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Lucien Drakon

"One day, this will all be done, and I shall be allowed to rest. But until then, I cannot stop moving forward."

0 · 1,348 views · located in Kirkwall

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

Description

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“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the strength to overcome it.”

93 Million Miles
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Name: Lucien Thibault Drakon
Pronunciation: (LOO-see-ehn TEE-bol dray-CON)
Age: 32 (Act III)
Race: Human
Sex: Male
Sexuality: Heterosexual
Height: 6’4”
Class: Warrior, through and through.

Build: Well, chances are if you need a body to carry heavy object X, Lucien has you covered, and then some. He’s optimized his structure for the fairest balance of brute strength and mobility, or at least his version thereof. As a tower of a guy to begin with, it only made sense to take advantage. Still, he can run long distances even in armor and jump over things if he has to, so he’s not just an immobile statue-warrior. Really, at the base of it, he's just incredibly fit.

Appearance: Anyone with decent observation skills can read Lucien’s history just by watching him for a while. The stature and build lead most people correctly to the assumption that the man is either a fighter or a laborer, but the flawlessness of his posture could only belong to a nobleman of considerable standing, so it isn’t hard to place which.

He must be a disinherited or poor nobleman though, because his clothing and equipment, while in good repair and of excellent quality, is far from rich or ostentatious as the Orlesians are known for being, and he must be Orlesian, for certainly nobody else’s honey-rich baritone would carry quite that accent. He’s no stranger to battle, as the scars on his arms (and less-visible portions of his body) and the patch over his right eye would attest. Underneath the patch, his eye is still there, still the same flinty silvery grey as his good one, but his vision with it is rather poor, so he finds it more useful to just cover both it and the unsightly scar that bisects it, as apparently the appearance of someone with actual battle-wounds has been known to induce fainting in delicate nobles. He isn't bothered much by it, and though his manner is unassuming, the fact that he walks around in armor basically all the time, and doesn't seem to be even the slightest bit conscious of just how tall and imposing and scarred he is provides a unique sort of intimidation all its own.

His medium brown hair, worn shaggy and shot through with bits of caramel-color here and there, also has a thick silver streak at his right temple. This is because his scar starts there, and the surrounding hair grew back grey for some reason. His face is sun-darkened, as he spent much more of his time outdoors than his mother would perhaps have liked as a boy, and has always tanned easily if not particularly darkly. His facial structure is mostly comprised of squarish angles, and a friend once joked that you could cut things on his cheekbones or aquiline nose. His body language betrays an easy confidence, a level of comfort in and control of his own skin that most people do not obtain. It's his body, and he knows its every nuance and movement and tendon with the old familiarity of repeated use.

Act Two: Well he looks more like Aragorn Lucien has over the years allowed his appearance to adapt slightly to his more mercenary lifestyle, though he is still generally irreproachably well-kept. His hair, always on the shaggy side, now reaches just past his shoulders, most often tailed, and he often maintains a very short beard, trimmed just past being stubble, though he does still shave quite regularly, so it's not always there. Aside from this, he's taken to wearing a more conventional set of armor in dark grey, as one of the few things he's bothered to purchase since the Expedition is a full suit of plate and chain.

Act Three: Anyone who has ever seen his father will likely be unsurprised by how little Lucien’s physical appearance has changed over his time in Kirkwall. His new profession, as a more official sort of mercenary, has necessitated a few changes to his wardrobe, and he now wears a little less plate and a little more leather and chain, as well as a burgundy hooded cloak with the insignia of the Argent Lions on its back. He is also generally always impeccably groomed these days, though that may have more to do with the fact that he’s courting than the fact that he feels the need to look especially neat for his clients.

He no longer wears the patch over his bad eye, and has been working on his depth perception. While the scarred eye will never work as well as the other one, it is certainly no longer to his detriment to look out of it, thanks in part to some long-term work by Nostariel.


“I would not say that the entirety of someone’s tale could or should
be interpreted from their appearance, but… there are some things
that are telling, and I have never minded that.”




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Demeanor: ‘Honor’ is the operative word with Lucien. It extends to just about everything he does. The man is basically chivalry incarnate, and refuses to dirty his hands unless he believes it is for the greater good. He is, of course, no stranger to violence, and has killed more men than most ever will, but for all that he is, deep down and unflinchingly, a good person. He will always do right when presented with a choice between it and wrong, or even between it and easy. He does not hesitate to raise his blade in defense of the powerless, and he refuses to lie for any but the most noble of ends, and never for his own gain or the sake of wealth or prestige.

One can imagine how well he fit in at the Orlesian court.

Here, we have the sort of fellow who actively goes out of his way to help others, refuses to judge anyone on any criterion that is not personal merit, and while unfailingly polite, also finds himself feeling a bit awkward around those of the female persuasion (at least until they've got a weapon in-hand, because his world makes more sense when battle is involved). Though he was once stupid enough to believe that women should be protected rather than put at risk, a few very skilled female Chevaliers put him in his place about that, and though he still dislikes putting anyone else in positions of danger, he never judges a person's skill on the basis of their gender (or race, for that matter, a lesson taught him even more harshly than the first). He wasn’t raised in the Chantry or anything, and he knows how the world works, he just… doesn’t always get it. Why are people cruel to each other? What possible personal gain is so desirable as to be worth the oppression of someone else? The answer, to both his credit and his detriment, eludes him entirely.

He has social graces in spades, but he also does not hesitate to express an unpopular opinion, believing as he always has that knights are supposed to speak for the voiceless and defend the helpless, though his understanding of just who they are has grown considerably in scope within the last few years or so. He has suffered for this viewpoint, but continues to maintain it. He is familiar with the extravagant courtly mannerisms of Orlais, and can execute each and every one of them to a studied kind of perfection. For all that, though, he often chooses not to. The comfort of the people around him is something he considers important, and he knows that especially many of the people he knows these days would be made uneasy by such displays.

Act Two: Honestly, not much about him has changed in three years. Perhaps that says something important in and of itself. He has met a wide array of people, and perhaps now he is a bit more comfortable with his own history than he was previously, but he has largely avoided really opening up much to anyone, save perhaps Rilien. Granted, both Sophia and Aurora know a bit more of him than he usually shares, but even this is perhaps not much, all things considered.

Act Three: There is a perceptible difference in Lucien these days. Where he has always carried himself with a certain dignity, confidence implied, it is now more relaxed, and the self-assurance more evident, though certainly not overdone even now. He seems more comfortable and at-ease, less at-odds with his environment, whatever it might be. To put it another way, Lucien seems, at last, to be a man fully at peace with who and what he is. Traces of doubt, things that may happen in the future, still weigh heavily upon him, and there is no mistaking that his duty is as important to him as it has always been. But he has allowed himself to open up to others, to let them in and commit himself to being a presence in their lives, and it has done him a great deal of good.

Fears: Losing them. Failing them most of all. Who 'they' are has proven to be a rather broad category. While it is true that he still holds his homeland and his blood and his oldest friends in high regard, he has another kind of family now, people for whom he would happily give everything he had if only they were to need it, or ask. Not all of them are the kinds, perhaps, to return such a sentiment, but they are dear to him all the same. Less abstractly... he fears that the fundamental divide in himself, between the prince and the mercenary, will one day separate him from them, but most of all from her. From Sophia.

Opinions:
  • The Chantry:It is perhaps not uncommon for the Orlesian nobility to have a fair degree of darkened cynicism regarding the Chantry, but Lucien has also seen faith be of great benefit and comfort to people. It is difficult to view especially negatively something that has done that much good for some of the people he cares about the most, but he is also aware that it has done others among them great harm. As an institution, he is not especially fond, but individual practitioners, are, like everyone else, to be considered on an individual basis.
  • Mages: Systematic oppression is something he does not understand. Mages can kill with little effort, yes, but so can he (arguably, it's easier for him). So why is he allowed to walk about as he chooses while they are kept behind bars? Certainly, some mages are wicked, just as some warriors are wicked, but he’s a big believer in taking individuals as separate entities.
  • Templars: Some are worthy of respect, some are not. This is just like everything else. He is fairly certain he isn't fond of Meredith, but as he can't quite articulate his reasons for this, he doesn't express it to anyone else.
  • Elves: Yet more categorical oppression, and this makes even less sense to him. He can understand on some level why people fear mages as a group, but elves? They are just people who are small and have pointed ears, perhaps with some interesting cultural differences, but that’s really it.
  • Dwarves: He thinks deciding merit by birth is very misguided, but of course any dwarf he meets on the surface is likely to think the same anyway.
  • Humans: They come in all flavors. Unfortunately, many tend to leave a bad taste in his mouth.
  • Qunari: An immensely complex people. He would consider Amalia a friend of his, though she is perhaps not exactly Qunari anymore. One soldier to another, he respects their military discipline and culture, and knows that their occupation of Kirkwall could have been much worse if they were as reactionary as the radical elements of the city had been towards them. They took the high road on a consistent basis... until the incident in the Keep. That, he believes was wholly unnecessary, and if he had to put a name to the failing, he would say the blame lay in large part with the Arishok, who finally allowed his patience to fail him in a way that had disastrous consequences. Even so... he has not lost that basic respect for them, though he would not particularly want to be one.
  • Kirkwall: It is not home. It will never be home, but... it is a dwelling, and to say that it isn't home is to unfairly imply that he does not care for it. Kirkwall has endeared itself to him somewhat as he has acquainted himself with its people. Not only its warriors and mages, but its shopkeepers and carpenters and bakers and refugee elves and even its rowdy bar patrons. The city has color, and while the shades are often dark and bloody, they have their moments of utter incandescence as well, and those make slogging through the rest worth it for him.


“They say that men are measured by what they leave behind.
I suppose that may be true, but I have always found the
question of why we leave those things to be too
important to ignore so thoroughly.”




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Weapon of Choice: Honestly, pretty much anything. Chevaliers are trained to all sorts of weapon arrangements, so he’s not attached to any one in particular. Right now, his weapon is actually an enormous scythe of all things. He will, if asked, admit that he is most familiar with greatswords, but for reasons that are unclear, he refuses to carry one. This occasionally works to his detriment in confrontation, but not so much that he can't deal with it.

Act Two: He's still a fair hand with just about anything, and over the last three years, he's used his scythe, a shield alone, and one of Rilien's daggers, among other things. Currently, his main weapon is a two-handed axe he had commissioned from the Viscount's armorers. It's solid steel and good craftsmanship, but nothing extraordinary, and he feels no particular attachment to it.

Act Three: Having, as he sees it, regained his honor, Lucien is now once more comfortable carrying and using swords. The largest one on his person is a larger-than-average claymore, probably not even liftable for an extended period of time by someone of lesser strength than he. The weapon is clearly ancient, but not because of its condition. Rather, the design, and the runes etched into the blade, are very old, whereas it is still in almost perfectly-maintained shape. Formally, it is sometimes called the Sword of the Crown, due to being a relic of Kordillus Drakon I, but more colloquially, it is sometimes just referred to as Everburn, for the enchantment on it, which heats the blade to a bright, cherry-red when in use. Lucien, being the modest sort, usually just refers to it as my sword.

Armor/Apparel: He’s got an interesting mix going on: the traditional color of Orlesian Chevaliers' armor is red, and he still has the gauntlets and greaves, though anything with the royal crest on it was taken from him, including his chestplate. So, over his red steel chain vest, he has a rather ordinary black-and silver torso covering instead. It’s all of good make, but he looks slightly cobbled together. Tied around his upper left arm is a dark green cloth which acts as an armband now, but was apparently once torn from something.

Act Two: While the armband remains, his armor has been replaced, by a more utilitarian dark grey set of plate and chain.

Act Three: Lucien’s armor reflects a change in his combat strategy. Rather than being fully suited in plate and chain whenever he ventures out of his house, he has adapted to his new lifestyle by amalgamating chain or scale, studded leather, and the more essential plates of his old set. Most of it is a bright silver, though he maintains a spare set in darker colors for more clandestine operations. It’s overall quite a bit lighter than full plate, without sacrificing too much by way of protection. It also reflects an excellent understanding of his own technique, strengths, and weaknesses. His arms, for example, are asymmetrically protected, with a much heavier gauntlet on the hand he would use to block had he the need to do so, and a larger pauldron on his dominant shoulder, for the occasional body-check, and to protect the side of his less-reliable eye.

Combat Overview: Lucien was made for war, and it shows. Well-trained in both cavalry tactics and the gentleman’s duel, it is nevertheless the case that he’s most at home fighting multiple foes at once, keeping them at bay with his medium-range weapons and an attack style that is so defensive that it works strangely well for offense as well. Due to his proficiency with defender-style abilities, most hits, magical or mundane, are likely to glance off him, but he’s no layabout either, and if he had a traditional specialization, it would be closest to Champion. Strange as it sounds, his primary weakness in battle is the tendency to overexert even his impressive stamina by trying to be everywhere at once, and defend everyone: it leads him to actions that could be considered overly risky and certainly reckless, opening him up for attacks by sneaky rogues, for example.

Act Two: A few years have just made Lucien a few years better at what he does. Oddly, he's exchanged combat tips with Amalia of all people, and hence picked up a few nice tricks for very close-quarters situations. Other than that, he's worked on closing holes in his guard and maintaining his general levels of fitness.

Act Three: Lucien has slipped quite effectively into his role as mercenary captain, and this has included adapting more elements into his previously very knightly repertoire. He is more mobile now, helped along by the necessity of adapting to various terrain features, close quarters, and the like, and now more fully utilizes the greater speed and flexibility that has always been available to him as a result of his unique training. Having a more thorough skills exchange with Amalia, as well as having worked closely with Rilien, Ashton, and other more roguelike types, has given him a better range of applicability than the average warrior, though it would still be a gross mistake to characterize him as anything but.


“I have learned many times that there is more than one way
to fight effectively, and knowing as many as possible can
only do one good.”




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Place of Birth, Nation of Origin: Val Royeaux, Orlais
Social Status: Exiled Nobleman, nephew of the Empress Celéne. Now he’s a lowtown merc, mostly.

Personal History: One might think that being the last scion of the House Drakon, a lineage from the most glorious age of Orlais, would make a person largely immune to criticism and ridicule.

One would be sorely mistaken.

The family, once the mightiest in the world, is now largely a relic in Orlais. They’re frightfully old-fashioned, stubborn in their refusal to play the great game (a conviction for which many have paid with their lives over the years), and unerringly dedicated to the protection of their homeland. They’re also related to the current ruling line, and through the marriage of Lord Guy Drakon to the Lady Veronique, sister to the Empress, they’re once again nearly royal. Not that any of that really matters.

The union produced only one son before the untimely death of Veronique to a Bard’s poison, and the attempts on Lucien’s life grew more and more frequent as he aged. Since Celéne was not married, Lucien was as close to a direct successor as she had, and frankly there were a number of social climbers less-than-pleased with this development. Particularly so since the heir was a Drakon of all things, son of a man who took no bribes, employed no bards, played no foolish games, and who would doubtless teach his boy the same.

Guy, himself Lord-General of the Orlesian army, taught his son how to check his chambers for poisons and fight off assassins from a very early age, instilling in him that these tactics were not how honorable men fight their battles and that he must always strive to be better than his countrymen in this respect, but never put himself above even the lowest servant. It was a harsh set of lessons, but one brought to fruition with Lucien’s own entry into the Knights Chevalier.

Unfortunately, such unyielding dedication to personal honor does not generally mesh well with command structure, and after a few years, in an incident that Lucien usually refuses to discuss, he was insubordinate to a superior officer, lost much of the use of his right eye, and was banished from Orlais indefinitely. He was also present at the battle of Denerim, as his exile coincided with the Blight in Ferelden, and he'd been traveling through that country with the intention of visiting a childhood friend of his, Elissa Cousland. Given everything that had happened to her over the same year, his own worries were rather trivial. Though he was no longer a solider, he took up arms for her in the fight, and stayed for a little while after it was done, before moving on to Kirkwall.

He still keeps in contact with his father, through letters sent by secret couriers.

For reference, the Code of Chivalry, as Lucien was taught by his father, is below. Lucien himself doesn't always follow every tenet exactly, because honor can be situational, but it's a pretty solid guide to how he'll act at basically any time.

(Thanks to Kiku for having this laying around, apparently!)
Kurokiku wrote:1. Never harm he who is guilty of no crime.
2. Never attack anyone unless he attacks first. Even if he does, do no more harm than necessary to neutralize the threat he represents.
3. Treat others with respect and courtesy, even if they cannot be bothered to do the same.
4. Defend those who cannot defend themselves.
5. Women and children are to be accorded a special level of respect and deference. This is not because they are weaker, but because the consequences of not doing so are quite often common and vulgar.
6. Protect your liege with your life and all the strength you have to give, but do not use your loyalty as an excuse to forget your other obligations.
7. Be well-read, well-spoken, and knowledgeable in as many areas as possible.
8. Refrain from using foul language.
9. Do not tell falsehoods, and use omissions or half-truths only when they are necessary to protect lives.
10. If you may use your wit or knowledge or skill to gain material advantage over someone, do not. Be fair and just in your dealings with others.
11. Strive towards mastery of everything you do; half-measures are as shameful as half-truths.
12. Live in a way that is modest and without ostentation. Refrain from unnecessary adornment in clothing, weaponry, or quarter.
13. Exhibit humility in all things. Be honest about your faults, and quiet about your virtues.
14. Do not allow others to anger you with words alone. He who controls your temper controls you.


Act Two: Since his exile from Orlais, Lucien has travelled across Ferelden, spent a bit of time with a family friend of his, and taken a boat to the Free Marches. He wound up in Kirkwall simply because it was a port city, and he has stayed largely because employment is plentiful and the place could use a bit of cleaning up. He can never seem to leave well enough alone, so he stays. That's not to say that he has no other reasons at all, only that they aren't necessarily the operative ones.

Act Three: To call Lucien’s most recent years in Kirkwall arduous is to underestimate things a bit. But though they have indeed been especially trying, both physically and mentally, they have also given him the chance to grow as a person, to form lasting friendships with people he would never otherwise have met, and to fall in love, or at least to admit to himself that he already was. (Fortunately, he was also able to admit it to the other party involved).

He was happy to provide his assistance to Sophia and the others as they dealt with the increasing threat of the Qunari presence in the city, as well as the equally-troubling threat posed by the fanatical Chantry adherents who would attempt to incite the population against them. But no less important, he feels, was the time he spent helping his friends with their own troubles, something he was able to do on many occasions. Those shared experiences, pieces of their history both in the past and in the making, have given him a deep sympathy for those people he is closest to, one more meaningful for the fact that he now understands, at least a little, what they have been through. Nostariel, Ashton, Aurora, Rilien, Sophia… he has learned a great deal more about each of them, and they in turn of him. These bonds are not the same as those he shared previously with comrades, but they are just as important to him, some more important than he ever could have imagined they would become.

Though his recent exoneration from his alleged crimes in Orlais has once again placed him in the position of being heir to the most powerful country in the world, he has returned to a city-state in the Free Marches. His mercenary company is up and running on official charter from the Viscount’s office, and doing good business despite their small numbers and very recent entrance into the market. He knows his homeland will call him back eventually, but for now, his home is not Orlais, but the City of Chains.


“Admittedly, I had once thought myself nearly done changing.
It was a foolish thought—we never stop changing, no matter
the circumstances. And we never should.”








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| Amalia |

To say that Amalia is an unusual woman is perhaps to make quite the grievous understatement. Her mannerisms are blunt, but also strangely obscure. He’s not sure if he has any sort of accurate read on her, but what he knows of her has led him to believe that, at the very least, her heart is in the right place. Whether she’ll choose to let the cool logic of her head overrule that isn’t something he knows, or would ever ask. Their occasional conversations are always enlightening, and leave him with the sense that there is much he still doesn’t know about the world. He welcomes the challenge to his way of thinking. Of late, he’s been speaking to and interacting with her more regularly, and unlikely as it may seem, she is his favorite sparring partner, when she will consent to a match. Even he can still bruise, and she has frequently reminded him of this.

Wait It Out
Take Out the Gunman



Image| Ashton |

The revelation that Ashton used to be a smuggler isn’t really all that surprising, but Lucien takes it in stride. Regardless of who the man was, it’s who he is that’s important, and Lucien’s willing to go a long way to help a friend. He’s noticed how much the archer and Nostariel care for one another, and approves—not that he thought it was ever his business to begin with. Still, the association, and the proclivity that all three of them share for finding themselves in dangerous situations, means that they’ll likely only become better friends as time goes on.

Marchin' On
Hero



Image| Aurora |

In the time that Lucien has known her, Aurora has managed to grow and change for the better without losing her essential self. It’s quite admirable, in his opinion, the way she has mastered her more immature inclinations and put herself to better use, attempting to better her lot and those of the people around her with a minimum of violence. They’re certainly friends, and he values her opinion—he only hopes that the continuing tensions between mages and Templars do not bait her into taking a more extreme stance than she is comfortable with, or is truly necessary. But this, he knows, is a matter for her judgement, and not his.

Prayer for the Dying
Hey Brother



Image| Ithilian |

Lucien still can’t say he knows much of anything about Ithilian. The elf doesn’t seem terribly social, and Lucien’s not really the sort to push the point, save in circumstances that haven’t ever come up. His abilities as a warrior are nothing to be taken lightly, and a few conversational mentions have clued him into the fact that the man spends quite a bit of time with Amalia, and he did learn a few things of interest during their brief time as a team in the Deep Roads, but Luce is smart enough to understand that there is much more complexity to the other man than he has even skimmed the surface of. That’s certainly fine, and the mercenary captain would not mind sharing a drink or two with the Alienage’s protector, were he ever so inclined.

Horse With No Name
Believer



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| Nostariel |

Lucien’s rarely been happier for another person than he is for Nostariel. She seems to finally be embracing the things she still has and makes for herself rather than only mourning what is lost, and it has done her great good. She seems genuinely happy, and he couldn’t be more pleased to see it. He’s often to be found at her clinic, delivering supplies he’s goaded Rilien into providing or those which Amalia volunteers, and he’ll help out with any of the more backbreaking physical labor she needs done as well. She’s still one of his closest friends, even if they aren’t moping around in the bar on a daily basis, and for that, he’s thankful.

Shimmer
I'll Follow You



Image| Rilien |

It’s a bit strange to watch someone else change, particularly when you weren’t sure they were capable of it. Rilien reminds Lucien that there is always more he can do, always greater lengths he can strive to in order to protect what he holds dear. The Tranquil, given the opportunity to regain everything that he had lost, chose to give it up again, all for the sake of the person he loved more dearly than all of it. It was quite something, especially for Lucien, who knows very well what Rilien thinks of sacrifice and sentiment. A less humble man might suppose that to be his own influence at work, but Lucien does not see it so. Rilien, he thinks, just does what must be done, without hesitation, every time. Even returned to his Tranquility, there is something about the Bard that seems to have softened from his days in Orlais. Lucien welcomes the change as surely as he would have welcomed his friend’s unerring lack of it. That’s what being a friend is all about.

Lean On Me
War



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| Sophia |

Desperately in love—those were his words. He hadn’t precisely intended to say them, but that does not make them untrue. How Lucien feels about Sophia has all the facets: the adrenaline-inducing, breath-quickening raw affection, the tender sympathy, the deep, enduring friendship founded not only on the things of immediate concern to them, but the things deep in the fabric of their personalities. The desire to do better, to be better, in order to feel even a little bit worthy of what she is to him. And indeed, the crippling fear of losing it all to the whims of fate, his own weakness, or the demands of their stations. But more than anything, it is that desperation—the knowledge that the risks are worth it, even if they can only have each other for a moment. Because surely, that moment would be the best one of his life, for she is without a doubt the best thing in it. Whether it ends for good or ill, Lucien will never in his life love another in this way, and he knows it.

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



Image| Sparrow |

Freed now of the demon that plagued her for years, Lucien has yet to really talk much with Sparrow. He understands, however, that she seems to be beginning a path to recovery and redemption that it may well take the majority of her life to walk. That’s a daunting prospect for anyone, probably most for someone who lived a primarily self-interested life until that choice faced them down. He would know as much quite well. He’s always there to help or to talk if she decides he would serve the purpose well, but he knows she’s always been a bit uncomfortable around him, and so if she is best helped by him retaining a certain amount of distance, he’s perfectly willing to do so.

Au Revoir
Beautiful Times



“People in the Chantry speak of blessings. I know nothing of gods
and little of men, but I can say this: no blessing could be
greater than having good people at your side.”





So begins...

Lucien Drakon's Story

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#, as written by throne
”You needn’t go so soon, you know.”

Rakkis was standing just to the side of a bed in disarray, not a sword’s length away from the waif who’d just crooned those words. He spared a glance over his shoulder as he pulled his breeches up and cinched his belt with two sure movements of his scarred hands. Artfully, he had cocked an eyebrow at the young human who lay florid and tangled in the sheets, playing his part even after the deed was done. Harlan must be making half a fortune off this one, he decided, And no small part of it from me.

”Say ‘mustn’t.’ ‘You mustn’t go so soon.’ It implies more want on your part, rather than disinterest on theirs. Everyone loves to be wanted and nobody wants to be disinterested.” He peeled his gaze away from the whore, inspecting his surroundings for- ah, his shirt. He scooped it from the scrollwork arm of the ornate chair that it had fallen upon in the midst of their unwrapping of one another. Returning to the bed, he knelt upon it and then tugged the shirt on, fumbling like a child to get his head out the right home, then the same flapping business with his arms. He reappeared with a dazzling grin at the young man. ”But as it happens, I must. Go, that is. Though, before I do… He reached down and lifted- Stavros’? Stentos’? It started with an S and ended with an S, he remembered that much- at any rate, he took him by the hand, smiling. ”Why don’t you tell me who gave you these?

The squeeze he gave that delicate wrist was not painful, but the whore gasped in surprise. Rakkis kneaded the heel of his hand expertly over the whore’s wrist in such a way that it caused the make-up he’d noticed during their mattress theatrics to give way to ugly bruises. They described the shape of a large man’s hand in stark, yellow-purple contrast to S-some-other-letters-S’s exquisite pale flesh.

He listened, nodding, his eyes steeling up briefly in the wake of a few more graphic details of “The Story of How a Boyish Whore Was Bruised”, which his erstwhile entertainment delivered quite well. He was an actor, once, or I’ll join the Chantry.. When it was through, he let his fingers dance briefly near his hip, somehow extracting from his pocket a single sovereign. He smiled like one would when consoling a squalling child and briefly made it disappear, then walked it down his knuckles, then with his thumb, flipped it so that it landed on the portion of the sheet that was rather needlessly preserving the last gasps of the boy’s modesty. ”You should choose a different name to go by here. Something punchy, easy to remember. How will anyone ever ask for you a second time if they can’t remember your silly name?” He grinned in the face of a whore’s indignation, and then sat at the edge of the bed to lace up his boots.

Those same boots, not a moment later, carried him lightly down the steps to the ground floor of The Blooming Rose. He set his hands on his hips as he bounced down the final two steps, a heroic pose, or more likely, a mockery thereof, and then swept toward one of his oldest true friends in Kirkwall. Most whores considered time their greatest enemy, robbing them every second of the looks that kept them in coin. Maeve, on the other hand, was always more beautiful than he remembered. He embraced her quickly before pulling away. After a bit of banter, he casually mentioned what he’d only heard just moments before, though he did dimly recall seeing a poster, now that he thought of it, which he hadn’t bothered to read. ”You’ve heard about the Viscount’s son, I’m sure.”

Rakkis was fond of saying, or rather, thinking declaratively, that one had no need of spies if one had whores. Maeve’s tale overlapped partially with the waif’s, sketching out for him a few salient details: there was plenty of coin to be made finding the brat, the Winters were planning on using the reward and good-will from finding said brat to get a foot-hold in Kirkwall, and that a few of The Winters had indeed passed through the Rose recently. He stood on the tips of his toes to kiss each of her painted cheeks before bidding her farewell and promising that his next visit would be soon.

The Viscount’s Keep was not so far that Rakkis felt inclined to rush. He enjoyed sauntering through Hightown. There was no one who relished being unwanted half as much as the elven brigand did. He paused to inspect a poster, nearly identical to the one he’d ignored earlier, and realized that they were hung everywhere. He spat on the ground. Sons went missing in Lowtown and Darktown every day, daughters too, and nobody cared but the ones they were missing from. If it weren’t for the music of very many coins clinking together in his mind or the bruises on a boy-whore’s wrists, he might have turned about for the sake of spite.

He didn’t turn around, though. He went right on sauntering, right up the steps and inside the Keep. He rolled his eyes when a guardsman moved to bar his way. The man was nearly two heads taller than Rakkis, and at least twice as massive. ”I’m here to help find poor Saemus. Be a good statue and direct me to whichever doddering functionary I need to see about signing on.” As was often the case with hired help, the guard was quite unsure what to make of Rakkis, and he grudgingly pointed the way to Bran, the Seneschal, whose title vaguely reminded the elf of the name of a whore he planned to avenge.

He strode with ersatz dignity to the seneschal’s office, literally puffing his chest out… which proved to be for naught, given Lucien’s presence. He would have needed several extra chests and a pair of stilts to look impressive in that sort of company. Despite his relative diminutiveness, he looked the man right in the eye as he nodded up at him in passing, displaying the sort of grin that madmen often died wearing. He swept onward, bound for the fire-haired majordomo.

The Seneschal looked up from his desk, where he had been writing. His eyes made a pass over the length of the elf entering the room, one eyebrow raising slightly. He then sighed, finishing up the letter he'd been working on, before reluctantly speaking to him. "Tell me you aren't here for what I think you are."

The elven rogue's lips pressed into a smile that he probably imagined as rakish. "I'd never presume to know the thoughts of the Seneschal of Kirkwall, so I'm afraid I can't tell you that. What is it that you think I'm here for?". As he idly awaited a reply, he slid his tongue along his teeth, as if trying to clear some obstruction between the gaps, and then reached up to lend a fingernail to the effort.

Bran did not seem amused. "You're here about the bounty for bringing Lord Saemus back safely," he stated flatly. "Let me tell you now, the situation has changed... but the Viscount would not wish me to turn a willing hand aside. So I'll give you the same offer I did for the last mercenary who came looking for coin." He put down his quill, leaning back in his chair. "The Viscount's daughter will be following a mercenary company that has already departed for the Wounded Coast, to retrieve Saemus from his Qunari captor. Lady Sophia will be ensuring nothing goes wrong. If you would accompany her, and see to it that both she and her brother return to the Keep alive and well, you will be granted the reward."

Somewhere in the midst of Bran's speech, Rakkis had either unstuck whatever was stuck in his teeth or abandoned the pretense of trying to. He only seemed to be half-listening, having turned his gray gaze to inspecting (with a dearth of approval) the decor of the man's office. "'Bounty' is such an ugly word for rendering such a valuable service to our fair city, don't you think?" He smiled absently and shook his head. "I'm aware of the changes in the situation, m'lord, which only makes my presence even more necessary. But I'm sure you look forward to hearing all about that when we return. Where have my fellow adventurer's gotten off to, then?"

"Lady Sophia is donning her armor at the moment, I imagine. She will be present shortly, and will no doubt immediately depart. The mercenary outside will also be accompanying her."

His gaze slid toward the open door and he smirked. "Tell him to keep an eye on her, did you?" He didn't bother waiting for Bran to not answer. "You've discharged your duty in this matter quite adequately, Seneschal." With that, he bowed very low and took his leave.

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Rakkis Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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The Viscount's daughter slid through the door to the private quarters and into the Seneschal's office. Bran looked up to see her sheathing Vesenia, her hand-and-a-half sword, across her back, her suit of armor gleaming in the morning light that streamed through the window. It was an expertly crafted suit of silver plate, remarkably light for the protection it offered her, and yet still strong enough to turn aside any glancing blow. It was also stylish enough to make most Orlesian Chevaliers moderately jealous, with crimson and white ribbons sown into the shoulder pauldrons and breastplate, as well as a crimson skirt falling loosely around her legs to reach her knees. She had tied her thick golden hair back into a ponytail, securing it in place with a headband of tightly interlaced red and white cloth.

"My lady..." Bran began, but as ever, Sophia was quick to quick to cut him off. "Bran, I'm going. Everything will be fine." He shook his head. "It's not that. A pair of... mercenaries, I suppose, arrived while you were donning your armor, and I've assigned them to accompany you to the Wounded Coast." Sophia sighed. "More mercenaries? And how am I supposed to trust these ones any more than the Winters?"

"Because they are fully aware that their reward will only be presented if both you and your brother return unharmed. And, well... the first one seemed an honorable enough sort. The other should be held by the coin, if nothing else. You'll see soon enough. They're waiting for you outside." Sophia shrugged. There wasn't any more time to waste. She wasn't going to argue with him about this. And... she had to admit that taking on the Winters herself should things go awry was a bit of a tall order. They were skilled killers, not commoners. "Fine," Sophia gave in, before turning to leave.

"Maker guard you, Sophia," Bran called to her as she left. Sophia had never thought the Seneschal a very religious man. Perhaps he was just saying it to encourage her. If he was, it worked well enough. She passed through the Seneschal's door swiftly, moving easily in her armor, a feat not many of the noblewomen in Hightown could perform. She noted the presence of her two companions, the first a large, well-built man, a warrior like herself, the second... a slender elf. His facial tattoos initially identified him as Dalish in her mind, but... the tattoos seemed oddly vulgar. She had to admit, she'd never met a Dalish elf, but she'd always imagined their facial tattoos would be more... elegant?

But it didn't matter. He would help her, or he wouldn't get paid, which was likely all these mercenaries cared about. She waved the two to follow her, and moved swiftly down the steps away from the Viscount's quarters, expecting them to keep up.

"Let's do introductions on the move, shall we?" she called back to them, golden hair swishing behind her as she walked. "Sophia Dumar, daughter to the Viscount of Kirkwall, as I'm sure you know."

Lucien tracked the elf's movement with his single mercurial eye, returning the rougish nod with a markedly more respectful and decorous one, though other than that, he was quite content to remain out of the man's business, and maintained a fair distance from the Seneschal's office. Eventually, the tattooed fellow reemerged, and the warrior was fairly certain he caught the tail end of a jest made at his expense. Never heard that one before, he thought with faint traces of sarcasm, though he was more interested in the fact that the other man seemed to be lingering as well. It was not difficult to put two and two together, and he drew the conclusion that he would not be alone in his endeavors this day.

He was spared having to ask the actual question by the appearance of an armored woman, face set into an expression that was all business. The craftsmanship of her arms and armament spoke to wealth, but also the presence of mind to maintain such things, and her gesture was all he needed to suppose that she was accustomed to being obeyed. After that, the introduction was only a formality, and he uprooted himself from his spot against the pillar at last, rotating his left arm in its socket as he tread carefully after her trailing ponytail. He maintained a respectful distance of two paces behind and to the right, but the motion made bowing a frankly ridiculous option, so he embraced the efficiency of the situation and spoke while walking.

"Lucien Drakon, milady, lowtown mercenary, as I'm sure you have no reason to know." He echoed her delivery with something approaching mild humor. And why not? Though he'd been told she was a warrior, it was still in his nature to expect formality thick enough to choke, and its absence was... refreshing.

Rakkis played a single thumb along the exposed hilt of his unnamed rapier while he waited. He smiled pleasantly enough at Lucien, then at Sophia when she made her appearance. The slender elf gravitated toward the large mercenary's right side when they were underway, hanging just a step back; not out of deference, but more likely to be annoying. ”And I am Rakkis. A pleasure to make your acquaintences, of course." He eased his hands behind his back, clasping them at the small of it. He had to step quickly to match his companions' longer strides, but did so easily enough.

Sophia made note of their names, if only to know what to call them in case orders needed to be given. The name Drakon might have had a greater impact on her had she not been in such a hurry, and had she not been so distracted. "We could go through the formalities," Sophia commented as the group exited the Keep, "but personally, I'd rather we just got moving. I hope the two of you can ride. We'll be making haste to the Wounded Coast, where we should be able to pick up the Winters' trail. Maker willing, we'll catch them before they do anything stupid." She made a sharp turn at the base of the steps, turning towards the Viscount's stables. The guards nodded and let her pass, her two companions let through as well.

Rakkis' nose wrinkled up on the word ride. He had no great affinity for animals, particularly the sort large enough to flatten him with a kick. Of course, the well-bred beasts that the Viscount was liable to keep might be less surly than the nags he'd had occasion to saddle before. ”That," he commented dryly with a smirk toward Sophia, ”Would require catching them before they get anywhere near your darling brother."

"That is my intent," Sophia said as the three of them made their way into the stables, an open courtyard of mostly cold stone flooring, though they would be able to see the Viscount's private riding grounds through a gate against the far wall. A stablehand was quick to bring Sophia's horse to her, a proud-looking white warhorse which she smoothly mounted without breaking stride. "Bring horses for my companions," she commanded, and in short order a pair of them were brought forth, both black. Strong, sturdy horses, not the caliber of Sophia's, but noble creatures all the same. Once the group was mounted, Sophia kicked her heels into her horse, calling back to them.

"Try to keep up!"

Lucien was forced to adjust the way the scythe lay across his back, in order that he would neither stab the horse nor himself. It was a minor inconvenience at best, but it had never been a problem when he carried a sword. It would be some time, perhaps, before he allowed himself that luxury again, or any other. Still, there was a faintly-pleased crinkle in the corner of his visible eye when he swung astride the beast. This, the exercise of military skill from astride an equine, was one of the things the Chavaliers took most pride in, and the Orlesian cavalry was, in the opinion of its members and a fair amont of others, the finest in the world. Lady Sophia spurred her beast foward, and the call that issued over her shoulder, filled with no small amount of confidence, sounded very much like a challenge.

The Orlesian man's good eyebrow ascended his forehead, and he shook his mane of hair good-naturedly. How tempted he was to revert, even for a moment, to his boyhood, when he'd answered so many such barbs from his father or his comrades and raced with no thought for anything but the joy of it. Alas, that was likely not the intention, and there were much more important matters to be taken care of. Steering with only his legs, Lucien squeezed his horse's flanks rather than kicking it, but the response was the same, and he made sure to actually heed the command and keep pace, aware that time grew short.

”Horse," the elf said, nodding toward the coal-colored steed that was brought before him as if that were its name. He hadn't the same aplomb or horsemanship as his two human comrades when it came to getting astride the damnable thing; it was nearly a trapeze act of sorts for him to get one foot into a stirrup and then swing for the sake of momentum to wind up in the saddle. He situated himself, looking cross and uncomfortable, and then leaned in to whisper into one of the animal's large ears. "There is a woman down in Darktown who makes a most delightful horse-meat stew. I know her well, and would see her business thrive. Do not cross me, Horse." He kicked his heels into the great beasts sides, then held on for dear life as it started off its cantor. The animal probably barely realized there was a rider in the saddle, so slight was Rakkis, and it was with wide eyes and quite a few curses that he managed to stay seated at first. Sophia and Lucien would likely gain a sizeable lead before he finally got the hang of it.

The three of them departed Kirkwall, heading for the Wounded Coast.

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Lucien had been given cause to visit the Wounded Coast on more than one occasion, given that this location was rife with bandits and Tal'Vashoth alike. Despite the rather unsavory nature of its residents and its repuation for running ships aground, it was very much a scenic place, with the same raw beauty as many of the lands that surrounded Kirkwall. Here, in the Free Marches, what was not city was often wild, and the landscape was dotted with caves, outcroppings of rocks, and in this case, quite a lot of sand. It was very unlike Orlais, where just about everything was farmland or else relatively-tamed forest. The air here was crisp and salty in his lungs, but he did not quite allow himself to forget his purpose.

The group had slowed to an easy canter, to spare the horses the indignity of a turned foot or a potentially-catastrophic stumble. It also allowed Rakkis an opportunity to regain the ground he had lost at the start of their mad dash for this place, which the once-knight considered fortunate. It would not do to encounter these other mercenaries, nor the boy and his captors, at less than the full strength of their force, however few in number they were.

The tracks the Winters had left were easy to follow; the divots in the sand indicating the passage of many human feet but no equine ones. That were clearly making no effort to hide their presence here, and perhaps they had no need to, with that many of them. It was hard to put a number to it, for some tread in others' steps, but it was no mean force. A true company, and not just a loose association of individuals, then. The tracks diverted south, and Lucien pulled his horse up when he heard the first unnatural noises. That was down very close to the ocean itself; a bandit camp had been there until recently. Perhaps the Qunari had killed them?

Squinting his eye, he placed a hand on his brow to shade it from the sun, but no more details of the situation were immediately visible to him. "There," he indicated the area with a gesture. "We can approach from any one of three directions, or all of them, if you prefer. Given their number, I would of course advise caution, though I'd also understand if you preferred to forgo it, given the circumstances." A not-quite-smile twisted his lips, and the expression was perhaps best classed as wry, patiently so.

"I'd rather not give them the impression we mean to attack them," Sophia said from atop her horse. "They're not our enemies yet, after all." She swung one leg over the horse and smoothly dismounted, squinting at the area. She could see some of the Winters from here, and judging by their postures, the situation was not a very tense one. She gestured to her two companions to follow. "Follow me. Keep your weapons sheathed, please. It appears the Winters may have things under control. Maker willing, the both of you can return to Kirkwall and receive your rewards without ever drawing blood."

Rakkis dismounted as gracefully as he'd gotten onto the black steed in the first place. He somehow managed to get both feet beneath him and land silently upon the soft sand. The elf glanced toward Sophia and shook his head. "You pious types really do take all the fun out of rescue missions, you know. I suppose you are in charge though." Something about the way he intoned the second sentence might have cast doubt on the matter.

She led the way down with smooth, long strides, movement with a purpose. She took the middle of the three paths, leaving her sword sheathed across her back. A pair of Winters stood watch at the entrance to the old bandit camp, but made no motions to stop her. She nodded respectfully towards them as she passed, and they made no reaction.

"And the world's rid of one more Qunari," came Ginnis' voice from the center of the camp, and Sophia's attention was snapped to her. The leader of the Winters stood with twin daggers drawn and dripping dark red blood, over the prone form of a lone Qunari, lacerated by multiple wounds, his blood staining the sand. "Easier than I expected." She called back to the men accompanying her. "Call the others back, we won't be needing them. We've got an appointment with the Viscount, isn't that right, Saemus?"

Sophia's younger brother of two years was kneeling beside the dead Qunari, his attention fixated on the corpse. "Ashaad..." Sophia was confused for only the briefest of moments, before she understood. Suddenly everything made perfect sense. Oh, brother... this is going to complicate things. Saemus had turned his gaze on Ginnis, anger in his eyes. "You killed him! You... you vashedan bitch!" He had risen to his feet now, and seemed entirely unaware that his own sister had now entered the area. He likely mistook her for another mercenary.

"That one of their words?" Ginnis responded, with a mix of amusement and annoyance. "See, that's why you need to be dragged home. You're playing too nice with those things. I'll wager you've gone even further than that, haven't you, brat?" Sophia decided to make her presence known now, lest things get any more out of hand. "Enough!" she called, getting their attention. Saemus turned. "Sister? What are you doing here? Did father..."

Sophia shook her head. "No, I came on my own. You and I will have to have a talk with father when we get back. For now, I just came to make sure you were safe." Saemus cast a hateful glance at Ginnis. "I was safe! I was never not safe, at least not until father sent thugs to do a job he should have done himself!" Ginnis rolled her eyes. "Quiet, you! Listen, girl, the Winters were more than capable of handling a single Qunari. We've done the job, and we've already claimed him, so the bounty is ours. The boy is coming back to the Keep with me."

Saemus seemed indignant, proud, defiant, and most of all, completely sure of himself. Sophia knew this to be when he was most rash. "Sophia... if I must go back, so be it. But I will not see these... murderers, rewarded." Sophia sighed inwardly, but outwardly she just met Saemus' eyes, so that he would know just what he was asking of her. She would do anything for her family, of course, she just needed to be sure that this was truly what Saemus wanted. Ginnis took a threatening step towards him. "You spoiled little shit! Maybe I should cut out your tongue, and charge extra for bringing you back quiet!' Saemus stood firm in the face of her threats, however.

"Saemus... are you sure about this?" Sophia asked, glancing down to the dead Qunari. Had he really meant so much to him, that he would ask his own sister to risk her life for him? And Saemus nodded. Sophia took a calming breath, before slowly reaching up with her right hand, and sliding Vesenia from its sheath, and stepping beside her brother. "Serah Ginnis, I'm going to have to ask you to leave. My brother will be returning with me."

Incredularity was soon replaced with outrage on Ginnis' features. "You're kidding, right?" When Sophia made no move to answer, she shrugged. "It's no problem for me, you know. I can always kill you and make it look like the oxman did it." Sophia raised her eyebrows at her, but she had no doubt in her mind that Ginnis was crazy enough to actually think that would work. Realizing her remaining time to talk was short, she looked to the two that had accompanied her, Lucien and Rakkis.

"Serah Lucien, Serah Rakkis... I will not ask you to put your lives in danger for a cause you do not believe is just. I must stand by my brother in this. These mercenaries murdered someone who was a friend to him, and I cannot see them rewarded for such an action. If you wish to leave, I would do so now." Ginnis took a few steps back, putting some distance between them before the inevitable fight. "The girl has a point. Neither of you will be sharing my bounty. You can either clear out now, or die with her. Your choice."

Sophia swallowed, holding her blade at the ready. There were perhaps a dozen Winters around them, and if she had heard Ginnis correctly, more on the way. Certainly not a fight she could survive on her own, and Maker knew Saemus was useless at fighting. But she would stand with her brother. These people would not be rewarded for murder if she could help it.

Lucien, having dismounted and left his horse tied near Sophia's, had followed at a fair distance, single ocular taking in his surroundings. Desiring a bloodless end was noble and good, but he didn't much like the look of the situation. The dead Qunari only made his apprehension tangible. A full mercenary company for one Qunari? He knew little of them, but nothing he had ever learned led him to believe they were the sort to kidnap anyone. So much of this reeked of excess force already.

The three-way discussion did nothing to set his mind at ease, and indeed the lad seemed to confim that he had been at the very least a willing party in this little expedition, if not its mastermind. The details of the family squabble simmering under their dialogue were not something he really desired to know, but he was rather used to people airing their dirty laundry in front of him. Things like this happened in far more spectacular and public fasions in Orlais all the time. It actually seemed relatively mild, though the presence of the mercenaries was still his primary concern. At least a dozen, and an allusion to yet more. His hands itched to heft his scythe, but out of respect for his charge's wishes, he stilled them for the moment.

Of course, as soon as Sophia's sword was in her hands, all bets were off. Gritting his teeth, Lucien released his overlarge farming tool from the straps that held it to his back and lifted it, blade down, placing it in the sand and leaning on it with false nonchalance. "Vengeance may not always be just, but breaking a promise never is," he replied neutrally, fixing his gaze on Ginnis. "Nor is needless murder, whomever the victim. If this is what it comes to, then I will fight until it is done, milady."

For his part, Rakkis looked rather bored by the conversation that ensued. He kept casting his eyes skyward, tapping his left foot, fingering the silver knife earrings that lined the lower edges of his pointed ears. He'd drawn a bit closer than Lucien had, somehow managing to creep closer and closer without every seeming to actually move at all. His annoyed and annoying performance served a distraction, and his edging took place when all eyes were on one of the two women doing most of the talking. Unlike his companions, he didn't bother drawing his weapons. Instead, he folded his arms across his chest. Unseen, his fingers brushed the hilts of throwing knives cleverly concealed on his person. Amusement limned his gray eyes as he glanced askance to Lucien. ”Speaking technically, killing the mercenaries would be needless murder. But you have to admire the boy's spirit, mmh?" He gave his head a shake. ”The Coterie has no issue with the Winters. Given that they've offered us the chance to be on our way, I really shouldn't do anything to cause problems."

The elven thug smiled apologetically at Lucien, Sophia, and Saemus in turn and took a single step backward.

It isn't needless when innocents will die if I don't, Lucien told himself firmly, but it was a thought he did not voice aloud. It was not for him to force his ways upon anyone else.

"Well, would you look at that," Ginnis said in amusement. "The only one here with half a brain is the knife-ears. Wise choice, elf. Right, let's get this started. Kill the bitch and her bodyguard. Leave Saemus untouched. I'll deal with him later." With that she dropped a small flask at her feet that exploded into a cloud of thick smoke, in which she vanished utterly. The other Winters, wielding an assortment of dual weapons, swords and shields, and two handed-weapons, charged.

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Rakkis Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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Sophia had little time to be disappointed in the elf's decision, as the Winters were quick to jump into the fight. Not that his backing away was entirely unexpected; she hadn't judged him to be the most trustworthy of individuals, and his apparent affiliation with the Coterie did him no credit. But there was no time to think about that now. It appeared as though she and Lucien would have to take them all on. So be it.

Her method of removing Saemus from the fight was a rather ungentle shove, sending him stumbling away from where swords would shortly be clashing. Sophia had no idea how Lucien behaved in combat with that outlandish weapon of his, but her strategy was not one she had to debate for long. She would take the fight to them. Sophia wasn't good on the defensive, certainly not when multiple enemies were attacking, as they were now. At least four were coming right for her, two wielding sword and shield, a third hefting a battleaxe, and the last carrying a bastard sword similar in size to her own. There were a few towards the rear, the way they'd come in, wielding bows, but it would be difficult for them to get clear shots in with all of their allies getting in the way. And of course, Ginnis would be entering the fight at some point. She'd disappeared in the smoke, and would soon be hiding among the rocky surroundings, no doubt waiting for the most opportune time to reemerge.

The axeman reached her first, swinging downwards at her. Sophia sidestepped, deceptively quick even with her armor, and countering by slicing across his leg, though she didn't have a chance to inflict any more damage, as one of the ones with a shield, a brutish woman, sent a sweeping horizontal blow her way. She threw her blade up to parry, catching the sword solidly and deflecting it to the side, letting her momentum open up her defenses, giving Sophia the opportunity to send a quick slash at her throat. It found its mark, and the first Winter fell to the sand, clutching her throat.

Lucien found himself dealing with a smaller share of the melee combatants than Lady Sophia, which was vaguely insulting to his sense of pride, but they'd realize their mistake soon enough. As it was, two heavily-armed and armored individuals was nothing to be reckless about, though an honest self-assessment promised victory. With something that sounded suspiciously like a long-suffering sigh, the one-eyed man hefted his scythe in both hands. Part of the benefit of a weapon like this was the simple fact that nobody else used one, and so people usually weren't prepared for it.

The fighters coming at him were not well-matched in speed, and the faster of the two seemed to be unwilling to compensate for this and slow down. His downfall, the Orlesian supposed. A surprisingly-deft swing of his weapon brought it within striking range, though the duelist applied an extra burst of speed, causing himself to be struck in the side with the wooden pole rather then the steel blade. He appeared to be quite pleased with this development, correctly assuming that Lucien would not be able to arc his scythe back out and then swing again in the time it would take to close the distance between them. Unfortunately for the Winter, the mercenary had no need of such maneuvers, and with a sharp tug, hooked the inside of the blade around the man's waist.

It bit deep, slicing through leather as though parting water. The spine was a bit more of a challenge, but he didn't bother to try cutting it in twain, rather allowing the momentum of the pull to bring the duelist into very close range. Shifting his grip so that he held the polearm with only one hand, Lucien drew his other arm back and connected his gauntleted fist with the rogue's jaw, hard enough to leave very obvious rents in his face and render him unconcious.

The man fell to the ground even as his compariot drew within range, and Lucien simply changed direction, catching the much-larger warrior in the stomach with the end of the pole. While he doubled over, the Chevalier stepped in closer, walking his arms up the haft of the scythe so he was holding it around the center. The combination of arrangement and distance allowed for the equivalent of a pommel strike to the back of the head with the blunt end, followed by a quick reversal, the pointed end of the weapon burying itself in the joint of the man's armor underneath his shoulder. As anatomy worked, there was a rather important artery there, and Lucien was rather certain the man would not be standing again.

An arrow skittered off the pauldron on one shoulder with enough kinetic energy to force Lucien to bend or stagger. He chose the former, then decided that the archers probably oughtn't be allowed to keep shooting with impunity.

Rakkis silently added another dozen or so tallies to the ledger entitled "People Who Died Because They Didn't Actually Listen To Me" while he waited for the battle to take form. The Coterie may not have had any grievances with the mercenary band known as the Winters, but he did. And he'd specifically said that he shouldn't get involved, not that he wouldn't. He might have shrugged, if he weren't spending so much effort to make it seem like he couldn't care less about the skirmish that he was carefully monitoring. The melee began in earnest before he could reach two counting backward from three, and that was the instant that the elf chose to act.

His cloak fluttered. The Winter with the hand-and-a-half sword who was circling to get at Sophia's flank suddenly came down with a nasty case of dagger-hilt-protruding-from-throat. The axe-wielder got lucky, if recieving a wicked cut across the leg could be considered lucky. When he ducked as a result, Rakkis' throwing knife went sailing several inches above his head. His cloak fluttered even more when he broke into a sprint, his light footfalls carrying him over the treacherous beach sand rather than through it with barely a grainy spray to mark his passage. He ducked a bit low, having come to rather the same decision that Lucien had: the archers needed to be harried, and he was the only useful member of their merry band not currently waist deep in steel and blood. Presenting as small a target profile as possible for the bow-wielders to sight, he wove an abrupt, chaotic, somewhat serpentine course toward the nearest tent in order to use it for cover.

His hands slid across his thighs this time, and came away with a throwing knife each for the modicum of effort. Bowmen had the advantage of both range and stopping power over his little blades, but Rakkis had the advantage of... well, being Rakkis. One arrow tore through his cloak; it would have sailed clean through had the fletching not gotten muddled by the bands of iron he'd sewn into the hem. The trapped projectile bounced about harmlessly as he skidded to an abrupt stop behind the tent, hanging very close to the canvas on the off chance that the archers were savvy enough to arc their fire over the temporary structure. Using one of the throwing knives, he cut his way through the first side of the tent, pausing to listen for the twang of bow-strings. Given that none of the arrows had impacted the tent-side with a whump, it was safe to assume that they'd taken advantage of the Winters' numbers thinning on the battle field to pepper Sophia and Lucien with arrows.

The second he heard the twang he'd been waiting for, he slipped from the entrance of the tent and rushed the mercenary's artillery line, if it could even be called that. His arms pumped much more deliberately this time, sending the knives in a pair of flat arcs one after another; he didn't have time to aim for a killing shot, so instead he just made sure he hit something, which in this case, happened to be the stomach of one and the drawing arm of the other. He didn't miss a stride in his bullrush, but he did cross his arms, drawing his rapier and parrying dagger with a simultaneous flourish as he moved into stabbing range.

It occurred to Sophia that she may have been a bit quick to judge Rakkis, as one of his knives struck the throat of one of the men attacking her. And while she always preferred the path of honesty, she could certainly see the advantage he'd given himself here, and her by extension. The field of Winters around her was thinning, however, which would make her a target if those archers couldn't be dealt with.

She'd preoccupied enough by her surprise at seeing the man fall with a knife in his throat that the sword and shield armed mercenary had been able to effectively close the distance. He rammed into her with his shield, the weight behind the blow sending her reeling backwards, but she maintained her feet. Unfortunately, this put enough distance between her and the Winters for the archers to loose their arrows. The first deflected harmlessly off her shoulder plate, but the second hit directly, punching through her armor just under her ribcage, effectively taking her wind from her. The mercenary closed the gap, hoping to take advantage of the injury, but Sophia's training far outdid his own. Winded as she was, she was able to put him on the defensive with quick, well placed strikes, before finally opening his defences and plunging her blade through his gut. She withdrew it just in time to deflect the heavy blow of the one with the battleaxe, who was clearly working through the pain of the deep slash she'd put in his leg.

Sophia brought the pommel of her blade up to his skull, the blow knocking him back, allowing her to turn the tables on him. His wound hampered him, and his axe was poor for defence. Sophia was able to get a clean slice into his knee, taking him down to the ground, before stabbing downwards, Vesenia cutting its way through his chest.

That was when Ginnis chose to reappear, as Sophia expected, at a highly inconvenient time. Her blade still buried in the man's chest, she had no guard up as the leader of the Winters appeared behind her. One of her daggers expertly found the weak spot in her armor, the sides, where the back and breastplates were strapped together. Sophia sucked in a breath as the dagger buried itself just above her right hip. She was forced to abandon her grasp on her sword as the other dagger went for her throat, barely catching Ginnis' arm in time. The woman drove Sophia back to the rock wall, pinning her up against it momentarily, before Sophia surprised her by headbutting her squarely in the forehead. The blow knocked her back, and she lost her own grip on one of her weapons, leaving it in Sophia's side, but she certainly seemed confident still, as she dropped another smoke bomb, and disappeared again.

Lucien's plan to assist his crafty elven cohort in tearing through the line of archers was cut woefully short. As things worked out, his path was cut off by a woman, apparently in the throes of a true berserker rage. Wielding a sword that had to be at least her height, it was relatively clear that she was not going to simply allow him past.

In his youth, Lucien had been of the restrospectively-comical opinion that it was improper for a knight to do battle with a lady. A few years in the Chevalier's barracks with some truly fierce females who had not hesitated to hand him his hide on a platter the first time he tried to pull 'that chivalry bullshit' on them had firmly disabused him of this notion, and so there was not even a break in his movement as he swung, only to be deflected by the massive sword. She clearly had not picked the weapon only for show, and the enraged bellow that heralded her own attack put him on the defensive immediately. He was forced to give ground when the sand proved less-than-solid under his feet, but it seemed only to drive his opponent further forward.

Rather more in control of himself than she, Lucien did not waste time in a weaponlock that would tire both of them quickly. The size and strength advantage was his, but the advantage of fighting intelligently was ever greater. Stepping aside, he used the opportunity to disengage. With all of that force still in play, she stumbled right past him. He pressed the advantage, swinging and scoring a deep cut on her left arm, but apparently part of the draw to surrendering to battle-rage was that you could ignore non-fatal wounds, because she had recovered and was coming at him again before he had the opportunity to hit a second time.

The sword was aimed squarely for his hip, and the wooden pole of his scythe would not be able to block, so Lucien did something warriors weren't typically trained to do: he dodged instead. Dropping to all fours, the Chevalier lashed out with both feet, entangling them with hers and wrenching forward, causing the berserker to overcompensate and crash onto her back in the sand. Regaining his feet, he noted that her sword had come loose from her hand and picked it up, hurling it far enough away that it would not be a problem- into the ocean to be precise. Of course, she was back on her feet before he could recover his scythe, so apparently it was down to a more literal strength of arms now.

Obviously still angry enough to tackle an ogre, she swung recklessly, and he caught the incoming fist deftly. He'd expected the second hand next, and so was rather surprised when she kneed him in the stomach. It smarted even through the scale armor there, and he had to suck in a deep breath before he could comfortably move. When he did, it was to lift her arm above her head and twist, in something parodic of a waltzing twirl. Had she moved with it, it would have been, but instead, he twisted her arm behind her back rather painfully and put her in a sleeper hold. Counting the seconds until she lost consciousness, he was grimly aware of something that smelled of smoke and blood approaching from his blind side. Able to drop the berserker just in time, he deflected the dagger aimed for his throat with a gauntlet and took a few large steps backward.

The advantage of surprise gone, Ginnis would find him no easy target, especially not when his foot found the scythe. Without taking his eyes off the Winters' leader, he nudged his toe under the ploe and kicked upwards, catching it with his hand. Not content to wait for him to attack, Ginnis rushed him, disappearing mere seconds before entering his range. He hated it when they did that, because it meant-

Of course. He whirled around in a half-circle, anticipating the backstab. One of her blades managed to slip in between his scales of armor, and Lucien's breath left him in a low hiss. Still, he'd wager he came out the better, because the business end of the curved steel head of the scythe was at least four or five inches into her left thigh, and he could feel it scraping bone.

The first time anyone witnessed Rakkis fighting, a single word came to mind: amateur. He did everything wrong, or at least, he seemed to. As he whirled into the midst of the archer's, he was literally whirling. It was a tight spin, granted, driven by three hard pivots on the very balls of his feet to avoid too much shifting on the sand, but presenting one's back to a foe was virtual heresy in most training programs. His arms were out wide, bringing his rapier through an elaborate figure-eight, leaving him wide open to an attack... or at least, he might have been, if his spin didn't present only the side which held his parrying dagger to his enemies as he closed the last few feet to engage them. Odd, that.

There were two sort of men who wound up as archers in mercenary companies. There were those who were actually archers, and those so useless at anything else relating to combat that they were best served by having a bow thrust upon them and learning how to hit stationary targets some of the time. The man whose arm Rakkis had cut was obviously part of the latter group. He partially released when the pain came, sending his arrow in a dejected arc toward the sand some ten meters distant, nowhere near anything living. While in the midst of his first pivot, Rakkis drew his parrying dagger across the man's bowstring, severing it neatly.

The second archer, the one he'd caught in the stomach, didn't really have a chance to show what brand of man he was. As he passed, Rakkis swung his elbow hard into his gut- or rather, into the hilt of the dagger that was still extending from said gut. The resulting agony had the poor fellow doubled over, then on his knees. He'd probably survive, Rakkis noted, but he was not going to be participating meaningfully in the fight any longer.

The third archer, though, was worth his wages. He'd been drawing a bead on Lucien, but quickly adjusted his aim and let fly. Had Rakkis not been in the midst of his absurd spin, the arrow would have caught him in the chest, puncturing a lung and rather ruining what had proved, so far, to be a very interesting day. Instead, his lanced along his right flank as he finished his last pivot. Pain blossomed, followed quickly by blood, staining his shirt and slowing him down, or vice versa. He immediately dropped his bow and drew a short sword, battered looking but well kept. It was the sword of a veteran without a great deal of coin, and Rakkis identified it as such immediately.

”Your friends are very good at this," he quipped, his breath running just a bit ragged. He launched an easily blocked feint, a forward thrust of his rapier, which his foe picked off cleanly just as he'd been expecting. He was stronger than the elf, Rakkis learned from that exchange, but only just so. The archer pressed what he conceived to be an advantage of some sort. After all, Rakkis was mid-thrust, his forward leg bent, his rapier arm fully extended. He leveled a savage, hacking sort of cut that would have bit into the slender elf's collarbone if Rakkis hadn't taken advantage of the soft sand and twisted himself ninety degrees around, ducking his head. A precise swipe of the rapier, practically an afterthought, across the man's midsection stung him into falling back. Rakkis sprang to his feet...

... Just in time to see stars when something very solid and made of metal clanged against his skull. Thoroughly dazed, he staggered forward. The first bowman, in a fit of desperate ingenuity, had pulled off his half-helm and clocked Rakkis in the head with it. The elf chose to stumble and fall, exaggerating the effects of the blow. He used his seeming delicacy to his advantage for the thousandth time as he sprawled himself out on the beach, belly-down, and groaned theatrically. He counted the sand-logged footsteps and then rolled onto his back, bringing his rapier up and extending his arm again.

His shoulder jolted terribly at the impact. The tiny point of his weapon passed easily enough through the flesh of the under-chin, through the palette, up through the skull. It was when it connected with the very crown of the inside of that skull that Rakkis found his arm buckling. If the third archer had been wielding anything other than a short sword, it might have been an impasse. As it was, the battered weapon, which its now-very-dead wielder had brought in an overhead cut to stab into Rakkis' back, hung just inches from his face. He abandoned his rapier and scrambled backwards, letting the corpse topple without entangling him.

Helmet-fellow had the sense to draw a dagger. He saw himself, clearly, as having the upper hand versus an injured elf on his ass with a weapon of similar make. Rakkis reached up lazily for the clasp of his cloak as he got his feet beneath him. It seemed a pity to waste such a thoroughly dramatic maneuver on such an unimpressive enemy, but he didn't have time to play around, if the sounds of Lucien's and Sophia's scuffle weren't too affected by the concussion he'd probably endured. With practiced aplomb, he sent the lead-weighted bundle of fabric flapping through the air like some unholy specter toward the unwitting archer. Ignoring his injuries, he fell into a brisk jog behind it, building momentum unseen. Just as it fluttered into his adversary, Rakkis threw himself forward, driving his parrying dagger through fabric and sternum alike. He got his free hand on the hilt and then ripped it downward, savagely, ruining a perfectly good cloak in the process. He also "parried" the lack-wit's internal organs, which were no proof against good steel, but that was of rather less concern to the elf. He hated sewing.

Lucien had drawn Ginns' attention away from Sophia, and Rakkis had torn into the line of archers, the pair of them effectively taking the heat off of her, for which she was very grateful, considering that she wasn't at her best currently. Deciding she had to do this while the adrenaline was still going, she braced herself against the rock wall, before gripping the handle of the mercenary leader's knife in her side, and sliding it out, exhaling heavily as she did so. A gloved hand naturally went to the wound as she dropped the dagger, coming back wet with her blood. The arrow would have to be dealt with later. She'd have to remove her armor for that.

Sophia pushed away from the wall and pulled her sword from the fallen mercenary, surveying the field. Rakkis had things... somewhat in hand against the remaining mercenaries, while Lucien had buried his scythe in Ginnis' leg. Sophia quickly covered the distance between them, taking advantage of the mercenary leader's wounded and pinned position by utilizing her increased reach. Vesenia could strike farther than those daggers ever could. The flat edge of her blade slammed into the side of Ginnis' knee, taking her down to a kneeling position. Without hesitation, the Viscount's daugther sliced horizontally, lopping off her head.

The first fight was won, and though Sophia didn't know exactly how bloodied the others had been, she herself was not looking forward to the prospect of more Winters arriving. Blood was dripping down her right side, and in a thin line down her left leg. But at least that bitch was dead. Sophia tried to avoid hate, but that woman had been simply unbearable.

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Rakkis Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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As Rakkis crossed to retrieve his rapier, he stooped, extracting the throwing knife that he'd left in the portly archer's stomach indelicately. The man groaned, which only prompted a decidedly dagger-like smile from the elf. ”I could put you out of your misery, if you'd like," he spoke wryly, wiping each side of the small blade in turn clean on the shirt of the corpse that his primary weapon was still skewering. A pitiful, wet, grunting sound was the only reply that the surviving Winter was capable of making, and it fell on deaf pointy-ears. With a grunt of his own, Rakkis used the toe of his boot to roll the heavy cadaver onto its back. The business end of the rapier remained hidden somewhere in his gray matter, and Rakkis knew from experience to be very careful as he gripped the dueling weapon by it's hilt and slowly slid it free from what had once been the seat of the unfortunate mercenary's consciousness. Blood and more began to dribble out of the widened entrance wound in the man's throat. The whole mess was now only fit to serve as breakfast for a dog.

Wiping that weapon clean as well, he sheathed it. The cloak, he decided, was a loss. He still had his parrying dagger in hand, fresh from its grisly work, in case any new challengers presented themselves before expected. Shaking his head, which almost felt as if it were still vibrating in the wake of the attempted braining by means of helm that he'd endured, he set off at a brisk jog toward Sophia, Lucien, Saemus, and quite a motley band of dead folk. ”Well, isn't this a fine mess." Anyone else might have been exercising sarcasm, but the elven thug seemed earnestly appreciative of the carnage. His eyes wandered it, like an appreciator of art's eyes might wander in a museum. Shaking out of his violence-inspired reverie, he grinned, letting his gaze move from Sophia's feet to her face. ”I'd heard somewhere that pious folk bled less than we heathen sorts. I suppose I might have heard wrong."

"The Maker provides me not with a physical shield, but rather the will to overcome, Serah," the Viscount's daughter said in response, as she surveyed the carnage the three of them had created, at the cost of only a few wounds to each of them. She examined her own wound more closely. The mercenary's knife had indeed cut deep, and the wound was bleeding steadily, but there wasn't time to worry about that now. More were on the way, and they couldn't afford to stop and treat their wounds just yet.

Saemus came over to rejoin the group. He was the only one without any blood on him, save for small bits on his knees, when he had knelt beside his fallen Qunari friend. "Dead, and good riddance. My thanks for standing with my sister," he said towards Lucien and Rakkis. "You're wounded, though. And she spoke of others coming, did she not?" Sophia waved him off. "It's nothing, Saemus. The wounds can be treated once we get out of here. Serah Lucien, Serah Rakkis, if neither of your injuries require immediate attention, we should focus on a plan for when the others arrive." She glanced at the way they had come in. A single path led down from the main road, but then split into three sepearate pathways through the rock walls, before coming together in a choke point at the entrance to the camp.

"I suspect the Winters will not go for caution, especially if they see only two of us. If Serah Lucien and I met the enemy at the entrance to the camp, Serah Rakkis could lie in wait along one of the side paths, and strike the Winters once they focus their attention on us."

Lucien, having retrieved his scythe, now leaned on it again, arms crossed over the end and supporting his chin in a way that could only be described as relaxed. Perhaps a bit discordant, give the situation, but he'd learned long ago that his impulsiveness, while unfortunately not entirely avoidable, was best saved for battle and not the spaces between. At the mention of injuries, he straightened and looked down at his abdomen, in which the small blade was still lodged. "Ah yes."

Relaxing his muscles there, he gripped the hilt of the knife in three fingers and eased it out. Examining the small blade for a moment, he shrugged and slid it into his belt. His armor would prevent it from stabbing him in its naked state, and he'd rather avoid too many more barehanded matches if at all possible. In retrospect, that had actually been rather enjoyable, though perhaps a tad too time-consuming. He felt a slight warmth as blood seeped slowly from the wound, but his scale mail had made it shallow at best. "I'm nothing to worry about, so a plan might be good, yes."

Scratching absently at his stubble, Lucien considered it. "No, perhaps not caution, but they may approach from all sides anyway. It is a tactical advantage I would not pass up, had I the resources to take advantage. All the same, we are but three, and there is little we can do about it. Allowing Serah here to flank seems the best solution."

Rakkis stooped at a corpse to clean off his dagger, his expression fairly bored as the others spoke. ”There is," he said, grunting again as he rose thanks to the arrow-wound he'd taken to his side, ”A better solution." He smirked to Lucien. ”A bloodless solution, in fact." He gestured with his dagger toward the noble siblings. ”You two take him and Horse back into the city. I'll remain here. The Winters are not a large organization, and their leader lays slain. If word were to circulate that they'd been butchered by a one-eyed man, the Viscount's daughter, and a very handsome elf, they wouldn't be able to obtain work cleaning out stables for all the laughter, never mind actually mercenerizing." He paused to consider his neologism, then shrugged; not one of his better ones. ”We'll let them pick their comrades corpses clean, and I'll encourage them to seek gainful employment within certain establishments in Lowtown. Much neater, don't you think? And if I'm wrong and they exact their retribution, well, you'd have a nice headstart by the time they managed to cut me to bits, so I really don't see a downside for you lot."

Either insanity or confidance blazed in the elf's gray eyes as he regarded them. It would be a bit of a coupe, on his part, to manage to recruit the remnants of a brigand-band that he'd had a hand in destroying. There was also the matter of the man that the whore had told him about. Rakkis had not recognized him among the dead, and suspected that his honorable comrades might object to or even interfere with the plans he had for that fellow.

Sophia let the tip of her blade fall to the ground as the elf explained his alternate plan. Indeed, the biggest obstacle to them simply taking this opportunity to escape was the matter of horses. They only had three, and while Saemus could certainly double with her, the elf's riding... left something to be desired. If Rakkis were to stay behind, and the three of them were to leave very soon they could perhaps make it onto the road in time, and take the far way back to Kirkwall, avoiding the remaining Winters who would be coming the short way.

And he was right. Their reputation would certainly be crushed, not only by them being defeated by a mere three people, but by their blatant attack on royalty of Kirkwall, the very sister of the one they were charged with protecting. Such a botched assignment would be near impossible for a small group of mercenaries to recover from. But... Serah Rakkis had revealed his ties with the Coterie. Sophia had expected he might be apart of one of the criminal organizations plaguing Kirkwall. He was going to encourage them to strengthen his organization? She didn't like that... but she couldn't help but feel that it was preferable to the coming battle if she refused his plan. More would die if they stayed, and there was no small chance that it would be themselves, wounded as they were.

"You are very dedicated to your organization, to risk your life in such a way for it, Serah," Sophia said, certainly not having any illusions that the elf was staying behind simply so that they could escape. "My concern is what harm these people may cause should they be corralled into a criminal group such as yours... but if further bloodshed can be avoided this way, perhaps it is best. And we've little time to discuss it further. Saemus?"

Her brother thought for a moment, aware they had to hurry. "Ashaad's death has been avenged. The Winters will no longer receive their reward. And I would not wish to condemn them all to death for the actions of their leader, though I've no doubt many of them would do the same in her situation." Sophia nodded, agreeing with him. It felt wrong... but there were many ways things could end up worse if they stayed and fought. The fight had taken a good deal out of her. "Very well. Serah Lucien, if you have no objections..."

Lucien blinked his good eye several times, looking to the much shorter man with somthing akin to shock, mixed with no small amount of perplexity. He seemed to give the matter some consideration, turning the implications over in his mind, finally shaking his head. "I doubt the world would benefit from more criminals, but that is not the reason for my refusal. If the Lady Sophia wishes to leave and take Serah Saemus, then I understand completely. I, however..." Lucien smiled then, a rueful sort of expression that was as much self-effacing as mirthful. "Well, however dubious your solution may be, I am fool enough to feel that you should not face the consequences alone, if your deal goes south."

The Chevalier shrugged, lifting his scythe and slinging it over both shoulders. "In other words, if they prove like their comrades and reject the peaceful solution, I might be convenient to have around, if for nothing more than a big metal distraction that allows you to slip away, no?" His honor would not allow him to leave another man behind to face such grave danger on his behalf, regardless of what deal he was planning on offering the Winters. That said, he knew the type. He expected that they would't accept, especially if the numbers in the second wave were greater than those of the first and their opponents were a woman short. He also understood that Rakkis might well take him up on his offer and make himself scarce if it came to that.

These and other practicalities, Lucien reflected with that same deprecating smirk, were the kinds of thoughts and fool notions that got men killed. But when Lucien died, he wanted it to be having done what he thought was right, at every last opportunity.

Rakkis tilted his head as he regarded the much larger mercenary. ”I never imagined you'd grow so fond of me so quickly. However..." He paused poignantly, studying the man. It was possible that he'd read even further ill intentions in his plan than Sophia had, but that didn't strike him as the truth behind his protestations. No, he had a military bearing, and that meant he likely had a military mindset, however deteriorated it might have been. He simply didn't want to leave a comrade, however temporary, behind. ”I believe that you set out having given your word to see Sophia and dear Saemus back to their father's keep unharmed. As they'll be setting out, very soon, it will be very difficult for you to ensure their safety from here. If you'll forgive my saying so, you may be a sword-for-hire, but your grasp of the Winters' situation is fairly tenuous. Your presence only makes it more likely that they'll choose the bloody course. A single elf, even one as daunting as myself, poses very little threat. Add a lummox in plate with a ridiculous weapon to the equation, and... well, they might feel differently." He shrugged. ”I have no qualms accompanying our charges, if you feel that you might be better suited toward the negotiations." The smile he offered Lucien was deprecating as well... but Lucien was the target of that deprecation, not himself.

"On the contrary, my obligation was to facilitate their safe return, which is considerably easier if I know where their enemies are, and whether or not those enemies will retain their hostility. I think we can both agree that the Winters are a greater threat than an incidental creature on the road, and Lady Sophia is herself far from a pushover. As to my impact upon your success, well..." He cast his eye about, considering the landscape. "I suppose I may be a smidge more intimidating than you, but who expects treachery from 'a lummox in plate'? If nothing else, looking like you have hired muscle hanging about lends some legitimacy to your claims of identity. I suppose if you want to appear alone, I could conceal myself." It would be nothing so stealthy as a puff of smoke and invisibility, but even a warrior could hide behind a rise in the landscape or an outcropping of stone.

"It seems wise that Lady Sophia and Serah Saemus leave, yes, and your choice is yours, but I will remain." He was quite aware of the look he was getting from the elf, but the simple fact of the matter was that he didn't care. He had made his choice, for his reasons, and the relative likelihood of succeeding in adding more ruthless mercenaries to Kirkwall's underbelly was of no concern to him.

The mercenary, Lucien, had made her feel significantly worse about leaving, but also significantly more certain that it was what she needed to do. That he was staying for honor, well... the feeling was something akin to the wound in her side. She couldn't help but feel she was abandoning these two, certainly Lucien moreso than Rakkis, by leaving them to persuade the remaining Winters against further violence. But as it was, the way she could best ensure his safety was by, in fact, leaving. Were she willing to let Saemus return on his own, things would be different... but she couldn't.

"You don't make this easy for me, Serah Lucien," she admitted, "and were I willing to allow Saemus to return home alone, I would stay as well, but I must see to my family's safety, and I can best ensure your own survival by leaving with my brother." Saemus rolled his eyes. "I'm so glad for the vote of confidence, sister." At this, Sophia sighed. "I would recount the ways you assisted during the battle, brother, but I can't seem to recall any. You'll forgive me if I want to ensure your safety on the return trip."

He had no reply to that. He actually seemed rather confused by the whole situation, between Rakkis' not-so-noble reasons for remaining behind, contrasted by Lucien's extremely noble reasons, and his sister's conflicted stance. "We must be away from here, then," the Viscount's daughter said, beginning to back away. "May Andraste guide you both. We will not forget your services here. Should you survive, I will ensure that you receive your rewards. They are well earned." With that, she turned, feeling like she was tearing herself apart as she went. The elf had made things so complicated...

"Doing what is right is rarely ever easy, milady," Lucien replied with a more genuine smile. "But protecting your family is nothing to be ashamed of." He inclined his head in a small gesture of deference, then turned back to Rakkis.

"I cede to your superior understanding of the Winters' motives. Without telling me to depart, what would you have me do?"

The elf considered refuting Lucien's points. It was how easy it would have been to do so that gave him pause. There was no point arguing with someone so clearly insane as the Chevalier was. He let his attention drift to Sophia's valediction and her quibbling with Saemus. He didn't quite think that Lucien had seen through the ruse of his willingness to leave so much as he was ignoring it. He'd been hoping the craven notion might lower the man's opinion of him enough that he'd agree to set off... but that didn't seem to be the case. ”I'd prefer that Andraste stay out of this. There are already too many players remaining on the beach as it is. And enough of this 'serah' business. Rakkis will be quite sufficient in the future." He nodded then, and turned to spit Lucien with an insolent stare.

”I would have you do exactly as I tell you to, and say absolutely nothing." He waited for Sophia to depart, for Lucien to give his word of honor that he'd comply, before outlining his modified plan.

Delaying no longer, the two Dumar children swiftly made their way to the horses, and sped off in the opposite direction they had come, Sophia giving one last glance towards the two men who had undoubtedly saved her life before disappearing from view.

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Character Portrait: Rakkis Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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#, as written by throne
Rakkis didn’t tarry watching the viscount’s progeny ride off. The Winters reinforcements would be arriving soon, which meant that he needed to solidify the plan that had started crystallizing in his mind just moments before. There wasn’t time to argue with his large human cohort, either. He had to hope that Lucien would indeed play his part well enough for them to emerge as unscathed as they presently were. The bashing his head had taken was slowly coalescing into what promised to be one of the worst headaches ever experienced. It felt as if a small bird had become trapped in his skull and mistaken the very front of it, just between his temples, for some glass aperture. That metaphorical tiny bird was beating itself against the imagined glass in an effort to escape, and Rakkis had experience enough with drink and head injuries (which, aside from stress, were the two major causes of headaches) to know that the bird would soon transform into a larger bird, and then a flock of large birds.

Rubbing the side of his head gently, the elf waxed thoughtful and still. In a flurry of moment that was both the complete opposite of that stillness and the product of it, he sprang into action. First, he went to Ginnis headless corpse; he’d rather liked her smoke trick, what he'd seen of it from his vantage point, anyway, and decided to liberate a few vials of the compound that enabled it for later playing around with. He secreted them up his sleeve for a later transfer to his pockets; he didn’t need an argument from Lucien on the ramifications of duty when it came to robbing the dead. He had a different purpose, and snapped his head up to regard the larger mercenary.

”Well don’t just stand there like a lackwit. Start arranging the bodies in a more dignified fashion. It will minimize their initial reaction. I doubt they were all boon companions, but a few of our arriving guests may have had friends in this lovely boneyard we’ve made.” His hands kept patting searching. Most mercenary companies had books of sorts, or at least contracts which their members would mark (since most of them could not in fact write). He’d known a few leaders to keep them on hand, but Ginnis must have had better control of her lot. It was probably back in the city. Ah well. He let her body fall to the ground indelicately, and then arranged her into some semblance of repose: limbs flat, body straightened. There was, of course, the matter of her head, which had bounced several feet after Vesenia had cleaved it off. Grabbing it by the hair, Rakkis frowned slightly at the body, then at Ginnis' deathmask. ”You really wound up being troublesome to the very end, didn't you?" He stooped, and made a sort of mound of sand just where her neck ended. Pressing the decapitated head into that mound until it more or less lined up with the larger part of her remains, he wiggled it a bit until it sat right, then stood to inspect his work. So long as no one looked too closely, it might seem that her throat had merely been slit egregiously. A shrug; it would have to do.

Lucien gave a shrug; providing the corpses of his foes with a little more dignity was not something he was against by any means, and if he was offended by the fact that Rakkis saw fit to insult his intelligence at every opportunity, he made no sign of it. Lifting or dragging several corpses, he arranged them in a neat line, closing open eyelids and moving hands to clasp together over abdomens in the classic picture of repose used at funerals and cremation ceremonies both. He was no great believer in the Maker or his human bride, but all the same he silently said a few words for each of the departed, nonspecific and directed at any supernatural being fool enough to have some kind of interest in mortal affairs.

”For the purpose of this exercise, try to imagine that you are not an idiotic man of honor gone to seed. Imagine, instead, that you are some idiotic-if-very-loyal hired muscle.” He paused and appraised Lucien for the span of a breath. ”Thresh,” he declared, his eyes on the man’s unusual weapon. ”You go by Thresh. Now, it’s quite possible that I may need to kill one of them. If I do, do not take that as a signal to attack. If I want you to attack…” He trailed off thoughtfully, remembering the smoke bombs he’d just inherited. ”Well, you will know if I want you to attack.”

When the Winters arrived, moments later, Rakkis and Lucien would just be finishing tidying up the dead. If the mercenary band valued their comrades, they would appreciate the gesture; if they were a pack of psychopaths, they’d see it as a sign of weakness, and the elf did enjoy being underestimated. Setting his hands upon his hips in jaunty fashion, he wished that he hadn’t gone and ruined his cloak. He looked much more impressive in a cloak.

It was obvious that there was a reason these particular Winters did not make up the vanguard. Their armor and weapons were obviously less impressive than their compatriots’. Most mercenary companies kept the best steel in the best hands, and Rakkis had actually been hoping for that to be the truth. As they saw the results of the battle, some of the Winters looked angry or concerned or even slightly sad. An equal number were greedily eyeing some of the fallen weapons and coin purses littered about. Rakkis didn’t find it hard at all to grin, and splayed out his arms theatrically to encompass the area.

”As you can see, you’ve rather botched the rescue mission. My condolences on the death of your co-workers and of your group’s reputation within Kirkwall.”

Hands fell to weapons. The mercenaries looked to one another. Rakkis hoped that Lucien was in character enough to react to the potential hostility. It would have been a nice detail to support their charade.

Lucien, for his part, understood the value of good acting, and assuming for the moment that Rakkis was his employer, the natural reaction was to take a step forward, grip the scythe at his shoulder a little more firmly, and simply loom. He did not speak of course, but body language could be plenty expressive, and the fact that he was a good head taller than most men and heavily-armored would not go to waste in this situation. His jaw was set into a scowl, but he was careful to direct the majority of his attention to the elf, as though awaiting orders.

One of the Winters came forward. He was the best armed of them, with a long sword in his hand and some light leather armor hung about a very respectable physique. He would have been very handsome if it were not for his hawkish nose. It was twice as large as his face would otherwise have required and possessed of a decided curve, as well as some knobbiness that indicated its having been broken at least twice in the past. His eyes were hard, but the hate in them was mired with confusion. ”Who in blazes are you, elf? Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you where you stand.” Now, weapons slid from sheaths; the mercenaries tightened up, but not into anything reminiscent of a respectable formation.

Rakkis was more preoccupied with the man’s nose than the danger. He’d been given a description of just such a nose back in the Blooming Rose, by a pretty young man who Rakkis finally remembered was named Silas.

”For the purposes of this discussion, I am the Coterie.” More looks were exchanged between the mercenaries, and Rakkis continued before they could say anything else. ”But you may call me Rakkis, and regard me as a friend until given reason to do otherwise. As for why you shouldn’t kill me? Well, you couldn’t. There’s one reason. More importantly, I have a proposition for you. All of you.” He pulled his eyes away from the man’s monumental proboscis in order to regard each of the mercenaries with his panning gaze. The Nose bristled at the truth that he perceived as an insult, but seemed willing, at least, to listen. Opportunism was one of the few common denominators in his line of work.

”What you see here is the inevitable.” He tilted his head toward the laid out bodies. ”We took no pleasure in it, Thresh and I, but your former leader was the one who pressed the attack.” Technically Saemus was ultimately responsible for the bloodbath, but they didn’t need to know that, and judging by the lack of shouted objections, Ginnis’ aggressiveness was quite in character for her. None of the Winters looked surprised at all. ”You could, I suppose, carry on. Perhaps with this fine fellow taking up the onerous mantle of leadership?” He singled out The Nose with an inclination of his head. ”But your numbers are halved, and your power considerably moreso, I’d wager. There is another option, though. The Coterie has need of men and women like you. I could see to it that you have a fair chance at joining our august organization, provided that you don’t see the need to make Thresh and I upset. We do terrible things when we’re upset, you see.”

Lucien was still not exactly pleased that 'success' here was adding to the volume of Kirkwall's already-swollen criminal underworld, but he did have a certain kind of respect for Rakkis's skill with words. The elf would have made quite the Bard, he was willing to wager. Really, there was little difference between that job and the one he was doing right now, save perhaps for the fact that Bards were seldom so direct.

The Nose looked back at his companions, gauging their reactions to the proposition. Rakkis meanwhile asserted his grip on a throwing knife, ready to silence any rallying cry that the man might choose to make. The elf smiled when he saw the point of the man’s sword lower toward the sand. Rakkis used his other hand instead, tossing a small bag of silver pieces, each of them blemished with an “X” marked by a dagger. The erstwhile Winter opened the bag and inspected it, making a sound of derision. ”You talk better than you bribe, elf. This is a pittance.”

”If you could see past that beak of yours, friend, you’d notice the markings,” Rakkis drawled. ”Distribute the coins amongst you. Use them to buy a drink in Lowtown. You’ll no doubt be contacted by the end of the night.” He shrugged. ”Or put them toward a whore and make your own way. It’s no matter to me. Rest assured, though, that you will find more profit and bloodshed with the Coterie than you ever would have found as Winters.”

The mercenary took another long look at one of the coins. He turned in toward the others, and they conversed in low tones. Rakkis’ keen, knife-like ears picked up a few murmurs of dissent, urges to kill them and have done with it, but then more murmurs came. The two of them had killed everyone else. One had even heard about a tattooed elf killer with a nasty reputation who worked in the Coterie’s employ. The overall tone of the caucus was that they’d really rather be with the Coterie than against them with Ginnis and so many of their peers dead.

”Very well, Rakkis. If this is some sort of trick, you won’t have seen the last of us.” Keeping one coin for himself, The Nose passed the pouch around. His words elicited a delighted laugh from Rakkis.

”Oh, it’s most assuredly a trick, but quite beneficial to you, I avow.” Rakkis tilted his head and regarded him. ”I like you. You’re very droll. If you have half the potential that you do nose, I could use you. Come to the Weeping Violet after sunset. I intend to take a more personal hand in your continued future in Kirkwall.” His tone was unctuous, flattering, even seductive. There was no mistaking the brazenness of that proposition for anything but what it was.

To his credit, the man didn’t blush, stammer, or shout. ”The Weeping Violet, after sunset,” he confirmed, keeping his voice neutral. ”I’ll see if I can arrange to be there.”

”Delightful.” Rakkis clapped his hands together and looked to Lucien. ”Thresh and I will be off, then. We’ll leave you to caring for your dead and whatever else it is that you’d like to do. You’ve made the right choice.” He nodded to Lucien, then started back toward the road.

Rakkis said nothing as they walked. He’d once again veered to amble along in Lucien’s blindspot, and was smiling with prodigious self-satisfaction. ”Do you know what I’m going to do with my reward money, first thing?” he asked in abruptly, picking up his pace enough to come into Lucien’s view.

Lucien knew he was doing that intentionally, walking in his blind spot, but it didn't really bother him. He had no reason to expect aggression from Rakkis; he was rather penniless as far as mercenaries went, and the likelihood was that someone working for the Coterie knew better than to expend the effort that would be necessary to attept to kill him for the pittance it would earn. Such sorts tended to live and die by the sovereign, and not the kind that sat on a throne, either. The question was actually a tad unexpected; he had thought he earned enough ire to be ignored for the rest of their mission, but apparently 'twas not the case. "I can't say I have that knowledge, no. What does a Coterie man spend his coin on?" He asked out of politeness and some trace of regard; he did not want to automatically assume that it would go to whores and booze, but he would have guessed as much if absolutely forced to hazard one.

”Interesting that you would classify me as such, don't you think? You can learn so much about a man by the answers he gives to innocuous questions." It was less a matter of ire or lack thereof than a means to banish boredom for the length of their journey back to the city proper. "Since you asked, though, I will be buying a new cloak. You may have noticed that I ruined my old one. I'm thinking perhaps something lined in fur this time, a color suited to my complexion." He curved his mouth into a broad grin. ”Of course, you've likely no taste for the sartorial. I'm probably boring you." Which of course, turned into a very involved lecture regarding what the length, color, and make of a cloak said about its wearer. It may have been insipid at times, or actually quite fascinating. Whatever case, short of gagging his companion, it was the sort of thing that Lucien would be subjected to until they parted ways.

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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Lucien,

I was relieved to hear that you returned from the incident on the Wounded Coast. If it isn't an inconvenience, perhaps you might be willing to speak with me in the Chantry today? There was little time for talk, and I must admit, I have been troubled by how events unfolded.

-Sophia


Lucien, presently reclining his chair against the wall of the tavern, a tankard's worth of decidedly-suspect brandy in one hand and the sparsely-marked parchment in the other, raised his single uncovered eyebrow and read it over again, just to be sure. This was probably highly irregular. Usually, when mercenaries did a job, they were paid for it and ushered quietly out of the way, to hopefully not be heard from again until their services were, inevitably, required once more. There was always a chance that this situation was exactly that, but something about it suggested otherwise. "Can't say I understand why the Chantry, but I suppose I'm less likely to track Lowtown dirt where there are no carpets," he mumbled wryly to himself. It was not so much a reflection on what he assumed of Sophia so much as it was his general experience with nobility, and he thus discarded it.

"Well, no time like the present." He'd been here more in hopes of finding something to do than because he enjoyed the atmosphere, and it seemed all of the people he usually spoke with were out, which was especially unusual for the Warden. Nevertheless, he'd managed to find himself the intended recipient of a missive, and so he set his half-empty mug back down and paid the barkeep before sliding his gauntlets back on and slipping out the door.

The walk to Hightown was the same as always, and he took a slight detour to enter through the market instead of the red-light district, which was ironically closer to his destination as he was travelling. The merchants up here were a bit more passive-agressive and a little less in-your-face, but he wasn't usually a target. Just as well; it'd be a waste of their time on what he managed to bring in. He raised a hand to the guard on duty, a man by the name of Donnic, and ambled his way to the Chantry Courtyard. The Chanter's Board seemed to have a few new missives on it, and he decided to see about having a look on his way out. He'd always been taught that it was impolite to keep a lady waiting, however, and he pushed open one of the grand double doors, stepping inside with as much reverence as he could bring himself to muster.

The Lady Sophia was not immediately visible, so he ventured further in, feeling distinctly out-of-place amongst the robed brothers and sisters.

Sophia had almost jumped when Elthina gently touched her shoulder, deep in thought as she had been. "Your mercenary has arrived, Sophia," she said, the slightest hint of disapproval in her tone. Sophia knew that Elthina tended to have a distate for those who fought for only coin, but from what the Viscount's daughter had seen of Lucien the other day, there was likely more to him than that. All Elthina saw, of course, was a man who would probably encourage Sophia to go risking her life for this reason or that. Not that Elthina thought fighting for a noble cause was necessarily a bad thing. She simply recognized that Sophia's willfil nature could often land her in situations that were more than she could handle. That would have been just the case had the Seneschal not had the caution to send men to assist her.

"Thank you, Elthina," she said, rising. The Grand Cleric nodded before taking her leave. Sophia had been before the great statue of Andraste in the center of the Chantry, a raised platform that overlooked the entrance. She turned to see Lucien cautiously venturing forward, looking quite like he didn't belong. Sophia wasn't sure what to make of that. Rakkis had made it quite clear that he hadn't cared for her faith, but she didn't recall hearing a word on the subject from Lucien. Perhaps it had been a mistake to ask him to come here. She would just have to find out.

She made her way down the stairs towards him. Her appearance was a rather complete turnaround from the first time they had met. She looked significantly smaller today, not wearing her armor as she was. Lucien already had quite the height advantage over her, and the fact that he was wearing his armor still emphasized the man's already impressive build. Sophia was dressed in a simple, albeit well-tailored dress of a soft grey, belted at the waist and leaving her shoulders bare. Her thick golden hair was no longer tied back out of the way, but rather falling in droves to rest on her chest and shoulders, and down her back a short ways. The only accessory she wore was a simple, thin silver chain necklace.

"Lucien, thank you for coming. Forgive me if the Chantry is not an ideal setting. It's... well, one of the few places where I don't feel quite so much like the Viscount's daughter."

Contrary, perhaps, to what most people would have assumed of a man like him, Sophia could not have been more intimidating right now if she were in full Templar regalia and surrounded by fifty more of the same. Battle, and the business of it, were what Lucien was comfortable with. Go here, kill that, help these innocent defenseless peasants... that sort of thing was easy, as far as the Chevalier was concerned. It was... this, the socializing and the finery and the elegance, that had always been unnatural. It felt rather like being an enormous bear in a room full of glass figurines. One false step, one miscalculated move or ill-planned word, and he was liable to break something important. Or crush somebody's toes. Figuratively, of course; he did at least know how to dance.

But his mind was wandering, taking him to faraway places that were not here, and it really would have been much easier were she in armor still and they standing just about anywhere but here. But she was not, and they were not, and it did him no good to desire otherwise. Her words filtered through his brain in sepia-tones, making him aware that perhaps what custom dictated here, that he sweep a refined bow and kiss her knuckles, was perhaps not what she'd prefer either. Of course, that left him in the even more undesirable situation of not knowing what to do at all, but inaction would condemn him as surely as anything, so he simply inclined his torso in a deferential motion witout excess. "I suppose," he ventured by way of reply, thankfully absent of social anxiety at least in his tone, "that such duties would grow burdensome after a time, and I certainly cannot blame you for taking sanctuary where you find it."

He truthfully supposed nothing, and knew better than just about anyone exactly how she felt. His own solace was to be found in the barracks and on the practice field, but he understood at least the nature of the problem, even if the solution was different. The knowledge in hand, he forced himself to relax, consciously easing the tension in his back and shoulders and for the moment content to ignore the movement of the Chantry folk and visitors around them, though he could never lose that awarenss of them. "Let it trouble you not. Your missive indicated that there was something of the other day's occurrences you wished to speak of?"

"Yes," she said, and it was her turn to look uncomfortable, though she buried it away quite swiftly. She wasn't exactly sure how she wanted to word her concerns, now that he was here. "Perhaps we could sit? If you follow me," she gestured gently before turning and leading Lucien up the stairs on the far right side, a short climb to the upper level. She hoped this a more comfortable area. A cozy fire burned in the hearth, a table beside it with several free chairs. More importantly, the sisters remained on the lower level, and this area gave far less of a feeling that they were being watched. Sophia knew the sisters meant no harm, but they overheard what they overheard, and she could understand how that might bother some.

"I never actually received a detailed account of what happened after Saemus and I left," she said, lowering herself into a chair, "Did Rakkis get them to join his organization, as he intended?"

The former knight inclined his head and followed without protest, indeed rather relieved for all that he was still in the Chantry. He knew, of course, that he was unlikley to be attacked here, or perhaps worse, spied upon, but such places were no sacred ground for Bards, and it was a constant effort to remind himself that they did not dwell here. It didn't suit him to stand in the middle of an open space; an ingrained caution had him placing his back to a wall as soon as he was able, the measured discomfort he felt at sitting in the presence of someone of rank here outweighed by his desire to be accomodating as he was able.

Ah, but of course. The question made sense, and it was hardly a surprise that the Lady Sophia wished to know if the ranks of her city's criminal underbelly had swollen considerably practically overnight. "I believe he was mostly successful in his aim, yes. For what it's worth, I doubt the Winters will assimilate wholesale. It is not in the nature of every mercenary to capitulate to an organization with such a repuation as the Coterie, even if the reason is simply that they prefer choosing their contracts freely." He understood that this was the case at least with the Red Iron, a group he'd had some contact with. Not of sterling reputation, that lot, but stubbornly proud of their independence.

"As for the rest, well... there isn't much to say. Our comrade-in-arms may well achieve more by means of gilt tongue than sharpened knife." He raised his shoulders slightly, as if to shrug, but then thought better of it, reminded once again that he was not in the presence of another mercenary or even another tavern patron. It was not a barrier easily overcome even in the most relaxed of nations. He might once have belonged in this situation, but now... well, he wasn't in Orlais anymore, and sincerely doubted he ever would be again.

"His gilt tongue certainly made things more complicated, didn't it?" she asked rhetorically, getting to the heart of the matter. Everything had worked out, save for the few new criminals that Kirkwall would have now... so why did it feel like something was gnawing at her insides? She had to try and explain. "Everything had been so straightforward before his proposition. The Winters had needlessly murdered my brother's friend, and it was only just that they not receive a reward for that. I stood by my brother, prepared to defend him when he was threatened. I gave them the opportunity to leave without bloodshed, which they did not take. They gave us no choice but to kill them. I have since prayed for their souls, that the Maker might forgive them and they may find a place at His side..."

Sophia crossed her legs, tilting her head over slightly to rub her forehead in one hand. "I had half a mind to try and stop Rakkis. I wanted to avoid further bloodshed, yes, but I've also always wanted to see this city a safer place, and allowing an organization like the Coterie to grow does nothing towards that end. The issue of fighting or avoiding it aside, I also fled, leaving two men who had certainly saved my life to potential deaths. I couldn't trust my brother to get back to the city. I couldn't even trust myself to survive the fight. It feels like I left out of desire to save myself."

She was silent for a brief moment, before flushing slightly red and looking down at the table. "I apologize. I'm not sure what I expect you to say. I just... well, you seem so certain, both in your abilities, and in your beliefs. It's admirable."

Lucien leaned forward slightly, resting his chin on the thumbs of his clasped hands, elbows braced on the armrests of the chair he now occupied. He was not one to interrupt a person while they were speaking, especially not when the words were coming thick and fast enough so as to almost constitute a confession. I would have thought one of the sisters here would be more suited to hear it than I, he thought, just a touch of sardonic self-reproach tinging it. Still, it wasn't the first time he'd heard such things, sentences dredged up from some troubled part of the mind or soul. He never minded.

The end of her ruminations, however, drew from him a chuckle, a quiet thing, more a slight shaking of shoulders and a crinkling at the corner of his eye than any booming sound. He smiled behind his hand, caught somewhere between sheepish embarassment and easy amusement, then sat back again, rubbing at his stubble with one hand and letting the other drape loosely on the armrest. "Certainty, is it?" he echoed, his tone slightly distant. Was he certain? He supposed that, in most situations, he had a grasp of what he felt was right, but the real difference between himself and the people he tended to encounter in his work was that he simply had no problem aligning his actions with his thoughts. Consequences were relatively unimportant to his considerations, but it had not always been so.

"Perhaps I am fortunate enough to count a certain degree of assurance mine, but... I also do not have the fate of an entire city to consider, nor is my life so important that its loss would deal any great blow to anything, and so I simply act in accordance with what mine own honor demands." His tone was less instructional and more contemplative, as though he were unused to putting his thoughts to words. "It... is not always a clear mandate, and I will admit that what came about was of trouble to me also, but, well. The increase in Coterie thugs is a problem, and in time, one or both of us may find ourselves dealing with it. If, however, that later trouble is the result of something I did that was at its core the right thing to do, than I accept those consequences and will bear their burdens when the time comes. Not all the good in the world can be done at once, and I do not relish living only in the future." He coughed into one hand and rubbed at the back of his neck, clearly a little uncomfortable with how much he'd just said.

"That... well, it's only one man's opinion at any rate, milady, and a rather penniless vagabond mercenary at that."

Sophia gave him a close-lipped smile at that. "And your wealth makes your opinion less meaningful how? Wealth is certainly no virtue. I fear if I spend any more years in Hightown, they'll rub off on me, and I'll spend the rest of my days complaining to the merchants that they have no silks to match the color of my eyes."

She thought for a moment. Not all the good in the world could be done at once. That was very true. She had been presented with a choice, and she had taken the route that seemed the greatest good. Or perhaps the least evil. Either way, there had been a choice. Perhaps it would have consequences. She could deal with those when they presented themselves. There was still the feeling that she had taken a choice solely benefiting her and her family, but for now...

"I think I'd like to start doing good more regularly, Lucien. I am capable of helping, and I don't see why my future as Viscount should prevent me from doing so. No doubt my father, and Bran, will fly into panics at the mere though of me traveling about Lowtown, but they've never been able to stop me when my mind is made up before. And I think the people wouldn't mind seeing the Viscount's daughter doing what she can to help those typically beneath the notice of us Hightown types." She seemed to relax somewhat at the idea. Of course she would not abandon her father and brother to deal with the storms while she ran off doing good deeds, but it would certainly be refreshing to get out of the shadow of the Keep once in a while.

"Perhaps we will work together in the future, then? Maybe if one of us finds a cause worth taking up, they could call on the other?"

"Ah, well, let us hope it does not come to that," he answered with humor, tilting his head to one side. "Though... I think I may have seen that shade just today. You might want to lodge a complaint; where I come from, such things are blatant mockery." The rest of what she said was a good deal more serious, and he nodded solemnly, recognizing that the conversation was drawing to its close. Standing, Lucien really did bow this time, as there was something of a promise attached to it, and such things were to be taken seriously, always.

"If you should find that my... scythe-arm would be of assistance in this, all you need do is ask, and it shall be yours."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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Immediately upon entering the Hanged Man, Sparrow was forced to quickstep away from a stumbling miner who'd obviously had too much to drink, successfully dodging his flailing elbows and ducking casually underneath his arm to reach the bar stools, half-accidentally bumping into a barmaid in the process. She offered a sly grin and an equally questionable wink before snatching up her proffered hand, that might've just been trapped midair just in case she had to push someone away. She twirled the barmaid around her as if they were in a dance, finally releasing her by the fingertips, and gracefully lowering herself into a bow, murmuring a soft: “Fancy meeting you here, Darcy.” Her eyes twinkled mischievously, as if it hadn't done so in a long time. She was long overdue for a drink at her favourite institution. From her peripherals, Sparrow could already see that a sizable crowd was gathering – or else, an interesting cluster of patrons gathered off to the side, cheering loudly, stomping their feet, and clanking their goblets together as if they hadn't a care in the world. Must've been nice to feel that way.

The woman hadn't missed a single beat, quipped with her own: “'Get off it. Yer' always here, Sparrow.” The lithe man in question merely shrugged her shoulders, smiling all the while, and slipped into her designated stool. A moment later and a mug swilling to the brim with ale swept in front of her, speckling droplets across her knuckles with it's unceremonious halt at her extended fingertips. She cupped it in her hand and hunkered over it. How many times had she lied in the past two weeks? Too many times. Far too many to even begin counting. It left a sour taste in her mouth, and certainly didn't feel right. Her tongue felt thick, swollen, and her elbows ached. Nothing felt certain. She'd lied to Rilien, even though she had an inkling that he'd known all along, each and every time she'd told him she was feeling fine, that he shouldn't worry about her because she could take care of herself, and why-the-hell-was-he-looking-at-her-like-that-anyway? Those taboo words hadn't even been spoken, and already, Sparrow was desperately trying to cover her tracks and make it seem like nothing had happened: Desire Demon, possession, dirty apostate. If Ashton had asked her anything, would she have lied to him, too? Most likely. It was less painful that way. She was swallowing her spine, but at least they didn't have to feel wrong when they looked at her. As if she'd suddenly grow wings, talons, blue skin, or needle-point teeth and rip them
apart: an abomination – ugly things, really.

Her lies were like soft footfalls, tiptoeing across eggshells. Pretty much innocent. Like pebbles clicking against someone's window. Like her frequent assertions that she wasn't that drunk. She didn't want to paint herself a monster, or even acknowledge the fact that she'd made a mistake – didn't want Ashton, or Rilien, or anyone else painting her that way, either. She brought the iron cup to her lips, tipped her head, and chugged it down until the last drop slithered down her gullet, then gingerly placed it where it'd first appeared, softly, gently; with none of her usual clattering gusto. She traced the cup's rim with a finger, letting her head list to the side. Had Rilien seen her the past few nights, while she thought he slept? Her arm's felt as if they acted on their own, twitching to life at her sides, filling her with thoughts that turned her stomach; to hurt, to kill, to tear.

In her present frame of vision, Nostariel could see only the table in front of her, her tankard, the identical one across from it, and a single, blood-red gauntlet. It was a surprisingly-ornate thing, considering who it belonged to. Lucien was... unusual, by even her reckoning of normalcy, which was admittedly rather skewed. A self-professed Lowtown stomper, he nevertheless managed to carry himself with such dignity she was sure he would comport just as well with courtly knights and ladies as with the assorted rabble, riffraff, and vagrants one found here, in this tavern.

The worst part was that she was certain the suggestion would gently offend him, that he would still be the consummate gentleman and inform her that her company and that of those around her was no less desirable (or mayhaps more so) than that of the Queen of Antiva herself. It was... disconcerting. To be treated so much like some precious thing, to be in the company of someone who treated everyone like they really mattered, no matter who they were or what they'd done. She found that, most days, she was unable to muster the courage to even look someone like that in the eye. The other sinners, the others who make mistakes and wore them on hunched shoulders or in troubled eyes, these folk at least she could understand, could bring herself to know without too much guilt festering in her insides for it. But this man was another matter. For all his scars and the battered testaments to experience and bloodshed etched into that gauntlet (they were on the rest of his armor, too, she'd discovered on a braver day), he was still so untouched by those things that muddied her at every turn that she almost didn't know what to do with herself when he was present.

Yet it was impossible to begrudge him this, and she still managed a smile when he sat across from her, mug in hand, and told her that there was someone he wanted her to meet. Their lives had not really intersected in such a way before, and though she could guess at the reason, she wondered if all was as it seemed. In the end, did even he want something from Nostariel the Grey Warden? (What could she even offer?) Was nobody content with Nostariel the person? Not when she's like this, they aren't. At least the title means something. The melancholy thought had dropped her gaze to its current position, but it was dragged back up and over by a slight commotion at the door, which soon evolved into a full-fledged showman's entrance. There were at least three of those a night, though, so it was not her first instinct to pay attention, at least not until she saw who it was.

"Sparrow?" Her musing was soft, just a bit surprised. It had been an uncharacteristically long time since she'd seen the slight man inside the bar; she'd almost begun to suspect that he'd simply left town without a word. He seemed free enough to do that kind of thing, and it was a freedom she at once coveted and feared. Nostariel had no real idea what she'd do with it if ever she won it, but the idea seemed rather enticing all the same.

Would Rilien have told her even if he had? The dreary thought settled like a stone, heedless of any damage it did on everything else that flowed through the river; her mind. Remaining in Darktown, safe and tucked way, hadn't seemed like an option. She wanted to distance herself from her companions for their protection. They wouldn't understand, so she casually tossed her grins, heckled with winks, and announced that she'd rather be spending her hard-earned coin at the Hanged Man. Rilien had only looked at her, all too knowingly, and said he would be visiting Ashton. She balanced her goblet, tipped over, barely on it's lip, before settling it back down and pushing it towards Darcy, only to have it filled again. Her growing loneliness – her self-inflicted sentiments – was a bleeding wound, only festering with dark thoughts and a near-constant purr whispering just behind her ear, blowing soft kisses and promises and things she'd rather shut her ears against. It was enough to drive a lesser person mad, but she'd already decided that she would fight tooth and nail, before that creature, that thing, that demon, would control her. She was afraid of herself; afraid of what she might do if she let her guard down. Gloomy ideas were becoming a bad habit, uncontrollable, unwelcome. She didn't have a paperback spine, addled with burdens, because she was free, wasn't she? She'd always been free in her mind. Apostate-chains, Qunari regulations, and Elven racism hadn't slowed her progress. It'd been a long time since she'd cast her chains, shaking them off like the last remnants of rain.

It was a familiar thought that drew her away from her somber musings. She'd been mid-gulp when she stopped, eyeing the woman over the brim of the cup, nearly snorting into the frothing liquid – it wasn't a pretty sight, but at least it was amusing. Sparrow finished her second drink and pushed it away, casually leaning on her elbows so that she could better talk to the Grey Warden. “Bella-luna! It's nice to see you. It's been awhile, hasn't it?” She mooned thoughtfully, scratching at her beardless chin. They both drank like they were always thirsty, for vastly different reasons, but in the end, it all boiled down to their own sad stories and how much they wished to change things. For Nostariel, Sparrow had shared the hardships she faced as a runaway apostate, as an erstwhile Qunari warrior, as a misunderstood half-breed, as a race who'd never been treated properly. However, she hadn't told her what had happened that day in the woods, all those years ago; the day she'd become Sparrow. It was too early, far too premature. Perhaps, someday, she'd be as frank with Nostariel as she'd been with Rilien. “Aye. You look like you've had a few more adventures since last I saw you.” Her eyes, like two cesspits eating away at the stars, shone willfully. They couldn't hold themselves together, but they could still find comfort, if only a little, in relaying their stories. Then, just like that, the not-man, hardly a woman slipped from her stool, as slippery as a gentlemanly eel, and joined Nostariel at her table.

A marked contrast to Nostariel, Lucien was the very image of relaxed ease in the Warden's company. Well, perhaps not relaxed in the sense that most people would picture it. His posture was flawless and his manner genteel, even in a place where most of the more 'relaxed' patrons were slouching over benches and tables, yelling or laughing at great volumes, filling the entire establishment with the clamor of voices and the clinking and thunks of money and tankards changing hands, of fists banging tables to emphasize a particularly evidential point in some grandiose tale or another. Varric might well be able to hold attention with his voice modulation alone, but not everyone was quite so fortunate or skilled.

She wasn't looking at him again. She rarely ever did, and at first he'd thought it a rather amusing symptom of the vast difference in their height. He had to be a foot or so taller than the elf, and this sort of thing really wasn't all that unusual for him. The few times he had made eye contact with the lady Warden, however, he'd been quite certain she wore an inexplicably-guilty face. So he'd talked to her of inconsequential things and people he used to know, switching names and omitting titles so that the yarns were about ordinary Olesians doing normal (outrageous) Orlesian things, and he'd felt a small spur of satisfaction when a few of those anecdotes had chased away her apparent misery for just long enough that she'd smile or laugh. This was the way of things for them.

When Sophia had spoken to him about making a difference in Kirkwall, however, he'd had the thought that it would be beneficial for her to meet Nostariel, just as much for the Warden's sake as for the future Viscountess'. No, that wasn't quite correct. Just as much for Nostariel's sake as Sophia's. He may well address them by titles when the situation called for it, but it was best to think of them differently. He was almost certain that the both of them had a desire to do good things here (even if Nostariel was not yet aware of hers), and they would be of mutual assistance to each other, probably a great deal more than he'd ever be to either of them. So, here they were, waiting for the lady to make her appearance, even if he'd divulged to neither who the other party was. He was Orlesian after all, and a little suspense was just one of life's many rich flavors.

He did not suspect that the loud entrance belonged to Sophia, though he looked up anyway just to confirm. It was indeed not, though he was quite certain he'd seen this patron before. Androgyny was common and sometimes even fashionable in Celene's court, and so most of the time, Lucien didn't even bother assigning gender to such individuals unless they did so first, but he was also pretty good at guessing. His initial suspicion had been that his immediate instinct towards 'female' had been some lingering and unfortunate enculturated bias towards thinking that elves were delicate and women were too, but when he'd considered it the second time, he'd been relieved to discover that this was not the case and he really simply did surmise that the patron was female. It was good to know that even the notions brought into prominence by your childhood could be overcome with sufficient time and practice.

Nostariel's utterance brought his attention back to her, and he was finally supplied with a name for the person he'd never yet spoken to. "Friend of yours?" He asked mildly, raising his good eyebrow just slightly.

It was only then, looking at Nostariel, and glancing over her left shoulder, that Sparrow noticed another peculiar individual. How unusual. The man looked as if he'd fit in a ballroom just as well as he did in the Hanged man; with all of his gentlemanly posturing – but, not the rooster sort of posturing with it's tail feathers splayed, because he seemed modest. Her eyebrow raised, inquiringly, with a dash of a feline's curiosity. “Strange companions who bond over ale, more like. I still don't know how she puts up with me.” As she always did, Sparrow was teasing. Lilting her words like poetry. Dragging them out with veiled intentions. She folded her fingers over each other, twining her index and middle across her knuckles. Her smile simpered, then faltered. “Any friend of hers is a friend of mine. My name's Sparrow.” She would've held out her hand to shake, but it would've required reaching over Nostariel – and for the moment, she had enough control to resist such actions.

Sophia had to admit, she'd been hoping to hear from Lucien again, but was actually surprised to hear from him so soon. She had quite quickly accepted his invitation to meet someone in the Hanged Man, certainly believing that Lucien's connections in Lowtown would serve to be beneficial to her. What she hadn't quite thought over was the fact that meeting someone in the Hanged Man required actually going to the Hanged Man...

The few hours before she was due to leave, she had discovered how sadly little time she'd spent in the lower parts of Kirkwall. At least, time spent there as just a denizen of the city, and now in her capacity as the Viscount's daughter. Quite frankly, she had no idea what to expect in a place like the Hanged Man; she'd heard stories, some of which fascinated her, others which were more of the mortifying sort, and she really had no idea how to pick the truths from the falsehoods. Perhaps it would simply have to be a case of leaping before she looked.

After far too much internal debate, she'd settled on wearing the plainest dress she owned, one of a pale green color, skirts flowing about her ankles, elbow-length sleeves. Slightly more low-cut than she would have preferred, but she was willing to wager that there'd be more than a few women in Lowtown that would outdo her in that regard. She chose a pair of worn leather boots, which she had used more for traveling with her brother or her father than for social calls, but they were more fitting here than a pair of her more expensive shoes meant for court would be. Because she did not consider herself a fool, she slipped a knife into the right boot, and had assured Bran that she was fully capable of using it. The Seneschal had, as usual, sniffed out her plans, and she had, as usual, enforced her will over him, convincing him that an escort of two city guards was wholly unnecessary, and would just attract more attention than she wanted.

In the end, Sophia figured she looked more or less like the poorest woman in Hightown, meaning she still looked far better off than all of Lowtown. If she wanted to truly fit in down there, she would probably have to starve herself until she was mildly emaciated, and refuse to bathe for several days (or weeks? She wasn't sure, and didn't really want to ponder). Aware of the several eyes that followed her as she left the Vicount's Keep, but not really caring, Sophia set off towards the steps down to Lowtown.

She moved quickly. She fully expected word of her visits to Lowtown to spread quicker than a wildfire, but to be honest, didn't really mind. If she kept her composure, and did what she set out to do, it would probably only improve her standing with the lower orders. The nobles would perhaps raise an eyebrow or two at her, but she could handle them. She'd been handling them since she was but a young teenager. As she approached the Hanged Man at last, however, her thoughts left the bickering nobles and their greed, and fell to Lucien and whomever this person was he wanted her to meet.

She'd been about to open the door when it figuratively exploded in front of her, causing her to jump back slightly as an absurdly drunk man stumbled forth, not even seeing her as he shambled past. She stood rather still for a moment, aware that her heart was beating nearly as fast as when she'd had to defend her brother from the Winters. She would have to think on that later. Her second attempt at opening the door was successful, and she carefully slid inside, using her spatial awareness as though she were maneuvering through a melee.

Lucien was easy enough to spot, in his armor as he had been on both occasions she had met him previously. She made her way through the varying levels of chaos to his table, noting midway the garb of the woman he was seated with: a Grey Warden. Indeed, she had known Lucien would not have brought her down here for nothing. She'd met a few Grey Wardens some years ago, when she'd been much smaller, and had always valued the chance at meeting another. And to not do so in the environment of the Viscount's Keep was especially enticing. The prospect helped her overcome much of her uncomfortability at being in such a den as the Hanged Man.

"Good evening," she said, arriving at the table and curtsying slightly to the Warden. She wasn't sure to what degree the elven woman expected, or wanted, formality, and meeting in a place like this seemed to give Sophia the answer, but it never hurt to be safe. "My name is Sophia Dumar." She wasn't sure if it was necessary to add anything else, admittedly expecting the Warden to recognize the name, and so she gently seated herself in an unoccupied chair, curious as to where this would lead.

There were strange tides today, it seemed. Sparrow's flint-like eyes flit past Nostariel and Lucien, focusing solely on the newcomer. The kindliness and good manners were almost stifling. She'd never been one to hold her tongue or display unusual amounts of etiquette – she'd rather stomp on eggshells than tiptoe past them, and if anyone was offended, then she'd clear the air with crude jokes. She chuckled softly and leaned back in her stool. No doubt, Sparrow hadn't been noticed, so casually looking about as if she didn't truly belong anywhere, and all at once: everywhere. She had to peek over Nostariel's shoulder to catch a better look. “Now you look like you need a drink.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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Sophia hadn't been aware that Lucien wanted to introduce her to two people, and to be quite honest, she wasn't quite sure how to answer the elven... half-elven... the second person's greeting, which consisted solely of a recommendation: drink. Truth be told, that was one thing Sophia hadn't come to the Hanged Man to do, both because she had heard less than ideal things about the tavern's refreshments, and also because she wasn't much of a drinker in the first place, and figured a unusual trip to a potentially dangerous part of town for her a poor time to start.

She did note that the Warden and this other had certainly come here to drink, but made no mention of it. "I'm... thank you, but I'll pass. Not drinking tonight." Was her face reddening? Maker, she hoped not. It certainly didn't help that she couldn't tell what she was talking to, neither race nor gender. Her eyes darted away from the... man, she had to go with man, and towards Lucien and the Warden.

Nostariel was prone to gentle head-shakes whenever Sparrow was present, and now was no exception. Taking pity on Sophia, she backhanded her fellow mage (gently) on the arm and tsk'ed softly. "You leave the lass alone, you rake," she admonished, but there were faint traces of amusement clinging to the words. There was the head-shake, and she turned slightly to face the Viscount's daughter. "Don't mind Sparrow; that's just the way he is. My name is Nostariel Turtega. It's nice to meet you as well. I must say, if Lucien here had told me I'd be meeting yourself, I would have chosen a slightly less... harrowing location." Her glance focused briefly over Sophia's shoulder, where a pair of men (both completely pissed, by the looks of it), tried to support each other on the way out of the tavern. Nostariel's brows furrowed; those two worked at the Bone Pit, she was sure of it, and while they were quite often inebriated, she didn't think it was so bad usually.

She tucked the thought away, having more pressing matters to attend to at the moment. "Another friend of mine is essentially Kirkwall's rumor mill, so I'd heard whispers of the Viscount's daughter out and about in the city. May I ask the purpose of such ventures?" Nostariel raised her tankard to her lips and took a draught, setting it back down with perhaps more grace than a drunk properly deserved.

Sophia was quite certain she'd reddened more once the Grey Warden, Nostariel Turtega, as she introduced herself, stepped in to rescue her from Sparrow. An excellent first impression, no doubt. She'd probably looked more confident the last time she had met a Warden, and that was when she had been twelve. Of course, that was also in the Viscount's Keep and not the Hanged Man, but still. She might have agreed with Nostariel's sentiment about the location, but showed no sign of it. "It's quite alright. It's an interesting change of pace, I'll give it that."

And apparently rumor traveled faster than she herself did. Were her daily affairs such common knowledge? She supposed they would be, given her future as Viscountess. She sensed genuine curiosity in Nostariel's question however, which was far preferable to the accusatory tones she would no doubt get from Father the next morning, when he found out about this. "If I may be frank," and Sophia actually felt like it would be strange not to be frank with someone in a place like this, "there's a good deal about the city that doesn't sit right with me, and I want to fix that. It's hard just to know what the problems are, let alone fix them, when you spend every waking moment concerned only with the affairs of Hightown. So... I guess I'm branching out, and seeing what I can do to help. I don't have much actual authority over anything quite yet, but... I'm capable of helping people, so I think I should."

She hoped her ideal would resonate with the Warden, although she was aware that joining that particular Order was not always by choice. Her gut told her that Nostariel was a good person, though. Lucien wouldn't have introduced them otherwise.

“Much simpler to feel at ease with a warm belly.” She added flippantly, arching an inquisitive eyebrow. It was only when Nostariel playfully thwacked her arm, hardly knocking the simpering look off her outlandish features, that Sparrow mouthed a silent apology and dropped her hands from her chin, gesturing with one as if she were waving a white flag – surrendering neatly, politely. It wouldn't do to disobey a pretty lady. Surely, Ashton would agree. Her smile widened, ever so slightly, with her teeth peeping between her lips. This woman, who's name rang like seashells and bells, was adorable. Sparrow feigned an affronted pout, dipping her chin into her upturned hand, elbows already finding purchase on the table's chipped contour. She waggled her fingers. Her eyes rolled back towards her fellow mage. This was just the distraction she needed to keep her head out of the water, to keep herself from drowning. It would be enough for now.

“Sunshine – the Viscount's daughter?” It came as a soft whisper; a breathy intonation of surprise. She'd already given Sophia a fitting nickname: Sunshine. There was something pleasant, almost unscathed, in the woman's eyes. As if it hadn't been touched by outside influences. As if it hadn't been torn apart in the most unpleasant ways. It was refreshing and uncomfortable, all at once. Honestly, Sparrow wasn't used to anyone who wasn't remotely broken, or injured, or battered from earlier experiences. Her hands sidled at the table's edge, gently drumming to an invisible beat. This conversation was better left to those who's goals extended far beyond living day-to-day, drivelling in hovels and scurrying in the comfort of darkness. Hadn't she helped a group of Templars only weeks ago? A group so hellbent on stripping her freedom away. It was almost funny, and perhaps it would have been if it hadn't turned out so badly. Her hand was beginning to ache, interrupting the steady rhythm of her fingers. She couldn't stay. So, finally, Sparrow scrapped the wooden chair back, tipped a ghostly hat at Nostariel, Lucien, and Sophia.

“Good to see someone's trying t' change things.” Her voiced dropped to a conspiring whisper. “If it were me, I'd start at the bottom. Help the one's that don't have the coin to help themselves.” The Elves, the poor, the apostates. When did Hightown need for anything? Without another word, Sparrow threw Sophia a wink and swept past her, shouting her goodbye's to the barkeep and it's servers.

Almost as soon as she'd appeared, the rambunctious woman was gone, leaving Lucien blinking his good eye slowly, as if to make sure it was working correctly. He needed it to, given the state of his other one. There had been something uneasy in her demeanor, though subtle, and covered rather well by the flapping, strutting flashiness of a peacock proud of his feathers. If that hadn't been entirely standard where he came from, he probably wouldn't have noticed it. Still, it was none of his business, and he did not inquire after it, returning his focus intead to the two women that still remained.

Of course, he was hoping that Sophia's frank mannerisms and obvious good intentions would earn her some help from Nostariel, because the woman was undeniably a good ally to have; a hell of a healer, not to mention someone with real (and very unfortunate) experince in achieving what seemed to be impossible. While the elf didn't necessarily know it, he'd wager she was close to the ideal voice for city eles, mages, and large groups of other unfortunates who may or may not recieve due attention elsewhere. At the very least, she knew a great deal more than he about all of those things, and it was infomation Sophia needed to have if she was to succeed. Conversely, well... it was fair to say that if his initial estimation of the Viscount's daughter was correct, then nobility was not to be given up on quite yet, and his Warden friend could use some reassurance of that.

He understood, however, that it was not for him to baldly assert any of these things, no matter how certain of them he was. Some things would only ever show their value when unearthed one step at a time. So Lucien faded into the background of the conversation, present if he was needed but otherwise as unobtrusive as a six-and-a-half foot man in plate armor could be.

Sparrow had a way of making the atmosphere around him lighter, as though some of the oppressive, miasmic weight of it cleared for just a little while. His childish expressiveness and silly gestures were welcome interruptions to the monotony of her misery, just as Lucien's unfailing politeness and gentle, coaxing manner of conversation and Aurora's stubborn optimism were. Too soon, the lanky man was gone, and she was left to face something she wasn't quite sure how to answer.

This woman, Sophia Dumar, reminded her quite acutely of Lucien, only... well, the fact that she was dressed more richly wasn't important, but she was blunter, in a way. The same feeling of essential goodness was there, though, and it was easy to see why the two got along well enough that he'd invite someone from Hightown down here, and why she'd acquiesce and appear without visible armament. (Not, of course, that Nostariel believed she was unarmed). The Warden appraised the Viscount's daughter with genuine curiosity. "I know the feeling well," she demurred, propping her elbows on the table and clasping one fist in the opposite palm. Setting her chin atop both, she sighed softly.

"Our mutual friend is no fool; I may very well be able to assist you. But... I would ask one thing in return. There will come a time when what you want to do seems impossibly difficult, when the right choice isn't clear to you. When everything you've been raised or taught to think pulls you in one direction, but some little part of yourself that wasn't there before makes you unsure. When that time comes..." The Warden trailed off and swallowed, her voice thickening with something not quite nameable. "Well, I won't tell you what to do, but I'd ask you to listen to that small thing. Its power is not indicative of its truth." Blinking rapidly several times, Nostariel straightened her posture slightly, tilting her lips in a self-effacing smile.

"My apologies; I may have just convinced you of my strangeness rather than anything else. But I would ask it of you all the same. By the nature of our world, the decisions of some matter a great deal more than those of others, and I have a feeling that yours will mean a great deal, Sophia."

Sophia had been quite absorbed in the words of the elven Warden, enough so to forget that she had just felt a fool from the encounter with Sparrow, enough to forget Lucien was silently observing their conversation, enough even to forget that she was in a place like the Hanged Man, noisy and chaotic as it was. Her words made her feel... strangely uncomfortable, though. The idea that what she had been taught, or led to believe, could possibly be... not false, but not true either. Grand Cleric Elthina came to mind. There was perhaps no one who had taught her more in her life. She couldn't see herself ever going against the Grand Cleric.

"Strange? No... I find the lack of any caring among many nobles to be strange, not this. But... I've had teachers that I have always aspired to, Andraste and the Maker above all. I haven't felt doubt in..." Not so long ago, she had to remind herself, brought on by that troublesome criminal and the man sitting right next to her. Sophia became aware that she was looking at him, or his gauntlets, rather, and pulled her eyes back up to meet Nostariel's.

"I can speak only for myself, of course, but I have to believe in the rightness of many of those who have taught me. I'm certain I'll be tested far more in the future than I ever have, but their guidance has not led me astray yet, nor do I believe that it will." Quite suddenly, she found herself wishing she'd worn her armor, or at least some kind of armor. She felt rather small compared to Lucien next to her, and even the Warden, who she was certain had seen far more than the little Hightown Sophia had grown up in.

Oh, the things I could tell you, Nostariel thought to herself, but she recognized that assurance, that confidence, well enough to know that nothing she said would make a difference. So instead of asserting herself, she backed off without a fight. "I used to think much the same. I suppose I can only ask that you trust yourself as well as trusting them. At any rate, perhaps it was presumptuous of me to assume. I will offer my assistance when you require it, provided I am not occupied with anything for the Wardens. I can also keep my ear to the ground, so to speak. You might be surprised what one can learn in a place like this."

"I would greatly appreciate it," Sophia said, nodding her head in thanks. She was also grateful Nostariel did not choose to push her point further. Perhaps it was unwise to discard advice from a Warden, but Sophia thought it far more dangerous to discard advice from Elthina, a woman she had known far longer, the wisest soul she had had the privelege of being taught by. Pleased, however, with at least making the acquaintance of a Warden, and the possibility of future cooperation, Sophia stood, and bowed once more, though it felt unnecessary. "I should probably return to the Keep, lest Bran send out a search party," she said, smiling slightly at Lucien. "Thank you for inviting me here. It was a pleasure to meet you, Nostariel."

She then made her way cautiously from the tavern once more, careful to avoid more stumbling drunks and other assorted dangers of Lowtown at night. Yes, she definitely would be wearing some armor next time she came here.

"Likewise," Nostariel murmured politely, but she wasn't sure there was much truth in it. It was not that she disliked Sophia, or even that she thought the woman was doomed to fail. It was just... taking on such a burden, no matter how apt her allies, was going to bring her much pain and sorrow, and some of it probably self-caused, if she was unwilling to veer from dogma and really see the things that her eyes would show her, if she spent long enough in places similar to those Nostariel had dwelt. Looking morosely into her cup, she took several deep swallows and glanced at the large man across from her. She made it to one of his ears this time, though eye contact was still impossible.

"I hope she winds up more like you than me," she said simply. They'd both suffered, but his had made him better, and hers had only sunk her, like a swimmer weighted with too many stones, drowning, drowning.

There was an underlying current to this conversation, one that was almost enough to cause Lucien to break into it. With what, exactly, he couldn't have said. The line of tension was relatively easily identified. Sophia was devout, Nostariel was a mage. He had thought the similarity in their intentions would have made it less of an issue, and to a certain degree, perhaps it had. The problems, however, had not simply vanished into thin air. He liked to think that he was in some way privileged, to know a fair deal more of Nostariel's woeful history than most, but there was still something there, underneath the general air of melancholy, that wasn't quite explainable with what he knew. She did not fight Sophia's assertions spitting like an alley cat (and he knew quite a few who would), but neither did she roll over and demur.

In time, the conversation itself was over, and their guest was departing. Lucien offered a nod, making sure Sophia successfully maneuvered her way out the door before glancing back to the Warden. He didn't exactly flinch at the amount of ale she was intaking, but the inward sentiment was about the same. He hadn't meant to depress her further; that had actually been the opposite of his aim.

When she spoke, he sighed, unheard over the din of the bar, and leaned his head into one hand, the drop in his height quite effectively forcing eye contact for at least a moment. "You shouldn't," he replied seriously. "There is nothing wrong with you, Nostariel."

The woman stilled, looking for a moment much like a doe staring down some form of very large predator. It wasn't that Lucien frightened her, but the sentiment was so... something. Surprising, perhaps. She shook her head slightly and swallowed, looking back down at the table. "...it's generous of you to say so." She replied at last.

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Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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Lucien,

There's a merchant making a lot of noise in Lowtown about the Qunari, Javaris something. Says he's offering quite a bit of coin for anyone who'll help him. If the horn-heads are involved, it probably won't be easy, but that's kind of your speciality, isn't it?

-Mirren


Admittedly, when he'd woken this morning to find the note affixed to his door with a red-handled dagger, he'd rolled his eyes (the bad one could still do that, after all) and wondered when the Red Iron had picked up such a flair for the dramatic. Nevertheless, he was grateful that they were passing work his way, regardless of how they chose to go about informing him of it. So here he was, going through the daily ritual of strapping on his copious amonts of armor and tying his patch over his scarred eye, thankfully about to be gainfully employed once more. Lucien's home was fairly typical of Lowtown, save one thing: it was incredibly neat and free of clutter. The rooms were scrubbed to Chevalier-barracks standard, which was to say that dust was treated as a mortal foe, and everything had a place. It wasn't exactly clinical, but it clearly lacked the touch of someone who hadn't lived a military life.

Buckling his last gauntlet into place, he removed the scythe from its hook near his bookshelves and places it in its accustomed place at his back. There were no mirrors in his home, so he made due with a quick inspection, ensuring that his cleaning of the plate and chain the day before had not missed any errant blood spots or debris. It hadn't, of course, and so he stepped outside, locking the door with a brass key, kept on a ring with only one other. Looping this through his belt, he set off towards the market, which was for him a fair distance, given his location just a few streets over from the Alienage.

As was usual even this early in the morning, the place was fairly abustle, and he had to scan the heads of the merchants he was used to seeing for the ones that he wasn't. Javaris was not an elf's name he'd ever heard, meaning that he was looking for a human or a dwarf, probably the second. As it was, he pulled over to the clothier's stall to inquire about it and recieved his answer. "That blighter? Won't shut up about Qunari or explosions or something. Yeah, he's over there." Lucien followed the trajectory of the woman's arm and smiled politely, dipping his head in thanks.

The smell of ale and old vomit had been a little too much for Nostariel to handle just then, and it occurred to her that she hadn't been out of the Hanged Man since the last time she'd gone to check up on Feynriel, which was at least a week ago. That was long enough, and after bathing, she'd taken up her staff and decided to go walking, to make her pesence known if nothing else. The absence of a Blight didn't excuse her from her duties as a Warden, however much a "retirement" this posting was supposed to be. Admittedly, she felt a little more motivated right now than she had in a while, partially because of her promise to the Viscount's daughter, and partially because of what Lucien had said to her. She hated disappointing people, which was why she often tried to remind them (and herself) that it was unwise to expect much from her. But the man didn't seem to understand the hint, and he'd gone and said there was nothing wrong with being her.

She still disagreed, but it couldn't hurt to find out if there was some truth to the statement, could there? It was unlikely, but she might surprise herself.

The elven woman had reached the Lowtown markets, lost in thought and her face firmly pointed towards the ground, when her trajectory crossed the Orlesian man's. Unless he noticed and moved, she was actually going to run straight into him.

Lucien was trekking towards the indicated merchant, an old bard's tune escaping him in the form of a low whistle, when he noted a familiar face. Well, really it was more the body language and clothing that gave it away, for her face was turned, as usual, downwards. She did not seem to have noticed him, and the Orlesian neatly sidestepped her determined path, his tune ceasing mid-note. Ever decorous, he did not touch her shoulder to stop her as another might have, but he felt it would be rather inconsiderate of him to pretend he had not noticed her presence at all. "Ah, Nostariel. It's quite the surprise to see you here, I must admit." He smiled kindly, stopping in his forward motion so as to speak to her properly, if that was what she wished. People that needed to pass him simply went around; nobody was going to complain to a man so tall and clearly well-armed.

The sound of a familiar voice snapped her right out of her reverie, and she looked up sharply. How was it that everyone she knew was so much taller than her? Clearly, she needed to befriend more dwarves. It was worse when they were standing, and it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that Lucien loomed. Not that she believed he intended to. The lady Warden blinked, her mouth opening and closing a few times before her words finally caught up with her thoughts. "Oh, Lucien. What are you doing here?" She winced; that had sounded somewhat impolite even to her own ears. Had it really been so long since she'd needed to socialize without the aid of ale or brandy?

Lucien's smile grew, and he chuckled lightly. "I do have to earn my keep somehow, I'm afraid. I'm here on a bit of business. Apparently, there's a merchant here who needs some help involving the Qunari. I'm told the coin will be lucrative, but I came to discover the nature of the task first." After all, he was not the Red Iron. He didn't take anything that would pay well outside of slavery and assassination. Still, however suspect this seemed, he was at least willing to speak with the client before making a decision.

"Ah, of course. Sorry." Nostariel felt the faintest hint of color rising to her skin, which only made things worse. She should have guessed that he was here for his work. Even if he hadn't been, what right did she have to inquire? She paused for a moment, considering simply making her goodbys and departing, but something made her hesitate. She recalled the way she'd felt upon Feynriel's rescue, as well as Sophia's words in the pub the day before. Biting her lip, she gave it a bit of thought, then took a deep breath. "Can I come? That is, I won't ask for any of the profits, I just..." she exhaled, at a loss for how to explan her desire to be active to actually accomplish something again.

Lucien shrugged, the corner of his visible eye crinkling with faint good humor. "I don't see why not; I'd be happy to have some help, in fact. And you're welcome to your share of the payment, whatever that might be. Shall we?" He gestured ahead of himself, and the two approached the merchant identified as Javaris Tintop. "Pardon me, sir, but I'm of the understanding that you're looking to hire help of a certain kind. My friend and I were here to inquire about the circumstances."

The dwarf fiddled with his rather short and well groomed beard as he sized up his potential help. "So that's how it works, is it? Gotta put out a load a coin before you get anyone with some muscle on them? Can't get a decent blade at a bargain anymore, that's for sure," he finished, half-mumbling the last bit. "You two, though! You might be what I need. The name's Javaris Tintop, in case you didn't already know, and I need skilled help in order to pacify the Qunari."

He leaned forward on the little stall he was set up at, to speak more directly to Lucien and Nostariel, even though it was unlikely many of the other Lowtown merchants would hear him as it is, or even care if they did. "Those horn-heads in the Docks have a... powder, and it explodes! Just dust, no lyrium, no magic, no demons. Anyone can use it! Problem is, that Arishok said I wasn't worthy or something, then he said something about how not even their outcasts, those Tal-Vashoth as they call 'em, are that mercenary. Made me think... if I got rid of something that bothered the horn-heads as much as those Tal-Vashoth do, maybe he'd bargain with me! Therein lies the job. You up for hunting some outlaws, my good man?"




Today was not a shop-sitting kind of day, as Ashton locked the door of the Hunted Stag behind him. Sure, he may have had gotten some customers over the course of the day, but that really wouldn’t help pull him out of the bind that he was currently in. While he was a shopowner, that didn’t exactly mean he owned his shop. He still had massive payments to make out to the Viscount’s Keep—and he couldn’t shake the feeling that they cheated him. Hard. Ridiculously so. So that meant every now and then, on days like this, Ashton would have to venture from his lowly shop and try his hand at freelancing once more—though he’d rather stay away from the type of freelancing that got him into the city. Smuggling would leave a bad taste in his mouth.

Luckily, due to the prime location of his shop (in the heart of the Lowtown bazaar) that meant that if he kept his ears open, job opportunities would just up and appear. This was one of those times. There was word of a dwarven merchant looking to hire. From what he had gleaned the job wasn't anything illegal-- though that wouldn't have stopped him in the first place. He already associated with mages and tranquils, it's not like breaking a little law here and there would weigh too heavily on soul. The dwarf, a Jarvis Tin-something or another, was actually nearby where Ashton had his own shop. He reached behind him to make sure he had his bow and an adequate number of arrows (he once left his bow at the shop... When he went hunting. Throwing arrows at animals didn't quite pan out.) he began to make his way to where he believe this dwarf was set up.

True to his name as a hunter, he came upon the dwarf in spectacular time. Even so, it seemed that two others had already beaten him to the punch. It was a good thing Ashton wasn't shy. He coyly rubbed his hands together as he realized that one of the party was a very pretty elven lass. "Seems like it times to make some friends," Ashton said to himself as he approached the group. He arrived just in time to here the bit about exploding powder and Qunari. Dammit. The Qunari were intimidating creatures, and hunting them sounded... Suspect. Though, he did need the money. Else, his shop may not be his for much longer. Besides, he couldn't call himself a man if he let the elven lass attempt something this dangerous by herself could he now? So with his mind firmly set, he opened his mouth.

"Explodes you say? Surely something that dangerous would never be used for something grisly," Ashton deadpanned. "Though, hunting these outlaws sounds like something I could do. For the right price," He said with a wink to the elven girl.

Nostariel's mouth was set into a small frown. The way the merchant spoke conveyed absolutely no care for anything but the money he could make off the enterprise, and that did bother her to a degree. Still, what they were actually being asked to do seemed a decent-enough task. She was about to speak when she was interrupted from behind by someone unfamiliar. Turning to see the newcomer, she sighed inwardly. He was nearly as tall as Lucien! One of these days, she was going to end up with neck problems just from looking at the people she spoke to, she just knew it. For all that though, they seemed otherwise completely different. This one wore what seemed to her a friendly face, but considerably more open than her friend's.

She coughed slightly and looked away when he addressed her. People were sometimes forward with her, but they were also usually drunk at the time (as was she) and that did quite a bit to reduce her embarassment. Not so presently. "Erm... indeed not," she replied as much in kind as she was able, though her tone grew more serious when she continued. "Varric tells me that these Tal'Vashoth, they often prey on travellers and merchants trying to make their way into or out of the city. On the Wounded Coast, mostly. It seems they've displaced many of the other bandits with, well... bigger bandits." It seemed like reason enoughto do what Javaris was asking, even if the results might be... less than entirely savory if he successfully claimed credit for it. Someone purely merchantile likely wouldn't bother all that much with caring who he sold such a substance to, as long as they paid well enough.

Maybe they'd get lucky somehow, and it wouldn't become an issue. She glanced briefly in Lucien's direction, trusting his judgement a good deal more than her own.

"I'll admit to not knowing as much as I'd like to about the Qunari," Lucien pointed out, "But it seems like the Arishok's word is not something commonly overturned." Still, it appeared that this hadn't dissuaded Javaris from his resolution in the slightest, and he was about to decline on the grounds of insufficient reason to simply further the ends of a money-seeking merchant when a stranger joined the conversation. He seemed to be primarily intent on addressing the Warden, and the once-Chevalier had to work very hard to suppress the amused grin that threatened. Few people in this country were quite so direct; it was almost like being back home.

The thought fled quickly enough when she spoke though, and her words gave him reason to reconsider. Bandits... perhaps there was some merit in taking the task. An outlaw was one thing (he probably qualified as one where he was from), but a bandit was something else entirely. There was the matter of what Javaris would do with this powder if he gained it, but Lucien suspected that, opaque as they were, the Qunari were not simply going to hand it over to him. If they made to do so, perhaps he would be able to convince them otherwise. "Very well, Javaris. It looks like you have three pairs of hands where once you had none. Are we to assume that these Tal'Vashoth are indeed on the Wounded Coast?"

"Exactly so, my friend!" Javaris responded, considerably more excited now that he had a team of able individuals agreeing to help him. "Hell, loads of travelers and traders have been avoiding the Wounded Coast road just because of the damn oxmen. They hide in the hills, so I've heard, just off the roads. You probably won't have to look too hard to find them. Come find me here when the job's done, and we'll go get the powder from the Arishok, and you'll have your reward, all three of you!"

Ashton's answer was a wide grin to first the dwarf, and then second to his newfound companions. "So we just need to find these renegade Qunari, get rid of them, and get back just in time to get paid. Sounds like a simple job," He said sarcastically. Obviously, this wouldn't be easy as he made it out to be. He wasn't that stupid. The straight laced Qunari were already frightening, these renegade Qunari sounded like they had no qualms about splitting his head like an overripened melon. However, that just meant that he just had to stay out of their reach. The tall fellow with the armor could worry about that, he'd just hang back. Ah! Which brought him to his next point. He pivoted on his feet, coming face-to-face with the elven lady... In a manner. She was strikingly shorter than him, which he readily remedied by leaning over and taking her hand in his own. He gave it a light peck and then looked back up to the elf's hazel eyes and introduced himself, "I am Ashton Riviera, hunter extrodinaire, at your service Miss..."

"N-Nostariel," the Warden stuttered in reply. More than a little irritated at herself, she cleared her throat and tried again, this time with considerably more composure. "My name is Nostariel Turtega, Captain of the Grey." She hadn't used the title in a long time, but a present, she felt like a little distance might not be at all unfavorable. She couldn't remember the last time someone had so much as touched her except on accident, so this was... very strange, and more than a little uncomfortable. Taking a quick breath for fortification, she plowed onwards. "It's... nice to meet you. This is a friend of mine, Lucien..." She threw a glance at the aformentioned warrior, as though pleading with him to step in and smooth this over. She was awkward enough around people like he and Aurora and Ithilian. This was... another step away from even that.

Lucien decided that it would be best to do the lady a small mercy and get the task underway at the same time. "Lucien Drakon, at your service," he finished smoothly. "As fond as I am of both conversation and knowing my allies, I think it might be best to be underway as soon as possible, perhaps." He raised a brow at Ashton and smiled, just slightly, at the other man over the Warden's head. It was, mostly, something sympathetic, as though to point out that the Warden's reticence was universal and not his fault.

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Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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"So, what brings a beautiful Captain of the Grey out to the ass end of Kirkwall anyway?" Ashton asked Nostariel. "I haven't seen a darkspawn in... Well.. Ever," Ashton said, his face scrunching into something of a quizzical look as if he just asked himself a question. "Hmm... Wonder if I have the Wardens to thank for that. Certainly have to thank them for saving Fereldan. Archdemon business, you know? Of course you know. I was one of the refugees from Fereldan. Thanks to the Wardens, my Aunt and Uncle aren't some headpiece for a 'Spawn," Ashton rambled, unaware to how the lady warden would feel about it. To be fair, Ashton was just enamored with the fact that this woman was a Warden. He'd never met one before, he was only told stories about them. Grand, fantasical stories of warriors of great renown and strength, mages with the power of the fade in their hands, rogues that flirt with the shadows themselves. He found himself wondering which category this woman belonged to.

"So. What does bring you to our Kirkwall?" Ashton repeated, this time leaving room for Nostariel to answer.

The Warden was accustomed enough to being spoken at that she knew she didn't really need to do much besides nod and smile faintly, though she was listening. This Ashton seemed to enjoy the sound of his own voice, but that had ceased to annoy her long ago. It was funny; she would have thought his name Rivaini, but his appearance and accent practically screamed 'Fereldan,' and his words confirmed it. He was also trampling through tender ground (unintentionally, no doubt) without much self-consciousness at all. It would have been enough to depress her further if he didn't whisk by every sentence too quickly for the feelings to really set in. At the end of it all, she was perplexed, mildly overwhelemed, and still a smidge embarassed (Beautiful? Really? Who just said things like that so casually?), but surprisingly not upset.

"Well... I've been in the Free Marches most of my life, with a few exceptions here and there," she replied, casting her glance around as though trying to find something to fix it upon. Seeing as how the landscape was mostly rocks and sand, 'something' amounted to either the occasional shrub, Lucien's back, or her own feet. She went with some flitting mix of all three, which was perhaps mildly vigilant but mostly just served to keep her distracted enough to speak freely on the subject. "I grew up in the Starkhaven Circle, but Warden service takes one strange places, sometimes. I'm here now because... well, it's considered wisest to have Wardens in major cities during peacetime, and this is where they put me." That wasn't quite a lie, but it was certainly not the whole truth either. Lucien would know; she just hoped he wouldn't say anything about it.

Lucien didn't feel any particular pressure to contribute to the conversation; he was content enough simply letting the man called Ashton talk his tongue off and smiling to himself when Nostariel seemed a fair mix of confused and unusually open in response. The bowman had the "disarming" quality down quite well, he would readily admit. As he was presently leading, he didn't see the need to disguise his amusement as anything else, so he didn't try. He was considering pushing his female friend just a little further, but he knew her omissions were very purposeful, and he had no wish to make her truly ill-at-ease. Besides, they were here to do a job, and he was by his very nature focused on that until it was through.

Which was, perhaps, why he heard the shouting first. The voice was barely audible, and sounded like it was comng from atop the low cliffside to their right. "Terribly sorry to interrupt," he broke in, and quite genuinely remorsefully at that, "But it appears we have company already." He did not take his scythe to hand, for thus far, all he was hearing was a warning, which seemed a civil-enough sort of thing to be hearing, though it was sadly wasted on the likes of them. They hadn't come here to avoid the danger, after all; rather the opposite.

"A Mage huh? I suppose that walking stick of yours would have given it away." Ashton said with a wry grin. Another mage. He wondered why they flocked to a city whose circle is called the "Gallows". Even so, the mere admission of her... Mageyness drew immediate comparisons between the Warden and Sparrow. He wasn't able to get too far into it however, as the fellow leading the way-- Lucien was it? Called attention to someone shouting a warning. Just in case, Ashton had his hand on his bow, waiting for a reason to draw.

A large, gray-skinned form appeared before them, dropping down from the low cliff to their right, a spear in hand. He gripped it casually however, and did not clutch it as though preparing to strike. He was kossith, the horned people that made up the majority of the Qunari population. Short black horns curved backwards away from his head, ending over shoulder length white hair. He wore nothing above his waist, which revealed that he, like perhaps every Qunari in Kirkwall, was in excellent condition, a powerful combination of strength and speed. Bronze bands lined his arms, a larger one encircling the base of his neck. He held out a hand to the group, both as an offering of peace, and as a warning. His voice rang out strong and clear.

"Go no further, if you are wise! Tal-Vashoth control these passages. They will show you no mercy."

"I confess I wasn't expecting much," Nostariel replied. She didn't know enough about the Qunari to fill a book or anything, but if their treatment of their mages was anything to go by, mercy didn't really enter into the equation. Amalia had seemed not at all discomfited by her presence, but she put that down more to the fact that Amalia hadn't seemed discomfited by anything than any cultural tolerance. Glancing up the path from which he'd come, Nostariel placed her hands on her hips and looked up at the kossith with an expression best classed as underwhelmed, but curious. "How is it that the Arishok allows this? Surely, the Tal-Vashoth are not simply allowed to roam as they please?"

This was something that had been bothering her about the situation. The Qunari sat there at the docks, presumably largely inactive (and probaly bored out of their minds), and just sort of allowed traitors to their incredibly militant order to gallivant about the Wounded Coast, probably causing no small amount of diplomatic pressure and trouble? It just didn't make sense.

"It is not my business to know Arishok's mind," he answered evenly. "Perhaps we are beneath his notice, and we are to be insulted by being ignored. We have turned our backs on the Qun, and as such we are no longer Qunari. Perhaps it is no longer within his role to deal with us. We have become bandits and highwayman. A problem for the city guard moreso than the Antaam, wouldn't you say?"

He took a few cautious steps forward, to better examine those he had come upon. "I expected to see another caravan passing through, the usual pickings for the Tal-Vashoth, but you three appear well-equipped. The path ahead is littered with my kind. If your skill matches your arms, it would please me if you killed them."

"A cheerful sort, wouldn't you say?" Ashton quipped as he removed his hand from the arch of his bow. This Qunari-- or was he still a Qunari, since he had abandoned the Qun? Hmm. A curious question for another time perhaps. As it stood, this Qunari was asking them to slay his companions. "Is it usual for Qunari to ask others to kill their kind? Or is this a one-of-a-kind deal that we were fortunate enough to be a part of?" He asked, doing the head tilt that was usual for him. Perhaps his words wouldn't have been so sarcastic if the mass of man that was Lucien wasn't currently standing between him and large horned devil creature.

"I have turned my back on those I formerly belonged to. The second time I have done this in a short time," he explained. "I did not like my role, so I left the Qun. I do not wish to be a murdering thief, so I left these Tal-Vashoth to warn their victims. You are clearly no victims, if you have come seeking blood as I suspect, so now I will take my leave." He turned to go, no longer seeming to care about the three he had just come to warn.

"Right. That was weird," Ashton deadpanned.

Lucien raised his brow as the Qunari- well, Tal-Vashoth, most correctly- walked off, apparently not that concerned after all. "You obviously didn't grow up in Orlais, my friend. That doesn't even begin to reach the level of 'weird,'" he replied mildly, reaching back to clasp the haft of his scythe and loosen it from its bound position against his back. It gave without trouble, and the warrior hefted the thing to rest casually across the broad line of his shoulders.

"It appears to be about time to be at business, I suppose." The chances of bandits simply giving up and dispersing, he had learned some time ago, were slim to none, and so he didn't entertain much hope that they'd agree to stop raiding and killing people. Still, he'd offer them the chance. Everyone deserved that much, regardless of the circumstanes in which he'd found them. Casting a glance back at the other two, he shrugged nonchalantly. "Ready?"

Nostariel sighed softly. She probably ought to accept that she was never going to get the Qunari. They were just so... obtuse. That was probably the right word for it. Still, for all they made no sense to her, she had always believed that they operated on some kind of honor-based system, which was a good deal more than she could say for these Tal-Vashoth. Pursing her lips, the Warden mirrored Lucien in motion if nothing else and loosed her staff, planting it into the ground for the time being and nodding resolutely.

"Ready," she confirmed, her grip on the smooth sylvanwood tightening. "Bandits, I can certainly deal with." Bigger bandits just meant she had to avoid getting hit as much as possible. It occurred to her then that it might be beneficial for the other two to have some form of information about her talents, which were less obvious than a scythe bigger than her person or a well-kept bow and arrows. "Oh, and... if it comes up, I happen to be a healer, so the magical explosions will be on the smaller side." Her lips twitched for a moment, but it was time to go, and so she shook her head minutely and followed.

"Small explosions? Well that's no fun," Ashton said as he pulled his bow out of the quiver. In a single deft movement, he strung the bow as if he was tying a bootlace. He had a deftness about his fingers that his nonchalant and silly demeanor belied. With his bow strung and ready to use, he swung it over his shoulders until it rested nicely over the back of his neck. "Orlais you say? I had you pegged for a chevalier type. And I must admit, I wasn't so blessed to be born in Orlais. Highever more like it. Have many Qunari in Orlais?" Ashton said with a wry grin. He found himself rather fond of Lucien now. Still, there would be more time to talk when a band of roving horned demon bandits weren't on the road. He nodded and added, "Yep. Ready."

The group had just climbed a rise and crested a small hill when the first of the Tal-Vasoth came into sight. From the looks of things, there were quite the number, a mix of melee combatants and javelin-throwers. Lucien blinked his good eye and returned his comrade's grin with a faint smirk.

"Oh, scads. Qunari everywhere," he replied offhandedly, the double-meaning of the words quite apparent given what they'd just stumbled onto. "Simplifies our problem of finding them," Ashton grinned as he reached back for an arrow.

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Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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The Tal-Vashoth were clearly prepared for, and rather experienced with, ambushing their targets. Large as they were, they seemed to simply appear from behind foliage and rocks, spears and javelins in hand. They came forward with startling speed, given their size, each of them having arms that looked as though they could rip the arms right off a smaller person. Strong and swift as they were, however, they wore little armor, with most of them covering themselves only in tattoos from the waist up. It would be an uphill battle for Lucien, Nostariel, and Ashton, with spear armed warriors charging down the hill towards them, with momentum enough to rival a charging bronto, all the while javelin throwers waited behind the front line, looking for openings to launch deadly ranged attacks.

The ambush, insofar as there was one given their forewarning, was well-planned. The slope of the ground meant that the Tal-Vashoth were bearing down upon the three of them, and without hesitation at that. Still... Lucien had certain obligations to fulfill before he could swing his scythe in order to defend himself. They were often counterproductive and certainly abnormal, but neither of those considerations was proof of their superfluousness. Fixing his eye on the foremost charging kossith, he spoke with considerable volume, more than enough to be heard even over the clang of metal and the roar of battle-cries. "It need not come to this," he pointed out, a slight note of (sincere, but very very dubious) hope tinting the words. "Cease your onslaught and-"

It was just then that the front of the pack reached him, and the former Qunari swung, aiming to take the man's head off. Lucien sighed and ducked, fully aware that this was how things were likely to end. He wasn't a fool, despite frequent assertions to the contrary. So he had been prepared, and brought his scythe around in a full-fledged counterstrike, the arched blade connecting with the kossith's midsection and tearing through it with an ease that belied the sheer force of the blow. The Tal-Vashoth fell with a heavy thud to the sand beneath his feet, and Lucien braced himself, shoring his defenses and preparing to play large, solid target, hopefully blocking most of the javelin throwers from getting a clear shot at either Nostariel or Ashton.

The next two rushed towards him, another pair not far behind. The former Chevalier dug his feet into the sand, bent knees and soft ground absorbing most of the shock of impact as one of his assailants slowed himself too late and collided bodily with the tall man. A quick glance upward revealed that the ranged kossith appeared to be sizing up possible throws, and Lucien called back to his allies. "Don't worry about these; just make sure those spearmen don't have a chance to hit us." He could handle the melee for now; the narrowness of the rock-edged incline meant that he'd probably only have to deal with two or three at a time. A rain of javelins, however, could do all of them some serious damage.

For all the times they'd spoken, Nostariel had never had cause to observe Lucien in a hostile situation. She was a bit... puzzled by his insistence on giving the Tal-Vashoth a way out- it was obvious that they weren't going to take it. At the same time, she felt her respect for the man increase yet again. Certainly, it wasn't the wisest tactical move and he had lost himself precious seconds, but... he'd presumably been at this for a while, and he was still alive. She wondered if his chivalry had cost him that eye. Either way, it didn't seem to lessen his effectiveness afterwards, as one of the bandits was down before she could even find the target for her first spell.

His advice, she took to heart, locking on to the presently still-searching spearmen and dipping onto the Fade. The misdirection hex was an insidious thing, like creeping fog at one's ankles, and she grasped it, pulling the magic into reality and launching it, arching the spell over Lucien's head and for a cluster of three Tal-Vashoth, one of which was just about to release his first projectile for Ashton. The javelin flew harmlessly to the side, but the Warden didn't stop to breathe a sigh of relief, gripping her staff in both hands and channelling ice-energy from it in quick bursts, aiming to overwhelm the leftmost ranged fighter and succeeding when he fell back, encased in a growing sheath of ice. Nostariel's face was set in a grim line, her work almost methodical, as though she could do this sort of thing in her sleep.

Perhaps she could. A globule of fire gusted past the Chevalier, a few feet from his head, and hit the two enemies behind the ones he was currently engaging, burning both but felling neither. Still, it would weaken them, and she turned her attention back to the four throwers that remained.

"Surprised that they didn't take you up on your offer Ser Knight," Ashton teased as he trained a bead on a spearman. "They seemed so civilized too. Pity," Ashton finished, punctuating his own sentence with the twang of a bowstring. Much like the ball of fire that flew past Lucien's head, Ashton's arrow whistled past the opposite side and dug deep into the pectoral of a javelin-thrower, causing the weapon to fly harmlessly to the side, instead relaying it's deadly point into the side of a rock. Ashton grinned, this wasn't going to be much sport if things didn't become a bit interesting. Despite the ground advantage the Qunari had, their tactics left something to be... Desired. Rush the enemies and chuck spears at them. A flawless plan against trading caravans... Too bad they weren't a trading caravan.

As the tagged Qunari ripped the arrow out of his flesh and threw it away, Ashton delivered another present post-haste in the form of another arrow, in the other pectoral. The Qunari must not have liked that, as it let out a howl and left the arrow in and reached for a javelin, probably looking to shove it down the playful archer's gullet. Instead of retrieving one arrow this time, Ashton grabbed a handful of white fletching and nocked them all at once. He aimed up and fired the mass of pointy instruments of death into the atmosphere and let them all fall around the four javelin throwers. The arrows raining down at terminal velocity wouldn't outright kill any, unless they were stupid enough to look up at the rain of pointy objects, at which point it'd just be natural selection and he would have ended up falling on his javelin any way. Good riddance.

They were not so lucky for that to be the case as the throwers began to try and escape the sudden pointy change in weather-- Mostly by stumbling thanks to Nostariel's hex. "You've got time Ser Knight, why don't you ask and see if they wish to surrender this time?" Ashton asked, followed by a cackle and a nocking of another arrow.

As if in response to Ashton's teasing, the Tal-Vashoth shouted commands to one another, and most of the frontline warriors fell back, trying to create more openings for the ranged attackers to return fire against the pesky archer and his companions. The javelin-throwers shouted upwards and out of sight, towards the mouth of a cave just in their line of sight. More warriors came to reinforce the current group, and they took up a more defensive posture, responding to the ineffectiveness of their initial attack. They'd clearly been expecting a target that was not adequately capable of defending themselves, not a group of skilled combatants, a mage among them.

Lucien's fourth Tal-Vashoth, this one already sporting nasty burns, fell atop the pile of his brethren, and the knight took a moment to straighten his posture and survey the field. A hail of arrows was quite successfully pinning down the magically-disoriented throwers, but reinforcements were arriving, and taking a much more defensive stance at that. Lucien loosened his feet, pulling them from their entrenched position in the sand. "To ask once is a professional courtesy," he replied to Ashton's jibe, smiling wryly. "To ask a second time is just insulting. If it's a fight they want, it's a fight they shall recieve. Shall we press the point?"

He shrugged, as if to say he planned on it anyway, and advanced up the hill, at proper march pace. He perhaps would have run, but keeping his footing was more important, and he was wearing more than forty pounds of armor, after all. A javelin flew from somewhere beside him, but Lucein spotted it in enough time to knock it from its trajectory with a broad sweep. They did not travel so fast as arrows did, after all. He alighted at the top of the slope, the flat area containing the reinforcements. The advantage was still theirs, in that they were more numerous and several were now free to attack him at once, but they seemed to be much more cautious than their once-allies.

Well, perhaps it was time to remedy that. "And here I'd heard the Tal-Vashoth were mighty predators. The likes of you are scavengers, carrion birds feeding on the weak. Look at what happens when the prey bites back..." Granted, it wasn't typical of the sort of hurled invectives that most people used for taunts, but the Chevalier's tone was thick with disdain and condescension, to the point that he seemed almost... disappointed.

It had the desired effect, at least on some, and Lucien felt the slow grin spreading over his face. It was true, courtesy was paramount. But no true knight abhorred the feel of battle. It was, after all, what they lived and died for.

After the Chevalier fellow taunted the horn-heads in such a fashion that it would have caused him to clap if he did not currently have his hands full, an idea struck him. A subtle bit of genius. Ashton tapped Nostariel on the shoulder with his elbow and jerked his head to the side. "Let's flank 'em, Milady," he said with a wink. It was a trap of a sort, something the hunter knew quite a bit about. In order to get a clean shot at a deer or such, one had to get around to the broadside-- the flank of the creature. He figured the same applied here, though tactics of warfare were a stranger to them. Though if the same tactics used for hunting were the same for small scale battles, then perhaps it would do the trick.

He was a bit touchy, wasn't he? Perhaps not egregiously so, but when you weren't used to it (and she certainly wasn't), it seemed... odd. Nevertheless, she kept her focus and nodded solemnly. The plan seemed good enough; they might as well capitalize on the fact that Lucien was tall and broad and inclined to draw attention, right? "All right," she replied with a businesslike nod, indicating with a gesture that she'd go left. She wasn't really sure what his thought was, but to her, it made sense to scissor from both sides. It was a tactical maneuver that had served her well in the past, and she had no reason to believe that that would change, anyway.

Circling around, she stuck to the fringes of the fight, avoiding letting off any flashy magic as she went. Stealth was certainly not her forte, but she was fairly good at not being noticed if she didn't want to be. Invoking a couple years of lingering in dark corners of shady establishments and many more of sidling along half-ruined walls in the Deep Roads, Nostariel emerged from the sparse undergrowth behind and to the side of the reinforcements, specifically the javelin-throwers. Sucking in a breath, Nostariel felt the familiar chill of supernatural ice in her palms, gooseflesh stippling the pale skin beneath her armor. With a sharp gesture, she swept her hand out in a powerful cone of cold, freezing the Tal-Vashoth in their tracks.

From there, she stepped forward, swinging with all her might at the nearest one. The first blow, placed at his shoulder, took that arm off, but it took three more to shatter him completely. By the end of the exercise, Nostaril was panting slightly from the exertion, but there was much more still to be done. Sighing softly, she moved to the next, counting out the strikes in her head in a toneless whisper. One, two, three, break this body. Four, five, six, stake your life on me. Seven, eight, nine... take my heart with you when you go.

Right. Split up. That would make more sense than for both of them to go in one direction. The idea was genius, perhaps too genius. He didn't like the idea that he'd have to part with the pretty Warden. Perhaps it was just a pretty face... Perhaps he just saw a bit of Sparrow in her. Either way, it seemed seemed he'd have to part company with the Warden for now. As she struck off to the left, Ashton took to the right. Unlike Nostariel, stealth was his forte, his strength, and his meal ticket. One doesn't survive as a predator if they were clumsy fools. His foot steps were silent, not even the brush beneath his feet betrayed his prowl.

Deft feet picked their way around the side of the Chevalier as Ashton's expression changed from the silly grin into a focused stare. Eyes to the ground, eyes to the side, eyes on the prey. The Qunari didn't even suspect a thing... Of course, the fact that a mage was now currently smashing them in the face with her staff. Hm. To be fair, she did possess a lot more stealth than he could see Sparrow possessing. With the Qunari's attentions now turned completely on both Lucien and Nostariel, Ashton figured it was the best time to make his own entrance. Without a sound, he nocked an arrow and fired, driving it through the back of the head of one of the Qunari who managed to approach too close to the little Mage for his comfort. He just hoped that he didn't spatter her with blood.

While Ashton and Nostariel wreaked havoc on the ranged Tal-Vashoth, Lucien had his hands full with the others. Quite literally at present, as he'd somehow wound up with a handful of chitinous black horn when one of them, disarmed, had decided that headbutting was a solid plan of action. To be fair, he wasn't wrong- if the blow had connected as it was intended, then the former knight had no doubt that he'd be laid out on the sand, either very unconscious or very dead, so there was that to consider. Unfortunately for the bandit, Lucien had reacted on pure fighter's instinct, dropping his scythe by his feet and meeting the attack... well, head-on wasn't the right phrase. Instead, he'd used his arms, and presently he was locked in what approximated some odd kind of barehanded wrestling match with a kossith. He'd have to write his father about this one, he decided absently, wrenching his arms in an attempt to take the somewhat-larger being to the ground.

The others were waiting, presumably because at this range, they'd just as likely hit their comrade as their enemy. He was glad of that, and of the fact that this situation was either interesting or ridiculous enough to warrant their attention. The maneuver sort of worked, and either way, both combatants were on their knees within a few seconds, which was not the way the Chevalier had planned it. The strain to his muscles was enormous; made only worse when the bandit gripped either of Lucien's forearms in a hand and squeezed. Gritting his teeth, the mercenary realized he was not going to win an outright contest of strength this way and shifted to the side, rotating his entire person three hundred and sixty degrees. The barrel roll crossed his forearms over one another, but it also forced the ex-Qunari to relent his hold and move with it, lest his neck snap.

His biceps were quite nearly screaming at him to let go, but he wouldn't, not before he took advantage of the temporary reversal. Still holding on, Lucien planted his knee in the kossith's back, leveraging his weight to stop his opponent from getting up. At last moving his arms, he swiftly uncrossed them, not relishing the decisive snap that followed. With labored breathing, the Orlesian man rose to his feet, retrieving his scythe from the sand and hefting it a bit more slowly than before. For whatever reason, he wasn't attacked until he looked back at the Tal-Vashoth, but once he did, all bets were off.

The first of the remaining three went down with a swift blow to his unarmored side. The second might have met the same end, but his weakened arms were not providing him with the same precision as they usually would, and he scored a bruising hit to his abdomen for the failure. Reversing his grip, Lucien hit the one responsible in the gut with the blunt end of the scythe, replacing it with his knee, then stepping back just as the other made a sweep for his neck with a claymore. Ducking, he shifted his feet, spinning with the pole of his scythe braced against his back to make up for the stability he was presently lacking. The maneuver left one of them with a broad slice to the midsection, gushing blood at an alarming rate, but probably not fatal.

He had just enough time to block the next incoming swing, and stepped closer to his assailant, an armored foot arcing for the bandit's knee. It hit, and the kneecap shattered with a wet squelch, decreasing his mobility considerably. Not that he much had to worry about it; his distraction with the injury was fatal, and the next swing took off his head. The injured one remaining scored a damaging blow to Lucien's hip, finding a joint in his armor. The blade of the axe he carried wasn't quite small enough to pirce the chink completely, but the force with which it was swung made up for that, leaving the Chevalier with a bloody gash there. Given that the whole-body rotations needed for decent swings was now denied him, Lucien drew back and punched, gauntleted fist landing in the kossith's face with considerable force. His left heel smacked into the back of the other's knee, forcing him down. Lucien drove the point of the scythe into the back of the man's neck, pushing it home with both hands applied to the base of the blade.

The iced Qunari laying in shattered pieces on the ground, Nostariel turned, about to be met with a spear at close range. Bracing herself, she called the magic back to her fingertips, only to blink rapidly when the Tal-Vashoth responsible collapsed at her feet, an arrow sticking out of the base of its neck. She could't see Ashton, but she nodded in what she believed to be his general direction, turning back to her work with her grim frown still set in place.

This was nothing like the Deep Roads. She was grateful for that; it was probably this singular fact which kept her sane in the present moment. She aspired to no consummate grace when wading through her foes; it was not in her nature to turn killing into a fine art. For her, as for any Warden with sufficient experience, killing was a business, a trade, one whose greatest virtue was efficiency. The Darkspawn did not end. This, she knew all too well. So used to fighting against odds insurmountable, she strode for the nearest cluster of ranged bandits, a pair lodged in a corner, their backs to a rocky outcropping for protection. There was no way to sneak up on them, and she lacked the strength to make anything of a charge, so she ducked behind a small deadwood log, taking what little cover it could offer her.

The sound of a javelin thudding into the wood was reassurance that it had been the right move, and just to be as sure as possible, Nostariel surrounded herself with an Arcane Shield, which had the added benefit of similarly-protecting both Ashton and Lucien. poking her head up over the log, Nostariel launched a barrage of spells, starting with another fireball and following up with several bursts from her staff. The concentrated fire took down one of the throwers, but a lucky shot from the second hit her shoulder, drawing a sharp cry from the Warden. Biting down on her tongue to stifle it, she yanked the heavy weapon from her muscle and threw it to one side, using her opposite hand to hurl an icy blast of winter's grasp at the second bandit. He fell, his body frostbitten and brittle, to join his fellow.

What she failed to see was that the third of four had targeted her, and was preparing to throw even as she stood, moving her staff to her left hand to compensate for her injured shoulder.

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Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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Despite all of Ashton's skills in the art of stealth, it was inevitable that he become noticed sooner or later. It turned out it had been the former. He fired off another arrow, tagging a Qunari in a leg before hesitating and watching the wrestling going on between the Chevalier and a Qunari. Ash was quite impressed with the man, one didn't see a man kill a Qunari with his bare hands before. He made a mental note to try his best to never get on the man's bad side... Or be a decent distance away from the man. Most likely the latter.

Alas, Ashton's spectating was cut short when a javelin flew past him. The hunter's instinct saved him that day, as he only heard the whistling of a long wooden pole being flung through the air before his body reacted, jerking himself out of the path and letting it embed into the ground at his feet. An arrow was nocked and fired before he even managed to lay eyes on the offending Qunari, thus his own accuracy was lacking. The arrow was low and struck a rock, but Ashton's luck played a bit of a role as well. Due to the angle the arrow was fired at, instead of shattering against the stone, it ricocheted and bounced, striking the Qunari in the shin.

Later, they were all going to have a little discussion about this adventure, and that shot was sure to go into Ashton's highlights. However, there was work to be done and no time to celebrate, so he drew another arrow and nocked it, firing it at the Qunari. Followed by another, and another. Before long the target began to look more like a pincushion than a Qunari. Though Ashton didn't stop filling him with arrows until he fell. Precautions, he wasn't going to chance not doing the job all the way. Nothing worse than a pissed off Qunari after your own blood after all.

Though now his attention was drawn to the second Qunari, who was now quietly eyeing Nostariel. Ashton's eyes went wide as the Qunari's hand went to one of his Javelins unbeknownst to Nostariel. Ashton himself ripped the Javelin at his feet out of the ground and vanished into a puff of smoke. The Qunari had a grin spread across his lips, as the mage didn't even seem to realize she was in his sights. This was sure to be an easy kill for him, and even if they all died, he wouldn't go down without taking one with him. That was his last thought before he raised a Javelin to throw. His large muscles tensed as he began to throw, but suddenly stopped. Instead of the Javelin striking the mage, it fell harmlessly to the ground. The Qunari's eyes widened before they dimmed as a trickle of blood ran down his forehead, from an exit wound created by a javelin. He fell to his knees, and then keeled over, lifeless. Ashton stood behind the fallen Qunari, panting heavily and holding a bloody javelin.

He spun the weapon in the air before planting it into the ground beside him and leaning on it. Though still panting heavily, as the exertion of sprinting across the battlefield was heavy, he managed a wry grin and a quip. "It seems that he's got the... Point," he said before laughing to himself. He then pulled the javelin out of the ground and laid it across his shoulders, draping his arms over it and made his way to the Chevalier. "How about you champ? Didn't think I'd see someone wrestle with a Qunari and live," Ashton said and patted the man on the shoulder.

When the battle proper was said and done, Lucien was quite sure he was ready for a drink and a nap, preferably in that order. There was still work to be done, though, and he took a look over at the other two. "If it's not too much to ask, Nostariel, I could use a little help here." Oh yes, he would most certainly be writing home about this. At Ashton's comment, he smiled crookedly. "Just goes to show that the correlation between foolishness and death doesn't always hold, I suspect," he replied with a hint of self-effacement. To be sure, he'd paid for it, but his other options at the time had been rather limited to say the least, and, well... here he was, alive and still breathing.

Nostariel turned in just enough time to witness the javelin blossom from the kossith's head, the collapsing bandit reveling Ashton standing behind him, clearly having heavily exerted himself. By her lights, that was probably the second time he'd saved her egregious bodily injury in one skirmish. She most assuredly owed the man a drink, not to mention something for that exhaustion. At about the same time as she had the thought, her own wound twinged painfully, and she struggled to breathe normally. Lucien, the brave soul, was also apparently wounded, and Nostariel nodded to his request, a tad dizzy but otherwise fine to meet it. "Won't hurt a bit," she promised, something she'd learned to say in those cases where she had no idea if her patients had ever been subject to healing magic before or not.

So saying, she took a deep breath in an effort to clear her head and called the magic upwards from that internal wellspring, letting the mass healing seep into her skin slowly, that fresh, cooling sensation something she still relished. It felt new, every time, even as many times as she'd used it, which was saying something. Her shoulder-wound closed, and she sighed softly, shoulder slumping in relief. Trekking over to the two men, she indicated the nearby cave with a gesture. "I'm guessing there's more in there," she pointed out with resignation.

"Ah yes... the obligatory ominous cave. There's quite a number of these around here. They all start to look the same after a while," Lucien agreed amicably, rolling his shoulders. The pain in his arms and the wounds on his torso were completely gone, and he felt as though he'd had that nap after all. Gracing Nostariel with a grateful nod, he scratched absently at the back of his neck, leaning on his scythe with the opposite hand. As if reaching some kind of resolution, though, he arced it up and over, laying it over his shoulders with the unconscious ease of practice.

"Well, no time like the present, I suppose. Are both of you ready?"

"Always. Though I do find myself wishing we didn't have to go spelunking in order to fish the rest of his kin out," Ashton said pointing at the Qunari with his neck broken with his foot. "Wish we could do it somewhere scenic, but alas, it looks like we don't have a choice in the matter," Ashton added, shrugging. "Well, let us go introduce ourselves then. Maybe instead of fighting, they'll invite us in for tea. That'll be nice, wouldn't it Luce?" He said, still poking fun at the Chevalier for his earlier display. Despite the goodnatured ribbing, Ashton would be the first to admit that the man had more than enough strength to back up his words. Seeing a man snapping a Qunari's neck with his bare hands tends to do that.

"Compared to some of the places I've been, a cave sounds perfectly scenic," Nostariel contributed, her tone artificially light. Nevertheless, it was clear that she also was more than ready to proceed, though she was not so silly as to lead the way in hersef, not when there was a stone wall of a person perfectly capable of doing so with much less risk. She'd be quite content to stick to the back of the group, thank you very much.

The inside of the cave was, as Lucien and Ashton had suggested it would be, rather uninteresting. There was a mix of raw stone and reddish earth beneath their feet, and their path was narrowed so that at most wto people could walk abreast, sloping down into a circular area wherein sat a campfire and the paraphenalia of some kind of craft, perhaps carpentry, if the awl and chisel were anything to go by. It was completely empty, and the place was bare of any sound save the faint clinking of Lucien's armor and the muffled tread of her footsteps. If Ashton made any noise, it was indistinguishable from those two things. Not far from the lit fire, there was a stone-panel door, apparently worked to slide to one side. The plae must have been used before the Tal-Vashoth got here, perhaps as a longtime base of operations for another bandit group, because she couldn't imagine that the former Qunari had had the time to design and implement such details of architecture. Then again, they were supposedly an incredibly-efficient people, so maybe they had after all.

The Tal-Vashoth had not thrown away their best warriors in the first fight, as was obvious when the three encountered the group within the caves. These were clearly the strongest of the group, warriors who had perhaps come from higher ranks in the Antaam, as shown by their superior armor and weapons, and their mere presence. It was possible that these ones had simply proven themselves the strongest of the bandit kossith, and claimed their places atop the chain of command, forcing the lower ones to do their bidding, and bring them the spoils taken from the caravans foolish enough to travel the Wounded Coast road. Whatever the case, the group gathered to meet Lucien, Ashton, and Nostariel was far superior to the one outside, and more prepared as well.

The front line was made of armored kossith foot soldiers, a mix of lighter spearmen of the likes from the ambush, as well as warriors bearing sword and shield, as well as various pieces of scavenged Qunari armor, and even equipment taken from the bandits they had no doubt driven from this place originally. More spear-throwers were in place behind them, though not in the numbers they appeared outside. They appeared to be guarding a staircase in the rear of the area, one that led up to an upper level that overlooked the soon-to-be field of battle quite niecely.

Perched upon this overlook was the obvious commander of the group, a massive warrior with a full set of Qunari made armor, and a greatsword that cerrtainly only the strongest of individuals could wield with much speed. Next to him was the harrowing sight of a Qunari mage, a Saarebas, his mask shattered and removed from his face, his formerly sown lips at last cut free. The collar was not so easy to remove, however, and remained secured around his shoulders. Lightning arced between his hands as he prepared to unleash his pent up anger on the intruders. The leaders of the bandit group had obviously prepared a suitable defense against the attackers while the lesser among them delayed their progress outside.

"So... No tea then." Ashton deadpanned.

"Indeed not," Lucien replied in a similar manner. "And no surrendering either, from the looks of this arrangement-" It was of course right then that the first of the line intiated the charge, and the Chevalier cut off his words, in order that he might move to meet it. However long it turned out to be that he could withstand the blows of so many Tal-Vashoth, that span was longer than either Ashton or Nostariel would last, and so withstand it he would. Bolstering himself with a fortifying breath, he scythed through the line, leaving a good chunk of the warriors with wounds, though none fallen. It was of course practical to assume that these ones would be more hardy than their counterparts outside, and indeed that seemed to be more and more the case.

Fortunately for Lucien (and by extension, the others), he was no slouch himself, and successfully evaded the first set of blows meant to hack him into little Orlesian pieces. A heavy sword-blow rebounded off his plate armor, and his breath left him in a whoosh. Staggered for a moment by the impact, he missed the blast of flames directed at his blind side from above.

Perhaps obviously, it hurt. Under the force of the fire, his armor heated, scorching the tunic he wore under his chain, the rings undoubtedly branding small circles into the flesh beneath. Gritting his teeth, the Chevalier dealt with it, refusing to allow the burns to slow him down. If he could last long enough out here, Ashton and Nostariel would be able to thin the ranks and make his job easier in turn. For now, though, pure endurance was key. Hooking his weapon around the shield of one of the melee combatants, he pulled, leaving the fellow's otherwise-solid guard wide open for either one of the others to exploit. Teamwork was going to be essential if they all wanted to live through this.

And teamwork he got. As soon as the Chevalier ripped the shield away from the trunk of the Qunari, Ashton introduced him to a recently found friend. He bucked the javelin off of his shoulders and coiled back before launching it at the suddenly defenseless Qunari. Ashton's eye and aim proved true as the javelin struck the chest of the horn-head, tossing it to the ground and rending the shield from his hand. Now lightened of his ill-begotten gains, he drew his bow from across his chest and reached back for an arrow. He had his sights set on the Qunari commander and mage as he nocked a rather thick arrow. A Qunari mage. Where were all of these mages coming from? First Sparrow, then a blood mage courtesan, not to mention that one cult abducting templars that she belonged to. Nostariel. Now a Qunari. If this kept up, he wouldn't be surprised to find that he could communicate with the fade.

He took a steadying step, leveling a bead on the collared mage as well as the commander beside him and let the arrow sing. The flight path of this arrow was lazy and fat as it dropped faster than a normal arrow should. Instead of embedding in flesh, the arrow embedded in the wood beneath the Mage's feet. Only a moment went by however, and the purpose of the arrow was revealed. It exploded, but the force wasn't as heavy or shattering as the one he used against demon-y Wilmod. This one instead was a lot more bluster as smoke quickly began to billow and expand, engulfing the mage and commander, obscuring their view from their merry band of mercenaries.

Ashton figured that the screen would save Lucien from the trouble of any more annoying spells the mage had in store. With his original goal now accomplished, he glanced at Nostariel and gave her a mischievious glint before he took a step backwards into the shadows and utterly vanishing from sight. While Lucien would draw their attention and ire, he would be the grim hunter, eliminating foes from the shadows... Or something equally badass as he would tell Sparrow over a good bottle of spirits.

Nostariel had to give credit to the Tal-Vashoth: they knew how to assemble a lineup. If the Darkspawn were this good at organization and mixed tactics... well, there would be far fewer Wardens, and she'd be dead. Not that she planned on dying right now, either, of course: if there was one thing history had shown of her, it was that she had a tendency to survive even in instances where she didn't do much to guarantee it.

Her first move was a relatively simple one: spawn a firestorm, far enough away from Lucien and Ashton that they wouldn't end up bright and burning, and hope that at least a few of the incandescent flames would tear into the back ranks of fighters and spearmen so as to prevent them all from charging forward at once. More than one succeeded, but she didn't bother stopping to watch. From upwards and to the left, the mage- they called them Saarebas,? She was fairly certain Amalia had used that word to either Aurora or herself- spat fire of his own, and Lucien recieved what must have been a nasty burn to the abdomen. For all that, the knight seemed to be handling it rather well, and she decided to press on without healing anyone just yet.

Still, that wasn't the only way she could help them. Setting her feet, Nostariel planted her staff into the ground, the thud of its contact coinciding perfectly with the formation of shimmering, purplish barriers around herself and the others. An arcane shield was pehaps slightly misnamed- it caused attacks to fail in connecting rather than blocking them outright. Launching a winter's grasp on the tail of Ashton's smoke arrow, its trajectory thankfully set long before the fog obscured their vision. She was opening her mouth to ask him if he wanted ice arrows as well when he up and disappeared, leaving her momentarily at a loss.

Shrugging, she decided for him- for both of them, really, and dipped once more into the Fade, activating elemental weapons and then falling back on staff-magic for a while. Magic might be a renewable resource, but it wasn't entirely without end.

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Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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Lucien was bracing to deal with an impact to the shoulder when the Qunari's axe suddenly veered left for no discernible reason, embedding itself into the ground in a way most unfortunate for the one wielding it, as Lucien took the fortuitious opportunity to strike downwards, sinking his scythe-blade into the bandit's back. The vague purple tint to his surroundings clued him in to the situation, and he silently thanked Nostariel for her excellent sense of timing. It was about that time that smoke covered the rise above them, and he concluded that it would be a little while before he had to worry about more fireballs being slung in his direction, which certainly counted for something.

Of course, it didn't stop him from getting shield-bashed directly in the chest when he was a bit too slow recovering his scythe from the last felled opponent, and he was forced backwards a step, digging in his heels and swinging in a broad horizontal arc, which opened up a large wound across the chest of one foe, dropping him to the ground. The one with the shield was ready though, and the tip of the scythe rang cacophonously against solid steel at about the same time as the elemental weapons spell activated, spreading ice across the banded metal and forcing its holder to drop it or risk having his attached limb frozen off.

Lucien didin't give him the time to decide, drawing back and striking again in the same way. The spell was powerful stuff, and the fact that the scythe this time bit into a wooden part of the assemblage rather than a metal one saw it split, jaggedly, into two pieces, the top half of it detaching from the rest and clanging to the ground beneath. Stepping forward and regaining his ground, Lucien followed up with a pommel strike to the neck, crushing the fellow's windpipe and giving him room to advance still further. The group tactics had, thus far, made it possible for the three of them to gain some form of advantage, between the cloaking arrows, the frost weapons, and the diversionary shield magic.

Hopefully, it would last.

Nostariel followed in Lucien's wake, occasionally shooting a blast from her staff to disrupt the enemies making for the Chevalier. She couldn't well see the Saarebas in order to aim anything at it, after all, and for now it made the most sense to get them all moved into a flanking position by the time the enemy mage could see again. Ashton's arrows would be more effective that way, and counterattack would take longer, an advantage of its own. The Warden soon found herself that target of a more direct assault, however, as one of the melee combatants apparently realized the complete futility of trying to kill Lucien and made for her instead.

Unlike last time, with the javelin-thrower, she was fully prepared for this one, though, and she resolved that it was time to start acting a bit more like the Captain she was. Nostariel knew her primary utility lay in healing and supporting others- truly, it had been like that before she'd joined the ranks of the Grey, before she'd learned magic, even. She was just one of those people condemned to be good at helping. Even so... even so, she was not the sort who was useless without an ally, and when it came down to it, every single one of her fellows had to be capable of surviving on his or her own, she no exception.

She was not so stupid as to try and win the same way Lucien would win: with domineering strength, endurance, and sheer force of will. Nor woud she win like Ashton: with cunning and guile and pinpoint precision. Hers was a different sort of strength, and though she sidestepped the oncoming Tal-Vashoth, she did not attempt to flank. Rather, the lady Warden spun, gathering as much force as she could muster into her staff, the bladed end of which bit deeply into her assailiant's arm. While he was off-balance, she drew closer, chilling her left arm with ice. Angling it, she cocked her arm and slammed the heel of her hand directly upward, into the kossith's chin. The force of the blow wasn't nearly enough to achieve anything dramatic, like breaking the man's neck. Rather, it simply served as easy conveyance, and the frost gathered around his throat and jaw, creeping like crackling spiderwebs.

Stepping back, Nostariel clenched her fist quickly, and the ice obeyed, contracting and crushing the warrior's windpipe, cutting off his air and causing his collapse to the ground. At one time in her life, she would have winced at the sound, perhaps even wept for the life she had taken, but enough years doing this sort of thing to survive tended to dull those particular sensitivities a bit, and right now, she was simply focused on survival.

Though the caves were dark, dank, and dreary, they provided a copious supply of shadows for Ashton to dart around in. He was nowhere near as overt as the strong-armed Cheveliar, though it was not a bad thing. He drew the ire and attention of the Qunari, leaving his ally to easily pick and choose his prey from the shadow. An arrow in the shoulder blades there, another in the thigh, once more in the back-- None was enough to kill, but each one would prove a hinderance. Added on to that the fact that every arrow Ashton nocked immediately enveloped in ice, they proved quite the annoyance to the hulking Qunari. The distraction was for the sake of his two partners on the frontline. While the enemy looked around wondering just where the hell the arrows came from, they were distracted from a certain scythe or bladed staff. The Ice spell naturally reminded him of Sparrow and how she once called upon the same spell.

Alas, all the shadows in the world couldn't hide him forever. His annoying arrows were bound to attract an enraged Qunari. For this Qunari, Ashton had misjudged his trajectory and did not expect the erratic movement of the Qunari. Say what you would about them, but they were not animals, they were a lot more unpredictable than a stag or boar. All of these factors had led to a certain arrow lodging itself in the ass of the Qunari. Needless to say, he was pissed. He whipped his great horned head around and saw Ashton standing, fingers just having freshly left his bowstring and trying his best to stifle his laughter. Not the smartest thing to do in front of an enraged Qunari. It came to no surprise that the Qunari left the Chevalier and mage in order to crush the insolent archer's head between his hands.

There isn't much scarier than an enraged Qunari charging oneself, and Ashton found himself backed up against the cave wall. Hopefully the din of battle was loud enough to drown out the unmasculine cry that came from Ashton's general direction. He found his hands working of it's own accord, nocking arrows and firing wildly at the Qunari, trying to stop it's charge, but pain didn't seem to affect the man who only had the thought of the Archer's grisly demise in mind. Luckily, Ashton found his mind before the Tal-Vashoth could separate his head from his shoulders, and he began to aim down at his feet. He fired three arrows, all three pinning the Qunari to the ground. The arrows halted the charge and the sudden end of momentum threw his to the floor. Right in front of Asthon. If given another second, he would have made it to the Archer. Though, he was still trying to crawl to Ashton, to lay hands on him, but a point-blank shot to the back of the head ceased all those thoughts.

A relieved breath escaped Ashton and he quickly escaped back into the shadows once more, making sure to pick his targets extra carefully.

The numbers of Qunari gradually thinned under the combined onslaught of three very seasoned combatants, and it wasn't long until almost none remained. The smoke above cleared, but when Nostariel lit flame at her fingertips, ready to preempt the bandit mage this time, it was only to discover that he wasn't there. Her eyes went wide, rimming hazel iris in pristine sclera, and the Warden murmured something under her breath, the surprise thickening her Starkhaven brogue until the words were likely unintelligble to anyone but her. There was no chance that the mage and the massive warrior-leader had simply disappeared, so where-

A glimmer of something appeared out of the corner of her eye, and she hit the ground just as the concentrated glob of fire rushed by with a hiss, missing her by several feet, but not so much that she couldn't detect the heat of its passage. "Ahead!" she called, adopting a cautious attitude. It was unlikely that either of the others would have missed that attack, but on case one of them had been turned away, it only made sense to warn them. By convention, 'ahead' was in the way they'd been going, not their current facing, and she suspected both would know that as well. Lucien's army training would practically guarantee it, and though she was less sure about Ashton, he seemed a clever enough fellow.

Pushing herself to her feet, the elf turned and faced the oncoming two-man onslaught. For all that the number was severely reduced from before, she was no less wary. In fact, it could be said that it was more worrisome this way, the pair striding forward in tandem, the mage with lightning arcing between his fingertips. Setting her jaw, the Captain stepped forward as well, meeting bloodshot eyes and taking a deep breath. On the exhale she fired ice in quick bursts: one, two, three, right for the Saarebas. If she could draw his fire, then that would free her companions to deal with his larger counterpart, the one with the enormous sword and armor and whatnot. The tactic, insofar as one could even call it that, had the desired effect, and the unleashed mage separated from his warrior counterpart, breaking off in parallel with Nostariel, both well aware that a fight of this nature would require some room to move about.

The last of the immediate charge fell beneath his scythe, and Lucien exhaled a deep gust of air. That had to be the majority of them, though of course, he hadn't yet seen the leader and the Saarebas again.

The application of flame somewhere to his left and Nostariel's warning shout served well enough to rectify that problem, and he was trying to decide how exactly he was going to approach this situation when she in effect made the decision for him, drawing off the mage to one side, leaving him free to engage the massive warrior directly. Lucien was a man both tall and broad, but this fellow had a good three inches on him at least, in the vertical sense, and another two across the shoulders. It was obvious he wouldn't simply be able to muscle his way through it. Thankfully, bullying people with his build was far from his only means to victory.

He had to think quickly, taking his scythe-blade into both hands and using it to block the incoming downswing. A rare event it was to be out-muscled, but that didn't mean he wasn't prepared for the eventuality. Lucien let himself list sideways, falling into a controlled roll that left his opponent with too much momentum and a very heavy blade. The predictable ensued, and the Chevalier regained his feet (and his proper grip on his threshing blade) just as the other was able to wrench his sword upwards again. This time, the Orlesian was faster than the bandit, and his flanking angle let his scythe bite deeply into the kossith's back. With a roar of rage more than pain, the man retalitated, swinging the two-handed sword in a wide arc that, by luck more than virtue of his aim, caught the knight a hard hit on his already-burned flank, forcing him to step backwards a few paces.

"Much as I love both dueling and also being hit in the same place repeatedly, some arrows would be of considerable value at present," he quipped to the air, since of course he couldn't well turn around and try to find Ashton at the moment.

"Ask and you shall recieve," the shadows quipped right back from behind the Qunari. As the words hung listlessly on the air, the Qunari jerked in a serious of three motions, throwing his offhand shoulder forward. A spurt of crimson shot from his shoulder as a trio of arrows dug deep into the kossith's armor. The owner of those particular arrows stepped out from the cover of the shadows on the opposite end of the fray, another already freshly nocked and drawn. Ashton was in a particularly giving mood that moment, so he decided to gift the mercenary another present. His aim fell from the large area of center mass of the Qunari and to the tender feet of the warrior. A whistle later, and an arrow embedded his foot into the ground. Kossith's being... Well, large, the singular arrow would most likely only provide a delay, but perhaps it would be long enough for the Chevalier to make use of it.

There were more than one combatant however. The more magically inclined of the pair sidestepped left, then right dodging the two ice spears from the magelet, then batted the last ice spear out of the air. Most of it's attentions were still focused on Nostariel, but the memory of stinging arrows and concealing smoke was still fresh on his mind. As a going away present, the kossith tossed a fireball in the now materilized archer's general direction before refocusing his assault back upon the mage.

Ashton for his part saw the fireball coming, but seeing was not the same as dodging. Accuracy was traded for speed, which meant that the fireball didn't give much of a warning for Ashton to utilize. The best he could do was cover the most important bits of his person, namely his head. Still, the accuracy wasn't there, and instead of catching the archer in the center of a hellfire, he managed to get off relatively lightly. Though at the moment, he didn't quite realize his luck as bits of his leather padding and quiver caught flames. All the archer saw was the licking fire at the edge of his sleeve and pants cuffs, becoming very warm, frighteningly quick. Like an animal, the sudden apparence of fire sent the archer into survival mode as he threw himself to the ground and began to frantically roll around trying to strangle the biting flames. It would be shame if burns would end up marring his boyish good looks after all.

Nostariel wasn't unaware of his situation, having tracked the progress of the fireball with her eyes. Unsure if he was actually wounded or not, the Warden decided her best option was to help the archer put out his flames, and so shot a weak ice spell in his general direction, aiming for where Ashton was about to roll. The magic produced what was essentially a powdery frost, one which would melt easily-enough if it came into contact with heat. Like any ice, though, it would also be helpful against the pain of a burn. Now in full confrontation with the Saaredbas, she couldn't spare the time and concentration for a full heal spell.

Even what little time that cost her made a difference, and the Warden turned her attention back to the fight in just enough time to catch the bolt of lightning headed towards her. Aware of that spell's tendency to jump from target to target she dove to the side, putting as much distance between herself and the others as possible. The bolt caught her in the back, and a strangled yelp escaped her as what would have been a relatively smooth transition back to her feet was interrupted by the siezing of her muscles and temporary paralysis. Fortunately, she seemed to have made it a sufficient amount of space away from the hunter and the Chevalier, because no secondary lances of yellow-white erupted from the initial impact.

The Tal-Vashoth mage was merciless, and his next spell was another fistful of lightning. Desparately, Nostariel rolled to the side, breathing a hard-won sigh of relief when the second round scorched the earth where she'd been seconds before. Drawing on the Fade, the mage pushed herself to her feet, channeling vital forces from behind the Veil to keep herself moving. It worked as it was suppsed to, and the two magic-users were once again at a standoff. This time, the Warden siezed the offensive, casting a misdirection hex on her foe, willing his mind to cloud and his accuracy to falter. It was followed by a rush, Nostariel closing the distance between them to let loose one of her closer-range spells. Sweeping her free hand in a wide arc, she blasted the Saarebas with ice. This was no mild snow as she'd given Ashton, but the full force of the chillest winter in Thedas, of mornings so cold you felt the freeze in your bones.

It halted him, at least for a few moments, his own counterspell frozen in its production, and she did not hesitate. Closing the remaining yards at a dead sprint, Nostariel drove the point of her staff home into his chest as though it were a jousting lance, the force of the blow jarring her arms painfully. The blade pierced ice, then flesh beneath, a swell of hot blood rushing from the frozen kossith's chest-cavity. He broke free of the containment of his ice too late, and she sidestepped the greatly-weakened retaliatory stonefist, allowing it to crash into the wall behind them both and shatter. He fell, and, panting heavily, she looked up and around her, trying to regain her bearings on the situation as a whole.

"Much obliged," the Orlesian murmured, a none-too-friendly grin splitting his face when he saw the arrow pin his opponent's foot to the ground. Ah, but this was getting to be good, wasn't it? Lucien did so enjoy the right kind of challenge. The armored kossith managed to rip his foot free of the earth beneath, but it was clear to his opponent that he'd be favoring the limb for the duration of the rest of his life. Taking advantage of the other's momentary distraction, the Chevalier swung for the neck, intending to scythe it right off. A glimmer of silvery metal, and the greatsword was raised to block.

The impact was momentous, Lucien's own enthusiasm winning out over his control. Both found their whole bodies jarred by the collision, both forced to drop their weapons and step away for fear of being impaled by falling steel. Lucien narrowly avoided a slice to his calf as it was, rolling his shoulders as both implements fell with a clatter. It was obvious that the Qunari's sword was made much better than his own improvised weapon, and part of him was sorely tempted to scoop it up for his own use, leaving the other with weapon both unfamiliar and inferior. Pragmatic though the move would have been, he knew full well that he could not do it.

A sword was a knight's weapon, and he was no longer a knight.

Recovering more swiftly due to his lack of injury, Lucien retrieved his scythe, and allowed the armored Tal-Vashoth to do the same. He very much doubted there was any such thing as a defenseless Qunari, but he understood that their blades were regarded as similar to their souls, if not the same thing. In an odd, peripheral sort of way, he understood the concept. Why else would he refuse to wield any proper blade until such time as he felt his honor had been restored? No, until he could call himself a Chevalier again, there was a stain on his own spirit, and he showed that in what he supposed must be a way a Qunari would understand, if what he'd heard of them was true.

With an impressive bellow, the Tal-Vashoth launched himself for the human, swinging his sword in a wide arc. Lucien stepped in to meet it, bringing an empty fist down on the flat of the greatsword just as it made for his midsection. The force of the blow was great enough to stagger his foe, and the blade hit the ground inches from his foot. Working quickly, the mercenary struck with the blunt end of his wooden handle, catching the other fellow between the horns, then reversed directions, digging the point of his scythe into one of the holes created in the Qunari's armor by Ashton's arrows. With a great heave, the hole became a rent, the flesh beneath it parting as well and leaving a long, jagged wound across the kossith's chest. Kicking at the injured man's stomach, Lucien brought the blade around for a second go, this time burying it deep into his back when he doubled over from the surprise blow.

That had done it, and for a hollow moment, the only sound was the ex-Chevalier's exhale as the Tal-Vashoth collapsed in slow motion, dead before he hit the ground.

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Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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The inside of the cave had fallen silent save for the sound of their breaths and movement. Nothing else stirred; presumably any wildlife that would have inhabited the place had died when the Tal-Vashoth moved in. Nostariel straightened her spine, wincing slightly when the vertebrae clicked into place. Lucien and Ashton both seemed mostly okay, if a little battered. Still, now that the fight itself was over, she was able to concentrate much more simply, and healed all three of them in one fell swoop, a graceful gesture calling the needed relief from behind the veil. She did not bother to hide the soft sigh of relief that gusted over her lips, lifting a few errant pieces of hair that had come loose during the confrontation. Plucking one such tendril between her fingers, Nostariel twisted it and tucked it behind a pointed ear.

Ashton had just stop rolling wildly, finally noticing the flames went out a long time ago and now noticing the sudden chill in his bones. He supposed the fine powdery snow around him had something to with that, and the only friendly mage in proximity with that. If it had been the Saarebas, he doubted that it would have been something so pleasant as a powder... More like an icicle. He had just made it to his knees with another arrow nocked, looking for anything else that may desparately need the business end of it. Though it seemed naught as the only thing left standing was pretty little Nostariel and large barrelled Lucien, each standing over their respective foe. Ashton shrugged with a pleasant chuckle as he let the bowstring become slack.

Another quick scan of the area proved that the day had indeed been won, and they were now alone in the cave except for the bodies of the fallen Qunari. A moment passed by in silence before it was irreparably shattered by none other than Ashton. His arms shot up in a victorious gesture and he barked, "Woo! Victory! Thy scent is sweet!"

Thy scent is...? Nostariel's nose crinkled just momentarily, and she wasn't able to suppress the snort that followed. Before that could become actual giggling, she turned it into a light cough, bringing her curled hand in front of her mouth. She greatly disliked the sound of her own laughter, punctuated as it often was with the embarrassingly unladylike sound. What disturbed her even more was that she'd felt like laughing at all. How long had it been since she had? Years, at least. Now hardly seemed like the appropriate time to start, however absurd the declaration had struck her to be. It sort of made him sound like an overgrown puppy, all long limbs and floppy ears or some such.

Desiring a smooth transition to thoughts she was more comfortable having, Nostariel spoke next. "Well, I suppose we ought to go tell Javaris what happened." She cast an aside glance at the dead Saarebas and barely stifled another sigh, this one considerably more melancholy. Averting her gaze, she waited to make sure the two men were of the same mind, then led the way out of the cave the way they had come, rather inclined to leave the gloomy scenery behind as soon as possible.

The trip back along the Wounded Coast was uneventful, and for her part, Nostariel was content to remain silent, treading lightly across the sandy pathways as though they were paved. When you were used to sloughing through the bloody muck and mortar that littered the Deep Roads, sand was hardly a pressing concern for you, she supposed. If only all the 'benefits' to her vocation were so tangible, she might have a life to work with. The trio reached Kirkwall just as dusk was beginning to trail across the sky, rosy brush-strokes of color dyeing the horizon a maidenly shade of pink.

Javaris was in the market where they'd left him, still at his stand, and Nostariel slowed her pace, allowing one of the others to overtake her. They were both better at talking than she was, though in completely different ways. She'd leave it to them to explain their success.

Unsurprisingly, Ashton was the first one to speak, never the one to be quiet for any extended amount of time. His face was and had been beaming ever triumphantly ever since they all had left the cave. Perhaps there was a slight saunter in his step as well, but it was indistinguishable from his regular saunter. In front of the dwarf, Ashton fell into an aloof stance, arms crossed, head tilted. "The deed is done-- if the fact that all of our limbs are still attached is any indication, it went rather well. Wouldn't you say?" Ashton called back to other two. "Though by no means was it easy Serah Dwarf. The pay better reflect the effort on our part." he stated, the urge to embellish the tale rising. "It felt like we had to slay an entire army," and there it was, "I personally believe I took out a little over a score. The Chevalier, more so. Even the mage got an impressive body count. It would have been rather difficult for anyone other than us glorious warriors. You, Serah Dwarf, are just lucky we aren't charging by the head," With the steady stream of... Embellishment finally out of his mouth, he finally allowed someone else to get a word in edgewise.

"Yes, yes," Javaris acknowledged, waving his hands as if to urge Ashton to stop, "you'll have your coin. In fact, all of us are about to become very rich, I think. Come on, follow me."

The dwarf led the group down the stairs to the docks with a spring in his step, though it was tinged with no small amount of anxiety. Going before the Qunari in what had become their own home was no easy task. It was obvious that this particular was not the courageous sort, but he had at least enough guts to present himself to the Arishok, which said something either about his barvery, or his greed. In short order they came to the compound the foreigners had fortified for themselves, and through some annoyed negotiations with the gate guard, the group was allowed entry.

Perhaps too boldly, Javaris Tintop strode into the compound, passing by walls lined with spears, as though they were being prepared to repel an invading army. The kossith gave the visitors cold, annoyed, and disapproving glances, but otherwise made no attempts to remove them as they made their way up an incline, to stand before a set of stairs leading up to a centrally positioned chair, which was vacant. Javaris grabbed the attention of one of the guards with a wave of his hand. "Summon your Arishok. The bargain is done!" Interestingly, the Qunari offered only a scowl before he moved to comply.

Only a short wait later, he presented himself, towering over even his own kind, elevated above all on his pedestal above the outsiders standing below. His horns were black as night and curled back behind him. His physique was the very picture of strength, sheer power, making even Lucien look small in comparison, but he was not without grace. His movements were light rather than careless as he took a seat and gazed down upon the dwarf and his hirelings.

When he did not say anything initially, Javaris tentatively offered his report. "Greetings... Arishok. I am here to report that your hated Tal-Vashoth were felled one and all." He looked back to the others as he had suddenly become unsure. "Right? Yes, they were." He turned back to the Arishok. "So, I'm ready to open negotiations. For the explosive powder. As we agreed." The Arishok leaned forward to scrutinze Javaris for a moment before delivering his reply.

"No."

Javaris was a bit stunned by this, perhaps expecting far more willingness from the Qunari to trade than he'd received. His first reactions was to look back to those that had come with him, to see if any of them could add anything to help their situation.

Lucien frowned. He'd had a feeling something like this was going to happen, particularly when Javaris had mentioned that the Arishok had already deemed him unworthy. The mercenary in him knew much better than to get involved in his employer's business, but for all that he was still a bit like he'd used to be, and at the very least it seemed like a good idea to understand what was going on. He hadn't missed the fact that this place, and the people in it, appeared outfitted for battle at a moment's notice. Perhaps this was simply a facet of Qunari culture that he knew nothing of, and if that was the case, he'd be more than happy to simply leave. Yet... there was something about this setup that pulled his instincts towards battle, as though that very thing were palpable in the air here, held back only by time and this kossith's will. What that meant, he didn't wish to dwell upon at present.

"I would request clarification, if that is permissible to you," he said, loud enough to be heard but certainly without any hint of Javaris's bluster or presumption. "Is it the case that you are unwilling to sell to Javaris, or unwilling to sell more generally?" Not that he was going to negotiate for it himself; he certainly had no need of explosive powder, but if there were merchant quantities of such a substance here, and the Qunari were planning on keeping all of it... well, that would be quite the interesting piece of information.

"A useful question," the Arishok acknowledged. "The dwarf imagined the deal for the gaatlok. He then invented a task to prove his worth, when he has none. There was never an agreement."

During the trip to the Qunari compound, Ashton's gait slackened a bit and allowed Lucien to take lead. Despite all that he ran his mouth off about to the dwarven merchant, he was still a mere archer and hunter, and these Qunari were, quite frankly, frightening. The air was tense as dozens of hardened eyes lay on them, stripping their layers and weighing their worth. He managed to put on a fine show against the Tal-Vasoth, maybe he could have even been called brave in that circumstance, though here, now, with all of the real Qunari, his boastful bravado melted away. If he had a tail, it would surely be tucked between his legs.

The Tal-Vasoth were chaotic, undisciplined, more akin to wild animals than actual soldiers. If it was one thing Ashton knew it was animals. But these Qunari were no mere animals. They were trained, hardened soldiers. Disciplined beyond belief and completely stoic in their duty. And if their duty proved to be strangle the life out of the pitiful archer, Ashton didn't think he had the strength to deny them that. So yes, Ashton was uncomfortable-- if his demeanor didn't give it away. He twitched and fidgeted behind Lucien, his silly grin wiped off of his face and replaced by a grim frown. His eyes were quick, sharper, darting from one soldier to another, keen for any sign of danger.

Ashton thought it would be a quick visit. Enter, get their payment, then get the hell out. It seemed it wasn't that simple, though things rarely did. Ashton was surprised at the fact that he was surprised. He cast a quick glare at the dwarf-- a simple thing to do when one stood behind a Chevalier. He then looked to the Arishok with much less harsher eyes. "Apologies S-Serah Arishok," he began, stumbling over his words for the first time in a long time. "We were led to believe th-that you and the D-Dwarf had ironed out a d-deal of sorts," he said with an uncomfortable goofy smile plastered to his face. A facade, and anyone with two eyes could have seen that. "We were promised pay-payment in return for a task-- A task in which we completed. Are you saying that the payment is now forfeit?" Bold, perhaps, but he had a shop to pay for and the payment promised was a means to that end.

"Bloody hell you're scary..." Ashton mumbled afterward, dashing any progress made on the courage front.

Nostariel was rather calm and blank-faced as the group entered the Qunari compound. Oh certainly, they were large and not at all friendly-looking. But then, so were Darkspawn, and at least Qunari had rationality. Besides that, it was a rare occasion indeed that she wasn’t the frailest-looking person in an area, so one could say she was well used to situations of this nature.

What might have been a breathy sigh ghosted over pale lips when the nature of the “agreement” between Javaris and the Arishok came to light. Namely, that there apparently was none. Lucien seemed more than capable of handling the conversation, or at least the Qunari gave him more words than he’d given the dwarf. If Amalia was anything to go by, that meant his question had been better. She wondered what the Ben-Hassrath would think of all this. …It probably wouldn’t be particularly kind to any of them. Not that Amalia struck Nostariel as wicked, only… she seemed hypercompetent, and would likely have informed all of them in advance that they were being sent on a fool’s errand by a bigger fool still.

Ashton’s fear was palpable, and the elf-woman blinked her surprise. He hadn’t seemed the type to be overly-intimidated by anything at all, but apparently even his wit could not make a joke of the Qunari. Probably for the better, though… if he kept rambling like that, he might anger them anyhow. With no other touchstone for understanding them, she could only guess that it would have irritated Amalia, and that probably meant worse where these warriors were concerned.

Unsure exactly what to do, she figured the worst option was adding more words to the mix, and hoped Lucien would be able to smooth that over. For her part, Nostariel went with her healer’s instincts first and moved to Ashton’s side, surreptitiously slipping a bare hand about his wrist. This served two purposes: first, it allowed her to take his pulse, which was indeed elevated. So he was genuinely afraid then… it was secondarily supposed to be a measure of comfort, and an affirmation that he was not alone here. Patients tended to need those from time to time, and she had never resented giving them. Still, her eyes remained fixed forward, upon Lucien’s back and beyond that, the Arishok. Her free hand flexed, and she forced it to relax at her side.

Perhaps Ashton’s anxiousness was contagious. Perhaps it was simply the utter lack of regard in the Qunari’s body language and expression, as though they were beneath contempt. As though he knew that, without understanding a single thing about any of them.

Ashton twitched hard at the touch and whipped his head around fast enough to give most people whiplash. His surprise was quickly stifled when he realized the culprit was none other than Nostariel. Was she looking to scare him out of his mind, the last thing he needed was somebody grabbing his wrist. If it had been a Qunari, Ashton couldn't have promised he wouldn't have thrown Lucien at him and ran. Though the touch itself wasn't... Unpleasant. Just surprising. He managed to calm down a bit, though it was still quite clear he was anxious. They were outsiders in the Qunari compound, and the lovely mage's silky smooth hands would do little against a Qunari with a burning desire to mount their heads on the wall. Still though, he did enjoy it in any case...

At Ashton's tentative comment, the Arishok chose not to direct ire at him, but instead at Javaris. "Dwarf," he said, sternly enough to get a flinch out of Tintop, "did your imaginary bargain make promises on my behalf?" The dwarven merchant's gaze fell to the ground, before slowly searching it's way back up, never quite returning to the Qunari war-leader. "I... uh, expected your wisdom to be more, uh... profitable." He left it at that, and the Arishok bowed his head, possibly in disgust. A few of the surrounding warriors shifted, both their bodies, and their weapons, which were perhaps a part of their bodies. The mood was definitely changing in the compound, and not for the better.

The Arishok stood. "Then you will pay on my behalf," he commanded with significant force, even if his voice did not raise to a shout. Javaris sighed, knowing he had no other options to turn to. He tossed each of the three a coin pouch. "Sod it all, take your coin, take whatever." He turned and walked away, pushing past his hirelings. "Sodding bunch of oxmen and sellswords. The whole lot, breathing smoke. Bah!"

When he was gone, the Arishok returned to his seat. "There is no profit in empowering those not of the Qun. The means of creating the gaatlok is ours alone. It shall be dispensed only to our enemies... in the traditional manner." He shook his head, clearly annoyed by the entire conversation, and waved the visitors away. "You will leave as well. There's no more coin for you here."

Lucien caught the coin-pouch thrown at him with an obvious frown, tucking it away with a shake of his head. This could have gone... much better. Frankly, he thought they'd be wisest to take the Arishok's advice and leave, but then that was no different from what he'd been thinking five minutes ago. Rubbing absently at the back of his neck for a moment, he met the Arishok's eyes and dropped into a slight bow. "Our apologies for the intrusion. Had we understood things would be this way, we'd not have wasted your time." So saying, he turned, meeting the eyes of the clearly-nervous Ashton and the steady Nostariel, gesturing with a jerk of his head for the entrance to the compound. Lingering beyond the duration of their already-tenuous welcome would be little short of madness, and he did not wish to discover this day how long they could last against a large chunk of the Qun's own army.

Ashton caught his pouch with one hand, displaying his natural dexterity before turning it over in his hand. "Oh. Hey. Looks like I am getting paid. Neat," Ashton said before stuffing the pouch into a pocket. He nodded along with Lucien's comment. "Right, right, terribly sorry Mister Serah Arishok. No more coin and wasted time and all that. We'll be on our merry way," Ashton spouted. At the Chevalier's gesture, he grabbed Nostariel by the shoulders, spun her around, and began to march her towards the exit with all due haste. "Leaving, leaving, leaving, leaving," he said rhythmically.

Nostariel marched at a dutiful pace, a little perplexed by Ashton's apparent need to keep her in front of him, but she went along with it for his sake. He seemed incredibly pleased to be leaving, and she couldn't disagree with the sentiment. The Qunari were... unnerving, to say the least.

The Chanter's Board has been updated. Blackpowder Promise has been completed.

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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Afternoon was beginning to wind down into evening by the time Sophia was able to escape the Viscount's Keep, armored lightly as she had been the previous day. She wasn't expecting to get into any fights today, but for her purposes, being unarmed and armored in a Hightown sewn dress weren't going to cut it.

Her father had taken much of the day off for his own purposes, something to do with the Qunari, though Sophia wasn't fortunate enough to hear what, exactly. She had heard that the Arishok had grown increasingly restless of late, apparently due to the actions of some of Lowtown's denizens, though she knew not how her father planned to appease him. No, she had instead been saddled with the duty of attending to the Viscount's visitors for much of the day, a task rarely performed by Marlowe Dumar himself these days. Bran usually handled much of it, but he too was off with the Viscount. Thus it fell to Saemus and herself to use their judgment in dealing with the requests of those who came to see them.

Which of course meant that Sophia was the effective Viscountess for the day, given that Saemus had no head for politics, and did not care in the slightest to get involved. Sophia doubted that her brother left the Keep entirely, but he was not seen within the throne room after a short while. She had expected as much. It wasn't the first time she'd been forced to effectively assume her father's role for the day, but it was still somewhat new to her. From the reactions of the people, though, she was doing well enough. As she had been instructed, she was generous, merciful, but firm and consistent. She knew when to draw the line, the difference between someone truly plagued by misfortune, and the liar seeking a handout from the crown. She would not allow herself to be taken advantage of, nor would she be seen as harsh. A delicate balance.

When the task was finally over, however, Sophia was glad for the opportunity to leave, slipping into the chain and light plate she had worn the day previous. The dent and scuff marks where the dragon's tail had collided with her ribs had already been mended and cleaned to a shine, her sword removed of any evidence that it had tasted dragon's blood the previous day. The miners they had saved had already gotten to work spreading the word, it seemed, and one had even recognized her for who she was, apparently, as the rumor was already circulating around Lowtown that the Viscount's daughter had slain a dragon in defense of the people. As was perhaps to be expected, the role that the Qunari and the Dalish played was diminished. Sophia didn't care for twisting of the truth, but she had to admit... it felt good. To be spoken of as a protector, someone who sets an example for others to follow, selflessness augmented with strength. It was what she aimed to achieve.

Which was partly the reason she was returning to Lowtown today. The meeting with Hubert had gone well enough, all things considered. The elf had collected his reward and then promptly left, leaving Sophia to explain more fully to Hubert. After convincing him that there had indeed been dragons at his mine, and denying any form of monetary reward, he had offered her half of his mine, wanting to make her something of a business partner, now that she had proved her usefulness. She refused, but promised her services in the event that the miners needed further protection. On a related note, he asked if she would willing to convince the miners to return to work, so that he might pay them for their efforts once more, and so that his business could return. As always for the miners' sake, she accepted, and this task saw her returning to the Hanged Man under the setting sun.

She'd been told to find the miners inside the Lowtown tavern, and not falsely. They had congregated in rather large numbers at a table near the rear, a sizeable group that was very easily picked out. She spotted the crimson armor of Lucien out of the corner of her eye, but figured she could converse with him once this was done. Didn't want to risk them all getting up and leaving, after all. Although, the way their night seemed to be going, them leaving the bar seemed the least likely of options.

The group of miners was a dozen at least, but Sophia was able to pick out a familiar face easily enough, and one of them indeed had been one of the ones they had seen within the mine, with Finn's group. Amalia's student himself was not present, but that was no great surprise to Sophia. She had been just about to try getting the group's attention when one of them shouted in a pleased surprise, pointing her out to everyone. "Hey, it's the one that rescued us from them dragons! The Viscount's daughter, no less!" A second roared his approval, his head wobbling violently, eyes somewhere in the vicinity of her chest, hips, legs, neck, stomach... well, he was all over the place. "Come lass, have a drink with us! We're just getting started."

The first man gave him a rough smack on the shoulder. "Hey! Eyes on her face, you fool! Remember who you're talking to!" Sophia raised her hands slightly to try and slow them at least, but the severely drunken one pressed on. "Bah! Just because she's royalty or some such don't mean she can't have an ale with us, am I right? She's a lady of the people, this one!" At this, a general cheer went up from the group, a few offering their own drinks to her, and Sophia becoming more than a little unsure of how to react. What a change from earlier. She was a natural at making decisions when in the position of power, of royalty, but this... among commoners like this, it was painfully apparent how much of a Hightown noble she was.

A bit of a distance away from the incredibly-intoxicated laborers, Nostariel was well into her own cups, though this evening she wore not a trace of the melancholy, slighty-sullen look she usually had about her. And why should she? The whole Qunari incident, as she was now calling it, had been incredibly strange but mostly successful, and she felt somewhat productive for once, which was nice. She'd met a new face and spent some time with a friend, with a nice walk along the coast for her troubles. The whole "protracted battle and extremely unpleasant encounter at the compound" bit faded as easily as her other unwanted memories under the vague haze of a light buzz, and though she'd never smile, things weren't so bad at the moment.

Her eyebrows ascended her forehead when the Viscount's daughter came strolling in, but the Warden presumed she was there for Lucien. What other possible reason could she have? Of course, theoretically, she could also be there to ask something of Nostariel herself, but that seemed unlikely when the only link between them (tenuous as it was) was the mercenary. The mage watched with curiosity and perhaps the faintest hint of amusement when the armored woman was immediately recognized by the bar's rowdiest patrons. There was a story there, or she was the Queen of Antiva. Nevertheless, it quickly became apparent that the young lady didn't really know how to handle herself in this situation, and some vague sympathy stirred in the Warden. She'd been the same way, nary a few years ago.

Meeting Lucien's eyes (well, eye more properly) across the room, something which still required far more effort than she would have liked to admit, she frowned slightly and jerked her head in Sophia's direction, standing surreptitiously and making her way over to what was slowly amalgamating into a crowd. She was not possessed of the Orlesian's deft tongue and subtly-persuasive presence, but she did know a thing or two about dealing with drunkards. As it was, she moved to stand slightly behind and to the side of Sophia, folding her arms over her chest and raising a speculative eyebrow at the men. It was one of her best scolding looks, and she'd learned it from a Senior Enchanter in the Circle. The fact that she'd been the woman's apprentice probably explained why a lot of her social attitudes were somewhat maternal in nature- one could only learn from what they could know.

She'd leave the actual speaking to the much larger, much more impressive-looking man beside her.

Lucien was, less unusually than most people believed, presently deep in thought. Why he was doing his thinking in the Hanged Man rather than his home was an interesting question, and he supposed it was because he felt less isolated here. In the end, there was little cure for lonliness, but isolation could be fixed with a simple walk to the tavern. His house was filled with too many things that reminded him of what he wasn't, and while he counted it an important lesson that was worth repeating to himself daily, it was not, perhaps, something that required constant fixation. Hence, the bar.

For this reason, he was not immediately aware of Sophia's presence as she entered, occupied as he was with staring somewhere into the middle distance, the downward slant to his mouth slight but present. The hand not presently occupied with wrapping itself around a tankard handle was drumming a staccato march tune on the rough wooden planks of the table, a fact which was irritating the morose-looking sot closest to him. Of course, while he would have noticed and stopped on an ordinary day, he didn't this time, and the much scrawnier individual was not going to risk angering the heavily-armed mercenary for the sake of something so small.

Whatever the reason, he did notice from his peripheral vision Nostariel's movement, and his gaze snapped back into focus in enough time to observe that the Lady Warden was for once looking right at him, rather than at the table in front of her. She tossed her head tersely to the side, and his uncovered eye followed the movement with cuiosity, widening with his surprise as he took in the most peculiar scene. His pensive frown dropped into a full-blown scowl upon the realization that at least one of them was failing in the gentleman's imperative to keep his eyes on a lady's face. Mirroring his Warden friend, Lucien stood, approaching the group from the other side. Apparently, the diminutive elf woman was content to level them her most haughty stare, and he took that as his cue to act as mouthpiece.

"Lady of the people, indeed," he agreed amicably, tone light. That said, his body language was anything but. Lucien was well aware that he could loom, though in this instance he chose not to. They were, after all, just drunken workers with a little too much cheer at the moment. So rather than attempting to intimidate them, he folded his hands neatly behind his back and stood at something resembling parade rest, which was perhaps a certain kind of reminder all its own. "If so, don't you gentlemen think it might be wise for the people to allow the lady to speak without being interrupted so rudely?" He smiled, as though it were just a friendly suggestion.

"Aye, aye!" one agreed, his voice eclipsing the others. "Le's let the lady speak!" As if this had been their idea, another general cheer went up from the crowd. "To what do we owe the honor?" asked one in the front. Sophia wasn't sure if it was the long overdue cooperation of the miners or the support behind her, specifically the massive presence that was Lucien, but whatever it was, it had done the trick, and succeeded in opening the way for her words.

"Gentlemen," she began, "I've come to inform you that the last of the dragons have been killed, and that it's safe for you to return to work tomorrow." This got about the reaction she was expecting, a kind of cautious approval, mixed in with a few fearful grunts. "What if there's more dragons later?" One asked, "Or something worse, like uh... bigger dragons!" A few were having thoughts along these lines, considering their nodding heads, although one blonde-haired one towards the back piped up otherwise. "I go back to missus without this job, she'll rip me apart sure as any dragon!" More had the same problem it seemed. Sophia was once again struggling to get a word in.

"What can we do?" one asked. "That bastard Hubert is the only one willing to hire us." Considering she'd been asked a direct question, Sophia was at last able to respond. "I've promised my services in the event the mine should need further protection. I have no intention of letting any of Kirkwall's citizens come to harm under my watch." That breathed some life into them, pulling a few from their cups. "You hear that boys?" One of them said, a smile spreading across his face. "We've got Sophia Dumar, Viscount's daughter and slayer of dragons, looking out for us! Don't think we'll be getting a better deal than that any time soon!"

Yet another general cheer went up, followed by a toast in her name and a promise to return to work. Sophia found herself smiling, and only a little red in the face. A success, if she'd ever seen one. "Sure you can't have a drink with us, my lady?" one of them asked with a hopeful grin. Sophia had been about to politely decline, but when she thought about it, she didn't really see why not. The thought of her father or brother seeing her now made her smile to herself as she turned to Lucien and Nostariel.

"I think I could spare the time for a drink, if my friends would be willing to join me," she said, her smile growing slightly. "Thank you for the help," she added, sincerely.

For his part, Lucien shrugged, relaxing his shoulders and letting a slow grin creep over his visage. "Think nothing of it. Though, I confess that slayer of dragons is an appellation I've not heard before. I find myself frightfully curious and perhaps more than a little envious. Perhaps you would do us the honor of the tale?" He motioned to a waitress, who, having seen a good chunk of the goings-on, brushed off her apron and hastily supplied the group with a fresh round of ale, including one for Sophia. The young woman curtsied awkwardly in serving that one, and Lucien chuckled quietly to himself. It had taken a fair amount of deft omissions and pleading on his part to convince her not to do that every time she saw him; Sophia would likely be dealing with it from now on.

His success was nothing less than she'd expected, and Nostariel was left to wonder if there was much point to her presence at all. Ah well, perhaps not, but the issue wasn't really there. She'd have been remiss if she didn't try something. She really didn't know what this whole situation was about, but the words exchanged did seem to clarify things somewhat. It was apparently connected to the mines, which she should well have guessed. Apparently that had gone well, then, though she wasn't certain when dragons had become involved. Apparently now-dead ones.

The Warden's muscles slackened perceptibly, and she was quite ready to head back over to her table and resume her rather inactive business, but then Sophia mentioned that she might stay. Nostariel paused in her movement, cocking her head sideways a bit and blinking several times to be sure she'd heard that right. Now there's a suggestion you don't get every day, she mused, and the corner of her mouth quirked upwards just momentarily. Deciding to stay and see what would come of it, the mage easily accepted the drink offered to her by the unusually- enthusiastic Gemma, who usually spent her time complaining about how slovenly, drunken men ogled her and Lucien didn't. Not that she was about to complain about free drinks, mind.

She nodded along to the Chevalier's request, curious despite herself. "That sounds like quite the undertaking, especially alone," she agreed, taking a sip and relishing (as well as she could) the raw burn of cheap alcohol sliding down the throat. She was certainly not envious, as Lucien's tone and words suggested he might be, but it sounded like the kind of thing that would make for good listening. Maybe she'd pass it along to Varric and have him regale all of Kirkwall with it. It could only help Sophia's cause, so she resolved to take it down as factually as possible, then let the dwarf work his magic with it.

"That's because I wasn't alone," Sophia was quick to explain as they took seats. She examined the drink she'd been handed for a brief moment before deciding it was better to just not look at it, and drink. She did so, and imagined that the face she made afterwards was probably very amusing to both Lucien and Nostariel. That out of the way, she began to explain in more detail, and more truth, the story of what had happened in the Bone Pit. If anything she was modest as to her own part, focusing instead on Amalia's bravery in acting the distraction, and the Dalish's archery skill, putting an arrow through the beast's eye.

That said, there was some amount of pride in the deed that she wasn't doing the best job of containing, especially after hearing that Lucien was in fact envious of her. She imagined there were a great many things he had seen and done that would draw out her own envy, pulling on her desires for a life of more adventure, less tied down by the responsibilities of politics, more free to follow her heart.

But being called a Dragonslayer, with truth behind it? Perhaps enjoying the moment a little more was well earned. Sophia took a slightly deeper drink. How anyone could savor the taste of such a concoction, she could not understand.

The Chanter's Board has been updated. The Bone Pit has been completed.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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Lucien sighed heavily, slinging his scythe over his back and gripping his left shoulder in his right hand. That bruise was going to smart tomorrow, but there was little to be done about that. It was, he supposed, the proper price to pay for a moment of carelessness. That he still lapsed often enough for things like this to happen to him did not sit well with the perfectionistic ex-knight. There may come a time in the future when such an error in judgment could mean someone else’s life. If he were the only one who had to bear the burdens of his failures, than he would not dread their inevitability half as much.

Rotating the offending shoulder in its socket, he made his way from the hovel where the gang had been holed up. A woman staying at the Hanged Man had apparently decided he was exactly the thing to set on these street thugs, and he’d cleared out three different ratholes already, one belonging to the Sharpers, one to some unnamed association of smugglers, and this last, in Darktown. With the coin on offer, he’d have thought that they’d be able to find more people to take care of this sort of thing, but if they had, he’d not met them, and he might as well be alone in it. Ah well, a more lucrative livelihood for himself then, not that he required much.

They never did surrender peacefully, either. Dropping his arm, Lucien made his way up the cracked staircase, intent on heading home for a quiet evening, perhaps to finally write back to his father. He’d received the last communication a week ago, and the messenger falcon was clearly tired of being in his house. Not that he could blame it- the roosts at his family’s castle were much better equipped for the well-being of hunting and courier birds than a clean but small home around the corner from the Alienage.

Speaking of couriers, he spotted a man up ahead, moving with purpose. The package under his arm said delivery or something similar, and were it just about anyone else, Lucien would have paid him no more mind. It wasn’t anyone else, though, and he knew that bone-white coif anywhere, even if it was significantly shorter than he’d seen it last. Not even Orlais made many people that looked quite as unique as that particular elf.

“…Ril?” he asked speculatively, hastening his steps to approach the former bard and his own erstwhile companion. “Is that really you?” He’d had no idea where his comrade had gone after they parted ways in Denerim, and the idea that he’d somehow also wound up in Kirkwall was both fantastical and probably what Lucien should have expected. Chance had a funny way of playing with their lives like that. A smile cracked the Chevalier’s countenance, and he wondered if the Tranquil still remembered those days as acutely as he did.

Certainly, it must be so; he’d never known the man to forget any detail, no matter how trivial.

Rilien, having just returned from the docks with his last shipment of glassware in hand, was making haste back to his shop for further experimentation with some unusual substances he’d picked up in a journey to Sundermont (keeping well clear of the Dalish encampment, of course), when his steady pace was interrupted by the baritone notes of a familiar voice. The elf halted midstep, his head snapping in the appropriate direction. He knew exactly to whom that call belonged, and not just because nobody else addressed him as ‘Ril,’ either. What drew his brows together faintly was the fact that he was hearing Lucien Drakon speaking to him in Kirkwall.

But there he was, and apparently changed little in the three years since Rilien had last seen him. “Ser Lucien,” he intoned evenly, dipping his head. Upon rising, he tried to determine if the similarity was indeed universally so, and he decided upon further inspection that the man seemed less… angry than he had been then. Not that he’d ever been particularly enraged, but there was a certain bitterness that seemed to have fled him entirely, if Rilien’s limited observations were anything to go by. That stiffness to his posture, the hart glint behind the eyes, these things were mostly gone now. Of course, much of what he remembered still held, including the rough wooden haft of the peculiar weapon the Orlesian noble carried.

“I see you are still using the absurd farming implement to do a blade’s work.” That had been something Rilien never came to understand about the former Chevalier. He willingly sacrificed an advantage in battle for the sake of some abstract sense of honor to which it seemed none were capable of or willing to adhere save himself. In other words, he risked his life because he was too prideful to use his well-honed abilities to the fullest. It was illogical, and on occasion, produced in the Tranquil something akin to the feeling he got when Sparrow did something particularly foolhardy. Only at least he could make sense of Sparrow’s motives, for the most part.

The knight was by some odd turn inscrutable to logic alone, and it had always left the elf mildly flat-footed in his company. Nevertheless, there was no mistaking what he owed him, and Rilien always paid his debts in full. It helped that the youngest Drakon had no particular desire to call upon those debts, to restrict the freedom of the once-shackled Bard. Chained to a Circle, and then chained to a Bardmaster, but apparently never to be chained to the Chevalier who had freed him from the latter. It produced the closest thing to gratitude that the Tranquil had ever known, before or after his Rite.

It was ever-so-predictable, the response he recieved. Nothing more than a pause, a blink, and a name, given in return, only with less inflection. He had not, of course, expected to surpsise the Tranquil, but over a good year an a half of being in scarcely any other company, he had come to understand that Rilien was... different. Not just from other people, but from other Tranquil people. Occasionally, there was a little something, a tightening of the jaw, a narrowing of the eyes, that gave him away. Surely, Lucien had always believed, a man with such a keen mind could not be entirely without judgment on those things which he observed. The elf had always been silent on the matter, save once, and that simple answer had been all Lucien needed.

The fact that after everything, he still adhered to the formality and addressed him as 'Ser' was as much a frustration now as it had been then, but unlike then, Lucien offered no comment. Trying to make Ril change his habits was much like trying to push water uphill- a futile endeavor and one whose result wasn't much worth the effort even if it was achieveable. Though there were many things upon which they disagreed, and Lucien wasn't quite sure that Rilien was the kind of soul to whom such banal words as 'good' and 'bad' even applied, he nevertheless could not fault what he was at his core, and wouldn't much want to change it. More than once, the voice of reason that seemed to be he ex-Bard's inherent state of being had saved not only his own life, but also many others. Lucien was not a pragmatist, but even he could see the value in that.

The jab (and he knew it to be more than a simple observation; what Rilien chose to say was often much more important than how it was delivered), had him shaking his head. Unchanged, indeed. He doubted that the weight of the world would change Ril. So very different were they in this. "So it is," he replied with a half-cocked grin. They'd spent some days bickering on this subject before Rilien seemed to decide that there really was no logical justification for it, and therefore no logical argument would change it. Even thinking of it brought a peculiar mood over the Chevalier, as though he were in some sense out there in the countryside once more, felling bandits and Darkspawn with equal fervor, the quick, illusory flicker of an elf beside him, uncaring of the carnage he caused. It had been disturbing, at first, but he'd come to see the reasons behind it.

"How is it that you wound up in Kirkwall, my friend?"

"The usual way," Rilien replied. "I took a boat." That was, he was sure, not the answer Lucien was looking for, but it was enough of one. His passage had been booked almost as soon as the two had last parted ways, and he'd caught a passenger vessel seeking to retireve some Fereldan refugees from Kirkwall. Most unusually, none had batted an eyelash at the presence of an Orleisian elf aboard the boat, but he suspected that this had something to do with the fact that he'd used the Drakon family seal to ensure his passage. Well, something close enough to the Drakon family seal anyway. He'd discovered that anything suitably ornate passed for "Orlesian" in Ferelden, and the same was more or less true of the Free Marches.

He was certain Lucien had a perhaps more interesting tale to tell, but this was hardly the place for the conversation. Standing in the middle of the street in Darktown was asking to be eavesdropped upon, if not outright attacked. Chances were good that most would take one good look at his companion and think better of it, but Rilien found it easier to just avoid taking the chance. "I am returning to my shop now, if you wish to speak indoors." It was not an invitation he would have extended to most people, but as he'd learned in the most dangerous of ways, Lucien Drakon was not 'most people.' He wasn't even 'most Chevaliers,' when it came to that.

The deadpan response, so completely without any joking inflection, drew a laugh from Lucien anyway. What he chose to say, indeed. He could almost, almost imagine the kind of person Rilien had been before the Chantry stole his soul, his fire. A right hellion, probably, bent on the witty metaphorical eviseration of people of lesser intellect, and probably a showman about it, if what remained of a fastidious, nearly-flashy taste in clothing was anything to go by. It would have been something to see, he was certain, and part of him was angry at the injustice of it all. He'd heard the (obviously abbreviated) version of the story, and it only served to further reinforce his notions that power corrupted, and absolute power corrupted absolutely. What the religious would think of that sentiment, he didn't really want to consider. He kept it to himself, for the most part, and kept the peace by doing so.

The Tranquil extended a most unexpected invitation, but Lucien just shook his head. "I'll not force you to entertain me, Ril. Just... don't be such a stranger. I live in Lowtown, if you're ever inclined to visit, and I suppose I'm normally at the Hanged Man if I'm not there or working. If you ever need anything, don't trouble yourself about debts or any of that nonsense." His insistence would not make it so, he knew, but... the thought of a personal friend of his living in a place like this did not sit well with him. Well, the thought of anyone living here was rather repulsive, but Rilien certainly didn't deserve it, and somehow, Lucien felt remiss for not having discovered this earlier.

Either way, he hoped that the Tranquil was making a living for himself without too much difficulty, and that he'd allow the former Chevalier to assist if anything too bad came up.

You didn't survive hell with a man to leave him cold. At least not if you had a shred of honor left in your soul.

"Very well," Rilien demurred, though he left it open to interpretation whether he was respondng to Lucien's polite refusal or his offer. It was better that way; if he was intentionally vague, he knew that the knight correctly interpret that as a reluctance to discuss the matter further. Because of his own prevailing sense of chivalry, he wouldn't press the point, either, which was precisely what the Tranquil preferred. It wasn't exactly impossible to successfully lie to Lucien, but the man had a perceptiveness about him that was not immediately evident from his appearance. As the Bard had been taught to lie, the Chevalier had been taught to detect the truth of things. That was hardly unusual in the region of their birth.

He watched for a few moments as the other man left, before shaking his head minutely and resuming his own walk. He spared but one last passing thought for the encounter before his mind was once again on his business. It was one he had with alarming frequency where the exiled nobleman was concerned: peculiar fellow.

The irony was not lost on him.

Lucien sighed through his nose and shook his head ruefully, alighting upon the stairs to Lowtown. It appeared that the Tranquil was as immovable as ever. Then again, there was something about that which could be considered quite admirable. No matter what he was faced with, Ril remained much the same. It was something Lucien strove for with far less perfection. Still, he wished the bloody bard would be willing to accept some help here and there. It wasn't like it would kill him.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Aurora Rose
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Lowtown was anything but a safe place when the sun fell and darkness set over the city, but Sophia Dumar did not feel threatened. Muggers and thieves usually passed over armored individuals with two-handed swords sheathed across their backs. Her chainmail and light plate were becoming something of a second skin for her, each outing increasingly her comfortability wearing them. Now it was the dresses that were starting to feel unnatural. She felt awkwardly light without the weight of Vesenia behind her. Like she'd float up into the clouds or something. She actually had considered wearing the sword more often, but a quick glance in the mirror had confirmed that large swords looked rather silly when not accompanied by armor.

Her foray into Lowtown tonight was more serious than usual, however. At least, she suspected it would be. Time spent in the Chantry had alerted her to something suspicious. Despite her refusal to acknowledge the sisters as a human rumor mill, they often functioned as such, and it was through them that she overheard that one Sister Petrice would be visiting Lowtown again tonight, the Foundry district specifically, where she was supposedly to meet with a group of thugs whom she'd hired for a job. As unlikely as Sophia thought that, she decided it couldn't hurt to investigate, for Petrice's sake if no one else. She was not familiar with her personally, but many sisters were not exactly aware of the dangers that much of the city could present. It was entirely possible that she had no idea what she was getting herself into, and would possibly need protection.

Of secondary concern was the matter of what exactly Petrice would need a group of thugs for, but for the moment Sophia was intent on not doubting the integrity of the Chantry.

And so here she was, making herself somewhat scarce, overlooking the supposed meeting place from nearby, and growing slightly impatient. It wasn't as though she'd had some other pressing matter she'd put off in order to come here, but she also wasn't fond of wasted time. She'd have to have an honest word with some of the sisters if this was indeed nothing but a rumor.

Lucien, who'd been on his way home from a series of minor jobs for the Red Iron, had run into the Chantry sister in the middle of Lowtown, apparently looking around as though somewhat lost. Which he found this to be curious, verging on suspicious, he'd felt obligated to follow when she was approached from the south by a group of what appeared to be the kind of men who barely earned 'mercenary' status. Thug was probably more like it, if the body language they were exhibiting was anything to go by. He wasn't going to set that judgement in stone without more justification, but all the same, he was not- as he'd tried unsuccessfully to convince several people- a complete fool. Which brought him to where he was presently: following a priest and a bunch of rough-looking men into an alley in the foundry district.

This probably deserved a mention in a letter home, just for the sheer oddity.

He did have to resist the urge to sigh, though; if the sister wasn't up to something she shouldn't be (and he'd like to think she wasn't, really he would), she was... less-than-intelligent might be the mild way to formulate the trait. Anyone who had spent any time whatsoever out in the world knew that one did not conduct business with heavily-armed people in dark recesses without witnesses, at night. It was so obviously foolish that his wariness to deception was crawling out of his background psychology and to the forefront of his mind. Something was very wrong here, but he wouldn't be able to figure out what unless he followed for a while. Odder still was that none had yet acknowledged him- he was making no effort to conceal his presence.

Taking up a position at the choke-point of the alley, the former Chevalier crossed his arms and leaned sideways against the wall, waiting for something to happen.

Petrice was led into the alley by the leader of the thugs, a man adorned with strikingly orange, braided back hair. A half dozen of his fellows made their presences known, all armed with a variety of cheap weapons and armor. It was a choice location for an ambush. Not even the moon was hitting the area, blocked as it was behind the nearby structure of a tall foundry.

It also helped to conceal Sophia somewhat, hidden in a nearby doorway as she was. She'd become considerably more awake since the sounds of footsteps and voices reached her ears. It seemed there was something to the rumors after all. "Right this way, ma'am," one said, holding an arm out in front of the sister, who was quickly becoming surrounded by the thugs. Sophia was able to see by peeking one eye around the corner. It was enough to see the glint of a knife, coming up behind Petrice.

Sophia sprang into action, darting out into the open, Vesenia coming free with a telltale ring that announced her presence to all, as if the thuds of her boots hadn't already done that. It was enough to make the thug about to stab Petrice hesitate, and give Sophia the window she needed to interrupt it all. With a deft flick of both hands she smacked the blade away from the sister, following up with a pommel strike to the nose, bloodying the man and pushing him back. Petrice was startled, but responded well when Sophia gently moved her with a gloved hand.

"Stay behind me," Sophia suggested, reforming her grip on the pommel. The seven thugs appeared unintimidated by the threat of a single woman, and moved to surround her. She responded by pushing backwards towards the wall, hoping to at least reduce the angle she could be attacked from three-sixty to one-eighty. The leader among them paused the group for a moment when he spoke. "Easy there, lass. You don't need to be throwing your life away tonight. Walk away now, and we'll pretend this never happened."

"I extend you the same offer," she responded. Truth be told, she wasn't sure if she was capable of seven-on-one. While they chuckled at her boldness, she considered explaining who she was, but decided that would be just as likely to make them want to kill her as it was to make them want to back down. There was no more time for thought, however, as the first pair of them moved forward to attack.

The first swing was intercepted by a curved blade, which jerked abruptly to the side, disarming the right-hand thug, who collpased in a heap to the ground when the maneuver was followed up with a pommel strike to the side of his head. Unconscious, certainly, but not dead, by any means. The blow from his partner reverberated off Lucien's dark grey plate, apparently not at all fazing the knight, who merely blinked his exposed eye at the fellow, who took a few steps backwards in surprise. With a sigh, the young man ran a hand through his shaggy hair and shook his head. Amateurs.

"Allow me to reiterate the lady's generous offer," he said calmly, offering a nod in Sophia's direction. He hadn't expected to run into her here, but he was not at all displeased at her presence. An ally would be most welcome if this remained hostile as it was now. "I think your immediate tactical retreat would be best for everyone involved, don't you?"

Sophia had been left in the awkward position of being prepared to receive a blow that never came. The thugs jumped back momentarily to rethink the situation, now that a second, and much larger, foe had taken up arms against them. Sophia had let a small smile creep onto her face. The mercenary's rather dashing entrance had been most welcome. She moved up beside him, keeping her sword at the ready. With Lucien here, she was quite certain they were capable of defeating them. It didn't make the act any more pleasant, however.

"Good timing," she said, settling into her stance. As much as she hoped the thugs would turn around and leave now, the leader didn't seem to be going for it. "What are you waiting for?" he shouted to his men. "There's only two of them! Surround them, kill them!" It provided the necessary encouragement for the thugs to begin the attack in earnest, three going for Lucien, three for Sophia. The leader notably remained back, allowing the pawns to go first. "Maker," Sophia grumbled, "Why must they insist?"

"I've been asking myself the same thing for years," Lucien replied mildly, but the street fighters had apparently decided that the time for words was past them.

The first swung downward with a flanged mace, a heavy weapon to wield, one that Sophia was able to sidestep easily enough before throwing her pommel into his face. She knew she wouldn't have time for anything else, as she preemptively threw a sword strike to counter the second thug's horizontal blade slash. The third took a more brute force approach, trying to beat her with pure strength rather than skill at arms, which was a sound plan. Rather than strike at her with any weapons, he lowered his shoulder and charged, catching her in the stomach and driving her backwards. Petrice had to jump out of the way just before the wall stopped Sophia. Her breath left her in a rush, and her sword was useless at this range. She responded by pushing the thug away as he was drawing his knife back, and throwing her right knee into his nose. A sharp crack told her that she'd shattered it, and the thug yelped in agreement, staggering back and clutching his face.

That left the other two, and again Sophia rushed to parry the sword-armed thug. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a mace coming for her, and had the good sense to move her head before it took a chunk out of the wall. She kicked him in the gut to force him away, before forcing the other thug's sword aside, laying a fist into his jaw. Surely these thugs would only take so much beating before they made the wise choice. Any longer, though, and it would have to come to deaths. Sophia wasn't fond of fist fights.

The first two of Lucien's opponents came at him as a team. Both were warriors, but also considerably smaller than the towering Orlesian fellow, and they correctly judged that getting close would be the best way to prevent him from swinging around his scythe with unfortunate accuracy. Unlike Sophia, however, his back was to the open alley behind him, and so when the first man charged, bashing the Chevalier's chest with his banded wooden shield, Lucien endured the discomfort and backtracked several steps, intending to use the extra space to get a hit in.

The second man wasn't going to allow that, however, and his attempt to heft his scythe was met with a downward stroke from a one-handed axe, followed by another attempted shield-bash. At that, he frowned. It would appear that their strategy was to drive a wedge in the two-person line by backing him out into the street, and he was not having that. This time, he braced himself, using his superior strength and sense of balance to simply absorb the second hit, unmoving and refusing to stagger. It pushed a considerable amount of breath from his lungs, and if he kept it up, he'd be bruising quite badly tomorrow, but that was the least of the concerns on his mind. Using his free hand, he grabbed the rim of the shield in a firm grip, effectively holding the man in place. With a wrench, he maneuvered the fellow so that he was blocking his friend from getting a good shot in.

Forced with the choice of being entirely at Lucien's mercy or abandoning his shield, the bereaved thug wisely chose the latter, leaving the knight with a shield in one hand and his scythe still in the other. Shrugging, Lucien tossed the metal disk in the air and caught it again, sliding his arm into the straps without difficulty. It wasn't a properly-adjusted fit, and somewhere in the back of his head, his old armsmaster shook his head and muttered something suitably obscene. The thought, however, simply caused him to smile, which apparently was as good a signal as any for his foes to renew their assault. The third one had disappeared entirely, and Lucien had a bad feeling about that, but there was nothing he could do save pay attention to his surroundings.

The man still fully equipped charged first, swinging in a broad horizontal arc with his longsword, which Lucien deflected deftly with the shield. It had never been his preferred weapon arrangement, but he'd learned it as surely as the rest, and it was clear that these men had not. When the thug staggered backwards, the clang of the contact ringing in both their ears, Lucien advanced forward, adjusting his grip on his scythe and placing the top against the ground to block the axe-man's attempt at a simultaneous hit which would have gone much better if the prior one had worked. With his other arm, he gagued his strength as best he could and swung at the second man's head with the shield, successfully rendering him, too, unconscious.

It was considerable effort to swing the scythe with one hand, and he'd rather not do so if he could avoid it, but it appeared that the axe-holding brigand was not going to be so kind as to either allow him the opportunity to shift his grip or attack his shield-side, so it was with a sigh followed by a grunt of effort that he hefted the unweildy thing and swung. His weakened momentum allowed the other fellow to block fairly well, and Lucien shifted his hold on the shield so that he was simply holding the leather fastening straps in one hand. He attempted the same maneuver a second time, expecting the same result, and he was not disappointed. This time, though, he took a lesson from certain competitive tourney events in which he'd once participated and threw the shield like a discus, succssfully catching the man in the stomach. Given their proximity, it was hardly a fatal hit, but it did cause him to double over and freed the Chevalier's off-hand, which was enough. A solid hit to the temple with the flat of the scythe-blade opened up a vertical cut in the thug's cheek, but also dropped him like a stone.

Now... where was that damned rogue?

The clang and ring of battle was clear and crisp in the night air. The sounds even managed to make it to a certain redheaded maglet on her way home. Aurora was just returning from an extended lession with Amalia and some of her... Viddathari she believed the word was. Converts of the Qun. The walk home was dangerous during the night, yes, but recently Aurora felt brave. Perhaps even foolhardy. Maybe it was Amalia's lessons. Maybe it was her gift. Either way, she would make an effort not to allow these nightly strolls through Lowtown to become a common thing. She didn't want to invite trouble after all. Though being a mage, she couldn't help but feel that trouble tried it's hardest to find her.

The trouble for that night were, indeed, the sounds of the battle that drew her attention. She made her way towards the racket, which led her to an alleyway, and as she expected there was a tussle that was on going. He hid behind the corner of the building as she watched. The numbers were unfair. Somewhere around a dozen to three-- two, considering one of the women was merely being protected. She felt as if dozen were the antogonists of this, as the two warriors fought to disarm or to incapacitate while the doze looked to kill. Despite the odds thiyfg, the large, eyepatched man and his lady companions seemed to have things under hand. The large man had an unsurprising stength about him, easily waylaying two of the thugs, while the woman fended off and disarmed three of the thugs.

It was an impressive showing and she expected the thugs to give in at any time. Lowtown thugs weren't known for their bravery, and she personally managed to frighten a few off with a mere cantrip. Who wanted to actively fight a mage anyway? And who were they going to tell? The Templars? They'd have to get to them first, and these highwaymen weren't on good terms with authority figures. Back to the fight, she watched as a rogue began to slink up behind the knight. The knight seemed to be unaware as to his plight, with his back turned both on the rogue and herself. That was when the bold streak inside Aurora acted up. She slipped from the corner of the building and began to sneak up behind the rogue. Amalia hadn't only taught her about the mind, but the body as well. She had watched the Qunari woman, how she walked with grace and aclarity. When she walked, it was like she floated, not even disturbing the dirt and dust at her feet.

Aurora however, was not so graceful. Though it was good enough. The rogue had his eye on the target and was unaware as to everything else. He didn't even hear the blade extend from Aurora's bracer. It was a shocking surprise when the blade bit deep into the joint behind his knee. The knee collapsed on him immediately, yelping in pain as he knelt. He attempted to turn around to see the perpertrator, but was stopped by a bloody blade resting on his neck. "I suggest you be still if you want to limp away from this," Aurora warned. "I'm still learning how to use this. It would be a shame if it were to... slip," she added, winking to the knight.

While Lucien had been busy with the three that had attacked him, the leader of these thugs had chosen to join the battered trio going after Sophia. Or rather, she was left to assume that as she saw him disappear out of the corner of her eye, just as she smacked the flat side of her sword into the knee of the mace-armed thug, removing him from the fight when he fell. The knife armed thug, whose face was now a sheet of blood since she'd shattered his nose, came at her angry, but the Viscount's daughter was prepared this time, effectively sidestepping his hurtling punch and slicing her blade across his hamstring, taking him to the ground as well. That left the one with the sword, and the leader, dual knives hidden somewhere nearby.

She needed to make short work of the one in order to be prepared for the other, and thus she went on the offensive, quick and powerful strikes testing the thug's skill at swordplay, which was surprisingly good, but not good enough. She got him off balance with a strong horizontal slash when he'd expected vertical, battering his guard to the side. Sophia followed up with an elbow blow to the side of the head, and then a sweep of a boot, taking his legs out from under him. The finisher was a kick to the head, knocking him out cold.

The crunch of a boot on dirt behind her alerted her to the leader's attempted backstab just in time, and Sophia whirled around, throwing her guard up high. The attack, however, came much lower than expected, slipping under her plate, just above the belt, cutting across her lower abdomen. Sophia was slowed down much less than expected, however, when she immediately brought her sword down into the thug's arm, cutting until it hit bone, and garnering a loud yelp from the leader. Taking the advantage, Sophia wrenched her sword free, then stomped downwards into his knee, breaking it and causing the leader to spin into a fall, going to a knee on his remaining good leg. Before he could move further, Sophia came up behind him, lowering and leveling her sword to let an edge nearly touch the stubbled skin of his throat. He froze, grimacing at the pain, and at last acknowledging their defeat by dropping his weapons.

Sophia glanced up to see that Lucien was fine. As expected, he was, though it seemed the ruckus had drawn a third participant on their side, a smaller woman who held a thug at the point of her blade. Sophia spared her a brief nod of thanks before returning her eyes to the thug leader, not willing to give him the chance to catch her by surprise. "You're very lucky to have fought against us tonight, I hope you realize," she said, no small amount of frustration in her voice, "Few would be willing to let you live at this point. Perhaps you should take this as a sign from the Maker that continuing on like this is only going to get you killed. Do you understand my meaning?"

The thug nodded as much as he could without letting any part of him touch her sword. "Yes, milady. Quite clearly. We'll trouble you no further, we promise." Sophia loosened her grip slightly. "So long as you realize that preying on the weak in this city is what troubles me, then you may go." She removed her sword from his throat, and he immediately got to his feet as best he could. Sophia pointed to the one the other girl had captured with the tip of her blade. "Let him go, please. The threat has passed."

Sophia wiped her blade on a cloth tucked under her belt, before sheathing the sword across her back, breathing something of a sigh. That had been more eventful than she had anticipated. When her leg began to feel warm and wet, however, she remembered the wound she'd taken. A touch of her hand to her stomach brought it back red and wet. He'd managed to cut through even her light chainmail, but thankfully the wound was relatively shallow. It would need to be seen to at some point, but for now, they needed to move.

The thugs that had been capable of standing had cleared out, leaving the others unconscious in the dirt. Sophia gestured for Petrice to follow her. "Thanks for the help," she said, looking to Lucien, "that could have been bad. And thank you as well," she said, to the woman who had arrived to assist them. "I don't believe we've met. My name is Sophia Dumar."

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Aurora Rose
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Aurora wiped her own blade on the shoulder of the thug at her mercy, causing him to twitch in response before grabbing his collar and pushing. "Go on. You heard your boss. Limp on out of here," she said, tongue firmly in cheek as the blade receded back into her bracer. She may or may not have been on a power trip thanks to the versatility of Amalia's gift. She began to wonder why hadn't she ever thought about carrying a dagger or something before. As the thugs left Aurora approached the others she had just so recently aided. Introductions were in order, of course. Though now that she was closer, she finally realized the sole noncombatant was a Sister of the Chantry. Her gaze lingered on her for a couple of moments before her attentions were turned on the woman wielding the sword.

The name she gave was one she certainly wasn't expecting. Sophia Dumar? As in the Viscount Dumar? This woman was the Viscount's daughter? Traipsing about the Lowtown slums at a such an odd hour? It was strange to put it mildly. The wheels in Aurora's head began to turn for a moment before she responded. For a Noble, she knew her way around blade, almost better than the thugs she had fought. Then another thing clicked. Was this the Sophia Amalia spoke of? If so, that meant this woman was also present for the slaying of the dragon and the cleaning out of the Bone Pit. Surely, this woman was not one to be underestimated. The immense coincidence of them meeting there was not lost of on her. Either way, it seemed like she picked the right side to aid. Though, Aurora made a note to be careful with her magic around her, just as Amalia warned.

For her own introduction, she bowed and said, "Hello miss Dumar. I am Aurora Rose," despite her own careful nature, she couldn't find the will to give the woman a false identity. Well... More false. She then pointed at the wounds Sophia had sustained and said, "Do you need bandages or..." she trailed off. It was perfectly within her power to heal the woman of her injuries, though she did not wish to reveal her mage powers. Obviously, she had close ties with the Chantry and things could get... Muddy if she revealed them.

Lucien's head had whipped around just in time to see his final assailant being handled by a slender young woman with a most curious weapon. She winked at him, and he found himself smiling. There was something to be said for being able to maintain a certain amount of levity in situations like this one, and he straightened even as Sophia dealt with ridding them of the men still conscious. The ones he'd put under would all wake with massive headaches, but it wouldn't be anything worse than the average hangover, perhaps. Probably not an unusual occurrence for at least a few of them.

At Aurora's introduction, Lucien's smile only grew, and though the bow had not been for him, he returned the gesture in kind, though he was perhaps more practiced with them. "A pleasure, milady," he said, just a trace of humor at the edges of the words. "Lucien Drakon, at your service." He was not worried that anyone knew their ancient Orlesian history well enough to recognize the name. Nobody he'd yet met had, after all. Straightening, he followed the redheaded woman's line of sight to Sophia and frowned when he noticed the injury. It wasn't a debilitating one, but it was bound to be uncomfortable at the very least, and of course it brought him no pleasure to see his friends in pain.

Sophia seemed to be more or less fine, however, and his eye fixed askance on the priestess. He had not missed that she was still present, and his initial curiosity as to her reasons for being here had returned now that the immediate problem was dealt with. The armored Templar just now edging in on the scene was of further curiosity, and Lucien had the dark suspicion that he was going to be quite displeased in short order, as he might well be discovering that the three of them had risked themselves for a problem that was not a problem after all. That would, if true, transform the lady's injury from an unfortunate but tolerable consequence of doing what was necessary to an entirely pointless case of pain, which was most certainly not the same thing. Especially not to him.

Still, he would wait for an explanation before he jumped to conclusions.

"I'll be fine," Sophia said to Aurora, dismissing the injury. She reached into a small pouch on her belt and pulled out a little vial of red liquid, which she proceeded to drink only half of. Bran had gifted it to her, figuring if he could not stop her from pursuing a dangerous path, he'd at least help make sure she survived it. The half of the healing potion was enough to stop any bleeding, and allowed her to return to the matter at hand: Sister Petrice. The Chantry sister was at Sophia's side at this point.

"Thank you for your timely intervention, Sophia. And you two as well. I am... out of my element." Sophia nodded her understanding. That much had been obvious. "I'm just glad you're alright. These streets can be deadly at night. Why are you here, Petrice?" She sighed, a sign of frustration perhaps. "I had to come here to get the type of person I need. Someone of bloody skill, but also integrity. If I'd known of your presence here, and your skill with a blade, I suppose I could have saved myself the trip."

Sophia rested her hands upon her hips. "And why the need for someone like me? Is whatever you need done not a task the Templars could perform?" Petrice shook her head. "It's not so simple. I have a charge who needs passage from the city. If you are willing to assist the Chantry, please meet me at my safehouse at this location. We can discuss in more detail there." She handed Sophia a small piece of parchment with an address upon it, the location to meet her. "If your friends would be willing to assist," she added, "there would be coin available to them."

Now Sophia was beginning to become frustrated. Of course she would be willing to assist the Chantry, but why the need for all the secrecy, and why the search for Lowtown mercenaries? She was starting to get the sense that whatever Petrice was involved in, she was in over her head. "Petrice, what's going on? If you'll just-" but she was cut off by the sister with a wave of her hand. "I'm sorry, Sophia, but I can say no more here. Varnell!"

The name was called to the armored Templar, who had made his way towards the group from behind Sophia. The sight of a Templar here as well only served to confuse Sophia further. Clearly, she was not so defenseless as she had first seemed. "I hope you will consider coming, all of you," Petrice said. "This matter only grows more urgent with time." With that, she and the Templar departed quickly, in the direction of their safehouse, leaving Sophia, Lucien, and Aurora among the unconscious thugs. The Viscount's daughter turned to the mercenary, and the young woman who had come to their aid.

"I have a bad feeling about this," she admitted. "I'm not sure what she's gotten herself into. Escorting a charge from the city? I'm not sure why the Chantry would involve themselves in such a thing... but there must be a reason. I'm going to find out, at least, and see if there's something I can do to help. I would not ask either of you to throw yourselves into this, but if you would like, I would appreciate the company." She wasn't sure if Aurora had any training in defending herself other than with the little blade she'd used, but she seemed like she could handle herself. And Lucien of course would be extremely helpful to have along, both for his superior skill in battle, and his knowledge of the area. Sophia also had to admit she was hoping he would offer his assistance.

Lucien was, indeed, displeased. A test. It was always nice to know that agents of the Divine were willing to risk the lives of good samaritan passers-by to find someone who could do a job that the Chantry was apparently unwilling to put the Templars, the face of their military arm, on. The fact that that Templar- Varnell, the sister had said- was only one in number only lent fuel to the low-banked fire in his gut. Such an insufficient force would have been no guarantee of anyone's survival but the sister's, in all likelihood. It reeked of everything he'd learned to expect from the politics of the Grand Cathedral, and more than once, he'd seen his aunt frustrated by corruption she could not publicly decry. Something was very, very wrong here, and he didn't even know what the plan was yet. Even so, he knew that Sophia would not share these particular thoughts of his, or at least certainly not to the same degree, and so he kept his face neutral as he replied. He would not allow himself to be dishonest, but he was not going to be confrontational either. She did not deserve it.

"I must confess I find the entire affair incredibly shady thus far, but if it is your wish to see this to its end, I will assist," he replied quite truthfully. He was concerned, both about what they would be asked to do and also about the fact that Sophia's natural trust of the institution might blind her to potential dangers. She was not foolish, but he knew quite well that sometimes, those of naive faith in something could simply not register its flaws. His faith had not been in the Chantry, but for all other purposes, she was much the same as he'd been some years ago. It went without saying that he wished to prevent her from suffering the same consequences if possible.

"Did anybody else see the Templar... Just watching us?" Aurora pointed behind the Sister and at her armored friend. That... Irked her. Sure, she didn't like the Templars on principle, them trying to lock one up in a Tower for the rest of one's life could do that to a girl, but that wasn't it. It was rather that he chose to watch the pair fight without stepping in. The mere sight of a Templar could perhaps have nipped the fight before it began. Though, secretly it was a bit of a proud moment for her. A mage stepping in where a Templar would not. She liked that idea. What she did not like was the muddy dealings she had just stepped waist deep in. Something was off and askew, and she had to get to the bottom of it, else not be able to sleep that night due to pure curiousity.

"Me too," Aurora added behind Lucien, "I'm curious as to how far this rabbit hole goes, so to say." she stated.

Shady was a word Sophia had never considered applying to the Chantry, but she couldn't help but feel the same way. It bothered her immensely, and only strengthened her desire to investigate further. The fact that she, Lucien, and Aurora had all just risked their lives when Petrice could have simply asked Sophia for help was unfortunate, but Petrice had said herself she hadn't been aware of Sophia's skill with a blade. That in of itself seemed odd, considering how quickly word of her recent behavior had gotten around, but Sophia reminded herself not to make too much of it. There had to be a better purpose here. No doubt it would become more clear once they saw the charge they were to escort.

"Thank you, both of you," Sophia said, visibly relieved, though clearly quite bothered by what she had just heard. "Surely it won't hurt to hear her out. Come on, we shouldn't keep her waiting, if this is as urgent as she claims." With that she led the way towards the location she had been given. She knew of the general area, as the street named was not far from the Hanged Man, and thus she avoided getting lost as they traveled. It was well into night at this point, but the seeming weight of the situation served to keep Sophia very much awake.

The safehouse was numbered according to the parchment Petrice had given her, and Sophia pointed it out as she saw it. "Here we are," she said, leading the way. The door was slightly ajar, and Sophia pushed it open, heading inside, Lucien and Aurora behind her. Safehouse probably implied more than the place was worth, as it was little more than a hovel with a door. Sparse candles against the far wall lit the interior of the initial room, but otherwise, it appeared as though no one had used the building for a living space in some time. The Templar, Varnell, leaned against a nearby wooden table, his sword in hand, the point of which was resting against the ground. He offered no words upon seeing Sophia, and she gave him a slight nod of greeting in return.

"I'm glad you came, Sophia," Petrice said from near the candles on the far wall, "This matter is most delicate, but I'm certain you and your friends will be more than capable enough to handle it." Sophia took a few steps forward, to stand near the center of the room. "It is an escort," Petrice continued, "but I think you will agree, the nature of the party makes this... unique." More sidestepping around the point. Sophia folded her arms across her chest, visibly growing tired of it. "Petrice, I want to help, but if this is something criminal..."

The sister did not immediately refute Sophia's suggestion, which bothered her even more. "This should make things more clear. Here is my burden of charity... Ketojan!" At the call of the name, a disturbing sight came into view: he was immediately recognizable as kossith, one of the Qunari, but he was... chained, in nearly every conceivable way. A half shattered mask covered his face, the lower part gone, revealing lips that were sown mostly shut, and it was not immediately clear if he was capable of speaking at all. An incredibly heavy looking collar sat around his neck and shoulder, chains draping around every part of his being. Still, he carried himself with a certain undeniable strength, as though the bindings he wore were simply a normal thing. The sight caused Sophia's breath to catch in her throat momentarily, before she managed to breathe out a simple "Maker..."

"Behold what the followers of the Qun do to their mages. A grotesque and extreme stance, to be sure. Where the Templars seek to protect the mages from themselves as well as others, the Qunari seek only to bind and imprison them. A fate comparable, and perhaps worse, to death." Petrice took a few steps towards the Qunari mage, to stand before him. "He's a survivor of infighting with the Qunari Tal-Vashoth outcasts. I call him 'Ketojan,' a bridge between worlds."

She turned back to Sophia and the others. "Instead of returning this mage to his brutal kin, to no doubt continue this same terrible existence, let him serve a better purpose. I would see him free. He must be guided from the city without alerting his people."

"Wh-what? Qunari... Mage?" Aurora fumbled as she took a step back, bumping against Lucien. That is what they did to their mages? It shook her to her very core. He was chained and collared, mouth sewn short. He was burdened. The comparisons with how the Templar treated mages was instant, even before Petrice brought up her own view. This... Poor creature. It was as if he bore the physical manifestation of the burden every mage carried. Her breath was hitched and she was near to tears, unable to hide her obvious distress. To the others, it may just seem like simple fear or pity, but it struck deeper than that. Much deeper.

Did Amalia know? She had to have known. Did... Did she see her like this monster? Like a creature that should be chained up-- mouth sown shut and caged? A hand reached up to her mouth to stifle the sobs that threatened to escape. She couldn't bear to look at the the Kossith anymore, she averted her gaze down, both hands now cupping her mouth, breathing deeply and heavily. Her mind raced with the possibilities, of Amalia, of what she may, or may not had planned. It was with great effort she managed to push it all out of her mind with repeated mental recitation of her chosen word. Rosaline. Rosaline. Rose. Rose. Rose. Bloody Rose. Even that hardly did what it was meant to. Considering it was the Qunari who had taught her that. Suppose it was easy to lock up your fellows if everything was an illusion...

She... She needed to help this creature-- No, this man. He was a mage, just like her. Who would she be if she could not find it in herself to aid her. Even if helping the poor man was against the Qun, she didn't care. No one should be caged like that, no matter what. The Qun could go to hell, along with the rest of the Qunari, she was helping him find his own freedom, just like she had found her. She nodded and added, "Th-this is wrong. Mage or not, no one deserves this. He must be set free," she said resolutely. So distressed she was, she did not see the irony in that it was the Sister who wished to free the mage.

Lucien's hand automatically found its way to Aurora's shoulder when she stumbled back into him, but the rock-steady Chevalier did not even move. She was hardly much weight, and the motion of his arm was more for her benefit than his. He heard the sister's words, but his eye didn't leave the Qunari, head tilted faintly to one side, a thoughtful expression on his face. Certainly, it looked like quite the unsavory predicament, and yet if he was suffering or troubled by his existence, the kossith made absolutely no sign of it. He seemed to be... waiting for something, almost. Patiently, unwaveringly. It was not something Lucien would have recognized had he not known it firsthand. The comparison was imperfect, but something in the man's posture reminded him of a soldier at attention, a vassal awaiting his latest set of orders. By no means was it Orlesian parade rest, but... it was evocative.

He wondered if all was as it seemed. It rarely was, after all. A muffled sound distracted him, and he glanced back down at the young woman in front of him. Was she... shaking? No, perhaps he was imagining that. Either way, he removed his hand from her person, as it was apparently no longer necessary to her balance. She seemed quite stricken by the Qunari's predicament, and he wondered about that, but it was not really any of his business, and so he let it be. Really, none of this was any of his business, but here he was. The situation was so strange that he couldn't really say for sure if his honor required a certain course of action over another, and this, he thought, was probably due to a dearth of information, one which he doubted their contractors would be willing to rectify, if indeed they were able.

"You are asking us to risk much," he pointed out quietly. "The Arishok did not strike me as a particularly tolerant fellow, and if we are discovered, the Lady Sophia's involvement could easily be taken as an indication that this act had official sanction from the Viscount. Peace is not maintained by making such overt moves against a potentially-hostile force." His words were directed more at Sophia herself than Petrice, though it was certainly possible she had realized this fact already. For his own purposes, these considerations were important, but he would have been more interested to hear what the Qunari's preference on the matter was. "Does Ketojan speak the trade tongue?" he asked curiously, though he did in fact address himself to the kossith. His lips were sewn, but the bindings seemed somewhat loose, as though he might still talk past them. Perhaps it was more a symbolic or ritual act than one meant to actually prevent him from speaking. It probably had to be, if he ate.

Ketojan made a slight grumbling noise, but otherwise did not move or react to being addressed. Petrice seemed to ignore the majority of Lucien's words, focusing on a particular part. "You... have met with the Arishok?" She shook her head, perhaps due to the unlikelihood of encountering anyone who had spoken with him, considering how few were granted that chance. "Then you know how they would treat those who leave their heathen order. The Arishok would doom this poor creature." She seemed to consider something for a moment. "But perhaps this is advantageous. They must respect you, at least to some degree, if you were allowed to speak with them, the Arishok specifically. Surely they would not attack one whom they were previously civil with, should it come to that. It would only confirm their barbarism."

To say Sophia was torn would be an understatement. After finally wrapping her head around the situation, the gravity of it became extremely clear to her. This situation was only made more dangerous with her involvement, and yet now that she saw this mage... could she really walk away? The revelation that Lucien had dealt with the Qunari seemed insignificant to her at the moment, though she would likely want to ask him about it at some point. Right now, there was a decision to be made. Aurora seemed adamant on Ketojan's freedom, for whatever reasons she may have had. Lucien acted as the voice of reason as always, and his point hit home with her. The last thing she wanted was for this to fall back on her father. She wanted to help him, not undermine him. And yet... she knew what he would do in this situation. He would return the mage to his people without a second thought, appease them, give them what they wanted. Sophia had sought to better understand their culture, as her brother had suggested, but this... that they would do this to their own people sickened her.

"Is this truly something that Chantry resources cannot perform?" she inquired quietly. She needed more information. "The Chantry will soon realize the Qunari presence is more than a test of faith... it is an open challenge," Petrice explained, "But for now, I must act on my own. Can we simply ignore their heresy by allowing such an injustice to continue? The one who allows an evil act to occur is as wicked as the one who performs it, I say." It was exactly what Sophia hadn't wanted to hear, and exactly what she'd expected. This was going against the will of her father, and against the will of Chantry leadership. But the sister's words... the Qunari did not seem to be making urgent attempts to remove themselves from the city, in fact, what they were doing could easily be called militarization. They had already built themselves a fortified position within the Docks, unleashed deserters in the form of bandits upon the city's travelers. They did not negotiate with her father. As much as she hated to admit it, the city would be a significantly less troubled place if they left. And while this act would not make them leave by itself, it was a start. Differences in culture she could understand, but this... brutality, this senseless pain they inflicted on their own, she could not abide by.

"I'll do it," she said, steeling herself. "I cannot leave him to this kind of suffering. You have a plan, I'm assuming?" Petrice nodded. "Yes. The passage here," she gestured to a trap door in the back room, "leads into the warrens of the Undercity, a route that leads beyond the walls of the city. It is dangerous, but I trust in your abilities, Sophia. Thank you for doing the right thing here. I wish you the best of luck."

That left the matter of her companions, and Sophia turned to face them. Aurora she was quite certain would join her, and though Sophia was entirely certain how much help she would be, if the girl wanted to assist, she would not deny her the opportunity. Lucien, however, she could tell was much more apprehensive. She had no desire to drag him into something like this... but she also knew his help would likely prove invaluable. "I'm not sure about any of this," she admitted, "but I can't just walk away."

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Aurora Rose
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Lucien wasn't certain about all of it, but he was damn sure of a few things. First: they were being played by the Chantry (or, he had to specify, by this sister and this Templar) like his friend Rilien played a lute, only far less gracefully and with little subtlety whatsoever. Secondly, he didn't have all the information he would have liked. Particularly egregious seemed to be the lack of any input from the Qunari. Whether they pitied him or were using him, they were still treating him like an object rather than a person (his allies unfortunately included), without any apparent inclination to seek his input, and the knight didn't like it. Third... he was going to be getting himself stuck into the middle of this anyway. Without any idea of what exactly the right thing to do about the kossith mage before them was, there was still something it was clearly right to do, and that was to help Sophia and Aurora. There was no telling what they were about to face, and which if any traps they would be inadvertantly springing, but something unpleasant was about to occur, he had no doubt about that.

The Chevalier sighed, wondering when his rampant idealism had become tinged with such a jaded hue. On second thought, he knew exactly when, and couldn't bring himself to regret it. Some things were just necessary. There were dozens of arguments to be had about the greater good and what to do in the case of ideological disagreement- he doubtless would have been wasting his breath on the intolerant sister, and frankly, right now it seemed counterproductive to voice at all. What faced him was a choice: he could either accompany the two young women and the kossith to whatever trials awaited them, or he could leave now and let them fend for themselves in exactly the same circumstances, one body and one weapon short.

It was hardly a choice.

"I'm hardly surprised. If that is what you want, then I shall come as well," he replied with what seemed to be good humor. His face, which had closed off to an unusual degree during his deliberations, returned to its more common, friendlier cast. "That said, I'd very much like to know what he wants," he continued, glancing over at Ketojan. There was a long moment of silence, during which the Qunari did not respond, and Lucien shook his head slightly. By this point, he was as close to completely ignoring Petrice as he could be while still remaining polite. Her disparaging remarks about the Arishok and the Qunari, he gracefully left unanswered. There wasn't much of use to be said. Lucien didn't share in that disdain, and though he would admit that there was something unsettling about this mage's condition, he did not pretend to be able to judge that which he did not understand. Who was he to call anything wicked? He could only act according to his sense of these things, and that hardly seemed to apply in this situation. The Qunari were alien to him in a way that very little about human society was anymore.

Still quite sure this was not a good idea, he nevertheless proceeded to the back room, past the unfriendly glare of the Templar, and hefted the trap door open, indicating that all three of the others were free to proceed him down into the warrens.

Sophia too was curious as to what exactly the Qunari wanted, but at no point in the conversation had he shown he was even capable of speaking. A low grumble that did not constitute words was all he had offered, and as such, it seemed that they would be left to make their own decision in the matter. Sophia expected that so long as Ketojan possessed free will, he could choose to not follow them into the warrens if he wished. It wasn't like they were going to (or capable of) carrying him to his freedom. Once she had Lucien's agreement to help, which she was certainly grateful for, she moved towards Ketojan, trying for a moment to discern any kind of message written in his eyes. A futile endeavor, indeed.

"Ketojan," she began, trying to make sure she had his attention, "if you would like, you may follow us, and we can lead you safely from the city." There was a brief moment of awkward silence before the Qunari responded with another grating gurgle. Sophia looked back to Aurora and Lucien to see if perhaps either of them had gotten anything out of that, before she shrugged, and made her way to the trap door that Lucien had opened for them. After passing a thank you Lucien's way, she made her way down the ladder.

Her boots sunk slightly into something upon reachng the bottom, and Sophia gave the floor a disapproving look before positioning herself somewhere dryer and focusing on ignoring the smell. Apparently agreeing to follow them, Ketojan was the second one down, the ladder clearly straining under the weight of both his body and his chains. He safely made it down, however, coming to a stop at a distance from Sophia that was close enough for her to feel slightly uncomfortable about it.

As Aurora made her way down as well, Sophia thought to speak up about a concern. "I appreciate the assistance, Aurora," she began, choosing words carefully, "but these warrens can be quite dangerous at times. I just want to make sure you know what you might be getting yourself into." She couldn't help but glance down at the less savory parts of the ground and think of the double meaning of her words. "Also, watch your step coming down."

Aurora ran a hand down the thick arms of the caged Qunari, a mix of pity, sorrow, and a hidden flush of pain and anger comprising her tumltious emotions. "We'll get you out... I promise," she offered as she strode forward towards the hatch-- her hand lingering on the arm of Ketojan until they slipped out of reach. She placed one foot in the hatch before tossing a weak smile Lucien's way. Aurora's voice may have sounded sure, but a battle was raging inside that redhead. Mostly about her preconcieved notions of the Qunari, mostly concerning Amalia and her actions. So enthralled in her own mind that she missed the last step and stumbled into the soft dirt beneath. A little too late for Sophia's careful warning-- even if she had been in the right state of mind to hear it. Though, she did catch the... Tone she had used (intended or imagined), asking if she was sure. As if she was some lost little girl getting in over head. If she had taken the time to think about it, that what she did seem like, descending into the underbelly of Lowtown armed with seemingly nothing more than a little blade strapped to her arm.

Neither of them knew that she could ignite anything dangerous with her mind.

"I'm sure," she said, her voice lined with an edge that wasn't there before. Lowtown tought me how to look after myself. I can handle it," she stated in a matter-of-factly manner.

Lucien waited for the others to precede him down the ladder, then passed a polite half-bow to the Chantry representatives before following, lowering the door carefully after him as he went. If he were rude to everyone he didn't like, he'd probably be quite the uncouth individual, a bit less so now than in the past, though. It was helpful to constantly remind oneself of one's blessings.

He reached the ground in enough time to overhear the exchange between Sophia and Aurora, and avoid the trouble spot on the ground. It was not always helpful to remind oneself of one's surroundings. The air between the two women seemed to thicken, and he shot Ketojan a knowing glance, determined to at least include the Qunari in the nonverbal side of communication. Probably a misappropriated piece of goodwill, but that was only if you believed goodwill could ever be misappropriated. As he suspected the chained mage would not be of great assistance in dispelling the tension, he did his part in hopes that it would be sufficient. "I rather expect that it has," he agreed amicably, "and I have that fact to thank for the presently-uninjured state of my back. No insult was meant, milady; caution rarely goes astray is all." Lucien was fairly certain that this was indeed the truth of it- though he hadn't known Sophia long, he would be incredibly surprised to learn that she'd ever intentionally belittled someone offering her assistance. He smiled genially at all three of his companions, then started forward.

"While I'm not sure about either of you or our friend here, I much prefer fresh air over this dank. Shall we find some?" He started forward with surety in his step, intent on just that. Things were never so simple as he was making them seem, but one grew to expect the complications with time. Some days, he was quite certain he embraced them.

Sophia had indeed only meant to ensure that Aurora wasn't jumping into this blindly. She hadn't meant any offense, and in fact the woman's response had surprised her a bit in its tone. She seemed very confident that she could handle the trouble, though Sophia hadn't seen what exactly she had to defend herself with other than the little knife she'd used in the fight earlier. Still, Sophia had underestimated allies recently, and she was willing to accept that she could make the same mistake again.

"As Lucien says, no insult was meant." With that she followed after him, and the heavy thuds behind her informed her that Ketojan was moving as well. That was a start.

Aurora's gaze was leveled on Sophia for a moment before she sighed, allowing her shoulders to droop signifying that she relented. "I'm sorry. Seeing what they did to this... poor man had put me on edge. It had nothing to do with you," she stated. It didn't mean that she wasn't still wary of the girl, she wasn't planning on outright ignoring Amalia's advice after all.

It was indeed unsettling, and the fact that Sophia was agreeing to this at all spoke to how cruel she thought it. She was defying what her father would do in order to free a mage, one whose intentions and motivations were almost entirely unknown to them. Sophia had never been particularly moved by the plight of mages, and yet here she was. Petrice's words had struck a chord within her. Where the Templars sought to protect the mages from themselves as well as protect the people, these Qunari, from what she could see, only wished for their suffering and enslavement. It was too far, and it was too much for her to simply turn a blind eye. Not in this city.

They carried on in silence from there, following the path that was seemingly laid out for them through the warrens. Presumably this would lead out of the city at some point. It was quiet save for the thumping steps of Ketojan behind them, and their own feet slogging through the Undercity. Sophia had been just about to allow herself to think they'd get out without any trouble when they rounded and corner in came into the view of a group of Undercity denizens who were quite clearly thugs, judging by the way they were openly brandishing weapons and looking belligerent. Sophia made sure to loosen her sword in its sheath.

One of them stepped forward and surveyed the approaching group. "Well, look at this. Undercity's feared by all, and yet there's no shortage of fools who want to test it." Sophia groaned inwardly at this. Did these people really have nothing better to do? In the meantime, the thug leader was narrowing his eyebrows at Ketojan. "What is this thing, collared like a dog lord's bitch?"

Really. Sometimes it was just a little too much to ask for people to really think about things, wasn't it? By this stage of his life, Lucien would have settled for as little as a bit of creativity in the insults that got hurled at him. After you heard "fool" enough times, you began to wonder if you should just take to wearing bells and telling bad jokes. Truly, he knew half the things he didn't weren't exactly genius, but surely the idiocy of walking around down here was mitigated at least a little by the fact that there were four of them, three of whom were armed, two of whom wore moderate-to-heavy armor and two who were considerably taller than anyone else in the room. Who decided to attack a party with a Qunari in it, anyway? He swallowed the question, as well as the resulting determination about who was truly being foolish here, as it was perhaps not the kind of thing he ought rightly to say anyway.

Sophia made sure to be standing in front of her charge, folding her arms over her chest. "This is no concern of yours. I'd ask that you please remove yourself, and allow us to be on our way." He seemed to find that funny, which did not surprise Sophia. "Hah! You some sort of Qunari lovers? Maybe I should get rid of you all and see who'll pay the most for your pet." At that, Ketojan made his first move to acknowledge really anything around him, taking a step forward to come nearly beside Sophia, and growling towards the thugs.

"Uh, I don't think it likes you threatening its master," one said, looking up at the horned mage. "Maybe we let this one pass?" After overcoming her disbelief that one of them had seen reason, Sophia seconded him. "This will go better for all of us if you just step aside." The leader wasn't having any of it, of course. "And let you make a holiday of the last free place in Kirkwall? No, I think I'll cut you up and save the biggest piece for your pet."

He had pulled a knife, and went to stab at her. She'd been ready to grab for his arm when she felt a force blow by her, the air blasting outwards and pushing back, sending the entire group of thugs onto their backs. Ketojan's hands were alight with magical energy, his stance low, almost predatory. The thugs were readying their weapons even as they rose. "By the Void! Kill it! Kill them all!"

Sophia drew her sword. It seemed trouble had found them after all.

"Well, this wasn't exactly the complication I had in mind, but I suppose it will do," he murmured, watching a few of the men climb to their feet, still a bit disoriented from Ketojan's burst of magic. It was interesting; he'd known a few mages in his time, and Rilien knew a great deal of the theory, which he'd divulged to satisfy Lucien's curiosity from time to time, and there was something a bit off about the situation. It seemed less... refined than he'd come to expect of a mage. Then again, he doubted very much the Qunari were giving theirs formal educations, so it could just be that. Sophisticated or not, it was clearly effective, and he'd take it.

"I don't suppose you could do that again, could you?" he asked the collared kossith. "Seems useful." Either way, it was with a weary sort of frown that he reached over his shoulder and grasped the haft of his scythe. He really needed to consider upgrading to one with a metal pole; the wood was already chipped and wearing in several places. The instrument was clearly not intended to be used in the way he was utilizing it, after all. Nevertheless, it swung easily enough into the midsection of the brigand who'd just attempted to gut him, leaving a debilitating but not fatal wound there.

This was a familiar song and dance, and it seemed that no matter how he searched, the steps rarely changed.

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Aurora Rose
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At the first sign of trouble, Aurora slackened her steps and drooped behind the marching warriors. Unlike them, she wasn't covered head to toe in armor, nor did she wield an implement of death as tall as she. No, all she had at her disposal was a hidden blade and the scant little she had learned from Amalia, though strained it was, reflecting on previous circumstances. Though, there was always the ability to dip into her considerable arsenal of magic, but that would prove far from the most favorable approach. She didn't quite feel like stating to the world that she was a mage just right yet. Thus, the shadow games. As Sophia conversed with the belligerents, she had a gut feeling that mere words wouldn't get them far. Such as the state of the underworld. She didn't get a good line of sight on the rogues, since she had positioned herself right behind the large frame of Ketojan.

Then the Qunari took a step forward and a feral sound escaped his sewn lips. Aurora sighed, she knew that it would probably end this way, though not from the direct action of Ketojan himself. The blast of magic was also a surprise, but one she wasn't entirely ungrateful for. At this Ketojan lowered his own stance, like an animal would when it's ready to pounce. That gave her a better view of the battlefield, and most importantly, her first target. One of the rogues had gotten to his feet a little too fast, and had stumbled close to the Qunari and the redhaired girl behind it. Aurora fully intended to capitalize on this opportunity. Channeling Amalia as much as she dared, her short legs pumped, surging her forward toward the back of the Qunari. Ketojan, the mound of muscle that he was, surely wouldn't mind a light frame like Aurora to borrow him as a launching pad for a moment.

A hop brought her first foot to the base of Ketojan's back, the next step to his middle, and third and final to his shoulder. There she launched herself at the dazed rogue-- the fact of seeing a girl pop out of nowhere and launch herself at him surely not helping matters. In midair, she extended her wristblade and as she fell back to the earth, the blade entered the man's neck-- ending him before his back ever met the ground. Using that momentum, Aurora then dismounted the man, rolling forward and into a standing position. Hopefully the spectacle was surprising enough that it drew attention away from actively trying to kill her and into something more akin to "What the hell?"

She quickly let the blade resheathe itself as she backstepped towards the relative safety of her comrades.

Sophia was not pleased with how things had progressed. As she had suspected, open conflict was unavoidable, certainly now that Ketojan had made what the thugs clearly saw as a brazen attack. Lucien had gotten straight to work, as had Aurora, her acrobatic first attack coming as a bit of a surprise to Sophia. It succeeded in catching the thugs off guard as well, and Sophia took the opportunity to slice one across the back of the leg, taking him to his knees, and allowing Sophia an easy hit to the back of his head with her blade pommel, knocking him out. She would not try to force any ideals on Aurora, but she still did not think death necessary here. Not if it could be avoided.

It seemed Ketojan did not share her line of thought, however, which became apparent as Sophia turned to confront her next attacker. She'd been ready for a parry when Ketojan decided once again that she was in need of assistance, this time his hands igniting in magical flame. The fire shot forth from his palms, setting the thug alight and dousing nearby Sophia in the heat. She backed off quickly, a shout of surprise drowned out by the flaming man's screams. It was an unpleasant sight, sound, and smell all at once.

"Restrain yourself, Qunari, we can handle this!" she shouted, but the order went unheard. Sophia once again questioned why she was risking so much to set Ketojan free. The thought would have to wait, as she focused on engaging and disarming the next enemy.

Flashy, but not too bad. Lucien thought with a smile as Aurora launched herself off Ketojan and onto one of the thugs. Of course, she also went right for the throat, and he wondered about that for a moment. She didn't seem to be of Rilien's kind, those who saw no point in leaving an enemy alive that would have killed them, but he'd been wrong about that sort of thing before. The other options were that she was simply angry enough to do it now- quite possible- or that she was trained with that blade well enough to kill but not well enough to refrain from it. Also possible, though perhaps a bit less likely. Whatever the case, he wasn't here to judge, and he paid it no further mind, wading into the mass of thugs like he was out for a casual stroll.

Or at least it would have looked that way until the scythe started swinging every which-way. Spun, passed from arm to arm, contacted with three incoming heads. Never with the deadly bit, because he knew his timing and his intent. One locked eyes with him and disappeared, but this time he was more than ready for that old tirck, and smoothly as you please, the scythe just happened to be passing behind his back when the man appeared to attept to sink a dagger into it. Free of his immediate assailants, Lucien advanced for the back of the ranks, pivoting his entire body and adding force to the nearly ninety-degree angle of the whirling farm implement. Three repetitions, and three more downed thugs. It was quite apparent that they weren't even dealing with professionals here, just a large grouping of people.

Perhaps they'd find a new occupation, when (and in some cases, if) they awoke afterwards. It didn't seem all that likely, but then people like he (and apparently Aurora and Sophia) tended to deal in the unlikely.

Aurora hadn't meant to kill anyone-- at least that was her intention when she first began. That was why the first bandit encroaching on Lucien only got a knife to the back of the knee for his trouble. Though now she had blood, real blood on her blade. Sure, chances were that the rogue would still be doing what he was doing only elsewhere, though still. To kill wasn't her intent. It seemed that her mind was still clouded, despite her earlier words. It wasn't Sophia, no, rather she was a victim as well-- though she made off better than the next one. Visions of Amalia danced in her mind. If Ketojan was an example of how the Qunari treated their mages, then what did she see her as? A beast in need of a cage? Or something else entirely.

Confusion and frustration, pent up and ready to burst. The slaying of a rogue only added to that pressure. Now because of the Qunari, she had blood on her hands. True, it was foul blood, but she did not intend to start the night with bloodshed. It was only by her force of will that she stayed composed and kept the obsceneties from her mouth. Also, it was her will that kept the fade in check. It was mental states such as hers that invited demons into her soul, and unlike the metaphorical demons of common folk, hers were much more dangerous. Such conflict waging inside her head, between composure, outrage, betrayal, calm, anger, it was a small miracle that she didn't just start chucking fireballs. Though that would only add another facet to her issues. No doubt Sophia would take offense to her being a mage.

Though it was with a bit more control that Aurora approached the fray once more. A thug looking to take the seemingly easy prey, his other options being a chevalier swinging a scythe, a woman wielding a large sword, and a Kossith that could crush him with his mind. So obviously chose the little girl with the tiny blade strapped to her wrist. It was his underestimation that did him in. He thrusted with his blade, looking to skewer Aurora, but she spun, and knocked it away with the dragonskin bracer, using the momentum to bring her back inside the thug's reach. Close enough for a bear hug, had he the chance. Fortunately, he didn't have one. She brought her heel up and into the... sensitive area of the man, instantly lurching him forward on his knees. Aurora took a step forward with him and dropped her elbow right on the back of his head, knocking him out cleanly.

Now it was a dance.

Sophia found herself faced with two, but the way they wielded their blades was slow and clumsy, as though they were made of solid lead rather than any steel. She parried a wild thrust from the first, sidestepping away as she did, putting the thug in front between her and the second, removing him from the combat for the moment. Planting her back heel and pushing forward, she struck low and fast, straining his poorly trained guard with an attack that was awkward to block. It let her catch him off balance, his defense opened enough for her to cut a deep gash across his thigh. She raised her guard to receive the first blow from the second attacker, but it never came.

The thug burst into flames, adding yet more screams to the din, although the previous lowlife that had been incinerated has stopped his screaming at this point. Fire burst out with him as the center, pushing Sophia back at step, the flames close enough that they likely would have burned her had she not been wearing armor. With haste she put distance between herself and the burning man, looking about for any further threats. There were none to be had, however, as any thugs that were still capable of fleeing were doing so, turning tail and bolting for the nearest escape. If only they'd done that sooner, no one would have needed to die here.

The area secure for the moment, Sophia cleaned off and sheathed her blade across her back, before turning to Ketojan, whose hands were still alight with magical fire. "They're gone, Ketojan! It's safe now." It took a moment for him to respond, and for a moment Sophia thought he wasn't going to, but at last the Qunari gave a decidedly neutral growl, the fire disappearing from his hands. Glad that he'd relented at least, Sophia sighed and turned away, wiping a growing sheen of sweat from her brow. She'd felt quite enthusiastic about this task not so long ago, but now she wouldn't mind simply getting this done. Ketojan had already helped to smother any sympathy for the mages that may have been taking root within her. His actions reminded her why she believed as she did.

"It can't be far now," she said, taking note of their surroundings. "Hopefully no more of Ketojan's magic will be necessary," she couldn't help but put a slight amount of disdain on the word. The smell of charred flesh was doing little to calm her nerves.

"Well, ideally no more violence would ever be necessary," Lucien half-agreed, straightening and looking about him at the unconscious or dead bodies in various stages of disrepair. "But alas, it seems I wait for the day I become useless in vain, at least for now." His tone was light, with a hint of self-effacing humor, and he dipped his head at Aurora. "You were not wrong about the things Lowtown taught you." It was obvious that there was no further useful information to be had from this encounter, and it seemed that they were best served by simply moving on.

The thugs had been standing in front of (or on, in a few cases), a set of stairs, and the Chevalier shrugged to himself. It was the only visible candidate for 'way out,' so he saw no reason not to take it. Slinging his scythe back over his shoulder, he led the way up, reaching what appeared to be an old, ill-used door with rusted hinges. An attempt to use it the conventional way found Lucien with a handle in his hand, blinking with a slight hint of perplexity at the still-closed portal. Perhaps it was asking a bit much to expect anyone to run maintenance down here, but there was a comment in there about guarding a door that didn't even work, also. Discarding the lump of corroded metal to one side, he pulled the entire thing off its hinges quite on accident when attempting to utilize the hole the handle had left behind, and patiently set it to the side.

Outside, dawn was just breaking, and the door led out onto the Wounded Coast, by the looks of things. He'd been worried about the noise drawing undue attention, apparently needlessly so, as they didn't run into the Qunari for another few hundred yards. There was what appeared to be a large grouping of them, but they were organized in such a way that to him, it was immediately obvious that they were a single military unit. So, what was an entire unit doing out in the middle of nowhere? This was quite far from the Tal-Vashoth base he, Ashton, and Nostariel had dealt with the other day, and anything else worth note, as far as he knew.

Sophia had to admit, the situation going from bad to worse didn't really surprise her. The Qunari warriors before them were at least a dozen in number, well-armed, and clearly more organized than the roving bandits the Tal-Vashoth had been reported to be. These were the Arishok's troops, there was no doubt about it. As soon as they'd caught sight of a Qunari mage among the humans they were locked, their leader drawing them forward cautiously, but with certainty. There was no avoiding them now. This would have to be dealt with, one way or another.

She certainly didn't do anything so foolish as drawing her blade, but she did position herself in front of Ketojan as best she could. He was her charge, after all, and she planned to see him through this, if only to let the Qunari know that such things as the abuse he'd suffered could not be allowed within the territory of what was to be her city. Regardless, this was all really starting to seem like a huge mistake.

"They shouldn't be here," Sophia commented, mostly to herself. But regardless of where they should have been, they were here, and there was little left to do but steel herself and be done with this. "Here goes nothing..."

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Aurora Rose
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Sophia felt not unlike a child, having been caught by her father in the act of a transgression. These Qunari clearly meant business. They were led by a mountain of a Kossith, armored head to toe and equipped with a wide shield and heavy broadsword which the Viscount's daughter was willing to bet weighed simply nothing to him. At his flanks were some ten warriors, armed with halberds that looked to be eight feet long. They were covered by four javelin-throwers, trailing a few feet behind the main group. Their formation and their stance did not immediately appear hostile, but there would be no way for Sophia to apply the word 'friendly' to them without looking ridiculous. They were not to be trifled with. Fortunately, Sophia's father had never been able to rein her in, and she did not plan on letting a unit of Qunari stop her, no matter how dangerous they looked.

"You will hold, basra vashedan," their lead began, holding up a hand to signal that Sophia and her party were to advance no further. It was probably for the best. The ground was a little too open here; given their disadvantage in numbers, it would be easy to become surrounded, and they certainly couldn't let that happen, not against an enemy as skilled as Qunari military. "I am Arvaarad," the Qunari continued, "and I claim possession of Saarebas at your heel."

As with everything else that had happened leading up to this, there was something very wrong. The chances of this unit stumbling upon them out here were slim to none. Sophia knew the Arishok had wanted to scout the coastline, but surely that task had been completed already, relentlessly efficient as they were. "The members of his karataam were killed by Tal-Vashoth," Arvaarad explained, "but their disposal leads only here, to Saarebas and you."

A trail of bodies, leading to this location? This got better and better, didn't it? And they hadn't even reached the part where they discussed why there was a Qunari mage among them. Sophia was trying to wrap her mind around this. For perhaps the first time in the ordeal, she was forced to look at someone of her faith in a different light. She was not stupid. A trail leading here meant that someone obviously wanted the Qunari to find them with the mage. As far as she knew, Petrice and that Templar she'd been with, Varnell, were the only two who even knew of Ketojan's existence.

"Maker..." Sophia said, rubbing her temples momentarily. It had already been a long and trying night, and part of her wanted to think she was just tired and imagining things at this point, but she knew she had the truth of it now. Petrice wanted to stir up resistance against the Qunari in the city. Sophia had thought she meant to do that by defying their stance towards mages, but now it was clear: far more anger would be conjured if the rising leader Sophia Dumar was found murdered by Qunari, in the act of resisting their influence. She'd been made a pawn through her own faith.

That blow hurt in a way similar to the dragon's tail slamming into her. She had been monumentally stupid, and pulled Lucien and Aurora along with her. But as much as she desired to tear herself up over this at the moment, she knew she needed to focus. They could still get out of this, but only if she kept herself together. She met the lead Qunari's gaze, peering through the bars of his facemask as he was.

"We have killed none of your people, Arvaarad. My companions and I traveled from the other direction." Their leader was having none of it. "Yet you are here with Saarebas. The crime is his freedom, his leash held by unknowing basra. We will not allow that danger to continue. Let your own mages doom you--Saarebas will be properly confined."

The crime is his freedom.

It was that that struck the chord within Aurora the hardest. She took up a postion directly in front of Ketojan and stood the full amount of her dimunitive height, her jaw set, and her chest stuck out. Despite these warriors being nearly twice her height and thrice her width, she showed no fear. Their ignorant words had made the entire ordeal personal for the redheaded apostate. All of their words only served to further stoke the flames inside her. She had to remind herself not to become too aggravated, yet open the gates for a possession, but even still with that piece of information firmly lodged inside her head, it was difficult. They spoke without respect, they spoke down to them. It had already been a tulmultious night for Aurora, and these men were not helping the process in the least bit.

Not only that, but it was clear that they were manipulated. That the Qunari were meant to find them with Ketojan. All set up by the Sister Petrice most likely. Playing the damsel to lure in unsuspecting saps for her own goals. Another flare of anger, and another attempt to snuff it out before it grew too large for her to manage. Amalia might have said that her anger was just an illusion, but how much could she trust the Qunari now that she realized how they treated their own mages. Was Ketojan's chains an illusion? How about the thread that sewed snaked across his lips? An illusion? Because all of these illusions were beginning to piss her off. She calmed herself to speak, so that her own words wouldn't bely the injustice she felt in her heart.

"He is not a beast to be chained up or leashed, he is a person," She said with a bit of indignation. "It is only by unfortunate chance of his blood that his is viewed as a danger. Because of what he might become. Because of what all mages might become. It is not the chains that keep mages in check. They are stronger than that, they have to be because the price of being weak is too steep. No, it's not your chains, it's their hearts that keep them from what they might become.. It's not the mages who doom us, but it's you who doom them. You chain them merely in fear," she said, the last word hissing off of her tongue.

"Freedom is nobody's crime. It's their right," she finished, staring hard at the one call Arvaarad. It was her of all people who understood the value of freedom. She escaped a life in a tower, she left her only home, she fled across Thedas for that single elusive notion. She was not a creature to be chained, she was a person with a family, and hopes, and dreams, all of which were cut by a single drop of magic in her blood. By those who feared what she might become if she was too weak to resist the call of the fade. Those who cage people like her on the mere chance of their change. It was that that gave her the strength to resist the fade, her drive of freedom staved off what demons lurked just beyond veil. She would not fall, because she couldn't afford to. She saw a lot of herself in Ketojan, and perhaps that's why she was fighting so hard for the Qunari-- for the mage.

Under his helmet, Arvaarad ground his teeth together at the little human girl in frustration. Stepping away from his unit, he took a few paces towards Ketojan. "You speak for Saarebas, but you know nothing." He raised his voice. "Saarebas! Show that your will remains bound to the Qun." Immediately and without hesitation, Ketojan went to a knee, a murmured growl through his sewn lips acting as acknowledgement. The Qunari leader looked back to Aurora. "He has only followed you because he wants to be led. He is allowed no other purpose. The power that he has, that all Saarebas have, draws from chaos and demons. They can never be in control. We leash Saarebas because they are dangerous and contagious. Not even your Templars fully grasp that threat." He looked down towards Ketojan. "But it is not my role to enlighten bas."

If Lucien were a different kind of man, he would have been informing anyone who would listen that he'd known this was going to happen. Well, not this, specifically, but something caused by Petrice and detrimental to the rest of them. Perhaps fortunately, he wasn't the sort to get gleeful about this situation at all. Actually, it was making him angry. Quietly so, but enough to prevent him from intervening on the little melodrama that was playing out in front of them. It occurred to him distantly that this would make an excellent scene in a play of some kind, perhaps one wherein Aurora was the protagonist. He was also beginning to suspect that her passionate defense of mages was personal, because it was a very rare person indeed willing to stick their neck out for such an unpopular lot of people, especially to a group of Qunari. He wasn't sure if she was brave or just stupid, and he of all people knew that sometimes there was precious little difference.

But mostly, he was just angry. Not at the Qunari, of course; they were being led along by the nose just as surely as he and the others had been. He should have expected that helping the Chantry would lead him to a situation like this, and really, maybe that made it at least somewhat his own fault, which was worse. Still, there was a problem here yet to be solved, and if the young woman's tongue did not condemn them all, there was a way to repair the damage yet. When he spoke, his tone was understanding, but also clearly firm. "You are correct, Aurora; mages and Qunari are all people. It is for this very reason that we must allow Ketojan the freedom of his choice." He gestured to the kneeing Saarebas, a thoughtful frown lining his face.

"Perhaps it is not a choice that we may easily understand, but if ever he were free to make it, he is now, when the chance of resistance is right in front of him. That he still chooses as he does must be meaningful, and we would be taking away his freedom just as surely as the Templars if we were to try and tell him that he cannot make it. Our part in this is done; we would do best to leave without confrontation. It seems all of us have been manipulated; it would be prudent to reserve our anger for those who have earned it." Forcing a free choice was paradoxical, and though admittedly Lucien could not imagine choosing the life a Qunari mage led, he did understand something of voluntary imprisonment. Too much freedom-- the anarchistic tendency to do whatever pleased oneself in the moment-- was just as frightening a prospect as not enough. As with so many things, he found the best choice to be moderation, but not everyone was like that.

"Is it truly his choice? Or is it a choice made for him," Aurora responded, not looking back to Lucien. She was blinded by both her zeal and her heart, these ignorant fools had went too far. No longer had Ketojan have anything to do with it, Aurora had become selfish and made this issue about herself, even if the others had not yet understood. Their words struck too deep for her to simply brush them off and walk away from the one called Arvaarad. So she was dangerous? Contagious? The blessing and the curse that she was born with now made her a leper? If he was Saarebas, then so was she. The anger in her heart caused her to chuckle, her shoulders drooping a bit. Her mouth was a tightlipped thing, etched and lined with a quiet rage.

"I know nothing. Is that what you said? You chain him because he can never be in control. Because mages can never truly be in control. You said that I know nothing, yet I know much more about his struggle than you can ever imagine. Allow me to enlighten you, bas," she uttered, turning the word around on him. She had gone too far, and there was no turning back. Though could she say that she truly wanted to turn back? She was tired of hiding who she was, tired of being ashamed of what she was. She threw caution to the wind and outstretched her hands, dipping into the fade for a single display. As the veil rippled aroud her, an intense prismatic magical light danced around her hands, "I am Saarebas. Will you leash me as well? I dare you to try."

The temptation to allow the fade to just take over was there, ever present, tugging at her. Whispering promises in her ear. Showing this Qunari and his ilk the true power of an unleashed mage. To just give herself over to the veil a let it all be over. It'd be so simple to just let go.

Sophia had been about to second Lucien's stance. Ketojan's choice to remain under the Qun was clear; their presence here was now completely pointless. They had sought to release him from his people, apparently against his wishes, and they had been led into an ambush of sorts set up by a Chantry sister. And now Aurora was a mage as well. Sophia found herself wondering how she hadn't seen this coming. Her lack of any hesitance in jumping to defend the mage, fighting for his freedom... she was an apostate, either escaped from a Circle or never having been to one, dodging the Templars all her life. Her anger had been stirred hot by this encounter, and indeed she was starting to seem much more dangerous, drawing her magic about her, letting emotions take control.

She would have been more concerned with the apostate's situation if the Qunari had not been present. As it was, her outburst had set them off, and now any chance of avoiding conflict was gone. Arvaarad turned to his warriors, enraged at the blatant display of magic in front of his face. "Vashedan! Nehraa sataa karasaam!" He then turned back towards Sophia, Lucien, and Aurora. "You spewed your words at me, like a demon trying to poison my control! Like this mage, the Qun requires your death!" He pulled out some sort of electrical rod and activated it, enveloping Ketojan in a kind of restraining field. It was obviously painful, as he tensed and fell to the ground where he kneeled, growling in discomfort. That done, Arvaarad drew sword and shield and led his men into their attack.

Sophia had been about to try pulling Aurora back away from the frontline Qunari warriors, but she wasn't given the time, forced to dodge a downward strike from a halberd before she'd even drawn her blade. The poleaxe slammed into the sand at her feet, and she kicked downward hard, nearly snapping the shaft with her boot. Backstepping, she drew her sword in a smooth motion, falling in to stand her ground by Lucien's side. Outnumbered as they were by the Qunari, they would need to work together closely to survive. As much as she was loathe to admit it, drawing attention away from the apostate so that she could use her magic to greater effect was probably their best bet.

He should have knocked her out. That much was quite obvious by now. Rendering Aurora unconscious, while not the most tasteful thing he'd ever done, would surely have prevented the situation from progressing this far. Now, it was either to be an entire troop of dead Qunari, or three dead humans, one of them extremely important to Kirkwall's political and social climate. Ketojan had chosen to die, and he had no doubt that the Saarebas would stick to that choice. It was unlikely that many people would mourn a deceased mercenary or apostate, but a noble was another matter entirely, and because of the young woman's foolish actions, they'd now sprung exactly the trap the Chantry sister had set for them. The Orlesian set his feet as well as he could in the sand and loose turf of the area, drawing his scythe in front of him.

"You know," he mentioned offhandedly to Sophia beside him, "I do this for a living, but things are seldom this exciting when you're not around. I wonder why that is?" There was no point in stewing in his anger or frustration; those feelings only made it harder to see things clearly. He didn't deny that he was still quite upset at Sister Petrice for setting them up like this, and that was something he would put to use later. But none of these people were she, and none of them deserved to feel the effects of his ire. This was business, grim as that thought may be. A quick assessment of the situation showed that things would probably go best if he distracted as many of the Qunari as possible, letting Sophia back him up and pick them off from the sides with her superior maneuverability and lighter weapon, while Aurora maintained distance and shot them down with magic.

He could do that. Exhaling, Lucien bent at the knees and lowered his center of gravity somewhat, assuming a defensive posture that left one very obvious hole in his guard, around his left side. With a beckoning gesture, he taunted the Qunari forward, and for once he was relieved that these were true enough warriors not to simply ignore the large target in favor of one that appeared easier. The first to rush him swung for the opening, only to find that it wasn't there anymore. Lucien adjusted his grip and brought the haft of the scythe up to block the incoming axehead, meeting the pole of that weapon just below the metal bit so as not to break his own. The contact reverberated through all four arms involved, but the Chevalier had no intention of turning it into a contest of strength. He jammed one heel into the back of the Qunari's leg, causing the fellow to stumble, then stepped back, locking the blade of the scythe with the axehead and hauling, dragging the off-balance opponent to the side, and right into Sophia's range. He'd be a much eaiser target stumbling about in such a fashion, but it would likely only last a few seconds.

Disengaging that one, he was a bit too late to block the next incoming hit and took a hammer-blow to the abdomen, the breath rushing from his lungs. Grimacing, Lucien forced himself to inhale, ignoring the black spots in his vision for the moment and striking not at what he saw, but where he knew someone would have had to be to manage a hit like that. Even the most heavily-armored of the Qunari had obvious weak points where flesh was exposed, and the tip of the scythe caught on one of these, dragging vertically down the man's arm, severing the artery there and dropping him onto the sand.

Sophia had actually smiled at Lucien's comment. She did have a remarkable ability for getting herself into trouble, didn't she? Bandits, dragons and now Qunari had all attacked her recently. It was a shame that trying to help the city so often ended in violence. She would have replied, but the Qunari charging her had to take priority. In stark contrast to the bandits she'd been dealing with recently, these Qunari took their opponents head on, fearing nothing, looking only to assert their superior strength over their enemies. They struck for Sophia and Lucien first rather than only seeking the one with the least armor and the greatest appearance of vulnerability. That was commendable, she supposed.

The Qunari thrust high with poleaxe, but Sophia reacted quickly, swatting the weapon aside with Vesenia even as she pushed forward herself, throwing an elbow up into his jaw. He recoiled, and she spun quickly, slicing across the abdomen and cutting deep, coloring the sand beneath them a dark red. It was then she caught sight of the stumbling warrior Lucien had sent her way. Not one to waste the opportunity, she surged forward, taking her sword in both hands and thrusting the point through the Qunari's midsection.

A melee fighter backing off from her was all the warning she received that a javelin thrower had a shot lined up, but it was all she needed. After yanking her sword free from the Qunari's body, she maneuvered him between her and the ranged attacker. No sooner had she done so than a javelin thrummed into and through the deceased fighter, its velocity slowed enough that Sophia's armor halted it entirely. The speed at which they could hurl those weapons was remarkable, and more than a little frightening.

As she discarded the body, a halberd-armed Qunari attacked from her left. Preemptively she went to block a high or mid ranged attack, but he instead swept low, and the axehead bit through the leather of her boot and into her calf. He pushed through, taking Sophia's base out from under her and planting her hard upon her back amidst a splash of sand. His next blow came down with heavy force, and Sophia had to quickly throw her sword in front of her to deflect it. Her single attempt to push away was cut short as he rained further blows upon her, and for the moment all she could do was defend herself, thankful Lucien had drawn as much attention as he had.

Though the heaviest fight did center on Sophia and Lucien, Aurora didn't escape the ire of the Qunari. Of course she didn't, she was the entire reason they were fighting after all. Her mouth did manage to put her right up front as well, though she bought herself some time to prepare by causing the lights in her hand to intensify, stunning a couple of Qunari. It wasn't go to last any time, though it did allow her enough to erect an armor of rock around herself. Just in time, as a wildly swung sword dug deep into her shoulder. It'd bruise, but the stone ensured that she'd at least keep the arm. Instead of just taking the blow like the warriors she was with would, she shifted her weight and slipped out of the blow before it completely crushed her shoulder. She may have been angry with the Qunari at the moment, but that didn't mean she'd throw away all she'd learned from watching Amalia.

She spun away from the blade and issued a back kick, knocking back the stumbling Qunari and pushing herself forward and away. The time she had earned from her lightshow was over, and their enemies were regaining their vision. Though the first thing they saw wasn't the back of the mage's head as she fled, but her hands raised to the sky as she called to something. Brusque words were tossed about, ones Aurora guessed meant "demon" or something of the like. The mere thought of that only irritated her further. The thought that she'd succumb to demons like she was some weak willed whelp was ridiculous. The whispers might have been there, but that didn't mean she'd listen. They were false promises, honeyed words, illusions, nothing more.

A clap a thunder revealed what she had been really doing. A streak of lightning came down from a cloudless sky, dropping the fight into all out chaos and confusion. These soldiers may have been disciplined, but the forces of nature had a habit of crushing even the hardest stone beneath its might. Speaking of stone, the Qunari who had lash out blindly with his blade received a heavy fist of stone to the chest, throwing him backward into his fellows. Feeling as if she'd drawn enough attention to herself, she turned and tried to get away from the frontlines. The lightning would help cover her retreat as she made a beeline to a position behind Lucien and Sophia.

She could only imagine how irritated they were.

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Aurora Rose
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It was with a solid thud that the scythe-blade buried itself square into the back of the Qunari assailing Sophia, sinking in a good five inches and doubtless severing the spinal cord. Lucien did not let the man simply drop on top of his friend, however, as that would be counterproductive and frankly rude. Instead, he used his foot to push the now-dead warrior off the blade and to the side, where he fell still. The move had cost him time, but it was quite worth it to have Sophia back up and in the fray. Unfortunately, his problems always began when he tried to do too many things at once, and the fact that the majority of enemy attention was on him came back to hurt him in a rather impressive sort of way.

Namely, he was bull-rushed by the Arvaarad. A more apt idiom could not have existed for it, either, as the repositioning necessary to help his ally had cost him his more-or-less solid entrenchment in the ground, and so when he was charged, he simply couldn't retain his feet, and hit the ground hard on his side, which would perhaps have crushed his left arm save that he was wearing so much armor. It would certainly bruise heavily, though, and the Qunari was not going to pass up the opportunity to press his advantage, swinging his sword for the Chevalier's neck. It would have hit its mark, had Lucien not displayed a surprising amount of dexterity for a person so large and rolled out of the way, ignoring the disomfort this produced in his arm. Unfortunately, this pinned his scythe underneath him, meaning that it was not immediately accessible.

Sensing the advantage and seeking to neutralize it, the mage-handler attempted instead to first pin him in place, using the kiteshield he carried as extra leverage. Knowing he'd be dead if that was successful, Lucien brought both knees up to block, successfully planting his feet against the incoming slab of metal. He'd never been more glad that Ser Liliane had been adamant that he learn how to "fight like a girl" which as it turned out had emphasized flexibility and mobility, as well as the building of mucle in the abdomen and legs as well as the chest and arms. It was probably the only reason he was able to reverse the Qunari's momentum, shoving him backwards and allowing the knight to regain his feet and his hold on his scythe.

Both were back on their feet now, and Lucien fended off an incoming assault from two more Qunari, dropping the first with a threshing swing to the throat and the second with the natural follow-up pommel strike before he was able to face Arvaarad properly. It struck him again that this whole thing was largely needless, but he could think of no way to stop it now that it had begun. Still, there was some small consolation he might be able to offer. "If I survive this and you do not, your Arishok will still know what transpired," he swore solemnly. The Viscount and the Revered Mother should know as well, of course, but he had little doubt Sophia would take care of that. Her word would be better than his in those situations anyway, especially with the Chantry. The Viscount might well believe him, but he doubted very much that a largely areligious mercenary would be counted over a dedicated sister of the Faith. It was only fair that everyone with a stake should know about this, though, and that included the Arishok.

He wasted no more breath on words, however, and when next the Qunari charged, he was ready, meeting it with forward momentum of his own. The enemy's sword was met with steel, but the shield he simply let strike him-- he was still far enough away that it barely clipped him anyway, and he only moved in closer when it was already pressed against his abdomen, effectively closing the distance and preventing either of them from getting much leverage. Since both of Arvaarad's hands were occupied, this passed the advantage to Lucien, who freed one of his own from its grip on the polearm and used it to clock the Qunari on the jaw. The blow carried the full weight of his shoulder and back behind it, and the pop it produced indicated that the mandible had been dislocated at the very least. It was enough to render his foe disoriented, and the next two strikes were quick, but efficient, and the Qunari was no more.

There was one downside to the mountains of muscle that the Qunari possessed, and that was loss of agility. They still possessed speed, true, but it was a brutish, raw speed. No control, only what trained discipline had instilled in them. And though these were true soldiers, Aurora was a mage. Her discipline, her training, all of which she possessed was learned in order to survive, to make sure she didn't fall to the allure of a demon. Martial prowess was good and all, but the strength of the mind was her trump. She weaved between the two warriors Sophia and Lucien, careful to avoid getting in the way of the battles they fought, while still doing damage of her own. Mostly layers of frosting cold, stonefists, couple of lightning bolts, anything she could do to be a general pain in the ass. A current theme apparently.

Alas, her skirting around could only last for so long, and it wasn't long before she was cornered by a Kossith. He had managed to back her up against the wall where they had exited the ratways beneath Kirkwall. Her hands felt the rough rock behind her, unyielding. The warrior towered over her own frame, but even so, the Kossith seemed wary. When one's society labels unattended mages as demonic hosts, it made sense, though the sight was no less strange. The situation was less than ideal for Aurora, though she'd make do. She always did.

First, she grinned darkly and taunted, "What? Afraid of me? You should be." The taunt had the desired effect, throwing the Qunari into a rage. Disciplined or not, the idea of a giant being afraid of little mouse was ridiculous. The giant was about to teach the mouse her place. The Qunari charged with his great two-handed sword, looking to rip the mage in half. Had he been able to get to her. As the distance between the two closed, Aurora swung both hands around and together, clapping. The clap was loud and thunderous, clearly not only from the force of her small hands. The clap issued a lightning bolt from her hands, arcing forward and striking the Qunari cleanly in the chest. His charge was immediately halted as the lightning ran it's course through his body, but the lightning wasn't the only danger.

Running behind the lightning, Aurora sprinted, and seconds after the bolt struck so did she. Still crackling with what little electricity remained, the hidden blade shot from her wrist and plunged into where the Qunari's heart was, effectively ending the warrior. She pulled her blade back, a thin line of blood trailing behind it, and the Qunari falling shortly behind. Though, she wasn't quite done yet. She fired off a petrifying shot at the next Kossith in Sophia's range, hoping the gesture of goodwill would do... something to smooth things over once they survived this.

Sophia had scrambled back to her feet after Lucien had put a halt to the blows raining down upon her. She felt a pang of frustration as he was slammed into by the mage handler Qunari, but there was no time for anything else, as her attention was immediately redirected to the remaining Qunari, bearing down on her and Aurora now that Lucien was otherwise occupied. They no doubt also wished to remove themselves from the electrical storm the apostate had conjured, and charging forward was the best way to do that.

Her left leg protested upon receiving her weight, but Sophia was forced to simply ignore it. Far more pain would follow if she compensated for it. In a smooth motion she redirected the thrust of a spear armed Qunari, planting her right foot and spinning, gathering momentum with her blade and she rounded, finishing the circle with a heavy slice across the chest, sending the Qunari spinning to the ground amidst a spray of blood. Two others fell in quick succession to her rapid and precise strikes, their brute force not enough to make up for her skill.

It took her to the three remaining javelin throwers, free to throw at will now that the majority of their close quarters brethren had fallen. She reached the first as he was extending his arm back to throw, plunging her sword into him with her weight behind her, plowing him on his back. As she withdrew the blade the second threw, and Sophia was just able to alter the position of her body, the spearhead skimming her right shoulder guard, the rush of wind and force past her face heightening her adrenaline further. She darted forward, slicing precisely into the throat, before taking another strong step and ramming her shoulder into him to flatten him to the ground.

The third and final one was now just on her left, arm back and ready to throw, at a distance where missing and dodging would not be possible. Her muscles instinctively tightened in preparation for the hit, but it never came, as the Qunari was suddenly and completely turned to stone before her, the work of Aurora. Not one to waste the opportunity, she struck forward with the point of her sword into his chest, the brittle structure crumbling to pieces.

She drew herself up to a halt, breathing heavily from the fight. The last Qunari had fallen, leaving Ketojan as the only remaining Kossith who still drew breath. He remained down, still entrapped by the device Arvaarad had held. As thoughts of combat left her mind, seemingly hundreds of others replaced them. Is everyone okay? I need to apologize. To Lucien, to the Arishok, to my father. What should I do about the apostate? What about Ketojan? What about Petrice? It was somewhat overwhelming, and so she settled for starting on the most pressing issue.

"Is everyone alright?" she supposed she had to include herself in that, glancing down at her now throbbing left calf, which had received a deep gash from a poleaxe, and was steadily dripping blood down to the sand. That would need to be looked at.

Lucien rolled his shoulders, testing himself for any severe injuries. He had a tendency not to notice those, sometimes, during the fights themselves, but such things had a nasty habit of sneaking up on him afterwards. His arm was still sore, but it wasn't broken, which meant it wasn't a problem as far as he was concerned. "Yes, thank you. I won't say it's all in a day's work, but... some days do end up like this from time to time." He cracked a grin, which faltered slightly upon noting that the sand underneath Sophia was red. "I could ask you the same, it seems." He glanced in Aurora's direction, but the little mage seemed to still be on her feet, and moving with purpose.

"I'll be fine. Saved the other half of this," Sophia said, retrieving the healing potion, half of which still remained. She had merely wished to see if anyone required it more than she, but she was glad neither of them were very injured, and downed the remainder of the potion herself, exhaling with some relief when the throbbing eased off in her calf, and the bleeding quite nearly halted altogether. A small price to pay for getting out of that situation, she thought.

Aurora thought it best to not answer Sophia right away, and instead see what she could do for Ketojan. After the skin of stone around her melted away, she dusted herself of and began looking for the... thing that Arvaarad has used to control. After moments of picking about the battlefield the instrument was found dropped edgewise in the sand where Arvaarad had stood when she unveiled her little show. She picked it up and looked at it, verifying that it was, indeed, some type of control rod. Other than that, she knew nothing. Her gaze flickered between the rod and Ketojan, finally she shrugged, ascertaining the best course of action. She threw onto the ground and stomped on it, shattering it to pieces. Much like the rod, apparently the control it had over Ketojan shattered as well, as he rose to his full height once again.

Aurora made her way to the Kossith and quickly looked him over, looking for any damage that may have been done in the chaos in the fray. Satisfied that he was uninjured, she asked, "Are you well?" though she didn't really expect any answer aside from the grunts he made thus far.

The Qunari mage straightened to his impressive full height, towering over Aurora. He seemed to test out his limbs, shaking his arms somewhat, rolling his head slightly. "I am... unbound. Odd... wrong... but you all deserve honor." Clearly, he was now capable of speaking, a low, grating voice that seemed as though it was certainly not overused. He raised his voice somewhat to ensure that all three present heard him. "You three are now Basvaarad, worthy of following. I thank your intent, even if it was... wrong." He turned and took a few steps away from Aurora, walking towards the coastline. "I know the will of Arvaarad. I must return as demanded. It is the wisdom... of the Qun."

At that, the Orlesian mercenary crossed his arms over his chest and tilted his head to one side. That was devotion indeed. The Qunari lived and died by the word of their Qun, and there was something admirable in that. If his devotion to his own chosen creed could one day match that certainty... well, he wasn't sure if it would be good or bad for him practically, but he couldn't help but think it was something to strive for anyway. "I understand, I think. It's your choice, as it always has been. As long as you make it because you want to, then you'll find no objection from me." He hesitated, just slightly, but then went ahead and offered. "Forgive me, but I do not know what your customs demand here. Will you be in need of... assistance in this matter?" He wasn't sure what the fact that he was even making the offer said about him, but it seemed like some small way to compensate for the enormous mistake they'd all just been forced to make, and he was more than willing to put aside his personal discomfort with the notion.

"My thanks for the offer," Ketojan said to Lucien. "But that will not be necessary." He seemed grateful, if not a little surprised, that Lucien was able to express understanding of his intentions, no doubt only reinforcing his decision to name him Basvaarad. Sophia was still unsure what to think, but she was quite certain at this point that she was done trying to make decisions for Ketojan. If this was the path he wanted to walk, she would hinder him no longer. Despite her efforts to remain in the present, her mind was already slipping to what she wanted to say to the Arishok, to her father, and to Petrice. There were so many things that needed to be said about this.

"Are... You sure?" Aurora asked, having followed Ketojan at a close clip to the coastline. "The Qun would demand your death just for being what you were born as..." Aurora said, clearly unhappy with the situation. Though, she knew the Qunari, she knew once their mind were made up, nearly nothing could be done to change it. Admirable, but so frustrating. She looked to Lucien for moment before shrugging. "I can not change your mind. You are free to do as you choose. It is your choice now, and only yours. As it should be," she said sadly, taking a couple of steps forward and placing a hand on the Qunari's arm. She wanted to say something to him, she wanted her last words to the mage to mean something. Nothing of her own came, only something she had heard. It was better than nothing she figured.

"There are many paths Ketojan. Choose yours," she said, and then stepped away.

The Qunari mage regarded the human one for a moment, studying her before he spoke. "I have chosen the Qun. It is the only choice. Asit tal-eb. It is to be." He exhaled, something that could have been construed as a sigh, but not obviously one. "I was outside my karataam. I may be corrupted. I cannot know. How I return is my choice." He then took slow steps towards Aurora even as she had backed away, cautiously taking hold of her hand and placing a pendant on her palm, closing her fingers around it. "Take this... secret thing, Basvaarad. Remember this day." Ketojan then returned to the previous distance between them, turned towards the coast, and summoned fire around the entirety of his body.

That was more than enough to yank Sophia back to the present. He did not cry out, or show any sign of pain at all, simply sinking to his knees, his forehead slumping over to rest against the edges of his collar. And then he was still. "Andraste's blood..." she whispered to herself. She wondered how much, if any, of this her brother had seen in his decision to fully support the Qunari in the city. Perhaps others could, but Sophia was certain it would be a long time yet before she could wrap her head around the philosophies of the Qunari. If ever.

"This was all a terrible mistake," she admitted, putting hands on her hips and surveying the carnage they'd wrought upon the sand of the coast here. "I need to return to Kirkwall. I will deliver news of this to the Arishok myself. It may help to lessen the damage I've already done." But there was still another matter that needed attention... if only she had the time. She could not simply turn a blind eye to an apostate hiding from the Templars. Perhaps others could, but not her. But given the circumstances...

"Aurora... I would ask that you return to the Circle, but I feel I already know your answer to that request. In light of the circumstances, I will allow this to stand, and I will not give word of your presence to the Order. Just... perhaps it would be best if we did not see each other again. I cannot force myself to look the other way in the matter of an apostate."

"Don't pretend as if you are doing me any favors," Aurora said. Now was not the best of times to mention the Circle to the apostate, and considering recent events, it was a miracle the rebuttal wasn't more caustic. "In a matter of fact, don't pretend that your Order and it's Chantry are paragons either. If it weren't for them, this entire mess wouldn't even had happened," she hissed out, clutching the amulet that Ketojan had given her. It was only a matter of time before this confrontation would begin, but before Ketojan's bones were cold? She was not in the mood for it, and it was tasteless to start a fight there. She instead turned to Lucien, deciding to start the "not-seeing" part between Sophia and herself right then.

"In any case. I have... Other issues to attend to. Besides, my appearance in front of the Arishok isn't perhaps the best thing right now..."

Well, at least it looked like he wouldn't have to do too much moderating here, though he did have to actively exert effort not to heave a sigh. Still, if this was the worst of it, he supposed he should consider himself rather lucky. It was obvious from the fact that he alone was being addressed that Aurora was presenting a particularly chilly version of the cold shoulder to Sophia at the moment, but patiently tolerating it was probably the best thing he could do at present. "There is... wisdom in that sentiment," he replied thoughtfully. This had been one Karataam. He would not care to see the young woman's temper repeated in the presence of the entire army. Actually, he was quite certain it was not the best situation for Sophia to be wandering into by herself either, given the stuation with Seamus and her own obvious loyalty to the Chantry. If his word to the Arvaarad had not been enough, that alone would have made up his mind.

"If it is your intention to see the Arishok, Sophia, I would request permission to accompany you. I gave my word to one of his men, after all, and I would be an ill sort indeed if I did not keep it. I have... spoken with the Arishok before, though I cannot promise one way or another whether that will help or hinder you now." All he could truly say was that he had honestly tried to do right by the Qunari, and always would. Whether they would in the end turn out to be allies, enemies, or neither was irrelevant. They deserved that much consideration all the same. "I'm sure it has already occurred to you, but it seems prudent to inform the Viscount and the Revered Mother as well." Case in point: he was not at all fond of the Chantry, but they, too, ought to be aware of what the three of them had so inadvertantly stumbled across.

Sophia would have accepted even if she hadn't heard of his promise to one of the Qunari. She understood that walking into their compound on the docks alone after having taken down one of their patrols was not the safest plan. "I don't think you could be an ill sort if you tried, Lucien. And of course, my father and the Revered Mother will be the next to know." She gave a respectful nod to the apostate. "Farewell, Aurora." She was certainly not going to respond to her attack on the Templar Order or the Chantry, not here. It was probably best for everyone if they parted ways before this could go any further. To that end, she led the way away from the site of the battle. The sooner she could be back in Kirkwall, the better.

"You give me too much credit," the knight replied modestly, but he did not linger over the point. Whatever else might be the case, Aurora had proven herself quite capable and earned his regard, so he also bid her farewell, smiling genuinely and inclining himself at the torso. "Until we meet again, my friend. Kirkwall is ever smaller than I expect it to be, after all."

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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Once they'd managed to discern where they were, Lucien and Sophia were easily able to follow the Wounded Coast back overland to Kirkwall. The trip was mercifully free of bandits, or perhaps they simply thought better of attacking two well-armed strangers with such purpose in their steps; it was impossible to know for sure. Gradually, the loose sand underfoot gave way to more solid terrain, and this to the dirt and cobblestone roads which led back to the docks, conveniently their destination anyway. The natural salt tang of the ocean was here overpowered by the smell of fish, mostly, and occasionally the odor of industry, carried only rarely from the foundry district in lowtown. The Qunari compound was situated back from the shoreline, in what was likely once a large cluster of warehouses. As usual, the wooden gate was closed, manned by a single guard, his face and chest painted in red patterns that seemed based on triangles, mostly. He wondered if there was some significance to that. He remembered that the Tal-Vashoth had been without it.

"Your pardon," Lucien addressed the guard, deciding that directness was most likely to serve well here. "We are here to request audience with the Arishok. We have information regarding one of your Karataam which we believe will be of interest to him." That was about as succinctly as he could put it without either stating flat out what they knew or being too vague, something he doubted would be appreciated by a culture like theirs. Hopefully, it would be enough to get them a meeting.

The gate guard appeared to consider this for a moment, then nodded tersely and disappeared inside, leaving them to wait unaccompanied. Within a few minutes, he returned, gesturing that the two were to proceed into the compound. They were met there by a different kossith, this one simply leading them to where the Arishok sat, imposing as ever, on what was probably as close to a throne as the Qunari ever bothered with. It was raised from the floor on which they stood, at any rate. Still unsure about the protocol regarding bowing, he chose to be cautious and do so anyway. It wasn't as though doing so would damage anything, least of all his scant remaining pride. "Arishok." Lucien paused a moment. How exactly did one go about conveying a story like this, anyway? Oh, by the way, we killed a troop of your men because we were tricked into escorting one of your mages away from the city and our own mage lost her temper.

Well... the truth was best, of course, but even knowing that, it was hard to know where to start. Maybe with the part that seemed most directly relevant. "We are here to inform you that, due to a deception leveled against they and ourselves, one of your karataam is dead." Maybe he should stop there for now. From the limited previous experience he'd had, the Arishok seemed to have only sparse patience, but he wouldn't simply fly off the handle at that pronouncement. It was probably best to let him decide what the relevant questions were and then answer them as honestly and completely as possible.

The Arishok leaned forward in his seat, studying the two visitors to his compound. From the recognition in his eyes, he clearly remembered Lucien. Perhaps he had made an impression, or perhaps he was simply difficult to forget so easily. "The latest in a series of incidents," he said, not seeming particularly surprised. Taken aback may have been a better term for it. "I thought nothing could threaten Arvaarad. You have proven otherwise."

It wasn't the reaction Sophia had been expecting, but at this point, perhaps she should have been expecting to be surprised by Qunari. Greatest of her surprise was that he already knew of what they'd done, and that he was not immediately demanding their heads to be placed upon the ends of spears. Her plan for getting out of here alive had been to try and impress the Qunari leader with complete honesty, expressing her sincere regret over their deaths, explaining the misunderstanding, her intentions to ensure that this never happened again... but these thoughts quickly fled from her mind. "You aren't... angry?" she regretted the question as soon as she asked it, but it was all she could think to say.

"A mage is dead," he stated flatly, speaking slightly quicker. "That is what matters. The rest... impressive. But do not repeat it." Sophia had impressed the Arishok by killing his men? Although, it had been Lucien who had taken on Arvaarad and won. It wasn't clear, but perhaps the Arishok spoke more to him than her. She wasn't sure she particularly liked the idea of him judging her based on simply how powerful of enemies she had slain. Which led her to wonder if he had heard about that incident with the dragon.

It was likely best to change the subject away from talking about how she and Lucien had cut through a unit of Qunari. Even the thought of admitting what a Chantry sister had intended wracked her with guilt, but it was for that very reason that she wanted to be the one to deliver that bit of news, not Lucien. "Our encounter with Arvaarad was deliberately set up... by a sister of the Chantry." Why had that felt like such a betrayal? Petrice had wanted her dead, murdered by Qunari, and Sophia was feeling powerful guilt for admitting that to the Qunari. Was the title of Sister so powerful that she could not admit them of doing wrong?

"Friend and enemy blend together in this sea of filth," the Arishok responded, his disgust coming through clearly. "I can barely discern one group from another. Your recent actions have elevated you above your kind, the both of you. Perhaps if you continue, this city will not be so doomed as it appears. For now, I acknowledge the risk you have taken bringing this news to me." So they were indeed keeping an eye on her. It was only to be expected, she supposed, since word of her actions spread much more rapidly given her status. That aside... Sophia wasn't sure whether the Arishok had given her a compliment or not. It left her unsure of how to respond, and so she nodded her understanding, even if she didn't really understand.

When looked at from the right angle, the Qunari really weren't all that different from some of the old soldiers he'd known. At the very least, his own time in a proper army lent him what he chose to treat as a modest understanding of where the Arishok himself was coming from. There were only so many way to be effective in warfare, and perhaps this was why. The rest of the culture may have felt alien to him, but this part at least was relateable. Soldiers went into their every assignment knowing that it may be their job that day to die, and that it probably would be their job to kill. Life and death just didn't carry the same sacred weight for those people as it did for others. Regrettable, in a way, but until human beings reached greater levels of perfection than they had yet attained, necessary. Some learned to be this way so that not all would have to. What confused Sophia was actually, in some sense, reassuring to Lucien. It was a piece of common ground that he and they stood on.

He had guessed from his companion's tone that the explanation had not been easy on her, and perhaps that made sense. Hers was apparently a devotion much deeper in its nature than he had first thought. In a way, that made her like them, too, though he was unsure she would appreciate the comparison. He certainly understood how unwise it would be to make it just now. Instead, he sensed that the matter was drawing to its close. "Then we will linger no more. Good day to you, Arishok." It seemed like an appropriate time to leave, given that their business was concluded and the Arishok seemed to know more than Lucien would have expected, rendering inquiries seemingly redundant. Lifting both shoulders in something like resignation, he gestured with a hand for Sophia to precede him if she wished, and followed her from the compound.

"I suspect that could have been much worse, had the circumstances been different." That thought didn't faze him much, and it was voiced as an idle observation. It was nice, the rare occasion when acting as he felt he should produced better results for himself than being duplicitous or at least more risk averse. "If you like, I could also accompany you to the Chantry or the Keep?" He was careful to phrase it as the mildest of suggestions; far be it from him to assume she couldn't manage both disclosures on her own. Still, he was willing to wager that the encounter with the Grand Cleric especially was not going to be simple-- not if she'd had difficulty telling the Arishok about the Sister.

Sophia was glad to have that over with, and to still be in one piece. In all honesty, it had gone much better than she had expected. She had to admit, she was tempted to agree and allow him to accompany her to her next two stops... but these were private matters with the people she was closest to in her life, and his presence likely wouldn't be appropriate. "I'll be speaking to my father next, to let him know what transpired. That will likely be a family matter, but... walk with me to the Keep?"

The mercenary nodded his understanding with easy aquiescence. "Of course."

It was quite the walk from the Docks to Hightown, and no small amount of stairs were involved. It was reminding the Viscount's daughter of the fact that she'd had no sleep tonight. As soon as this business with her father and then the Grand Cleric, that would be priority number one. For the moment, however, there were a few things she needed to get off her chest. "I should have done this earlier, but I feel I need to apologize for what happened. None of this was necessary, not the first battle with the bandits, the tale Petrice spun, the deaths of those Qunari. It was not my intention to drag anyone into senseless danger. I was... unable to see what Petrice was planning, even though it seems so clear to me now." She sighed. "Perhaps it is the will of the Maker after all, that turned what should have been our deaths into a good impression on the Arishok."

He shook his head, half-smiling despite, or perhaps because of, the unusual situation he now found himself in. This was usually something he had to do, actually, or at least it had been so before he'd started working by himself. "No need. You were doing what you believed to be right, and I followed voluntarily. I would not have done so had I thought your intentions anything of the sort. Sometimes, the things right in front of us are the hardest to see, and I'm not saying that just because I've only got one eye to look with." His anger quite thoroughly banked for the moment, Lucien grimaced at his own bad joke for a moment, then shrugged. Sophia, however, gave it a laugh, thankful for Lucien's sense of humor, even if it wasn't the most sophisticated. Considering her current state of exhaustion, it was more or less exactly what she needed.

"Perhaps the Maker willed it, but do not sell your own skill and resolve short, my friend. A strong spirit and honest intentions can often move what all the force and cleverness in the world would not budge. Or at least, that's what an old man somewhere in Orlais seems to think, but I'm somewhat obligated to give my dear father the benefit of the doubt, I suppose."

Her smile turned to the self-contained close-lipped variety upon Lucien's mention of Orlais. All she knew of the man was that he had been a Chevalier at one point, and considering how useful she found his advice, and how much she was beginning to value his company, Sophia was hoping she might get her foot in the door he had just cracked open, so to speak. "You know, for having been in multiple deadly situations together already, I know remarkably little about you. You said you were a Chevalier once, didn't you?" They began working their way up the next great set of stairs, connecting the way from Lowtown to Hightown. "I'd understand if it's far too early to answer such questions, of course. Or perhaps it's too late. Maker knows conversation is about the only thing keeping me from falling asleep right here on these stairs."

Lucien for his part appeared thoughtful for a moment. "You're quite correct," he admitted, a little surprised to realize it. He had his secrets like anyone else, but he'd never considered himslef a closed off person. It was just that... "Though, truthfully, if you know that much, you know most of the important things anyway. I was in fact a Chevalier, yes. A Commander, if that's of any interest. The proper story is... long, though I suspect not that interesting. Still, it's a conversation for another time, perhaps. When we are not long due some sleep and with tasks yet before us." They had by this point entered Hightown proper and were approaching the Keep.

He was being honest-- he didn't find the details of his heritage to be particularly important, and the tale of his exile was... well, formative for him, but not as much so as the years before and since had been, and those were his periods as Chevalier and mercenary, respectively. Of course, there were many anecdotes to be given, some of them even humorous, but it was a discussion best saved for a tavern or a sitting-room, perhaps.

She stopped on the steps leading up to the Keep's great double doors. "I think I'd like to hear it some time. Whenever you're comfortable, that is. I'd exchange my own story, but I'm afraid the most important part is still being written." She smiled at bit at that. "Thank you for your help, Lucien. It is always appreciated." Now, for the matter of explaining all this to her father. Maker, but he was going to be angry with her when he heard this...

"'Twas no trouble. You are most welcome."

The Chanter's Board has been updated. Shepherding Wolves has been completed.

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Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Aurora Rose
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A couple of days after the whole Saarebas incident, Aurora found herself meandering around Lowtown, devoid of much to do. Which in itself may have been a blessing, considering that when she did find something to do, it usually ended in blood, magic, and heavy realization or more recently, all of the above combined. She hoped that she could just take a walk without tripping over trouble. Aurora didn't think she could handle any more trouble quite yet. Truth be told, she was in the mood for nothing that day. Not in a bad mood, mind, just in a mood to do nothing and just enjoy the day. Too long had she been holed up in her room thinking about what had transpired a couple of days ago. And though she still felt pity for Ketojan, it was his choice to do what he did. In honor of the Qunari though, she wore his amulet around her neck. Only the Qunari could know what it was, and she didn't think she'd willingly run into any of those any time soon (Amalia excepted of course).

Not doing anything however was beginning to wear on her. Taking a walk down Lowtown might have helped cleared her mind, but it did little for mental activity. That was when Aurora got an idea. She was near the Hanged Man, Nostariel's usual place. Perhaps she could check in with her fellow mage, they hadn't seen each other for a while after all. Ever since she had stopped visiting Feynriel with the Warden. She liked the boy, though she had wished he a had a bit more backbone about him. That and the fact that she never felt welcomed with the Dalish had put her off any more visits. That and she was getting the sneaking suspicion that their visits may have been doing more harm than good. The boy had to adapt to his surroundings, and visits from the mages wasn't going to allow an easy transition.

Still though, she spun on her heel and angled her approach towards the Hanged Man. She entered the raunchy dive within the hour, her eyes immediately drawn to the corner where Nostariel was normally found. Except this time. Her chair was empty this time. Strange, Aurora wondered where the Warden had gotten off to. Warden adventures probably? Probably. Aurora picked her way over to the table, where she hovered for a couple of moments before sitting. She didn't know what else to do. Her only plan for the day was thoroughly dashed. She hooked an arm around the back of the chair and leaned back, sighing.

What now?

The silvered, well-polished chainmail shirt slid easily into place over his linens, resting over his back and shoulders with a weight he didn't really even notice anymore. It was followed by padded leathers, and then a few pieces of dark grey plate, all buckled into place with well-practiced motions. Lucien knew from prodigiously-drilled experience that he could be in full plate to match a Templar's in less than five minutes, but he rarely bothered with quite so much these days. Today, he had no job and was simply meeting a potential client, so aside from the basic chestplate, gauntlets, and chain, he wasn't arming himself much at all, honestly. Perhaps it was more force of habit than anything that compelled the exercise in the first place.

He moved without much noise through his small home. It was a three-room affair, not much at all to look at, but it was his, and it turned out that even a ramshackle Lowtown hutch could reflect that quite well. The entire place was incredibly clean, from the stucco walls to the old wood planks on the floor. The central and largest room was dominated by a large bookshelf, weighed down with what he'd collected in Kirkwall and on a few occasional trips elsewhere in the Marches. A few had been shipped from friends in Ferelden and at home. There were a few armchairs in front of a fireplace, which had clearly been gutted and replaced with better stones, those a gift from a mason he'd helped a year or so ago. The walls bore a few rough-hand stetches, arranged with meticulous neatness, and a couple of mounted weapons, including a shield with an ornate crest upon its mirrored surface. Other than that, the place was spartan, free of decoration and gave off a distinct air of solitude. Crossing to a small table beside one of the armchairs, Lucien took up the scrap of black fabric there and tied it about his bad eye, glancing around to make sure eveything was in order before he left.

He was, as always, on track to be very early for the meeting, but he preferred the activity of the Hanged Man to his house, most of the time. He entered with no great fanfare, and by now he was a rather common sight there, so few people paid him much mind. With a nod to the bartender and a small smile for the usual wait staff, he thought to take up his usual table, only to find it occupied by a few despondent-looking individuals far into their drinks. He'd leave them be, then. A quick glance found a familiar face, though not the one he would have expected to see in that particular spot. Aurora looked about as bored as he'd ever seen a person, so he figured she wouldn't mind some company. Selecting the chair directly across from her, Lucien sat, shooting the mage a smile. "Hello, Aurora. It's good to see you, though I wouldn't have expected to find you here. What do you drink?" he raised a hand to indicate he'd like one of the waitresses to apporach, but soon refocused his attention on the redhead.

Aurora had been in the process of identifying the various intricacies of the Hanged Man's ceiling (there were none) when the chair in front of her moved, bringing her back down to floor level. Her vision stuttered for a moment as she tried to process who it was, but it didn't take long for her to realize that it was Lucien. She'd never forget his eyepatched face and large frame. She immediately began to straighten up in her seat, unhooking her arm from the chair's spine and instead leaning forward on the table. At this point, she'd welcome any human (or elf, she didn't discriminate) interaction. The question he asked was one she hadn't heard in a while and she pondered on it for a moment.

"Some... Wine I suppose? I'm not really a heavy drinker," she said. "The wine isn't too bad here, right?" she quickly added. In either case, ale or beer was definitely out of the question. Especially in a dive like the Hanged Man. Her entire day would be wasted, and though she was bored, she was nowhere near that bored.

Lucien chuckled. "Well, it won't kill you, and I can't say the same for the water." He relayed the order to the usual barmaid, a dark-haired woman by the name of Giselle, asking for two decanters of the best red they had. He wasn't holding out hope that it would be very good, but at the very least it would be better than anything else. He gave Aurora a look of obvious sympathy. "Alas, Kirkwall is neither Orlais nor Antiva, and the wine is about what you'd expect, given that." It was, in one sense, an educated guess, but he thought he'd caught a bit of that lilt in her voice at one point, during one of the more... contentious moments of their little adventure. "If you don't mind my asking, what part of that country are you from? I spent some time in Antiva City a while back, and I've been to a border province a few times."

The decanters arrived, accompanied by two empty glasses, and Lucien obligingly poured both, swirling the liquid in his glass and sniffing experimentally. He frowned slightly, and rolled his visible eye. Definitely not Orlesian wine. Sometimes, he missed those little things about home, but he had to remind himself that it was home for him no longer, and he'd do well to remember that.

Aurora took her time to answer. Lucien had proved to be much more clever than she initially believed, recognizing her accent as he did. It made her realize she'd have to work that much harder to get rid of it. Perhaps it was mere paranoia that made her try to erase everything that could track her back to Antiva. That being said, she was still hesitant to answer the mercenary. Though, he obviously knew she was a mage, and he had ample opportunity to turn her into the Templars if he so desired. She had decided that he was the trustworthy sort, mostly after necessity. After all, if she couldn't trust him to keep her secret safe... Well, she didn't like to think about that. She took her own glass, and swirled the liquid as Lucien had, though she was by no means a connoisseur.

"Originally?" She asked rhetorically, "Bastion. A costal city just above the Free Marches border. We lived mostly to ourselves on the outskirts of town. After that? Antiva City. The, uh... Circle specifically," she said, whispering the word. Even in conversation she couldn't afford to let her guard down. Sometimes it bothered her, but she always figured it was necessary. "Never got to see much of the city proper, just what the windows would allow me to see and what little field trips I was allowed," she said, shrugging. That was then though, now she was able to see whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted, without having a Templar breathing down her neck.

"How about you Lucien? Where from Orlais are you from? And what brings you to Kirkwall, beautiful city that she is," she said with not small bit of sarcasm. She then took her first drink of her wine, wincing at the rough taste. Definitely not Antivan either.

Lucien nodded his comprehension of the whispered syllables, a small, close-lipped smile the only reassurance he could offer. Worse secrets than that were safe with him, though he did not take this to dimish the importance of keeping this one. It was, after all, Aurora's freedom that was at stake here. He would speak no more of it if that was what she wished. "That's a shame," he demurred quietly. "Antiva City is quite something to see. I'm actually originally from the countryside myself. I grew up on a lord's estate quite some distance from the capital, in the province of Lydes. Quite close to the border with Ferelden. There was quite a lot of travel in my youth, though, I must admit." His singluar visible eye lost a bit of its sharp focus, receding into the middle distance, and he leaned back slightly. "Some part of me will always think of Lydes as home, though. As for why I'm here, well, circumstance sometimes forces us all to leave things we love behind, doesn't it?"

Though his words were rather sad, his tone was more kindly than anything, and he tipped the wineglass back, polite enough to put considerable effort into not grimacing. "As you may have guessed, Lydes is wine country. That close to Ferelden and the Frostbacks, you wouldn't think so, but they make an excellent white from a species of colder-weather grape invented there. There's nothing quite like looking out over the vineyards on a chilly autumn morning, when things have just started to frost over. The mountains are in view, and when the sun hits everything just right, it's the most beautiful thing." He grinned then, a little sheepishly. "But I think I may have bored you a bit there. My apologies. Nostalgia tends to overcome my needlessly sentimental soul at the oddest times."

Though he was polite enough to not grimace, the same could not be said for Aurora. The talk of home caused her to lean forward and hover over her own decanter. Truth be told, she tried not to think about home much. To many painful memories, and then there was the possibility that she may never be able to return. "No, not boring. I understand. I'm sure it's just as beautiful as our sunsets. If you stand on the coast right at dusk and the sun hits the Amaranthine Ocean just right, it's quite the breath-taking sight... Dancing colors of orange, gold, and red above and below, reflected by the water... We used to watch it all the time," A rose colored aurora... Her own voiced was filled the the same nostalgia that had filled Lucien's. The memories were enough to make her forget that Lucien had effectively danced out of the way of her question.

For his part, he attempted to picture the vista she was painting with her words, and whether his rendering was accurate or not, he decided it would have been well worth painting in the more conventional way. It was really too bad he couldn't see it, and worse that she might never again be able to. He wouldn't have necessarily expected it, but the two of them were quite alike in this respect. It was a Royal Edict that kept him from he beloved home, and her status as a mage that kept her from hers, but the result was the same either way.

She then leaned back in her chair and brought her wine back to her lips. The memories were enough to take all the energy out of her. "I... try not to think about it so much. It's easier, that way. Kinder, in a sense. It feels like so long ago, hard to believe it's only been six years since I left Bastion. Almost one since Antiva City," she said, melancholy apparent on her tones. She wanted to change the subject, maybe back on the man. Perhaps... Drakon? That sounded familiar..

"If you don't mind me asking... Drakon? It sounds like a name I've heard somewhere. My... Studies perhaps?" she asked inquisitively.

"I wouldn't be surprised if you had," Lucien replied honestly. He shrugged broad shoulders with diffidence. "Though it does tend to suprise me when people remember they've heard it. It's ancient history by now. Kordillus Drakon was a king from a long, long time in the past. The name... doesn't mean nearly so much now as it did then, though I'm happy enough to bear it, I suppose. It hardly matters now, but I guess that I carry it still because I really am just that sentimental." There was self-effacing humor in the comment, and he swallowed the last of the wine in his glass with an air of finality. "Names are funny that way, I think. They are given to us, in most cases, and we rarely choose them for ourselves, but... well, I always just wanted to grow into mine, become worthy of it and everything it meant. Other people try to duck them, or make them mean something different on the tongues of others, but there seems to be little denying their importance, no?"

Once again, she found his words relating to herself. When she asked her question, she didn't expect the conversation to turn to names. The fact that her own name, Aurora Rose, was a chosen alias, sprung to the forefront of her mind where it sat. She wanted to tell this man her real name, who she really was. But though she trusted him, she did not trust him that much. She'd never trust anyone that much. Her true name was a secret to everyone, buried thousands of miles away in Antiva. She was no longer that person, she was Aurora Rose, Antivan apostate hiding in the slums of Kirkwall, apostate hiding beneath the shadow of the Gallows. No one needed to know her name.

"No.." Aurora agreed, though she did not offer much more than that.

Lucien seemed to understand, though, and he didn't press the point any further, instead pouring himself another glass from the decanter and polishing it off slowly, before pushing back from the table, laying his palms flat against the surface to leverage himself from his chair with more grace than should be expected of such a large person. "I'd not mind keeping your company for a while longer, my friend, but unfortunately, business matters call me elsewhere." Reaching into his coinpurse, Lucien left behind enough for the decanters and a generous tip, dipping his head to Aurora even as his next client entered the tavern. "Until next we meet, may your steps be subtle and beneath the notice of certain sorts." His parting grin was unusually crooked, giving it a conspiratorial kind of look that well-matched his tone.

Aurora smiled quietly as the chevalier left, but kept to her own seat. She sat for a while, unmoving, just... Thinking. It had been perhaps an hour when Aurora took her own leave, and left the bar. While not exactly the expected outcome for the day, she couldn't say that it had been pointless.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose
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Nostariel was smiling as her friend the dwarf delivered his speech, so very typical of Varric it was. She leaned her chin on one hand, resting her elbow on the table, the fingers of the other curled loosely around the handle of her tankard. For once, she wasn't clutching it as though her life depended on whatever could be found within, and though there was still a tightness in her chest, it was for the moment banished by the lightness of the atmosphere. So many familiar faces crowded the tavern, and somehow it was reminding her that even if everything had been lost to her- thrice, in fact- there was still more to be found. It was... nice, and she nodded graciously at the mention of her name, mirth dancing lightly behind her eyes. No, the Deep Roads were not exactly where she wanted to be, but surely these were the most bearable circumstances for her return.

The partygoers slowly split off into groups, but Nostariel, perpetual wallflower that she was, remained in her seat. Conveniently enough, she was nearby Aurora, with whom she had not spoken in a while. "Good evening, Aurora. It's good to see you." Those words, usually relegated to the realm of mere small talk, carried something of an extra meaning when the person you were speaking to was an apostate. I can see you, which means you're still safe. It might have seemed hypocritical of Nostariel to insist that Grace and her companions return to the Circle while never even hinting that it was the good thing for Aurora to do, but she had her reasons. Aurora possessed a certain strength of character that was absent in the others, and that was just a fact.

"What have you been up to these days?"

Aurora smiled at the question. What had she been up to? Frankly, a lot. A whole lot. Something that maybe one night wouldn't be enough to cover it. Though, she'd have to try her best to do it. Good news though, that Nostariel was in her usual place that night. As was Lucien it appeared, whom she nodded to. Surprisingly Amalia was even there. Even more surprising, Ithilian was with her. She took a seat at Nostariel's table and shrugged, wondering where to begin. "I would say the usual, but we both know that would be a lie," she said, crossing her arms, a smile on her lips. The days were trying, yes, but after every ordeal she felt as if she'd grown a little. Or perhaps that was the optimism talking. It sounded a lot better than getting nothing but a head ache out of the ordeal.

"Let's see... Noble asses, Qunari, Qunari mages, bandits, thugs, homesickness and even a pride demon. Where do you even begin?" That was without mentioning the soul searching she'd been doing recently, though that was a private matter. An ongoing private matter at that. Her head bobbed with a stifled laugh, as from her mouth it sounded like it was an exciting life. A lot more than a trader's daughter from a coastal town ever expected at anyway. Though she waved all of that away as if it was really no big deal. "Never a dull moment, it feels like. Someone somewhere always needs help, and it's never as easy as you'd expect."

"How about you? Do anything special lately?" Aurora asked, continuing the small talk.

"It seems quite the list," the Warden replied, though perhaps not with the amazement it was really due. To be fair, she hadn't exactly been resting on her laurels, either, and perhaps people like them were just meant to be doing things. Taking a draught from her tankard, Nostariel considered how best to explain it, then shrugged and gave a smile. "I had a run-in with the Qunari, too, but mostly the Tal-Vashoth. Oh, but I did meet the Arishok. A rather intimidating fellow, I must say. Other than that... greedy dwarven merchants, Templars, mages, and expeditions, mostly."

The Warden shook her head, dislodging a small braid from behind her ear. Folding it back, she offered a hypothesis. "I'm beginning to think there's much more to this place than I'd thought. I've met some... interesting people, too," she said, glancing over at Rilien and Lucien, then Ashton and Sparrow. Sophia was around somewhere, too, she was fairly sure, and she had thought Ithilian and Amalia were present, though she could not spot them now.

"Interesting is the polite word," Aurora agreed, her own glance following Nostariel's to the Tranquil and the Chevalier. A pang of remembrance struck her at the appearance of Lucien, but the feeling was caught like a piece of paper just floating away, where she then folded it and stored away to be read later. Tonight was a mood of happiness and joy, not melancholy. She wouldn't be the one to sour the mood with such doubts or thoughts. Instead of lingering on Lucien, her gaze shifted to Sparrow and the lanky man that he was with. Both of them seemed happy, joyful, crazy almost. It was infectious and made her laugh. That was better. She had also seen Ithilian and Amalia, and though she saw Amalia leave earlier, she couldn't say the same for the elf, the slippery one he was.

"I think you're right. There is something more to this place. It's... Something else. There's been a lot more... Soul searching and learning that I imagined when I got here.... When I got here, that seems so long ago now," Aurora chuckled before her eyes went alight with realization, "Oh! I'm sorry, you shouldn't have to listen to me drone on like that," she finished.

Nostariel waved a hand back and forth in front of her face, a curious little affectation that she'd picked up from a comrade, some years ago. "No need for apologies. This is a bar. When you're not drinking and making merry like a fool, you're talking about things that you probably shouldn't. It's just the atmosphere." She followed the directionality of Aurora's glance, and again when it switched. "I think some of those interesting people might be mutual acquaintances. I'd be surprised, but this is Kirkwall, city of chains. It seems fitting that we bind ourselves together, does it not?"

The Warden didn't seem saddened by this; on the contrary, she was regarding the others with a mix of gentle affection and slight wonderment. She couldn't say that she had much in common with most of them, but then, having too many things in common with herself was not something she'd wish on any of them. She'd not have picked Lucien and Rilien to know one another, but the Chevalier looked at ease, and the Tranquil seemed less... wooden than usual. Even if she hadn't already known Sparrow and Ashton were friends, she would have definitely picked that one. Their effusive demeanors and common love of fun were similar in the best of ways, and she imagined they got on like two peas in a pod, or however that colloquialism was supposed to go.




"I'm telling you Sparrow, if this expedition goes well, I'm going to be filthy rich. Like, swimming in gold rich," Ashton not-so-subtly exaggerated. He wouldn't be swimming in a bath full of gold anytime soon, but if it was successful, then he wouldn't have to worry about money for a while, at least. He tried to not think about what would happen if the venture wasn't successful. That was a lot more depressing than he could handle at the moment. He could possibly lose his shop, his home, and everything he worked for. Hell, Rilien might even find that he has another stowaway if the thing doesn't pan out. Maybe that's why he was nose deep in whatever swill the Hanged Man slung. If the fact that he was draped over Sparrow's shoulder was any indication, he already had a good start.

He had ran by Sparrow's-- Rilien's hovel earlier and collected the lass with promises of good will, cheer, mirth, and as much ale as she could hold without dying. Before he told her was the celebrations were for. He had told her that he was going on an expedition to the Deep Roads to find his fortune, and he tried to entice her to come along. A lot of words were slung, gold, adventure, fun, adventure, danger, and most importantly adventure. Ashton liked to think he was very persuasive when he needed to be... Besides, he felt like he needed to take Sparrow to the Hanged Man. There was the promise to Rilien he had to fulfill. Well, while not directly stated, it was an understanding for him. He'd watch out for Sparrow as well. For some reason, he felt like... He was partially to blame for her predictament.

Now was not the time for such dour outlooks though. It was a party! One Ashton fully intended to enjoy. There were a lot of people in the bar again, though this time there were a lot of familar faces as well. Nostariel in her corner-- he had offered her a wave and a wink upon his entrance, Rilien, who was playing his role as a bard very well, the mercenary Lucien, Sparrow's friend Amalia, and even Ithilian. He made note to stay a ways from the man at all times. It would sour the mood if he managed to get stabbed after all. Besides, as he understood, the man was tagging along on the expedition as well... So that left plenty of time for his eventual stabbing. He turned his gaze back around to the bar and finally unlatched his arm from around Sparrow's neck. He raised his tankard to her and offered a toast.

"To fun and adventure, wherever we can find it!"

Ashton couldn't have gone to a more willing participant in his endeavours. Like the flighty bird she was, clicking her metaphorical talons across the prospects of filling her pockets with coins (if her companion didn't dump her share into a massive tub to swim in), Sparrow was all but entirely apt to listen to his tantalizing pitch, nearly frothing at the mouth if it hadn't been for the goblet already occupying that area. She swilled the mucky-looking ale in her mouth, swallowed, then slapped her goblet back across the table, splattering it's contents. With a least a small portion of those savings, she'd be able to drink at more reputable locations until she gambled it all away – though, she really didn't mind going to the Hanged Man because there were less chances of bumping into wayward Templars. Her eyebrows raised ardently, as if in wait for more incentives. He'd already secured her attention, hook, line and sinker. It was amusing to play off that she wasn't actually interested, toying with the rim of her goblet before nonchalantly shrugging her shoulders, laden with Ashton's arm. Still, it was her giddiness that won her over and she seemed as excited as her friend was.

“Alright, alright. Let me get this straight.” She began softly, clicking her tongue. She moved several coins, in the effort of exhibiting each party-member, pushed beneath her fingertips, and dragged them forward. She made a tunnel with her free hand. We're all going to the Deep Roads, where there'll be nasty Darkspawn and who-knows-what-else to get filthy stinking rich. Is there a chamber of gold down there I wasn't aware of, or do we have to dig through stomachs like we're panhandling?” Sparrow mimicked holding a pan, shaking it up, then threw her hands to the sides as if gold was raining down on them. She'd certainly picked up his habit of being overly dramatic, pantomiming each ridiculous sentence as if it were happening right that instant. Did he not forget what said Darkspawn carried on them? She, too, was not of the Grey Wardens. They would have to tread carefully and avoid having the creatures blood splatter on them if they encountered them. She did not know much about them, but she did know that they were horrid things capable of overcoming the most plucky adventurers. “If you're going filthy rich, then you best remember me when I save you from getting eaten down there.”

It was strange how full the tavern seemed at that time, as if her past, present and future had all collided into one inseparable thing. She, too, had offered a much meeker greeting to Nostariel, who was sitting in her own corner – one that she'd shared on many occasions, when things like mages and politics and all of that hadn't even been touched on. She still felt a small pang of guilt for trying to supersede her intentions. Immediately following that little adventure, she'd drunk herself silly in the Hanged Man, only to be bodily assisted, nearly hauled, home by her all-knowing Tranquil-friend. She noticed Amalia and Ithilian conversing a couple tables away. Sparrow's shoulders straightened, then hunched forward. The subtle weight of gravity, of all the things she wanted to talk about, weighed her down. Her friends nonattendance in Darktown had meant the obvious. She hadn't wanted to visit, or at least, not anytime soon. Rilien, as ever, was in the background. She would always recognize his voice.

Sparrow laughed loudly, broadly, and raised her goblet alongside his own. “To following good friends into the darkness!”

Ashton banged his tankard with Sparrow's goblet and downed the liquid in one fell gulp. It was better that way, he didn't have to taste the bitter liquid snaking it's way down his gullet. He slammed the tankard on the bar and belched, followed closely by a fit of giggling. "You can panhandle through their guts, I fully intend to keep my distance. I had to leave Ferelden because of the ugly bastards," he said, the alcohol in his blood beginning to take effect. He chuckled at the thought and brought his fingers to his mouth, mocking the fangs he believed the things had. Another fit of giggling had him leaning over the bar, unable to suck the air back into his lungs. As soon as the fit passed and he brushed the tears back he nodded and continued, "Still, I fully believe that there are riches untold in those dank tunnels," he said, placing his arm around Sparrow and waved the other in front of him, trying his best to paint the picture for them.

"You know how greedy the dwarves are? They'd rather cut you than give you your winnings in a card game. Now, imagine that, but hundreds of them. Now imagine all of those dwarves-- hold your nose though, I can't imagine that many beards in one place would smell nice-- now imagine all of them in one place. Now imagine all of their riches in that place. I'd be surprise if we don't get a tub full of soveriegns each," of course, the other option would leave him broke and most likely homeless. "That being said, I fully intend to not get eaten," he added, wagging a finger in front of Sparrow's face. "It'd be hard to spend my share of the money when I'm dead after all. Besides, I don't intend to give them the chance to gnaw on my legs. Pew, pew, pew," He mimicked the action of firing off a bow. "It's you that should remember me after I save your butt," Ashton said, poking her in the collarbone.

He took another dangerously large gulp from his fresh tankard before turning around at the bar and beholding what was happening around him. Good news, Ithilian didn't seem to be around any more, so his chances of getting stabbed were drastically reduced. Rilien and his Chevalier friend seemed to be making friends of the female variety. That would have been considered strange if Ashton had the brain cells to devote to the thought. Even Nostariel seemed to have a friend with her... Another lady. He waved to the table for a second as the gears began to turn in his head. Once again, his arm found itself horse-collaring Sparrow, his other hand gripping his tankard. "Come Sparrow, there are pretty ladies that need our company," he said, dragging Sparrow to Nostariel's table.

As he passed Rilien and his friends, he whistled recognition at him and held up his tankard.

The resounding clang of their swill-filled concoctions rattled through her head like a wobbly tambourine, though she still brought the goblet to her lips, tipping her head back to guzzle whatever she had left. Anyone who knew better, and who'd been frequenting the Hanged Man for any amount of time, would know that it was best to finish your drinks quickly, rather than savour the dirty-sock, spicy-whatever they managed to squeeze in underneath the counter. She did not belch, but she knuckled her sternum, squinting her eyes as if that particular gulp had pained her, then laughed. His laughter was contagious. She'd always been a heavy drinker, knocking back whatever-she-could-get-her-hands on with anyone willing to suffer her company, if only for a few hours before her companions were very much inebriated and desperately trying to claw themselves from under the stools. The only one who didn't seem to be entirely affected was Rilien. She does not drink for absolution, for the hopeless effort of forgetting all she's done or all that's happened to her, like Nostariel, but she still understands the enigmatic pull of momentary drawing a blank. She didn't drink like that, at least, anymore.

She knuckled her eye-socket, then threw them out wide, hooking her arms behind her chair. “Then you've already seen the blighters. I've no wish to dance with them. No thanks, no thanks. I'll be keeping my hands safely on my lady at all times.” Sparrow waggled her fingertips upwards, as if she were plucking them from a Darkspawn's stomach, then she settled them gingerly across her maces length, secured at her waistline. She, too, would be staying far away from those disgusting wretches, all pointy needle-teeth and flaps composed of boils. Unlike Ashton, or their pretty little Grey Warden, she'd never really seen any of them up close and personal and she did not wish to – they were frightening enough in stories, even the monochrome, colourless tales the Qunari had told her as a fledgeling: of what they were capable of doing. Her chuckles sifted into hardly-contained chortles, eyebrows arched incredulously at her companions efforts to try and describe how, exactly, the Darkspawn looked. Now, whenever she'd imagine those wretches, she'd think of several Ashton's running about, fingers wriggling from his mouth, hissing. “Y'know, the smell alone is going to be worse than that little cave we took a stroll through. But, if you say so—”

Sparrow's head lilted to the side, as if she were actually analyzing the pretty picture her archer-friend was describing. Her free hand opened and closed across the counter like a reaching child until the barkeeper smiled, shaking his head, and refilled her empty goblet. Dwarves were pretty damn greedy. If any large assemblage of those stubby, bearded-folk were headed down into the Deep Roads, then there was most assuredly something to be found down there – even if they so chose not to share any information until they were good and already down there. It was a tantalizing prospect. Her mouth pursed, then broke into a wide, charmed grin. “A tub full of sovereigns.” Each syllable was tested on her tongue, stretched out into one sensual sentence. How could she turn this down, anyway? It didn't occur to her what would happen if they found nothing or if they somehow got trapped in some small pocket of the Deep Roads never to return again becausethere was a small, or grandiose chance, that they'd all walk out of there chirping a happy song with their pockets overflowing with gold bits and pieces.

“Ashton Rivera – mighty and powerful God-archer, stopping one cavalry charge at a time.”
She bustled loudly, announcing it to the rest of the nonplussed customers and trying her very best to imitate knocking a clumsy arrow with Ashton's arm wrestling around her neck. She felt a finger prod her collarbone, laughed again. In more ways than one, with he and Rilien both sharing her company, they'd already saved her countless times. Not that she'd ever say so.

She, too, gulped briskly from her goblet, leaning backwards so that Ashton didn't unintentionally drag her from her chair while gawking around the establishment. Sparrow seemed interested in what was happening a few tables over, occupied by Rilien and the familiar-looking knight she'd talked to for at least a few moments. What had been his name again? Er, Lucien. That was it. He'd been mighty proper. For some reason, it wasn't difficult to see how they knew each other, and how at ease they both seemed in each other's company. A small smile, conspiratorially tugged at her lips. She would need to ask Rilien about that someday, if he so chose to share any of his stories involving that particular gentleman. Then, Sparrow was nearly bodily drug away from her stool, though she had enough sense to grip her goblet all the tighter, allowing her legs to work underneath her. Pretty ladies – was certainly enough to coerce her cooperation. She, too, dipped her head at Rilien, offering no such whistling-greeting. She still mock-shivered beside Ashton, attempting to stifle a snorting-giggle at her Tranquil-friends refusal to respond to such a tittering reception. “Brrr, that was cold.”

Then, they were suddenly in front of Nostariel's table and the tickling warmth of alcohol had lent her enough strength to place her goblet on the table, with her hands immediately pressed against the wooden-knots winding across the surface. Her chest puffed inwards, then she leaned forward, far enough in order to not be too intrusive, but close enough so that she wasn't screeching her entire conversation across the Hanged Man. Bella-luna. I never got the chance to apologize for stepping on your toes the last we were together and I thought I should, but I couldn't seem to find any time that wasn't just... out of place, and I—” The onrush of words, however breathy, slowed down when she noticed Aurora to the Grey Warden's right. Anyone with any sense would have known that the Hanged Man certainly was out of place for such a peculiar apology, “Think we should just start over.” This was, as always, accompanied by a sterling smile, and an animated movement that drug both she, and Ashton, into adjacent seats.

She tipped her head, then grinned. “It's mighty nice to see both of you.”

Apologies were always done best when they were accompanied by even more ale.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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The boisterous atmosphere didn't seem to bother Lucien at all. On the contrary, he was distinctly smiling as he stood against a far wall, beside Rilien closely enough that it was obvious they were in some way associated, but not engaging the Tranquil in conversation. At least, not verbally. The reality of the situation was simple: they didn't need to speak to communicate, as anyone who'd spent enough time on a battlefield with another person could have attested. Granted, there wasn't much to be communicated at the moment, but then that wasn't so bad. He was content to tip his head back to rest against the wall and sink into a little bit of nostalgia. Once upon a time, in a land far, far, away, this bard had been a frequent party guest of the empress herself, and the complex melodies he wove were a background tapestry to much of the mercenary's former life. Strange, that it could call to mind so much of that world even now, when he was in much the opposite situation.

The Tranquil's fingers played easily over the strings of his lute, occasionally lilting his voice into the air as well. Of course, he doubted much of it was heard, or rather listened to, but it was of no concern to him. The tavern paid him a flat rate for this kind of thing, and he'd thought it would be a pertinent sort of thing to do, to see just who it was that would be constituting this expedition. He was almost certain he would be inviting himself along, as for the most part, they did not inspire confidence. Beside thim, unspeaking but present, was Ser Lucien, and in this way, it was not so different from a few years ago, when they'd crowded the tavern with the rest of the revelers after the archdemon had fallen 'neath the hand of the Warden-Queen Cousland.

The last few notes faded, and Rilien shifted his grip on the lute, holding it at his side rather than in front of him. There appeared to be some form of contest occurring in the vicinity, and for the moment it was drowning out most else. "Ser Lucien," he acknowledged at last, "I was not aware that you would be participating in this venture. Were the Darkspawn in Denerim not sufficient?" He blinked, catlike and apparently uninterested, but it was an honest query, if also one tinged with that faint humor that one could only see if they knew to look for it.

Lucien chuckled under his breath, adjusting his posture and lifting his head again so as to properly meet his friend's unusual eyes. "You know me, Ril. I never pass up an opportunity to put myself in mortal danger." A joke, but only just. He did seem to find himself in peril more often than most people, including most mercenaries, but then, that was just the way he lived. Worthy causes were rarely the easy ones, after all.

To that, Rilien offered no reply. He had none, and none was needed. The Chevalier knew that the Tranquil thought his near-religious adherence to honor was foolish. Near-religious because the religious could only hope to approach Lucien's dedication. Most of them would never achieve it; Rilien was of the opinion that no ordinary person was even capable of it. They all thought about things like self-preservation. It was an interesting quandary: the very quality he disdained in the other man was the reason once-Bard yet drew breath and did not rot somewhere in an unmarked grave. It was difficult to give it the contempt it deserved, considering. So he didn't, choosing instead to occasionally comment upon it but otherwise leave it be.

Interesting to him were the cases where the cold, Tranquil logic he'd been cursed with met conflict. There was only one thing it could mean, and that was that his level of concern with a person had at long last overridden his cold calculation. This possibility, the very existence of the part of him that could still hold another person in regard, he had discovered only because of the man towering beside him. Rilien was never certain if he should thank Lucien for this, or disembowel him. Then again, he'd tried that once, and it hadn't worked out very well for him. Sparrow had Lucien to thank for her current lodgings, and if anyone else thought they owed him anything, well, that probably came back to the knight as well. Life was strange that way.

The Viscount's daughter had been trying to make her way from the bar with some wine, figuring it had to be at least a little better than the ale and being sadly disappointed, when she had been ambushed by a pair of the expedition's hirelings. "Again," she repeated to them, "I was not alone when I slew the dragon, nor do I think I could have killed the dragon alone. Just as much, if not more credit should go to the Dalish elf and the Qunari woman sitting over..." she had been about to point them out to the hirelings, as she'd seen them talking together at a table, but now both were gone, leaving Sophia pointing at nothing, and leading to a sigh. "Well, the point is, I wasn't alone. Now, if you'll excuse me..."

It was clear they didn't plan on excusing her, but Sophia had come here to see some people and to attempt to enjoy herself, not to be interviewed, and while she appreciated word of her actions spreading, the embellishments were... interesting. No doubt the charming dwarf had something to do with it, with his ability to command an audience in this establishment. At last making her way through the throng of people to where she had seen Lucien go, she sighed in relief and allowed herself to continue with the wine. Considering that this was supposed to be something of a party and not so much a trip into Lowtown to get herself into trouble, Sophia had favored a dress over chainmail tonight, certainly nothing fancy, a dark blue dress that looked as though it could have belonged to a merchant's daughter as much as the Viscount's. Her hair was down, falling in golden droves around her shoulders.

She found Lucien conversing, albeit not very much, with the bard, a white haired elf. "You know," she said, coming to a stop before the mercenary, "Hightown parties might win in the category of sophistication, but compared to this, they're sorely lacking in spirit." Indeed, noble parties were often disguises for whatever games the attendants wished to play, power moves hidden behind a birthday or a wedding. This was... simple, and undeniably more honest. She turned to introduce herself to the bard.

"I would love to hear you play more, you're very good. My name is Sophia Du..." she paused in a rather awkward moment, her face screwing itself up in temporary confusion when she noticed the brand upon his forehead. She knew it for what it was, but now that she thought about it, she had never really conversed with a Tranquil before. They'd always just been there if there had been mages around, or if she had required anything of the Circle. "...mar," she finished. "Forgive me for asking, but are you affiliated with the Circle here?"

The Tranquil was aware of a third party entering the conversational sphere, and he prepared himself to retreat from it. While he would always have words to offer the Chevalier if he required them, he was not a talkative person as a rule, and did not enjoy the subtle intricacies and power gambits involved in ordinary parlance. Unfortunately, he was directly addressed. The compliment, plain as it was, was one thing, and he was used to dealing with those. A small inclination of the head and another song would serve his purposes quite well, but for some unfathomable reason, the flaxen-haired woman chose to give him further address. Did she not see the...?

Ah, there it was. He'd been on the recieving end of that look more than once. Glancing once at his friend as if to say 'this is what happens when I'm forced to associate with people you know,' he was met with nothing, and sighed internally. Twisting his wrist, he brought the lute back up to playing position and worked at tuning it, occasionally plucking a string. The third one was a little off, actually... He didn't need to look to fix it, and instead flicked a glance between the woman and Lucien. He thought the part where the last Drakon was followed around by those of the female persuasion would have ended when his title was stripped, but to be fair, this one had not the air of a hanger-on. "...No." And that was as much as she was getting out of him on the subject.

Well, wasn't this quite a sight? He wouldn't call the attempted conversation anything so horrible as a carriage wreck, but it certainly was going about as well as he'd have imagined, which was to say very, very awkwardly. Deciding to spare Sophia the indignity of replying to that, amusing as he thought it would be, Lucien stepped in to smooth things over as well as he could. "Ah, I suppose you haven't met. Sophia, this is Rilien Falavel. He's a dear friend of mine, originally from Orlais as I am. Ril, well... the lady introduced herself, so I suppose I need not. She's also a friend." The statement was just slightly pointed. He didn't expect Rilien to change his demeanor simply because Sophia was a friend of his, but it was a subtle warning all the same.

He was cautioning the Tranquil against acting too against type. He had no idea how many of his sort Sophia had met, but if the number was at all large, it wouldn't take much to figure out that Rilien was not like them. Even he, who had interacted with very few, had been able to figure that out. He did not begrudge the Viscount's daughter her faith in the slightest, but if he could prevent his closest friend from being hauled into the Kirkwall Circle and executed, he would. Whatever that took.

The caution was correctly interpreted, and Rilien still wasn't sure why he bothered. Even so, he chose to amend his previous answer in his hollowest monotone. "I see. It is nice to meet you, Sophia Dumar, friend of Ser Lucien. However, I am on contract to provide accompanyment for this evening's festivities, and must continue to do so. If you will both excuse me." He dutifully ignored Ashton's whistle, letting both he and Sparrow pass without so much as a wayward glance, then relocated himself slightly further away, so as not to be intruding upon any further conversation between the parties involved. His instrument properly attuned, he started up another song, to add truth to his words as much as anything else.

Sophia's reaction to Rilien's simple no had been to stare rather dumbly for a moment, at least until Lucien spoke. Apparently the two were good friends, but Lucien explained no more, and then the Tranquil moved off so as to not disturb them, or perhaps to simply not participate in a conversation. He had said he was contracted to play tonight, and so it only made sense. The being a Tranquil part didn't make a bit of sense, though, but Lucien's clear statement of his status as a friend was enough to give Sophia pause in a situation where her suspicion would have otherwise overpowered anything else.

"I... suspect there's a story behind that one," she said, but she didn't feel like pursuing the topic further, having something else on her mind. "Shall we sit? There's something I wanted to ask you." She found the nearest table she could, which was easy enough considering that many of the hirelings in the Hanged Man preferred to stand and drink, and on this particular night, there had even been a decent sized space cleared for dancing, though the women present were considerably outnumbered by the men.

When they were seated across from each other at a table, Sophia took a drink of wine, ignoring the taste. "So I've been thinking... you've been working as a mercenary here in Lowtown. I have not heard the best things about many of the mercenary groups in the city, and I can't imagine making a go of it as a freelancer would a very efficient path. Forgive me for saying, but it seems a waste of your time, and your talents, to be forced into taking jobs for coin." She didn't state this expedition specifically, considering that this was a celebration for the members of said expedition, but she couldn't help but think it.

"You're the most honorable man I know. If Hightown had just a few more nobles that were like you, the city wouldn't be in nearly so bad of shape as it is. I just... feel like you deserve better. Oh! Not that I'm saying what you have is in any way inadequate, I just think men like yourself are far too few in this city to be spent on mercenary work, when they could be doing something more." There was more to this, she knew there was. He carried himself so well, acted with a dignity that no lowborn mercenary would learn. He said he had been a Chevalier, a Knight, many steps above a sell sword for certain. So why was he one? He was holding himself back for some reason, and she wanted him to stop, or at least find out why, so that she might help him as he had already helped her.

"If you want, after you return from this expedition, which you will return from," she said, her lips curling into a small smile. It was the closest thing to an order she'd given him since they had met. "My family could use your services. I could use your help. I would see to it that any needs are taken care of, so that you need not sell your blade for coin anymore. I... could ask the smithy to forge you a greatsword, if you like. The scythe seems such a difficult tool to use..." It was as much a question as a statement, as she was very curious why Lucien chose to fight with that particular instrument. Surely the Chevaliers hadn't taught him to use it.

Lucien was quiet while she spoke, as courtesy demanded. He was also, he had to admit, interested to hear what she had to say, and in the end, he wore a subtle quirk to his lips for the majority of it. It wasn't that he found her words humorous, only unexpected. When all had been said, he hummed a ponderous syllable in the back of his throat and raked a hand through his shaggy mane of hair. "I think," he said slowly, letting his words ferment just a little before he uttered them, in case he should decide against passing them over his tongue at all, "that you may be giving me a little too much credit. I do not mistake your offer for anything but the honor it is, and I am humbled that someone herself so worthy thinks so highly of me."

There was a pause, not necessarily uncomfortable, but laden with an implication he was not certain he was making sufficiently clear. There were some things that could only be said in the elegance of silence, but other things which required words. "Were my circumstances different, I would accept without hesitation. I would have you know this, so that you do not think my indecision is your fault. But there are things I have not told you about myself that may warrant your reconsideration. This was not an attempt at duplicity on my part, I swear to you; I simply never thought there would come a time when the information was relevant."

Lucien sighed, and for once, his shoulders slumped, as though a weight of some significance had been added to them. "I am... less informed than I should be regarding Kirkwall's diplomatic relations with Orlais, but I do not believe hiring that country's most contentious exile in recent years will do you any favors. The nobles were quite divided on the matter, and some would doubtless view the act well. But such a deed would be inherently a political one, and therefore one that deserves the most careful of considerations. Whether you intended to or not, you would be showing favor for my aunt and her allies and disfavor upon others, including certain mid-level Chantry officials." He finished off his brandy and gestured for another, but his single visible eye did not leave hers.

"It is a long story, and not all of it is mine to tell. But I promise you this: ask of me anything, and you will recieve only truth, even if that must be silence. I would also understand if you wish to rescind your offer in light of the circumstances, and I would certainly not hold it against you."

Sophia knew full well this was not the ideal location for this conversation, but considering that it would be a few weeks before she would be able to speak with him again, it seemed worth it to bring it up. What he had said, though, what he had hinted at... Sophia was able to put a few pieces of the puzzle together. "Of course. I should not have sprung this upon you here. If you feel comfortable sharing, perhaps we can discuss this further when you return, and a better opportunity is presented to us." There was no need to state what she thought she had learned about him, since this was not a conversation he wanted to have here, and she was certainly not going to try and force it upon him.

She took a longer drink of wine, noticing that the taste was diminishing with each sip. Perhaps the Hanged Man’s spirits were simply an acquired taste. Rather than try to shift the discussion to something else just as serious, Sophia decided on something else, Rilien’s music floating to her ears and bringing a slightly mischievous smile to her lips. This was a celebration, was it not? Then what was she doing sitting here speaking of mercenary work and greatswords? “I do have one question for you,” she asked, leaning forward. “Do they teach Chevaliers how to dance in Orlais?”

"With as much fervor as they teach us to fight," he replied lightly, standing and stepping out behind his chair. Bowing chivalrously, he extended one hand. "Would milady be so generous as to do me the honor?" The slightly-crooked smile was an indication that he wasn't giving it quite that much gravity, but manners were manners, be they in a lowbrow tavern or at a lavish party with all the world's wealthiest. Normally, he probably wouldn't have asked, as the music one heard in taverns was not conducive to the sort of dancing one learned for the ballroom, but Rilien was a world-class bard, and there were no two ways about that.

It was hard to give a dance of any kind gravity in the Hanged Man, and Sophia’s smile turned into something of a little grin when she took his hand, sliding to her feet, the pair heading for the space cleared for dancing. It certainly wasn’t similar to the settings she was used to, sparkling rooms and ridiculous gowns that she had to be sown into, gilded affairs that were always weighed down by one hidden agenda or another.

This was simply a chance to have some honest fun in a way that she couldn’t in Hightown, and for that, Sophia was glad.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose
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Nostariel was only too happy to wave off Sparrow's apology and turn the conversation to happier things. Frankly, thinking about it right now was likely to give her a headache, and while unburdening herself on Ashton had doubtless helped, she still wasn't too comfortable lingering there. "Then start over we shall. Please, take a seat, both of you." From Sparrow's words, the Warden took it that he and Aurora were acquainted, but she wasn't sure if the same was true of the other two. So, feeling for once like a proper host or at least a proper friend, she made the introductions.

"Aurora, this is Messere Ashton Riviera, hunter and expedition investor." She'd intentionally paused just minutely between the man's first and family names, as if to tease him with the possibility of sliding Cuthbert in there somewhere. Still, private joke or not, she was as good as her word, and kept mum on the subject. "Ashton, this is Miss Aurora Rose, a friend of mine, if that's not too forward to say." Nostariel thought it was a bit appropriate, but then it'd been a while since she really had friends, so in a way, she wondered if it was maybe too much to hope for, that these people were her friends. "I see you managed to get your half a circus after all, Ashton." She hadn't been sure what he'd meant by that at the time, but now she could guess, and it didn't seem a bad choice to have made. Sparrow was boisterous and opinionated and a little bit lacking on social grace, but then, who among them wasn't at least a little like that? His mace was keen and his magic powerful, and she knew Varric certainly wouldn't care that he was an apostate. Not in the slightest.

"Messere Lord Ashton Riviera," he corrected, tongue firmly in cheek. His eyes went big at the pause between first and surname, as Cuthbert wasn't the most dashing of names. For it to be dropped in the midst of a lovely lady (and Sparrow), Ashton just didn't think his frail ol' heart could take it. Though the incident passed without calamity and he quickly regain his cheer, sliding a chair out and plopping himself in it. Harkening back to when he first met Nostariel, he took the redheaded girl's hand in his own, bowed slightly (as much as sitting in a chair would allow at any rate) and offered, "At your service Milady."

Aurora found this man to be... Rather forward. She twitched when he took her hand, though she was not so rude as to jerk it away. "Er... Right," she said, clearly suspect of the man. Surely the tankard in his hand had something to do with his brazen display. Though, if he was a friend of Nostariel's, then he couldn't be all bad, right? He finally allowed her hand to go and leaned back in his seat, allowing Aurora the chance to reply to Nostariel. "Not forward at all," she shook her head. They were friends after all, fighting through the underbelly of Dark Town looking for a wayward elf tends to do that to people... Though she couldn't say that she was really friends with Ithilian... Acquantiances, more like.

Still, she considered Sparrow a friend as well. Pride demons have the same aforementioned effect as well, as it turned out. "I take it that you know Nostariel as well," she said, the edge of her lips curling up. City of Chains indeed. "How has life been treating you, Sparrow?" she offered, much to the chuckling of the man beside him. Apparently, he was in on a joke that she was not, and caused her eyebrow to raise, though she did not venture to inquire what the punchline was.

The little blighter had already obliged Nostariel's invitation to seat herself. Even if she'd wanted her to mosey-on out the door, and away from her, it wasn't likely that she was willing to accept that suggestion. Sparrow, quite pleased that the conversation had taken a better turn, hooked her arms behind her chair, leaning backwards, as if she were some sort of lounging animal, of the feline variety. Her apology had been successful. She wouldn't have known what to do if Nostariel had openly rejected it – but, it might've involved heavy amounts of liquor and sulking until she finally crawled out of the Hanged Man. Her smile seemed shades brighter, though she'd been having a good time prior to wandering over. A slight burden, however light, had been lifted from her shoulders. Companions, it seemed, meant a lot more to her than they ever did – she wanted to keep them as her own, shelter them under her arms. She did not want to lose any of them.

Sparrow couldn't help but bark out a laugh, quickly burying it into the heel of her palm. “Serrah, Lord Ashton. Mighty, powerful God of arrows, wooing women all over the glade.” Then, she grinned. She was always teasing him, elbowing his ribs as if he were some sort of awkward-brother. His ability to brush things off his shoulders was uncanny, as if it were actually made out of rock armor, without any chinks or weaknesses. Sparrow was sure he'd seen his share of things, and the fact that he was still fighting and doing business in Kirkwall meant that he wasn't willing to settle down as Lord and live a comfy, pompous life. It was humble. Would she have done the same in his position? She wasn't so sure. Already giddy with optimism, and a little more ale than she should've drank, Sparrow slumped forward and listed on her elbows, hands cupping her chin. “Yes, yes. I had to introduce myself when I first spotted her.” Another smile, carelessly tipping up. Ashton's chuckling moved her to jostle him with her shoulder, then sidle backwards, hands intertwined behind her head.

“It's been fine—quiet, but fine.” Her response was purposefully nonchalant, indicating nothing of her internal struggles, or all of that Templar-business. “And how have you been? Keeping out of trouble?”

Rilien, for reasons unknown perhaps except to himself, chose this moment to shift his playing, taking up a tune with a rather merry cadence, all things considered, one that the bar patrons would be surprised to find could equally-well be waltzed to or utilized for less-formal purposes, including but not limited to jigging, cavorting, and generally being ridiculous.

Aurora chuckled at the man's question, just in time to punctuate the merry shift of the tune. "If I said yes, I'd be lying," she said, before adding, "Nothing huge though, I don't expect the Temp--" She caught herself, quickly throwing her gaze at Ashton. This man didn't know she was a mage. Sparrow and Nostariel did, but not this man. She didn't know how he would react, she was too comfortable with these friends (and fellow mages) to even think about it. She hesitated for a moment, her mouth hanging agape, wanting to spill the last syllable, though common sense fought her the entire way. She had thought she had learned to be careful about her powers. It didn't occur to her that maybe the man wouldn't care, considering the friends he kept.

Ashton merely smiled and took a drink from his tankard, and then finished the word for her, " --plars? Don't worry sweetheart, your secret's safe with me," he said winking. He then threw his arm over shoulder and hinted, "I'm good at these kind of secrets after all," He laughed then retracted his arm. "Also, she's lying. Things have not been quiet for us. Though things are never really quiet with that one around," he said, smiling to himself. Ashton too noticed the tune, and had began to tap his foot along with the melody. He looked over in time to see the Chevelier sweep a young woman off of her feet. Always the jovial type, Ashton gifted Lucien with a muted applause before tuning back to his own table, but the seed was sown.

The tempo in his foot never stopped and before he knew it he had a hand extended to Nostariel. "Looks like fun, doesn't it? Come on, join me?" He said, with his ever-present half-joking serious smile.

Nostariel hesitated for a second, unsure that she should really be dancing. She'd never learned how, though one glance at the floor was enough to convince her that most of its occupants hadn't either. With a small sigh, she shrugged, smiling up at her friend. "I hope you're wearing metal shoes," she joked, standing with him and allowing herself to be led into a more-or-less empty spot. "Seriously. I have no idea what I'm doing." She wasn't even sure what to do now that she was standing there. She'd seen people do this before, but whether they'd been doing it properly was a much more contentious question.

"Umm... I don't suppose nobles just inherently know this sort of thing, do they?" The look she gave him was nonplussed, but morphed swiftly into a full-on smile as she processed the absurdity of the situation. Here she was, Grey Warden Captain, healer, mage, erstwhile adventurer, and now expedition guide, and yet so utterly perplexed by something that should have been so simple.

The half-breed's hooded eyes found themselves flitting across the way, noting the shift in Rilien's song and how his fingers expertly plucked away at his instrument. It solicited a small smile on her lips, drumming her fingers along with the beat, tapping away against the wooden knots spiralling across the table. How many times had she badgered him to play her cheerful songs in their hovel? Too many to count, honestly. She wondered if anyone had approached him, wondering whether or not they could have a jollier tune, or if he'd chosen it on his known. Even if he was Tranquil, she had to admit that her companion had a better sense for puzzling out situations, and adapting to them, then anyone else she was acquainted to. Aurora's momentary fumble, and Ashton's easy recovery, brought another soft chuckle sifting through her lips – if it hadn't been for his personality, or his acceptance of others, then they might've never been able to get along. If she were to say that she was secretly some sort of spawn from the deepest, darkest recesses of the Deep Roads, she was sure that Ashton would've taken it in stride, regaling her with tales twice as bewildering.

She snorted, eyeing Ashton balefully. Had she been missing an arm, or soulless, then she would have announced, quite loudly, that things hadn't been quiet. Her life, it seemed, was teeming with horrible missions, and prospects of money, at the expense of her working alongside Templars, fluctuating from condemning mages, to trying to help them in incomprehensible ways. How could she explain that, anyway? Instead, Sparrow was far more content bobbing her head like the flighty little bird she was, indicating that her life had been rather uneventful save for the occasional trip to the Hanged Man. She laughed again when Ashton offered Nostariel his hand, obviously taken with Lucien's graceful dancing – and she, too, accepted his casual suggestion before moving off to dance beside them. Her steps, however clumsy, were charming. “Good company often accepts even the darkest secrets. It's hard to come by.” Such a small musing seemed innocent enough, spoken over top of her goblet – it was the truth of it, for if Ashton, or Rilien, had been anyone different, Sparrow would have been dead long ago or forcibly brought to the Circle. Her wings would not be clipped for anyone.

"I'll let you on to a bit of a secret... Nope. I have no idea what I'm doing," he said. He looked nonplussed about it, though really, who was going to disapprove? Sparrow? Aurora? Rilien? Even if they did judge, Ashton was never the one to care about what others thought. If he did, the he certainly wouldn't act the way he did. Either way, the whole dancing bit wasn't too hard, was it? Just step back and forth while slowly going in a circle, right? He wasn't aiming to dance in an Orlesian ball like the Chevalier after all. He had good enough control over his feet, so he wasn't worried.

"Right. One hand here, the other here..." He said, adjusting his grip on her hand. He then took her other hand an placed it on his shoulder, while his own went to her hip. "Now... Dance." he said with a coy grin. He began to step to the side, followed by a step back, and then a step to the other side all the while slowly turning in a circle. He took... Some ideas from Lucien, but a knight he was not, and form was not the idea. His grip was soft, almost as if the callouses on his hands weren't even there. His own feet were light, airy, as they danced. Once again, the technique of the hunter found itself bleeding into everyday life. He found himself enjoying the moment, like there were no one else but them. It was... Nice. The Tranquil's song, the mages at the table, the pair dancing beside them, they all melted away. If he died right then, he felt like it would have been okay. Everything would be alright. He found himself laughing at the thought.

"Erm... okay..." Nostariel wasn't really sure how dance explained anything, and for the first few steps, she tripped more than anything. Eventually, she thought she was getting the hang of it a little bit, but maybe that was just because she'd given up on trying to decide what direction she should go in and fell into his pattern as well as she could. Lightfooted or not, she did manage to step on his toes once or twice, and winced each time, offering hasty apologies. With a little time, she actually started listening to what was playing, and then maybe things made a little more sense. Still, it was a little unnerving. She hadn't been this cose to another person since... well, honestly probably never. Dancing wasn't exactly something that happened in the Circle, at least not with the person she would have wanted to dance with...

Frowning, she shoved the wayward thought away. That was years ago. This was today, and she should be happy about it. Then he started laughing, and for a second, she thought to be offended, only she realized it wasn't directed at her. How she knew that, she couldn't say, but she did. "What's so funny?" she asked, genuinely curious. Her brows gathered together on her forehead, and she looked at him skeptically. "Or is the ale just catching up with you?"

"Maybe that's it," Ashton said, stringing her along. Moments passed without him answering the question truthfully and when he felt like he'd kept his mouth shut for long enough, he clarified. "It's just funny is all. When I woke up this morning, I didn't expect that I'd end up here-- well, not here. Of course I knew I was gonna end up at the Hanged Man, but... Here... And the twirl... he offered unhelpfully as he lifted her hand and spun her around. Another laugh and he attempted to clear it up, his smile never leaving his face. "Life is funny like that, it's always an adventure, and you never know where it'll lead you. I just enjoy these small things," he said. "Or the likeliest answer is the ale is making it much more funny than it is. At least it hadn't taken my ability to dance yet, right?" He half expected fate to kick in right there and throw him to the floor.

Perhaps, it might've been while watching Ashton and Nostariel spin around, venturing to find their own beat, that Sparrow began to feel strange... Sparrow blamed her ale, mutely accessing whether or not they'd made her a bad batch. The world felt as if it were spinning, painted in a patina of confusion. From how hard she's clenching her jaw, settling the goblet down as if it were actually poison, she certainly felt like her her teeth were crackling against one another. Inwardly, it felt as if someone was letting out a puff of air that would have sounded embarrassed coming from anyone else – to her, it felt like impatience. Like someone had finally riddled their fingers across her squirming spine, shlepping off an uncomfortable coat to step into another. It was every kind of wrong. And then, stranger yet, Sparrow felt separated from herself, like someone had reached into her chest, taken her out and placed her into a metal cage, ruefully patting her head like a hound who'd destroyed the furniture. Rapture brought her own hand across her forehead, knuckling her eyes, and set her sights across the other magelet.

Ah, the music. Her ears were all her own, now. Her eyes nearly closed, lidded in appeased content – very cat-like, very unusual. It had been a long time since she'd felt at home, canoodling amidst living-breathing sacks. She missed the food, she missed the feeling of her fingertips, she missed feeling her own movements. Her eyes swept open once again. She, too, had risen to her feet, offering her hand to the little magelet. “Why aren't we dancing?” It was an offer, a soft suggestion to enjoy themselves. She was already feeding off her own ecstasy, entirely tickled pink with how she'd bullied Sparrow out of her mindscape, commandeering her nervous system. This coat was much more comfortable. The mischievous grin splitting across her face masked any ill-intentions hidden in her hollow chest – and Sparrow watched in horror, throwing herself against those bars and calling after them. The Fade around her was subdued, easily mistaken for her natural abilities as a runaway apostate.

Unnoticed to anyone who wasn't paying very close attention to the music, Rilien's fingers faltered, playing too hastily over the strings of his lute as something in the air spiked. In a way, this facet of his imperfection was the one that intrigued him the most: that sense he'd gained, vague but never wrong, exactly, for rippling disturbances in the Fade. It was how he knew a mage when he encountered one, but it was also how he knew when that thing was troubling Sparrow overmuch. This, though... he'd never felt this. It was as though his companion had receded, somehow, leaving the tang of the thing's presence nearly palpable, like something on his tongue or in his ear. His hesitation did not last long, however, and he resumed right on playing, though it would not be inaccurate to say he watched her motions like a cat watching a mouse. If things went wrong, he would be there in a mere second, ready to pin down the demon and drag her bodily from the crowd, and let people think what they may. It was all he could do for her-- ensure that her choice did not inadvertantly, unwillingly lead her to hurt somebody else.

Nostariel? Dancing? Aurora might not have known the Warden as much as she would like, but dancing seemed like a stretch for her. She could understand Lucien and Sophia, it seemed like something a Chevalier and a Noble would learn in their life. But a Warden mage and a goofy hunter? That was a different story. Aurora watching them for a moment in silence, noting the difference between their styles. She laughed softly to herself. She never imagined the Hanged Man becoming an impromptu ballroom in any stretch of the imagination. Her attentions were brought back around at the man across from her and his outstretched hand. Aurora had never been meek but at the offer she couldn't help but to blush wildly and retreat into her shoulders.

Still, there was no way she would decline and be one of the only ones to sit out. She took his hand and allowed Sparrow to lead her to the dance floor. She had no idea what was going through his head, though that didn't stop her from trying... "You lead?" Aurora asked.

Sparrow's offer was unwavering, entirely assured in the way her proffered fingers curled – as if, in the instance that Aurora refused to dance with her, it wouldn't have bothered her in the slightest. Her voice had an unintended lilt that might've brushed off from her better parts. She moved without her unusually clumsy gait, all full of clomping bluster and cheeky elbows. One might wonder whether or not she'd been drinking at all. She dipped low, arching an eyebrow as Aurora's shoulders raised, clearly surprised by her unexpected offer. Why would they not dance, indeed? Her dance was one of trickery, of lies, of deceit, of promises and of an expected paradise, twinkling in her eyes. This might've not been her body, yet, but that certainly didn't mean she couldn't have her fun. She wasn't necessarily ruthless, just unbridled and relentless in her pursuits.

She would cut them twice, and kiss them once. She would show them how it was done. The lights were low and matched her mood, soft and heady with the steady, rhythmic strumming belonging solely to the bard's merry twill’s. As soon as Aurora's fingers settled into her palm, she lead them both to the dance floor, smiling wryly. As pleased as a kitten with it's paws dipped in milk. “Of course, unless you'd prefer to lead.” Her response was intoned low, scaled sultry. Her hand came up to grasp her own, boldly raising it to shoulder level as she spread her fingers and entwined them into hers. She moved her other hand automatically, extending her arm to encircle her back. Sparrow's inner protests seemed a distant thing now; merely an annoying buzz against a brazen barrier that could not be broken with her weak complaints. Her movements, now, were imploringly gentle but insistent, as if she knew where they ought to be next. Her hands, however calloused, seemed minutely more feminine, and aware of where they were being placed.

On occasion, Sparrow – Rapture looked over Aurora's shoulder, observing their bard-companion. The one who'd so rudely turned down her offer. The Tranquil-man. Hardly a man, after all. She was aware that he was staring at her, and most assuredly conscious of how he probably knew whom, exactly, was in charge for the time being. His ability to taste the Fade had proven uncanny. Even so, her look was one of satisfaction. Tonight, she had won. Her hand dropped from Aurora's fingers, slipping to her waist, while the other guided her into a twirl – and even if she'd stumbled, her hand had already snapped up to capture her hand back in hers.

Aurora was taken by surprise. She had no idea that Sparrow was this good of a dancer. She had never danced before in her life-- except for childish things when she was a girl. Flowing dresses, flower wreaths, spinning in a circle with her brothers and sisters. The dance brought those memories back, from back before the circle. She remembered dancing with her brothers, her sisters watching and clapping along. It was a silly thing, memories of a young girl, but it was nice to relive them, even for just a second. She found herself guided by Sparrow's soft, but sure hands. Then she was spun, and though she felt as if she was falling, Sparrow caught her again. "You're pretty good at this," Aurora said.

Ashton quickly became aware of how full the so-called "Dance floor" was becoming, and though he wasn't surprised that Sparrow had managed to snatch up the other mage, he was surprised that at the skill with which Sparrow dance. He never knew she danced so well. Then again, whenever they danced, they both were drunk and it couldn't even be called dancing at that point... Flopping about more like. He'd have to remember to ask Sparrow where she learned to dance like that. But that was for later, what mattered was his own dance. His own feet (even if Nostariel had managed to step on them a couple of times) had found their way to Lucien and his partner. He tried to catch the Cheveliar's eye and nodded acknowledgement, though another idea quickly popped into his head.

He leaned down into Nostariel's ear and said, "How would you like to dance with a real knight?" loud enough for both her and Lucien to hear. Before he could explain what he meant looked up to Lucien and smiled a cockeyed smile. He gently spun Nostariel towards the Cheveliar and cried, "Switch," as he awaited for his new partner.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose
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Lucien was quite conscious of the other parties on the floor, as several of them were to some degree inebriated, and as a result, he and his friend found themselves forced to navigate around them, but that was not to say he was at all suspecting what Ashton suggested. Well, suggested was perhaps a kind word for it, as the Chevalier scarcely had time to think before Nostariel was more-or-less tossed in his direction, and he wasn't sure she could be relied upon to catch herself. Trepidation and wryness fought a battle for dominant facial expression, but in the spirit of the evening, the latter won by a fair margin, and he shook his head minutely. From where it was lightly resting at Sophia's back, he brought his hand to circle around Nostariel's upper arm, so as to support her if she did in fact stumble.

"My apologies," he told the young noble, rolling his visible eye, "but it seems my friend over there would very much like to dance with you. I hope you don't mind? He's largely harmless, though... well, I won't spoil the surprise." The slight twitch to his mouth sealed the tone as 'dryly amused' rather than simply resigned, as it might otherwise have seemed. Though the gesture was a smidge awkward, he still managed to pull off a rather decent bow, as was custom at the conclusion of such things.

Sophia wore a wry smile as well, taking a look at the pair of dancers that had approached them. She had of course met Nostariel before, but upon their first meeting, she'd hadn't guessed the Warden to be the dancing type. It wouldn't have been the first time her initial impressions had mistaken her, but still, Sophia hadn't thought Nostariel would dance. It was nice to see that she was wrong. The man she dance with Sophia did not know, but apparently Lucien and he were acquainted to some extent. He was not so tall as Lucien, but still a good half foot taller than Nostariel, probably more. Lucien's bow was returned with a brief curtsy. "I'm sure he's nothing I can't handle." She was getting pretty experienced with Lowtown folk, after all.

She flashed a warm smile to Nostariel as they passed on her way to her new partner, taking his hand and resuming the dance. "Might I know your name, serah? I don't believe we've met," she asked with a raised eyebrow. She could only assume he knew who she was, given his initiative in the little partner switch that just occurred.

Ashton chortled deep down in his throat at being called "Serah." That was a new one. Still, he took the new lady's hand as he had done before when introducing himself, cocked a bow and spoke, his words very neatly hiding the slur that waited beneath the surface. Or so her thought. It was hard to tell through the buzz he had going on after all. "Serah? No serahs here milady, only Ashton. Ashton Riviera, at your service," he said, taking a sweeping bow and then engaging in the dance. His mind wandered off for a second as he wondered how his own rudimentry skills stacked up with a full-fledged Chevelier. Oh well, he was about to find out.

"So my lovely lady, what is your name," he asked in almost a purr. The idea that this woman would somebody of import was ridiculous. What self-respecting noble would found themselves in the Hanged Man? Discarded nobles (like himself) aside, of course.

Sophia found herself smiling in a lightly amused manner. It could have been attributed to three things, the first being the man's flattery, which was having a little more effect on her than it would have had she not been slightly intoxicated. The second possible cause was that this Ashton Riviera did not in fact know who she was, or at least claimed not to. It was utterly refreshing to not be recognized, especially so when one was not looking to be the center of attention for a night. It could have also just been the wine, the warm feeling that was most certainly not the heat of the packed tavern.

"I'm Sophia," she said, quite deliberately leaving out the family name. If he wasn't too far gone he would have a chance of figuring the rest out, assuming he opened his ears to local gossip at all. Her dress was no glittering Orlesian creation, but it was slightly too fine to be of Lowtown, and she looked a little too clean, her hair a little too well done. No, she still very much had the Hightown look about her. It wasn't something that could simply be taken off in a day. Not to mention that she seemed able to dance without so much as thinking about it, even while speaking to him and having been drinking. Beyond that, her name had been on more than a few lips lately. "So, Ashton, what is it you do? Besides flattering and dancing with women in taverns, that is."

"Ah, but milady, if I told you that, then that would kill any mystery I may possessed," Ashton teased. If he seemed to recollect Sophia's title based on a first name basis, he certainly didn't show it. Her names might have been on the tongues of common rabble, but then again Ashton wasn't quite the normal rabble. He never did have an ear for loose-lipped gossip. Not to say he didn't sling his share of mouth nonsense, but it was more of nonsense nothings. Anything of substance would roll down his shoulder. He did have his ear to the ground. The hunter never really got out much. He smiled though and looked down at the woman, dipping her.

"I'll tell you for a smile," he said, the phrase returning to glory. Smile or not, he continued and explained what exactly he did. "Oh, well, you know. I'm a hunter. I hunt. I sell the meat and skins that I don't use. It's not this fine," He said picking at a bit of fabric at her shoulder, "But I digress. If I say so myself, I'm still a damn fine tailor. Or something. How about you milady? What do you do in life-- aside from entertaining dashing rogues like myself?" Ashton said. He'd made the realization that she was of obvious higher class.

“Of late, I’ve been battling brigands, bandits, and dragons beyond the walls of the city,” Sophia said rather honestly, since it was entirely true, regardless of how unlikely it may have currently looked. “A woman can wield a blade as well as any man if she puts her mind to it. Better, even. Many men lack a certain… finesse.” Ashton didn’t, she could see. He was not so elegant a dancer as Lucien, but he was clearly not clumsy, though she had no knowledge of whether or not he could handle a blade. He was obviously no brute, something that could not be said for many in the tavern at the moment, and perhaps she would even consider his use of the word dashing as accurate.

“But really, most of what I do on a day to day basis is trying to keep my younger brother out of trouble and my father out of the stress his work puts on him.” She gave him the smile he was looking for on the other side of a twirl, golden locks whipping about momentarily. “Truth be told, I think I don’t get nearly enough opportunities to just enjoy a night among good company. But… we do the best we can with what we’re given, right?”

"Dragons? Sounds like an adventure. Hate I missed that," Ashton said, tone ambigious to whether it was a tease or geniune belief. Still, there had been weird going-ons recently, and he wouldn't put the idea down. Though, they were talking about work while dancing, and Ashton found it incredibly dull-- even if dragons were mentioned. Had the story included griffins, she'd have his rapt attention. "Ah, keeping your family out of trouble. So you're a family lass. That's good. Family's always good," he rattled off, though family wasn't terribly interesting either. It might have been if he had actually known who the girl's family was. Or maybe he did and just really didn't have an opinion either way. Ashton liked to think of himself as a mystery. Ladies loved mysterious men.

To her last statement, Ashton shrugged and responded plainly, "Nope." Now he was just being oblique. He gave her a dashing smile and put kept his lips sealed for a time, leaving her in suspense about his meaning. Ladies loved suspense too. Feeling that he had let her stew enough, he answered, chuckling. His answer was as nonsensical as usual. "Never settle only for best, take everything you are given, and then some and then stake your claim. Only settle for perfect, and never stop working to that end," he said, mischief and something else glinting in his eye. The something else, of course, was the alcohol. It had a delay effect apparently.

"Sounds like you need to make a little bit more you time sweetheart. Make every night you own one you can enjoy."

Sophia had known that Ashton wasn't presenting her with enough for her to get a good sense of him, but she still hadn't expected that. Maybe he was speaking more freely because he didn't know who she was? Or maybe he did know who he was, and simply didn't care all that much. To be honest, that would have been a refreshing change of pace. Alas, it seemed neither of them were willing to really speak to each other, which was not a surprise considering that this was their first meeting. "Perhaps if I can find a way to add more hours into the day I will find more time for myself, but that doesn't look like it will happen any time soon."

Seeing that the dancing was starting to slow in terms of numbers, Sophia gracefully came around to a stop without forcing it. "What I do think I need, however, is just a little more wine."

"Who doesn't?"




Nostariel was spun away from Ashton, probably only prevented from falling by Lucien's foresight and steadying hand. Coming to a rather more abrupt stop than she'd planned, her hair stung her cheek slightly as it was whipped over her shoulder. Shaking it back, she returned Sophia's smile and then turned her own up at Lucien. "Well, fancy that. I have been rescued by a knight after all," she deadpanned, just barely drunk enough that looking someone so good in the face wasn't going to cause her physical anxiety or pain. It was a nice face, as faces went, she decided, though she wondered how he'd damaged the eye. Still, it was awfully high up. "Have you always been this tall?" she asked blithely, blinking up at him. She was quite certain that the majority of people would suffer neck cramps if they had to make eye contact with him for too long.

Lucien, she knew, was a safe sort of person to be around. Docile as a lamb, really, and just as gentle in the handling of delicate things-- people, situations, objects. So, reserved as she was, she trusted him, and that was rather saying something. That thought firmly at the forefront of her mind, she decided she might just go ahead and keep dancing, though had it been nearly anyone else she'd been passed to, she might have pleaded fatigue. You get the same warning I gave him," she said, gesturing vaguely in Ashton's direction, "I'm really no good at this at all. You seem to be wearing the right shoes for that, though." Was the man ever not wearing armor? She hadn't ever observed him without it. Always wears armor, but never carries a sword-- there had to be something in that. Or maybe she was just used to looking for things like that, and was stating to see meaning where there was none.

"Assuredly not," Lucien replied. "Actually, until I was around sixteen or so, I was only slightly taller than yourself, and probably just as slender," he admitted wryly. The first few months at the Academie had been absolute hell, needless to say. Readjusting their positions so that one of his hands clasped hers and the other splayed without hint of impropriety at the middle of her back, he offered a reassuring smile. It was not as though he expected all of his acquaintances to be well-versed in the waltz. That was simply an idiosyncracy of his upbringing, and this was for fun, not formality.

"You needn't worry," he pointed out mildly. "I have danced with far clumsier people, and my feet are still very much functional. Just listen to Rilien; he has everything you need to know at the tips of his fingers, as a good musician should. If you're still unsure, you need only follow me. And do try to enjoy it, my friend; 'tis not a subtle form of torture." He paused thoughtfully, though their motion did not cease. "Well, at least not most of the time." It was true that she was considerably smaller than he, but then, so were most people, particularly most women, and compensating for the difference in height was a learned skill like everything else.

Cocking his head to one side, Lucien looked down at the Grey Warden, and noted that, for once, she was actually speaking to him, rather than to the air in his general proximity. He'd not known her to maintain eye contact before, and indeed, he'd not even been certain of the color of hers, so rare was it for her to lift them from the ground. "You seem to be in rather good spirits, Nostariel. May I inquire as to the circumstances?"

Nostariel had to admit, that was a little hard to believe. She had difficulty imagining Lucien as anything but the towering presence he was now, for all he seemed to try and tone it down with unassuming mannerisms. There were just some things you couldn't hide, and a height like that was one of them. Of course, it only made sense that he had to have been short at some point; he had been a child, after all, though honestly, that was even more difficult to envision. He was one of those people that just seemed timeless, like he'd always been as he was and always would be. One of her teachers had been like that, too, and she supposed the thought was as silly now as it had been then. Still, the motions he shifted them into were complex enough that she couldn't really muster the concentration necessary for a response, putting most of her focus on their collective feet and trying very hard not to trip. He obviously wouldn't let her fall, but that didn't mean she wanted to endure the abject humiliation of needing to be saved from her own clumsiness.

His words were encouraging, though, and she realized she hadn't really been listening to the music at all. Which was a shame, because she remembered now that she'd heard the Tranquil play before and had always liked it. So she cocked an ear to the delicate strains of sound and gave up trying to calculate precisely what she was doing, and everything was suddenly considerably easier. Not exactly elegant, perhaps, but passable, she thought. She had no doubt he was making it look effortless on both their parts, and the realization brought a small smile to her face, which for some reason only grew wider at his question.

"You know, I guess I just figured out for myself that you've been right all along. Sharing my burdens-- even just telling them to someone-- makes them easier to bear." She shot a look at Ashton, just passing with Sophia on their left, and shook her head minutely as a few snippets of conversation reached her over the din. "And knowing people, being friends with them again... it's nice. It hasn't fixed everything, of course, but..." she trailed off, not entirely sure how to finish the sentence. She settled on a shrug, figuring it expressed the point well enough. Truth be told, she owed the Chevalier a lot. Had it not been for his patient ear and gentle questions over the months she'd known him, his unobtrusive insistence in keeping her company, she might not have been able to open up to anyone at all--- not to Ashton, or Aurora, or him. In the three of them, she'd found friends she'd never expected, and though the realization had caught her off-guard, it was unmistakably warming. Though the hunter kept her most miserable secret, the Chevalier knew her darkest, and her fellow mage shared in a pain of placelessness that the others could never quite understand.

It was... at once unfortunate and a blessing, perhaps, that people could share these things with her. She'd wish none of it upon any of them, but at least they had each other. She understood, now, that this counted for something. And came to a sudden realization. "You seem to know much about overcoming suffering, Lucien..." the implication was obvious. For all his encouragement of the people around him, she hadn't known him to ever really share his own sorrow, and it was suddenly embarrassingly obvious that he had to have some. Whether he shared with her or not was his business, but it seemed imporant that she make the offer, just in case.

Ah, so it had been as he'd hoped then. It was an imperceptible hint of relief that slackened the last vestige of unneeded tension in the line of Lucien's shoulders, and his smile, unobtrusive as it was, could only be genuine. He might have had his guess as to how she'd come to such a realization, but it wasn't really his business, important as it might be, and so he didn't entertain the idle speculation without need. He did, however, make a mental note to buy Ashton a drink at some point in the future, preferably for what seemed like no reason at all.

Fairly enough, the topic of conversation circled back to him, and he considered the implicated question for a moment in silence, suddenly entranced with the flickering shadows of the dancers on the walls. Their movements were more erratic than their flesh-made counterparts, disturbed by the unsteadiness of fire-light, or by another passing in front of their source to make his or her way to the bar proper. His entire life had been staring at shadows, once-- he'd known the general shape of the world outside his experience, but not its colors, or it's flavors, nor even the myriad ways it smelled. The realization that not everything was the way he'd envisioned was a bitter one, but it was not he that suffered for it, really, or at least not he in greatest measure.

"More than some," he admitted, returning his focus to his friend. "Less than most, I expect. My trials have a nasty habit of ending up public knowledge, but I can hardly complain, I think." He injected a little light humor into his tone, and truly, even that was honest. Though he was, like everyone, not done growing and changing, he generally tended to think the worst of that was behind him, and likely, it was only that that gave him whatever small amount of wisdom he could claim. The music slowed to a halt, fading away on a few echoing chords, and he carefully escorted his friend back to her seat, surprised to find that so many candlemarks had disappeared since Varric's speech at the advent of the evening's festivities.

"Pleasure as always, Nostariel."




Sparrow, in turn, seemed to transform Rilien's merry jig into something else entirely. Metered, planned, controlled, but with wild tendencies in the way she slipped her hands away from Aurora's waist, sending her into another spin, only to tuck her back against her chest. The look in her eyes was entirely her own, enticingly new, and eerily misplaced. Slow, slow, quick, slow, turn, dip, repeat. The music playing here wasn't entirely dramatic and it wasn't similar to anything that thumped in her head like wild drumbeats that often paralleled her wicked thoughts. How boring. She silently wished that Rilien could play a more sultry rhythm – one that could mirror how she felt at that very moment, unbridled and reckless in her new coat. The new awareness of muscle, nearly masculine, taut across her shoulder-blades, her arms, her back. If she'd been any crueler, then she would have laughed at the very absurdity of Sparrow's gender-indecision.

She plucked through her memories as if she were leafing through an old, tattered book, for a proper response. Why would Sparrow be a good dancer? Well, she was of the Dalish variety. Privacy was hardly a matter in this. Even with Sparrow's dying squabbles echoing in the darkest corners of her own head, it wasn't difficult pick apart what she needed to carry a semi-normal conversation with her companions. Only those closest to her, perhaps, would pick up the subtle differences. The way she carried herself, or maybe that unusual glimmer in her eye – that bard, as well, was a troublesome whelp, ogling her as if she'd slaughter everyone in the Hanged Man. Were his hands poised against his blades, mere breaths away from the strings of his instrument? She inwardly shrugged. It would be interesting to see how far he could push him. Sparrow turned her attention back towards her dance partner, pulling her flush against her chest before craning her neck over her shoulder. “I grew up with the Dalish, and they were fond of dancing.” It wasn't entirely a lie, but it wasn't something Sparrow could remember herself. “And you aren't bad, either.” She, too, could see slivers of Aurora's past flitting away like flashing heels, skipping hearbeats, and flower petals in tow. Secrets were little more than leaflets in an accessible booklet. She'd continue licking her thumb, flicking through them, until she got what she wanted.

"It's nothing," Aurora replied, trying her best to hide the creeping blush. Instead of trying to stubbornly fight the redness, she found that redirection would best serve the course. Her voice was muted for the first bit then resumed normal volume for the rest of the conversation, "In the circle, I learned-- well. Not learned. Picked up how to carry my feet without falling on my face. Maybe the one good thing that came out of that ordeal," and instead of simply redirecting the conversation, she managed to steer it directly into muddy waters. Magnificent. Instead of letting the conversation stew where it was, she tried to steer the conversation one more time.

Instead of talking about herself however, she'd ask about Sparrow, "The Dalish... I never would have picked you as a Dalish. My experiences weren't... the best, shall we say." There was Ithilian, and he wasn't quite an overabundance of cheer and goodwill. There was also that whole Feynriel incident. Having bows trained on your first visit to the Dalish encampment wasn't the best of first impressions. Still, she was an outsider, and some of it was expected. She wondered what they really were like, when the eyes of the Shem were turned away. "What are the Dalish like? My firsthand impressions haven't entirely been of the happy sort... You know, staring down the point of an arrow tend to sour those."

Sparrow-Rapture had never been one to let comments sit idle, never had been and never would be, so she tsked softly, shaking her head as if to say: no, no, you're a splendid dancer, isn't that what I just said?Had there been no musician, and no expertly plucked notes coming from their resident bard, then she could have still danced. The music was there, in her empty chest, playing in her mind. The beating of this woman's heart was the pattern and the rhythm. And here she was, pressed up against a little magelet, still in close proximity to the Fade – it almost made her laugh at how ironic it was, how she orbited closer and closer to her own boundaries, her own birdcage. Each of her movements resounded something strikingly peculiar, two-folds darker than her merry counterpart. She was not shy. She would not move away and dance as a knight did, paying particular attention not to make anyone feel uncomfortable, for that wasn't who she was.

When Sparrow-Rapture spun them around, she'd momentarily close her eyes, as if she were the one skimming bare, tickling toes across marbled flooring and spreading petals through her fingertips. Her eyes were heavy lidded and half closed, inward looking and there was a small, secret smile on her face, laced with lazy pleasure and a bittersweet edge. Aurora's movements might've been best described as belonging to a child who'd been locked away, left to spin in circles by herself when no one was watching; airy, effortless. The loneliness, the yearning, and the pain. The expression dipped a little bit, as if she were about to make a comment on the matter – though, it quickly slipped away. What would she have said to that? The circle was filled with prissy, self-righteous people, always dipping their fingers into someone else' pie. Templar's had never been kind to her, neither had anyone else who'd been directly involved in stamping their foot down on anyone's chest who even mildly had a gift in the arcane arts. She, too, could fathom that hate.

Again, Rapture perused Sparrow's memories with the precision of a studious bookkeeper, careful to keep her expression arranged into one of thoughtfulness. Interestingly enough, and unbeknownst to her until this meticulous search, her own little mage hadn't even spent very long amongst them. Even if she'd wanted to, she wouldn't be able to unlock those particular truths. They were too muddied. Far too blurry to see straight, anyway. She tipped her head back, pulling Aurora slightly forward, and shot her a grin. “Alright, alright. You caught me.” She began to say, arching an eyebrow. “I was born in Tevinter – mum was Antivan, and my dad was of the Dalish variety, I fancy he fell in love with her and they ran away, eloped, y'know? Far more romantic then what probably happened.” Sparrow-Rapture nodded knowingly, leaving out the small bits she'd use for leverage on a rainy day.

“Sour sort if you judge them how they act around everyone else who isn't Dalish,” the half-breed responded, dipping her low, then pulling her back up. It was true enough, but from her memories, she knew that there'd been a great deal of kindness and acceptance for all Elves who so chose to run away from their captors, from the oppression they had to endure under rulers and masters. “If you're not staring down an arrow, then they can be beautiful. When they move, you move. They're the bow, you're the arrow.” Her laugh was not out of place when she added, “And they love loudly, dance carelessly.” These were her secrets, and she could give them away as she pleased.

"Sounds... Pretty," Sounded like the freedom she tirelessly hunted. They sounded freer than she did. Though she could in no way imagine their plight. Living apart from the cities as they did, secluded from the world around them while at the same time being attuned to it. She sighed as she closed her eyes during the dip, trying to think like they would, to no avail. She wondered how they treated their own kind, and trying to imagine who had held her up at bowpoint dancing and laughing. She even tried to imagine someone like Ithilian laughing. Once perhaps, but certainly not now. She couldn't even conjure a smile to his face, much less laughing.

She lifted her shoulders in a shrug and opened her eyes again. "I was never afforded the chance to be careless," she admitted. She was watched like a hawk in the Circle, the Templar's just waiting for her to become possessed. "You understand, right?" she asked. They were both mages after all, surely Sparrow had the dangers of demons and the fade beaten into her head like she had. "A demon lurking under every fold of the fade, just waiting for their chance to strike the moment you let your guard down," she sighed again, a bit melancholy this time. "Though, you do not strike me as a Circle runaway..." she added.

Rapture-Sparrow bobbed her head demurely, resisting the urge to tut her tongue like a clucking mother-hen. Of course it sounded pretty. It was the breeding ground of magic, and wherever there was magic, there was a possibility for her, or those of her own ilk, to lurk and wait and wriggle their taloned fingers in anticipation. She tilted her head when Aurora snapped her eyes shut, as if reminiscing of something or possibly trying to imagine those straight-stiffs dancing around a wild fire, wringing their hands and fingers together in harmony. Sometimes, it wasn't so, but other times, they were beautiful creatures in the throes of an equally wondrous dance, and with their intricate ceremonies, it wasn't difficult to imagine. Perhaps, with stingier creatures of the Dalish variety lingering in Kirkwall, Aurora's images would prove to be too difficult to behold.

She pulled them into a lazy circle, gazing – perhaps, uncomfortably – into the magelet's eyes. Her own were not red any longer, but a dark, muddy colour that did not give away much. In a sense, it was perfect. Only Rilien could taste her presence in the air, carefully plucking his notes and stealing glimpses of her over Aurora's slender shoulders. Perhaps, wishing mightily that he could simply skewer her with his eyes, and steal his companion, now completely wrung of energy, back to her own body. Again, Rapture-Sparrow nodded. She understood well enough. These questions tickled her pink, vibrating down her spine at how very close Aurora was to the truth. “No, not the Circle—but, I've done my share of running.” She began to say and gave her a twirl, tugging her neatly back into her arms when it was finished. She halted their movement, suddenly twining her fingers in the magelets short locks; a shock of red. “Little reason to fear demons, when you've got good friends.”

This she said loud enough, as if she were calling a toast. This she said while looking at Rilien, expectantly. This she said with a smile that was not her own.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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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: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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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: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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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: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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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: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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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: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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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: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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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 likel