He didn't want to be enemies with her, that much he knew.

"I've never required anything of you, nor you me," he said. "I was deceived by a demon. I cannot deny my pride, certainly not now. What the demon promised in the dream seemed possible, it seemed real. I've wanted to see a place like that my entire life." He didn't really know what to do with himself; he was just sort of standing there in her doorway. He was distinctly aware of young ears listening in.

"I'm not infallible," he said, struggling to keep frustration from his voice. "No one ever trained me to resist demons. I... shit..." He ran a hand through his hair in frustration, resisting the urge to hit something inanimate. "I don't know what I'm supposed to say here. All I know is that this feels wrong. Everything." He gave up on words, leaning up against the wall and scowling at the floor like it had threatened him.

Amalia could not help but think he had misread her somewhat. Normally, she would not bother to correct something of that nature, but… here, she was driven to it. She looked up at last, and her eyes were hard, though given his own posture, he wouldn’t know. “It was never your motive I faulted,” she said simply. “You think I have somehow missed what you want? A world where your people can reclaim what is theirs? I’ve known that much for quite some time.” She paused, arranging the words as she wanted them. She was not one to spare feelings, not her own or anyone else’s, but she also did not desire to be ill understood. It was a delicate balance, one she was not certain she had mastered. ”I was displeased because you thought you had to turn to a hissra to get it. I had thought you began to understand what I have always believed—that you, not an illusion, will be enough to do what you need to.”

Speaking so plainly was clearly a bit odd for her, and her expression switched abruptly, this time to one of perplexity. She had intended not to speak at all, to say nothing and allow the volumes to be communicated in her silence, but that was unfair. ”And I was angry because you believed it when it told you that killing myself and the Warden would bring you what you wanted. Angry because you did not hesitate.” She was still angry about it, actually, but conveying this was unnecessary. The circumstances of the discussion made this obvious enough. ”I had believed you different. Someone who would not turn his back on the people who trusted him. I have believed so exactly thrice, and all three times, I have been mistaken. So perhaps I am as much to blame as you are.”

She stood, mouth dropping into a pronounced frown. Pacing the small room in a rare show of agitation, she completed two crossings of the space before she spoke again. “And then I gave it some thought, and perhaps I should be thanking you. I realized that what happened was inevitable. I thought about what you wanted, and I understood that, in order to obtain it, you would have to eliminate me eventually. I was not born with your history, your heritage, your morphology. I would be an obstacle to a world made for elves, because I am not one. Sooner or later, in that world’s advent, I must die. Unless you’d think to emulate the vile Tevinters and keep others as pets.”

Of course, then she’d given it yet more thought, and realized that in that, she may well be exactly the same. The Qun demanded its own expansion, its spread to all the corners of the world, and resistance was to be quashed. Either through death, or through assimilation. It was then, for the only time she could recall, that her step, perfectly in time with the heartbeat of her people, had faltered. And why? It had stood up against so much more than the life of one person before. Yet she’d raised her head, looked around, and been disquiet with what her eyes had shown her. She had learned, then, that part of herself still harbored hissra of her own, and the knowledge had terrified her. Her dauntless soul had wavered, and she’d almost been able to swear that every one of those soldiers had known it. So she’d fled it.

“And after that, I realized something I hadn’t known. In this, I am not like you. If the Ariqun appeared before me today and told me to slay you, to slay Imekari, to slay the Warden, I could not.” Her utter confusion was writ large over her face, and she stopped pacing, glancing across the room at him. The Qun had been the only constant in her life for so very long, the only thing that never wavered, the only thing that made her strong. But now she felt that it was tenuous in her hands, and she was absolutely afraid of that. She’d been taught that when things like this occurred, when she began to feel the urge to put individuals over the whole, she was being tempted, held under the sway of an illusion. So why did she feel as though the veil had been lifted instead?

“It feels wrong for me as well. And I do not understand it. Nothing I have ever been taught grants me understanding. Even knowing where you stand, what you would and will do, it persists.” Her tone had shifted, apprehension and wonder warring for control of it.

It was quite honestly too much. Ithilian ended up sliding to the floor, propping his head on one hand. Was he so weak? He didn't think so, and yet when it came down to it, he seemed to always think himself inadequate of the goal he'd been striving for. It just seemed so... impossible, especially when simply exacting small revenges was so much easier, so much more achievable. He was simply one man. He wasn't a leader of his kind, he wasn't an inspiration, he was just a killer and a hunter. He could feed them and kill their enemies, but he never truly believed he could inspire them to anything.

And Amalia... she was right. The reason he'd turned his arrow on her and not on Nostariel had nothing to do with how he felt about them. In the end, his instincts had come down to the determination that Nostariel was elven, and Amalia was not. Qunari or human it made no difference, the anatomy was still the same. The human race would still have the same effect on the elven one regardless. In Ithilian's version of a perfect future, Amalia could not exist, or at the very least, she needed to be far, far away. And in the Qun's version of a perfect future... well, it wasn't something that Ithilian wanted for elves. He'd always been a firm believer in isolationism as the only way to restore what the elves had lost. The Qun would not bring any of that back. It would rewrite it and destroy it altogether. So... where the hell did that leave them?

"I don't know what to do anymore," he admitted, shrugging weakly. He'd proven it time and time again: he was not as strong as everyone thought he was. He could not live up to expectations. He was weak. She was a fool to ever believe in him, wasn't she? "All I've ever done is fight for my people's future. I've left pieces of myself along the way. I've betrayed the trust of friends, and lost others entirely. And I have so little to show for it." He was now quite clearly on the brink of striking something.

”For all that many things are certain, few are ever simple,” she said heavily, taking a couple of steps forward and dropping into a crouch in front of him, so as to be on a level and capable of eye contact. There was something she wanted to say here, but she was not quite sure what it was. She was too perplexed about too many things to render any judgements today, even if she had been inclined to do so. ”You complicate my life, Ithilian. There’s little point in denying that. But I do not know what to make of that complication, and so for now, I won’t do anything.” There were far too many things she had yet to work through for her to yet contemplate burning this bridge, she had determined that much at the very least.

”For the moment, I invite you to do as I am going to: to live with your eyes open, see what you might, and then determine what it is that you want to do about it. I will expect only one thing of you in the meantime: that, if you determine that it has become your task to be rid of me, you do me the courtesy of informing me beforehand. I will not stay if I risk a knife in my back again. It is not… I am too weak to endure that.” The emphasis on the word was only very slight, but it was accompanied by an expression, too fleeting to read. ”Perhaps, when we are done, we will both have more to show for it than our scars.”

"I'm..." he started, but he hesitated, because the words seemed downright treasonous coming out of him. "I'm tired of the things I feel like I have to do for the Dalish. I never wanted you or anyone I care about to get hurt, but it seems like everything I do leads to that just the same." He stood, needing to get out, needing to think. There was a lot to absorb.

"I need some time to think about this, as you said. Maybe something to kill. Not you, of course, we already know who wins that fight." There was a hint of dark humor in his voice, but he suspected that now was not the time. "After all, it's clear that I need you here. Even if it complicates things." He didn't know what else to say. There wasn't anything that could be decided on the spot. At the moment, it didn't seem like there was a right decision to be made. Maybe that would change once he cleared his head.

Amalia stood as Ithilian did, nodding to his words. It would seem from the look of things that she had regained some of her lost equilibrium, for she no longer seemed upset or particularly puzzled. Even such small determinations as the one she had come to could do that. Mer— Very well. I understand. If you should wish to share your determination with me, you know where I might be found.” It was certainly not a process she desired to rush, and she didn’t want him to rush his, either. Things this important deserved time and care.

As soon as he’d left, Amalia collapsed into her chair, staring vacantly at her forward wall. Just where had her precious certainty gone, and why now? It was, perhaps, the hardest question she’d ever had to ask herself.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Amalia
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Sophia's birthday was still a week out when she called for a meeting of those she had wanted Lucien to contact. Varric's room in the Hanged Man was to be the setting. She'd had him move in some more reasonably sized chairs for them in the event that they wanted them, but the table was still a bit too low to actually be used. It didn't really matter. The point was that she needed a place to speak privately with them, and despite appearances, a backroom of the Hanged Man was one of the better places in Kirkwall to discuss in peace.

As far as she knew, all of Lucien's meetings had gone well enough, and all of the people she'd asked for would be in attendance at the party. There was still the matter of this other woman Lucien had decided to request the aid of. Sophia was uneasy allowing anyone she didn't trust to enter in on this agreement, but if Lucien trusted whoever it was, that would be enough for Sophia. The fact that her father's life was potentially on the line as well as her own was entirely why she was so nervous about this going well. The waking nightmare continued to plague her, long after the demon's magic had faded.

Sophia looked much better by now, if still a little harried. She was in armor again, hair loosely tied back, as she wasn't expecting any combat simply walking to Lowtown. Still, she was apparently making enemies as well as friends by attempting to do what was best for the city, so it couldn't hurt. The weight of it had grown comfortable. She'd been eating regularly again for the past few days, and the majority of her paleness had passed. She was her usual self again, if a little more stressed than normal.

She waited patiently at the head of Varric's table for the others to arrive. They'd only know what they were being invited to, and the reason they were there. She'd purposely saved the rest for this meeting, so that it could all be gone over once, when they were together, and could more effectively prepare. She glanced to the sword next to her, sheathed and propped up against the wall. She certainly wouldn't be able to bring that with her to the Keep's ballroom. Nor would she be able to wear the armor...

Well, she could, but she'd certainly look like quite the fool.

Lucien wound his way through Lowtown, the taciturn Qunari woman beside him. He’d expected to have to work a little harder to convince her to do this, but she had simply sat quietly for a moment after he outlined the specifications of the task to her, then nodded simply. “I will do it, if she allows it.” He’d been quite tempted to ask after how the two were acquainted, as he had no knowledge of the connection, but he chose not to. With this one, silence was often the better choice, or at least the welcomed one. It was a drastic reversal from most of the people he’d known, but comfortable enough for him, as his father had been the same, and his mother as well. It was the other side of things that was harder to navigate.

As she’d promised, Amalia had met him at his dwelling a few minutes ago, and now both progressed to the Hanged Man, both armored and armed to the teeth. Well, actually, he just had his axe and a belt-knife, but he was pretty sure the four visible knives on the Qunari were not the only ones she was carrying. Rilien was like that, too, and it was actually somewhat reassuring to note, given the job he was asking her to do. He wasn’t honestly sure if she’d accepted from the nature of the task itself, some lingering feeling of debt to him for the incident a year ago, or something else, but given that Ril was otherwise occupied, he knew of nobody more suited to it.

They entered the Hanged Man, and, as she was obviously unfamiliar, he led the way to the back room. As it was, his bulk initially obscured her from view, meaning that she was not visible until she had entered. “Good morning, Sophia,” he greeted amicably, “You look well.” Unspoken was the obvious: she looked a great deal better than when he had last seen her. That would have to be conveyed in his small smile.

Amalia stepped cautiously into the room, clearly scanning it for security, sizing up potential exits. She took up a position on the wall near the door, but still close enough to the main part of the room to clearly be a part of the conversation. Propping the flat of one foot against the wall, she refrained from crossing her arms over her chest, as she was not here with hostile intentions and for once desired not to be perceived as such. Instead, she inclined her head slightly at the Viscount’s eldest child. “Sophia,” she offered mildly, by way of greeting.

Sophia was a bit stunned at first when the Qunari woman she'd met while battling dragons walked through the door. She was actually tempted to laugh, just at the sheer ridiculousness. Or perhaps it was strangely fitting. That the Qunari would be protecting her and her father from the nobles, who seemed so greatly to desire the heathens gone from the city.

"Hello, Amalia," she said, unsure whether to smile or frown. She ended up doing neither. She'd want to speak with Amalia in private, and that could be done once the others had left, after she'd delivered her information. She trusted Lucien's choice, and she'd seen the woman in action herself, so her assistance would not be turned aside, but there a few things she needed to be certain that Amalia understood.

"And thank you, Lucien," she said, offering him a smile and a nod.

Judging from the sounds outside her room, Varric’s was already filling up. With no particular need to arm herself for a ten-foot walk, Nostariel shrugged to herself and grabbed Oathkeeper anyway, Slinging the bow and a quiver over her shoulder. One could never be too careful in the Hanged Man—it tended to attract half the grudge matches in Kirkwall, and they didn’t always stay between the participants. Disabling and rearming her ward, the mage entered the room shortly after Amalia, recognizing the Qunari woman immediately and offering a bright smile. Sophia and Lucien were both already also here. Not quite as cautious as the trained assassin in the room, Nostariel took a seat, laying her arms on the low table.

“Morning, everyone. It’s good to see you.” it had been a bit since she’d interacted with any of them, and she’d not seen Amalia since the Fade incident. That she was here was surely a good sign of… something, though Nostariel wasn’t exactly sure how she’d been brought into this adventure, so to speak.

Next on the list was Ashton and his plus one, Snuffy. Ever since Nostariel gave him the little puppy, had had been glued to her for the following couple of weeks. He hardly went anywhere without her, and fortunately she seemed to begin imprinting on him so she tended to follow him around when he wasn't doing anything important. Surely the scraps of deer he'd been sneaking her had nothing to do with that. He was currently in route to the Hanged Man, at the behest of Lucien. He thought it a huge tease inviting him to the Hanged Man, since he had decided to cut way back on his alcohol consumption. A blackout ending in marriage, and a grim heartfelt talk-to-talk tended to ward one off from the stuff.

Ashton himself was lightly armed, though he still wore his leathers-- but that was hardly surprising. He wore those every day. He'd left the shop in Lia's care, and with it his bow and quiver. He did have a skinning knife hidden away in his boots, but it was suicide to walk around Lowtown without some form of weaponry. It was moments before his legs brought him to the door of the hanged man, which he pushed past and into the establishment proper. He got a couple of strange looks, due in part to the dog in his arms, but nothing was said. Hell, a little bit of dog could only help the swill they called drink. Ashton danced past the patrons and headed to the back hall, and angled himself toward Varric's room. Upon his entrance he recongized several familiar faces.

And they were all armed for bear. He stood in the door way for a moment, looking from person to person and suddenly feeling under-dressed. "So... Where's the fight at? Wish someone would have told me we were marching into battle. I would have grabbed something more substantial than a piddly little knife," Ashton said, chuckling, though Snuffy whined. The idea of a fight didn't much appeal to her. Still, he took a seat at the table beside Nostariel, and leaned back, propping his feet on the table and letting Snuffy play in his lap.

"No fight," Sophia said, not in the best state of mind for any kind of humor, but her tone wasn't harsh or anything. "I just wanted to gather everyone and help you all know what to expect at the party." She raised an eyebrow slightly at the mabari puppy in his arms, but did not press him on it. The dog certainly wouldn't be allowed among the guests.

"I'll get to it, then," Sophia said, shifting slightly uncomfortably. The possible candidates who wanted her or her father's death were very many, especially when so many of them were so adept at hiding their motives, and their goals. It had taken her quite some time just to try and pick out a few who would be the most likely, as well as those who were simply the most prominent nobles at the celebration.

"You'll all be allowed entrance into the grand ballroom of the Viscount's Keep with the other guests. I can instruct the guards to allow you to pass with weapons, but they'll need to be hidden. I don't want armed guests, especially if you're to be moving among them. The guards on the perimeter and near my family will be enough, and I hardly trust them as it is." Even the captain had been corruptible, as she and Lucien had found out recently. How many of the lower ranking guardsmen were just as susceptible, she could not say.

"The party will consist of a feast, several speeches, I'm sure, gift giving... you need not bring a gift, I certainly won't mind. I would have preferred not to have the party at all, but Father insists." She shook her head. She had no doubt that some of them would still bring her some kind of gift. Well... it would be sort of expected of Lucien, given how he was arriving with her. "It will be pretty unorganized, but a group dance will end the festivities. Until then, we'll simply have to put up with the city's nobles."

No easy task, certainly. Sophia was not fond of some of them, as she was about to go over. "Lucien will be arriving with me as my escort, and stay with me throughout the party. Nostariel, Ashton, I'd like you to mainly move through the guests, keep an eye out for anything suspicious, and perhaps talk to a few of them, see if you can find anything out. Amalia can keep watch over things from a distance, and intervene if she sees anything."

Ashton nudged Nostariel's arm at the mention of a group dance, but otherwise kept silently until the end. Even then, he prolonged the silence a bit further to ensure that no one else had any other, more pertinant questions before asking his. "Are you always so particular over your birthdays? And should we be looking for anything specific?" Surely if she displayed such decorum with other matters, she was bound to be a barrel of fun-- He decided not to press too hard though, as clearly she wasn't in the mood for it. Besides, everyone was armed but him. He would definitely like to leave in the same shape he arrived.

"Oh, and would you like anything particular for your birthday?" Ashton added. A hint would be nice, though he could always figure something out. He did think he was good at giving gifts, after all.

Sophia couldn't help but sigh at the man. "You're all going out of your way for me as it is. That in of itself is a gift. I don't need anything more than that, really." Really, she trusted Ashton to have a good heart, but his occasional inability to take things seriously was trying sometimes. "There's several people I'd like you to talk with at some point, to see what you can get out of them."

"First would be the Arren family, particularly Jorah Arren and his son, Jamie. The Arren family was one of the ones closely considered to inherit the Keep, but my father received it instead, and it surprised many. They remain one of the most powerful and influential families in the city. They've never been very supportive of my father's rule, but Jorah has tried on several occasions to bind our families by trying to match me with Jamie. I have resisted this notion, as you can see." She wondered what he'd think when Lucien of all people walked in with her. Jamie had always been the most charming of her suitors, but he was a fool to think charm was what she was searching for.

"The Lady Miranda Threnhold is the second. If you recognize the name, you'll know that she's the only living member of the Threnhold family left. Her father was the Viscount of Kirkwall until he crossed the Templar Order. Miranda is his daughter. In all the time I've known her, she's shrewd, cold, and intelligent, and she's none too subtle about her dislike for me and my family. I don't know if she feels that she should be Viscountess now or not, but she's certainly smart enough to be able to put together a plan for it. I had thought assassination to be a place she wouldn't go, but I may very well be wrong." She was still quite wealthy, as she had been too young to be implicated in her father's revolt, and considering that she'd hadn't committed any crime, there was little reason to not allow her to inherit what her father left behind. Apart from the leadership of Kirkwall, of course.

"The wealthiest family in the city is without a doubt the Tarkins. I believe only the twins will be in attendance, that's Damian and Dorian. They're... well, I hesitate to use the word brute, but they both fit the description rather well. Their family's made their fortune by running a number of the trading vessels that come in and out of the docks, but on several occasions the guard has nearly connected them with the Coterie. No proof, though, so there's nothing to be done. Both Damian and Dorian were suitors of mine, for about a day each, actually, which is a day more than I needed to decide against them. I don't think they hold allegiance with anyone but themselves, but I'd thought them content with their fortunes. I'd thought responsibility of rule was something they'd wanted to avoid." She could easily be mistaken about that, however. They were as private as they were brutish when confronted, and she rarely met in person with the patriarch of the family. Motives were hard to determine through letters.

"Last... the Natlas will be in attendance. They've risen to power quickly in the last decade or so, mostly through their strong ties with the Templar Order. It's no secret that Knight-Commander Meredith has as much influence over this city as my father does, and the Natla family is one that she respects. Two of their sons and one daughter have joined the order, and risen quite high in rank, I believe. Meric and his wife Falda should be among the guests, and I believe their daughter Joanna will be there as well. She's the Templar daughter. Normally, I wouldn't consider them a threat, but I fear the sheer amount of influence they've gained among the other nobles, and the pull they have with the Order, may have gone to their heads. I hope they won't try anything rash." That, and Sophia really didn't know them that well. As much time as she spent in the Chantry, she spent little among Templars, and though she respected them from afar, she knew not all of them were possessed of a level head. They were only human, after all.

Nostariel wasn’t sure she really understood what it was like to have such powerful enemies. Darkspawn didn’t usually try to stab you in the back, and at least most Templars were fairly forthright about their intentions. She was certain that dealing with all of this politicking on a regular basis would drive her mad or into seclusion. She felt her respect for Sophia, already rather considerable, ratchet up a couple of notches. It took a lot to speak so calmly about people who might want to kill you. The Warden did not desire to ever find out if she had it. Leaning back in her chair, she blinked a few times, trying to think of a useful question. “These people… I’ll do what I can to talk to them, but I’m not sure how willing most of them will be to exchange words with an elf.” she smiled, a tinge brittle. She would not be a Warden there, or at least not immediately recognizable as such. That left her options for social status very limited.

“I’ll admit, I don’t much fancy the thought of having to get through everyone there to find the ones I’m after. Is there a way to recognize the people from a distance? Distinguishing characteristics?” she supposed the twins would look alike (and she imagined large), but the others… there was no way to tell thus far.

"The twins will be easy enough to spot," Sophia said. They were indeed quite powerfully built. Perhaps together they'd be a match for Lucien hand-to-hand, but even then, she doubted that. "Miranda's also quite hard to mistake. Tall, dark haired, very beautiful, and likely alone. The Natlas... I expected Joanna will be in Templar attire of some kind, and she'll likely remain near her parents. Jamie... will likely be the best dressed in the room. He's around my height, rather boyish appearance, short light brown hair, green eyes. Keep an eye on me long enough, and you'll see him at some point, I've no doubt."

"Good thing I'm a people person, I suppose," Ashton added, scratching behind Snuffy's ears. "Though we'll see if they'll want to talk to a Lowtown shopkeep." Well, he wouldn't have to admit to working in Lowtown. He could always call himself an aspiring entrepreneur specializing in the distrubition of various sundry household wares. That sounded a lot better, and it necessarily wasn't a lie either. Him. An entrepreneur. It brought a smile to his face, his aunt would be so proud of him. He nodded and said, "Know what? I can make it work. I'll get the information out of them. I'm just that damn lovable."

"I think you would be surprised," Sophia said. "A good deal of Hightown has heard of the exploits of an expedition to the Deep Roads recently. I'm sure they'd be interested to meet some of its members." Nostariel's point about being an elf was unfortunately a solid one, however. Sophia wasn't sure how well some of them would react to an elf being at the party, and not as a servant. The Tarkins were the most worrisome in this regard, if she recalled correctly.

"And if any of you need assistance finding something to wear, I can have something arranged with a tailor in Hightown. Armor will sadly not be permissible in the ballroom." Nostariel raised a small hand with a sheepish smile. She'd never owned more than a few sets of robes in her life, and now some leathers. Nothing that at all suited such an occasion as this. Still, she was sure they could arrange it later. For now, it looked like the meeting was wrapping up, and she stood, scooping up Oathkeeper and her quiver. There were likely preparations for all of them to make, and she personally had an appointment with some Darkspawn this afternoon, the thought of which took her to the door with a polite farewell.

Ashton thought on it a bit and then waved Sophia's offer away. "I've got something," he explained. He had it, he might as well use it. Though he'll make a point about not getting married this time. With that, he stood slowly-- so as to not awake the puppy in his lap, and made his way out of the room behind Nostariel. He had to make sure Lia hadn't burned down his shop yet.

Lucien was next to take his leave, but something stopped him just on the threshold of the door. He couldn’t believe he’d almost forgotten to ask… again. It seemed certain finer points of social nicety escaped him after so long away from court. Pausing, he turned back and addressed Sophia. “If I may ask,” he inquired, tone caught somewhere between amusement and something that might have been a touch of embarrassment, “what color do you plan on wearing?” It was not, exactly, the kind of question one business associate asked of another, and to be honest, he’d never had cause to ask it of a friend, either, not in this context. But if he was going to do this, well… he wanted to do it properly. The escort bit and all.

"A dark red, I think," Sophia replied with a hint of a smile. It was her favorite color, after all, and if she couldn't wear it on her birthday, then truly there was something wrong with the world.

“Ah. Thank you.” Lucien replied, inclining his head and taking his leave. That left only Amalia, and the Qunari had shown no inclination to move yet. She was not a fool—she knew her presence here was unexpected, and likely not particularly welcome. She had a feeling she was going to receive either an interrogation (though it would hardly deserve such a word) or a list of house rules. Don’t kill the basra, things like that. It was not as though she was not capable of discretion, but Sophia had no particular reason to know that. The woman likely understood Amalia even less than Amalia understood her. That she remained was a testament, however subtle, to the fact that she was willing to change that, just a bit, or at least set it aside for the moment.

Rather than begin the conversation with any of these observations, however, she offered the closest thing to an olive branch she possessed. “I understand that such occasions often call for music. I play the harp, if it please you to keep me away from the delicate sensibilities of your guests.”

"Erm... yes, that might be best," Sophia said rather awkwardly. "The nobles have a special brand of delicate sensibilities, I'm afraid." She wondered for a moment how best to say what she wanted to say... or rather what to say at all. It occurred to her that she really had no idea why Amalia was offering to help, but she wasn't sure she needed to know. If there was one thing she thought was apparent about her, it was that she was driven. If she'd taken this upon herself, she was going to see it through.

"The nobles are... also the most desirous of seeing the Qunari leave the city, as well. I'm very thankful for your offer of assistance, but if this party is as eventful as I'm hoping it won't be, a Qunari presence could be harmful to the current state in the city." She swallowed, seeing how they were on two sides of that issue. "It would also be preferable if no one ended up dead after this is over," she continued. "Of course, I would ask no one to take a chance with my father's life to try and keep an assassin alive, but if possible, I'd like there to be a minimum of bloodshed. Even to protect the Viscount, a Qunari taking the life of a noble would not go over well, and beyond that, I'd like to speak with whoever wants me or my father dead." She was certain Amalia would understand. Perhaps she wasn't experienced with their politics and way of living at the noble tier, but she was clearly a very intelligent woman.

Amalia nodded. It was not as though she was incapable of maiming without killing, and she did not plan on announcing her status as a Qunari to everyone at the event. If all went even moderately well, nobody would be the wiser. “I understand,” she said neutrally. “Discretion and judgement are often required of me, and unlike your large friend, I am rather capable of telling lies when I need to. You need not fear for the lives of your guests unless those of your family are threatened by them. I will watch, and I will wait. If things move as you wish, that is all I will do.”

"Thank you," Sophia said, quite simply. She didn't need to ask why she was helping. That she wanted to was more than enough for Sophia.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Amalia
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Sophia had spent roughly the last half hour trying to figure out which method of movement in a small space was most effective to hold back nervousness. She was starting to think she was better off just sitting down. There'd be more than enough standing and talking to go around tonight, perhaps it was best to save herself.

She was just outside of her own quarters in the Keep, having prepared herself far earlier than was necessary, simply because she hadn't known what else to do with the time while she waited. She could hear the guests, undoubtedly half of Hightown, being ushered through the doors to the grand ballroom beyond. They undoubtedly would not stand the indignity of being patted down for weapons on their way in, and the guards were only confiscating visible weapons, while informing them that any kind of weapon bearing in the ballroom would be strictly forbidden. Sophia had heard that they'd already taken possession of several swords worn by noblemen, hoping to look more dashing when armed. Perhaps they thought to show Sophia that they too had no fear of battle. She had, after all, yet to announce any kind of plans for selecting a suitor.

It was one of the greater mysteries of the night. For all they knew, she would be arriving alone, as she seemingly preferred to do. No doubt the appearance of Lucien beside her would come as something of a shock to them. They likely wouldn't even know who he was, and Sophia had decided that any inquiries as to his identity would be his alone to answer how he saw fit. She knew who he really was, more than just his title, and why she wanted him next to her. That was all that mattered. If the nobles wanted more from him, they would have to pry it out of him. Sophia had no doubt that they would try.

Lucien would be permitted access to the family private quarters in order to meet with Sophia for their entrance together. Ashton and Nostariel would have to arrive with the other guests, where they woud likely be guided to a pair of seats at the round tables for the feast that was to open the night. She hoped they'd be seated fortunately next to, or at least near, some of the families that Sophia had requested they find at some point. It seemed unlikely that they'd be able to determine without a doubt if one or more of them were guilty of plotting to assassinate her and her father, but at least they would have a chance of discerning motives. Amalia would undoubtedly be able to enter among the other musicians, though Sophia had to admit she was wondering what the Qunari woman would wear, if she'd even make an attempt at dressing differently. Nostariel and Sophia had worked together a few days prior at getting her into something suitable, and Sophia had thought the Warden had looked quite stunning when they were done, but for Amalia she quite simply had no idea.

Sophia herself had dressed for the occasion, and managed to remove all traces of the ill effects from the nightmare spell. From head to toe she was garbed in crimson trimmed with gold, her dress leaving her shoulders and arms bare, the cut rather low across her back. The skirt flowed down to barely skim the floor as she walked. Her eyes were the only differing color, small pools of sapphire amidst the warm glow of her skin, offsetting the small ruby pendant that was draped around her neck. Her hair for the evening had been tied back in an elegant Orelsian braid that ran straight down her back to rest between her shoulder blades. While fashionable, it also served to keep her hair out of her face in the event that things became more hectic.

Not that she had much to defend herself with, anyway. She had a small knife sheathed on her right thigh, but reaching it under the skirts would be a bit of a challenge. If she had to defend herself, it would likely have to be with her ability in hand-to-hand combat, which was limited at best, especially in an outfit such as this. She told herself for the hundredth time that there was a chance that nothing would happen, that this would just be a night she and Lucien could spend awkwardly dodging nobles. Considering that that outcome was what Sophia was actually hoping for, the odds of her enjoying this birthday didn't seem too high.

Nostariel brushed her hand down the front of her dress—her gown, oh Maker what was she doing in a gown?—for what must have been the umpteenth time, trying to ignore the fact that the calluses on her fingers caught a bit on the light silk of the garment. It looked fine, she was sure: though the seamstress had sniffed and fussed quite a bit over having to make a dress for a twiggy little elf, of all things, she’d seemed to be good at her work, and honestly her demeanor seemed more irritable generally than particularly concerned about the shape of the Warden’s ears. It had been a tedious set of hours, passed slightly easier due to Sophia’s company, and by the end of it, she’d been convinced that she’d have to be folded and sewn into the garment. For all the tailor’s complaining about her thinness, she certainly hadn’t left any fabric to spare on the bodice. Or maybe that was just this whalebone corset.

Who could wear things like this on a regular basis, anyway? Last Nostariel had checked, breathing was not optional. Apparently, it was also not fashionable. The Warden had done her own hair, braiding it up and around her crown and gathering the rest of the length in a pile on top, curling the ends with a steel rod she heated with magic. One of the girls in the Circle had invented this trick, and used to practice on the rest of them all the time. Of all the magic she’d learned, she’d never thought to have a use for this, but then, she was done assuming life wouldn’t take her truly strange places.

Nostariel didn’t have a lot of pride, but she was not going to be the waifish elven chit, the sore thumb that stuck out and didn’t fit with the grace and elegance of the occasion. She’d even pestered (well, asked; she never had to pester) Lucien for a basic curriculum on etiquette and dancing, and she bet he was better at it than the rest of Kirkwall combined, plain armor and humility or no. Okay, so maybe she had some pride, but to her credit, it was mainly in her friends. She wasn’t going to let them down. She contemplated darkening her eyelids with charcoal, but decided against it. She didn’t want it getting in her eye at an inopportune moment. She felt no need to carry a weapon in particular, given her magic, but she wasn’t the only one she had to think about, and so a knife was secreted on the inside of her left shin.

The gown—she still wasn’t used to that thought—was, at her request, a deep shade of Warden blue, cast off her shoulders in a shallow boatneck. The sleeves were long, belled things, trimmed in glimmering silver. There were no gems or metals involved, but she had managed to locate some jewelry for the occasion: a modest silver locket and teardrop-shaped sapphires for her ears. She wasn’t just going to hope nobody noticed their length. She had nothing to be ashamed of. A long coat covered the arrangement until she got to the Keep—she had no wish to be mugged on her way out of Lowtown, after all. Other than the small package tucked under one elbow, she carried nothing. At the entrance, the package was taken to a long table by a servant, an elven man whose eyes widened with obvious shock to see one of his own kind among the guests. The coat, she shed and had to remind herself to hand off rather than hang up.

She was ushered to a spot surprisingly near the middle, at least once she confirmed that she was, in fact, Nostariel Turtega, the Warden captain. They’d looked fairly disbelieving at that, but she was unrelenting, producing an insignia to the effect, and eventually they led her to her spot. Well… at least nobody had called her knife-ear yet, though the number of odd looks she was getting was disconcerting. She had to remind herself that it could just be from the strangeness of it, and not any particular disdain, though she could feel the back of her neck burning anyway. She was really beginning to wish that she’d been allowed to attend in armor.

A pair of hands descended gently upon her shoulders, and a lanky figure leaned over to whisper into her ear. "You, my pretty little Warden, are the single beautiful dove in a room full of strutting peacocks," Ashton said, reeling back and returning to his height, a light smile at his lips. Nostariel was, even more than he could have imagined, beautiful. Even despite the fact that she looked like she was absolutely about to crawl out of her skin and hide under the table. He then did an extravagant bow and took a seat next to her. Now he wasn't a hundred percent certain that the seat was his, considering he had been positioned a bit further down. Too far from Nostariel for his tastes. So he took the risk and swapped seats. Formality had always been a pain in the ass for him anyway.

Surprisingly, Ashton looked just as noble as anyone else in the room and not like he was raised in the wilderness by a wolf. No instead of the usual (finely) homespun fabrics and leathers, the only thing homemade he was was the antlered knife hidden in his boot. It was an outfit he wore exactly once, and its origins were still entirely unknown to him. Did he steal it, or did he buy it? Only Sparrow and himself knew, and they were too smashed to remember. He'd remember this time though. The svelte midnight blue suit was still as magnificent as the day he found it, the golden inlay sparkling in the light. The collar was of fine rabbit's fur, fluffled up for effect, and his pants were a deep burgandy color with a crease down the legs. Jet black boots finished the outfit with style. He even had his hair fixed, darkened with oil, slicked back and tied out of his face with a black ribbon. He looked like the noble he was born as. He even looked comfortable in it.

He was still Ashton of course, for all intents and purposes. He had entered the Keep as if he owned it, his step swelling with the swagger of someone vastly more important than himself. His back was straight as an arrow, looming the entirety of his substantial height and he kept his gaze swung forward with a self-important smile on his face. If he was to play the noble's game, then he was going to play it right. His words were formal and stilted when he needed to speak, taking a couple of cues from his encounters with Lucien. If someone accused him of not being part of the nobility, that someone would be accused of lying.

"You do look beautiful," he repeated, "We'll do fine. Maybe nothing'll happen and we can just enjoy ourselves." It was a hopeful thought. Maybe everything would go off without a hitch and they could spend the party mingling. He'd be lying if he said he didn't look forward to the prospect of playing nobility. Then his eyes shone with a spark of rememberance "Oh, right, before I forget," he said, reaching into his shirt and digging around for a minute. When his hand returned, it was clutching a wooden box which he explained with a wink, "I didn't want to crush it." He then opened it and revealed a blue morning glory flower. "For your hair, milady." he said with a smile.

Nostariel flushed a rather amusing shade of red, pursing her lips in an attempt to keep from smiling like a silly girl, and raised a brow. “Why thank you, Messere…” she plucked the embellished name card from the seat next to hers, that Ash now occupied. “Lord DeLauncet.” Hm; must be one of the younger members of that family, to be stuck all the way down here. She lost her battle then, and grinned at him. “You’re probably going to offend half of the room, you know,” she added, but she didn’t bother to hide that she was glad to see him. A familiar face in this tide of nobility and privilege was a welcome sight, especially this particular familiar face.

The flower was a lovely thing, and she picked it up carefully between her index finger and thumb, brushing the other hand’s little finger over the soft petals. “I do hope this wasn’t stolen from the clinic’s garden, Messere.” Nevertheless, she tucked it into her hair, above one of her ears. There. It was almost easy to forget why they were supposed to be playing at nobility at all, really.

The musician that entered through the servant’s entrance was scarcely recognizable as Amalia at all. The Qunari woman had removed her hair from its usual braid, gathering it instead in a lustrous golden ponytail that still draped past her waist to mid-thigh, even pulled over her left shoulder as it was. Her clothing was rather simple by comparison to most of that present, though well-made, and loose enough to obscure the second skin of her armor: a dark green tunic with long sleeves, ebon breeches tucked neatly into well-shined mahogany boots which reached her knees. Over one shoulder, she wore a stylish half-length mantle in the style of bards everywhere, the gold cord at the neck of it its only real adornment. It and her hair did the job of hiding the pale scars just visible above her collar about as effectively as she could hope. All in all, she looked like any rakishly-charming Antivan troubadour, save perhaps the solemnity of her eyes. Her harp was slung across her back, and she carried a box on one hip, which she placed on the gift table near the musicians’ setup.

A much larger item caught her eye, a curious flicker playing across her face when she noted that it was the same thing she’d seen Lucien carrying earlier. She had no idea what it was, though if pressed, she might be able to give a general guess. Shaking her head minutely, she hopped up onto the stage in a single catlike bound, startling an already-nervous youth trying to tune his fiddle. Raising a brow, the Qunari quirked a lip coolly, inclining her head just slightly and taking one of the chairs, crossing her legs up and underneath her to begin the fine process of attenuating her own instrument, which, along with the six knives and twelve needles currently secreted about her person, had been recently polished to a shine, the fine golden wood reflecting the lights from the crystalline candle-holding chandelier above their heads. She’d already checked to make sure nobody was perched in it, but made a note to continue doing so throughout the night. If she were to sabotage the event, that would be one of the three most preferred locations from which to do so.

Lucien was not the kind of man who could wear faces that were not his own. He lacked the conceptual apparatus required for true subterfuge, and though he could keep his feelings from his face if he really needed to, it was a skill he rarely practiced, and his aptitude was limited. He was, however, more than a simple mercenary, however much he might desire otherwise. It had perhaps seldom been more bleedingly-obvious than it was right now. The embroidered tunic he wore was predominantly the deepest black in color, the intricately-wrought details in dark red the feature that saved it from appearing like mourning attire. It fit fashionably snug across the lines of his broad shoulders and chest, cutting a sharp, clean silhouette that spoke somehow of military discipline despite its elegance. The accompanying trousers matched, the red stripe carrying the theme through to the knee-height boots capping his shins. He’d trimmed and neatly tailed his hair, and taken a straight-razor to his face, at least.

Though the fabrics themselves were impeccably-tailored to him, he was quite certain he hadn’t felt this uncomfortable in years. The familiar weight of his armor was gone, and what small weapons he’d managed to tuck into his boots seemed hardly adequate to the task of protecting a life—or more than one, certainly. But he would do as he always had, and get along in whatever circumstances happened to present him with. Hefting the cloth-wrapped present, he handled it with surprising care all the way from Lowtown, where he was almost sure he’d seen Amalia, (though dressed like that, he wasn’t sure it could be her) to the Keep, where he’d managed to find someone to take it in to sit with the others and make his way to the family quarters, where he’d been invited to await the leisure of the evening’s Lady. Not that he thought she was taking anything with particular degrees of leisure of course.

Reaching the appointed door, which was open, he nevertheless knocked on the frame, clearing his throat softly. “Your Excellency, Lady Sophia, Lord Saemus.” he bowed cordially at the waist. The Viscount was more-or-less facing him, but the other two were turned away, and so he let the acknowledgement also serve as announcement of his presence. He was unsure how he would be received by the other members of Sophia’s family, but he’d decided to do this properly, and so he would.

The Viscount and his family had either disagreed on a coordination of color, or they had simply preferred to dress on their own, for as a group they did not match very well at all. Marlowe himself wore dark grey trimmed in gold, with white stripes lining the sides of his dark pants as opposed to Lucien's red. Sleek black boots came up to knee height, and his hands were covered by short black leather gloves. His son was closer to the rear of the immediate room, dressed in a sapphire blue that matched his eyes. It was a rather flamboyant ensemble, his pants a crisp and clean white, his own boots a light tan in color. His black hair was slicked back away from his face quite symmetrically, framing a typically sulky expression. Either Saemus' own company had not yet arrived, or he had elected to avoid selecting a companion altogether.

The Viscount had been carefully adjusting the unusually thin crown of his office upon his bald head when Lucien entered. Sophia turned abruptly at the knock and smiled in greeting, but it was the Viscount who was first to speak. "Ah, Lucien, it is good to make your acquaintance. Sophia's told us nothing but good things about you; a lovely change of pace, I think." He strode forward to close the distance between them and offer his hand for a shake. Sophia made her way over to him as well, taking in the way he'd dressed with obvious approval. Saemus took in the sight of the man with a glimmer of recognition, clearly remembering the one time previous in which they'd encountered each other, on the Wounded Coast years ago, but otherwise left the greeting to his other family members.

"Before we begin this in earnest," the Viscount continued, "I'd like you to know that Sophia's told me everything, and though it took some convincing, she's won me over. If you wish to be of royal blood tonight, you may do so, but if you wish to be simply a mercenary from Lowtown, I would not object. Nor would I have any right to complain about my daughter's choice." The look in his eye, and the smile he gave, was very knowing. He had, after all, married a lowborn mercenary himself.

"A person's actions determine their worth in my eyes, not the social status of their parents. If it makes my daughter happy to have you at her side, then I say there's no finer choice in Kirkwall." Sophia moved to stand next to him, trying to have her smile be reassuring. The look in her eyes, however, conveyed that the issue of Lucien's birth was the only issue that she had informed her father of. Truly, she hadn't wanted to do anything to damage the mood he seemed to be in lately, as it had been quite some time since he'd seemed so adamant about anything. Worrying him about his daughter's safety at her own birthday party was not something she wanted.

Well. That was considerably more than he’d expected out of this, but he supposed it made some sense. He’d done some looking, and knew a fair bit about this family’s history, and they were less disposed than most to the proclivities of other nobles to remain very insular. Grasping the Viscount’s hand firmly, Lucien shook gladly, offering a gracious nod to Saemus as well. “My sincere thanks, then,” he replied with audible relief. It was clear that Marlowe and Saemus did not know his actual reason for being here, but in the end, that didn’t really matter. “If I am to be thrown to the wolves today, I would much prefer to know that those at my back have no desire to share in the evisceration.” His tone was light, his smile slightly crooked—he had a feeling the other two men would understand how he felt, both being used to (and likely weary of) such situations themselves. “If it is all the same to you, I think I shall simply be a chevalier this evening.” He still had his commission, as his father had refused to strip him of it, and most of that knightly order were of noble birth, so it should be acceptable with a minimum of sensation.

Of course, even a minimum of sensation was bound to be quite a lot. Well, he’d deal with that as he must. He was not the most comfortable with these situations, but he wasn’t without a certain amount of poise and social grace. It would be managed. If Kirkwallian nobility were a pack of wolves, Orlesian ones were a den of wyverns. Perhaps dragons.

Last of all, he turned to Sophia. The gentleman’s imperative was to keep his eye where it belonged, and he did, but he wasn’t blind. Brushing his fingers lightly along her palm, he brought her hand up and bowed over it, just barely grazing her knuckles with his lips. “You are beautiful, my lady,” he said gravely, though a slight smile played over his face, “And you look quite exquisite, as well.” It was of course, traditional to pay a compliment of some kind, but he would not deny that the one he had chosen was specific. Simple, perhaps, but he had no wish to make his words empty, or gild a sentiment with too many decorations. Extending one arm, he offered it to Sophia, but waited for Marlowe to precede them from the room, as was his imperative as Viscount.

Sophia blushed madly, the fluttery feeling in her stomach arguing that this quite possibly wouldn't be as bad as she thought. She easily slid one arm under Lucien's, the other coming to gently rest somewhere on his forearm. The Viscount smiled with seemingly great amusement at how his daughter reacted to Lucien's compliment, and the touch of his lips on her fingers, which of course only made it worse. She'd received it countless times over from so many other men in Hightown, but it had been a long time indeed since the words had actually had any effect on her.

"Well," the Viscount offered, taking his lead in front of them, Saemus dutifully falling in behind, "shall we?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Amalia
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Sophia thought the idea of the Viscount and his family entering the grand ballroom to music was slightly overdramatic, but her father was obviously feeling a flair for such things today, and seemed to be enjoying himself, so she couldn't seem to think of a reason to complain. The nobles who were attending the feast had all been seated at this point, though a few were still standing and getting themselves properly arranged, but all eyes of course snapped in their direction when the Viscount led his daughter into the ballroom, on the powerful arm of her handsome mystery suitor.

The smiles were genuine on some, Sophia could immediately tell, but of course there were many others who were here for purposes other than celebrating her birthday. Her eyes quickly scanned the room for those she'd asked the others to seek out. The Tarkin twins were the first she noticed, dressed mostly in black, of course looking similar enough that it was practically impossible to tell them apart. It was as if they wanted to look like the muscle of some criminal organization. They wholly dominated their section of the table, near the Viscount's family, but thankfully on the side that Saemus would be sitting. Not that they'd have much to say to her anyway, they were just here to look after family interests.

The Natlas she spotted second, and they were furthest away from Sophia's seat, Joanna's bright blue eyes seemingly genuine. Her auburn hair fell in thick curls down to her shoulders, and Sophia was actually inclined to believe the girl was happy to be here. Her parents seemed only to give the obligatory greeting, clearly more interested in trying to discern who Sophia was entering with.

In worse positioning than she expected was Miranda Threnhold, positioned at one of the tables closer to the edge of them all rather than right in the middle, but Sophia supposed the woman would have it no other way. She could more easily see everyone from the sides than from the thick of things. She was garbed in a ravishing gown of dark velvety green with a typically plunging neckline. Her smile looked uncomfortable on her face, knowing that it didn't belong there, and her eyes were attempting to bore into Lucien, watching them all the way up to their seats...

Where Sophia found Jamie Arren and his father. Not in their seats, but it appeared as though they'd be sitting directly next to the Viscount's family. Jamie had dressed splendidly in crimson and gold as if to match Sophia, and though he was dashing as ever, she was currently of a mind to think of him as having the looks of a darkspawn compared to Lucien.

Ashton took the namecard into his hands and examined it before looking back to Nostariel and cracking a wide smile. Without looking, he crumpled it up and chucked over his shoulder, asking, "What DeLauncet? All I see is Riviera and Turtega." He sure as hell wasn't going to move all the way down at the ass end of the table. He didn't care if he did offend the nobilty, if fate willing this would be the last night he'd have to deal with them in person. There was no way he'd going to spend the entirety of the feast stuck down by the minor nobles and their inane talking and positioning. If he wanted to be a minor noble, he'd go back to Highever. Besides, now he was closer to Miranda-- and he was nothing if not dutiful.

Amalia’s attention was drawn to one of the further tables, and she idly plucked at the strings of the harp whilst listening carefully. “I believe you refer to this Comte De Launcet,” a voice put in from behind Ashton. It belonged to a man who was very clearly displeased with the situation, the irritation drawing his Orlesian accent to further prominence. “I do not know who you think you are, serah, but you are most certainly not entitled to that place at the table. I suggest you leave.” The man’s wife stood behind him, her displeasure more subtle. Her place, at least, had been preserved from Ashton’s rearrangements, though of course that was not satisfactory on its own. Frankly, the Qunari didn’t understand why there was all this fuss over something as simple as table arrangements. Basra titles seemed to have no effect on their usefulness, so using them as a system of arrangement was illogical at best.

Well, that was fast. Ashton thought he'd have at least a minute or so to prepare the lie he was going to tell the man. Looks like he had to come up with it as he went. Oh well, if it was easy, then it wouldn't have been fun. He liked playing these games. "My sincerest apologies Serah De Launcet," He began, settling into a fine, foppish Ferelden noble. It must have been in his blood, always trying to get out somehow. Maker he hoped he didn't end up like his father. "Lord Ashton Riviera, Serah," He introduced himself with a bow. However, Ashton still didn't make a move to leave.

"Seneschal Bran has seemed to have made a grave error, I fear. See, I was to be Warden Turtega's escort to this fine gather of Kirkwallian nobility-- Exqusite suit, if I may say so Serah, and breathtaking dress Milady," He added quickly, bowing as Mrs. De Launcet. "But as you can plainly see, my name is on neither side of her, nor is it in front of her. What sort of poor escort would I be if didn't escort the Captain of the Grey, after all she has done to protect our fine city?! No Serah, my honor just would not allow me to leave her side," Ashton explained. Every word that came out of his mouth was sure without a bit of hesitation and overflowing with confidence. "Surely you would not cast dishonor upon the Grey Warden's head and mine for something so trivial as a chair," he explained.

That was a rather quick stream of lies, Amalia noted, and though De Launcet’s quiet fury seemed to diffuse a little, he was not appearing as a man who was about to back down. “I’m sure the Lady Captain’s service has been exemplary,” the nobleman replied, inclining his head to Nostariel as Amalia was fairly certain he now must, “but you are not the only one with someone to escort this evening. If indeed the Seneschal made some kind of mistake, why should it be something that my wife and I would have to suffer? Especially if you find it trivial, Messere.” The Qunari’s brows rose in unison. Though the voices were still relatively quiet, people were beginning to take notice. Ashton or Nostariel would have to think a little faster if they wanted to avoid a full-blown spectacle.

Nostariel frowned slightly when she noticed the situation turn a bit more sour than she’d expected. She was opening her mouth to speak when the man to her left, an aged gentleman with silvery hair and an old soldier’s bearing, put his knife back on the table with a bit more clatter than was strictly decorous. “Some of us know how to properly respect a Grey Warden,” he growled at De Launcet. “Young man, you may have my seat, and my lady, you may have my thanks, for doing what so many are afraid to in order that this lot can argue about chairs.” He cast a last glare at the De Launcets, and proceeded down to the end of the table, where Ashton had been originally placed.

"Thank you Serah, I'm glad that someone else understands the worth of this Warden," Ashton said genuinely and bowed as the man took his leave. To him, that particular Warden was a priceless friend. And not all of the nobles were uptight fops, it seemed. It made Ashton feel a little guilty taking the man's seat, but it was far too late for him to do anything about it. So with that, Ashton stood and took his place on the other side of Nostariel. On the opposite side of the table and down a couple of seats, Ashton spied what he thought was the Miranda Sophia had spoken about, whom he believed he caught the eye of. He nodded with a flourish and added, "Milady," for her benefit.

The woman in question was currently doing her best to ignore the young noble trying desperately to tell her about something that was undoubtedly of great importance to him. He was a rather thin fellow, and not among the better dressed men in the room, though not for lack of trying. He seemed to simply be of one of the lesser families, hoping to make the rather large catch that was Miranda Threnhold. He may as well have been trying to catch the sun itself, though she was not nearly so warm. When her eyes caught Ashton's she gave a slight nod to the man pestering her, taking a sip of wine through cherry colored lips as she did.

Nostariel, meanwhile, was looking at her plate as though it had grown an extra head. She knew how to do this, she did, she just… had to remember. What had Lucien said? Utensils from the outside in, but was the one on top the dessert fork or the salad fork? She supposed that she could just forgo dessert and salad, so she’d never have to know. It was probably the best plan she had—there was going to be plenty of food without either of those courses, anyway. Holding the polished silver instruments as he’d demonstrated, she picked carefully at the main course, which was some kind of bird in some kind or sauce. Connoisseur, she was not. Well, here goes nothing, she thought, trying to project an image of confidence while pretending to be interested in something De Launcet was saying.

Ashton himself managed to hide his arm under the table and pull back his sleeve, revealing notes printed in utilitarian handwriting-- Rilien's more than likely. Nostariel had her Orlesian contact, and he had his. Ashton glanced at his cheat sheet quickly and then replaced the sleeve. Just like that, he picked up the correct fork and began to pick at his food. It was trying to eat while the man sitting beside Miranda was yammering about something with bees and charity. Something about using his bees to pollinate the farmers' farms for free, and then going back to sell their honey. It was incredibily droll, even for him-- so he thought he was a good idea to steer the subject toward something more exciting.

"Bees are really hard to handle if you don't know what you're doing," the man said, offering Ashton the perfect spot to chime in. "I'm sure they are Serah..." Ashton said, pausing for a second to read his namecard, "Wallander. All of that buzzing and stinging-- Almost makes slaying a dragon seem trivial." Ashton said, a sly smile teasing across his face. With that little line, he hoped to turn the conversation to himself, impress Miranda, and maybe stick it to the De Launcets while he was at it.

Oh. Well, she supposed that one way to get Miranda’s attention would be to mention something impressive. Of course, Ash launching into the story with very little provocation might come off a bit… obvious, but she supposed she could help with that. “A dragon?” she echoed, as though she had no idea what he was talking about. “It does sound like there’s a story there, Messere Riviera. Would you be so kind as to regale us?” she cast her glance around to include Wallander, Miranda, and both De Launcets, as well as a few other people in the proximity.

Now he had a rapt audience. Where others may have faltered under the scrutiny, Ashton flourished. He laughed as Nostariel asked him about it-- knowing full well she was there too. If they wanted a story, then he'd weave a grand story, not the less exciting truth of how six of them managed to slay a dragon, him only playing a small part of the whole. "Well, Miss Turtega, I suppose I should start with the whys. One doesn't just happen upon a dragon," He explained. "I'm sure you all are familiar with the Deep Roads expedition led by the Tethras brothers," Bloody Bartrand still left a bad taste in his mouth, though more than once he'd heard Varric tell a story about this particular, well, story. "Well, yours truly was the one who backed the expedition, so like any good business man, I went along to ensure my investment."

At that, he turned to Nostariel and shook his head, "We could have used you down there Miss Turtega, Darkspawn were everywhere. But we managed to hold our own against the foul beasts, myself taking out a good number of them, and traveled all the way to the heart of the deep roads. The thin hallway we were navigating suddenly opened into the Antechamber," He said, leaning into the table for effect. Now this was the good part. "It was deathly quiet, nothing stirring but our breaths. I myself had thought the chamber empty for ages since, it's emptiness so oppressive. It was heavy on our shoulder and our hearts. We advanced slowly, not knowing what to expect. We managed to get to the middle of the chamber when one of my companions thought he heard a noise. We stopped dead and listened. He was right."

At that, he paused, drawing upon a dramatic silence, looking at those enthralled in his story before continuing. "It started small. A breeze of wind, which was odd considering how far underground we were. The sounds of pebbles dancing on the ground and then... A breath. Not one of ours, it was far to loud to be made from a man, elf, or dwarf, but we could see nothing. At least, not until we looked up. That's when our eyes met it. A giant reptillian creature crimson in color and long in the tooth, staring at us. With it now revealed to us it screeched loudly, causing us to clutch our ears. It then swooped down over us and blocked our escape. We had two choices... Fight, or die."

At this point, the nobleman who'd been trying to speak with was looking a little floored by Ashton's story, though Miranda herself was harder to place. The look on her face was somewhere between amusement and annoyance, though that could have been left over from the previous storyteller.




Sophia found herself blushing despite all efforts when Lucien moved to pull her chair back for her, and she slid gracefully down into her seat, smiling out at the assembled group, something that turned out to be less difficult than she expected. Lucien was seated to her right, between her and Jorah Arren's son, while her father's seat was to her left, with Saemus past him. The Viscount clapped his hands together once when everything was settled, his voice ringing out clearly through the hall.

"My lords and ladies, thank you for attending this, the celebration of my daughter's twenty-fifth birthday." After this, he considered going on, but instead waved his hand in dismissal. "Plenty of words to come, but I'm sure you're all famished for something to eat. Let's commence the feast."

The first courses were brought out, and Jamie wasted no time before leaning over slightly and speaking to Lucien. "Everyone's been talking about you. Rather, we weren't even sure there would be a you, but here you are. So, what's the secret?" Sophia couldn't quite make out his words, but she was quite certain she didn't want to.

Lucien’s brow furrowed as he collected his utensils for the first course, which appeared to consist of a light fondue. From the smell of it, the cheese was Orlesian, which would have ordinarily been enough to make him twitch a smile, but he was presently occupied trying to decide how to answer this inquiry. It seemed borderline rude to him, but part of the point was to get this man talking, so he would simply have to put up with it. “It appears that I am, indeed, present,” he agreed dryly, then fixed his single visible eye on the man. “As for the question, I am afraid you may have to specify,” he continued. “To what secret do you refer?” He, unlike the other, spoke loudly enough for at least Sophia to hear him, though it was rather difficult to tell if he was doing that on purpose. He was, of course.

He was also fairly sure that he knew to what Lord Arren was referring to, but if he was going to say something so ungentlemanly, he was going to say it out loud.

"Our parents have been trying to match us since we were children," Jamie explained. "I'm quite certain I've never done anything to offend the lady, but tonight might be the only time I've seen her honestly blush like that." He left the rest unsaid, slowly starting into the first course.

Of course it would be an indirect inquiry, but he shouldn’t have expected anything else. Well, it could be honest enough, he supposed, and he lamented a bit that Rilien wasn’t here to tell him if it was. He could read certain details of posture and body language well enough, but in truth, he was not the most accurate at determining when he was being deceived or misdirected. “In that regard, milord, I am as baffled as you are,” he replied. It was certainly truthful enough. He supposed there was a reason Sophia had turned this man aside, but even if he’d known it, he likely would not have divulged. “I expect that it is more a question for the lady than for myself.”

Having made it rather clear that he had nothing to say on the matter, Lucien tried to move the conversation elsewhere. “You are the Arren heir, are you not? That name comes up often in the records of Kirkwall’s peerage.” Also true, and of some interest, if it was taken as a historical inquiry. It probably wouldn’t be—such open-ended questions were usually interpreted as invitations to boasting and so forth, but that might actually be more useful, for Lucien’s purposes.

Seeing as Lucien was handling himself quite well with Jamie, Sophia saw no reason to intervene, especially once she caught onto the thread of the conversation from hearing Lucien's side of it, and a few words of Jamie's. "I am, I am," he said, taking the change in subjects easily. "We've quite the history in the city. Came quite close to the throne not long ago, but those were different days. I've no doubt Lady Sophia will make a fine Viscountess. And what of yourself? You seem like a military man, if I might be so bold. What brought you from Orlais?"

Lucien half-smiled. It probably wasn’t too hard to place him among his countrymen—some of the tonality of them still lingered in his voice, though it had long smoothed out with practice. “An apt deduction,” he said good-naturedly. “Properly speaking, I’m a chevalier. I’ve spent a number of years traveling, however, lending my assistance in what small ways I am able. Kirkwall seems to have become my destination, for the moment. It is a city with a most unique character, the like of which I’d not encountered before. In Orlais, we are often mired in tradition. This place… seems to be much more inclined to change.”

"That it does," he said. "I'd have joined the military myself, but all we seem to have here is the city guard and the Templar Order, and I'm afraid neither suits me very well." At this point, his father next to him leaned over and said something to him. "Of course," he replied, before turning back to Lucien. "I'm afraid I need to start making the rounds," he said, as indeed some of the other guests were already standing to find others to speak with. "I hope you enjoy the party, Ser..."

“As do we all, I'm sure," Lucien said with understanding, and then inclined his head. “And please, call me Lucien." The less he had to give out his last name, the better. Just in case.

Jamie nodded his head. "Lucien, then. Call me Jamie, if you will. Take care of her, now." He smiled charmingly to Sophia, whose returned smile was polite, before he took his leave. Sophia leaned over to Lucien.

"He's always seemed harmless to me, but I suppose that's why I expect him to be harmful," she said.

He quirked a brow. “Spoken quite like an Orlesian, Sophia," he murmured in return. He did give it some thought, however, and shook his head. “Far be it from me to say for sure, but I believe he is still of the opinion that his best chance to advance his status is by being your ally rather than your enemy." Perhaps her husband, though he didn't say that part out loud.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Amalia
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The Lady De Launcet was clearly entranced with the story, and seemed disappointed when Ashton paused. “And zen, Messere? What ‘appened?” She was leaning forward in her chair, peering down the table at Ashton, clearly enthralled with the adventure. Nostariel wondered if it was an Orlesian thing. Was that wrong of her to think? But they had an entire institution of Bards, who in addition to being hired killers, had to know stories, epic poems, and songs, so maybe it wasn’t mistaken. Either way, she smiled a little to herself. Ash was clearly in his element, and she more than happy to just let him have at it.

"Well I died, obviously," Ashton said, chuckling to himself. Obviously not, unless he was a ghost and didn't know it. Still, the fact that he'd managed to hook someone in was more than enough to please his ego, which was rapidly rising as the story carried on. He felt he was playing their games perfectly, and that he was winning. "No, nothing so simple I'm afraid. Certainly felt like I did afterward though. See, I'm not in the mind of dying anywhere else besides my bed in the arms of a girl I love. Neither were my companions I feel," He said, glancing at Nostariel. "So we did the only thing we could do. We took our weapons and prepared for a war."

"And a war it was. The creature was huge, nearly sixteen foot tall. Turns out, all the dragons that are left are huge. Maybe due to less competition for food and such," He waved off. He wasn't a dragonkeeper after all, just a dragonslayer. "Don't get me wrong, I was terrified, but I'd be damned if I was going to die in a hole," Not completely the truth. He was more excited than anything, and was one of the three who initially charged the dragon, Rilien and Lucien being the other two. "My companions were terrified as if they faced something out of their nightmares, so it came down to me mostly to slay the beast."

"Once upon a tim