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Ithilian Tael

"I was willing to die, but not ready. Not yet."

0 · 2,017 views · located in Kirkwall

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

Description

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“The most important lessons in my life always seem to be in the last place I think to look.”



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ImageName: Ithilian Tael
Pronunciation: ih-THIL-ee-an TAIL
Age: 41 (Act 3)
Race: Elf
Sex: Male
Sexuality: Heterosexual.
Height: 5'9"
Build: Lithe and toned. Basically no body fat. He is in excellent condition.
Class: Rogue.

Appearance: Ithilian was once considered attractive by most standards, but it seems as though the world conspired to undo this. His face is scarred and disfigured, particularly on the right side. Underneath the cap he wears is a missing eye and a pair of wickedly deep scars cutting across his face, mementos of the kill that earned him his vallaslin. Seeing the state of his face, he elected instead to have the blood writing performed along the side of his neck, and down to his left shoulder.

At 5'9", he is not unusually large for an elf, but would still be considered rather tall among his people. His posture, however, is poor, and typically diminishes the effect his height could have among other elves. His one remaining eye is a light, clear green color, a window to a lightness that no longer seems to exist within him, and his dark hair is typically matted down beneath his cap, which he rarely removes.

Seeing as there's no way he could make himself look presentable, Ithilian gives little thought to how he dresses. When around the alienage, simple tunics and breeches do just fine. When out on a hunt or preparing for battle, he has light leather armor over a shirt of ringmail, and typically wears natural colors, dark greens and browns.

Act Two: While his physical condition has not changed in the slightest, Ithilian seems to be giving slightly more care to his appearance now. He typically has stopped wearing the red cap over his head and face, preferring a simple strip of red cloth now to cover his lost eye. His hair has grown slightly longer, usually combed back away from his face to reach the middle of his neck. His wardrobe was expanded after his visit to the Relaferin clan in Ferelden, as they crafted a new set of armor for him, similar in make to his old one, but smoother, cleaner, devoid of the battle scars carried by the former set. His body and mind will always carry the scars of his experiences, but the past three years have seemingly remade him into a person that is much closer to who he was before the Blight.

Act Three: Ithilian is a battered elf who is steadily headed away from his prime. He's not some old man, but at over forty, and considering the intense amount of physical strain he's put his body through in the meantime, the wear and tear is beginning to show. He's achieved a sort of peace of mind that he perhaps never had at any point in his life, and this shows in his appearance, how at ease he is with himself and others. He hides his face no longer, and keeps himself well groomed, but the injuries he suffered, particularly the ones received in the Gallows shortly before the Qunari attack, will remain with him always, and leave him not quite as fast as he used to be.



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ImageDemeanor: Ithilian Tael sees very few reasons to be happy about anything. There are decades of hate built up inside him, an anger that will never truly be purged, no matter how hard anyone tries. When one speaks with him, they will get the impression of a man who has simply grown tired with the world, tired of putting up with the way it is. But rather than falling into a depression as some might under his conditions, Ithilian turns all of it into anger, bottles it away, and builds it up, preparing to one day unleash it upon his enemies.

His wrath is terrible to behold, when it boils over the top. This can be caused most easily by humans treating his people as scum, but lately he has even been greatly angered by his own kind, those who willingly put themselves under the heels of the shemlen, and those Dalish who do little other than remember the past, and do nothing to reclaim it. In his rage, Ithilian is capable of extreme and utterly despicable acts of violence, but he usually manages to direct his aggression towards his enemies.

Ithilian hasn't been close to anyone in a long time, but there was a time when hate was not all that he was. The people that could bring that side of him out are all dead now, though, and no one from the Sabrae clan, or the alienage, has sparked it. He suspects that he is no longer capable of love or even friendship anymore. He can't help but feel regret for what he's become. But just like everything else, Ithilian converts it into anger. Hate has become both his shield and his sword.

Act Two: Ithilian fought a long, drawn out battle with himself after arriving in Kirkwall, one that took him to the depths of depression. It was only through the few remaining significant figures in his life that he was prevented from seeking death at the hands of the darkspawn. His following journey back to Ferelden was an intense period of soul searching for Ithilian, one in which he was finally able to acknowledge that even though his former life was gone, there were still possibilities for his future. He will never try to abandon his memories of his wife and daughter, but he has finally come to the decision to begin rebuilding his life. He renewed his devotion to protecting the Kirkwall Alienage upon his return. He looks out for Lia above the others, although he refuses to allow himself to think of her as his own, for the thought still carries too much weight and pain. He has rebuilt his relationships as best as he was able, and has finally allowed himself a sliver of hope, that something better might lay ahead for him.

Act Three: Even though he has found peace within himself, this has not prevented Ithilian from waging war on anything that threatens what he holds dear. Having applied himself fully to the rebuilding of his life, Ithilian fights with as great a ferocity as ever in his defense of that happiness. Letting go of hate was one of the most difficult and painful processes he's ever subjected himself to, but it was ultimately worth it, for the bond he forged with Amalia, with Lia, with Nostariel, for the breaking of his blindness with regards to humans like Ashton, Aurora, Lucien, even Sophia. He has acquired a balance that has served to quite nearly complete the person he is.

Fears: (Act Three) He has something now, something he has not allowed himself to have for years. As trying as life in the Alienage can often be, he has a happiness there that rivals and often beats anything he had before, and he fears losing it. He fears becoming too worn down while he is still needed. He fears being forced to watch while others take up the weight.

Opinions: (Act Three)
The Chantry: Their actions leading up to the Qunari attack reveal how despicable they are as an organization. He hated them blindly before, but he hates them with his eyes open now.
Mages: He respects the Keepers of the Dalish, even if he doesn't always agree with them. As for Circle mages, he has little opinion on them. They don't usually affect the life he's built around himself.
Templars: The blades of the Chantry have earned nothing but wariness from Ithilian, but he knows their strength, and will not needlessly make enemies.
Elves: He still believes his people can find something better for themselves, still believes in the cause that brought him to Kirkwall, even if he wouldn't go about it in the same way now. As just one elf, Ithilian just wants to safeguard what happiness the Kirkwall elves can find. That is enough for him.
Dwarves: Ithilian has little opinion on dwarves. Of the two he came to know at all, one is annoying and the other tried to abandon him in a lost Thaig. They're lucky to be regarded with indifference.
Humans: Letting go of hate doesn't cause it to all instantly recede, and the shemlen have often given him further cause to hate them more. Still, Ithilian is resolved to take issue with deeds of an individual, not that individual's race.
Qunari: They came, they turned the world upside down, and then they left. Ithilian finds the Qunari immensely impressive, but strangely cold, even for all they ways they are clearly superior to the rest of the world. Most of all, he's just glad they did not compel Amalia to leave with them.
Kirkwall: A pit of despair filled with some of the worst that Thedas has to offer, and some of the best. Rather than burn down all the worst, as he originally intended, Ithilian will now focus on protecting the best from that worst.



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ImageWeapon of Choice: Dalish Longbow, Dual Knives. Amalia gifted him with Parshaara, an enchanted dagger able to set foes alight.
Armor/Apparel: Light leather armor over a ringmail shirt and a dark green padded coat.

Combat Overview: Ithilian is an extremely skilled combatant, both at range and in close quarters. He's as skilled a hunter as any Dalish, and has far more experience hunting humanoid prey than most of his kin. His style is not necessarily stealthy, but rather precise, brutal, and extremely fast. Never still for a moment. He attacks with a relentless ferocity, letting his hate fuel his strikes until he's carved a foe into pieces. He'll wear down tougher opponents with swift blows and speed, and his excellent stamina allows him to continue hacking away long after others have worn themselves out.

His intense rage causes him to acquire a sort of tunnel vision in combat, though, particularly if a single opponent has done something to offend or goad him. He'll block out everything else, and direct all his firepower onto one target, and will not relent until that target lies in a bloody heap upon the ground. He can be vulnerable to being blindsided when this happens, as he won't even see other attackers coming until it's too late.

Act Two: Little has changed in Ithilian's fighting style over the past three years. He's still one of the best marksmen in Kirkwall, able to take down targets from very long distances with his longbow. At close range, he's as brutal and efficient as ever with his long knives. The dagger Amalia gifted him with gives him even greater options in close combat, and Kirkwall keeps him in practice.

Act Three: Time has slowly begun to catch up with Ithilian in terms of his fighting prowess. It's more a result of the injuries sustained over the years than his actual age, but he is no longer quite as fast as he used to be, nor as viciously strong. He's still a formidably fast opponent, and as ruthless as ever when it comes to dispatching a threat to his home or friends, but every time he hits his limits, physically, that limit is lowered slightly, a fact he is distinctly aware of, and frustrated by.



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ImagePlace of Birth, Nation of Origin: Brecilian Forest, Ferelden.
Social Status: Dalish Elf, currently clanless and living in the Kirkwall Alienage.

Personal History: Dalish clans come in great varieties. They have different attitudes towards the humans. Some favor simple avoidance, some even favor cooperation when possible. Others... not so much.

Ithilian Tael was born into perhaps the most violent, anti-human Dalish clan in Ferelden. They were known as the Mordallis Clan, led by a Keeper named Felaris. Who was a blood mage. And not at all afraid to exercise his power. It was into this atmosphere of hate and anti-human sentiments that Ithilian was raised, sustained on the tales of the elves of old, and how they had once lived in a paradise that was Thedas, before the quicklings, the shemlen, the humans, entered the world and corrupted their kind. He was made to feel anger at how their kind lived only slightly longer lives than the average human in the current world, and how many of them willingly submitted to the oppression that human nations forced upon them. There had been a story behind Felaris' hate for humankind, but Ithilian was never granted the honor of hearing it. Regardless, his Keeper's seeds of hate had passed on to his clan.

Ithilian earned his vallaslin at fourteen, though he paid a heavy price for his passage into adulthood. His kill was that of a massive bear, a mother whom he'd angered by threatening her cubs. She took his right eye and much of that side of his face with her claw, but still he managed to pierce a blade through the roof of her mouth, and end her life. His face being as disfigured as it was, however, he elected to have the blood writing drawn upon his neck and left shoulder instead. The exception was made for him, and symbols for Elgar'nan the All-Father, god of fatherhood and vengeance, were marked into his flesh. As a full fledged hunter, Ithilian quickly gained respect from his peers for his skill and tenacity. The clan was more akin to a group of guerrilla warriors than a traveling family, and Ithilian formed close bonds with some of his brothers and sisters in arms.

They did little to improve relations for the Dalish as a whole during that time, though they were often able to cover their tracks quite effectively, frame their attacks on human settlements on bandits, or neighboring lords. There was little point to their violence, as they were too few in number to accomplish anything meaningful, but it served as an effective outlet for their anger. It would not last, however.

The Blight, yet another of man's creations, hit Ferelden, surging up from the south after the defeat at Ostagar. The Mordallis Clan was caught in the southern reaches of the Brecilian Forest by the vanguard of the horde, and the beasts relentlessly hounded them as they fled north. One by one, they fell, though the darkspawn paid a heavy price for the small victory. Eventually Ithilian, now 33, was the last of his clan, staggering through the woods, severely wounded, when he came across the Sabrae Clan, led by Keeper Marethari. They took him in as they too fled the Blight, traveling across the Waking Sea to the Free Marches. It would be some time before Ithilian was on his feet again.

By the time his health returned, the Sabrae Clan had managed to lose their halla at the base of Sundermount, and were stuck. The cursed mountain seemed an awful place to be, but Ithilian found that the brooding skies and ominous view accompanied his life nicely. Unfortunately, he just didn't fit in with Marethari and her Dalish. Not like he had with Felaris. They were stuck trying to hold on to the past, running from place to place, doing little to try and reclaim what was lost. They would not be able to remember forever. What knowledge they still had dwindled and was diluted with each passing generation. He was done waiting. Nothing would change as it was.

Marethari protested, but Ithilian had no loyalty to her. He left the clan and headed for the city. The situation in Kirkwall presented him with... opportunities. Things were so fragile here. A single arrow in the right person's throat could easily shatter what illusion of order remained. It would make a statement if nothing else. It would say that even though Arlathan was sunk into the ground, and their people enslaved and trod upon for generations upon generations... Elvhenan still lived on in those few who would have vengeance.

Act Two: Ithilian has slaughtered slavers, murdered psychopaths, and slain dragons since arriving in Kirkwall. After his unexpected return from the Deep Roads, he traveled to Ferelden, visiting the Relaferin clan there as well as the places in which his wife and daughter were killed. Whether the time spent there has cured him of his anguish permanently remains to be seen. For the moment, he has returned to the Kirkwall Alienage, with the belief that he might still be able to do some good for the elves there.

Act Three: Ithilian made some incredibly powerful bonds in the Alienage and the city at large, ensuring his stay in Kirkwall for as long as they do, and for as long as he is able to help the elves there. He has gone to great lengths for what he cares about, and though it has taken a heavy toll on him, the cost was well worth it for the person it forged him into. He is resolved to continue defending what he has claimed for himself in the coming years, whatever cost is asked of him.




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| Amalia |

She has had a greater effect on his life than perhaps anyone he has ever known, a fact Ithilian finds as liberating as it is unsettling. They're trapped on separate sides of a wall that is nearly impossible to climb, and yet they attempt it all the same. He is kadan to her, just as she is lethallan to him. There has never been another more worthy of being called his clan, a person who he chooses to spend his days with. Ithilian walks through this relationship as though he were on a glass floor in the sky, knowing a single wrong step could send him plunging below. Even after all he's done to her, Amalia is still willing to make herself vulnerable to him. That he even has a chance to make up for his wrongdoings is a blessing he never expected to have. They have convinced each other that their respective scars are worth bearing. For better or worse, his own history currently prevents him from seeing her as something more than a best friend, but he expects she would not be comfortable with this as well. For now, he is glad to have her at all.



Image| Ashton |

In nearly as great a surprise to him as his relationship with Amalia, a fairly strong bond has actually been formed between Ithilian and Ashton, put there by individuals close to them, and situations requiring them to drop any preconceptions they had and to simply trust one another. Once that occurred, Ithilian found that Ashton was a man worthy of that trust, a rare individual to actually rise out of the pits that create almost nothing but contemptible shem. They've fought and bled together, and come to realize that what they each hold dear isn't all that different. He'd have thought killing the man was more likely when they met, but to Ithilian's surprise, Ashton is now a friend.



Image| Aurora |

Amalia's effect on the little mage has proven to be a welcome one with Ithilian. He finds her significantly less annoying now than he did before, and since Amalia helped cure him of his perpetual hate of humans, he's been able to see her common presence in the Alienage as a positive thing. She wants to help, and he no longer sees any reason to prevent her from doing so. She's capable, and she keeps a level head, never once bringing trouble down upon his home. If this changes, so too will his demeanor towards her, but for now, he approves.



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Credit
| Lucien |

Ithilian makes little effort to make friends with people who don't often show themselves in the Alienage, so it's no surprise he hasn't conversed much with the human mercenary. They had a brief chance to speak to one another in the Deep Roads while assisting Nostariel, a task in which Ithilian gained a measure of respect for Lucien, learning through observation some of the man's values. They are not friends, but their goals are largely aligned, enough such that Ithilian would not hesitate to work with him in the future.



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Credit
| Nostariel |

He's proud of what she's done for herself, and immensely thankful for all the things she's done for him. Without a doubt she saved him from himself that dark day in the Deep Roads, and since then the pair have had an extremely positive relationship. He makes frequent use of her clinic, considering the danger he often throws himself in. She is one of the few in the city to know of the horror of his past, and the savage trials he has somehow survived. They each know loss, and together they have learned how to overcome it. He is glad to call her his friend, and hopes that does not change.



Image| Rilien |

Neither of them goes out of their way to meet new people, so while they both know of each other, they can hardly even be called acquaintances. They worked together on the expedition, and again as a personal favor to Sparrow, but these were mere coincidences, and Ithilian sees no real reason to consider allying with the Tranquil.



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Credit
| Sophia |

It has occurred to him that his original designation of len'alas for Sophia may have been slightly unfair, and driven solely out of his hatred and prejudice towards the human race, rather than any judgments made towards the woman herself. He believed her naive, yes, but he also believes years spent in Lowtown have lessened that to a degree. And once he opened his eyes, he realized she was actually trying to help the people in situations like his, the ones struggling to survive in the Alienage. He was not pleased to hear what happened to her family and to her, even though once he might have tried to bring about such a destabilizing event himself. He won't say it, but he is very disappointed with her decision to flee from Hightown. He believes she would be a much better ruler for their city than the Templars who have seized power in the meantime.



Image| Sparrow |

She is a curiosity, but one that Ithilian has yet to truly act on. She seemed somewhat intimidated by him in some of their previous encounters, something not uncommon for those Ithilian meets, but also something he finds a bit disappointing. After striking her status as a half-breed elf from his assessment of her, Ithilian has found himself feeling strangely neutral. He helped her weed out slavers who wronged her, but little else. Some history is present between her and Amalia, and this is what he is most curious of, but he believes that if it truly troubled Amalia, and if he could actually help in some way, he would know it by now.


So begins...

Ithilian Tael's Story

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael
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“We stand upon the precipice of change. The world fears the inevitable plummet into the abyss. Watch for that moment... and when it comes, do not hesitate to leap. It is only when you fall that you learn whether you can fly.”



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It was busy time in Kirkwall, the City of Chains. Though fortunately untouched by the Blight that had sprung up from the Korcari Wilds before being decisively defeated at Denerim by the Hero of Ferelden and her gathered army, Kirkwall has still suffered ill effects due to simple proximity. Thousands of Ferelden citizens took ship and sailed away from their homeland while the war was still in doubt, many of them stopping and seeking refuge in the Free Marches, with Kirkwall being the first stop. Many of them have since had their homes destroyed by the darkspawn, and have nowhere to return to. Those that could work their way into the city before it shut its doors have since taken shelter in Darktown, or if they were lucky, the slums of Lowtown.

The memory of what happened to Ferelden’s Circle of Magi is also fresh in the minds of many mages and Templars in the Free Marches. Blood magic, demonic possession, an entire tower overrun by abominations. It has served as yet another reminder to Kirkwall’s Knight-Commander that she must remain vigilant in the face of magic, no matter the cost. Many mages, and quite a few citizens, disagree. The tension between mages and Templars can only rise in the future, and what last remnants of stability remain may soon disappear altogether.

It was also the year in which the Arishok of the Qunari, the supreme military leader of their people, was shipwrecked along with many of his warriors off the Wounded Coast, and left stranded in Kirkwall, while they await a ship to take them back to Par Vollen. They seem content to simply wait in their compound on the docks, and not bother the locals, but the degree to which they have embedded themselves within the city already is… slightly alarming, to the Viscount if no one else. Already resistance to their presence is building, and racial tensions threaten to flare with time.

Hurtled into the chaos, there are those that fight, and the world will shake before them. Whether it is fate or chance will be left to them to decide. These are the stories of the individuals who left their mark on the City of Chains, and the world…


The Chanter’s Board has been updated. New quests are available.





How could so much have happened in just a few hours?

Sophia Dumar was fuming, hiking her skirts up slightly and descending the Chantry steps as quickly as she dared. Upon reaching the bottom, she took off towards the Viscount’s Keep, desiring to break into a run, but just barely having enough sense not to. It was very important that she was never seen to panic. Sophia was really the only well-respected member left in the Dumar family, as the nobility in Hightown had often witnessed, and then talked about, her unfailing efforts to hold her father and brother together. As much as they talked about Saemus and her father behind their backs, at least they knew the pair of them had a voice of reason at their side.

Of course, they would whisper other things if they saw the Viscount’s daughter running through Hightown in a panic, her dress streaming behind her. It irked her that such posturing was still necessary even when her own family member was in danger, but she had to think long-term here. Always she had to be two steps ahead. Saemus was not in immediate danger, as anyone who had kidnapped the Viscount’s son would do so for the potential profits from ransom. Damaging the family’s reputation beyond repair was something she could prevent by appearing calm.

Well, calm was a polite word for it. She walked swiftly, her face set as stone, an undeniable urgency in her step. She shuddered to think of the possibilities had Sister Mirabelle not been in the Viscount’s Keep, and had not thought to inform Sophia, who had been praying for her brother’s safety in the Chantry, and speaking with the Grand Cleric. Elthina had advised Sophia not to do anything rash upon returning to the Keep, but her warning had little effect on the girl. She had to do this herself. Regardless of what her father thought, she wouldn’t trust just anyone with the well-being of her brother.

The Keep seemed farther away than usual this time, but at her pace, it wasn’t long before Sophia was climbing the other large set of stairs in Hightown, the approach to the Keep on Viscount’s Way. The guards gave her respectful nods as she passed, and the two before the great doors into the Keep cleared the way for her, allowing her to stride into the main hall of the Viscount’s Keep unhindered. She just about ran into the first person she saw inside, a tanned, hardened looking woman, well-armed and outfitted in light leather armor. She grinned at Sophia as she passed her.

“Don’t worry yourself overmuch, sweetheart. We’ll drag your brother back here and make a bloody mess of whoever took him. The Winters are more than a match for any Qunari, mark my words.” She blew past Sophia before she had a chance to respond, the half-dozen men she’d arrived with following her out. Sophia could have screamed. The Winters. She’d learned of them recently, some mercenary band out of Nevarra, looking to get a foothold in Kirkwall. They did not have a good reputation, at least not for getting things done cleanly. They got their work done, that was for sure, but their methods were unsavory, to say the least.

Sophia shook her head, moving swiftly up the stairs out of the central room, taking a left and heading towards the Viscount’s office. She found her father’s seneschal, Bran, outside the door, his red-orange hair neatly slicked to the side, his dress impeccably fashionable as always. He attempted to preempt Sophia as she approached.

“My lady—” he began, but Sophia was quick to cut him off. Don’t, Bran. You’re not going to talk me out of this one.” Bran flashed her a charming smile, which was deflected fully by Sophia as if she’d smacked it out of the air with a shield. “That doesn’t mean I can’t try. Please, don’t put yourself in danger for this, the Winters are more than capable of—”

“Bringing Saemus home safely? You don’t believe that, do you Bran? They’re brutes, more likely to bash my brother’s skull in than rescue him! Does father know of this?” Saemus glanced around slightly nervously. “Please, my lady, if you would just keep your voice down. Appearances must be maintained, as I’m sure you already know. Your father gave me orders to hire anyone skilled enough to help. He will take no chances with this Qunari, and as the Winters say, they leave nothing to chance. Although, I admit, their methods leave something to be desired, and I didn’t think them the best choice for a rescue mission, but what am I to do?”

“How about not sending murderers to keep my brother safe?” she said, her voice stinging him slightly, but she let it slide. What was done was done. She could still fix this. “What’s this about a Qunari? Tell me what the Winters learned so that I can go after them and make sure this doesn’t go horribly wrong.” The look on Bran’s face told Sophia that he wasn’t giving in easily. “The leader of the Winters, Ginnis, said that her scouts had successfully tracked the boy down, and that he had been captured by a Qunari. But please, Sophia, the Winters are very intent on receiving their reward for this. Don’t put yourself in their way. There’s no telling what they might try. And your father explicitly stated you were not to go.”

“Bran,” she said, quieter now, “I need to know where he is, where the Winters are headed. You know I won’t let this go. I just want to be there in case something goes wrong. Are you really willing to trust Saemus’ life to a band of thugs?” The seneschal sighed, before giving in. “I should know better than to keep arguing with you, my lady. The Winters tracked him to the Wounded Coast. If you leave soon, you should be able to follow their trail.” Sophia exhaled in relief. “Thank you, Bran. I appreciate this.”

She took her leave, heading to her quarters, passing her father’s room on the way. He likely knew she would go after Saemus, but unlike Bran, he knew better than to try and stop her. He’d long since lost his ability to stop Sophia from doing what she would. Sliding her door closed, Sophia slipped out of her dress and began donning her armor.




It was days like this one in which Ithilian found himself wishing he’d chosen to stay with Marethari’s clan, instead of coming here to wallow among the downtrodden and the hopeless.

But perhaps it was a fitting place for him, hopeless as he was. He sat in front of his pitiful little home in the alienage, leaning his back against the wall, facing the vhenadahl in the center of the elves’ little corner of Lowtown. In his hands was what was formerly a small block of wood, but was now beginning to look very much like a halla, though the noble beast’s spiraled horns were not yet quite in the shape Ithilian wanted. He chipped away with a small knife of his, a blade that had been through far more than these elves here could ever imagine. He remembered a specific occasion in which he had plunged this very blade deep into the skull of a darkspawn hurlock that had tackled one of his comrades to the ground. He’d saved his fellow’s life, but only temporarily. The taint got him a few days later. One by one, they had all fallen to the wretched darkspawn, as they desperately tried to flee through the Brecilian Forest to the north. Even Felaris hadn’t been able to survive. A shriek had been able to sneak into their camp when one of the hunters had fallen asleep at his watch from exhaustion, and by the time the creature’s screams woke their makeshift camp, their leader’s throat had been slit from ear to ear.

The thought of those days made him restless, and angry. Oh, how far he had fallen, by some chance at the hands of the Blight, yet another thing the shemlen had brought into the world. He had lost his connection to anyone who thought as he did among his kind, that they would simply run themselves into the ground if they did not change course. If they did not fight against the weight that wanted to crush them under its heel. No one would hear him, and no one would join him. Marethari protected her clan well enough, he could give her that, but she’d turned them into a bunch of fearful nomads, trying to hide from the humans while they focused on remembering the past. Remembering. The word made him feel oddly sick to his stomach. Reclaim was the word that Felaris had used, and the word Ithilian had lived by.

The word he still lived by. He had to remind himself of that every now and then. To admit defeat in his fight was to admit that he had nothing left to exist for. If that were true, he might as well go back in his house and hang himself with his bowstring. No, he wasn’t done yet. Not by a long shot. This city was ripe with opportunity for someone looking to make a mark. He just had to bide his time, avoid the attention of the city guard, and find the right chance, the right way to get his message across. He had to not only make the humans feel what he felt for once, but also find a way to inspire the others, to convince them that they could achieve something greater if they were just willing to push back.

He was shaken from his thoughts as the gleam of shining silver armor caught his eye. He looked up from his woodcarving to see a man in the unmistakable armor of the Templar Order descending the stairs into the alienage. Ithilian shifted his headscarf and squinted with his one remaining eye to get a better look at the man. Red-brown hair, striking blue eyes, a thick goatee, and middle aged, perhaps five years older than Ithilian or so. It was not the first time Ithilian had seen this shem within the alienage. In fact, he had visited several times in the past few days, always meeting with Arianni under the vhenadahl, where they discussed something Ithilian had previously considered to be not his business. He wasn’t looking to get the attention of the Templars if he could avoid it.

But Arianni’s vallaslin marked her as one of the People, and for that Ithilian felt obligated to speak with her. Whatever she had gotten herself in, the woman was Dalish, and worthy of his assistance. Perhaps once the Templar left this time, he would see what her troubles were, and if he could be of use. Gods knew he could use something more meaningful to do with his time.

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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: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega 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: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega 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: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega 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.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega 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: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega 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: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega 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: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega 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.

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega 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: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega 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: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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It occurred to Ithilian the next day that he hadn't ever really seen the Warden, Nostariel, around the Alienage. Their meeting and subsequent cooperation in rescuing Feynriel had been the first time he'd ever seen her. It crossed his mind that she may have been a newcomer to the city, or that perhaps she was merely passing through, and got caught up in events. But she'd seemed to have known her way around the city well enough. Ithilian had never met an elven Warden before, or many Wardens at all.

It was not long then before he began to make inquiries about her among the elves who tended to get out of the Alienage more. Ithilian didn't qualify in that category. He was too likely to do something very illegal if he spent too much time among the hordes of shemlen that pervaded every level of this city. He passed by Amalia several times during his inquiries. He meant to speak with her... but not yet. He needed some more time to think before that conversation would happen. Eventually, he determined that Nostariel spent a great deal of her time at the Hanged Man, the tavern here in Lowtown. Ithilian had frowned at that. He supposed there were worse places, though. Like Hightown. Still, for every worthwhile person that passed through that tavern, there were no doubt a few shemlen that would tempt his wrath if he spent too long around them.

Not having anything in particular to do at the moment, however, the Dalish decided it wouldn't hurt to pay her a visit. He left the Alienage, armed as always, keeping his head down as he worked his way through the bustle of people. He passed a shem hawking what was apparently a pouch of Andraste's ashes to a crowd, demonstrating their magical healing effects on a woman of suspect illness. His frown grew as he went by. Beggars lined the streets, mostly human, by Ithilian's estimation. In his experience, the dwarves typically joined up with the Carta before resorting to begging. And the elves went to the Alienage, where they actually looked out for one another. The shemlen were content to let themselves rot, it seemed.

The Hanged Man eventually presented itself before him, rather busy as it always seemed to be. He waited for a pair of drunk mine workers to clear out of his way, overhearing them mumbling about opening up some new passage at the Bone Pit, before pushing through the door and entering. With the variety of types that passed through the Hanged Man, it was difficult for anyone to look out of place, but Ithilian seemed to be trying his best to do so. A woman approached him to see if he needed something to eat or drink, but he waved her off with an annoyed flick of his hand, scanning the patrons instead.

He spotted Nostariel in a corner of the room, a table to herself. Ithilian found it puzzling how at home a Grey Warden could look in a tavern. Nostariel definitely looked as though she had been here many times before, and would be here many times again. It was... angering, in a way. He moved forward, weaving between tables, until he had reached her corner. "Marethari took the boy in, did she not?" he asked, not taking a seat, or appearing as though he wanted to. "Did she object at all?" He felt he already knew the answer to the question, but it was worth asking, anyhow.

Nostariel was, much to her own surprise, not really in the mood to get drunk on this particular day, and so her cup was filled with watered wine, the safest beverage of choice in Lowtown, where the water itself was far from non-toxic in large doses. She was presently enjoying a light lunch, and rather simply pleased at the fact that her salad wasn't even rotting. It was, as far as she could tell, as good a day as she ever got for free, and she was resolved to enjoy it. Lifting a green-laden fork to her mouth, she was halfway through taking a bite when the door to the tavern opened.

Normally, this would scarcely concern her, and she was quite content to ignore the influx of patrons just as she ignored the egress of anyone still sober enough to walk. Those that couldn't, well... there was magic for that.

As it was, however, she would not be ignoring this particular entrance, completely obvious as it was. Her eyes found Ithilian seconds before he located her, probably because she was far less obtrusive... or curt, for that matter. Her frown was a fledgling thing, small and rather tame compared to the scowls he seemed to sport nearly-constantly, and she calmly chewed over the rest of her mouthful before gesturing that he could sit. He probably wouldn't. His question was direct enough, and she answered it in kind. "She did, and she did not, in that order." A small pause. "She requested that I relay a message to you, though. The Keeper seems concerned for your welfare, and would deter you from your present course." Her composed neutrality contained faint echoes of melancholy, but they were subtle and might well have simply been the natural tenor of her voice. They certainly rarely left it.

The Dalish crossed his arms over his chest. "She said that, did she? I've heard it before. Many would deter me from my course, though few have deterred me so politely. I'll take the Keeper's words under consideration." The way he said it implied that it was most definitely a no. Ithilian's beliefs and Keeper Marethari's conflicted far too greatly for one to ever fully see the other's side, he knew that. But as of yet, nothing had changed since he had left her clan for Kirkwall. He saw no reason yet to accept a life of being pushed from one area to the next every time the humans decided to do something about them. Reclaim. Not remember.

"Do you live here?" he asked, glancing about the place as he changed the subject. The look on his face as he surveyed the other patrons, and perhaps simply the atmosphere was... not quite disgust, but perhaps disbelief. "It hardly seems a fitting place for a Warden."

"I see." She didn't, really, and she had half a mind to ask him exactly what this course of his actually was, but his question was quicker, and she accepted that for now, the conversation, such as it was, would proceed in a different direction for at least a short while. Nostariel followed his glance, smiling faintly when she saw Varric about to depart, that crossbow of his slung over his back as usual. She raised a hand to bid him farewell, but she was unsure if he saw it or not. Either way, she had to think for a second about how to answer that one.

"Perhaps not, but it is surely a fitting place for me." Sipping her wine, she set the tankard back down and leaned on her elbows, cupping her face on both hands. "Do not the drunken disgraces always end up in such places?" The question may as well have been rhetorical, for she answered it herself, after a fashion. "But I suspect you have no desire to hear the story, and I'm far too sober to tell it anyway." Shifting her grip, she traced one finger absently about the rim of her mug and shrugged.

"If I may ask, what is the nature of the disagreement between yourself and the Keeper? I had gathered the impression that such folk were revered leaders of the People, that conflicts of such... devisive nature were uncommon, and tended to cause quite the stir." She couldn't decide if she expected him to answer, or growl like a threatened wolf and tell her it was none of her city-elf business.

Ithilian watched her finger for a moment as it circled the rim of her tankard. "I do revere the Keeper. That doesn't mean I can't think her a cowardly grandmother. Or have a differing opinion. I am not Sabrae, nor was I ever. I was of Clan Mordallis for much of my life, in Ferelden. Keeper Felaris had differing ideas, and I shared them. But that clan is no more, and now I am here. I'm far too sober to tell the rest of that story, as well."

A drunken disgrace, huh? The Sabrae no doubt thought him a disgrace to the People. He'd faced his fair share of misery in his lifetime, and he was willing to bet that it matched the Warden's, though of course he could not be sure. He hadn't turned to drowning himself in taverns. Not yet, anyway. "If you don't mind me saying, you did not seem a disgrace yesterday when we fought through slavers, mercenaries, and abominations. I don't see why you should let yourself rot in this pit. Not with the gifts you have."

It was annoying, almost, and he wished he knew her reasons for whatever disgrace she had brought upon herself, for then he would know whether or not to be truly angry, or... well, less angry. He didn't see how he could sympathize with this. "Do I need to buy you a drink for you to tell me how you joined the Wardens? I have only ever met one, a shem, though I have not encountered a worthier human."

His sullen echo of her own words had tugged the smile further up her face, flashing teeth for the briefest moment, but it was short-lived. "If I did not, then perhaps it is simply because the world has a sense of irony," she replied dryly, shaking her head slightly and dislodging a few blond hairs from behind her ears. She replaced them carefully, considering the next question, though perhaps not quite so seriously as it appeared. "You should be careful, Ithilian. If you continue to say such things, people might come to believe there is compassion somewhere in that vengeful soul of yours." She wasn't sure exactly how she'd struck on the word vengeful, but nothing she was observing told her it didn't fit, so she didn't bother to correct herself.

"Hm, no. I don't think I have to be inebriated for that one, but you do have to be seated. I'll not speak to someone so much taller than myself if he insists on looming so." The last person she'd told that to was actually a good deal taller than Ithilian as well, but it applied all the same. "Of what would you like me to speak? The Joining itself is a rather interesting process, I suppose, but usually people are looking for the circumstances that lead to it, or perhaps the valiant tales of first battles with fellow Wardens." A single eyebrow arched gracefully, and it was clear that she really was going to insist that he sit.

Seeing that he might actually get something from the Warden, Ithilian was willing to take a seat. He pulled his bow from his back as he slid down into a chair, placing the weapon across his lap and settling into a somewhat slouched posture. Her comment about compassion had almost gotten a guffaw that would have been dangerously close to a laugh, but not quite. At the word vengeful, he had almost wanted to trace the lines of the vallaslin decorating his neck, the symbols for Elgar'nan, the God of Vengeance. It was indeed all that was left in his soul. Occasionally, on days like yesterday, he yearned for something more meaningful to devote himself to... but until such a thing presented itself, vengeance would have to do.

"Let's start with the circumstances. You are from a city, are you not? A Circle mage, then, or rather, a former one?"

"Hm. You're either entirely correct, or only half so. I couldn't tell you which." Nostariel chewed absently on her lower lip, free hand now occupied pushing her salad around on her plate with the fork. "The Circle is the first thing I remember. I couldn't tell you who I was, who's child I was, before that. But you are right that the Circle eventually found me, or I was given up to them, whichever." It was among the reasons she so vehemently did not desire Feynriel to be pushed into that life. He was long old enough to remember his mother, remember what he'd had, but he would have been subsequently without it even so. "I'm not sure if that's worse or better then being able to remember, to tell you the truth."

"As for the rest, well, I suppose I was the sort of person who had dreams a little too big for that tower in Starkhaven. I'd always wanted out, and the Wardens offered me that chance. I'd have been a fool not to take it."
Particularly when the other options were tranquility or death. She wasn't quite comfortable talking about it, though, as the inevitable next question would have been what did you do to deserve that? and the answer was incredibly painful, a wound in her very soul even now. "I... can't say it turned out exactly how I expected, but... what ever does?"

"Indeed, nothing ever does," Ithilian agreed. What she said hadn't bothered him, though. She hadn't been given a choice at birth, but rather was forced under the heel of the Chantry and their Templars. It seemed only natural that she would want to escape, that anyone would want to escape that, and yet many of them willingly allowed themselves to be caged by their shemlen jailors. Their talents were wasted in such a way, when they could be used to help their people.

"We take advantage of the chances given to us. We have to. If we don't, the shemlen will. They'd see us all forever under their heel like the Templars would to the mages. That is my present course that Marethari would deter me from, in a sense. To wait for a chance to be given to me, and then to take it. Elgar'nan, vengeance, was branded into my skin. I can take no other course." He looked down at the bow in his lap. Thought for a moment on the number it had claimed. More had been added to that tally yesterday. It would never be enough, and he knew that... but he didn't know what else to do.

If Nostariel had flinched slightly at the mention of Templars and shemlen, she did not acknowledge it. Instead, she simply watched him as he spoke, reading into the silences as much as the words. She wasn't always right about these sorts of things, but she liked to think she could guess at what he was thinking, and it was uncomfortably familiar. "Grey Wardens know a thing or two about lost causes," she demurred. "I can't say I share the thought that humans all desire us beneath their feet, though I won't contest that it happens. Circles are.... a bit different from the outside world, as are the Wardens. I'm a captain, you know. I suppose a few humans have had a problem with that, but by and large they're a little more scared of my magic than my ears." She shrugged lightly.

"Even so... I'd like to think that there's always hope for a better world, no matter how futile it seems to work for it." She could not condone killing your way through humanity as a means, but surely what Ithilian seemed to desire was not just the violence and the vengeance, but rather the world wherein his people could be free of their chains. That much, she understood without reserve.

Ithilian certainly would not argue with her about the subject of humans and just how much they oppressed his people. He suspected both of them were far too sober for that discussion. And from what history he had learned of her... being elven was not what she considered the most impactful on her life, but rather being a mage, or being a Warden. She'd lived in a Circle, and then she'd lived with Wardens. As of now, he did not believe she had experienced the state of their people as he had.

"There was a better world," Ithilian said, rising to his feet, and returning his bow to his back. "It was called Elvhenan. It is gone now. Whether or not it can be recreated in a world with the shemlen, I don't know. I intend to take the All-Father's vengeance just the same." He gave Nostariel a respectful nod of his head. "Ma serranas for your time, Nostariel." With that, the Dalish took his leave of the Hanged Man, headed back for the Alienage.

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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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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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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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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia
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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: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera
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"Slow your breathing," Ithilian commanded, gently but firmly, "it will steady your arm. A hunter must remain calm, even when preparing for a kill."

Lia's left arm wobbled visibly, struggling to keep the drawn arrow level. The Dalish leaned up against the nearest tree, arms crossed, watching her form from beyond the girl's peripherals. She looked rather silly. It hadn't surprised Ithilian to learn that Lia didn't own a single pair of pants suitable for the forest, nothing but handspun dresses and simple sandals. He'd been easily able to buy some clothes from a Lowtown tailor using a small portion of the reward he'd collected from Hubert, but he had slightly overestimated her size. Perhaps he'd been using the wrong reference.

Her boots would give her blisters if they continued on much longer, he knew. Her feet were soft, delicate things, having tasted no other dirt than the kind that blew in from the foundry districts. They would toughen, if Ithilian had his way. Her trousers were a muddy brown, baggy things, held up by a buckled belt fastened tightly about her waist. Her tunic was meant for a girl probably three years her senior. It had fallen nearly to her knees until she'd bunched it up and tucked it under the belt.

He'd make her a hunter yet.

It was her choice, too. It had been Lia that had come to Ithilian one day under the vhenadahl, interrupting a conversation between he and Amalia in order to ask him for a lesson. She had convinced her father of the usefulness, and of her own desire, and he had relented, giving the Dalish permission to teach his daughter. And so here they were, trying to put arrows into a tree trunk twenty meters away. The reward from Hubert had given Ithilian time to do as he pleased for a while, exactly as he had wanted.

"It's too big," she said, referring to the bow, "the string is too hard to pull back. It's making my arm shake." Ithilian gazed at the weapon, not his own bow, but another of his creation, smooth whitewood with inlays of silver halla horn spiraling along the ends, seemingly dancing along the wood. He allowed himself a great deal of pride. It was beautiful. "It should be difficult at first," he explained, "but you'll grow stronger if you practice. In time it will seem easy. Lift your elbow."

She did so, the altered position helping her somewhat, and steadying her hand. Unwilling to hold it any longer, however, she released her hold, the arrow loosing with a twang, the whitewood bow extending back to full length as the arrow left. It skimmed the side of the tree, taking off some bark before it sailed into the distance. Ithilian judged it for a moment. "That was better. You learn quickly."

The sun was getting low, casting a yellow orange light through the canopy of the forest. "We should return. I've kept you too long. Let's fetch the arrow and then return." Though somewhat disappointed, Lia was clearly worn out, and nodded her head. "Can we practice more tomorrow?" she asked, sliding the bow over her shoulder as he had shown her. "Perhaps," was all the response he was willing to return. This was... a learning experience for him as well. Or rather, re-learning.

They set off after the lost arrow, Ithilian pulling the three he'd put in the trunk himself on the way. He traveled slow, allowing the girl to take her own pace. He often forgot that she was not as comfortable with the landscape as he and his kin were. This was the unnatural to her, the cities her home ground. It was so backwards, it made him feel ill to linger on it.

As they crested a small hill however, Ithilian held out his hand to stop her, his eye picking up movement in the distance. A deer, a sizeable prize to bring back. He slid his bow from the sheath on his back, pointing it out to Lia as he drew an arrow. "Watch," he commanded. He hadn't actually killed anything in front of her yet, and wondered what her reaction would be when he made the shot. She would have to get used to it, one way or the other, if she intended on being a huntress. He pulled back the arrow, the string resting taut against his upper lip, as he breathed slowly out, lining up the shot to pass through the deer's head.

A shadowy figure danced through the woods, leaving neither trail nor sound in it's wake. Which was strange, considering the shadowy figure was none other than Ashton. For once, he had his large mouth closed and actually seemed focused on the task at hand. He neither wore the jester-like grin that defined him nor even the silly glint that danced in his eyes. In the place of that, he wore a stern frown followed by eyes filled with purpose. He had a job to do, and he was going to do it. He had earned enough money in order pay rent on his shop, but that mattered little if he had nothing to sell. That was the goal that day. Inventory for the shop. He had an order for leather boots to fill and he had to restock his supply of venison. He gave away what little he had left for nothing as any longer in his shop and it would spoil. Not that he needed a reason to be in the forest... He never felt more alive when he was in the forest. He weaved around another tree with guile and dexterity belying his tall frame. He was crouched low to the ground, so that the aforementioned frame wouldn't spell out his position to his prey.

He was on the hunt, one of the rare places where all traces of the fool dropped and was replaced by an intelligent and sharp entity. In this state, he was a bloodhound, tracking down his target with acute senses honed by years of practice. Light footsteps that were more akin to the wind washing through the forest rather than a human. He had picked up the trail of a deer, a large one according to it's prints. He had passed a scrapping on a tree as he hunted, gathering that it was a stag with antlers any bar owner would be proud to have hanging over his door, but to the hunter, the antlers would be used as well. Waste not, want not after all. His shop didn't need such extravagancies. It was a shop, not a museum, and everything in his shop had a utilitarian purpose.

The hunt had been going on for an hour then, and Ashton knew that he would catch up to it soon. The prints led to the base of a hill, and if Ashton was a betting man (he was) then he'd bet all the gold that he earned from Jarvis (if he hadn't already thrown it in the Viscount's general direction) that the deer would be in a small copse, bedding down for the evening. That only left the issue of getting through it without the stag hearing him. He lowered his breathing and began to stalk toward the Copse. His steps were more careful, more restrained as he deftly picked his way towards his prey.

Sure, he could have just vanished into the shadows and struck from the darkness, the trees around him could provide him that luxury. But that wasn't hunting. That was killing. And it left a bad taste in his mouth. The hunt was a proud thing and it was one thing that Ashton would never cheat at. The animal deserved a chance, and assassinating it from the shadows was no way to hunt. He ducked his head under a low hanging branch and entered the copse. A few more steps brought him around a large tree-- perhaps the largest in the copse-- which then revealed his target. It was just as he thought, a sizable creature, a prize for a hunter. It would make for a fine kill.

He crouched beside the tree, sitting on his haunches and leaned up against it for stability. He drew an arrow from his quiver, the soft leather never giving away his position. In one smooth motion the arrow left the quiver, arced forward, nocked, and was drawn back to the fullest. The white fletching lay on his cheek as he bided his time. The positioning was perfect, broadside. Left him a clean shot to the creature's front shoulder, where it's heart was. Clean and quick, no suffering. He lined the shot up, and before he let the arrow sing, he issued a short and curt whistle. The stag paused it's grazing and looked toward the area where the whistle came from.

That's when the arrow struck. The arrow flew right where Ashton placed it, through the heart and out the other side. The creature managed to get one step forward before it fell. Moments passed with Ashton frozen in time. The deed was done, and the hunt was over. With that, he stood and made his way toward his kill, pride welling up in his heart.

The animal fell before Ithilian had loosed his arrow, another projectile striking it true, clean through the heart. He blinked once, before releasing the tension somewhat, lowering the bow. If these woods had belonged to the Dalish, his immediate thought of poacher would have been correct, and he would have had decent grounds for killing the intruder where they stood. That said, he had to remember that these lands did not, in fact, belong to the People, and then the shemlen of Kirkwall had the right to hunt here as well. The quality of the shot made him wonder if he had traveled too close to Marethari's clan, but when the hunter came forth towards the kill, his humanity was confirmed.

Had he been alone and a few months in the past, Ithilian would have given strong consideration to putting an arrow through the man's head, and taking what would have otherwise been his. But he was not alone, and he was not in the past. He had nearly come to the conclusion that a confrontation was best avoided when Lia made his thoughts irrelevant.

Hey!" she called out loudly, making her way forward before Ithilian could stop her. She crashed through the distance of undergrowth and bushes between them, coming to a stop a short ways away, well out of arm's reach, but close enough for them to speak without shouting. Ithilian was shortly behind her, his own movements silent compared to hers, seeming to almost soothe the forest, after the young girl had trampled it. "That was our kill, you know. We were here first." Ithilian resisted the urge to roll his eye at her boldness, only so he could keep his gaze on the human hunter. He had not returned the arrow to its quiver, nor the bow, only lowered it and released the tension on the string. He didn't want a problem in front of Lia, but some problems with the shemlen were unavoidable. He would not be caught unprepared.

The "Hey" cut through the silence like his arrow did to the deer, and the crashing of footsteps told him he that was no longer alone in the woods. He halted midstride and turned towards where the ruckus was coming from. The stark difference from the silence of one moment to the racket of (small) feet was staggering and it suddenly expelled all semblance of the hunter. At least the hunt was done with and he would not need to focus any more. It wasn't like the deer was going to resurrect and walk off... If it did, that would present other, more important issues. Like what the hell just happened. Either way, the owner of the noise wasn't some creature of the forest-- Well, in a sense, it was. Elves being elves and all. But still, this elf didn't seem Dalish to him. She was too adorable for that.

Ashton leaned on his bow and the girl blamed him for stealing their kill. So she wasn't alone. Made since, with the racket she caused, she couldn't have been hunting alone. Nope, there had to be someone else with her, a much better hunter-- that was no doubt. But still, she was adorable, and that made him feel an obscene amount of guilt. His eyes went to the felled creature, and when they returned, he relized that the girl was no longer alone... Another elf-- this one with a scary face that was half-covered with a cloth. The bow with an arrow nocked didn't help either. However, it did answer the question as to who she was hunting with. Compared to the girl's footsteps, this man was silent.

"I apologize sweetheart," he said, kneeling. He hoped the gesture would set them, and especially the scary elf with the bow, at ease. "It's a testament to you and your father's skills as hunters that I couldn't tell that others were hunting the same creature. I promise, if I knew that such a lovely lady as yourself was hunting him, I'd let you have him," he said. It was the truth. He may have been stalking the creature for the better part of the afternoon and though he was serious and focused during the hunt, he would have gladly let her have it. There was nothing like the experience of the hunt, and he would never willingly take that away from the child.

The word sweetheart was enough to get an annoyed twitch out of the scarred corner of Ithilian's mouth. It wasn't strange that the human had mistaken them for father and daughter. He was well aware that that was exactly how they looked. In a moment that saddened him slightly, Ithilian realized that was exactly how he had intended it. Among the Dalish, it likely would have mattered little, as each clan was more or less a family, each child raised by all, in addition to their own parent.

This hunter's aim, he could respect. He hadn't noticed him before, which meant he was quiet, experienced at what he did. That also made him dangerous. His tongue, however, was asking to be cut out, something Ithilian would have gladly performed had Lia not been present. "Do you speak to every daughter in that way, even when the father is present?" he asked, not actually wanting an answer. He moved in front of Lia slightly, studying the man a little closer. He seemed vaguely familiar, but then again, he had trouble telling many shemlen apart.

"Do you hunt here often?" Ithilian asked. He wasn't interested in more encounters like this occurring, certainly not when Lia was present. He'd rather find another place to teach her to hunt, than to risk repeated conversations with this shem and his nausea-inducing compliments towards a twelve year old.

His line of sight with the elf girl, and perhaps the friendlier face of the two, was cut off by her father, stepping protectively between her and himself. Fair enough, he was armed, and had just taken down a kill. If he was a different person and had a daughter with him, he couldn't say that he'd do anything differently. The world was dangerous place after all, no telling what kind of strange people it held. Honestly. While it would be better on the legs to keep kneeling while he spoke to the man, it didn't seem like the proper thing to do, so he rose up to his full lank, once again. Though, he did make an attempt to reign himself in and do it slowly as to not set the man off. He had the look of someone who was rarely happy and they were alone in the woods. Who would miss him if he just didn't... Come back?

He let the first question fly by unmolested. It didn't sound like one that warranted an answer, and truth be told, Ashton reckoned that the man didn't care. Though... Yes, he supposed he did talk to a lot of people like that, no matter the circumstances-- well, except maybe if they look like they could crush his neck if they set their mind to it. The Arishok, case in point. The next question caused him to pause and examine his surroundings. So enthralled was he in the hunt, he wasn't quite sure of the path he took. He could get back to the city, no issue, but still. It'd be nice to know where one was when getting stared down by a man with one eye and his daughter. Upon further reflection, he concluded that no, this was not his normal hunting grounds. It seemed as if the stag had led him on a magnificent journey to a hither unseen part of the forest. Neat.

With that settled, he shook his head no. "No, can't say that it is. I've just been tracking that big fella for a while. Took me out of my usual hunting grounds, a couple of hours work-- Not that it wasn't your kill mind," he added for the girl behind the man. That brought up a muddy pool of ethics in the hunt. Would the kill belong to the one who stalked the deer? Or the one whom the deer came to. It wasn't something Ashton felt like sifting though at the moment. Instead, he offered up a trade.

"How about this sweet-- uh, How about this?" Ashton said, catching himself and forcing himself to look at the father. "Say you take the antlers now-- have him carve something pretty for you," He added as an aside to the girl. The man looked like the type of elf that carved things. Surely those daggers at his sides are used for something else besides stabbing, "And I'll take the deer proper, have him processed in my shop. I'll give you and yours a discount if you come in? It's a win-win, really." Appeasement. Smooth.

The hunter appeared uncomfortable looking at Ithilian, even if the elf had to look up to meet his eyes. He studied him for a moment, deciding if his offer was meant as charity, or as an attempt to part on peaceful terms. For his sake, Ithilian hoped it was the latter. Without responding, Ithilian slid one of his long knives from a sheath and knelt, plunging it with precision into the animal's head and getting to work. Lia chose to remain quiet, perhaps in response to the tone Ithilian was taking with the hunter.

The Dalish some words under his breath as he cut, otherwise not acknowledging that there were others around. In his head, he was struggling to contain aggression. In his opinion, the human had shown a blatant lack of respect for him in the way he'd spoken to Lia. The fact that he'd incorrectly assumed him to be her father was meaningless. The man was good with a bow, but Ithilian was willing to bet he wouldn't last long if he were to be taken to with knives. They were in the middle of the forest. Surely it would be days before anyone even went looking for him.

But the girl behind him stayed his hand, and he didn't even know why. Was she too young? Had he been too young when his own father had introduced him to bloodshed? His father hadn't thought so. His clan hadn't thought so. If this shem had threatened them in any way, in addition to disrespecting them, he wouldn't have hesitated, and he would have felt justified...

Bah. It was too complicated. He needed to get away from this. To be alone. He finished severing the antlers, rising. "We're leaving," he said, more to Lia than the human, as he strode away. Lia looked back to make sure Ithilian wasn't watching, before giving the hunter a quick wave of goodbye.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel 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.

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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: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon 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: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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The expedition was gathered in the Merchant's quarter of Hightown, in front of the two great statues of bearded dwarves marking the Dwarven Merchants Guild. Bartrand Tethras stood before them, his disposition not the sunniest they'd seen, possibly due to the fact that a number of the hirelings were significantly hungover from the previous night. His brother Varric was among them, standing at the side of Nostariel, awaiting Bartrand's words.

"We've chosen one of the hidden entrances," Bartrand began in a loud, commanding tone, creating silence among the gathered group. "The Deep Roads there will be nice and virginal, ready for a good deflowering." He spat out a laugh. Varric managed one as well, though it was likely directed more at Bartrand himself than at his words. "Now there's an interesting image," he murmered to Nostariel, who cringed. Ashton, with all of his tact, laughed quite heartily. He didn't expect to hear that analogy.

"It'll take a week for us to get to the depth we need, and there are bound to be leftover darkspawn from the Blight. Big risks, big rewards. But this isn't a foolish endeavor. This will work! Now, if there's nothing else, let's get underway!" Varric moved to his brother's side as they began their departure, the hirelings hefting packs onto their backs, ensuring the last of their gear was packed. "Been a long time coming, eh, brother?" Bartrand actually managed a smile, though it was kept to himself. "That it has. The Deep Roads await!"




Two weeks later, they had almost reached the depth they needed. Their entrance into the Deep Roads had gone as planned, but very quickly they ran into roadblocks and collapses they hadn't been expecting. Bartrand had occasionally directed anger at the Grey Warden, claiming her maps were leading them into dead ends, but Varric was always quick to correct him and calm him down as best he could, keeping a level head. Though the going was slow, the expedition eventually managed to come out into a more open area, with ruins beginning to appear in place of rocky caverns and tunnels. The signs of life, and more importantly, potential treasure, helped to inject life into the hirelings.

On the fifteenth day of the expedition, they came upon a large bridge extending out of a tunnel. Ithilian, who had taken up the role of scouting for the group, came striding back, adjusting the wrap around his head. He had been apart from the group for the majority of the trip, scouting ahead and reporting back to Bartrand, before he departed again. It was obvious he was avoiding speaking with other members of the team, given his body language. He looked more volatile than usual, and yet his shoulders were more drawn, his gaze lower than usual. Perhaps it was the higher than usual number of dwarves around.

"There's another collapse ahead," he said, gesturing over his shoulder as he finished fussing with his headscarf. "The bridge cannot be crossed." Bartrand stewed, the vaguely orange light of the underground accenting his anger at yet another setback. "What? Is there some way around?" Ithilian crossed his arms. "There is a side passage. Darkspawn have moved in." Bartrand looked as though the next part was quite obvious to him.

"Then I'm sure you'll be more than happy to clear them out for us, won't you?" The look Ithilian gave him seemed inspired by the molten lava that sometimes flowed beneath their feet, but he said nothing, instead moving past him and back through the group. Bartrand turned back to the group. "Set camp!"




For those not accustomed to the Deep Roads, it would be difficult to tell what time it had reached when they had the camp set up in a relatively secure, shallow side cave, but it was roughly midday. Bartrand was exchanging words with the dwarven merchant that had come along with the expedition when Varric approached him from behind. "Problems, brother?" Bartrand turned and threw his hands into the air in frustration. "Sodding Deep Roads! Who knows how long it'll take to clear a path?" Varric, as usual, allowed his brother's anger to wash over him like the sea on a large rock. "You have too little faith in our help, brother. They'll find a way around in no time."

He huffed. "We'll see. Facing a few stragglers of darkspawn isn't the same as facing the ones that have set up defenses. How many of these mercenaries you've bought have fought hordes of darkspawn, I wonder?" From the edge of the camp, Ithilian gave a light sigh, unheard by his employer. Varric chose not to argue with his brother on that point, perhaps believing it to be a waste of time, but pressed on all the same. "Then I'll go with them, and we'll take a look. If we come running back, screaming, you'll know trying to find a way around was the wrong decision." Bartrand shook his head. "Fine, fine, just get going!" And he stormed off.

The dwarven merchant Bartrand had been conversing with tentatively stepped forward once he was gone, rubbing his forehead. "Er... I hate to add to your burdens, Ser Varric, but I fear I must. I fear my boy, Sandal, wandered off. He's somewhere in those passages, right now! I beg you, keep an eye out for him. He just... doesn't understand danger like he should."

Nostariel, who'd been unusually restless of late, had been pacing the camp in relentless strides, stopping occasionally to help out with some task or chore, but otherwise ceaseless in her movement. It was clear that she was at once familiar with and uncomfortable in the Deep Roads, and from time to time, she'd murmur something as if to herself and shake her head. Each new sound produced a twitch in her ears, though she knew better than anyone when Darkspawn were present. Still, they were not the only potential danger down here. Had she been more focused on the people around her and less upon what might lay beyond, she would have noted Ithilian's behavior as antisocial even for him, but as it was, she had herself occupied just trying not to think too much about what had happened last time she was in this Maker-forsaken place.

Forcing herself to avoid drawing the comparison between then and now was no easy task, but she tried valiantly to content herself with the fact that the numbers were better this time around. She didn't know about the skill; Wardens knew these locations better than anyone else, and it was difficult to find warriors better-trained than they. Still, if any group of people from Kirkwall could handle it, 'twas this one, and that was a comfort, at least.

Her overactive feet carried her past where Varric and Bartrand were arguing, and while she would be volunteering herself to go along with the scouting group, she wasn't going to say anything about it until the merchant stepped forward. Blinking, she wondered just how it was that someone could wander off in the Deep Roads, but then perhaps if the boy was a curious sort, and unaware of danger as his father suggested... "We'll look for him, serah. I can figure out where the Darkspawn are and bring him back myself, if necessary." Her words were firm, unyielding. How many people had she seen lost to these unholy places? Too many, and not one more if there was anything she could do to prevent it. Lucien, who'd been walking by with an armload of tent poles (for some reason, he'd ended up doing quite a lot of the expedition's heavy lifting, not that he minded), deposited them in the designated area and approached from behind the Warden, his silent agreement clear in the way he adjusted the strapping of his weapon and armor.

Varric nodded his agreement. "When did you last see him, Bodahn?" He turned back to Varric. "Not a half hour ago. I turned my back to hand out rations, and he was gone! He gets so easily distracted. Ah, I should have been harsher with my warnings!" Bodahn then bowed his thanks to Nostariel. "But thank you, my lady Warden. If he has one of his enchantments with him, he'll survive. He's burned down the house twice by accident. I'm more worried about him getting lost, the poor boy!"

Ashton, the ever malleable fellow that he was, seemed to be taking the whole expedition in lackadaisical stride. Sure, he missed the sun. And the trees. Grass and flowers would have been nice too. But the prize! The prize was worth it. It'd better be worth it anyway. Else he'd have to strangle Bartrand and Varric with their beard and chest hair-- respectively. Still, the lack of fresh air and open greenery had put the Archer in a melancholy mood, and in this certain clarity of mind, had decided that opening his big lips anywhere near the Dalish elf would only serve to get them cut off. Not to say that the two or so weeks on the expedition wasn't chock full of stupid jokes and silly puns-- just that they weren't muttered when the elf was around.

Once the camp was set up, Ashton had found himself sitting atop one of the barrels they had brought to hold their water. Of course, his ass being on top of their water drew some glares from a couple of the hirelings, but Ashton played the oblivious fool and set about picking his teeth with another one of his arrows, as he was wont to do. A nearby conversation between the dwarves and their lovely guide reeled his ears in to listen. Something about someones kids getting lost in the deep roads. Hmm. He didn't know that could even be a possibility, who in their right minds would wander off in the deep roads. There were tons of nasty creepy crawlies down there. Should have brought a leash...

At the insistance of Nostariel though, it looked like they were going to be playing nurse maid for a bit. It was fine with in, really, it'd give him more chances to eye the magnificent displays of rock. Either way, it looked like they were going to be the expeditionary force of the expedition, sent out to find a path around their intended path. With that, he decided to stop polluting their stores of water with his ass and hopped from the barrel, walking over to their merry little group. "Right. Find a path. Find your boy. Would you like some milk and eggs while we are out as well?" Ashton said, smiling. His tone was a jovial one, and he meant no harm by the words. As if to further prove this point, he continued. "Don't worry about it. You've got one of the finest trackers in all of Kirkwall," And Ithilian. "We'll find your boy, then we'll find the path, then we'll find the haul. No problems," Ashton said.

"Should we be going then Master Dwarf?" Ashton asked Varric, "The path may not have legs, but the boy does-- stubby as they are-- and they could be carrying him farther away as we speak," He finished. Varric nodded. "Let's move quickly, then."

Before they left, Lucien made his way quickly to one of the storage units containing extra equipment, rummaging through it until he came up with what he was looking for: a moderately-sized roundshield. Though he was quite firm in his insistence that he would not lift a sword, he wasn't sure how well his scythe would stand up against Darkspawn. Or, more to the point, how many more of them it would stand up to. He took good care of it, but weapons with wooden components could only withstand so much pressure, and he didn't want to be completely without options if the worst occurred. This, he slung over his back for the moment, then swiftly rejoined the others as they moved out.

Rapture had not relinquished her hold on Sparrow's body, but kept unusually quiet. Her words, however choice, were irrefutably odd. Her actions were even stranger. She did not walk as she did, with her stupid, often lumbering steps, but instead resumed her nonplussed gait, so much more languid than her barbaric counterpart. She was still there, very much so, but her cries, her echoing wails, her beating fists had grown less frequent and a helluva lot more quiet – for that, she whispered a solemn curse to the Maker. She'd taken refuge amongst the smelly dwarves, occasionally throwing quips and questioning their motives; where they were headed, what they were searching for. Her questions were offhanded, hardly worth noting. She, did, however, occasionally watch Rilien with her lidded-eyes, effortlessly challenging him with the way she smiled. If he did not take any notice, then it might've been with some effort.

Ithilian wordlessly led the group out of the camp, pulling his bow from its sheath and drawing an arrow. He was not nearly so accustomed to the underground as a Grey Warden would be, but already he was developing a sense for how to move about the place quietly and efficiently. His footfalls were carefully placed so as to avoid loose rock or threats to his ankles, his remaining eye scanning the gaps in the walls, places where creatures dark and terrible might hide. Varric's gait in comparison was easy and relaxed, his unique crossbow held with care in his gloved hands.

The elf led the scouting party to just before the crushed bridge they'd encountered, and showed them the entrance to the side passage he'd spoken of, a hole in the rock wall big enough for all of them to pass through side by side. He stopped at its entrance, holding out a hand to signal that the others were to go first. "This is our side passage. The darkspawn are within, though I can't say their numbers. It's unlikely the merchant's boy still lives." "I've seen stranger things happen," Ashton added shrugging.

Rilien didn't much care either way, and the entire argument wasn't getting them anywhere. He was alive or he was not, and they would discover which only by proceeding further in. Sliding his curved knives from their sheaths, he dipped a small nod to Ithilian, their guide, and decided that he wasn't going to waste any more time, entering the passage in loping strides. He could not sense Darkspawn after the manner of a Warden, but he'd learned long ago that when one was close enough, that made precious little difference. They were noisy, and smelled awful, and died like anything else. These very blades had been christened in the black blood that pumped sluggishly through the engorged veins under sickly flesh.

A passing glance in citrine was flicked towards the Chevalier, a small acknowledgement of the familiarity he felt. Their last trials had been fought under sky, not stone, but that was hardly the important point. Padding over the broken stone, he noted that she Warden was quick to follow, sighing and shaking her head, though apparently unwilling to offer her own opinion on the matter. "Careful," Nostariel murmured to the group at large, "They are near. Perhaps two dozen, give or take a few, and at least one's an emissary, I think." Her hands tightened on her staff, and she took a shaky breath. Darkspawn were nothing to be feared, not really. Especially not in numbers like that. This wasn't a year ago. It wouldn't be. She was different now, and so were the people she was with.

The Tranquil's look was answered with a wry smile; for once, what Rilien was thinking was crystalline in its clarity to Lucien. It was almost like the old days, save that they were no longer fighting a Blight, just the Blighters, so to speak. His old friend's wariness drew the scythe from the Chevalier's back even before Nostariel uttered her warning, but he nodded his comprehension to her all the same. He'd discovered rather early on that few in the expedition guards were feeling too sociable, Ashton and Sparrow perhaps excepted. He spent most of his time walking either with they and Rilien, or guarding the rear and making small-talk with the laborers instead.

Within a few minutes of walking down the winding corridor, it became quite clear that the Warden was correct. The stench was the first thing to register. None of the surrounding area smelled pleasant, but this was the odor of rotting flesh and bile, which was different from simple stagnance and old blood. Before long, the sounds of shuffling feet and loud, wet breaths reached their ears, and it was clear that the 'Spawn sensed the presence of one of the hated Wardens, for the dull scrape of steel on stone registered, presumably as they picked up weapons off the ground. This was going to be interesting; the hallway was narrow at best, with enough room for maybe two across, though honestly, Lucien could probably fill the space by himself if he made an effort to do so.

Either way, the first hurlock rounded the corner then, and Rilien demonstrated once more that he had no time to waste, disappearing and crossing the distance remaining in an eyeblink, shoving the point of a Dalish knife into the back of a Darkspawn neck before flickering and disappearing again. The fight was on.

Nostariel hung back, casting a range of beneficial spells, giving every weapon in her range elemental properties, save any that already had one. An arcane shield and heroic offense followed, but she didn't cast offensively; the space was too narrow and she didn't want to risk hitting someone, plus this way, her energy was conserved in the event healing became necessary.

Almost rolling his eyes, Lucien followed on Rilien's heels, at least until the Tranquil disappeared. It had used to be he that charged headlong into battles, but of course the reasoning was completely different. Rilien acted ever as he did for the sake of simplicity and efficiency-- Lucien had just been reckless. Sometimes, he reflected as the first knot of Darkspawn tried to squeeze through and get at Nostariel and the others in the back, he still was. A straightforward vertical swing buried the point of the scythe in the head of one of those incoming, and until such time as someone else decided to cohabitate the frontlines, he kept himself to diversionary tactics, drawing those that would be taunted to him and keeping the line more or less clear with great horizontal swipes of the farmer's implement, freeing up the others to choose their tactics with impunity.

Her nose twitched, then wrinkled in disgust. If there was something she was not accustomed to, it was her ability to smell the most unpleasant things. The twisting tunnels were now emitting the foulest smells – something caught between a festering corpse, and a fistful of writhing maggots, perhaps, even shit. Even with her arcane, if not biased knowledge, of Darkpawn, Rapture-Sparrow certainly did not like the bloody things, so she would fight them if they so challenged them. The likelihood of the dirty-things making appearance was inevitable, as they were drawn to their resident Grey Warden like moths fluttering around a flame. She glanced in Nostariel's direction, noting her caution. The Dalish-man had undertaken the role of scout, flitting ahead like an animal, whilst signalling them forward, or back, or wherever he wanted them to halt and decide the best course of action. She was only to happy to oblige.

Rapture-Sparrow was expected to do something. From what she'd gathered, Sparrow was rather hot-headed with her mace, preferring to steal into the fray and swing that bloody thing around like a lumberman. She fingered the weapon curiously, clutching it in her hands as if she'd never seen the thing before. Of course – it'd been used against her, but could she even use it? Her speciality had always been in subterfuge, in deceit, in rallying her magical prowess. Would that not stick out like a sore thumb? She stood there, momentarily defeated by her own musings, while Rilien blinked away from her peripherals, already engaged with the oncoming 'Spawn. Nostariel, too, had begun casting her own spells. She'd tasted the Fade, and the woman's magic, before any spells had erupted from her staff. A soft whistle sifted through her lips, derisive in it's sound. She would not embarrass herself swinging that thing around. Instead, she'd dropped the weapon (much to Sparrow's internal dismay) on the ground and moved off to the side, hands aglow with energy, and began firing off sizzling spears of lightning.

The sight of the normally headstrong Sparrow dropping her mace to persue a more arcane approached struck Ashton as odd, but then again, it was not the time to question such trivalities-- at least while those reeking creatures still lived. Ashton was glad that he had specialized in the bow instead of more forthcoming weapons like the sword or mace, as that would put him in close proximity to the nasties. He was not a fearless man unlike most of his companions. Unlike Nostariel who had fought the creatures as Wardens are wont, he actively fled Ferelden because of the blighters. The sight of the creatures managed to strike a chord and he shuddered at the sight of them. Still, he would not be rendered useless because of some lousy Darkspawn...

Perhaps the number of bodies between him and the critters had something to do with his sudden stalwart bravery. If all else failed, he could always poof away like Rilien did, only in the opposite direction. An option to consider later perhaps, for now he was expected to take part in the battle and he would not disappoint. At least, he'd try not to disappoint. There was an issue though, as the previously mentioned bodies also had the effect of obscuring his aim. He'd rather not draw anyone's ire for a mistakenly placed arrow to the back. His head whipped back and forth as he searched for options. The most obvious answer would be up but the trench they found themselves in was sorely lacking in any stable platform. Anyone with a lick of sense would have allowed the frontline take out the 'Spawn for him.

Luckily, Ashton was blessed with the lack thereof. He pressed up against the side of one wall in order to get a running start on the other. A sane person would view him as running head long, though he had a plan. He ran and jumped, planting his feet on the wall a good couple of feet from the ground. Then he pushed off, giving him a couple more feet of clearance, enough so that he could fire without hitting friendlies. Still, it wouldn't do any good if he couldn't sustain the height. Fortunately, there was a step two to his brilliant plan. As he began to fall, he fell back toward the other wall, lengthing the entirety of his frame. Now was perhaps not the best time for him to realize that he had forgotten to measure his height to that of the width of the tunnel. Still, as he fell, he felt just what he needed to. His upper back caught the other wall, if only by a hair. There he lay, a couple of feet off of the ground, his feet and shoulders pushing against each other and the wall keeping him aloft. It was... Quite the display of dexterity. He couldn't help but laugh as he nocked an arrow and began to fire down upon the darkspawn.

If he had been just a tad bit shorter, this would never had worked. It probably shouldn't had worked for a sane man anyway. Ignorance is bliss however.

Ithilian might have noted Ashton's ridiculous display of dexterity and responded with a scowl or an eye roll, he might have cared that the no longer mace wielding half-elf was a lightning-throwing mage, or that the battlefield they found themselves in was far more confined than he was used to, but he did none of these things. One of his Dalish blades was in his strong hand, the dagger Amalia had gifted to him gripped firmly in the other, his face dead set with the expression of unbridled hate.

He kept a different kind of contempt in his heart for the darkspawn, one that rivaled, and perhaps surpassed, that of the shemlen. Here, at last, in these dank, dark tunnels and underground caverns, did he have the advantage. He was the hunter, and they were now the prey. As far as he was concerned, there was no one else here other than the darkspawn. He pushed forward and through, keeping his head low, his stance tight and coiled, predatory. He did not disappear as the Tranquil was able to, but rather used the distractions the warrior and the mages provided to cut through the first ranks, getting out ahead of any of them, and getting to work.

The first one he sliced lit with flames that immediately caused it to flail with the pain. He let it burn. He attacked the others more to maim than instantly kill, avoiding the throat and instead slicing and stabbing vulnerable areas, removing limbs, sending the beasts sprawling to the ground in sprays of blood, howling their anguish. How long had he waited to do this?

Far, far too long.

Amidst it all he was cautious to keep from opening his mouth, lest he swallow any amount of the blood splashing about. His face was stone cold and murderous, even if inside he was a storm of vengeance, his blades acting as messengers of Elgar'nan, each stroke exacting the revenge of one of his fallen kin. All too soon it seemed the fight was over, this cluster of them fallen, all the while the fallen still called out for their vengeance. The Dalish elf huffed through his nose, dripping with blood for a moment, before wordlessly moving on. More would be ahead.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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Hindsight was a pain in the ass. During the entirety of his climb and even during the hail of arrows, not once did Ashton think about how he was going to get down. The realization hit just as the last Darkspawn fell under the vengeful elf's barrage. And vengeful it was. Ashton didn't know whether to be more frightened of the Darkspawn, or the elf. However, the elf was the least of his troubles currently. He looked down on both sides of him, noticing that was quite a drop for him to just land on his back on the cold unforgiving rock beneath. Even worse still, time was not in his favor, as every minute he stood wedged between the two walls felt like a year to his back. He needed down, without shattering what was left of his back.

He just decided to fall, and hope that the rock seemed a lot softer than it looked like. Really, what else was he going to do? Float down? He tossed his bow off to the side, his quiver close behind. He'd hate for them to break his fall. Now free of his possessions, he pulled his feet and shoulders away from the wall and the sudden sensation of falling took over. He braced himself for the impact to come.

--Only to find that it didn't. Lucien, who had only been somewhat aware of the archer's incredibly-odd maneuver during the battle, found himself more or less beneath Ashton when he let go, and reflexively, the Chevalier sidestepped and put out his arms to catch the falling person, determining that how exactly this situation had come about was something he could figure out later. Needless to say, when he staggered backwards a step, he was quite surprised to find himself looking down at the hunter. Glancing back up at the ceiling of the hall, he shook his head, setting the man down on his feet. "I'm sure I don't want to know," he decided with some amusement.

It was at this point that Nostariel was finally pulled from her vaguely-horrified musings about the way that battle had turned out. She had good reason to detest Darkspawn, but she'd never dream of doing that to them-- of essentially torturing them before they died. She supposed there must be something deeply-painful there, but all the same, she couldn't help but be somewhat upset about it, if for no other reason than the pragmatic: when you left something to die, it wasn't dead, and that meant there was always a chance it could get back up again and hurt someone. The clatter of wood on stone stirred her to action, though, and she glanced over to see what appeared to be Ashton's bow and quiver on the ground some distance from herself. Trotting over, she retrieved these, sure that he would want them again, though not without testing the weight of the bow in her hands.

It was clearly too heavy, but there was something about it that drew her even still. Shaking her head ruefully, she gathered up the loose arrows and replaced them in the quiver, slinging that over her shoulder and padding to where Lucien was setting the man on the ground. The Warden suppressed a giggle at the incongruous sight; it really did say something about the both of them-- the kindness of one and creativity (and small dose of silliness) in the other, maybe.

"My hero," Ashton said, clasping his hands and looking at the chevalier with mock longing. All the jokes aside, the man had just saved him from being a hunter flavored mound on the ground. So there was a hint of genuine thanks in his jest, buried somewhere deep in it. Still didn't make it any less awkward though. "Fair enough," Ashton admitted, "Not sure how I managed to get up there either." Ashton arched his back and pushed, trying to exercise the cramps that had built up while he was in his predictament. With one problem solved, that left the collection of his personal items. He believed his arrows to be all over the place when he turned and saw that Nostariel had collected them.

"Always happy to assist a damsel in distress," Lucien replied, rolling his good eye to the roof of the cave. Shaking his head somewhat, he moved on, following after the Tranquil and the Dalish man who was anything but. More danger yet awaited them, if he had his guess, and he did still manage to enjoy that, most of the time.

A smile formed on the Archer's face, and a teasing was inevitible. "Look at you, already the spitting image of an archer. Bow's a bit large for ya though," He said. He laughed and nodded, accepting the items from the mage before leaning over to whisper in her ear, "As thanks, I'll make you a special one at a time that I deem you ready," He said with a wink, alluding the promise he had made to her earlier. While it may not have been promise in words, Ashton felt as if it was one, and he wasn't the one to go back on promises to friends.

Nostariel coughed slightly, a smidge embarrassed at being caught in her idle little daydreams, but he really did seem serious about the whole thing, and that made her happier than she'd had cause to be in a while. Still, it wouldn't do to forget that they were in the Deep Roads, with a bunch of Darkspawn and some unhappy allies. So she smiled, nodded once, and trailed off after the Chevalier, intent on not being left behind. Not that they would, probably; they did sort of require her presence, at least for now. She wasn't sure if that made things worse or better. Once again, the archer found himself behind the procession. Fair enough, farther away he was from the blighters, the better. As he walked, he dipped low to pick up Sparrow's mace, looking to return it to its rightful owner.

Sparrow, in turn,shrugged her shoulders and retrieved the dreadful hammer-stick from Ashton's proffered hands, with a simpering smile. That Chevalier was interesting enough – how hadn't she noticed him before? Bound by things like honour, nobleness, duty and tightly-knit friendships. Her gaze lingered over his shoulder for a moment, before she offered the archer a demure thanks and strapped the mace back to her hip, following the group at a much leisurely pace.

Varric had gone off ahead after giving a hearty laugh at the scene with Ashton and Lucien, trying to catch up with the Dalish elf who'd gone off ahead of the group. A few scattered darkspawn were found butchered along the way through the winding tunnels, the walls occasionally lined with glowing blue lyrium crystals that lit entire walls a light blue color. After some trek further, the dwarf came upon him, standing at the top of a staircase leading down to a cliffside dropping off into an angry looking lake of lava. His blades were still out, dripping with darkspawn blood. Varric had been about to remind him of the usefulness of caution in a situation like this when he came up beside him, and saw what he was looking at.

At the bottom of the staircase lay perhaps a dozen or more dead darkspawn scattered about in a bloody heap, including one darkspawn ogre who was quite literally frozen in mid charge, glowing white with the magical ice encasing it. At the edge of the cliffside stood a blonde-haired dwarven boy, covered from head to toe in blood, and it didn't look like any of it was his own. Varric looked to Ithilian in surprise. "Did you...?" he began, but Ithilian just shook his head. "Well I'll be a nug's uncle..." Sandal was idly scratching himself in a rather awkward place as Varric began his descent down the stairs. We he noticed the crossbow wielding dwarf and the rest of the group, he gave a bright eyed smile and a simple "'Ello."

Rilien paused for the span of a breath when he came upon the scene Ithilian and Varric were looking at, but no longer. Instead, he continued forward, treading gracefully down the staircase. When he reached the bottom, he stilled, crouching so as to be at eye-level with the dwarf, elbows on his knees, forearms draped at a downward angle. He blinked, just the once, and nodded. "Sandal. Your father is looking for you." Raising one arm, he pointed back in the direction they had come. "You remember how to get back, do you not?" It was hardly a question; Rilien was sure the boy did, in that strange way that he was sure of many things, like precisely when to fold solidifying lyrium or when to reduce the heat on his mana restoratives to give them that pearl-silver tint distinctive to only the ones he made, his maker's mark, as it were.

It didn't mean he understood why, only that. Unlike most people, this was often enough to content him. Rising, Rilien folded his arms into his sleeves, glancing back at the rest briefly, but he would not move until they seemed inclined to it once again.

"How on earth...?" Nostariel was substantially more confused, looking between the dead Darkspawn, the petrified ogre, and the unassuming dwarven lad. Something wasn't adding up here; she'd never seen the like of this situation. Sandal was unarmed and apparently quite docile. How could he have possibly survived an attack of this magnitude?

Sandal ignored Nostariel for the moment, instead looking at the Tranquil elf with a happy smile, holding out one blood spattered arm, which held a small stone engraved with some kind of rune. His fingers grasped only the edge of it, implying that he wished the elf to take it. "Enchantment. Boom!" was all he said.

As if to try and answer Nostariel's confusion, he gestured up at the petrified ogre. "Not enchantment." Seeming content with his own explanation, he started off, heading back the way the group came, and returning to camp. Varric watched him go with an incredulous and very amused face. "Smart boy." Ithilian was perhaps the least affected by the scene, apart from the Tranquil, and was the first to move onwards. "We've still a job to do," he growled.

"Now. I'm not an expert on dwarves or magic..." Ashton began, standing in front of the orge, his arms crossed contemplative. The thing was frozen in its dire charge and looked absolutely terrifying. If it even moved an inch, Ashton wasn't sure if he could reliably contain his bladder. It didn't look like it was moving any time soon, so the evening's water was safe within the confines of his belly. Still, the whole thing was quite curious. "But aren't dwarves incapable of magic? I mean, I've never seen one waddle around weaving spells." Though the novelty the idea was rather fun. "If this was not enchantment, then what was it?" Ashton posed. Alas, it seemed he wouldn't get his answer, and their frontman in the elf apparently had somewhere else to be. Ashton gave the frozen orge one last look over and then trailed behind the elf (at a good distance, of course).

Rilien took the rune curiously, which was to say that he picked it up gingerly and rotated it a few times, inspecting the surface, before tucking it away up one of his sleeves. "Thank you," he told the boy, falling in next to Ashton, he watched blandly as the Warden quickened her stride to surpass them, something akin to determination on her face, until she drew apace with the Dalish. She spoke in tones too low for him to hear, but it sounded vaguely concerned. The Tranquil wasn't sure why she bothered; it seemed much more intelligent to just let him do what he wanted. If he died, that was his own fault, and if not, it was less work for the rest of them. As the Tranquil trotted up beside Ashton, the archer nonchalantly tossed an arm over Rilien's shoulder in a gesture that would have been awkward for anyone else. The Tranquil seemed content to ignore it, and proceeded as though it were not even there.

Nostariel wasn't exactly sure how to ask what she wanted to ask, and the fact that she had to ask Ithilian was only making matters worse. But the fact was, the things he was doing were just as likely to get all of them killed as help anything, and she wasn't about to allow that. "Ithilian," she said quietly, "Is something bothering you? Er, well, aside from..." she waved a hand vaguely behind them, as if to encompass the most salient possibilities: chatter, humans, Ashton specifically... She'd start with that. Command had taught her never to say too much too soon. It ran the risk of wrongly interpreting something, which could inadvertantly shut down the conversation. Still... if she had to pry, she would. The lives of those behind them were worth antagonizing him if she had to.

"I've learned to ignore his voice specifically," Ithilian said, and it was more or less true, as he had to look back to see the shem's arm over the Tranquil elf in order to pick up any part of their stress-inducing conversation. He trusted Nostariel would know who he was talking about. "Other than that, I've a score to settle with the darkspawn, though I'm afraid no amount of physical torment I can inflict upon them will satisfy Elgar'nan. Or me."

His eyes continuously scanned the dark corners, the shadowy halls that could possibly hold more targets for his rage, but none presented themselves to him. He was disappointed. "I've waited some time to obtain some form of vengeance. So yes, something is bothering me."

Nostariel closed her eyes against the images that threatened. She didn't have to know the specifics to understand what he was talking about; the story was all too common. How many people had she met who had lost everything to the Blight? How many more would she meet before they took her, too? Would she... would she ever be the reason someone grew to hold this much hate inside themselves? No, nobody loved her that much anymore, and for that, she supposed she should be glad. Perhaps, perhaps it was this that allowed her to undersand both sides of that particularly-gruesome equation. "Whom did they take from you?" she asked, and her voice, suppressed as it was, still managed to contain within itself a microcosm of raw, hoarse, whispered pain that she expected he'd understand.

She wasn't even sure what prompted the question. His grief was his own, truly, but... maybe not. Maybe it was hers, too, in virtue of something common to them. Maybe it was meant to be shared. Maybe she had no idea, but all she could really remember was that speaking it aloud had helped her, even if just enough. It wasn't just about getting him to exercise caution anymore, whatever else might be the case.

He took a deep breath through his nose, unsure as to why he was sharing this with her. Her status as a Warden didn't demand he relate his life's misery to her, but maybe he wanted her to understand, or maybe he wanted to know if she already understood. "They took my Keeper, Felaris, and Maro, his First" he began. "They took Ariana, Ashallo, Melori, Paivan, Serann, Dagan, and the rest of the hunters. They took those that had not yet earned their vallaslin, and those who were too old to still hunt. They took the craftsmen, the weak and the sick, the warriors strong and swift. They took Adahlen, my wife. And I took Mithra, my daughter."

He hadn't said the names in a long time. It angered him how few of them he could remember. Few names, fewer faces. Two that would never fade. "Butchering the 'Spawn in another country won't bring them back, I know, but the Gods know I have wanted this vengeance. There may not be another chance."

"So many lives," Nostariel murmured. "And so many more, past and future." She kept her eyes fixed resolutely on the path in front of her, unwilling to look elsewhere for the moment. She was no more comfortable speaking of these things than he was, really, perhaps even less. "Of all the people I have ever loved, only one was not taken from me by the Darkspawn, that only because she is prisoner in a Circle. I suppose my family was not mine by blood, but they were by choice, and I was supposed to lead them. The man I loved was taken by their foul blood at the joining, the team I captained by these very pits." She waved a hand, indicating that she spoke of the Deep Roads generally, not this spot specifically.

"They're still buried there, all ten of them. Because I wasn't strong enough to save them, because my magic ran dry and the foul things didn't. The Horde is endless, and when my time comes, I shall have my fill of their deaths. But here, and now, I can only try and keep the people here alive. I promise you, there will be no shortage of chances to kill Darkspawn, but I'm asking you to remember that this need not be your Calling, nor mine, nor anyone else's. I can't make the same mistake twice. A selfish thing, but one I will not give up, all the same." She trusted him to understand what she was asking him to do, but by no means did she have any idea whether he would.

"My life is not your responsibility," he said. He supposed he should have felt... something, at her losses, but it only made him feel like she should understand, and let him do as he wished. "None of those that you lost meant to die. But me? I heard my Calling during the Blight, and only delirium and blood loss let me ignore it. I have wasted away in my anger since then, using anything as an outlet, but I have had enough. I refuse to let my life fade into drink and misery. I will not become that."

His anger was rising, and it was causing him to lose some focus on their surroundings. "I see visions of my daughter in a girl I rescued with Amalia. I can't look at her anymore." At last he decided to stop watching the sides, and turned to look at Nostariel. "All I want is to see them again. I never should have left them."

The pronounced tic in Nostariel's tightly-clenched jaw was perhaps the only giveaway to her reaction, at least at first. Of all the people she'd known to have dealings with Ithilian, Amalia seemed to understand him the best, and so she'd thought to try and handle things as she guessed the Qunari might have, which was calmly, rationally, but not without the bite of exasperation when it was effective. That all sort of evaporated when he successfully managed to say about three of the worst possible things he could ever have said to her, so instead she slapped him.

To her credit, it wasn't particularly forceful, as some still-reasonable part of herself reminded her that she didn't actually want to hurt him. It was quick, though, and sudden, her free hand drawing back and smacking the unscarred side of his face. "So you mean to die, then?" she snapped, her volume drastically increased from a few moments before. "Because you don't want to live as what, me? You're already not me, Ithilian, because you don't even respect their sacrifice enough to live. You think she'd want you to die? To turn away from the things right in front of your face and give up?" Both hands found her staff, and she gripped it white-knuckled, more for the feeling of security than anything else, as it was just beginning to sink in, what she'd done, and she couldn't discount the possibility that he would (perhaps reasonably) retaliate somehow.

"You say you see your daughter somewhere. Why turn from her? I... I only wish I could know what that was like, even for a little while. You failed. I understand, I do. But don't let yourself fail again. See what's in front of you, and take it, and let it be enough, for as long as it can be. I... I'm sorry." She shook herself, tone having lowered to about what it was when she started, and she appeared to be shaking, though not from fear.

Ithilian took the slap without much of a reaction; truth be told, he was starting to get used to people being furious at him for his most recent choices. His lip twitched on the good side as he straightened his head again, using his half-foot or so height advantage to not really look at the Warden. Had he failed? To be honest, he felt as though he didn't. He felt as though there was nothing he could have done. He knew there was nothing he could have done. There were too many of them, for too long, for one elf to make a difference. They hadn't sacrificed themselves for him, they just died... and he should have died there with them.

But he did still draw breath. Maybe... maybe it was worth a look. Maybe he needed more time. His life had been so constructed, so complete, that to have it all torn down... how did one just start again? When it didn't seem that anything could ever be as perfect?

Lucien, who had been watching the discussion with concern, given the distinct body language of both parties, grimaced noticeably when Nostariel's hand drew back. That was... not what he would have expected of her. She was usually very peaceable and calm, if too melancholy. Having heard the story of her lost subordinates on a separate occasion, he knew this place could not be one of any but the foulest memories, but that alone should not have prompted such a reaction, and he was left to assume it was something the man had said. Of course, when she started yelling, he could guess at bits and pieces, and he was beginning to question whether or not he should intervene when things fell relatively quiet again, and he relaxed for all of three seconds before something in the distance caught his attention.

Was that...? Yes, yes, he was quite certain it was. Drawing the scythe from his back, he strapped the shield firmly to his off-hand and ran forward. "Sorry to interrupt," he called as he brushed past them, "But that's a dragon. Rilien?" He automatically turned his head to check his blind side for the Tranquil, a practiced gesture that he'd fallen back into without so much as needing to consider it. He need not have looked, for Rilien was already there, blades drawn and keeping pace with the Chevalier easily.

"I am here," he said simply.

Surprisingly, Ashton flanked the Tranquils other side, arrow already nocked. As he passed Nostariel and Ithilian, his offer was less polite and more curt, "Eyes up, company." While Darkspawn and ogres managed to send shivers down his spine, the sight of the dragon managed to draw out the hunter like nothing else could. The grandest of prey, the most legendary of hunts, a dragon stood before him. No hunter without his pride would pass up a chance to hunt such a magnficent beast. He only wished his uncle could see him now. A grin plastered his face as he thought of all the things he could do with the hide and bones of a dragon. But first, he'd have to survive the fight, and to do that, he'd have to kill the thing. A fair trade if there ever was one.

His pace suddenly slacked, dropping back behind the Chevalier and the Tranquil, and he darted to the right, slipping out of view in a gout of Shadow's smoke.

Ithilian noted the dragon before returning his gaze to Nostariel. He clearly wanted to say something, but there was simply no time. Perhaps the anger in his eye when he sheathed his blade and Parshaara in favor of his bow would say what he wanted.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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The dragon didn't come alone. It floated to the ground atop a raised pavilion flanked by stairs on either side, wings draping over the edges. Its neck extended out over the edge, taking a brief moment to survey the group that had stumbled into its lair, before the mouth opened, revealing wickedly sharp and deadly fangs. More importantly, it unleashed a gout of flame in a thick cone in front of it, hoping to either separate the party to the left and right, or otherwise cook them alive. To the sides, small hordes of dragonlings descended upon them, monsters the size of mabari war hounds, with just as powerful a bite.

Ithilian experienced an immediate internal battle, a direct result of the words Nostariel had stung him with. Whatever his reasoning, his blades were sheathed, his bow in his hands instead, a swift roll carrying out of the way of the fire and off to the right of the room instead. No sooner had he returned to his feet than an arrow was drawn and loosed, aimed for the dragon's mouth. The fact that the beast's fire attack was cut short and the head recoiled back spoke to his accuracy. If he had wanted to die, then this was a pretty poor start.

If anyone appeared to be suicidal in this mad rush, it was probably Lucien, he who ducked to one side of the gout of dragonflame and propelled himself further forward still, of a mind to keep it quite focused on him. He'd had to, as he always did, resist the urge to either give or wait for orders, but if any part of his reckless abandon remained, it was this: present him with a challenge, and he'd not leave it unanswered. He was pretty sure challenges didn't get much bigger than this. Maybe some other varieties of dragon, but that was really it.

And damn it all, the fire was in his bones already, searing along his skin almost as though the dragon had hit him instead of missing. But of course, this was something less painful and more galvanizing, though admittedly sometimes the difference still became hard to distinguish. A shout and a lunge, and he shouldered into the thing's foreleg with all the momentum he had. It didn't do much damage, but it certainly earned him the beast's attention, and for now, at least, it left off the attempts at cooking the lot of them and swiped at him with the other front paw, a blow which he just managed to block in time, throwing up his shield and bending at the knees. The force of it took him almost to the ground, but his sense of balance and innate sturdiness kept him upright, and he smiled, pushing off the rebound in his legs and swiping at its head with the scythe, catching it a glancing blow on the snout as the crude blade skittered off the scales there.

If it was going to pierce anything, it would have to be the underbelly, an eye, or the inside of its mouth. For now, though, he was freeing up the rest to act as they would.

Rilien faithfully tracked Lucien's shadow until the Chevalier drew within range of the dragon, then veered sharply off to the left. While the opportunity was presented, he fully intended to cut down the small ones. They could be fatal enough if they wound up underfoot, and the dragon itself would take time to slay. He had no care for what was more glorious or made for a better story; his only concern was with keeping himself and a certain subset of this group alive.

Two fell to a brutal double-attack, his blades held out to each side as he tore past them, slipping between and successfully decapitating the pair. Their necks were thin things, and their scales had not the resistance of the larger one. This, he would captialize upon, and he took the left side of the dragon, leaving the right for now, aware that whatever his skills might be, he was most effective when focusing his attention. Reversing grip on both knives, he plunged them with a dull thunk into the spine of the next, tearing them free and stepping away as several more surrounded him. Wide arcs of brilliant red spattered from the ends of the steel, creating whip-lines blood upon the stone. Inside a small circle of dragonlings, Rilien vanished, reappearing behind the largest of these, stepping upon its arched back with one foot and cutting off the shrill mewling sound with a slash to the back of the neck. One tried to jump for him, and he gutted it, opening a line from clavicle to pelvis, shaking the next off his foot with a well-placed kick. Its teeth had dug into his ankle, but that was of no concern. Unlike a wyvern, there was nothing poisonous about these.

In fact, compared to a wyvern hunt, this was of little concern at all. Unfortunate that the same could not be said for the creature the others dealt with at present.

Varric was the last one into the room, and as such the initial burst of fire had dissipated by the time he entered the fight proper. His crossbow firmly in hand he darted to the right, following the path of the Dalish hunter, albeit slightly behind him. The dragon was a pressing threat, yes, but others were more properly equipped to handle it for the moment, or perhaps simply just to distract it, which was really what they needed so that they could deal with these smaller ones first. To that end, Varric ran by Ithilian and tapped him lightly on the shoulder, before pointing clearly towards the rushing group of dragonlings on the right side. "Go. Bianca and I will set them up for you."

Ithilian had almost asked who Bianca was, before deciding that there was really no time for the dwarf to answer. He obeyed, putting his bow away and drawing his Dalish blades. Parshaara would likely not be as useful here, considering a dragon's natural resistance to fire. His own weapons would suffice. Deciding to give the dwarf a chance, he charged headlong towards the cluster of creatures. Just in time a crossbow bolt shot past his side and exploded in the middle of the group, killing the one that it had hit in a most gruesome fashion, and stunning the others briefly, which was the opening Ithilian needed.

His anger was something different, his attack merciless and unrelenting, swift and brutal. The first two he simply removed of their heads, but some of the others had almost returned to their senses, and he adjusted, sidestepping the first lunging, snapping jaw and plunging both blades into the chest of another, ripping them from not a moment later when he was certain he'd punctured the heart, and turning on the one that had attacked him. It made a second jump at him, and he put both blades up in an X, catching the neck in the middle and stopping the teeth inches from his throat. A simple slice later it too had no head.

They were coming together as a group now, a dragonling attaching its teeth into his left bicep while another jumped at him from the front. He impaled the frontal attacker as it came in, using a foot to shove it off the blade, before lifting his left arm, and the dragonling with it, at least enough to expose the underside of its body. He drove his right blade just under the chin and cut down, opening it from throat to belly and dropping it to the floor before he jumped back to put some space between him and the remaining dragonlings.

Rapture-Sparrow had once again abandoned her mace by the entrance of the den, preferring to throw her lot in with Nostariel and send jagged ice-bolts through the air with unaccountable precision, impaling her first target straight through it's reptilian skull. It's brain matter, scales and blood, splattered backwards, on a nearby rock, where the ice-bolt had shattered in a floe of hail. Her aim was impeccable, but she still managed to hurl them disconcertingly close her companions. It wouldn't have surprised her if errant strands of hair were blown askew from the momentum of her projectiles, embedding themselves into their targets before she flit off to the side, gracefully ducking behind larger rocks and concentrating on whichever opponents were closest – but some idea had come to her as icicles accumulated in her palms, one that was much more entertaining than simply aiding and playing her part in this tiddly group. Her footsteps slowed to a halt and she smiled demurely, concentrating her now-empty hand behind her back, where it swirled with darker, malicious energy.

This energy did not belong to Sparrow – she had no gifts in the darker arts, nor had she ever tried her hand at it. It was the same as her mediocre abilities in healing; non-existent by all accounts. Her eyes trailed after Rilien and Lucien taking up the front, falling into a comfortable rhythm that could only mean that they'd done this before. Ithilian was elsewhere, tying up the dragon by firing arrow's into its gaping mouth. The human apostate, alone against the world, and she can feel it inside her, the darkness, the familiar pulling from the other side of the Veil. Her scars are razor-thin, like careful cuts that haven't had time to heal. Her uncertainty tells her many things. Deep cuts, whip cuts. She would make her remember. For her, Rapture-Sparrow cast a potent Waking Nightmare. She was sure to duck behind large boulders to hide her intent as the inky energy left her fingers, spiralling through a nearby dragonlings fire and dipping around it to reach Nostariel. She danced away with an unbounding giddiness, throwing the occasional bolts of ice before slipping away from sight. For the angry one, the one who shook with rage and vengeance, Rapture-Sparrow cast Disorient. If she was lucky, it would cause him to stumble, to make mistakes he wouldn't make under normal circumstances.

None of her little tricks would work on Rilien, but she could apply Weakness to his legs, which she did in quick succession. Sparrow, annoyingly enough, had begun to pound loudly on her walls, on her mindscape's birdcage. How deep were the Chevalier's scars? Did they run jagged and crooked, tangled with knots? Her voice whispered soothingly in her mind, reminding Sparrow that it had been her decision after all. It's easy, it's just a little more, she'll protect her. It won't hurt. Of course, it wouldn't. She was her mother, her sister, her lover, her friend; someone she knew, someone she could trust. Her voice was bright, clear, almost familiar. Those ineffectual fists ignored her soothing words, unmasking her hate, her fear. She promptly ignored it and added Ashton and Lucien to the list of Waking Nightmare recipients. Again, she skipped away behind the rocks, hands once again brought in front of her so she could resume her glacial assault on the remaining dragonlings. She remained dutifully ineffective, watching expectantly; jubilant.

Adrenaline flooded his system, the exhilarition puckering his skin. Ashton had never felt more alive, more in tune with himself than he did while he hunted. And, well, there was no greater hunt than that of a dragon. when he tore off from the flanks of Rilien and Lucien, he darted to the right and ran along the side of the wall. So intent was he on the prize in front of his eyes, he had forgotten that perhaps the scaley fellow brought along a couple of his friends. It came as a shocking surprise when his hunt shifted from the big dragon, to a smaller dragon. Even so, neither his himself nor his heart skipped a beat. He was still concealed by the shadows, and as such the dragonling didn't notice Ashton until the man vaulted over the reptile. A stutter in his step paused him as he swung his bow around and drilled an arrow into the base of it's skull.

Another shot of adrenaline coarsed through his system at the knowledge of a clean kill, but the hunter is a careful being, and another arrow punched right next to it's sister. He had never hunted dragon before, and it was better safe than sorry, plus he did not want to chance leaving the creature in undue pain. For all of the hunter's precaution and attention to detail in the hunt, the dragonling was not in the center of his mind, but rather the big scaley one currently engaged in close-quarters combat with the Chevalier. Say what he would about the man's astounding sense of honor, Ashton had to admit the man had the bravery befitting the title of knight.

Still, if there was a fire in the Chevalier's bones, then Ashton's entire skeleton was an incinerating inferno. Deer, wolves, bear, none of them had anything over a dragon. A marvelous hunter in it's own right. The only thing was that they didn't have the honor to fight it out one on one, though with the dragon's friends and his own, Ashton figured they'd even out somewhat. A powerful kick sent him propelling out of his stutter and into another run. Though he was no longer hidden by the shadows, he could easily dodge what he had too. He just had to think of the dragonlings as trees and he'd be able to slip right around them.

A spiral around one gaping maw and a swift kick to another put him past the Dragonlings and into a direct line of sight with his prey. He was in no better position either, broadside of the dragon, with ample opportunity to pick and choose his spots. A wide, wild grin spread across. First, along the neck, then around the heart, then he'd finish it off with a volley to the head. Ashton would have to be careful, else he risk hitting the Chevalier. But he was an archer, a hunter rivalling even the Dalish with them. He wouldn't miss. How could he? He drew back to enact this plan before something tugged at his mind at the back of his mind, draining all enthusiam he had. It was so sudden, so unexpected, that the arrow flew wide of it's intended mark and fell toward Lucien.

The world around him drained in color as everything slowed down. The dragon and it's ilk shifted into something more sinister, unexplainable monsters. It was no longer a dragon hunt, a dream for the hunter, but rather a waking nightmare. He was alone now, a child once more, facing down scores of these faceless monsters. Darkspawn, demons, unnatural things, and even Qunari bared down on him. He was alone to face the coming darkness again. It was only the ingrained instincts learned over many years that kept him on his feet. "No, no, no, no!" He cried, frozen in his spot, unable to escape his nightmare.

At around the same time as Ashton's shot veered wide, Rilien experienced what he considered to be even more surprising (in that dull way that he was capable of feeling surprise at all). Mid-step, on his way over to reinforce Lucien by pestering the dragon's flanks, his left leg gave out from underneath him, sending him spilling to the ground. Tucking into a neat roll, the Tranquil nevertheless had to struggle to regain his footing, and there was no immediately-obvious cause for it, which meant of course that there could only be one cause. But dragons, fearsome as they might have been, were not the kind of beings who could cast magic, and Rilien surveyed his surroundings with new attention. Ashton, Lucien and Nostariel, all of whom were within his line of sight, seemed frozen in place by something, and though he could not tell what had happened to the dwarf or the Dalish man, it didn't matter. With the Warden out of the running, there was only one party who could possibly be responsible for this.

He was too far away to stop the arcing arrow, and that alone was enough to cause a bubble of frustration to rise to the surface. Setting his teeth, he was making for that thing that inhabited Sparrow's body when several shrieks from behind him alerted him to the presence of more dragons. And not simple dragonlings, either: these were a bit more grown, somewhere between infants and drakes. With the state the others were in now, he had no choice, and though the slightest of unfriendly sneers lifted his upper lip in Rapture's direction, he turned anyway, treading with a studied, careful lightness back into the fray. He was no puppet, no thrall, no matter how wilful the puppeteer. His weakness would be ignored, compensated for, mastered, made irrelevant.

But even as his knife flayed into the toughened scales of the first to approach, he knew this was not something he could accomplish alone.

Though Nostariel was not, whatever she might seem, generally a weak-minded individual, it was not difficult for the waking nightmare to overtake her senses. What had been before was already so close to the visions that haunted her dreams, that the changes required to bespell her were only slight. The setting was exactly the same, and the reinforcements that arrived to aid the dragon were plausible if unreal. The difficult part was convincing her that the people around her were falling to it, and that, she'd seen before.

The Tranquil, Rilien, was the first to fall, blindsided by a mighty sweep of the dragon's tail, which plastered him to a cavern wall, from which he fell into a knot of Darkspawn, the likes of which tore him apart limb by limb. Ithilian was overcome by a wave of them, and she turned from that, unable to watch. Sparrow beside her caught an arrow in the neck, and try as she might, Nostariel could dredge up no more healing magic. She felt drained dry, exhausted as she'd only been once before. To her right some distance, Varric swore softly under his breath, catching a bolt of lightning from an emissary for his trouble. Lucien, valiant Lucien, fell next, opening up a grievous wound in the dragon only to be crushed between its jaws, shaken like rags in that maw of a mabari. Nostariel lost her footing, crashing to her knees and looking about for the only other person still alive.

Only to wish she hadn't. The angered beast fell upon the hunter last of all, biting down on his arm with a sickening crunch and tearing the limb from its socket. Its forepaw pinned the bleeding hunter to the stone, and slowly, too slowly, it repeated the process with his other arm, then a leg. It was small comfort that he must have been dead by that point, but if it was, she didn't feel it. All she felt was raw, bare pain, because this was exactly what some part of her had always known would happen. She wasn't strong enough to stop it then, and what had she accomplished since? Nothing, unless one counted an addiction and a sorry attempt at forgiving herself. No, they'd died then, and they died now, and if her luck held, she'd somehow survive this too, even though the Maker knew she didn't deserve it.

Lucien, still in front of the dragon, had been carefully-focused on it, concentrating on blocking or moving around its blows as much as possible. It didn't seem keen to use its flames where it may yet scorch its weaker kin, even if they would be more resistant than the average human. This, he could not decide about. On the one hand, he knew he should be counting his blessings. On the other... it was almost a little disappointing. If he was to dance with a dragon, he wanted it to be with a real dragon, a dragon using everything it had.

When the spell hit Lucien, his vision swam for a moment, and the Chevalier blinked rapidly, trying to clear his vision. At the corner of his eye, he could see whispers of fabric, gossamer and silk, but a quick turn of his head proved that there was no matching image to be seen. Clenching his teeth, he resolved to ignore it, rotating his field of vision to face the dragon again, only to find that there was now another person standing between it and him. The silk proved to belong to a deep blue dress, edged in silver, adorning the thin (too thin) figure of a lovely woman. Auburn curls fell about her shoulders and spilled down her back, her lips tilted upwards in a gentle smile. The lady held her hands clasped in front of her, looking at him with steady eyes with a hint of sadness to them.

"Oh Lucien," she sighed, the words tinged with melancholy, "Is he all that lives in you now? Have I been so swiftly forgotten?"

"What on earth?" the mercenary muttered, transfixed. There was no way the vision was real- of that he was certain. But what dragon could show him such a true likeness of his mother? It was sorcery, surely. Lucien's nightmares had never been of things that occurred on the field of battle. Combat was not just his occupation, it was his very lifestyle, and to it, he had been born, bred, and reared, in a way that few have the opportunity to replicate. Certainly, this came with downsides, but a weak will was not one of them, and he shook himself again. "Begone, mirage; I've not the patience to tarry here." He'd been doing something important, he knew he had. Something that he'd been enjoying, no less. Why couldn't he quite remember?

The figment opened it's mouth to speak again, but he was done listening, and advanced forward, straight through it, causing the apparition to disappear with a pained cry. This, he did flinch at, and scowled when it triggered a memory, but he knew that for what it was, and did not drown in it. He would have, once, but no longer. His pause left him vulnerable, though, and Ashton's wayward arrow struck him, by sheer bad luck catching in the relatively-unarmored spot between his collarbone and shoulder muscle. Lucien's breath left him in a hissed exhale, and his shield arm slackened involuntarily, giving the dragon the opening it had been seeking. A great forepaw slipped under his guard and pinned him, dragging the knight to the ground in a great clatter of steel plates.

Well, that certainly explained what he'd been doing, and the knight smiled sardonically despite himself. The dragon loomed over him, its great gusts of breath hot and sticky. Still, the unfortunate predicament drew only a breathy chuckle from the Chevalier. If his father could see him now, he'd be shouting at him not to be such an easily-distracted idiot. It was all right, though, because he was far from helpless, even like this. Tightening his hold on his scythe, Lucien waited, regulating his breathing as much as possible so that the beast would not simply crush the air out of him with its great weight. It seemed disinclined to do so, though the large inhale it took told him he was finally going to get that fire he wanted. Its jaws parted, mouth gaping wide.

Maybe now was a good time to give this a shot, then. Heaving with both arms, Lucien flung his scythe with all his strength, hurling it and pushing up against the clawed arm holding him simultaneously. The dragon reflexively pressed down harder, and so his attempt to free himself failed, but the more important half of this plan didn't, and the polearm found its way into the reptilian's throat, choking off the flow of flames. Unfortunately, the reflex to close its mouth was much less useful, and the thing roared with pain when the scythe-blade embedded itself into its soft palate. The resultant gout of hot blood spilled over its teeth, a good portion of the fluid landing on the knight, who felt about two of his ribs snap when the dragon stepped on him to push off, taking again to the air and wheeling erratically.

"Ouch," Lucien muttered, slowly pushing himself to his feet. Gathering his legs beneath him, he shifted his shield to his good arm and took hold of the arrow, tearing it from his flesh as quickly as he was able. That was no Darkspawn implement, if indeed any were even around. He honestly had no idea how someone with aim like Ashton's had shot him unless intentionally, but he didn't have much time to contemplate. That dragon was going to land sooner or later, and as the majority of the group seemed to be... indisposed, he needed to be there when it landed. Rilien seemed to be fine, though, and Ithilian at least was moving, as was Varric. Nostariel was on the ground, and Ashton not really moving, though. "Can you keep the smaller ones off her?" he asked of Varric regarding the Warden. He had a feeling more than a few of them (himself definitely included), were going to need her help when this was all over. With confirmation, Lucien jogged off after the dragon, albeit with considerably less speed than he'd had at first charge. Battles were often long; this one seemed little different.

Nostariel's vision of Ithilian falling was not far flung from reality; the Dalish elf was about the cut down another when he struck with a powerful bout of dizziness, and his attack veered right, missing entirely. The dragonling jumped freely onto his chest, teeth snapping at his face as claws tried to dig into leather for purchase. He tumbled over backwards, managing to keep the roll going and push the dragon off of him, but his brain was having difficulty working at the capacity needed, and at some point he lost hold of his blades, clattering somewhere among the reptilian bodies. The world was more or less upside down (or perhaps he was upside down), when he was attacked from behind, a larger one seizing the opportunity.

He struggled over, snatching Parshaara and driving it into dragon flesh as close as he could find it. That took care of one claw, but the other raked across his face, thankfully on the side already maimed. His cap fell away, blood leaking down to the empty eye socket. The dragon snapped down with teeth towards his neck, but even spinning as the world was, Ithilian could not miss this strike. Rage allowed him to push through, see clearly when it counted. Dragons did not work magic, and so this had come from another source. He'd seen no darkspawn about, so he was left to suspect one of their own. He'd made up his mind that the Warden was right. This was not the time, nor the place. He would not fall here. Not while there were still things within his power to set right.

The drake lunged down with an open mouth, right on top of Parshaara, the dagger sinking into the soft flesh of the throat, from which Ithilian twisted the blade and ripped upwards towards the brain. A long pair of claws sank into his side as he did so, and Ithilian roared in response, ending the beast's life and shoving it off of him, taking the claws with it. He sucked in a breath, turned to face the next dragon that would attack him, only to find it impaled by a crossbow bolt. He turned to see Varric giving a small salute, before turning and firing another bolt off to the left.

"Can do," the dwarf replied to the Chevalier, the majority of his cheer gone, which was not surprising considering the current state of the party. His eyes and hands were set to the task, unloading bolt after bolt into any dragonlings that approached.

Ithilian had shakily made his way to his feet, resisting the remaining effects of the spell. The dragonlings were being taken care of as best as they could be, at least on his side. Perhaps there were more elsewhere. Still, it seemed there were more pressing concerns. He looked to the state of their healer, cowering on her knees towards the rear, the dwarf keeping guard. It took all his attention to do so. The Keeper Ithilian had been raised under, Felaris, had employed Entropic magic on many occasions, it being his preferred school, and as such it did not take Ithilian long to recognize the effects. How many shemlen had he seen cower under the terror of their own nightmares?

He half-jogged, half stumbled until his stood in front of her, at which point he went to a knee, one hand clutching his side, while the other bloody hand took a firm grip of Nostariel's jaw, forcing her to look at him. He meant for his voice to be steady and clear, but there was no doubt that his anger seeped into it. "Warden!" he shouted to her, trying to command her attention. "Nostariel, listen to me. I have decided that I am not dying here. That was your doing. But so help me, if I bleed to death now, the Dread Wolf and I will hunt you to the ends of the earth!" He ended by backhanding her with his free hand, hard enough to be painful. He'd observed that the best method for helping those under Entropic magic was to simply shock them out. "Now get up!"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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A sudden, stinging pain cleared some of the fog from Nostariel's mind, and the Warden blinked rapidly, trying to see properly. Ithilian's face, bloody and haggard but very much alive was the first thing she saw, and she quickly held up a hand to prevent another blow. "I... probably deserved that. Or at least needed it. Right." Pushing herself unsteadily to her feet, the elf tested her newly-regained senses on her surroundings, trying to figure out what was going on. Judging from the state of things, Ithilian wasn't the only injured party, as Lucien appeared to be so as well, even from this distance. Unless she was mistaken, he was also unarmed, and heading towards the dragon, which had taken flight for some reason. For a moment, she entertained the thought that he was currently as delusional as she had been, but then maybe not.

Ashton certainly was, if his current state was anything to go by. Rilien was still carving his way through a knot of dragonlings and a drake, if with a little more care than she would have expected. "Okay," she said, as much to herself as Ithilian. "I'm going to start healing, but I can't do anything about the entropic spells. Can you... will you go snap Ashton out of it, please? I'd prefer not to be shot." Calling the blue-green light of a group heal to her hands, she spared that idea the thought it deserved and winced. "Please don't break anything if you can avoid it." Where those two were involved, it was probably best to err on the side of caution, right?

Rilien, for his part, shook off the lingering effects of the weakness spell even as he was healed of what injuries he'd managed to accumulate, which wasn't many yet. Still, everything helped, even if he'd always be somewhat uncomfortable being healed by such means as these. The last dragonling in his way, he kicked several meters into the air, feeling its ribcage snap under the pressure, but he didn't waste the time necessary to end it any more quickly than that, instead darting off after the Chevalier and the dragon, which appeared to now be searching for the best angle from which to maul the man. Drawing up alongside the much taller man, Rilien wordlessly offered one of his Dalish knives, reaching into his boot to pull out a replacement for himself. Not nearly as long, and straight-bladed rather than curved, it nevertheless would prove a decent compliment due to the ice-enchanment on it.

Glad to see his own method of treatment had worked, Ithilian stood with the Warden and nodded his understanding of what she'd just asked him to do. Normally he would have avoided the human hunter entirely, but he supposed if he had to interact with him, this was his preferred method of doing so. Keeping his head down so as to avoid drawing attention, either from any dragons or from Ashton himself, the Dalish hunter made his way over to him, coming at him from the side, only coming to full height when he was within arm's reach. With his left hand he snatched the hunter's bow arm, pulling the weapon down and away from threatening anyone else, while his right hand cocked back. He slammed a fist across Ashton's jaw, probably not hard enough to break it. "Shem! Pull yourself together, or the next one will hurt much worse." Oh, and it would. "And don't whine to the Warden. She ordered it."

The screaming emptyness of nothing echoed through his mind. He was a child again, all alone, and all around him the faces of monsters stared down at him, featureless lips snarling in cruel delight of his suffering. Ashton couldn't move, and even if he could, where would he go? There was nothing, only darkness around him. He felt the life leave his legs as the trembled, his skin prickled no in excitement this time, but fear. His nightmares were of loneliness and of monsters, and it opressed him. Though, even in this nightmare, a fire still burned. The fear could not take that away from him. Ashton was not weak of mind, nor weak of will. He didn't have walls set up in his mind to protect him, he wore his emotions raw. A nightmare may have taken ahold of these emotions, but he could fight out of it. The hunter would have his hunt.

He tried to force his legs to move, if only to run. But they were stuck, unresponsive. His muscles strained in protest at the unwanted action. He wasn't going to win this battle physically, that much was blaringly obvious. But he needed to move, to get away. To run. Some part of him was disgusted by this, by his desire to run. It felt like all he'd done in his entire life, was run. He ran from home, he ran away then, and he'd try to run away now. Somewhere that spark lit something inside the hunter. No, not to run. He couldn't run. He didn't know why, but it didn't feel right. Something was keeping him tethered. He'd have to face the monsters, and this loneliness.

Loneliness... Was he truly alone any more? Wasn't there someone else? Weren't there others with him? Where were they now? They were somewhere in the darkness. He needed to go find them. If he was alone, then it was by his own choice. No longer, he needed to move. With that, his legs finally began to move of their own accord. At least they were, until a rough hook to the jaw brought him completely out of it. The shadows and monstrous faces melted away until Ithilian and he remained. The dragon still lived, and that brought back the earlier excitement, but this time tempered with a bit of anger. Was he truly so weak as to fall for something like that? Whatever the hell it was. His lip quivered in irritation as his eyes darted between the Dalish and the dragon.

Ashton's eye then went to the Dalish's one. "What are you still standing around for? There's prey to be hunted." He stated, what jovial tone usually in his tone freshly bled dry. With that, he darted past the Dalish, drawing an arrow and planned to enact the series of steps he had practiced before the whole nightmare deal. They'd deal with the dragon, then wonder what the hell happened, though Ashton already had a couple of suspicions. A conversation with Rilien was in the near future.

But for now, the dragon. He would not miss again.

Ithilian turned to watch him go, honestly a little disappointed. If the shem was still feeling any effects of the spell after the fight, the Dalish hunter would be more than willing to knock them out of his head. For now, he contented himself with adding arrows to the cause of helping bring down the dragon.

Meanwhile, Lucien was keeping a careful eye on the dragon, aided now by a powerful wave of energy that washed over him like warm ocean water, repairing his broken ribs and closing the wound created by the arrowhead. Nostariel. Clearly the Warden was back in working order, and for that, he was most grateful indeed. He was preoccupied enough that he almost didn't notice Rilien appear beside him, quiet and businesslike as ever. The offer was not one the Tranquil would make lightly, extra knife or not, and Lucien found himself honored by it, accepting the dagger with an incline of his head. "I daresay it's much larger than an ogre, but I think a similar principle applies, do you not?" he asked of his friend, testing the balance of the steel in his hand.

It was considerably lighter than the weapons he was used to hefting, though sturdy enough as far as daggers went, and he had no doubt that Rilien kept his steel deadly-sharp. A cry overhead alerted them to the impending landing of the dragon, and Lucien inhaled deeply, tightening his grip and readying his shield. This, despite the unfortunate circumstances which surrounded it, was still exactly where he wanted to be just now, and he flashed a half-cocked smile at the Tranquil. "What say you, Rilien? Once more, for old times' sake?" He referred to a type of strategy the two of them had often employed in tandem, and surely it would be a worthy trial to test it against such a creature as this.

Rilien's eyes tracked the dragon's progress, ducking slightly as it swooped by overhead, banking sharply and coming in to land. Tlting his head to one side, the Tranquil pondered the question. His answer, such as it was, was to disappear, sticking fast to the Chevalier's shadow, an invisible friend that flitted through the dark to emerge only when it became necessary. This was something at which they were long practiced, and so when Lucien moved forward to meet the dragon, Rilien followed, matching pace automatically so as to remain unseen, not even an odd flicker in the darkened alter-self the nobleman cast upon the stone.

There was something at once eerie and reassuring, knowing that your shadow was just as deadly as you were. On the one hand, he feared no attack from behind, but on the other... one learned to be perhaps too cautius when one knew what people like Rilien were capable of. He'd thought himself a wary man before he ever met the elf. Now, he was more inclined to laugh at the fool he'd been then, and all the different ways he could have gotten himself killed in his folly. Well, not today, at any rate. The dragon raked a forepaw horizontally over the ground, and the knight jumped, clearing the passing limb with surprising room to spare. Landing solidly, he slashed with the dagger, scoring a thin line in the exposed elbow-joint, but the creature recovered far too quickly for more than that, withdrawing the limb and snapping at him.

Lucien bashed it in the snout with his shield, fending off the sharpened ivory teeth. It was clearly cautious of staying too close to him for too long, perhaps because his last weapon was still stuck in the roof of its mouth. Either way, he pressed it to his advantage, managing to push the dragon back a step and onto the defensive as, bolstered by the confidence that he was well-protected from behind, Lucien went on the offensive.

With Lucien fully engaging the beast, it was left to Rilien only to wait, biding his time with a patience that perhaps represented a distinct advantage of his condition. Other people were of dispositions emotional enough that they would act as soon as they saw a friend in danger, or an opening to attack. The Tranquil knew it was best to trust that Lucien would take care of himself, and pass up inconsequantial opportunities to wait for the larger one, the one that would end things most fatally for the opponent.

He was back into the fight, and this time, Ashton would not let his prey escape. As soon as he pushed past Ithilian, he hid in the shadows once again. This time around though, instead of the protective feeling he normally got, the cloak of darkness felt heavy and oppressive. The memory of his waking nightmare was still fresh, but he wouldn't allow it to drive his hands in legs. As the dragon landed and resumed the assault on both Lucien and Rilien, it revealed an opening for him to take. He stopped his dead sprint and cut to the side, attempting to get behind the dragon. He knew the Chevalier and the Tranquil enough to know they could take whatever the dragon dished out. Even so, he wouldn't allow just them to have all the fun. This was just as much his hunt as it was theirs.

Ashton approached the dragon at an angle, the space between the length of its tail and its hind leg his target. Instead of pelting the spot with arrows though, he did something else. He jumped, kicking off some of its scales and bringing him along its back. He pointed his bow at his feet and drew, sending the arrow point blank into it's spine. At a range, the arrow wouldn't do near as much damage as it would if he was mere feet away. Trusting Lucien to take enough heat for him to finish his run, he began to move along the dragon's spine, firing as many arrows as fast as he could, adding a line of fletching to go along nicely with it's spiney scale.

The run took all of a few seconds, but the damage was done. As he approached the base of it's serpintine neck, he pegged it a trio of times before jumping off of it's neck and be subject to it bucking him off. He landed less than gracefully, sprawling out for a moment before snatching his bow up and flipping on to his back. While his run was done, the onslaught was not. Arrow after arrow flew over the heads of Lucien and Rilien, perhaps helping the duo in bringing the creature down. "When this is over... I'm taking one of its bones as a... trophy," Ashton stated between arrows.

Rapture's efforts proved quite fruitless, as she watched them, one-by-one, shake themselves out of the nightmarish, weakened stupor she'd deceptively cast over them, only briefly returning Rilien's baleful glare with one of her own coquettish smirks before she danced away from them, away from the dragons and dragonlings to gather her bearings. Her vision was already blinking out like extinguished lights, blown out candles. She would not be able to hold this husk as long as she hoped, but this was enough, she thought. Sparrow's bard-companion understood what she was capable of doing and of whom she was capable of hurting. Would he hurt the shell she inhabited to save his friends? A wracking cough spluttered from her chest, in which she hunched over, coughing into her hand until it passed. She admired the fine speckling of blood webbing constellations across her opened palms. Sparrow's hooting howls grew more fluent, louder and more insistent. She'd found a small chink in whatever barrier, in whatever corner of the Fade she'd been bound and she was hammering wildly at it, as if she still held her mace.

She traced Ithilian's movements with her narrowed eyes, watched as his fist collided with Ashton's jawline and couldn't help laugh. That one was interesting enough – though hardly manipulable given his temperament, she'd have no luck swaying him to any of his desires unless she promised to wipe nearly all humans off the planet, or perhaps offer revenge. Vengeance, it seemed, was one of the most potent things she could offer. Rapture licked her lips, then jumped once more into the fray, utilizing her ice-bolts and weaving around the adolescent-dragons, slipping between their clumsy, thick legs and hopping over their swinging tails. It was only when she reached Lucien and Rilien's flank that her footsteps slowed, suddenly wooden and awkward. Her limbs were going numb, spreading down her knees, ankles, elbows and fingers. The mass of ice she'd been holding slipped awkwardly from her bloody palms, crashing around her feet. With one final strain of exertion, as if she were gripping a craggy ledge, Rapture stumbled away from the fight and slipped behind a small nook of rocks where she wouldn't readily be crushed by any wayward dragons.

She still needed this body, after all. Having her be squished underneath such an unintelligent creature's foot would've been insulting. She slumped unceremoniously against the rocks, hardly feeling the boulder dig into her shoulders, her spine. Her back arched, sending her sprawling on the ground – and even then, Rapture was satisfied. She'd done more than she thought she could in such a short span of time. Her grip released, though she relished the brief glimpses of the cave fizz away in an array of wriggling worms. Sparrow had escaped her Fade-prison, and was pushing her way back, called by the sounds of battle, by the guilt of what she'd done in her absence. Her muscles quivered in protest, stuck in momentary stasis; elbows and legs propped up at weird angles, before they plopped back down. Sparrow was breathing now, could feel her chest rising and falling – could feel her fingers grating against the rocks, she was back.

Nostariel, occupied mostly with flinging ice at the dragon from behind the main line, noted Sparrow's erratic behavior with some confusion. It wasn't lost on her that the only other being around here capable of casting any kind of entropic magic would have to be him, but she did not want to jump to conclusions about what had happened, or almost happened. Instead, she flung a separate healing spell at the slender man, hoping that whatever was going on was something he would be able to resolve in time.

Rilien felt the shift in the magic surrounding his cohabitant with an imperceptible slackening of some tension across the line of his shoulders, and refocused quite quickly on the matters before him. Ashton's antics along the dragon's spine had not taken it down by any means, but they had clearly hurt it, and the same could be said of the magic, arrows, and crossbow bolts flying from beind. Lucien was actually forcing it to retreat with the aggression of his advance, and Rilien moved forward with him, still awaiting the perfect opportunity.

It came, as fate would have it, when a well-placed arrow struck the creature in the side of the head, embedding itself in the snout. The dragon roared and thrashed, lowering its head to its paw and forcing the head of the thing from its face. As though he'd known how to do it all his life, Rilien shifted, tapping Lucien on the shoulder with the pommel of his knife, signaling the impending maneuver. Lucien felt it, and smiled, readjusting himself so that he fell into a crouch, shield held just over his head, planting himself solidly upon the ground so as not to come off-balance. The Tranquil backed up a few paces, then darted forward, planting a foot first on the Chevalier's hunched back, and then landing square in the center of the shield.

Once he felt the burden of the elf's weight shift, Lucien propelled himself upwards with all the strength in his legs, boosting Rilien considerably higher than he would have been able to jump in his own, and the Tranquil, light on his feet as always, was free to steer his jump from there. With the dragon's muzzle lowered from its usual height, it was not too difficult to catch onto one of the spikes protruding from its crown, and this he did, swinging himself around so that he was astride the crest of its neck, driving his knife through the left eye, scaly lid and all. The beast thrashed, trying to dislodge him, but the arrows Ashton had buried at the base of its neck weakened it, and instead, Rilien's weight forced its head further downward, right into Lucien's range.

Nostariel, catching on, shifted tactics for a moment and cast elemental weapons, imbuing the dagger in the knight's hand with lightning effects, which would hopefully aid in the effort more than another couple shots of ice would. The crackling energy surrounded the blade, and Lucien wasted little time, throwing his torso into a shield bash which successfully stunned the dragon and allowed Rilien the opportunity to leap off, which he did, landing on the creature's now blind side and taking his knife with him, though not before twisting it in the eyesocket. The Chevalier had no desire to prolong the suffering the dragon was underging at the moment, and at first opportunity (namely, the dragon opening its mouth to snarl), he shoved his arm as far into the beast's gullet as far as it would go and, finding the soft palate, drove the knife upwards and into the brain from there, stilling it almost instantaneously.

Towards the rear of the group, Ithilian and Varric put the finishing touches on the battle, launching arrows and crossbow bolts into the last remaining dragonlings, both of them breathing a sigh when the large room suddenly fell quiet of the sounds of battle and death. Varric gave Bianca and loving pat, retracting the arms of the weapon and slinging it back across his back. After looking about to ensure there were no casualties among them, he gave a single laugh, as if he was having trouble believing what they'd just pulled off.

"I hope you all don't mind being in a story... because I'm telling this one to everyone."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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The last few dragons and dragonlings fell to an efficient hail of arrows, but Rilien couldn't be bothered to even feign interest in that. Not now that the main threat was gone and he'd felt a substantial shift in the ambient magic around Sparrow. The Tranquil advanced to where the half-elf was still clutching at stones on the ground. Crouching, he brought his eyes to a level with where hers would be if she was looking at anything aside from the ground beneath her. His forearms hung loosely from his knees, and though he appeared just as unruffled as ever, he certainly did not feel so-- and a large part of himself hated that. "Sparrow," he said, loud enough to demand attention, but not so loud that everyone else had to hear. Much to his displeasure, his voice cracked slightly on the second syllable, like ill-maintained leather, a far cry from the usual velvet monotone or the silken slithers of song he preferred. Swallowing, he ignored it, shifting slightly in his spot.

Quietly, he took hold of one of her wrists, prizing it away from the stones she clutched, lest she tear her fingernails bloody. "Sparrow," he repeated, with more certainty this time, mouth turning down almost imperceptbly at the corners. He should not have let these things esclalate so far, and this, he did consider his fault. It became his fault when he'd tacitly offered his support months ago, said without words that all she needed to do was be as she wished, and he would take care of the rest. Rapture, demon that she was, would never understand that, logical as he preferred to be, there were still imperfections in his Tranquility, and this was what he wrought with them. She suffered, and he had allowed it, presuming that her strong will and desire to live her own way would eventually subdue the malicious presence, before things became a hindrance to others.

But why had he believed that? There was no logic in it; one did not throw fire at a house one wished to save from burning. One did not fight Desire with desire, whatever it may be. Her longing for freedom had likely built the bars of her cage. This, too, he should have acted against, somehow. Sooner, maybe. He should not be here, but back in his shop, working out the details of what was even now merely a rough sketch in his mind. He watched her drown when he should have been recusitating her, and for the first time in more years than he remembered properly, Rilien felt the coiling of a particular feeling deep in his stomach, reaching up his spine and playing havoc-riddled chords on his lungs.

Guilt. He felt guilty, and it ate at him with a fierceness he hadn't recollected.

On days like this, when Rapture had satisfied her curiosities, or nights (who could tell when you were traipsing down in the Deep Roads), Sparrow felt as if her bones were shrivelling in her body, encased by paralysed tendons and tissue, hardly responsive, skin pulled taut until her spine seemed as if it were splintering and grinding against their adjacent neighbours. Her breathing felt as if it were being syphoned through two leather sacks, hollowed and bereft of moisture, where two healthy lungs should've been; all dried and narrowed. Icy fingers trickled down her shoulder blades, digging their fingernails into the tenderest parts until she gained some sort of awareness of herself. Her lips felt as cold as the ice-bolts Nostariel had been throwing and she half expected hoarfrost to slip from them. Filigree's of numbness spirited over her extremities, spreading through her stupefied limbs. Nothing felt like it belonged to her. Her body was not her own, anymore.

Sparrow's arched back, nearly crackling at it's unusual angle, finally dropped back on the ground. Her hands continued to clutch at the rocks, fingernails scraping. The familiar voice caused her to flinch. She glanced up, just briefly, but she couldn't see anything except the outline of him, blocked by shadows and looming stalagmites. There was some blood, on the floor, but not a lot of it. She could feel it sticking to the back of her palate, nearly choking her. Her mouth had clamped shut, molars grinding against a pain she could not account for. The calling of her name – it hadn't been an angry sound; no, it was worse than that. Was it disappointment? She couldn't tell. Her thoughts swam in a murky lake, scattering the ripples in every direction. She couldn't tell whether or not her eyes were closed, or if they were opened. Darkness had fallen over her eyelids, clicking slits of gloomy light through it's pin-pricked holes.

When Rilien moved, Sparrow stopped. His hands were warm, ringing around her wrists. The rocks had fallen from her palms, clinking unceremoniously against her breastplate. She blinked her eyes opened, wide. Her dark eyes were hollow-looking, but dry. This time her name was said differently, succinctly more assured. She swallowed hard, desperately burying her own heart somewhere deep down. They would have to move on from this, even if Rilien had been aware of what had just occurred. Sweat dripped down the back of her neck. She did not trust her voice enough, felt it's hoarseness threatening to ruin her words – and what could she have said, what could she do to excuse what she'd nearly allowed to happen? Any excuses now would've been blatantly ignorant. Too human, perhaps. Only human – even, if she was only half. Too often it was used as an excuse for failure, used to offer comfort in the face of some manner of shortcoming. It was an insult. She'd failed, again.

Her eyes focused, then refocused, trailing up Rilien's features. His nose, his down-turned mouth. There had always been a risk, toying with her freedom and blithely believing that everything would turn out well if she really believed in herself. She was a marked risk – dangerous to her companions, dangerous to herself. Worse yet, Sparrow hadn't told anyone else save Ashton and Rilien (and in the most peculiar ways that involved ignoring the subject entirely). In an instant, in a hail of arrows, things weren't panning out. This was her fault. She hadn't been strong enough and she hated herself for it. So, Sparrow camouflaged her fears, her thoughts, her worries with courage, however feigned, and weakly smiled, forcing a chuckle that might've been scrapped from the rocks she'd held moments ago, “What's with that look? I—I'm fine.”

The Tranquil's features smoothed out, his eyes lowering to half-mast, and he released her wrists. "Is that so?" he replied, well aware that she was not telling him the truth and still just barely out of his usual mindset to be irritated about it. "Then you ought stand. We delay further progress by remaining here." Taking his own advice, Rilien rose easily to his feet, all stubborn traces of the weakness spell gone. It was perhaps unusually cold, even for him, that he did not offer to assist her, but if she did not want yet to acknowledge what had happened, he would not either. Still, he left one of his hanging sleeves in easy reach if she really needed the help, and stood so that any difficulty she'd have righting herself would not be obvious to the others.

"The matter might be left for now," he deadpanned, fixing her with a calculating stare, "but not forever."

Sparrow wasn't entirely sure if Rilien's easy reversal, and his ability to so completely repossess his imperturbable countenance, was comforting or disconcerting. Either way, she couldn't fault him for that. Her mouth formed a hard line, then simpered into her usual expression. There was something missing there, lacking its normal lustre. There was nothing amusing about what had just happened and no jokes sprung from her lips, nor any comment or apology. Quips, witticisms, or any sarcastic remarks said in the hopes of smoothing the wrinkles out of the damage she'd done, ignoring the nightmarish things that had come from her fingertips, clearly didn't belong in the conversation. She did not repeat herself – couldn't bring herself to say that she was fine when she was not, conjuring an assurance she did not feel. Her bloodstream ran cold, thick as molasses. When Rilien rose to his feet, Sparrow learned forward, forearms hanging loose across her knees.

He was right. Any delays would only bring up questions she didn't want to answer – they were here for a reason, anyway. Sparrow was not one to stubbornly refuse help (when it came to balancing herself, anyway) and her jellied legs hardly guaranteed that they wouldn't give out if she tried to stand on her own. Tentatively reaching her hand out, Sparrow gripped Rilien's sleeve and hauled herself up, tensing her shoulders. Everything felt new again. Her limbs were colt-born, clumsy. Her nose felt sensitive to the musty, coppery stench of the dragon's under dwelling; unpleasant, to say the least. It took her a moment to gather her wits about her, steadying herself on Rilien's shoulder before she tucked her hands back against her sides, reflecting for a moment, before ruefully rubbing her arms, her elbows, her wrists. The numbness was receding to whatever corner they'd materialized from.

She returned his stare, though her eyebrows scrunched up and she lowered her gaze, fixing it on her plated boots. “After this is done with. I just don't... want to bring it up down here,” Sparrow whispered softly, looking up. It was a silent request and a promise. Why ruin the entire adventure with such gloomy tidings? She would talk about it after they emerged from the Dead Roads. For now, though, she was back and she would contribute as she always did. Rilien simply nodded. It would do, and whatever trace of ruffled feathers remained smoothed out entirely, as though they'd never been present at all. Her fingers drifted over her hip, faltered when they didn't find what they'd been searching for – bloody she-bitch. A small sound escaped her lips. With another experimental step, Sparrow moved around Rilien and half-jogged, half-stumbled over to her prized possession, disrespectfully tossed over an outcrop of rocks. With the tenderness reserved only for pretty lasses, she clasped it into her hands and fastened it back where it belonged.

On the other side of the chamber, Nostariel was taking hurried steps towards the dragon's corpse and the majority of the rest of the group. She'd seen Rilien's beeline for Sparrow, and just sort of assumed he was doing whatever was necessary to figure things out. She didn't pretend to understand those two, nor whatever bound they and Ashton together. Well, maybe Sparrow and Ashton weren't too hard to figure out-- they both seemed to love fun and drink and so on. At any rate, whatever had happened there really wasn't any of her business, and in the end it had done no harm, so... as long as it wasn't going to be a problem, she was willing to let it go. Stepping up next to Ashton and Lucien, she took a closer look at the dragon and shook her head.

"I've seen a lot of things in the Deep Roads, but never did I expect a dragon would be among them."

Once the dragon had fallen, Ashton sidled up beside the loom Chevalier, looking down at their work. Well, his and Rilien's work if he was going to be brutally honest. The fact that his arrows only seemed in inconvience the creature while Lucien wrapped it's brains around his little knife. At the moment, he was feeling inferior to the man beside him. He wish he would have done more, been more involved in the hunt. He sighed, drew back his bow and let one last arrow thump into it's skull plate. It wasn't a killing blow, seeing as it was already dead but one could never be too careful. That and it made him feel a little better. "Next time, I get to kill it," Ashton mumbled as he knelt down by the creature and rubbed it's head, almost fondly.

He threw a glance over to Rilien, who was on his way to Sparrow. Ashton wisely allowed the Tranquil to persue that business by himself. He'd take a number and have his own little chat with the man later. Until then, he'd play everything off. The bruise arising on his chin was going to be hard to explain. He was coming too on his own, sure, but the Dalish' calloused knuckles seemed to expediate that process. It was going to be tough to play the incident like nothing happened, but then again, he was Ashton, the best of liars. It'd be no problem.

Ashton had sidled around the dragon until he hovered over one of it's arms. He lifted the apendage into the air and then allowed it fall back to the ground. Lighter than he'd imagined. If he had his guess, then the bones were hollow to aid in flight. He crossed his arms and bit into his thumb as he went through useful purposes of a dragon arm in his mind. He shrugged then rose, he'd have plenty of time to figure that out later. "What's not to expect? All kinds of monsters live in the deep roads, why not dragons too?" He simply said. The other option it had was to fly about outside, and people like him would hunt the creature down. Dragons were intelligent creatures, after all.

"How about you lovely? You alright? And you Ser Knight? Noticed you didn't ask it to yield this time," Ashton quipped as he took a seat on its shoulder. He then looked down at the corpse he sat on and back to Lucien. He was lost that goofy aspect and became somewhat serious as he spoke again, "By all rights, this is your kill. Maybe next time I'll have that honor. But dragons are few and far between, so can I ask for a favor? Can I have its arm? I have plans for it," He wasn't quite sure what those plans were, but he'd figure it out eventually.

"What creature of the sky would choose to live under the ground?" she answered by way of reply, shaking her head. Still, the point was fair enough. "I am... well, enough, all things considered." Turning back slightly and leaving Lucien to provide Ashton with whatever answer he chose, she located Ithilian and Varric. "And the two of you? Nothing broken, I hope?" The joke, subtle as it was, was made from weariness, mostly, giving it a kind of gallows necessity. She managed a half-smile, largely for the dwarf, who she suspected was more likely to care whether she did or not. Though, she did likely owe the Dalish her thanks for bringing her around, else her nightmare might well have made unfortunate reality of itself.

Ithilian's headscarf had been torn through by a dragon's claw, and was now rather useless; he shoved it in a pocket. Nostariel's healing spell had closed his wounds well enough. Now that the fight was over, his scowl had set back in, his eye drifting towards Sparrow and the Tranquil. He didn't manage a smile at Nostariel's words, and indeed Varric was the only one of the pair to even see the Warden's own smile. He dusted himself off. "I think I got lucky this time. That, or Bianca and I are just that good." He seemed relatively unperturbed by the implications that were becoming more clear now. Ithilian had yet to sheathe his bow, and at this point he probably wouldn't at all. He didn't know what was wrong with the half-elven mage, but there were only so many things it could be. The way things had worked in his former clan, most of them led to rather dire consequences for her. It was probably safe to assume that the Dalish hunter would be watchful of her, and more than willing to train an arrow on her should things get out of hand again.

Lucien, having retrieved his friend's dagger from the mouth of the dragon, was somewhat surprised to see that it hadn't suffered any damage, much unlike his scythe. Then again, it was considerably more well-made, and no portion of it was wooden, either. At Ashton's piece of commentary, he smiled, still coming down from the battle-high that the creature had provided him with. "Personally, I think she should have given me the opportunity to surrender. It's usually done for the benefit of a weaker opponent, after all." Still, the fact that they were alive and the dragon was not spoke at greater volume than he would have any desire to, regardless of the unstated nature of it.

Unlike most of the rest, Lucien was suffereing from no greater wariness than usual, and the Deep Roads seemed to bother him not at all, if his demeanor was anything to go by. It was much easier to kill Darkspawn than men, he thought, not as a matter of their strength, but as one of the state of mind required. Darkspawn were irrevocably Tainted; their deaths were mercies. People were a little different in this regard. Dragons... well, he'd be lying if he said he'd never wished to slay a dragon, but he could understand the nobility of the creature all the same, and would not have attacked it without cause. The archer's next query had him a bit perplexed, and his eyebrows decended his forehead as though with puzzlement. "'Twas the work of many, not one. I'd say you're welcome to it, my opinion notwithstanding. If it were somehow my decision to make, the answer would be the same." He shrugged, not having much use for any of the parts himself, though he presumed Rilien also might.

As for the matter of the fell magic which had somehow been cast upon them, well... he knew Rilien was much more talented with such things than he, and the Tranquil appeared to be doing something about the matter. Whatever his judgement was, Lucien trusted that it would be the right one. A distinction he had learned to make long ago due to his friend was that between one who had no qualms about killing and one who killed without reason. Though he was neither, the important thing was that was that Rilien was not the second, and this Sparrow lass seemed to be of some importance to him.

Even now, Sparrow felt awkward approaching the group. It'd been Rapture, after all, who'd been following them all along. Her hands busied themselves behind her head, scratching idly at the nape of her neck as she made her way over. Fancy those dragons, she could've said, but she hadn't really done anything besides nearly run them all down with spells she couldn't actually recall being able to perform. Even if it was uncharacteristic of her, and she might've been better off trading quips with Ashton, or clapping Lucien on the back for having performed so well, Sparrow remained quiet.

Perfectly content with that, Lucien glanced around. "Well, it seems we've found Bartrand his way around the block in the road. Perhaps we salvage what we can and return to tell him as much?" This was largely directed at Varric, though of course anyone was free to give their opinion on the matter.

The dwarf gave a nod of agreement. "Sounds like a plan. We'll see how much Bartrand doubts your abilities now."

"Can I stroke his beard with these claws?" Ashton posited, as he began work to saw off the dragon's arm. It would make a fine beard-comb yes, but an even better bow. Lucien snorted softly, shaking his head and moving to help. He'd give the dagger back to Ril as soon as the arm was gone. Varric shrugged in response. "As much as I'd like to see that, let's not and I'll say we did."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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Varric was at the head of the triumphant returning party as they made their way back to the camp, and Bartrand. Even Ithilian had not elected to scout ahead of the group, but he still placed himself a short ways off to the side, and remained utterly silent. "Bartrand!" Varric called, getting his brother's attention. "We found a way around your damned cave-in!" The elder brother's response was simply to turn back to the rest of the group. "It's about time! Let's move out!"

They packed up quickly, hauling everything off along the path the party had cut for them, most of the hirelings stepping gingerly over the bodies of dismembered darkspawn, and staring in confused awe at the frozen and petrified ogre, which they likely assumed had been the work of their Warden guide, and Sandal made no attempt to correct them, instead looking around the caverns with innocent curiosity, Bodahn's hand on the boy's shoulder most of the way. When they arrived at the dragon's corpse, picked clean as it was by those of the party that had wanted some piece of it, even Bartrand looked a little taken aback, but he did well to contain it behind his usual stony glare. They did not linger long, and Varric's smug grin seemed to be the only thing Bartrand needed to satisfy his curiosity about what happened here.

Not long after the dragon's den they came upon an opening, a sight coming into view that caused both of the dwarves leading them to halt in their tracks. "Holy shit..." Varric said, hands going to his hips as he admired the surroundings. Bartrand raised his eyebrows. "I thought... an abandoned thaig, something old, but... what is this?" Something old was perhaps the best way to describe it, as the architecture they had stumbled across was unlike anything seen in Orzammar or even the other thaigs that had been taken by the darkspawn. Glowing blue lyrium crystals lined many of the walls, and some of the structures seem to glow a faint crimson color. Bartrand took a step forward, heading towards it.

"We heard old scavenger tales," he explained to the group. "After the Third Blight. A week below the surface, they said, but nobody believed them..." Varric shrugged, a faint smile on his face. "Looks like they were right." Bartrand turned to the rest of the group. "Make camp here! We need to look around."




A heavy clawed hand descended and perched on the top of Rilien's white mane. Next to the Tranquil stood the Archer, wearing the dragon's arm like some sort of extravagant fashion statement and tried his best to look regal as possible. He let the claw linger on Rilien's head for a moment before speaking in true Ashton style, "I've got to hand it to you Rilsie, you and Lucy make a good team. What with him throwing you at a dragon and what not. Wish the hunt was a bit more... pure though," He let the implication linger for a minute, manually tapping one of the dragon's claw on top of the Tranquil's head. Rilien endured all of this in a way that was by now quite easily guessed of him: in placid silence, and largely unmoving.

Then Ashton stopped and his tone grew serious. "There's only one person I know that could cast those kind of spells... Is she alright?" He asked, "I've noticed she's been acting different, but I didn't put it together until now. I'm worried," He said, looking down at the man waiting for the answer. He spoke softly and slowly so that the others wouldn't overhear, but at this point they had to have some suspicions. out of all of them, it was only Rilien and himself who knew Sparrow's plight, who knew of the demon pact. He'd like to keep it that way and keep her safe. He only wished that there was more that he could do...

"She can't, actually," was Rilien's initial reply, and he cast orange eyes askance at the archer. "Entropy is not part of Sparrow's skill-set." The emphasis he placed on the name was light, but by now, Ashton would be accustomed enough to his normal tone to pick up on the subtle difference. It was the most careful way Rilien had to describe exactly what had happened: Sparrow had not been in control of her own body, the demon had. He knew not how long she would maintain it this time, either.

"I expect that if she tried right now to reproduce the effects, she would be unsuccessful, but her behavior is erratic as it has ever been." And in that, he conveyed that the temporary possession was over, at least for now, but that it would perhaps be pertinent for the both of them to stay wary. If she interfered again, he was unsure that certain members of the rest of their party would be content to allow her to live. Rilien would not hesitate to slay anyone that attempted to put an end to her, not normally. But doing so here might well prevent them from reaching the surface alive and intact, a conundrum if ever there was one.

"Hmm. That's good," Ashton hummed contently, relinquishing the dragon's claw from atop the tranquil's snowy head. He had followed Rilien's words like a map, drawing all of the information he could from the change in tone from his emotionless voice. Something he had picked up a while ago now, everything the tranquil said had merit and held no wasted words. Ashton tossed a glance to wherever Sparrow was presently. Shrugging (the dragon arm rising and falling with the motion), he added "Perhaps next time it happens, can I get a simple 'hey Ash'?" The tranquil had an uncanny ability to sense the shifts in the veil, kinda like a warning light. He only wished the tranquil had the ability to tell him when it happened too.

Rilien appeared to consider this, then nodded. It seemed a reasonable-enough request, though there would be precious little either of them would be able to do if the events did repeat themselves. No, the answer most likely lay outside of Ashton's capabilities, and his as well, but those only for now. The matter would require more research, but the funds from this expedition would hopefully allow him the opportunity to procure several rare books he recalled from the Circle library in Orlais, old texts written in older languages which he had only begun to decipher when he was taken from that place. Still, if he remembered properly (and he did, always), then there was something in there worth examining further.

For her, he would, even if it would be easier to end her and the demon too.

Ashton then puckered his lips and racked his mind, searching to see if there was anything else he wanted to either tell or ask of him, but nothing immediately came to mind. They both would obviously be looking over Sparrow now that he current ordeal was over, so that didn't need mentioning. Despite their differences, Ashton believed that they were much alike in that regard. He didn't need words to confirm it. With that, Ashton nodded, "Alright then. Good talk Ril. I'm going to see if can't go lend a hand somewhere," he said, a wisp of a smile hiding behind a waving dragon claw.

"Do not lend it to Bartrand," Rilien advised sagely. "It would be a shame to be beaten to death with your own helping hand, though you might deserve it for the folly such a move would demonstrate." And that was most assuredly a joke, even if his face gave away absolutely nothing of the kind. "He'd have to reach it first," Ashton said, holding the arm over his head before dropping it back to his shoulders. That was a short joke if there ever was one. At this point, Ashton came to expect little gems of dry wit from the Tranquil.

As it would be, Sparrow waited for the opportune time to slither over to her secretively-whispering companions, ignoring the fact that she'd noticed them glancing in her direction only moments ago, and noticing, warily, that Rilien seemed to be in the process of leaving. However, she quickened her strides, snatched up Rilien's flowing sleeve and ducked underneath it, unceremoniously holding it aloft before gingerly placing it back at his side, unfettered by her, often unwanted, touch. Then, Sparrow slipped beside Ashton, hooking her arm around his, propping up his elbow with her free hand and moving it in front of her mouth so that his prize dragon-claw bobbed in front – and she had pseudo-fangs in the form of elongated talons, jauntily moving with her greeting of, “What long faces you've got. You've just slayed a dragon. A dragon. When we get back to Kirkwall, do you know how many lovely lasses you'll have flocking to your shop to see this thing?” The claw flapped indignantly with her hand-jerks, as if offended to be called a thing. She released her companion's arms, and elbow, before curiously poking at the claw's zeniths with her fingertips. Funny thing, how friends worked. They'd protect her even if it meant putting the others at risk, they'd defend her if the question ever arose, and she almost cursed those particular traits. She almost wanted them to end it here, and now, because it'd only be more difficult if things got worse. What would they do then, she wondered.

“Bet the rest of the journey down here won't be much more interesting. What beats a dragon? Asides from gryphon-riding Grey Wardens?” She added as an afterthought, glancing in Nostariel's direction with a smile. It was better not to mention what she'd done. It was better to pretend as if nothing had happened. The task itself, feigning ignorance, was surprisingly simple, so easy compared to spilling her heart out and crying and stomping her foot at the injustices of her predicament. It was easier this way, as always. Her burdens would remain on her shoulders until they were forcibly removed, until she had no other choice but to share it with her friends. She chuckled in her Fadespace, where she'd been locked up during the battle with the dragon (which she childishly regretted missing if only for the fact that she hadn't participated in bringing such a creature down), clearly amused, evidently delighted with herself. Her smile faltered a moment, then drew up again in full effect. The alcohol she'd drink after this merry escapade, as far as she was concerned, was more than a necessity. This had transformed itself into a nightmare — no, this went far beyond a nightmare, straight into something so awful that it could only be reality; the mind couldn't have conjured up this situation.

If things were reversed, she knew she'd do the same. Until her last breath, or the end of her days. She'd protect them, too.

"They won't have long to fawn over it, I've got plans for this baby," he said, twitching it to jingle the claws. He had big plans for it. "Might need to change the shop's name to reflect my grand accomplishments," he said with a reserved look and tone. He wasn't so far up his own ass to believe that it'd been solely his doing that had brought the dragon down, but it never hurt to make it seem that way. Beside, the others didn't seem like the bragging sort, and someone would have to spread the message, why not him? He grinned and plopped the dragon hand on top of her head, much like he did to the Tranquil not long ago. "What do you think, my fine, feathered, friend? The Dragon's Arrow? Wyrmhunt? Ashton's kickass shop of victuals?" The last was a playful joke, but the first two were honest ideas.

It was easier. To pretend nothing was wrong, to act like she was the same Sparrow through and through. He wished that he didn't have to pretend. People like them never got what they wanted though, so he'd bend along with the wind. He'd act like everything was good and dandy. He'd keep an ear to the ground, and play off everything with that goofy little grin and a stupid joke. He'd never let on how seriously worried he was about her. Why show it when there was nothing he could do about it? All he could do was wait and watch, and hope for a miracle.

"Tell ya what, I'll make you a necklace out of one of the claws."




Nostariel had chosen this moment to take something of a break, and was currently seated on the stone ground in front of a small fire she'd lit, warming her hands and trying not to let the faint echoes of her uncanny waking dream stir her any further. She was not a particularly stoic soul, however; she'd always felt with a kind of focused depth that belied her training. Mages often needed to be able to pay attention to one thing to the exclusion of all else, and when Nostariel felt something particularly strongly, she could often ignore broader implications or common sense in favor of that singularity of purpose. She supposed that, in the end, this was why she was unable to just let go of what haunted her. Or maybe that was just something that everyone struggled with, she honestly had no idea.

Sighing, the Warden crossed her legs and closed her eyes, trying to pretend for a moment that she was anywhere but in the Deep Roads. But of course, her imagination rarely did her any favors, and so she frowned tightly and ran a hand through her hair. Intimidating as the woman was, maybe she needed to seek out Amalia and ask just how it was that she'd managed such a preternatural calm all the time. Nostariel didn't wish to give up on feeling, but... a little of that surety was awfully tempting. If it was something inherent in the Qun itself, she may well have dismissed it far too soon.

Their arrival at this ancient thaig gave Ithilian some time to properly think things over, and in the end he came to a result that left him feeling angry with himself, and a little ashamed. It was no abnormal or abhorrent thing for someone to mourn the loss of a loved one, or in his case, his entire family, but he had allowed himself to give in to his worst fear: that were was no hope, and that there was nothing for him to hold on to here any longer. Grief and loss had done to him what no shem ever could. He wouldn't let it happen again. So long as he still drew breath, all was not lost.

He supposed the best place to start was with an apology. To that end, the Dalish elf made his way over to where Nostariel had lit her little fire, taking a crosslegged seat himself and for the moment, saying nothing. As the Warden had just proven to him, words were powerful tools when wielded correctly, and he wanted to be sure this was said correctly. "I must apologize for my words earlier," he began, his voice low so as to not echo about the caverns. "My... pain, has overcome me of late. It has caused me to say things and to do things that I now regret. You did not deserve the words I threw at you, and... I must admit I have wholly misjudged you. You do not outwardly convey the strength you possess, but it is there all the same, and I failed to see it before. I am sorry."

He gazed into the fire for a moment, before looking around him with something approaching disdain. "I should never have come here, to these Deep Roads. But I needed to go somewhere. I do not think I can return to Kirkwall just yet."

To say that Nostariel was surprised was an understatement; she'd hardly expected that anything she would have said would resonate at all with Ithilian; she'd simply had to say them, for the sake of those they journeyed with. But then, perhaps it was the simple fact that she knew pain a little like his, though she'd be the first to admit that for all she'd suffered, she could not imagine what it must be like to lose a child. The love of her life, yes. Her comrades and family, yes. But not a child. She wasn't sure what that would have done to her, honestly, and she hoped she'd never have to know. She digested his words for a moment, mulling over them carefully. In the end, she smiled, a little sadly, and nodded. "It's all right," she said, equally softly, though she was almost certain that Lucien at least was close enough to hear them. That was fine, though, she trusted his discretion, at least, and she was mentioning nothing he had not heard already. "I... could have been kinder in my speech as well."

She turned her eyes back to the fire then, head tilted slightly to one side. "So, don't go back yet." She suggested mildly, shrugging her shoulders. "For me, Kirkwall was a place I went because the Wardens put me there, but I think in a way, it's been what I needed. Maybe what you need isn't a reminder of all you still have to do. Maybe it'll never be the right time to go back, but you won't know unless you go away first. The things you want to do, the problems you want to solve... they'll still be there if ever you return, I'm sure." And that was the sad truth of it, really. Still, there was no point in losing hope when there was still effort to be expended in the attempt. That was something Tristan had always believed, and something she was slowly relearning. She'd never been able to give up completely, and that was perhaps why she still wore the crest and the armband, even on the days when she was such a wreck that she couldn't leave the Hanged Man. It was why she couldnt stop helping, even when she resented being asked.

"Where would you go instead, if you could go anywhere?" she asked, partly to keep the conversation going, partly from curiosity, and partly out of a hope that she might be assisting at least a little.

"Back home, I think," he said, unable to keep the longing from his voice. "To Ferelden, and the Brecilian Forest. My old life has been taken from me, but I have yet to let go of it. I think, if I am to move forward, I need to first return there, and find some way to put the past to rest. It needs to be my choice to leave that place, made by a clear mind, not one plagued by delirium and fresh grief."

It seemed as good a plan as any. The Blight had passed for more than a year now, and the darkspawn would be routed at this point, beginning to fall back into the Deep Roads, certainly not the organized horde they had been before. Much of the forest was no doubt ravaged, but the Brecilian had a way of dealing with intruders, and darkspawn were no exception. It could be wounded, yes, but never killed. His memories of the time were fragmented, disjointed, a massive slur of emotions, torment, grief and loss, and maybe he wouldn't be able to find an exact place where something had happened, the exact spot where he had hastily buried his child, but he knew that if he just returned there, he would be able to feel them again.

It remained to be seen if he would be able to let go, but it was a trial he would need to pass all the same if he wanted to move forward.

"Perhaps a clan has moved back into the area, or avoided the Blight," he speculated, but for some reason the thought didn't seem as appealing he thought it would. He would have been lying if he'd said the elves of the Alienage hadn't become at least a little important to him, and the thought of permanently leaving to join another clan did not sit well with him. There was also Amalia. He did not wish for their last conversation to be the one she remembered him by. He wanted to prove to them that he was more than that, prove it to Amalia, prove it to Nostariel, and prove it to all those struggling to live under the shadow of the shemlen in Kirkwall. Yes, he would return. He just needed time.

Lucien had been busying himself helping a few of the hands organize supplies for the further ventures they would doubtless be undertaking soon, sorting digging and appraisal tools, occasionally asking a question of the foreman with low tones. This kind of labor, he knew little about, and so he inquired and he learned until he could do the tasks properly himself. There was something... nice about that, simple and untainted with expectation of any kind. Perhaps that was why he did it.

Occasionally, bits and pieces of the fireside conversation drifted over to him, though he endeavored not to pay them much mind. He expected there was some need of reconciliation, there, after what had occurred before the dragon showed up. He hoped it went well; lingering bitterness was difficult to swallow on the best of days, and tended to fester in the heart if not excised properly. He was walking past the two with a few mallets and chisels in hand, intent on moving them to the next cart over, when he caught the Dalish man's last sentence. Aware that the conversation was about Ferelden if not much else, he knew he could provide something of an answer. "Your pardon," he broke in mildly, pausing in his steps, "but if you seek Dalish in Ferelden, I believe the Relaferin Clan intended to return to the Brecilian forest after the Blight was ended. They were near the Frostback Mountains a year and some months ago, and I do think they survived, for the most part."

He had run into them on his journey to Denerim, and though they had been at first reluctant to speak with him, circumstances had shoved aside any reticence that might have lingered. Funny thing about mortal danger; it tended to alleviate wariness for long enough to be dealt with, at the very least. In the end, it hadn't turned out poorly at all.

Relaferin. Ithilian, like many of the others in his clan, had always thought them a bit soft. Then again, they thought a majority of the clans had gone soft. And yet, apparently the Relaferin lived on, while the Mordallis had been caught by the Blight. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to feel at that. Anger? That another clan had survived the Blight without that same fatal losses his own had suffered? No, he did not feel anger. Perhaps it was enough for now to simply know that they were alive.

Ithilian peered up at the large shem, the firelight casting dancing shadows over the elf's disfigured features. "That is... good to know. Ma serannas." He supposed the thanks should have come with some barbed insult involving the word shem, riddled with suspicion as to why this human mercenary knew of them, and what his business with them had been, but at the moment, Ithilian was feeling more or less out of hate, at least to the point where he couldn't lash out at every single shem that spoke to him.

"Perhaps I will seek them out, then."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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"I don't get it," Bartrand grunted, walking alongside his brother. "Nothing in this thaig makes sense." Varric was taking in the sights as they moved, scratching his stubbled face. "Tell me about it." They stopped at the base of a flight of stairs, the elder brother beginning to pace back and forth, thinking aloud. "We're well below the Deep Roads. Whatever dwarves lived here, they came long before the First Blight." He threw up his hands as if to point out how horribly off everything was. "But where are the statues of Paragons? I don't recognize these markings on the wall or anything in the rubble."

"Unlikely, I know," Varric offered, "but it's possible this thaig is from an age in which dwarves weren't mired in tradition." Bartrand nodded, seeming agreeable to the idea. "These dwarves might have been unique. If so, I hope they kept their valuables close at hand." They continued on, up the stairs and past where a few of the expedition were gathered, including the boy Sandal and the merchant Bodahn, the latter of which was still keeping a hand on his boy's shoulder as if to ensure he would remain in sight for the remainder of the trip. Sandal had wandered rather close to Rilien for much of the journey since the group had found him among the darkspawn, and he was close to the Tranquil now. Bodahn seemed to be content just being wherever Sandal was.

"I need to thank you again," Bodahn said to the Tranquil, for perhaps the third time, "I still can't believe you found him." Sandal offered a tentative "'Ello!" to Rilien as well, as he seemed wont to do when Bodahn began speaking to anyone. "I owe you a great debt," Bodahn continued, "I will repay it somehow--I swear my life on it!"

"Unnecessary," Rilien replied, shaking his head. He wasn't much in the habit of taking coin for things he had not agreed to do for coin, and if the distinction made sense only to him, well... it wouldn't be the only thing. He wasn't in need of anything, at least not anything Bodahn could provide him with, though there was the matter of Sandal. Blinking languidly, Rilien cast a glance in the boy's direction at his greeting, and nodded one in return. It was obvious that the lad was talented, but he did not imagine that the life of a travelling merchant gave him much opportunity to refine his craft, and that seemed suboptimal at best.

"What do you intend to do after the expedition concludes?" the Tranquil asked, in the same placid tones he used for everything. He, of course, had plans upon plans, for several contingencies, besides. It was simply the way his mind worked, and factoring in several new variables was yielding better results than even he had expected. Of course, there were a number of contingencies at work, but if it were the case that the dwarf and his son would not be leaving the vicinity of Kirkwall, all three of them might benefit in some measure.

"Depending on how the expedition pans out," Bodahn explained, "we'll probably remain in Kirkwall for a time. We've already been contacted by a number of individuals interested in my boy's enchanting services, some very high up in the city indeed. As for myself, I think some time settled down is much needed, after my years on the road. Yes, I think we'll stay around for a while."

Rilien let a few more steps pass in silence before he spoke, tilting his head to the side so as to glance between father and son. "I plan to purchase a storefront in Kirkwall. I enchant and fabricate alchemical mixtures, myself. I think that Sandal could make use of an opportunity to grow in his craft, and I expect that any such place as I buy could make good use of a person with the social skills to work the counter. Oftentimes, people are disinclined to speak with me. I would not object to you continuing to do your own business on the premises, either, if you should find that arrangement satisfactory. Any work Sandal does, he would be free to profit from. Likewise with yourself." He let the offer hang there, apparently not feeling the need to press for an answer at that moment.

Rilien, while quite sure that there were yet things he could teach Sandal, was also interested in what he might learn, but in the end, he would have enough things to occupy him even if they refused. Still, the idea of having someone else to run both aspects of such an enterprise should he need to be absent for days at a time was a good one, and might well help the lot of them maintain steady clientele, something he was certain would appeal to the dwarf's business sense. Even so, he was not one to insist.

Bodahn considered for a moment. "That sounds like a very interesting opportunity, if I do say so myself. We will certainly consider it, though of course such a decision is not to be made immediately. I would very much like to speak further about that upon our return to Kirkwall, once we know just what we'll find down here." The Tranquil nodded, content with the answer.




Eventually, the scouting party that had cleared their way here was gathered once more, Bartrand accompanying them this time as well. Though the entrance to the thaig had been fascinating and extremely confusing, a more organized push into the thaig was necessary in order to find something valuable. Thus the group pushed onwards, deeper into the thaig, Varric and his elder brother leading the way. "Hmm," Varric mused to the party. "Whatever's through here, it seems still intact. I wonder if we'll find anything..." Ithilian had his bow drawn already, experience teaching him that there was little point sheathing weapons when in the Deep Roads. He was thinking something more along the lines of I wonder if anything will find us, but refrained from putting words to it. Varric shrugged. "Hmph. I suppose we'll need to go down there to find out." That earned a small sigh from Nostariel, but she was otherwise silent on the matter.

Sparrow whistled soft and low, squinting her eyes. Her mace bounced leisurely across her shoulder, loosely held in her hand. How long have they been down here already? The thaig was an endless maze of twists and turns, thick with darkness. She would've been lying if she said she didn't miss the fresh air, or the scorching sun on her back. Everything felt heavy, as if a substantial cloud of smog was pressing against her shoulders. She jostled towards the front, idling beside Nostariel, but only remained still for a moment. Her confidence had always been staggeringly reckless, and so Sparrow was the first to step forward, heedless of danger, clutching perilously off Varric's words – they may find something down there, they might. Much in the same mindset as Sparrow, Ashton too missed the sun. Plus the grass, trees, birds. Really, he missed everything but dirt and rock. Still, he was right beside her as she recklessly strode forward. He wasn't a coward... Most of the time, but he needed somebody's bravery to latch on to and push himself forward. Rightly so that it had been Sparrow's. He covered her side with a drawn bow as they stepped forward into the forgotten thaig.

Lucien, for his part, seemed to bear the monotony of the landscape with an easy sort of nonchalance, and seemed content to linger somewhere in the middle of the group, which given his height did nothing to impede his monocular view of what was going on. From somewhere in the caravan or perhaps from Bodahn, he'd procured a one-handed axe to compliment his shield, which now hung from a loop in his belt, though the metal disc remained strapped to his left forearm. It wasn't what he'd prefer to be bringing into battle, but it would do nicely for present purposes. He'd returned Rilien's knife to the Tranquil, quite insistent that the man have it back. Lucien could use it well enough, but where Rilien was concerned, the blade was simply an extension of his arm. He'd rather walk into another fight with nothing but a shield to his name and a fully-armed Rilien, if it had come down to that. It had happened similarly before.

The group moved forward on their guard, but for the moment it appeared unnecessary, for nothing seemed to stir this far beneath the surface. And yet, despite how silent the walls were, the sounds of their feet echoing throughout the chambers they passed through, the entire thaig felt remarkably alive, like the stone itself had taken note of their trespass, and disapproved. Bartrand didn't notice, or didn't care, and led them onward, picking up the pace slightly as he went.

After some time they passed through a single heavy stone door and entered a large room glowing with red light seemingly emanating from the walls. The centerpiece of the room was a rectangular altar set upon a raised platform towards the rear, a set of stairs flanked by imposing columns guiding them to it. The party filtered into the room, Varric pushing forward towards the altar the quickest, Bartrand remaining by the door, taking in the ominous feeling the room naturally gave off.

Varric slowed to a stop before the altar once he'd reached the top, his head barely reaching over it enough to see what was placed upon it. "Are you... seeing what I'm seeing?" he asked of Nostariel next to him.

"I think so," the Warden murmured by way of reply, eyes fixed on the object on the altar. Was it just her, or was that malificient feeling in the room emanating from that... thing? She didn't know properly what to call it, but it seemed to be at once magnetic and repulsive to her, like something particularly grotesque from which she even so could not tear her gaze. The insidious feeling in the room seemed to thrum at her feet and creep in wispy tendrils up her spine, chilling her without cold.

"Lyrium," the Tranquil pronounced, eyes narrowing almost imperceptibly. He shook his head, just slightly, and glanced over the other faces in the room. "Be cautious with it." He, too, felt the faint unease it exuded, and knew that it was no natural lyrium. The normal substance, he worked with nearly daily, and it was nothing like that. Which certainly meant that some form of magic was at work here, and hardly the benevolent sort.

"Lyrium? Looks like treasure to me," came Sparrow's response, closely behind Rilien's shoulder. Even still, like she'd done when they peered into the thaig's spinning darkness, she nearly bounded up the staircase, up the platform, and finally idling next to the altar. She, too, could feel something tickling across her skin, sending unpleasant jolts of electricity down her forearms. There was a wrongness that she couldn't place her finger on - so, she chopped it down to a stomach ache, or Rapture's emphereal talons scrapping down her subconscious, salivating at the unusual find. Her fingers twitched impatiently at her sides, though she had enough sense not to try and pluck it from it's perch. What the hell was it, anyway? The chamber itself seemed as if it was breathing a heavy sigh at their impertenent existence. Unlike Rilien, Sparrow wasn't nearly as knowledgeable about unnatural substances. Whatever elements he was familiar with, she'd hardly touched on. His work-station remained his own.

"Doesn't look like any kind of lyrium I've ever seen," Varric said, shaking his head at the object. He then turned to where Bartrand stood, at the base of the steps. "Look at this, Bartrand. An idol made out of pure lyrium, I think. Could be worth a fortune." The elder brother just whistled in response. Varric turned back to the idol, snatching it off the altar without much heed to any caution. "Hm," he said, feeling the weight of it, "not bad. Let's take a look around, see if there's anything further in." He then promptly tossed the idol back to Bartrand, who caught it reflexively. Varric moved to carry on.

He'd taken about four steps when there was a solid thud behind him indicating that the stone door and only entrance into the room had shut. "What the?" Varric said, running down the steps to it and trying to open it, but it was no use. Bartrand was nowhere in sight. "Bartrand, are you there? The door's shut behind you!" There was the sound of a faint chuckle from beyond the door. "You always did notice everything, Varric."

It took Varric a second or two to comprehend, but when he did, he was furious, pounding on the stone with a fist. "Are you joking? You're going to screw over your own brother for a lousy idol?" Bartrand shot back. "It's not just the idol. The location of this thaig alone is worth a fortune, and I'm not splitting it with all of you." The sound of his voice grew steadily fainter. "Sorry, Brother." Varric pounded on the door a few more times. "Bartrand!" He eventually gave up, turning back to the party, fuming.

"I swear I will find that son of a bitch, sorry mother, and I'll kill him!" Ithilian was... hardly surprised. The way this trip was going so far, he was starting to think that seeking death had been entirely unnecessary. He nocked an arrow, imagining that things were bound to get even more ugly pretty soon. "The only way out now seems to be further in. Let's cut our way out of this place, and teach that dwarf the meaning of vengeance."

Nostariel lamented their fortunes, but she did so purely internally, her face setting itself into grim lines. It wasn't only their chances of survival that were reduced this was; she had the maps, after all, and if they managed to get far enough towards the surface, she should be able to figure out where they were. But if all the expedition's muscle was in here, she didn't much like the odds for anyone out there if any Darkspawn managed to flank. Perhaps best that the Roads were largely empty right now; give it another year, and matters would be considerably more difficult. Taking her staff from her back, the Warden clasped it loosely in a hand and planted the bottom end into the patch of earth at her feet. "We don't have much choice, do we?" she asked, largely rhetorically, before she pushed off using the metal pole of the staff and set forward.

"Treachery's like that," Lucien replied in what seemed a rather offhand manner, but if the look he gave the sealed door was any indication, he was just as upset as the rest of them, only... more quietly.

At least the Thaig had interesting things to look at, she supposed.

"Well, I never. A greedy drawf. How rare-- no offense of course," Ashton deadpanned, firing off a glance at Varric. The sarcasm dripping in his voice was almost tangible, and if it was, he'd most likely pack it away and save it for later. Better to strangle Bartrand with it. He let the bowstring in his fingers go slack as he approached the locked door. If the dwarf pounding on the door was any indication and cussing at his own brother, then it was in fact locked. Eyelids slid lazily over his tired oculars. He wondered whose oatmeal he pissed in to garner such horrid luck. Then his eyes widened as a bolt of realization struck him. He surged forward, lanky legs carried through the party and to the door, leaving him towering over the dwarf as he added his own knocking at the door.

"The bastard has my dragon bones! In the cart with the workers. I swear, if they say they killed it, I'll skin them, and make a bow out of their bones!" He said, punctuating with frantic thumps. He wasn't getting anywhere, and he knew it. The door was there a long time before him, and probably will still be there a long time after. Which satisfied that his punching the door wasn't getting him anywhere fast, he spun on his heels and immediately set out to find another exit. "Right. Let's go. I'm not gonna dawdle here while my dragon bones get hocked at the nearest pawn shop."

He ascended the stairs two at a time, and shot a look at the Dalish man. Caution had long since abandoned him, along with his dragon arm. "I couldn't agree more," he agreed with Ithilian.

Past the altar that the idol had been resting upon was an open door, the group's only remaining option. Ithilian and Varric led the way, taking the group into a series of long, stretching corridors. The lyrium down this far had turned from a glowing blue to a rather malevolent bright red, snaking up and around the walls like vines, exploding out of cracks in the walls and appearing to constrict the passageways like fingers wrapped tightly around a throat. As they moved on from the halls and into a series of more natural looking cave formations, Ithilian was having conflicted feelings. On the one hand, nothing had attacked them so far. On the other, he couldn't shake the feeling that they were being watched, or followed.

He found his feelings to be justified once the group wandered down into a spacious cave, a narrow path through the middle flanked by lyrium crystals sprouting from the ground as though they were trees. Rocks that were formerly just lying upon the ground rearranged themselves as they approached, glowing yellows cores igniting in their centers in the shape of ribcages as they formed themselves into rough approximations of bodies. Ithilian wondered if whatever spirits these were weren't just imitating those that they saw. It seemed the kind of thing a demon would do.

Though they did not immediately move to attack that did not stop Ithilian from raising his bow, the arrow aimed for center mass, that yellowish core of theirs. If there was a weak point in a creature otherwise made entirely of rock, it was that. "That is far enough," the center rock creature, of the five present, said, his voice deep and suitably gravely. It wasn't apparent what he spoke from, but the sound was there all the same. "We have watched you for a time, and you appear very capable. I would not see these creatures harmed without need." He must have spoken of the others flanking him, though they looked no less threatening than he, only slightly smaller.

"Well, would you look at that," Varric said, his tone remaining light. "We finally found something down here that didn't attack us on sight." The rock formation eyed the dwarf, if that was possible, for a moment, before responding, his tone remaining calm. "The others will not assault you, not without my permission." Varric seemed content to continue speaking about them as if they weren't there. "What are these things? They seem like rock wraiths, but..."

The rock wraith answered for him. "They hunger. The profane have lingered in this place for ages beyond memory, feeding on the magic stones until the need is all they know. I am not as they are. I am... a visitor." Ithilian's arrow did not waver. "Do not veil your words, demon." After waiting long enough to be sure the elf wasn't going to shoot him right then and there, the rock wraith spoke once more. "I would not see my feast end. I sense your desire. You seek to leave this place, but you will need my aid to do so."

No. Rilien was quite done with demons for the time being, and this one warranted absolutely none of his attention. It would just be another temptation for people who were not as he was, and frankly, he was not feeling at all charitable towards the notion of dealing with another possessed person at the moment. One was quite enough. He caught Lucien's eye, his own flicking subtly towards the other creatures, but turned his focus forward again as Varric began to speak. The Chevalier understood well enough what was meant, and rolled his shoulders, as if to loosen them, though his hand strayed yet not to his axe. The Warden was already shaking her head, looking as though she were about to deny its words, but this too was pointless. Why parley with a creature that would only attack once you had refused? It was entirely pointless, and he was not one to waste his time so.

As the last words were leaving it, the Tranquil moved, breaking into a dead run that had more the appearance of floating than anything, an impression only reinforced by the ease with which he left the ground, his feet passing over his head at about the same time as he passed over the demon's, the first of his blades finding the glowing ghost-light that formed what appeared to be its single eye. The perfect arc of his motion completed lightly, and he landed back-to-back with it, wrenching his second dagger backward, past the stones that comprised its torso and into the yellowish core of magic that served to hold it together.

The result was instantaneous; the light sputtered and died, the stones collapsing back into a heap upon the ground, and the other creatures sprang forth, free of whatever force had held them at bay. "I think not," he said flatly, mostly in response to its last assertion. Capable they were, and they would make it out of these roads quite independently of any such barbed, poisonous assistance. He stooped to gather his knives from amidst the rubble, pleased to discover that his aim had been true and they'd scraped no stone in the process.

At the same time that Rilien sprang into action like the predator he was, Ashton had taken his time to select the perfect arrow to ram up the demon's ass. As he went about this process, he was continually shaking his head, muttering under his breath No, nope, nope, hell no, the entire time. By the time Rilien had moved, Ashton had nocked his arrow and taken a step forward, taking aim at the foul creature. He would not have another Sparrow. No deal was to be made today, and he would see the demon fall for such an insult. Anger danced across his eyes as he awaited Rilien to finish his maneuver so that he would have a free shot. What would he do if another one of them fell to the allure of a demon? Though he tried to play it off, Sparrow's plight hurt him. He would not see the same thing done to Nostariel.

As the heels of Rilien's head cleared what he believed to be the face of the creature (and slamming his knife in it, good ol' Rilien) Ashton released his own arrow. It shot through the air, and stuck the front glowing mass of the demon, forcing it further into Rilien's other knife. One again, he realized just how like minded he and the tranquil were. Whether that spoke measures about Rilien or himself, he wasn't sure. Still, they weren't out of the pot yet. His next motion was as fluid as Rilien's, as only the mouthpiece had been destroyed, and left enough of it's ilk for everyone. He pivotted on his right foot, taking him in an arc ninety degrees, dropping his sight on the first Rock Wraith. Arrow drawn and bow taut, he took aim at the creature.

"Glad you stabbed it in its lying face Ril," Ashton said, releasing his arrow, "Let's clean up his friends and never talk about this, yeah?"

When Ashton and Rilien had turned to the large one at the center, Lucien had selected a target to one of the sides, pulling his axe from the loop at his belt and hurling it in one smooth motion. The weapon flew end over end, whistling through the air and embedding itself in the center of one of the other rock-constructions, but he was hardly going to wait to see if that was enough, and Lucien was off after it immediately thereafter, bearing down upon the creature with his right side, the shield connecting with a violent clang, surely sufficient to stun. It did the job, giving him enough time to take the axe by the haft, draw it up, and swing in a wood-chopping arc, landing it right in the same spot. That was enough, and like the other two, it lost that internal light and crumbled back into the loose collection of stones it had been at the start.

He had to admit, he was not used to demons, but if this was what they all were like, then he had difficulty understanding how they could hold such sway over people. Nothing it had said appealed to him in the least; he had every confidence that he and the others would find the surface again, aided or not. Perhaps others of its kind were more persuasive? He was admittedly curious, though he could not say that the feeling extended to wishing to meet more of them, particularly.

Ithilian put a well-placed shot into the core of the first wraith on the left, while Varric unleashed a trio of shots directly into the face of the one beside it, the pair of them crumbling into dust and rubble beside the others. "Right," Varric said lightly, "now that that's done with, let's get moving."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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Perhaps the hunger demon thought the group would more seriously consider its offer, as it had failed to bring all of its followers to the fore to protect it. These profane, as they had been called, were encountered by the group almost immediately after moving on from the current room and into more stony corridors. They cut through these as they had the others, leaving a trail of dust and loose stone behind them. The halls eventually began to constrict slightly, narrowing in width as if they were inside a throat in the midst of being choked, trying to capture them inside.

Just as it seemed it would choke off into a dead end there was a sharp ninety degree turn into a winding staircase to led them upwards for the first time in a while. They ascended several floors worth until it ended, opening up into a large square chamber, the centerpiece of which was four strudy stone pillars wrapped in red lyrium twisting and constricting up their lengths. "I think..." Varric mused, taking a look around. Ethereal light shined through cracks in the wall on the far side. "this might be a vault of some kind." He took a few more paces in, the group behind him. "Which means that somewhere around here, the ancient dwarves may have stored their..."

He trailed off when a large pile of rocks against the right wall began to rearrange themselves, rolling on top of one another, stacking into legs and arms, the final product a hulking, ten foot monster of rock, apparently none too happy with their tresspassing judging by the stance it immediately presented towards Varric. "...valuables," Varric finished, slowing bringing Bianca in line with its head. "This should be good."

What followed was a lengthy struggle between man and earth during which Lucien did his best to maintain the creature's ire, while the two hunters and the dwarf pelted it from afar with arrows and bolts, Nostariel and Rilien and Sparrow filling supporting roles. Needless to say, it was a very tired group of adventurers that stepped over the rock guardian's crumbled form, across the threshold of what was indeed, as Varric had predicted, a vault.

"The rock wraiths are supposed to be dwarven legends," the younger Tethras brother complained, "They're not even supposed to be real!" He was halted when a golden vase of some kind flew towards him, and he caught it, spying the Dalish elf up ahead, standing at the base of a literal pile of treasure. Gold littered the floor in every direction, chests of it overflowing to spill onto the ground around them, relics the likes of which the world had never seen. "I suppose the rock wraiths don't really matter now, do they?" Varric said to himself, momentarily stunned by the bounty.

Lucien, a little worse for the wear having been essentially battered with rocks for the better part of what was almost an hour now, all told, had raised a speculative brow upon hearing the dwarf's skepticism. "We're in the middle of an abandoned, supposedly forever-lost Thaig, having just slain a dragon and refused a bargain with a demon that possessed no flesh, and you're incredulous about the stone construct?" The question itself was light, though perhaps not as much so as it would have been if his ribcage weren't still smarting from whatever strange energy attack the thing had used. He'd caught it full in the chest the first time, and though Nostariel's intervention was timely as always, it would probably take him a while to recover the lingering damage.

At that point, though, he was able to temporarily forget the residual pain when he walked up behind the dwarf, whistling a low note at the hoard. "There's a lesson in here somewhere for Bartrand," he said with a chuckle. The Empress's treasury would be hard-pressed to match some of the things in here, though it was doubtful they'd be able to carry it all, having just themselves and whatever their arms could manage. No need to be greedy, though; he'd live quite a while on even the smallest portion of such hard-won gains.

"Heh. Demons, darkspawn, and rock monsters, oh my," Ashton said between hunched pants. For all of the dancing and dodging the archer did, he didn't come away from the fighting without his share of wounds. He was nursing a wicked looking black eye, blood dribbled from one gash along the bridge of his nose, and he was favoring his right leg more than was necessarily healthy. However, he was alive, and his enemies dead. He'd count that as a victory in his book any day. "Lucien has a point. It's talk like that that summons up a flock of feral griffins to attack us," he joked, though he did venture a cautious glance up to the ceiling.

What grievances Ashton felt was soon melted away at the sight of the gleaming pile. Perched above the stocky dwarf, he leaned forward, using the top of the dwarf's head as a rail and peered into the mound of gold. "Right. Best investment ever. Clearly. Looks like I'm not going to lose my shop, so that loan shark can eat it. Here, hold this darling," He finished by handing his bow and quiver (of which a scant few arrows remained) to Nostariel and darted around the dwarf. There, he let gravity do its job and fell into the pile of gold.

While riches were riches, gold was still hard and it stung all of his hidden bruises when he collapsed. But really, he didn't care. Treasure was a hell of a pain killer. Once he was situated in the mound, he began to move his arms and legs, making what he would call: "Look Sparrow! A gold angel! The best of angels."

She, too, whistled low in her throat, though it tapered off into a soft hum that barely left her lips. Had she escaped the forgotten, restless thaig without any injuries, then her guilt, already gnawing at her insides like an incessant rat, would've been multiplied. The Maker – if he, or she, even existed – would have none of that, spattering large gashes across her exposed shoulder blades, where pieces of her armor had been crushed and thrown aside. She'd need a new set if she were ever to find herself wandering down in the Deep Roads again. Worse yet, there was something within her that had spoiled the grandeur of their discovery, of their very adventure, even managing to muddy the mystifying find of so many valuable objects piled atop one another, spilling over into riches she could have never imagined. She'd been one of the reasons why they had so many bruises, so many wounds. Her contribution to their pain was conclusively real, rubbing her raw. Lucien's conversation with Varric seemed to glide past her twitching ears, past her shoulders, belonging to someone else. She blinked once, then twice, watching as Ashton plopped his weapons into the dwarf's open arms, ambling around him so that he could fall unceremoniously into the hoard of treasure, bruises and all.

If she could cut that thing out of her, she would've in a heartbeat. Sparrow meandered a few paces to their right, crouching down so that she could snatch up a handful of coins, allowing them to spill through her fingers. Her eyes focused on their ridges. She wanted to deny her cowardice, bury it somewhere deeper, darker, but it was still difficult to look them in the eyes and play the part of the flighty little bird, unaware of what she'd done to them. Of what she'd continue doing to them if she kept silent. Were secrets that important? Would they forgive her if she were honest? It seemed an unfamiliar concept. She was a liar, or a skimmer of truths. The only one she'd ever been truly, fundamentally honest to was Amalia, and even then, she'd managed to ruin their friendship by running away. As if pretending to look at her reflection in a nearby goblet, trailing the nasty gash running down her left cheekbone, Sparrow twisted and turned it in her hands, occasionally watching her companions in its hazy, warped reflection. If she wanted to, with her share of this unforeseen bounty, she could finally move away from Rilien, distance herself from her friends, and stuff herself away like some kind of hermit. A short bark of laughter bubbled out, sorely bitter. She plopped down on her butt, and rested her elbows on her knees.

Finally, she could pay all of her dues.

Nostariel managed a weary chuckle upon observation of the archer's antics, though she might have winced at his actual impact, more from sympathy than anything. Though she'd stayed away from the melee, she'd still managed to catch a few bruises and scrapes from flying stones, and her left eyebrow was presently diagonally slashed by a cut that leaked blood at a slow, but steady rate. Fortunately, this largely went around her eye rather than into it, but the sticky feeling was uncomfortable now that she was able to notice it at all. She'd have cast a spell to heal it and a few for her companions besides, but she was simply all out of mana for the moment, so it would have to wait. The large piles of treasure were of some cursory interest, but more for the interesting pieces than the shiny ones. Among the bits of wealth strewn about the place lay a staff, the knotted wood of it seemingly interlaced with some kind of stonework, perhaps intended to reinforce the structure. The blade at the end was as yet new-looking, though surely it must have been ancient.

Seeing as her last had snapped under the weight of a crushing stone not ten minutes prior, Nostariel was willing to consider it a good stroke of luck, and crouched to pick up the new one, faintly surprised at the fine make of it despite the odd appearance. It should do quite nicely. As for the rest, well... she would take a portion for her service, but it was not as though any amount of coin or luck would save her from her fate; Grey Wardens had precious little need of such things, in the end.

Rilien, perhaps true to form was standing mildly off to one side, observing the assorted shenanigans with no visible reaction at all. Ashton's act, silly as it was, hardly surprised him, but neither did it produce any kind of scorn. The man was as he was, and Rilien did not mind. Lucien was beginning to remind him more of the man beside whom he'd trekked over more miles than he cared to remember, less solemn than he'd been since the night before Denerim. Hardly noticeable, was the change, and yet the Tranquil noticed all the same.

Sparrow... concerned him, as seemed to be the case too often recently. The thought had occurred to him that she would now be financially independent of his care, but he had not considered that an ill possibility until the demon proved that it could sieze control. It was not that he desired to be near it, merely that he thought things better arranged if he could at least maintain a watchful eye on her. He was... inclined towards her staying. Surely, the demon was the only reason. It was the only one that made any sense, anyway. "It would be prudent to gather what we can and make for the surface," he advised, "That journey will be some time yet, and what food we have will not last so many time enough to tarry overlong."

Nostariel nodded. "Rilien speaks truly. I think that door might put us out into a passage, and if so, I should be able to navigate us out from there, but I for one am eager to be free of these blighted places."

"Should be about a week back to the surface, if we're unlucky," Varric guessed as he perused some of the finer artifacts among the treasure trove. "If we're lucky, we'll stumble over Bartrand's corpse on the way."

The Chanter's Board has been updated. The Deep Roads Expedition has been completed.

Act One has been completed.

Setting

Characters Present

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: Aurora Rose
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It was a pretty day, and one of the days she managed to slip away from Amalia's studies. Fortune favored Aurora this day, seeing as her Qunari mentor wasn't in her usual spot under the vhenadahl. She might have shared a lot with the woman, but she didn't like the idea of having an observer hover over her shoulder as she worked. She looked around the Alienage, gauging the occupants and seeing if any would judge her for what she was about to do. None seemed to give the Shem girl a passing glance, so used to her always walking beneath Amalia's wing. That made slipping into the Alienage more more simplier. Though, the arm full of flowers and seeds did manage to garner some glances.

She stood at the base of the stairs leading into the Alienage for a moment, looking for a plot to begin planting her garden when one appeared to her. In the corner of two buildings, a bit of dry earth awaited to be fertilized and planted. A chesire grin splayed across her face as she took the first couple of steps to the beginning of her future garden. There, she set her plants and tools down and began to dig into the hard earth. It was difficult to pierce the baked upperlayer, but once beneath it the earth opened up to her. She was tempted to use her magic to aid her in this process, but decided against it. Novel, it might have been, but Aurora didn't want to rely on her magic. That was what Amalia was teaching her after all. So she deigned to to it with her own two hands, or not at all.

Before long, the roots of a purple orchid was set in the dirt, the purple flowering bud hanging lazily above the ground. The first of many plants to come, if Aurora had her way. Allowing herself a quick grin, she began to dig another hole beside it. That spot seemed like the perfect home for the yellow lily plant she had brought along.

Indeed, they never did seem to look up, and to be honest, Ithilian rather enjoyed the feeling of looking down. Prideful Dalish thorns wrapped about his heart, no doubt. He'd let them stay. The elf was perched a level higher in the vhenadahl than normal, about an hour into a break of rearranging the majority of the new home he'd been granted by the hahren. It was slightly smaller than the home he'd inhabited previously, which was good as far as Ithilian was concerned. He didn't need much space, as bigger homes were better suited to bigger families.

Aurora had checked for Amalia at the base of the tree, but notably had missed glancing upwards, and by the time Ithilian decided to descend the apostate was busy working a flower into the unforgiving soil beneath their feet. He landed lightly upon the spot where Amalia normally sat and began to walk slowly her direction, though he made no particular attempts to remain stealthy. It was not wise to sneak up on mages unless one was planning to kill them. An old Keeper had told him that once, in another life.

He was garbed simply today, a tan tunic with sleeves rolled up to the elbows and belted breeches, but the state of his head left him unmistakable for the Dalish in the Alienage, along with the patterned tattoo snaking up his left shoulder to his neck. The only weapon he carried on him was Parshaara, sheathed at his hip. Ithilian stopped once he was about ten feet from her, leaned up against the wall of the nearest house. "Claiming that spot of land, are you?" he asked. Some threats needed to be dealt with more gently than others. And some things needed to be examined first, to determine if they were threats at all.

The gravely voice almost made her pounce over her new garden, but luckily her skeleton stayed within her skin. Instead she just froze, her hands hovering over the newly planted lily. She considered the words for a second before nodding along, "I suppose I am," Aurora said, tilting her head. There was no room for a garden in her hovel of a house. It was all brick and mortar where she lived, hardly a place for a thriving garden or even a patch of grass for that matter. "You can spare a patch of dirt for the silly ideas of a silly girl, right?" she said, turning to face him. The light pink shirt she had on already had dirt caking around the edges.

Perhaps it was stupid to quarrel over a patch of dirt, as she called it, but Ithilian had heard Varric say something once on the expedition about giving a nug a muffin, and it was coming to mind at the moment. Aurora came and went for lessons from Amalia, but she did not live here, and harmless as she seemed, Ithilian would prefer to keep it that way. The last thing they needed was to be sheltering human apostates and risking the wrath of the Templars. "Hobby of yours?" he probed. There was undoubtedly a reason behind the sudden move to inhabit the Alienage with a larger flower population.

"You can say that," she said, turning back to the two flowers she had planted. Once again, her hand hovered under the lily, her palm lightly pressing up on the flower, turning it toward the sun. She tilted her head and moved her hand to the Orchid beside it, seeming to almost pet it. She loved flowers-- she always had. Ever since she was a little girl. It was in her chosen name, after all. Aurora Rose, she wouldn't have chose if it wasn't. "This wouldn't be my first garden, you know? I used to have one at home. A little garden right outside the door of our house, bustling with flowers of all colors and sizes. My own little slice of a rainbow, if you will," She said with a smile, as she turned back to Ithilian.

"I had another in the tower. Right there outside the window in my room. While the tower was dull and grey, my garden was a spot of color," she said nodding. It was what got her through most days, working on that little garden of hers. Tending flowers, watching them go from seeds to shoots, to beautiful flowers. Reds, yellows, oranges, violets, every hue of the rainbow, every hue of the sunset she remembered from home. It kept her sane in her time in the Circle.

Her eyes gazed past Ithilian and to the old tree behind him. The vhenadahl she'd heard it called. It was beautiful tree, ancient, towering, and unbending. The way it's roots had been colored on and drew on by the children. It really was beautiful, but like the tower she had been caged in for so long, everything around it was dull, brown, and almost depressing. It was written on the faces of some of the elves. Their home mirrored their lives. They lived under the heel of the humans, she could see that much. She wasn't blind. "Your people have a beautiful tree here," Aurora admitted. "But that's all your people have. They don't have flowers. They don't have color and brightness," she said shrugging. "I just thought that would try and help."

Once he'd determined that it was a hobby that drove her to plant flowers on the small amount of elven soil in Kirkwall, Ithilian had admittedly almost tuned out the remainder of the history. He really didn't want to hear about her other gardens, or her life in the Circle, or whatever she had done before that. When she moved on, however, he frowned. "The tree is all they've earned. They could have a forest if they were worthy of it."

He didn't begin to expect her to understand the ways in which most Dalish looked upon the city elves, but if Amalia saw fit to instruct her, perhaps he could offer some education as well. Some insight, if nothing else. "Most willingly submit to their fate. Some know they could have more, but are held back by circumstances. Only a few have the strength to resist. They are why I'm here... that, and the slim hopes that some of the others might open their eyes."

It was a little off the subject of the tree, but he couldn't help but feel that the conversation was not really about flowers and trees. "Nonetheless, there is too much dirt here, too much dust. The flowers are welcome. The thoughts I would prefer you keep to yourself."

"Ah," she said, smiling again, "But what is a flower but a thought? You care for it, nurture it, and in the end it grows into a beautiful thing so full of hope." With that, she turned back to her garden and began to work with green carnation she had brought along. She'd nurture these plants until they grew bright. She had a knack for such things, it seemed. Even though her eyes no longer occupied Ithilian, that didn't mean she would stop talking.

All the while, she never stopped smiling. She never could stop when she worked with flowers. "I understand, you know? More than you'd think. My idea of freedom was by far the most radical in the Tower. Most were more than content to just sit there, happily willing to serve pennance for a crime forced upon them by mere circumstance. I don't think any less of them for it nor do I think myself better for choosing to do what I did. Some submit because they know they do not possess the same strength that we do. This is not an easy life we lead," Aurora said, turning to look at Ithilian. It didn't matter if he agreed with her or not. She knew what she saw. She returned to her seeds without breaking the small smile hanging at her lips. It had been something she had thought about, during some of her mediations. Thanks to the nature of her mentor, she had been in close contact with the elves of the Alienage. She'd seen them, watched them, and something had occured to her.

They were just like the mages in the the Circle. Locked in a cage not of their own design, but forced upon them. They were just like she had been. Searching for something better, something more. She'd felt closer to these elves than she did the humans of Lowtown proper. She knew their everyday struggle, their search for identity. "There were only one kind of person in the tower," She said. There were no elves, no humans. Only mages. Her best of friends in the Circle had been an elf in fact. City elf, from the Antivan Alienage, stolen away when she was a young child.

"And waiting for them to change on their own does little good. You've got to show them. Open their eyes to something better," she said, holding out a bag of seeds.

Ithilian didn't like her smile any more than he liked her words. His eyes darted to the bag of seeds for a moment, but he made no move to take them, his arms remaining crossed as he leaned against the wall. "Do not think that because you have spent some months in an Alienage that you understand what it is to be born an elf. I do not claim to understand your plight, but I know that you and your kind are feared, and rightly so."

He kept his voice low. Even here, it would not be wise to allow their voices to carry the truth of her powers to ears that would prove a danger to them. She would be smart to remember that as well. "My people are spat upon because they are weak, and oppressed in order to keep them that way. My goal is not to free them, or lead them all from the city like so many cattle, but, as you say, to show them. I will show them what it is to be one of the People, and after they have seen, those who are worthy of claiming their freedom will do so. Elves who accept the place the shemlen have given them in society are no elves at all, and the Dalish have no use for them."

It was the way it had to be. He didn't care that there had only been one kind of person in her tower. The elves had been a better people before the influence of men, and such separation was what was required to return any fragment of that. There was simply no place for humans, or those who bred with humans, in an elven society. It was the reason that the Dalish clans avoided them so, and responded aggressively when pushed.

"No army of lyrium-addled soldiers hold them in their place," he added, turning to put his back up against the wall. "They've trained these city elves to do that to themselves."

Her smile finally dropped into a frown. Not from disapproval or Ithilian's cutting words. Words were only that, words. They held no power over her, nor would Ithilian's pessimism pollute her own mind. Instead, her smile broke in disappointment. Aurora had truly hoped that he'd put aside their difference, even if for a moment and take up the bag of seeds. Perhaps it was a bit much to hopeful, in her passing knowledge of the man, he truly wasn't the soft type. Or perhaps it was a matter of pride, digging around in the dirt with a mere human such as her. So be it, she wished him no ill will. It was his choice to decline, just as it had been hers to offer.

"It's true," she admitted, turning back to her garden, "I know nothing of being an elf," She said, pushing a seed into the dirt half the length of her finger. "But I do know a cage when I see one, no matter what the bars are made of, be it those soldiers or our own hearts," She said, tilting her head as she worked. "These people, they want to be free. I can see it in their eyes," she began. She wondered if he could. "The thing about cages though, is that they're difficult to break by yourself." So immensely difficult. If it wasn't due to her friend in the Circle, Aurora would possibly still be there.

She paused her planting and hesitated for a moment. She then turned to Ithilian again. This time no trace of her smile remained, only a solid porcelain mask she had learned from Amalia. Seemed that she had learned a lot from her in the short time they had been together... "It's why your people become Viddathari instead of returning to the Dalish," She said evenly, returning back to her seeds. She had learned with some of the elves under Amalia's tutelage. They were trading one cage for another, yes, but alway for one of their own design. Something she herself was doing, and she wasn't doing it by herself either. She planted another seed above the Orchid. Amalia was willing to teach and to lead, firmly, but always fairly. She had seen the way the Dalish treated poor Feynriel the scant few times she visited with Nostariel. "It's difficult to throw off your shackles if if you aren't first shown the key," She said, planting another seed above the marigold flower.

"What they become is their own choice to make," Ithilian responded flatly. "The Dalish will not regret the loss of something they never had to begin with." It wouldn't be difficult to tell that he'd become rather irritated. He'd come to determine her motive, and while he still hadn't quite done so, he was done speaking with this shem of things she could not comprehend. He pushed away from the wall, turning to leave. "Forgive me if I don't wish to hear more of your metaphors, shem. Plant your seeds and begone." It would take a good deal of control on his part not to dig them all up the second she departed.

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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Nostariel descended the steps to the Alienage with perhaps more care than was strictly called for. Then again, she was practicing with Ashton at least three times a week, and Amalia was worse. She was quite certain that her body was not meant to move in such ways, but the Qunari made the moving meditation forms look so effortless, no matter how impossible they were for anyone else. So she was maybe a little bit sore, but it wasn't so bad. She could feel different muscles, long-neglected, developing considerably, and she could already bend and fold in ways she would have laughed at trying before, so there was definitely something to this self-improvement journey she was on.

Speaking of journies, Amalia had recently informed her that Ithilian had returned from his, which was quite interesting. She hadn't been sure that he ever would, really, but then perhaps he'd found what he was looking for in Ferelden after all. She was a bit put-out by the fact that he hadn't seen fit to inform her of this himself, but then it was only a recent development, and he certainly had things to do. As did she strangely enough, and the Warden was no longer so easy to find as she once had been. Of course, anyone who wanted to could leave a message for her with the bartender, but she certainly spent more of her time out than in these days.

Waving over to Amalia and Aurora, who were apparently training at the moment, she decided she needed to talk to the other young mage at some point in the near future-- it seemed they were both carving out paths for themselves other than what their magic would suggest, and also that much of their help with this endeavor was coming from the same places. How strange, that a human and an elf, and apostate and a Warden, would both turn to a Qunari for the solace they could not quite find themselves. Naturally, she had Ashton too, but she couldn't deny that Amalia was definitely helping. She didn't linger to interrupt, though, knowing that it would not be appreciated by the demanding instructor of the pair, and instead cast her glance around for a different familiar face.

Huh. Not up the tree. That was a bit odd. Perhaps he was out today? She might have to go ask the hahren, or else wait until the Qunari wasn't busy anymore.

Ithilian had just finished rearranging his newly acquired home, and what little it currently possessed, into a manner that pleased him well enough. Of course, it was unlikely that any house surrounded on three sides by other houses and stuffed into the corner of a cramped Alienage would please him, but at least he'd gotten the furniture arranged in a sensible manner. As satisfied as he was going to be, the elf pushed his way back outside and sank into the wooden chair he'd situated near his front door, taking up a steadily shrinking hunk of wood in one hand, and a carving knife in the other. The last one hadn't really looked like a halla when it was complete. This one would be better.

If nothing else, it was something to do while he kept an eye on the Alienage's visitors, currently just Amalia's shem student. Or so he thought, before he looked up to see Nostariel peering up the vhenadahl at his usual spot. "Warden!" he called out, before resuming his carving. "I thought to find you in the Hanged Man yesterday, but you were not there." The way he said it implied that he was somewhat pleased by it. "I'm glad you came by." He stopped carving abruptly, looking up towards her. "Have you ever seen a halla before?"

A call drew her eyes some distance away, where she found the person she'd come looking for. At the mention of her absence from her usual spot, she smiled, a bit shyly, perhaps a smidgen embarrassed for reasons that were only partially clear to her. Jogging past Amalia and Aurora, she came to a stop in front of him, off slightly to one side so as not to be impolite for standing while the other was seated. The question, such as it was, caught her off-guard, and she had to think about it. "Not a live one, no," she replied at last, shaking her head. "There was a Dalish in the Wardens, my squad... Venlas. He was a very talented artist. He often drew the members of his family and their halla. But I've not had occasion to see one up close."

Though she'd been to visit Feynriel many times, the Sabrae clan no longer had their halla, apparently the primary reason why they were still stranded so close to Kirkwall. Sometimes, she wondered if there might not be some other reason, but if there ws, she knew it not.

Ithilian had no need to ask what had become of this Dalish. He'd joined the Grey Wardens, and died for a worthy cause. That was enough. "They're magnificent creatures. Not possessed of same kind of brute strength a horse can have, but graceful, elegant, noble. They stink less, too." It took him a moment to remember why he'd asked the question in the first place, but when he did, he raised the hunk of wood in explanation. "I'm hoping this will eventually look somewhat like one. My last attempt looked more like a horned mabari." The good side of his mouth twitched upward at that; it had actually been a rather funny looking creation. "I'd invite you inside, but I'm afraid there's only one chair in there, too."

He supposed there was more explanation in order, regarding his return in the first place. He himself had thought for a time that he would stay in Ferelden, rejoining the Dalish and leaving these city elves to their fate, but in the end he hadn't been able to do it. No doubt the way two of the Alienage's denizens would think of him influenced that choice. In all honesty, had he not met Lia and believed she could eventually have something better than a life under the heel of shemlen, he wouldn't have given a second thought to returning to Kirkwall. As much as he wanted these elves to become his people, many of them never would. They were afraid, and their fear held them in place. There was only so much he do by himself to alleviate that fear.

"It's been... an interesting year," he said at last. "I will always carry a piece of my former life with me, but I do not think it binds me any longer. I... said my goodbyes. I thought to stay with the Relaferin for a time, but they do not need me as the people here do. I may rejoin them someday, but for now my efforts will be directed here."

He was tempted to say that she looked better, but refrained. She seemed to be carrying herself somewhat different than when they'd first met, and expected he looked much the same. Both were able to stand taller once they'd finally shrugged the weights from their backs. "How has your own year treated you?" he asked, interested.

"Interesting might be the right word," she agreed, though the bright smile she assumed made it seem somehow inadequate to her purpose. She shrugged and chose to sit on the ground, assuming the usual lotus potision that Amalia used. It was actually much more comfortable than anything else once you could do it without pulling something. Her staff, she laid across her knees, still not anywhere near confident enough to carry around a bow as though she knew how to use it. "Different, certainly. I feel... better. Lighter." She hadn't yet been able to make peace with all her failings, nor say all the goodbyes she needed to, but she knew somehow that she wasn't ready for all of that yet. There would be more than one place to see, more than one farewell to utter into empty air, before she could call herself done with those.

It was a thought that she turned over for a moment, but then left be. It was for another time. "I'm glad to hear it, though. I think... the spirit of this place is a little steelier when you're in it." Her tone was almost teasing, for certainly there was a way in which the statement was an obvious one. He acted quite often as both blade and shield for the Alienage, but she referred more to the fact that those actions had some noticeable effect on the other elves here. Surely, that much at least was good for them.

"There's something coming, too," she said quietly, glancing down at her hands. "I'm not sure what, but sometimes I swear that if you look closely enough, it troubles Amalia, too. She won't speak of it to me, though. Whatever it is, it's good that they'll have you when it comes." She could not express her foreboding in the right way, and she ended up shrugging one shoulder. It might be nothing, in which case she could laugh at herself later, but... were such things ever really nothing here? Kirkwall drew trouble like a candle-flame drew moths.

Ithilian troubled Amalia, he knew that much, but he made no mention of it. "I'd be disappointed if there wasn't something coming, honestly. No society should be willing to simply exist as this one does. It won't last, and when it crumbles, I'll make sure the elves here have my protection." He meant Lia in particular, but that too he did not say. He had said his hello to her a few days ago, to which she'd simply behaved as though he'd left for a day rather than a year and some months. She didn't need him, he knew. She was quickly learning to take care of herself. Still, he could tell that she was very glad to have him back.

"The Alienage could stand to see you more often, you know," he suggested, almost gently, "and not only for your healing. They need to see strength, and you're one of the few elves in Kirkwall who has it. They would look up to you. I can protect them, but... I intimidate many of them. I'm afraid my face is not so pretty as yours." He shrugged. "They need examples to follow is all, and most of mine are... not ideal, for many of them."

She would likely make a fine Keeper as well, he imagined, but he'd keep that to himself. Her status as a Warden would prevent her from ever joining the Dalish even if she wished to, and it was speculation all the same. He'd given enough compliments to someone without vallaslin for one day. Wouldn't want it to become a habit.

Nostariel snorted softly at that, shaking her head. "A strange criterion for strength," she replied with some humor. Honestly, he probably wouldn't intimidate them so badly if he treated them more like he treated her. She'd been intimidated, too, upon first meeting him, but she wasn't sure if she should tell him that it was his attitude that did it, not his face. Regardless, he seemed to be aware that this was at least part of it, and so she let it slide without comment.

"I'm here more than I used to be," she pointed out. "Though admittedly my business is mostly with Amalia. If you think it would help, I suppose I could make an effort, but I'm not sure what I could do or say. I'm used to leading Wardens to battle and death-- it has been long since I've needed to know how to reassure those who are alive and in little danger of a sword to their bellies." It was most assuredly true that elves were second-class citizens in Kirkwall, but the abuses they suffered were not usually of such a blatant kind as she would know how to handle. She suspected what was called for here might be more like she would have been eventually expected to display with younger mages at the Circle. She'd never had much of a chance to do so, however, as she'd been scarcely more than a child herself when she'd left it.

Surely, though, something her mentor had taught her might remain, and if it would be of use to someone, she would do her best to draw upon it. For now, she stood, brushing the road-dust off her breeches. The afternoon drew long, and she was soon due for another lesson. Amalia had her up first thing in the morning, and Ashton's tutelage tended to comprise the transition to twilight. Learning to shoot with poor visibility, or something like that. "It's been good to see you, Ithilian. I'm sure we'll run into one another again. For now, stay well. Ah-- I have learned the words for this." She brightened; Nostariel had been studying the remnants of the Dalish language alongside Feynriel, who confessed to finding it much easier to learn with a friend. "Dareth shiral, lethallin." To her credit, her pronunciation wasn't bad at all. He nodded in return, smiling as best he was able to.

Raising a hand in farewell, she headed back for the entrance to the Alienage. Places to go, people to see, and for once, she was glad of it.

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Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Aurora Rose
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(Of tying off loose ends and hunting bad men with friends...)


Revenge was never a dish best served cold – it was a writhing worm, continuously festering and growing larger still with time. This needed to be finished as soon as possible, so that Sparrow could finally wash her hands and free herself of the grime and dust that had gathered there since her childhood. Who else might have helped her? There was only one individual who hated humans just as much as she did. Had it dulled with time? She selfishly hoped it hadn't. Hoped feverishly that he thought the world was better off without such a destructive race gallivanting where they wished, but somehow knew that Amalia was not like them in the least. Sparrow had always thought that way, though she'd been susceptible as of late, befriending flat-ears without so much as a second thought. It hadn't even struck her as peculiar. They'd weaselled themselves under her arms, effortlessly, and shouldered themselves into her heart. And even still, she couldn't ask anyone else to come along with her, for then they'd know her dirty secrets, and her humiliating past. She wasn't ready for that, yet.

Sparrow quick-stepped down the alleyways, threading herself carefully, and occasionally checking over her shoulder to see if anyone else was following. Kirkwall was ever-known for its shady assailants, skulking in dark corners in wait for passer-biers. How many gangs were there now? Too many to count. Women wearing shawls in creme-coloured helmets, donning shields and calling themselves the Invisible Sisters, which was far too ridiculous, for they weren't even close to being invisible or undetectable – and they weren't the worst, since there were highwayman, men pretending to be guards and redwater whatever's. They posed little threat to her, or her companions, but she'd rather move undetected to her destination. Who knew whether or not Ithilian would blame her for bringing leech-like gang-bangers to his doorstep. She needed him in his best spirits to convince him to help her. It would be difficult enough spitting the words out, because she never asked for help, specifically from strangers she hardly knew, let alone her own friends.

Pebbles skittered into the gutter, kicked and scuffed away from the toe of her leather boot, as she picked her way down another stairwell, momentarily struck dumb as to what she'd say when she found him. Oh, can you help me find and slaughter two humans somewhere in Kirkwall? In the woods? They're garbage, anyway. It sounded stupid. Would he even ask why she'd request such a thing? He didn't seem the sort to pry into private matters unless it somehow mattered to him. If he outright denied her request, what would she do then. She supposed that she'd have to find them herself, though her tracking abilities were mediocre as best. Asking Rilien was out the question. Having to drag himself back and forth from Tranquility to feeling all of those emotions was cruel. Ashton was out of town, somewhere, and she wasn't exactly sure she wanted to explain her story, in its entirety, to someone she nearly saw everyday.

Finally, Sparrow entered the Alienage's clearing. She stared up at the enormous tree, bedecked with colourful patterns and terracotta pots holding lopsided candles and various feathers, and sighed. Had she been born in the Dalish clan like her mother, perhaps asking wouldn't be so difficult. All Dalish felt a kinship with one another. The want to help others was instinctual, but she hardly fit there, nor here, with her nominal pedigree. No doubt, Ithilian felt the same way towards her. Not quite disliking her, but finding no reason to like her, as well. He owed her nothing at all. And there he was, sitting on a rock. Sparrow cleared her throat, pushed the white locks from her eyes and approached him as she would a particularly skittish deer (for reasons she could not readily discern). As she drew nearer, subtlety sailed straight through the window.

“Ithilian,” She greeted with a slight inclination of her head, eyes already blazing with her unspoken question. She would not address him as a Qun today, for no Qun would aid her with this quest. To them, it would seem a selfish task that would be better left forgotten. “I need your help,” Sparrow began, fiddling with the gaudy bracelets dangling around her wrists. There was no easy way to say it, so she merely looked at him and added, “Tracking and killing someone. Someones, rather.”

Ithilian was in the process of getting reacquainted with the flute, which was more or less like catching up with an old hunting friend from his original Dalish clan. Awkward at first as each tried to discern where the other had been all these years, but then once the time had been summarized, they were able to go back to business as though nothing had changed. It was a rather small thing, sadly not carved by his own hand, but he knew it as though it had been. A few elven children had stopped to listen for a while, but he was not so compelling as Amalia was with her harp, or perhaps she was just better with children.

He was playing a slow tune, not a particularly cheery melody, but something more akin to a lament. His wife had taught him how to play it, but he was trying not to think of that particular fact at the moment, and simply listen to his own music, ensure that the sound was as he remembered it. He came to a close just as a visitor arrived, who he noted as the half-breed elf woman, Sparrow. The one with some form of history with Amalia, judging by their last meeting.

She was straight to the point, and that Ithilian could at least respect. Perhaps she was wise, too, if she chose to come to him for help with tracking and killing. Playing the flute reminded Ithilian of how many humans he'd killed with it. Well, not with the flute directly, but it was a preferred tactic of his to lure trespassing shemlen into a clearing with music, and then allow his brothers and sisters to put them down from afar. Indeed, they'd been separated for far too long.

"Tracking and killing are what I do, it's true," he said, one eye studying her to try and find more information than her words would give. "What I don't do is sell my skills for coin, however, so I'll need a reason why this is worth my time before I can say any more."

Playing the flute for the Alienage's oppressed children? Seemed like he'd taken a leaf out of Amalia's book, though Sparrow wondered just how soft he could be under all that bluster, under all that aggression and indifference she'd witnessed in the Deep Roads. She did not know him well – could not directly form any judgement beyond the small interactions she'd had with him when they'd first met, and when they'd slaughtered drakes and dragons in a deep, dark place she'd rather forget about. Initially, she was jealous of him. Jealous of the friendship he'd found in her once-friend. It hadn't seemed unfair that they lived in the same vicinity, and somehow, thisseemingly random person had seen the newer version of Amalia that she'd wanted to know and bonded with her in ways that seemed impossible to her now. She'd wanted to know every piece of her childhood friend: hidden troves, soliloquy thoughts and unspoken messages that shun as brightly as the moon, crisp and clear as daylight. Apparently, not forever because forever meant something that would remain solid and unchanged. They both moved on, and they'd changed, after all.

Sparrow glanced over Ithilian's shoulders, feeling a little foolish for blurting such a request in front of gawky-eyed fledgelings, who were openly listening in onto what she was saying. Not that she really blamed them. They didn't have much else to do beside huddling around scary-faced elders playing the flute, or else, listening to their actual elders who'd tell stories of a better life, and a better culture, lived somewhere faraway. She understood. She remembered. They would hope for the best, but most likely live the rest of their years in perpetual fear, hoping blithely that things would change – and people like Ithilian would try to make those changes. She wasn't so sure whether anything would make a difference. But, she wasn't here for that, anyway. She took a deep breath, and returned her gaze back to Ithilian. Sparrow didn't believe that this particular person, no matter how similar he and Amalia seemed, could read between the lines and know all of things she hadn't said, but managed to convey. Still, his steady gaze was a little off-putting (perhaps, another trait he'd managed to acquire from her).

What could she say? That she'd been brutalized in the woods as child by shemlen-defilers. That she was not who she said she was, and not what she seemed to be. That her parents were most likely in some travelling clan she refused to return to, and that they probably thought she perished. How much could she tell? It took her by surprise that he was unwilling to accept her offer – uninterested in killing humans just for the sake of killing humans. She knew Ithilian wasn't a monster, only a sentinel, a guardian, and a shepherd to his people, but even still, Sparrow believed that his hatred was a blinding thing that drove him forward like a blade in the night. Foolish thought. Amalia's influence, and the Qun's teachings, were unswervingly against anything as transparent as vengeance.

“I-I, they were...” she began, nearly mumbling, and tried pressing on a little louder, “I was separated from my clan, before Amalia. Long ago, after leaving Tevinter. And I was attacked.” Her eyebrows screwed up, knitting tightly and her hand busied itself in her hair. “A group of them, shemlen. They attacked me, and I-I found them. They're here in Kirkwall, somewhere. Maybe, in the woods,” she explained hoarsely, eyes swirling skyward, “They're parasites, cysts, pockmarks. They deserve—”

Judgement, justice. Most of all, death. It was difficult trying to explain what they'd done to her as a child. Harder still to convince someone that someone else deserved to die, that it would be better off for everyone if they ceased to exist. What if these children wandered too far from the nest? They were vulnerable, too. They could be hurt like she'd been hurt. And then, they'd run away from their once-friends, lose themselves, and become someone entirely different. They would run, never stopping to consider anyone else. Surely, he'd understand.

Meanwhile, not too far away, Aurora was busy working in her garden. Weeds were beginning to attack her precious plants, but they would not have her garden if she had anything to do with it. A rusty tin watering can waited beside her to finish her weeding. She had planned on watering soon after, but the arrival of Sparrow sought to change that plan. She (Aurora was still getting used to that) had gone to Ithilian, and she couldn't help herself. She ended up inadvertantly eavesdropping as she weeded. About midway, Aurora stood and pulled her gloves off, tossing them on top of the watering can. She then approached Sparrow from behind, patiently waiting until she was completely finished.

"I'll help," Aurora spoke first. Her plants could wait, they would be there when she returned. It was not in her character to ignore a friend in need, even if she wasn't specifically asked to help. She just hoped Sparrow wouldn't percieve it as Aurora inviting herself in on a private matter, leaving her mouth working itself for a few moments. She could have chosen better words, yes, but it wasn't like she could swallow them again. Finally, she put words in her mouth and added, "If you need me, that is," she said apologetically.

She'd drop everything to help a friend, she'd offer the same aid if it was Amalia, or Nostariel, or even Lucien. She had found friends in them, in a place long away from her home. They made it feel more like home than it was. And though she was averse to killing, the last being a bandit she had killed some odd years ago in anger, when Ketojan was being led out of Kirkwall, she'd follow Sparrow into this. Besides, the way she spoke of it, they deserved it anyway. Aurora was not their judge, that title belonged to Sparrow.

"Killing humans sounds like fun, does it not?" she added dryly for Ithilian, but she quickly reined in her tongue. It would do Sparrow no good if they bickered back and forth while hunting for these men. If anything, she hoped the comment would drive him into the request. She'd be remiss if she didn't admit that she knew nothing about tracking.

"Says the human," Ithilian said rather darkly. He wasn't armed at the moment, aside from the flute, but it was still quite possible that he looked no less menacing than usual. After Sparrow's explanation, he was no longer conflicted on whether or not to help, however. The descriptors Sparrow used sounded accurate. Parasites. Threats only if they were allowed to linger here. The Alienage itself had been pressed not as hard lately, thanks to the combined efforts of all those who sought to protect it, but that only stressed on Ithilian the need to not grow complacent. There was no reason to wait for danger to strike home when he was capable of meeting it on its own ground. Better that the elves never see the inside of Nostariel's clinic at all.

It still left the matter of how this was to be done, however. "I can find them and kill them," he said, "but the woods are not a small area, and you don't sound sure they're there at all. We may end up going out there and tracking down some shemlen hunter for hours. I'm not fond of wasting my time." He rose slowly to his feet, leaning back up against the great tree behind him, crossing his arms. "Do you have any more definite evidence of their location? I'm often needed here as well, and I can't commit unless I know this won't be a fruitless search."

She mentioned she'd been part of a clan. Were she still, he would not have hesitated. Were she even entirely elven, he also would not have questioned her like this. But she was not elven, nor was she Dalish. She was a half-breed, and cursed to receive perpetually unfair treatment from Ithilian. It was nothing she could change. He disagreed with whatever choice her elven parent had made, to try and raise a child split between worlds. A harsh view, no doubt, but one he knew to be necessary.

"I'll help." The voice, clear as jingling bells, came from behind her. She automatically pivoted on her heels, whipping around to face the newcomer, Aurora – and wondered absently how she hadn't noticed her while walking into the Alienage. Usually, her keen eyes were accustomed to spotting beautiful women, especially if they were preening weeds in a lovely garden. Had she always been there? Fading tendrils of electricity goose-pebbled her arms, flattened the raised hairs on her neck. She placed a hand on her chest, over her heart and exhaled dramatically. “Geez, Aurora. Quiet as a panther, you are.” Doubtlessly from Amalia's tutelage. There were few and far in-between that could walk as quietly as her once-friend, footsteps shushed and muffled. “I—”

It was peculiar. Sparrow still wasn't used to her companions offering their aid, even though Rilien, more often then not, worked behind the scenes to ensure she didn't get into too much trouble. He saw to so many things that she hardly noticed, at all. He did not ask, but simply did. The same thing could be said of the majority of her companions. She assumed that even Sophia could have brought her in, throwing her in a grimy cell, for a number of small crimes she'd committed during her lengthy stay in Kirkwall. By no means was Sparrow a slimy individual, sucking marrow from bones in Lowtown and awaiting poor, wealthy individuals in back-alleys to steal whatever coin they had – but, she'd done her fair share of stealing and squabbling when she needed to. No more, since their merry adventure in the Deep Roads, but she'd always been lucky. Someone wanted, after supposedly hearing her ridiculous request, wanted to help her, out of the goodness of their own heart? Had it been anyone besides Aurora, Sparrow would have scoffed.

When Aurora turned a dry, cutting remark at Ithilian, Sparrow winced. She hadn't meant that all humans were dirty shemlen. She hadn't meant that they all deserved the same sort of punishment, solely for being what they were born as. Those bitter thoughts were reserved for the Dalish who thought all humans were dreadful creatures bent on stealing away what little culture remained. She did not fit as nicely into those categories, and hardly believed herself to be this or that. Perhaps, this made her an impartial party: an outsider looking in on all their strife. She clinched her jaw, and awkwardly rubbed the back of her neck. Whatever animosity Aurora had with Ithilian, or vice versa, it clearly dealt with Ithilian's dislike for human beings, and her disagreement with his attitude. Hopefully, there would be no more hostilities, though she wondered just how far he'd be willing to go for just a short, sharp jibe.

Her musty-brown eyes radiated, once more, but quickly became subdued, and thoughtful when Ithilian reminded her how difficult it would be to find two travelling worms hiding in the woods, or even in the dark recesses of Kirkwall. There were so many variants. They could be living in moderate wealth, having moved up in the world of petty mercenary-work. Hadn't she done the same thing? Minus mercenary-work. Far too excited to elbow her way into the Alienage, and ask him for help, that she'd forgotten to retrieve information from the source: Sophia. But, at least Ithilian hadn't outright denied her request. Her heart soared with rekindled hope, shifting gears and alighting anew. “Not exactly,” She admitted, tapping her chin with two fingers. “But, I have a friend who has documents with their names on them. They came over with the last shipment of immigrants, from Ferelden. With addresses, whereabouts, where they'd plan to be.” It wasn't exactly true. She wasn't even sure whether or not their names were on the ledgers. If Ithilian wasn't on board to help her, she'd never find them on her own.

“You've agreed, then?” Sparrow questioned, easily rhetorical. Of course he had! For the Alienage. For all of the Elven children he strove to protect, he'd follow her until they were rightfully brought to justice. Buried somewhere, or left in the gutter. They hardly deserved anything but brutality. And they would be their death-bringers. “I'll come back once I've gotten the information. Very soon,” She added quickly, swinging her gaze back to Aurora. Better to be done with this conversation before Ithilian decided it wasn't worth the effort. She felt like she'd succeeded in something, as if she were finally moving forward to a brighter, better tomorrow. And as much as she wanted to thank Ithilian, Sparrow understood that his cooperation would not be for her benefit, and it hadn't been completed, as of yet. A wary, though thankful, smile stretched over her lips.

“Yes, I'd like that.” Sparrow paused, eyeing Aurora's mucky knees, dirt still clinging to them. “I'll help with your garden, while I explain some things.”

"I'd appreciate the pair of hands," Aurora began. "The weeds are trying to choke all of the flowers."

Setting

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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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