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Nostariel Turtega

"Sometimes, the biggest obstacle to happiness is oneself. I refuse to be that obstacle any longer."

0 · 1,346 views · located in Kirkwall

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

Description

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“I've come a long way, but there is far to go yet.”



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Name: Nostariel Turtega
Pronunciation: “naugh-STAH-ree-ehl ter-TAY-gah”
Age: 30 (Act Three)
Race: Elf
Sex: Female
Sexuality: Bisexual
Height: 5’4”
Build: Lean
Class: Mage

Appearance: A dainty-looking individual, is Nostariel, in that way that elves sometimes have. She's possessed of large eyes caught somewhere between green, blue and grey, that ambiguous color called hazel. In most lights and settings, they seem to favor the blue. She’s got that cute little upturned nose thing going on and a very nice smile, not that she ever uses it or anything.

Her hair’s a common-enough flaxen blonde, usually kept from her face by a few braids and her prominently-pointed ears. Her posture, which might perhaps have grown proud had she led a different life, is most often hunched over just a little, which when combined with the somber cast of her face, generally gives her an air of melancholy and sorrow. Her body language generally revolves around taking up as little space or notice as possible, which is not always an easy task when your most common clothes all have the crest of the Grey Wardens on them. Either plain blue tunics with silver threading and ordinary breeches or else proper mage armor- either way, it's hard to mistake what she is.

She speaks with a notable Starkhaven brogue, though not a particularly heavy one, as the benefit of an education and her time with the Wardens have softened the worst of it. It tends to become more pronounced with her (rare) excitement or (unfortunately common) inebriation.

Act Two: Nostariel's appearance has changed considerably over the course of three years. Her figure, once nondescriptly slender and perhaps a bit frail, has filled out a bit under the rigors of Amalia's training, giving her a firmer tone and trimming her of anything excess that she may have gained from her sedentary bar-sitting lifestyle. Her hair has grown a bit longer, though she still keeps it cut more or less around the line of her waist, more often pulled into a ponytail or a braid with her more active style of combat. Additionally, her style of dress has changed, and she only wears the Warden armor on Warden business. The rest of the time, she might be seen in loose shirts, tighter breeches, a waist sash in some bright color or another, and interestingly enough, a series of small silver hoops in one ear.

Act Three: Happiness has been kind to Nostariel, and as she has transitioned fully out of her barfly’s lifestyle and into healthy, active living, she seems to have lost a few years, at least from the hunch no longer present in her shoulders and the shadows dimmer behind and beneath her eyes. Other than that, her appearance has changed in the way one would expect it to in someone transitioning into their fourth decade of life.


“I never used to be able to stand the sight of myself in a mirror. Now, for
the first time in a long while, I feel like there’s someone there worth seeing.”




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Demeanor: It might be somewhat untoward for a Grey Warden to spend so much time in the Hanged Man, but that’s where you can usually find Nostariel, staring balefully at the bottom of a flagon of horrendous ale. Should misery taste any better? She doesn’t really think so, at any rate. She keeps rooms there, not too far from those belonging to Varric Tethras, actually.

Despite her rather obvious mopey qualities- downcast gaze, soft speech, and softer sighs, she’s actually not that unpleasant to be around, as she still makes an effort to be personable, assuming she’s sober. She does get a bit of light back in her eyes at the prospect of a good adventure, and her magic’s as good as it ever was. She shows a generally kind regard for people, though it tends to wear on her nerves when people claim to require her assistance. Helping, she feels, is all she’s ever done, and in a way, it’s all she knows how to do.

Still, she shan’t complain, and she’s been known to take the occasional mercenary job. Wardens are not common in Kirkwall, and her assignment to the place is as much of a quiet retirement as a Captain of the Grey ever gets. Nostariel feels chained to her duties, and doesn’t think of herself as ever having been free in her entire life. This troubles her deeply, and she envies people who are able to do what they wish with no thought to obligation, though she can’t say she really understands them.

A much-hidden side of the Lady Warden is the one she's in when feeling good cheer. Once upon a time, her laughter came easily-enough, a surprisingly-catching sound all the funnier for the fact that she tends to snort softly in a most unladylike fashion when she does. This tends to embarrass her, and though it hasn't happened in years, it's rather possible to reduce her to a flushing, stuttering (but happy) mess. She's easy to make uncomfortable; a little flirtation will do the trick, but if it's all in good humor (which she usually assumes it is) she won't really mind overmuch. There's a sense of humor in there somewhere, and parts of her personality are undeniably maternal.

Act Two: With time and some very understanding friends, Nostariel has started the arduous process of recovery, and as a result, has quit drinking entirely, though she still lives at the Hanged Man. As a result, her mood has been significantly lighter, and she smiles more readily now. The ability to focus on something other than her own misery has made her of a mind towards self-improvement, and she demonstrates now a dedication and attentiveness to others which had previously been lost in the haze of inebriation. Her Warden duties, infrequent as they are, she embraces as a way to do something good, and in the last year, she's opened up a small, free clinic on the border between the Alienage and Lowtown proper. She's been trying to be a more visible presence in Kirkwall generally, and makes sure that others know where she is reachable in case they need her.

Act Three Having moved out of the Hanged Man and into a small set of rooms above her clinic, Nostariel now rarely ventures back to the place at all. She has striven towards continual self-improvement, as well as the systematic expanding of her sense of goodwill and empathy. She has found a friend in a Qunari, and another in a Chantry adherent, and still another in an elf who believes in their gods. These divergences of background and opinion, and knowing the people who carry them, she thinks, has made her a better person. Nostariel has endeavored to let go of the past without forgetting it, and allow her feet to carry her forward without hesitation into the future.

Fears: The Calling. It’s not close upon her by ay means, but oh, how she dreads it. The final yank on the tether binding her to her duty, inexorable as the change of seasons. She tries not to think of it overmuch, but there’s no denying that the fact that she has so many people in her life to care about now makes it somehow worse. She has, at most, twenty years left to live. Still, she’ll do her level best to make every one of them worth it.

Opinions: (Act Three)
  • The Chantry: Nostariel has never had the same fraught relationship with the Chantry as many of her fellow mages, largely because she was only in a Circle during her childhood, and she has never been an apostate. It would be hard for her to say what she believes in terms of actual religion, and perhaps she believes nothing at all. Still, it is the stories of the Maker and Andraste that she was raised with, and it is hard to shake their influence, even if she is largely neutral on questions of supernatural truth.
  • Mages: Nosta has always been more or less a moderate when it comes to the best way for mages to live. She thinks there is little to recommend simply allowing them all to run around and do as they please, if only because she does believe that the children need to be trained to properly use their magic, and that will more likely happen in a circle than by relying on relatives and suchlike. But… she doesn’t think they deserve to be imprisoned, either, and there is plenty of proof out there that mages can get by just fine in the world with proper training. One only has to look to see that.
  • Templars: She does not hate them. She never has, and she likely never will. Some of them are terrible, cruel people, but then some of them are wonderful, patient, good people as well. She has more reason to know this than most do, and she could never condemn them as a group simply because they act in an imperfect system.
  • Elves: Historically, Nostariel has never been especially concerned one way or another with her heritage as an elf. It was just not the salient feature of her identity, not when the choices mage and then Warden were there to complicate things. She has become more aware of it since settling into Kirkwall, especially now that she has adapted into an almost-fully civilian lifestyle. Certain things about the way elves are treated have become things that she not only witnesses, but now experiences as well, and this has made things difficult in ways she would not have anticipated. Still, she has met many wonderful people, and cannot help but see what racism she encounters as symptomatic of a larger problem, and not an issue only for humans to be blamed for. Change must move beyond hate and blame, or there will be no change at all.
  • Dwarves: Other than Varric, she seldom interacts with any, given that she no longer has frequent contact with other Wardens.
  • Humans: Some are good, some are not. She will not deny that she wishes that more of them were a little kinder, to say the very least, but as with anything else, she is meticulous about not overgeneralizing.
  • Qunari: They were a strange folk, in large part. Amalia is one of the best people she has ever met, and she means that, but the rest of the warriors that landed with the Arishok… well, it is hard to be intimidated after so long in the Deep Roads, but they managed it, certainly. The air in Kirkwall seems a little more breatheable with their departure, but she did not generally see them as unreasonable when they were present.
  • Kirkwall: It’s home now, the one she has made for herself, alongside the people she loves and cares for. Despite the ups and downs and dangers, there is no place she would rather be.


“Adulthood is not the end of growing. I have grown and changed
more in the last six years than I ever did in the twenty-four that
preceded.”





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Weapon of Choice: Staff; her current one works from ice damage. She's always had the aspiration to be an archer, though, and recently has pursued this inclination, and now carries a bow and arrows as well, though she has not yet abandoned her staff.

Armor/Apparel: Most of the time, Nostariel is in one of her sets of Warden-issued mage armor, blue and silver with a robelike feel to it, though definitely more battle-ready than the average robe.

Act Two/Three: Though the Warden still maintains her mage armor, she is more often seen in casual clothing these days, or else a light set of leathers, fashioned for her use by Ashton, to whose expertise in such matters she happily deferred. It's a little more mobile in feel, and the leather plates don't hinder her draw any, which is nice. This is primarily green, red, and brown.

Combat Overview: Ever since she was a small child in the Circle and wanted to heal her fellows’ bruises and burns, she’s had a knack for restorative magics. As the best healers do, she is able to commune with benevolent Fade spirits and draw on their power to heal en masse, even able to revive allies from the brink of death. She also has a good command of the elements of fire and ice, and a few miscellaneous things at her disposal like an arcane shield, elemental weapons, and a few hexes, nothing too crazy.

Act Two/Three: Given her training from both Ashton and Amalia, as well as her own desire to focus on her healing, Nostariel now primarily enters combat by charging arrows with spells through a unique method she discovered herself. A spell-charged arrow has the benefit of delivering its spell directly and at close proximity, but in some cases, the area of effect may be reduced. She's more mobile and agile in combat now, capable of climbing to high ground if need be, and able to hold her own in close quarters primarily by dodging and going for her magic.


“I never imagined that a childhood dream like that one could ever be a reality.
Doing things this way feels… like me.”




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Place of Birth, Nation of Origin: Starkhaven, the Free Marches
Social Status: Grey Warden, a step up from Circle Mage, and her only shield against “Apostate.” Unfortunately, it also keeps her from “free woman.”

Personal History: Much to her dismay, Nostariel doesn’t remember her parents. Her first memory, she recalls, is watching the Starkhaven archers practice from her room’s window at the Circle. She used to want to be one of them, when she grew up, just like the men and women she watched honing their accuracy at the range. It was a display designed to intimidate, for the Templars used that field to train, too, but for her it always looked a bit more like hope.

Despite the gentle discouragements of her mentors, Nostariel always dreamed of finding a life outside the Circle, of perhaps finding love and having the family she’d never been able to recall. Silly little girl dreams, things like that.

It was perhaps, only after her Harrowing that she understood exactly how foolish she was being. There was no life outside the walls for her, and yet she couldn’t help but hope for it anyway. What might it be like to be free, able to set her feet in any direction she chose and walk until she could walk no more?

As it turned out, she’d get to experience all of that exhaustion with none of the liberty it implied. She was recruited from the Circle by the Grey Wardens for her ability to heal, and she went willingly, eager to be unshackled.

From one set of chains to another, but at least her leash was longer. It would have to be enough.

A few years with the Wardens, and she was appointed Captain of her own squad, and sent down into the Deep Roads to quell a particularly-troublesome Darkspawn incursion. It was inexplicable at the time, but had the Wardens in the Marches known that it was due to the Blight starting in Ferelden, they would have sent far more than a single ten-man team.

They held the opening long enough for reinforcements to arrive, perhaps preventing the spread of the Blight into the Marches, but Nostariel lost every single one of the Wardens under her command. The incident did what neither Templar nor Joining had been able to: it broke her spirit, and killed her hope. She was quietly reassigned to Kirkwall, ostensibly to put her somewhere nice and out of the way of larger events in Thedas, but if the city lives up to it simmering potential, perhaps they may yet have more for the shattered Warden to do yet.

The City of Chains… how fitting.

Act Two: It has not turned out to be as poor an experience as she was expecting. Though the road to recovery from the twin failures that have dictated her emotional responses for years is a long one, Nostariel is treading it surely. She came to Kirkwall convinced that she was being forced into an early retirement and a death of liver failure, but the four years she has spent in the place have transformed her. She has gained steadiness, surety, and most importantly, people who lent her theirs when she had none. She's managed also to start a free clinic in Lowtown, one kept running largely by supply donations and the free labor of her friends. There's also a lovely garden out front, courtesy of Aurora.

Act Three: Though she is still occasionally called to Warden business, most of the last four years or so have been spent running the clinic, and helping her friends whenever they seem to need it. Because she rarely takes coin for her healing, she relies on her Warden stipend and whatever she can earn doing miscellaneous work. Since she no longer pays rent, as the storefront was bought with Expedition money, and since the clinic runs primarily on donation, she neither needs nor has much. It would be fair to say that, the good and the bad taken together, Nostariel is actually enjoying her life at the moment, and frankly, that still surprises her a little.


“I will never forget how I came to be here. It was not a path paved in
roses and honey and gold, but since it has brought me to this place,
I can let that much go. I can be happy, here, now.”





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| Amalia |

In addition to being an incredibly-strong individual, Amalia is also one of the most selfless people Nostariel has ever met, and honestly the Qunari were the last place she would have thought to look for such a trait. They seem so stern on the surface, and in a way, perhaps they are, but Amalia at least shows no hesitation to help when she is required, even at considerable cost to her own time and energy. It’s quite refreshing. Nosta has not been oblivious to the slow metamorphosis her friend is undergoing. Where once she seemed so distant from the rest of the goings-on around her, now Nosta feels the sense that Amalia is just as deeply embedded in the city as she herself has become. Their relationship has never been rigidly-defined; though Amalia has taught her much and continues to teach her more, Nostariel would not consider herself the other woman’s student. Rather, they are friends, comrades, something more than acquaintances but less than confidantes. And that’s all right—Amalia is still important to Nostariel, and the Warden would gladly help her friend should she have need of it. In the meantime, she sees her frequently and enjoys her company.

Iron
Just Close Your Eyes



Image| Ashton |

Falling in love a second time is very different from falling in love the first time. On the one hand, there were certain aspects of things that she was more prepared for—it does not, for example, catch Nostariel off-guard particularly when she notices Ash’s proximity much more keenly than she notices the proximity of others. Nor is she surprised that his compliments cause her to blush and stammer a little bit. That’s just what she’s like when she’s infatuated. What does surprise her is the strength of the feeling. Nostariel was a girl the last time she loved someone, and the feelings involved were a girl’s feelings. She is no longer so young, nor so idealistic, but rather than jading her, this seems to have allowed her to reach a more mature emotional point with her feelings, and a depth that has hitherto been foreign to her. She loves Ashton not in the happily-ever-after fairytale dream kind of way, but in the through thick and thin, weather the storms and emerge stronger and better and more beautiful kind of way. It’s different; while she will never forget Tristan and his impact on her life, she is finally ready to acknowledge that it’s time to let him go, to embrace something new and wonderful, and move forward. Fortunately, Ash was of the same mind, and Nostariel cannot recall a time when she was happier, trials and all.

Don't Let Me Fall
[url]Song[/url]



Image| Aurora |

In Aurora, Nostariel sees many of the faces from her past: the young, the bright, and the hopeful. While before it made her wary and a bit sad for what she assumed the girl eventually must undergo, she now finds it to be a source of great warmth and joy for her. The two have a great deal in common, and even the lighter moments between them, when they aren’t talking about anything in particular, are thoroughly enjoyable for the Warden. Nostariel finds herself able to smile and laugh a great deal in Aurora’s company, and the two are often to be seen working on the clinic garden together, the elf taking patient instructions from her much more plant-savvy friend.

Rabbit Heart
New Day



Image| Ithilian |

Nostariel feels that she understands Ithilian much better now than she used to, and their circumstances were unusually similar to her reckoning of them. She’d not say that she understood his reaction to his circumstances, but she can at least claim to know something of his pain. Suffice it to say that she has a respect for the older elf, and is incredibly happy that they both seem to be viewing things with a little more brightness these days. At his request, she has tried to make her presence in the Alienage more frequent and more meaningful, and it seems to be making a difference to the people there.

We Won't Run
Dust Bowl Dance



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| Lucien |

Nostariel has come to rely upon Lucien more than most, as his seemingly never-ending patience and well of good advice are always open to her. She strives to be a little more like him each day, as he seems uniquely capable of giving without asking for anything in return. He accepts circumstances and different ideologies with a rare grace, one she attempts to emulate where possible. Otherwise, she simply enjoys his company. Definitely one of the closest friends she’s ever had, and someone to whom she genuinely feels she could say anything without fear of being rejected for it. He is dependable, trustworthy, and empathetic in a way that she was not generally given to believe that warriors by trade could ever be. She’s never met anyone like him, though sometimes, she wishes there was something she could do to repay him for all his kindness. He’s done so much for her, after all.

Unbreakable Heart
[url]Song[/url]



Image| Rilien |

The Tranquil initially made her very nervous, simply for his nature. Tranquility was something she was raised to fear, but she was also used to Tranquil who did nothing unless asked, save whatever they needed to do to nourish themselves and survive. To see one walking around with independent inclinations and judgements of his own was downright uncanny. Nostariel has since done her best to patch things up with Rilien, if indeed there was ever any offense caused in the first place. She does her level best to treat him like she would treat any other friend-of-a-friend, and she’s found it surprisingly interesting. Pleasant might not be the right word, but she certainly no longer feels nervous or uncomfortable around Rilien.

Healing Subconsciously
Shape of My Heart



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| Sophia |

Nostariel finally feels she has reached the point of being able to call Sophia her friend, and a close one at that. Theirs was not the fastest path to such a relationship, given their conflicting views on authority when first they met through Lucien, but this is something they’ve been able to overcome. She hasn’t asked how Sophia feels about that issue recently, but Nostariel likes to think that they’ve both changed a lot in six years, and that even if they should still have a fundamental disagreement there, their concern for one another as people and friends would render it largely irrelevant, rather than the main sticking point in their interactions with one another. Nostariel does not know what the future will bring to either of them, but she wants to be there to support Sophia in whatever way she can.

Landscape
War of Change



Image| Sparrow |

What started as commiseration over bad ale and mages’ sad-stories exchanged with nothing but the planks of an unsteady table between two mutually sympathetic spirits has evolved into one of Nosariel’s odder interpersonal relationships. Over years, she’s actually discovered a number of things about Sparrow, largely concentrated into on drunk-sitting incident in which the other party at last inadvertently disclosed her actual biological gender. Since Sparrow’s banishing of Rapture, the two have been quite friendly—it is not entirely uncommon to spot the so-called ne’er-do-well at the clinic, chatting with Nostariel while the latter tends the odd patient here and there. Nostariel thinks Sparrow carries a sense of warmth and light with her wherever she goes, and it’s certainly welcome in the Warden’s company. Things seem to be looking up for the androgynous mage, and Nosta can only hope that they continue in that direction.

Heartlines
Have You Got It In You?



“These bonds, these ties… they keep me anchored when I would
otherwise be adrift. I will be forever grateful.”





So begins...

Nostariel Turtega's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Aurora Rose
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If ever there was a soul that looked out of place absolutely everywhere, it was probably Rilien Falavel. Fortunately for him, neither the open staring nor the curious whispers that followed his presence ever really seemed to bother him in the slightest. Presently, three Hightown wives were clustered about some distance behind him, the low rasp of their whispers carrying even over the distance they stood.

Worthy, the dwarf with whom he was presently doing business, moved sideways to glance at them from around the elf’s hip, but in the end he simply shrugged and went back to business. The pragmatism of a merchant dwarf was as much a boon as anything, assuming you knew the value of your goods. For all that he did not much care about money, Rilien was well aware that his products were of excellent quality, and very much sought-after, which entitled him to a certain amount of profits.

A coin purse changed hands, and the Tranquil tied it to his belt wordlessly. He was making to depart when Worthy’s voice stopped him. “Hey, Ril. I’ve got something else you can do, if you’re interested in a bonus.”

The man paused in his movement, stilling as though he were formed from stone. "What is the task?” He asked in his customary monotone. This increased the fervency of the muttering, but he paid it no mind.

“Client of mine wants something delivered. Gascard DuPuis. An Orlesian ponce, with an estate in Hightown. You can just pass it to his steward or his doorman or something, they’ll know to pay you.” Rilien blinked once, then turned smoothly on his heel, accepting the package from Worthy and diverting his course for the Estate District of Hightown. He was aware that this would take him past the Chantry, which was troublesome, but unlike most people, Rilien was quite capable of putting his hangups to the side and doing what needed to be done. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he didn’t really have hangups, only memories of them.

Still, the stride that carried him past the place was efficient and fluid, enough so that between it, his smooth facial cast, and his barely-sunned hue, he might have resembled something more ghost than elf.

He was slowed by the voice of a woman, one that seemed to carry more panic than anything in its tone, but the folk here were simply passing her by as though she did not exist. Though some anguish was clear in the tense lines of her body language and pleas fell from her lips like water from a mountain stream, not one even paused. To say that this plight stirred his sympathy would be to mistake him for someone who understood what sympathy was, and even his memories held no recollection of such an emotion being bestowed upon him or named to him. Regardless, it did pique the curiosity of a well-sharpened mind, and he tucked the small package beneath one elbow and approached her.

She had hair of an ashen-blonde most often seen in humans, and her eyes were a very clear blue. Her clothing- a dress of sturdy fabric, but frayed in a number of places- put her in Lowtown at best, though considerably better off than anyone in the Alienage or Darktown. Which meant that she was here because the Chantry was here.

He wondered distantly if he was going to regret this.

"With what do you require assistance?” he asked bluntly, well-aware that, for the moment at least, his snowy forelock was sufficient to obscure the translucent orange of his sunburst brand. It felt hot and slimy on his skin, always.

The woman seemed to overlook his tone of voice for the most part, wrapped in her panic as she was. "It's my brother, Keran," she said, seeming to latch on to the elf with her eyes as he approached from amidst the other passerby in Hightown before the Chantry, like she was clutching at a rock in the middle of a raging river. "He joined the Templar Order here a few months ago, even though I begged him not to. You hear dark rumors about the Templars here... but it is dangerous even to speak of such things."

She glanced around the courtyard, to ensure that no passing Templars had heard her, before continuing. "I would write to Keran every day, but he recently stopped returning my letters. I went to the Templar Hall to see if everything was all right, but Knight-Commander Meredith had me thrown out. They wouldn't tell me anything!" Her voice had grown rather loud, but she quickly quieted down again. "Do you think you could help me find out where he is, or what has happened to him?"

There was no visible reaction to her tidings, merely a pause of several seconds, during which Rilien turned the information over in his mind. A missing Templar, new to the Order, now entirely disappeared. How peculiar. Though Rilien was inclined to avoid Templars whenever possible, he was aware that they posed comparatively little danger to him, given his obvious condition. He was unmoved by the woman's distress, but all the same he could see no reason not to acquiesce to her request. There was little to be gained, but also little to be lost. "Does your brother have any friends among his Order?" he inquired quietly.

"Yes, he does! He wrote to me about them. He spoke fondly of the recruits Wilmod and Hugh. They were his best friends in the Order, and if anyone knows where Keran is, it would be them." She then bowed her head in thanks to Rilien. "Maker bless you for helping. May he watch over you in this endeavor."

Quite frankly, Rilien would rather the Maker kept out of his business entirely, but he did not bother to say as much, instead inclining his head in return. He would make his delivery, and then find Sparrow. Adventures to search after mysteriously-vanished fellows were something he imagined would strike her very active sense of fancy, after all.


The sound of armored boots managed to gain distance, no matter how many times she turned a corner or burst into a sprint. Despite being essentially sheathed in steel, the Templar still managed to keep step and even gain on the woman. And they called her the monster... Sweat was already beading on her brow and rolling down the bridge of her nose. If she didn't lose him soon, the next time she'd see Lowtown was from the Gallows. Another hard turn and she began to look for place to hide. Then it came, like the Maker himself guided her to her salvation... Well, as much as the Hanged Man can be called salvation. She ducked into the tavern and quickly scanned the bar before calmly walking over and taking a seat at random.

She pulled her scarf up around her head to hide her red hair and ordered a drink. As the drink made it's way over to her table, she began to talk to her new drinking buddy like they had been friends forever. "So the bastard has these slippers he's tryin' to sell me right?" she said with a brogue just as the Templar entered the bar, "He's tellin' me how they are genuine Orlesian slippers and how they'll feel like they're making love to my feet," The Templar scanned the bar as he looked for his target, but seemed confused. The woman disregarded this entirely and continued to tell her story.

"So then I tell the rotten bastard, those slippers look like a rabbit's ass!" She said laughing harder than her small frame would allow. Behind her, the Templar looked defeated and exited the Tavern, continuing the search for the woman who had ran. "You should have... Seen.. His... Face? Is he gone?" The woman asked her new friend-- an elven woman. Once she was sure the Templar was gone she sighed deeply and slipped into a more familiar Antivan accent. "Oh my. I almost didn't think that it would work... Uh.. My apologies for dragging you into this," She said, "My name is Aurora," she introduced herself, the Rs rolling off of her tongue, "And I thank you for your aid. Can I get you a drink?" Hopefully, this woman was liquored up enough to forget the entire scene.

Some minstrel played a jolly sailor’s tune somewhere to her left, but this was a piece of information Nostariel scarcely noted, absorbed as she was with staring at her empty flagon as though the dregs of her ale contained the answers to all of life’s greatest mysteries. Occasionally, there was a bard that played in here, and his music was much better, but the white-haired elf (odd as it was), hadn’t been by in some time. She wasn’t sure what made her think of that just now, but it was considerably lighter than the other thoughts swimming around in her mind these days, so she allowed it to convalesce a while longer before the next, more ponderous thing moved in to take its place.

She wondered how Lucien fared, at this moment, and Rakkis and that curious man Sparrow. Considering that they and the bartender were the only four people she knew at all around here, it was probably natural to wonder after them. Occasionally, the slumped-over Warden would remember herself enough to be ashamed of this, her slow, undignified death, and unfortunately right now was one of those times. Probably because this was her first drink today, and she was still sober because of it.

A situation easily-enough remedied, she supposed. Her hand was halfway up to motion for the bartender for another round when movement caught her eye from her peripheral vision. Nostariel paused then, lowering her hand and following the newcomer with surprisingly-sharp eyes. She knew all of the regulars by gait and carriage if not by name, and this was not one of them.

To the Warden’s surprise, the woman (for indeed it was one, and a rather small one, for a human), slid into the seat across from her, and began talking slightly too-loudly. Nostariel, despite frequent intoxication, was no idiot, and it was obvious that the act was being put on for a purpose. When the Templar stomped through the door, the reason was apparent with silver-armored clarity, and her decision was made.

“Utterly deplorable. I say he’s lucky you didn’t call the guard, my dear.” Nostariel sniffed haughtily, straightening her posture and nodding along with the rest of the rant until the Templar left, sparing just one more when the woman asked if he was gone.

“Think nothing of it,” she replied to the woman’s thanks, placing the accent as vaguely Antivan, maybe Rivaini, but… no, definitely Antivan. “I spent enough time under the watch of the Templars to understand that it is no desirable thing.” Despite her words, there was something almost wistful in Nostariel’s tone. She waved a hand to decline the offer of a drink; she didn’t usually let anyone else buy for her.

“Aurora, is it? My name is Nostariel; it’s a pleasure.”

So this woman had run-ins with Templars as well? Aurora was intrigued. Just who did she managed to sit in front of? "Nostariel? It's a pretty name," she said, cocking her head curiously to the side. She let a pause pass before speaking again. "Templars... You too? So does that mean that you... Uh.." She trailed off. How does one go about asking if another is a mage? Was there some sort of process? Was it rude? Aurora was interested, but didn't want to be pry either. Instead of saying the word outloud, she made odd gestures with her hands. There was something about this girl... Did the Maker really have this kind of a sense of humor?

Nostariel nodded, a trifle melancholy, some unknown affliction flitting across her facial expression before it smoothed out into something gentle again. "It means exactly what you think it means," she replied softly, then tapped the crest on her shoulder, the sole marker of her status as a Warden, the red band underneath the logo denoting her rank as Captain of the Grey. "And a few other things, too." Of course, not all of them were good things, and it was probably obvious that there was far more to the story than she'd bothered to say, but it was not a tale that would pass easily into empty air, fellow mage or no.

"So tell me, Aurora, how does an Antivan apostate find herself running from Templars in Kirkwall of all places? It's not the first location one thinks of when the word 'freedom' is mentioned; of that I am quite certain." Her tone had transitioned smoothly to diffidence, a miniscule smile tugging at one corner of her mouth, and it was clear enough that the question was meant at least partially in jest, and need not be answered seriously if the young woman should wish to avoid doing so.

Her eyes followed her fingers to the crest on her shoulder and Aurora's eyes widened in surprise. Not only a mage, but a Grey Warden at that! She had never met a Grey Warden before, but everyone knew their symbols of Griffins. Strange, seeing a Warden in back end of Kirkwall's seedy tavern. Surely there was a story behind that, but Aurora wasn't going to press. She was happy just knowing that this woman was a mage as well. But a Warden... At least she didn't have to worry about getting sent to the Gallows.

"You knew I was Antivan?" She started. It was obvious how the Warden came to that conclusion. Her accent hardly left any doubts. The corners of her mouth tilted downward in a show of disappointment. "I've been trying to get rid of the accent. You know, try not to draw any unneeded attention to myself," she said turning to look at the entrance where the Templar had been standing. "Been failing spectacularly recently," She shook her head and took a drink of her beer. It tasted horrid. She had merely bought it for the facade, but she hated to waste it. She sighed again and said, "It's not like the word mage does any better. There was a surge of refugees, and I figured that it'd be harder to track one apostate among them."

"Or, you know, I could say that I just wanted to see a Qunari," she said with her grin coming back.

"Indeed not," replied Nostariel, thoughtfully. A wry smile twisted her lips at the mention of the Qunari, and she quirked a brow. "They are... certainly something. What that something is, I couldn't say for sure." The young woman rested her chin on a hand, propping her elbow on the table and regarding her newest acquaintance with something approaching curiosity.

"You know, it helps to have safe places all about the city, ones that you can duck into from just about anywhere. There's a network of tunnels beneath the place, too, but sometimes just having friends in the right places is enough." She paused, her index finger circling the rim of her tankard slowly, then glanced up at the redheaded apostate. "My rooms are just up the stairs and to the left. Second door on the right, next to the storytellers'. If you ever need somewhere to hide and I'm not around. The word 'Ewan' disables the ward, and also replaces it again, so you should be able to get in without fuss."

Was it foolish to entrust such information to a total stranger? Yes, but Nostariel had not counted herself anything other then a fool for a very long time. "You will, of course, need more than one such place. How well do you know Kirkwall? I could show you a few potential hiding spots I've noticed, if you like. The key to keeping a secret is to make it look like you aren't." That, at least was something Nostariel knew a fair bit about.

Aurora eyes widened at Nostariel's offer of safe havens. Thus far, she had been relying on her wits and her feet to keep her out of reach of the Templars. Sure, her... lodging in Lowtown served her well. It was out of place from the main bustle of the city, though she dare not track any suspicions back. She had survived by staying away from the Templars and rarely resorting to magic. Knowing that this woman was offering a couple of more safe havens... It was comforting.

She nodded as Nostariel spoke, listening intently to her words as it may save her from a trip to the Gallows one day. "Ewan... Is there a meaning behind that," She mused outloud. She wasn't posing it as a direct question to the Warden, just a bit of curiosity making it's way out of her mouth.

"Long enough to know the best paths to avoid the heaviest traffic. But I don't have 'safe houses' no," She said. She knew her way around Lowtown and the paths best suited to losing Templars, just in case, but that was about it. "I'd like that. Very much." She said with pure gratitude written on her face. She then glanced back at the Hanged Man's entrance. "It doesn't happen often... Today was... Unfortunate," she said. She wouldn't have had this problem if a band of rogues didn't try to prey on a young woman... Though whether the day proved to be ultimately unfortunate remained to be seen. She did managed to find a Grey Warden mage after all.

"I guessed as much," Nostariel replied easily, ignoring the implications behind the young woman's innocent question. They were certainly present, but she lacked the strength to face them quite yet. It was a foolish piece of sentiment, after all, better left as far away from the stark lights of daytime and sobriety as possible. "Well," she continued, perhaps a shade more brightly than she'd spoken in a while, "I suppose there's no time quite like the present, is there?" Splaying her fingers on the tabletop, Nostariel lightly leveraged herself off the bench she'd been seated at, standing and dropping a few coppers on the table for whomever happened to clean it. She had a running tab at the Hanged Man, one which she paid monthly with her board fees.

A tilt of her head gestured for Aurora to follow her out-of-doors, and the Warden's light footsteps were without hitch or stumble.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With that, the group descended into Lowtown proper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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Nostariel woke that morning with something of a headache, having apparently consumed a bit too much the previous evening. Sometimes, her own tendencies disgusted her, but in this way, she was only driven deeper into her surprisingly-endless well of self-hatred, which of course tended to result in more drinking. She held no illusions that this was a healthy way to live, and in order to ensure that she remained aware of this, she refused to cure any of the symptoms of her own hangovers, though she was not so stupid as to fail to cleanse her body of the worst of the toxins it acquired. It was like curing any other case of poisoning, really, and it was a procedure she practiced not only on herself, but on a few of the bar's other most adamant patrons as well.

Her mouth tasted lke it had been stuffed with cotton, and she sat up blearily, the clean straw of her mattress crinkling softly beneath her. Picking individual pieces of it out of her hair, she advanced to the mirror-glass braced against one wall and frowned. Is it any wonder you don't have a family? She thought to her reflection with a liberal dose of bitterness. What soul would ever wish to spend time in the company of the likes of her, that pitiable (but not likeable) soul in the mirror, staring at the world with baleful eyes? Sighing softly, she put the questions and their invariably defeatist answers from her mind and set about repairing the damage. Vain she was not, but she had no desire to wander about looking like she'd had a fight with a large bird and several goats (and lost). Thankfully, there were ample provisions for hygeine in her adjoining room, and when she emerged, hair damp and back in another set of armor (apparently in case someone or something needed her after all), she looked much less worse for wear and at least somewhat presentable.

Perhaps it was time to see about breakfast... or lunch. It was hard to tell from in here which was more appropriate to the time of day. Disabling her ward, she pushed her wooden door open with the flat of one palm and stepped out, replacing the spell with a quiet murmur. She really did have to stop torturing herself like this; perhaps she'd grown into one of those people who embraced pain to an unhealthy degree. What were they called? Masochists? Yes, maybe she was one of them now.

She walked with eyes to the floor, which was perhaps helpful in instances like this one, as it stopped her from running into her neighbor of sorts, the dwarven storyteller Varric Tethras. Offering him a wan smile, Nostariel dredged up the effort to speak. "Hello, Varric. Good to see you."

Varric's smile was much more enthusiastic upon seeing Nostariel. He kept his voice rather quiet as he spoke, however, understanding that loud noises were probably not the best way to greet the Warden at the moment. "Nostariel, dear. A pleasure. I'd been hoping to speak to you, actually."

The dwarf scratched at his stubbled beard for a moment. It was a rather rare sight to see Varric Tethras struggling to come up with words, but he'd actually been putting this conversation off longer than he should have. Here he'd expected it to be difficult to get a hold of a Grey Warden, and the Hanged Man just happened to get one living in it! But he had to admit, she wasn't what he was expecting. It wasn't often that Varric considered encouraging someone to drink less, but he'd certainly thought about it in Nostariel's case. In addition, her current state made asking for favors potentially problematic.

"If you're feeling up to it, I was hoping we might share lunch in my room, on me. You look like you could use a meal." That was true enough. She was a skinny thing, and while Varric wouldn't go so far as to label her as delicate, he was willing to wager he had at least twice the width she did. And he wasn't a fat dwarven merchant by any standard.

"Is that so?" she asked of him, though mostly rhetorically. She wasn't really sure why Varric wished to speak with her, but the suggested location clued her in to the fact that it wasn't likely to be idle chatting. She blinked exactly once, but needed no more time than that to think it over. "Lunch sounds lovely, actually. You have me all curious, now," her tone was warm as she followed him inside the set of rooms next to her own, though she decided that she didn't really understand how he got by without a door. Hers filtered out noise and served as protection (not to mention privacy), should she ever need it. She supposed Varric's reputation and his silvered tongue were enough guard for him; even the Coterie shut up and listened when he spoke.

His quarters were rather richly-decorated for Lowtown, though not so much so that they seemed too ostentatious. The long table in the center of the front room was perhaps admittedly more for someone of his height than hers, but she was not so large that it would be a problem. For a moment, she tried to picture some of her more notble acquaintances sitting here. The Qunari was so agile and flexible she'd probably just fold herself to fit. Ithilian might refuse the indignity. Lucien, though... he'd feel obligated to be polite, and wouldn't that be something to see? The mental images chased away some of her gloom, and she settled herself comfortably-enough into a low chair.

"So, Varric, what is it you'd like to talk about?"

Varric took his seat at the head of the table, as always, delicately resting his peculiar-looking crossbow against the side. Without him even asking, one of the serving girls brought in a variety of food for them, and another brought some choice of beverages, wine and ale among them, though there were non-alcoholic drinks as well. The display implied that Varric had indeed planned this, and gone so far as to preemptively alert the serving girls that he'd need some food. After settling into his seat and thanking the servers, the two were left with privacy, the only sound the faint music echoing from the main hall.

Varric dug into some chicken and took a swig of wine before beginning, clearing his throat. "I don't know how much you've had your ear to the ground lately, but you might have heard something about a little expedition my brother and I have been planning." He took another bite. "Well, my brother mostly just shouts at people and does a lot of chest-pounding, that sort of thing, but I've been planning the expedition, and... well, we've hit a bit of a bump in the road, so to speak."

He sat back in his chair, one hand around a cup of wine, the other arm resting on the end of his crossbow. "As I'm sure you know, the recent Blight presents those with... an adventurous spirit, let's say, with a window of opportunity. An expedition to the Deep Roads in this area could produce untold riches, considering how long it's been since anyone's really explored down there. Bartrand's got his ways of funding a trip like that, but there's still the problem of where exactly to go. Maps of the Deep Roads and their entrances aren't easy to find."

He shifted slightly in his seat. "But I figured our best shot at getting such a map would be to ask the kind and lovely Warden living next door. My brother and I would be extremely grateful if you could help with a map... or perhaps even by being our guide." He felt a little guilty just saying the words, trying to drag Nostariel down into the Deep Roads with them, but it wasn't like there was nothing for her to gain. She would share the profits if she wanted, of course. And the guidance of a Warden in the Deep Roads would be invaluable, no doubt.

One pale eyebrow ascended Nostariel's forehead at the rather overdone selection of food and drink to be had, and it didn't take a genius to determine that Varric probably wanted something from her. What exactly that something was, however, she could not guess off the top of her head. Assembling a pile of berries and greens, Nostariel debated taking her chances with the water before determining that no, gout was not really a risk she wanted to take and settling for the milk instead. This early in the day, even she didn't usually reach for the mead, though it was tempting to take the edge off her hangover that way.

She was slicing into some bread when he began to speak, and the Warden paused momentarily in her motions at the word 'expedition.' She chuckled to herself and resumed movement when he managed to turn it (as with many things) into a joke about his brother. At the phrase 'Deep Roads,' however, all humor immediately dropped from her face, and she choked on the raspberry she was chewing, swallowing about half her glass of milk in quick succession to stymie the coughing fit that might have followed. Setting the wooden cup down with a soft clatter, she dabbed her mouth with a napkin, suddenly very much put off the idea of eating.

He didn't mean anything by it, she knew. He wasn't trying to bring up the incident that had brought her here in the first place, but that didn't mean he wasn't succeeding. Nostariel's hands fell to her lap, and she clasped them together tightly enough to turn her knuckles white, staring resolutely at the wood grain of his table as though the knot just to her left fascinated her for some reason. When she spoke, it was very slowly, and with a forced cheerfulness. "It also presents those 'adventurous spirits' with a chance for sudden, agonizing death, Varric." Inhaling deeply, the Warden sighed, knowing that he'd probably convinced himself long ago that this was what he was going to do, and she'd be entirely unable to change his mind. It seemed to be a recurring theme in her life, that people she knew made decisions like that and she was powerless to do anything but try her best to help and watch them die anyway.

Now there was a macabre thought. For all that, it would change nothing, because apparently she was unable to resist a lost cause and born to do nothing but help others attempt and fail. She wondered if this was a property of the people she made friends with, or if she was just that utterly useless at everything. "As it happens, I have maps you could probably use. My last incursion into the Deep Roads took place..." she swallowed. "Well, not far from here, at any rate."

The second matter required a bit more thought, but in the end, her aquiescence was just as automatic. "Since I know I'm not convincing you to try some other way to make money from archaeology, I suppose... no, I will take your expedition down there as well. You're right of course; what use is a Warden that sits in a tavern and doesn't take an opportunity to kill Darkspawn, hm?" She was still smiling, but she'd always been a horrible liar; it wouldn't take someone as sharp as Varric to tell she was uneasy about it. For all that, though, she seemed resolved.

"It goes without saying that my brother and I will be very much in your debt," Varric said. He had certainly taken note of Nostariel's sudden uncomfortability, but made no real reaction to it, maintaining his cheery demeanor. "If there's anything Bianca and I can do for you in the future, you have but to ask, of course."

This had gone better than he'd hoped by far. He'd expected Nostariel to be disapproving of the venture entirely, but she had realized that there was no turning back at this point. She had the maps they would need, and she agreed to come along on the expedition. She hadn't even named a price. In fact, the only thing that Varric felt hadn't gone right was the fact that he still felt slightly guilty about all this; getting the poor girl to come along to the Deep Roads with them for no charge. He had to remind himself that she was a Grey Warden, and quite the skilled mage. She'd probably be the safest one in the group down there.

That, and the darkspawn would likely be in manageable numbers, and it wasn't like they were going down there unarmed. There was the issue of the Warden's reaction to the Deep Roads, but perhaps it was not uncommon. Although he hadn't had the pleasure of knowing any Wardens other than Nostariel, Varric imagined most of them probably didn't enjoy the place. It was filled with darkspawn, and if familiarity did indeed breed contempt, then it made sense for the Wardens to hate the place. "And don't worry. You and I will make this all work out perfectly. This is the kind of trip that can set people up for life. Just this one risk, and we can sit back and enjoy the show. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?"

"Indeed not."

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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.”

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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.

Setting

Characters Present

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: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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Warden Nostariel,

I hope this letter finds you well. You will no doubt remember the boy Feynriel, whom you assisted in rescuing and escorting to the Dalish. I was the Templar assigned to bring the boy in. I do not seek to undo the work you have done in that regard, however, but something else entirely. Another matter involving the mages has arisen beyond the walls of the city, a situation that I fear could turn violent if it is not resolved soon. I do not believe the Order capable of ending this without bloodshed, and thus I turn to you.

Please, meet me outside of the eastern city gates at your earliest convenience, and I will lead you to them. I would recommend bringing others, but only those you trust. This is a matter most delicate.

Regards,

Ser Thrask.


Nostariel refolded the letter carefully, placing it into a pocket in her robes and sighing softly. A matter most delicate, was it? She wasn't sure she was properly euqipped for such things. She would better describe herself as a blunt instrument, to be directed to batter away at situations until something gave, but then that wasn't quite right either. Whatever she was, she needed help to do what this templar was asking her, and there was no mistaking that she would do it. That left the matter of who to go to for help. She knew several people with appropriate... skills, but not all of them were discreet.

Her first choice would have been Lucien, since he was most obviously capable of great discretion, but much to her dismay, he was nowhere to be found. She doubted very much that either Ithilian or Amalia would have any reaosn to assist her, and if Sophia was half as committed to the Chantry as she indicated, this was the kind of business it would be best if she didn't discover at all. Never mind that Nostariel would not feel comfortable asking the Viscount's daughter for a favor. Aurora was equally problematic, but for the opposite reasons. The idea of her mage friend working magic anywhere in the vicinity of templars unsettled her, and she shook her head. She wouldn't ask that of anyone.

Which was perhaps how she found herself outside a Lowtown shop she'd never been to before, glancing apprehensively at the sign swinging sideways above the door. It seemed like the right place, though she wasn't entirely confident that she should be here, asking this of him, of all people. He made her... vaguely uncomfortable, but this she was inclined to blame herself for. More than that, she had taken him to be some kind of mercenary, and there was to be no coin in this, of that she was certain. Still, what other option did she have? It was with a mild grimace and no small amount of trepidation that she pushed open the door, startling slightly at the unexpected sound of a bell tinkling. Reminding herself that this was no enemy fortress, she soothed her nerves and moved over the threshold.

It struck her that she wasn't really sure what to say, but she decided that she'd make it up as she went along. "...Excuse me? Ashton? Are you here?"

Ashton, ever the vigilant shopkeep he was, was sitting on top of his counter-- his usual seat-- sewing of all things. Deft fingers criss-crossed a cross-stitch, stitching together two pieces of fresh leather. At the sound of the bell ringing, he casually recited a memorized phrase, "Welcome to the Hunted Stag! You can't track a lower price than me!" not even taking his eyes off of the stitching at hand. When a familiar feminine voice responded, his eyes were torn from the work at hand and to the owner. Just as he thought, it was Nostariel. He opened his mouth to greet her, but somehow he managed to forget to stop stitching before talking, and a needle found it's way into his thumb.

He jerked as if a volt of electricity shot through his body at the pain, but managed to keep his composure. A hard twitch and a quiver of his smile was the only thing he was going to let Nostariel see. Inside however, was another story. Within the confines of his mind, a flurry of expletives, both common and colorful were being yelled. Had he been alone in the shop, he couldn't promise that the leather, needle, thread, and all wouldn't be flying towards the opposite corner of the shop in a fit of rage. As it stood, Ashton just smiled at Nostariel awkwardly and silently as the pain began to subside. Once he was sure he could speak without cussing, he finally did so, though there was an edge to his voice.

"Well. If it isn't pretty little Nostariel. What can I do for you milady? Can I interest you in any of my fine wares? Though, I doubt that's what you're after," Ashton admitted with a wink. She didn't seem like the type to want to wear his crude fabrications of leather, nor did she seem like the kind who bought venison from a run-down shop such as his. Hm. At this Ashton tilted his head, "If that's the case, what brings you to my humble little shop?" He asked, finally giving her time to answer.

Nostariel wasn't exactly sure why he was looking at her like that, face vaguely strained in its effort to maintain a smile. His hand twtiched, though, which naturally drew her attention, and she noted with something approaching amusement the small bead of blood welling from his thumb. "You can take a blade to the side or an arrow to the shoulder, but that still smarts, doesn't it?" she asked quietly, offering a half-smile and waving a hand nonchalantly. The faintest trickle of healing magic enveloped the tiny wound, easing the pain and closing up the small puncture. She hadn't missed his questions, though, and internally breathed a sigh of relief.

It was nice that he was so direct, else she'd have doubtless made a fool of herself trying to wade through small talk. Once upon a time, she'd thought nothing of idle conversations, and in fact was well-practiced at them, at least with one person in particular, but her life had sealed her lips together, in a sense, muting her voice and stilling her tongue. Now, when she spoke at all, it was of things either useful or otherwise important, as she was sure most of the people she knew could attest. She wasn't always... clear about it, nor transparent in her demeanor, but she certainly couldn't manage much in the way of pleasantry anymore.

Which was why, though she sensed she should glance around the shop and offer some sort of comment on the merchandise within, she didn't. "Er... actually, no. Sorry. I came to ask for your help, really. I- well, perhaps it's best if you just read this." Reaching into her pocket, she withdrew the folded leteer on its heavy vellum and handed it over, allowing Ashton a moment to peruse its contents before she explained further. "There are... precious few people I can turn to about this, and unfortunately, about half of them are presently... unavailable. I was hoping I might be able to impose? I can't offer much in the way of coin, but I do bring in a stipend for my posting here. Next week's is yours, if you would like it."

Ashton sat the leather to the side and crossed his legs as he listened to what little Nostariel had to say. Though, it was scant little, just a favor to read a letter. He accepted it and turned his nose down as he read it, nodding along with the contents. The contents that sounded extremely interesting and in a way-- fun. "Hm. Mages? There seems to be a lot of issues involving mages recently. No offense of course. You're among my top favorite mages," one of which was of course Sparrow. And perhaps Rilien. Did Rilien count as a mage? He was a mage once. Hm. Perhaps a question for the white haired elf himself. Ashton also noted the recent surge of mage activity, remembering his own experiences with Sparrow and Rilien, along with the past event alluded to in the letter.

He craned his neck to glance at the unfinished leather good and then back to the paper. Ah. Decisions, decisions. He could either suffer and toil in his shop. Or agree to help the little dove in front of him and do the world a little bit of good. To be fair, it wasn't a difficult decision. He handed the little back to Nostariel with a little flourish, handing it to her in his upraised palm, and then hopped of the counter. "Give me a minute and let me get my things. The fellow who commissioned the jacket can wait a little bit longer, don't you say?" Ashton asked as he made his way around the counter to grab his bow and quiver. As he did, he continued to speak, "As for the payment, don't worry your pretty little head over it. I won't take money from you," he said, peaking his head from over the counter, "The only payment I require is a smile," he finished, standing with his bow and quiver in hand.

Nostariel found that, as she had come to expect with Ashton in their very breif acquaintance, her conversational input was only minimally necessary. Considering her own reticence, this worked out quite well for her, and she simply nodded along, considerably relieved that he was agreeing to help, and at no expense, no less. It was still odd to her when she encountered generous people; she certainly hadn't grown up around anyone who had much means to be charitable, and the Wardens couldn't spare much of anything but their service to their cause. In a way, that was probably the ultimate form of self-sacrifice, but on the other hand it left very little in terms of time and resources for just... helping with the more-or-less mundane intricacies of everyday life. If she'd had regular duties in the Deep Roads, she might have been unable to assist, but all they'd told her was that she was to do assignments if they came in.

So far, none had, leading her to the belief that they really were just retiring her.

Ashton's words dragged her back to the present. "As much as I would like it to be just us two on this mission together, in case things go... South, perhaps we should see if a couple of my associates would like to lend their help for this worthy cause?" He'd also want to see if Rilien would still classify himself as a mage. Sparrow would hop in without hesitation, he knew. They did share the same sense of adventure, and there was no way she could say no to a pretty face like Nostariel's. Rilien... Well, they could drag Rilien along. He raised his eyebrow as he awaited her answer.

She wasn't surprised that he had people one would call 'associates.' She wondered if that was what they were now, come to think of it. She doubted very much that Ithilian or Amalia were her associates in this sense, but it seemed plausible to think that Aurora might be, and Sophia in a sense. Lucien was almost a friend, and that probably counted. The thought that she might have here one more such person was not at all unpleasant, and she found herself curious as to just what kind of people he'd give that label to. The suggestion was practical besides, and she nodded sagely. "That.. seems a good idea. If you want to lead us to them, I will follow." She didn't indicate the way out the door as a signal to go, largely because he obviously knew where it was and also because she had no wish to seem impatient or force departure before he was prepared.

"The let us be off my fair maiden," he grinned as he produced a keyring from his pocket. He led the way out of the shop, spinning the keyring on his finger before stopping and locking the door. He pocketed the keys again and began to walk off to where Rilien and Sparrow's hovel was. It was so convienent that they lived in the same place, he didn't have to spend the afternoon hunting them down separately. Though, he did hope both of them were home. And free.

"If you don't mind me asking... Who is this Feynriel kid the letter spoke of? Ashton asked trying to make small talk.

It was not lost on her that they were descending into Darktown, a place that she seldom had cause to visit, except when she was feeling cheerful enough to endure concentrated doses of sorrow without succumbing to it, which was incredibly infrequently. Still, she'd made it known that she could be found in the Tavern if anyone was in urgent need of healing. It was the best she could do without making herself even more miserable and bitter than she already was. It wasn't enough, but then it wouldn't have been no matter how much she was able to give. The problems were just that oppressive down here. In a way, reminding her of something she'd actually more or less succeeded at was the kindest thing Ashton could have done, thought she doubted he knew that.

"Feynriel's a friend, I suppose you could say." She'd been to visit him nearly weekly since his recovery, and though he was distinctly uncomfortable still among his mother's people, she sensed that her visits helped somewhat, and she was certainly convinced it was better than the Circle. "A boy who discovered his magic in the wrong city. He's with family now." She couldn't give away anything more explicit than that; though she trusted that Ashton was no Templar in disguise, it was not her secret to tell.

Some time after their entrance into Darktown, she found that Ashton had led them to a hovel, notable for the fact that it appeared to be constructed of mostly-sturdy material. It was a wonder that nobody had stolen the non-rotting pieces of wood from the facade yet, and she suspected that if the acquaintances Ashton was referring to were as skilled as he was, that might have something to do with it. To Nostariel's surprise, the door opened as they drew within ten feet of it, opening to reveal a man she dimly recognized. The memory was fuzzy (for the usual reasons, unfortunately), but she was quite certain it was associated with music that she'd found quite sublime. Since she didn't often go other places where music was to be found, she could only assume he'd played at the Hanged Man at some stage. She hadn't formed a memory of the odd coloration or sunburst brand, though, and her eyes widened near-comically. A Tranquil? Was it perhaps the case that Ashton had Chantry loyalty after all?

"Ashton." The Tranquil acknowledged in that uncanny monotone they tended to have. "Why are you here? And why did you bring a mage?" His eyes swung to Nostariel for a moment. "A Warden, at that." The last thing Rilien needed was the kind of attention that was bound to attract.

Ashton donned a mock pained expression and cooed, "Oh Rilsie, is that how you greet a friend? I am pained. I do not know how ever I shall recover from such a mortal wound!" he said clutching his heart. Just as quickly as it came though, the facade was dropped and the stupid grin returned. "Nah, just teasin'. She's a friend. She's alright. She's not your average Warden and what not-- Though just as grim-faced sometimes," he said grabbing her shoulder and squeezing. So he didn't miss the forlorn looks that she sometimes had about her, "Though the way you sniff out mages is... Disconcerting," He added with a puppy-like tilt of the head. Then again the subject was completely dropped and he hopped straight into another.

"Ah, introductions are in order. That is what people do in these situations, right?" He shrugged. Normal people perhaps. In their case, they were just a Templar shy of a bar joke, "Rilsie, this is the Warden Nostariel. Miss Nostie, this is Rilien. He's a friend, so don't let that emotionless tone fool you. Now... Who's missing," He said sarcastically and tapped a finger on his lips before snapping. "That's right, how ever could I forget! Can Sparrowsie come out to play too? There is an issue that has been brought to Nostie's attention and I pledged our services to her cause." He commented offhandedly. Though he seemed nonchalant about the statement, he carefully watched Rilien to see if it irked him in any way, shape, or form. He hadn't be able to play his game with the Tranquil for quite a bit. "Something, something Mages, something," he explained ever-so helpfully.

"Watching you attempt to render my services would doubtless be educational," Rilien replied, alluding without any apparent irritation to the considerable differences in the way they went about things. Following this, he turned towards Nostariel, fixing her with a flat stare. She swallowed; something about this man unnerved her, but that was probably just the Tranquility. It wasn't a stretch to say that most mages were not overly fond of the Tranquil, which was doubtless why they were kept in such close proximity. But...

"You're not part of the Circle?" she asked, unable to help herself. She'd seen no Tranquil in Kirkwall outside the Gallows, and certainly, the Chantry in Starkhaven had not made a habit of letting them wander around either, assuming they'd even want to. Were they not supposed to be content doing whatever they'd been told to do? That was what she'd always found the most alien, personally. And yet here this one was, living in Darktown, dressed not as a lay Chantry brother in their robes, but as a- rather stylish- citizen.

Rilien thought the answer to this question was obvious, and he ignored it. The question regarding Sparrow's whereabouts was considerably more relevant, and he nodded sagely to Ashton, still stonefaced. "Sparrow is out. I sent her on a delivery this morning. She has yet to return. I can locate her, if you wish, but her assistance is her own to offer or refuse." The empahsis was very, very slight, and Nostariel nearly missed it. Even though she'd picked it out, she had no idea what it meant, and was halfway inclined to believe she'd imagined it. She wasn't sure why the Tranquil- Rilien, Ashton had said- had ignored her, but she resolved not to be offended. Such a sentiment was probably pointless where the Tranquil were concerned. It wasn't like they were capable of offending intentionally.

"Sparrow?" she said instead. "I know a Sparrow. He comes by the Hanged Man rather frequently, and usually brings considerable... excitement with him?" Given Aston and Rilien's mutual feminine pronoun use, she wasn't sure they were all referring to the same Sparrow, but how many of them could there be?

"That would be her, yes," Rilien demurred blandly. "That does sound like our little birdy" Ashton agreed. Rilien didn't have to follow his hovel-mate into the bar to know the kind of ruckus she probably caused, after all. Glancing between the two of them once more, he shook his head minutely and closed his door behind him, locking it with a brass key on a ring of similar instruments. "Follow me, and I will lead you to her." "Aye my captain," Ashton said with a wink directed to Nostariel before falling in line. The Warden herself was more than a little perplexed by the situation, but she shrugged and brought up the rear anyway. Little of this endeavor was how she expected it to be, but given her particular outlook on life, that was not necessarily a bad thing.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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The letter had asked her to show up at the city gates, and so it was there that Nostariel led the oddest group of misfits she'd ever had the... fortune to encounter. If anyone had told her that morning that she'd be spending her day with a Tranquil, a cheery, androgynous half-elf and an incredibly confusing (and touchy) hunter, she probably would have thought them drunk or insane. Yet here she was, approaching the portcullis that led out onto the Wounded Coast, that warren of sand and caves and long stretches of beach over aquamarine water. If there weren't bandits and raiders and Tal-Vashoth and now apparently Templars crawling all about, it might have been a scenic sort of locale. Now, though, she was trying her best to be as businesslike as she could, as if to make up for the lack of it in her companions.

Well, all right, the Tranquil probably couldn't have been more efficient and solemn if he'd tried, but Ashton and Sparrow were quite the opposite.

The scuff of her leather boots on flagstones would have tipped off Thrask to her approach of the general ambient chatter of the others had not, and she drew up to a stop a polite distance from him, staff in hand. It was a subtle thing, but it would not do for either of them to forget that he was dealing with a mage here. It was a line that had been firmly drawn in her perception from the moment she'd started her lessons, and though she had once labored with fervor to blur it, she was no longer sure this was possible. Whether that was tragic or all for the best, she had yet to decide. "Good morning, Ser Thrask," she greeted politely, inclining her head.

Even if she'd been opposed to running face-first into another confrontation with Templars, who seemed duly incapable of dealing with their own problems as of yet, or magical baddies and particularly nasty demons who had a penchant for appearing whenever she rounded the corner, Sparrow had always been unable to turn down a pretty lady in need of aid. She busied herself by throwing quips Ashton's way, ricocheting them into something that involved Nostariel, quickly ascertaining that Ashton touched her ears because he liked her – it was in his nature, if they wiggled, then they'd be pressed into the folds of his palms regardless of how she reacted. Her own were nothing to throw a stone at, as they were stunted, half-formed things that barely reached halfway to any elven normal ears, compared to Nostariel's elegantly shaped ears, or Rilien's, for that matter. Still pointed, but indubitably significant when singling her out as a half, as something that didn't quite belong here, nor there. It had probably been the main reason why Ithilian was so wary of her presence, or why he'd even allowed her into the Alienage in the first place. A fusion of disconcerting thoughts; of whether he should hate, or tolerate, her...

Her hands slowly stretched above her head, accompanied by a cat-like yawn, before resting at the nape of her neck, fingers intertwined. The Wounded Coast, in all it's barren glory, with it's expanse of ocean and gritty terrain, homed the ones who called themselves tal-vashoth. Those who rejected the Qun, much like herself, albeit in a more congregated, specific way. They sawed off their horns, terrorized the countryside and adopted a role more suited to petty mercenaries than proud Qunari. If she weren't in such a cheery mood, in good company, then she might've been disgusted at the thought of chancing an encounter with them – though, she'd do what any arvaarad would do and cut them down without any forethought, or hesitation. She found herself in step with Rilien, though her heavy, horse-clopping gait certainly did not exude his effortless grace. If one looked at them, they'd notice that they couldn't have been more different. He moved with the shadows, as light as a feather. She stomped, scuffed pebbles, and was, generally, the loudest of the group.

Nostariel had explained Thrask's intent beforehand, so that Sparrow did not jump to any conclusions regarding his objective. A Templar who supported mages? It seemed, for lack of a better word, questionable. A Templar who wasn't sniffing at Meredith's boots like a faithful hound? That seemed even stranger. She stood at a reasonable distance, though she was far less cautious than Nostariel, crossing her arms over her chest as if to scrutinize him – how would the Templar even know whether or not any of them were mages, with the exception of their wayward Grey Warden and her staff, and Rilien, with his sunburst marking. She'd always passed off as a brute swinging a mace. This time, it was no different.

Thrask surveyed the group with a look that was hard to read. It was possible that he was confused at the assortment or Tranquil, human, elf, and half-elf, and the glance he gave to the mark on Rilien's forehead implied he had perhaps heard of him from a certain Knight-Captain the Tranquil had run into. Regardless of what he knew, he revealed little, greeting Nostariel in return instead.

"Thank you for coming, and for bringing others. This would be a difficult task for any one man or woman. Please, if you'll follow me, I will take you to them, and explain on the way. I'm afraid haste is important in this matter." He immediately led them through the gate and out towards the coast. "Before you ask, the Templars no longer directly seek the boy Feynriel. We regret that he could not be returned to safety at the Circle, and we are aware of his presence with the Dalish. It is obvious to us that any attempt to extract him from there would be pointless, and thus we leave it in the elves' hands to ensure the boy is taught properly. I contacted you because I thought perhaps you and friends would be willing to show mages another kindness."

After some time it became apparent they were not heading directly towards the coastline, but rather up into the cliffs above it, where a number of caverns and old mines were located. Their trek was notably simple, and notably free of Qunari outlaws. "There are a number of apostates hiding in one of the caverns up ahead," Thrask explained. "I was hoping you might speak to the group, and convince them to surrender peacefully before my fellow templars arrive."

Nostariel caught on to Thrask's urgency, as well as a near-palpable undercurrent of worry in his demeanor. Her mouth turned down at the corners, and she gripped her staff a little tighter, but she did not speak until he was through. Whether that was mere politeness or a more insidious reminder that some habits were hard to break was indeterminate, and she hardly gave it passing thought. When the group came to a stop, she shifted her weight uneasily. This had the ring of something very clandestine about it, and she wasn't exactly sure why.

"I am given to understand that the usual practice is for the Templars to enter these negotiations themselves," she enunciated slowly, cautiously. "Is there a reason the matter must be settled before they arrive?" Of course there was; there was always a reason. She simply wanted to know what it was. The automatic assumption was too easy, too commonplace, and she wanted to hear it confirmed from his own tongue before she allowed herself to mourn the moderateness that had been the hallmark of the Templars in her childhood, lost to the extremism of blood magic and Andrastean zealotry.

The fault lay with both sides, but there was no mistaking who suffered more as a consequence, and this situation was looking to be no different.

"Isn't it obvious my little magelet? Ashton began, tearing himself from the various quips thrown between himself and Sparrow. He had just the one too! About Templars no less. But alas, his tongue got ahead of him, "This Templar's grown a heart while we weren't looking and he'd like us to shepherd his lost lambs for him, before his fellows come around and lead them to the slaughter," While the analogy was certainly... colorful, it did it's job of explaining what he had born witness to. The treatment of the mages in the city wasn't very... nice, to put it mildly. His fine white-haired friend at his side spoke of what would happen to mages who do not comform. True, it seemed that he had slaughtered his own share of mages recently-- but they did start it. Bloodmages and their crazy demony rituals... He then turned back to Sparrow in order to throw the joke at her, but found that he had forgotten it. Dammit.

"Templars are not without hearts, Ashton," Nostariel replied quietly, each syllable drawn a little longer with something almost unidentifiable to those who hadn't heard it from their own lips. A faint tremble in the words, weighted down by gravity and the deep blue melancholy only the past seemed capable of producing. It was, to those who knew it, the barely-perceptible razor edge of grief.

Rilien ignored it, rather more interested in discovering if Ashton's conjecture was indeed the case. "You fear the mages will be killed if the other Templars are forced to extract them," he concluded, much less sarcastically than Ashton had. "Why?" That was not, as far as he was aware, Kirkwall Chantry policy, though he had little doubt that if it did happen, it would be properly excused and apologized, changing nothing. What were a few more dead people in a city like this? Much less a few dead mages. In this, they and peasants were alike; if there was nobody important to miss you when you were gone, you simply didn't matter. This was a lesson he'd learned the hard way, long ago, and it had merely been repeated to him in different guises ever since. Only one person had ever given him reason to believe that it could ever change, and even that was a vain hope in which he did not often allow himself to indulge.

"Why?" Thrask repeated, seeming slightly offended by the question. "Because I do not revel in the deaths of mages. That is not what my order stands for, what it was built upon. True, there are zealots among us, and a zealot leads us, but many Templars still desire a relationship of cooperation with the mages." He had expected a certain level of antagonism from the help Nostariel had brought, considering that he expected them to be favorable to the cause of mages. The realization of just how much some despised his order was still something of a shock.

"Though your wording was less than eloquent," he said towards Ashton, "I suppose you have the truth of it. A knight-lieutenant of the Templars by the name of Ser Karras leads the Templars on their way here. He is a great crony of Meredith. Should he find apostates hiding from pursuit, Meredith will consider him justified in murdering the lot of them. Since these mages escaped following the destruction of the Starkhaven Circle, they have been known to attack Templars on sight. There will be a massacre here if Karras is the one to meet them. I'm hoping a group more kind to the mages might be able to make them see reason."

Ashton merely uplifted a palm in order to wordlessly indicate that he, in fact, told them so. Though quite unlike him he did not punctuate that with a rambling series of words, instead keeping his tongue within its pearly white cage. He felt that he hit upon a sore spot with pretty little Nostariel, and it wouldn't do to exacerbate that. However, he would thoroughly investigate the matter at a later time. Perhaps somewhere where the ale flowed like a river. And a grotty, pissy river at that.

Sparrow's fingers drummed soundlessly against her forearm, as she weighed the possibilities that this Templar wasn't just jerking them around for his own amusement. Or trying to lure said mages, including herself, in the group to some sort of sick slaughter on Templar holy-ground. Her mouth pursed slightly, then drew itself into a tight-lipped scowl. Why were they dealing with these blighters again? Couldn't they deal with things themselves? It seemed like every corner they turned down, or every mission they partook in, had heavy involvement with runaway apostates, grisly details, and Templars who couldn't keep any semblance of order themselves. It was obvious that Thrask wanted them to be on their way without explaining much of anything. If they needed to scamper along in the darkness, in the wake of another danger, then she wanted to damn well know about it. As if to accentuate her unvoiced opinions, Sparrow threw her arms out wide, shrugging her shoulders in exasperation. He might've wanted to help whatever mages lied below-ground but he still spoke as if they needed the Circle's help to maintain their twisted methodologies; as if they were wayward beasts turned out to another pasture. The Dalish took care of their own without oppressive measures.

Her patience was waning. Like a string pulled taut until it couldn't stretch out any longer. He sought to remedy the situation with words before the Templars came to take them away like dogs. What kind of person would be convinced back into shackles? She had been hearing about these things ever since entering Kirkwall. Apostates were never to be treated like you and I – they were creatures that went bump in the night and if they weren't smothered with a justly pillow then they were better off dead. Hadn't that always been their opinion on the matter? Anger flashed in her eyes for a moment, before being wrestled into submission. These days her composure was a sickly, wavering thing. Prone to brief bouts of insecurities, of helplessness and relinquished power. It seemed as if she was in accordance as well. She agreed with Ashton. Perhaps, if given enough thought, she'd proposition the fact that she hated the Templars nearly as much as she hated the shemlen who'd ruined her in the first place – no, no, Papyrus. Not Sparrow, but Papyrus. The analogy was sound enough. She didn't trust Thrask because he was a Templar and he'd probably done things to innocent people while serving Knight-Commander Meredith. Things that couldn't just be swept or washed away. Things that stained his hands indefinitely.

Even as Ashton turned to look at her, Sparrow found that all the merriness, all of the elbow-jesting they'd done earlier had filtered from her toes. All she felt was a lean, sour anger. "It's a choice being a Templar." She said through her teeth, eyeing Thrask. They were heartless. Or worse, yet. How could someone continue doing what they knew was wrong? If Thrask actually wanted to help runaway mages, then he'd deal with these things himself or simply leave the Templar Order to do some good with his life. Sparrow understood that her own hands were no cleaner, but at least she knew that she hadn't hounded a disconsolate people for simply being born with abilities they couldn't control. They needed guidance, not chains and shackles and promises of death if they didn't obey. Her fingers twitched at her sides, then clenched into her palms. She'd heard Nostariel and it almost sounded as if she were defending the Order. It made no sense to her. “One Templar with a heart – one sot who cares? If Templars desired cooperation with mages, then they'd leave them the hell alone. What would you have us do?” Her hand opened, then flashed upward, palm towards the sky. “Talk them down, and they'll be arrested. Punished?” Again, Sparrow opened her other hand as if weighing the outcomes. “Or allow them to be slaughtered.” They certainly weren't doing this for him. To her, it was always for them.

Kill the Templars.

"I'd rather not discuss the entirety of the magic issue here and now, as we do not have the time and I do not have the patience," Thrask said, looking tired. "I can only ask you to judge the situation as it stands: if any Templar goes in that cave there will be blood and death until all of these mages are slain. You are the only ones who can prevent their deaths now. Regardless of how any of you feel about me or my order, surely you can see the good that can be done here. I will say no more."

"And you need not, Ser Thrask," Nostariel cut in, for once sounding every bit the authority figure she could be. "I will go. Whether my companions choose to follow me is their business, but the longer we wait, the worse the chances will be for the mages in the cave." The look she shot Sparrow might have been reproachful, but if so, it was only that way in the gentlest of manners, as a mother might look at a child which has spoken out of turn but done no real harm. If she'd realized she was wearing it, she would have been a little bit abashed at herself, but it was not a face she knew she had in her repertoire. Gripping her staff firmly in her right hand, the Warden approached the cave entrance, ducking into it without anything further. She hadn't always been able to be as good as her word, but she was going to be now, if she had any choice in the matter.

Ashton propped an elbow as he usually did to his elven friends, right on top of Sparrow's head. A simple hook around her neck, all buddy-buddy like would have also sufficed, but he felt that it didn't have his brand of nonchalance about it. Though the move seemed to be typical Ashton fare, perhaps there was another intended effect. Perhaps playing his silliness to diffuse the suddenly tense situation. Or perhaps more likely the situation completely flew over his head and he was merely acting as Ashton would, silly, out-of-touch, oblivious to all that surrounds him. He leaned his walnut shaped head on the propped arm and issued a large sigh. Maybe this conversation was getting old for him. Maybe not. Ashton was either a man of many mysteries and enigmas, or he was merely a simple fool. Chances were, the second. Though who knew but the silly fool himself?

"So, mages, Templars, Tranquils, so on, and so forth," he issued rather boredly for himself conducting the list with his free hand, "Tis an adventure and since we walked all the way out here why not see this errand to it's eventual end?" Ashton said, upraising his other palm in a shrug. "I'm in. I love mages after all-- Wait! I said I was coming too! Don't leave me like that! Come on now!" Ashton whined behind Nostariel as her distance between them lengthened. "I'm supposed to be the one to jump headfirst into these things!" He wailed as he jumped into the cave behind the pretty little mage.

Perhaps, it'd be best if Sparrow started with this Templar. Her approaching footsteps had an ungainly spring to them, completely unlike her usual graceless gait. Her lidded eyes seemed glassy, beaming uncharacteristically. Even her joints felt wooden, as if they were attached to swinging ball-joints – with distinctive decorum, without any jostling elbows or wriggling gestures. Bereft of anything but a prodigious poise that did not belong to her. The mages-in-hiding would not be free unless the Templar's were dealt with. Why would they wish to have shackles and chains slapped on their wrists? Would they prefer a life endured beneath a heavy blanket of oppression or a chance to fight for their freedom? She knew what she would've chosen in their position, even if the chances in her favour were slim to none. Her shoulders straightened, ceased the nervous energy that buzzed angrily in her chest. Justice would be served today. Compromise? How could they. She wondered idly what Thrask would do if the Templar's simply refused to accept their interference, if they simply accounted the mages as too dangerous and decided to prematurely end their lives. Execute them in a cave. What would Thrask do if they fought in their honour, slaughtering their captors? Sheushered her encouragement with a smile, sidling a ghostly hand at the small of her back.

It was Nostariel's reproachful expression that caused her to pause in her steps, halting completely – it might've made her laugh if it didn't stop her in her tracks, so entirely was she taken aback by her words, her look. The expression was one that was reserved for a mother she no longer remembered. It was almost as if someone had thrown a bucket of cold water over her, ending her anger far too early. She was not satisfied, hissing in her ears as if someone had tried to take her pet away. She knuckled her eyes, feeling suddenly exhausted. What had she wanted to do, anyway? Drive her blade through the Templar's heart. The notion seemed alien to her, as if appearing from nowhere in particular. As flighty and unreal a thought as diving headfirst into a cave in order to pacify terrified apostates, to watch as they're lead back to the Circle where they would be watched and possibly prosecuted for defending themselves against monstrous shemlen. An awkward silence stretched between them, until Nostariel resolutely turned away and ducked beneath the cave's lip.

Some sought forgiveness through their actions, while others made excuses for what they'd done in the first place. Sparrow believed that this was the case with Thrask. Hadn't he already killed mages in their Harrowing? Something force-fed unto fledgelings to control them. Her hands were no cleaner, but at least she had the comfort of knowing that she wasn't ruining any innocent lives. Her thoughts ended abruptly when she felt Ashton's elbow prop atop her head, wriggling fingers obscuring her view. In one simple motion, Sparrow's anger sieved through her fingertips, hollowed out her toes and anchored her. A switch had been pulled. Her frigid expression had already been replaced by something much like herself; a curtain had been dropped. She flapped her hands at him, ducking underneath his armpit with a breathless grin, inquisitive eyebrows raised. “Fine, fine. Let's get this done. Never leave a job unfinished.” Sparrow chirped brightly. She'd never been very good at lying. If it came down to it, and either parties were threatened, or the opportunity presented itself, she would hurtle into the only option that felt right.

She automatically kept pace with Rilien, watching absently as Ashton scampered after Nostariel. She felt none of their determination, only an adamant cold that extended up her forearms. There was impending danger nipping at their heels, and a difficult decision that had to be made that went far beyond simply calming down mages, or making a deal, or trying to convince them that it was better to lower their heads and give in. She felt justified in her anger, but still, even so, she felt as if she needed to apologize. To who – Nostariel? Why had she defended them? Because one sot felt as if he were finally responsible? In passing, Sparrow regarded Thrask, “You might've grown guilty for what you've done, but we will always hate what you stand for.” It came curtly, soft enough for none to hear but her taciturn companion.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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The cave reminded Nostariel of the one they'd found the Tal-Vashoth in, and she wondered if perhaps all bandits had the same interior designer. Presumably it had been a bandit stronghold at one point or another, since it was dubitable that runaway mages would have bothered to construct all these wooden platforms. It was coming to be a dangerous time to be a bandit outside Kirkwall, she supposed, what with the Qunari and the apostates around to run you out of your damp caves and suchlike. Then again, maybe they were just old mines. The smell was just as unpleasant either way, though she couldn't identify exactly why.

Rilien could, and he was quite aware that the stench of rotten eggs was due to sulfur, which meant that either one of these mages was using a very crude flame-based staff or there were natural pits about somewhere. These platforms were also of dubious structural integrity, and his eyebrows drew together nearly imperceptibly. "Watch your step," he said aloud, though he did not bother elaborating the reasons for this, instead picking his way carefully through debris and loose stone as a housecat might avoid puddles of water, minus the verbal indications of displeasure. The ground gradually sloped downwards, and without being asked, Rilien overtook the Warden, treading at the front of the group both to look for traps and because he was conscious that he and Sparrow were the most equipped for dealing with confrontation up close. Ashton was more than capable of guarding the rear against ambush.

That particular precaution turned out to be unnecessary, admittedly. They soon approached a more cavernous space, and as they did, the predominant odor transitioned from rotten eggs to putrid, decaying flesh. More than a few weeks dead, if the smell was already hitting them. Indeed, as they emerged into the opening, they quickly found themselves surrounded by fetid corpses, and in the presence of one very nervous-looking mage. The man (though perhaps he was closer to a boy, all told) appeared to be eyeing his surroundings with great trepidation and that was enough to put Rilien on edge. One of his knives slid from its place on his back with a quiet hiss, causing Nostarial to turn to him immediately.

"What are you doing?" the Warden hissed softly, reaching for the wrist that clasped the weapon. "We're here to avoid bloodshed. Don't you think that pulling a knife might just goad them to needless violence?" She'd seen too many mages resort to awful things when they felt threatened, and if she could forestall that here, she would.

Unperturbed, Rilien neatly avoided her reaching hand and drew his other knife, flicking his eyes to the corpse nearest the group. Confused, Nostariel gave up trying to speak to the obviously-reticent Tranquil and followed his gaze. Her own landed in the same place just as an unearthly howl filled the cavern, startling the poor mage standing by himself, but growing far too loud for her to hear anything he might have been saying. The air shifted, the stench growing only worse, and slowly, the corpses rose from the ground, taking up arms and apparently intent on the small group. Whatever words left her then were thick with her brogue and indesciperable over the fel sound of necromancy. Gritting her teeth, Nostariel summoned ice to her hands and threw it at the first three corpses she could see, falling back behind the Tranquil, who had already taken the hint and decapitated the first frozen body and moved on to the next, more mobile one.

Ashton for his part was relegated to the rear of the retinue, despite being second into the cave. T'was his lot in life, he supposed, always behind the ladies. Chivalry was not dead, no matter how many people said that it was. Seeing as caves weren't virtuous escapes from the danger that seemingly lingered all around Kirkwall, he had drawn his bow and nocked an arrow, but he left the string slack and carried it nonchalantly. The sulfur smell didn't seem to perturb Ashton, though as the scent shifted from that to something of a... darker flavor, his nose wrinkled in protest. This was not going to end up as any old simple meet and greet, he could have seen (or smelled rather) that right then.

However the party proved to be no longer alone in the caverns with a mage seemingly fidgeting nearby. The poor guy drew pity from Ashton and almost made him put up his bow... At least until Rilien drew his knife. While there wasn't much Ashton knew about the man for a fact, he seemed to have a penchant for sensing things like that. So instead of putting his weapon away, he drew the arrow back and awaited whatever the Tranquil had sensed. The scuffle between Nostariel and Rilien would have normally been turned into the subject of a joke for Ashton, but his own hunter's instincts had been ignited by the tranquil's wary ways. Instead he issued a calm, level, "Nostariel," devoid of any hint of jolly or silliness that was like him.

Right then, whatever had set off Rilien was made aware as a howl echoed throughout the caves and the corpses made their way to their feet. His arrow shot through the air, impaling one of the corpses with a dusting of ice in the chest with enough force to throw it down-- but it remained to be seen if that simple shot would be enough to finish off a creature that was already dead. He settled into his stance, knees bent, legs loose as he drew his next arrow and targeted the same, downed corpse and planted another one in it. If that did not outright kill it, then it certainly wasn't getting up, what with it being pinned to the ground.

What the hell was that smell? Sparrow's nose wrinkled receptively, though she fought the overwhelming urge to pinch her nostrils closed against the peculiar smell emanating from whatever was lurking in the cave. More like, rotting. If there weren't hidden copses filled to the brim with corpses and maggots and writhing insects, then she would've been surprised. She hadn't recognized the sizzling stench of sulphur, but rather bunged it down to animals dragging their prey back to their dens, where the mages also hid. Perhaps, this was some type of bear-cave they'd stumbled into. The wooden platforms appeared questionable at best – it certainly wouldn't take her mace to send one of those things tumbling down. They'd have to avoid walking across those treacherous things if they could help it. Sparrow's mace had been slung languidly across her shoulder, gripped in her hands all the same. It wasn't an issue of thinking that the mages would attack them, rather than simple forethought if they so stumbled onto something dangerous. She would not attack those mages.

She, too, overtook the Warden, but couldn't help glancing sidelong in the process. Had she been angry at her outburst? But, hadn't Sparrow been justified in forming her own opinion? Templars were ruthless individuals, and heartless in every sense she could think of. If Thrask was the exception, then it still couldn't account for all the others who stomped towards their destination in the cultivated hopes of extermination all of the hapless escapees huddled in a stinking grotto. Why didn't she, as a fellow mage, think the same way? Her mouth formed a soft line, fundamentally confused, before she looked ahead, picking her way through the scattered rubbish, much like Rilien had, though without any of his rhythmic dignity. Rather, she stomped, while he danced. He might've been a housecat, while she was an encroaching Mabari hound. Her footfalls slowed. The entire chamber was crowded with rotting corpses, with their arms twisted this way and that, and crumbling jowls hinged permanently open. “I knew it—uh,” She began to say, eyeing her surroundings, letting her mace drop onto the ground. As if the scene hadn't been stranger, there in the middle of the cavern, among all those corpses, stood a trembling boy-man. The familiar hum of Rilien's blades being freed from their hidden scabbards caught her intention, whirring her head around to catch the unusual sight of Nostariel trying to still his blades.

Sparrow hadn't had time to warn her against that, for if Rilien thought something to be wrong then something was assuredly afoot. Ashton beat her to it, murmuring her name. The dreadful howl rang in her ears. Her head whipped back, surveying whether or not it was the lonely mage's doing. Certainly not. The man-boy looked downright terrified. By the time Rilien moved around Nostariel, she'd already thrown herself into action by swinging her mace into a mass of animated ribs, cracking several in turn before throwing it bodily into the nearest corpse. Unadulterated energy pulsed through her fingertips, quickening her heartbeat, and searing hot through her lungs. There was a swift whooshing sound as electrifying pulses zipped from her upturned palm, breaking through bony arms and exposed jugulars – hanging loose from their fleshy cages – with phantasmal bars of heated energy. Just as quickly, Sparrow switched avenues, dropping her hand back to her mace and heaving it into another approaching moving-carcass like a swinging pendulum.

The corpses seemed now to be emerging from the ground itself, buried longer than any of the initial foes, perhaps. It was not of much consequence to Rilien, pivoting from one neat decapitation to the next. It was hard to say what would put them down for good, seeing as they were already dead in the first place, but that seemed to be working. Nostariel had settled back, usually tracking Ashton's arrows with magic, so that each hit with the force of fire or ice behind it as well. She hadn't the time to be concerned with her mistake, though she considered the very real possibility of being placed in a situation wherein she'd be apologizing to a Tranquil. Leaving aside the matter of whether Rilien would even have any feelings about that whatsoever, it seemed like something she should do.

Nostariel's pale eyebrows knit together, and the next corpse she hit incinerated entirely. Exhaling as calmly as she could, she tried to get her emotions back in line. It wasn't the simple matter of misunderstanding Rilien; it was the complex backgrounding collage of issues that underscored this whole venture. Her next blow was considerably more measured, and she could tell that the presence of the living dead was thinning considerably. She did not notice the one rising up behind her until a thin whistle rent the air, and Nostariel whirled in time to see the rotting head, some hair still dangling in greasy tendrils from one side of it, fly past her. She locked eyes with Rilien for a crystalline moment, nodding her thanks, but he turned right back around without any gesture in return.

There were a pair of archers homing shots in on him, but it was a problem he could solve with one word. "Ashton." It was all he needed. He trusted that the archer's sharp eyes would pick out the target he was about to leave behind. Rilien himself disappeared, taking out the target Ashton didn't choose from behind.

The archer had dug his heels in for the long haul and had planted a half dozen arrows at his feet for quick access. Sure and steady the arrows flew, striking each target true, though the effect of simple wood on rotten flesh and decaying bone was still questionable. The way the second body fell to pieces under his pointed assault told him that the arrows were doing something.. Or maybe it was Nostariel's chaser of magic that did it. He'd like to think that it was his arrows, painting a picture of machismo in his head. Or not. Who knew what went on in that warped head. The whole issue of Nostariel and Rilien seemed to be an afterthought to the hunter. It mattered little in the long run, and less in current circumstance as he saw it. She was already in an unusual state, what with being placed with so many of differing ideals. A bit of doubt in such circumstances was expected. But it wouldn't matter if they all ended up dead because of some soon-to-be fertilizer's lucky shot.

He was down to two arrows in the ground when Rilien spoke up with his name. His eyes shot to the Tranquil (his white hair making the acquistion all that much easier) and then they darted to the pair of archers that had eyes only for him. Pity. He'd have to help his buddy rectify that. There were two of them after all. "Left-- My left," Ashton answered, quickly adding an addendum to the answer. As soon as the words left his mouth, his own arrow left his bow, lancing through the air and into the empty chest cavity of the living corpse with a pinning shot-- rather, it would have been a pinning one, had he anything to pin it too. As such pinnable objects were missing, it just meant that the arrow carried an extra "umph", snapping the vertibrae of the undead creature and folding it in half like a piece of paper.

"Next customer?" Ashton called in a bored tone and nocking the next arrow.

Fortunately for Ashton, there were no more 'customers' to be had, as his companions obliterated the remaining skeletons. That left just the mage boy who had seemingly been hiding behind the corpse warriors. As the last fell, however, he came forth, clearly relieved. "Maker's blessing! I thought I was going to die down here in this... this tomb!" He took in the appearance of his rescuers, clearly not immediately placing them, and for good reason. "Are you with the Templars? Please, I need to go back the Circle. I never wanted to get involved in this." He gestured around him to the smashed skeletal warriors. "Not when he started making those... those things!"

"Ah... Necromancy. And here I was thinking that this job was going to be an easy one," Ashton said in a mirthless tone best described as "Rilien" in nature. After his little comment, he refrained from further gracing the conversation with any more of his wittisms, allowing his companions to do all the talky parts.

Nostariel was almost glad that the young man sounded so panicked; it was probably the right reaction to have to this sort of situation, even if she couldn't muster it in herself. Her companions seemed likewise jaded to the horrors of rising corpses and foul magic, sad as that was. "Be still, my friend. Ser Thrask is waiting outside. He will take you back. Before you go, though, I must ask..." The Warden cast a glance about herself at the pile of once again unmoving corpses, several missing heads, arms, or legs from the handiwork of the others. The piles of ash were probably her doing, though. "Who is he? Who is responsible for this, and what are we to expect if we should cross paths with him?"

"Sorry," he said, "I thought you would have known. Decimus... it was his decision. He kept saying the Templars would label us blood mages if we fled, and that in that case we should just use it. He slit his wrist, and the magic... it rose from the blood and woke the skeletons in the cave. I ran." He still seemed unsure of their intentions, even though he was clearly grateful for having been saved.

Decimus is wrong--blood magic is a work of evil, not just a power the Templars keep from us for spite. He's crazy. I think he was the one who started the destruction back at Starkhaven, thinking we would just be free with our phylacteries destroyed. I... I think there might be a demon working through him. No normal man would profane the dead like this, right?"

"Oh, blood magic. Great. Didn't get enough of that stuff the first time." Ashton quipped, sounding rather dejected. There was only the briefest hint of his gaze stuttering between the boy mage and Sparrow and then to Nostariel. Last time Blood magic and demons were involved, things didn't pan out too well for their merry little party. He didn't want to see another friend go through that again. He'd make sure that they'd escape this place, all in one piece. A lingering glance at Rilien made him wonder what was going on inside his own head. Ashton then turned back to the boy and spoke once again, "Think we can... Talk to this fellow? Talk him down or something? Blood magic bodes ill for all involved," and that was one of the more serious statements he had made in a long while.

"Decimus burned down a Circle tower to get away from the Templars," the mage said, "I'm not sure there's any force that could make him go back. But... you're not Templars. That's something, at least."

"I doubt we are to expect much quarter," Rilien concluded flatly. He was aware of Ashton's glance, but knew not what the archer was seeking. "Still, one blood mage does not make a coven." That was probably as close as he was ever going to get to something like mercy, all things considered. "If the rest do not fight, I will do as the Templar asks." That part was directed at Nostariel, who nodded solemnly. Perhaps she had moved too quickly to the wrong conclusion about the Tranquil, but even as she was opening her mouth to apologize, he shook his head.

"Such words are unnecessary. I do not act for the approval of others, and I do not require their assurances." Ah, well. Still quite cold, then. Even so, she nodded and turned at last to the boy.

"We have kept you here far too long. Please, do not hesitate to leave and find Ser Thrask. The way out is clear."

"Thank you," he said, "I never wanted anything to do with blood magic. Decimus has gone mad. I fear he'd kill us all just to take down a few Templars at this point." He departed, making his way towards the mouth of cave, and the Templar that awaited him outside.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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The tunnels grew narrower and more constricted as they went, tightening around them until the group was forced to progress in single file. For the most part, it was also completely silent, save the occasional dripping sound as some liquid- Nostariel could only hope it was water- dripped from the ceiling down to the stone floor beneath. The tunnels were only moderately lit, and she imagined that the mages fleeing in here must have been quite afraid, the spooky ambiance of the place only adding to that heart-pounding fear of being pursued. It was a feeling she knew, though the creatures who had followed in her tread were not Templars but Darkspawn, and their method of tracking her more infallible than any phylactery could be.

It was not something she envied, and even as the tunnels widened again, gradually sloping upwards to more mining platforms, she thought to herself that perhaps, for some at least, the reality of 'freedom' away from the Circle was as jarring and terrifying as it had been for her. The fact that they had burned her Circle was not lost on Nostariel, and she wondered how many of her old friends and teachers had been hurt in the event. Her teeth clenched in her jaw. Harming those who pursued you was one thing- and even that seemed so wrong to her- but harming the inocent so that you could escape? Did that not make them into the very monsters everyone simply assumed they were? Did they not realize how much damage they were doing, embracing their power so irresponsibly?

She was no fool; mages were set up in lose-lose situations all the time. But even so, there were ways to handle that better than killing people. After a while, it became little more than selfishness, still cast only by the players as a brave bid for liberation. Stone changed to wood beneath her feet, and the murmur of voices became audible some distance away.

They were close.

The voices belonged to a man and a woman, the woman a young, pretty thing, dark brown hair tied back into a bun, a notable black tattoo snaking around her right eye. The man was middle-aged, and looked somewhat ragged, his dirty blonde hair grown long and unkempt, a beard reaching down towards his chest. Their Circle robes were tattered and worn from overuse, and so were their bodies. The mages gathered about the cave seemed extremely weary, though a brave few were staying alert, hovering near their leader's side.

It was likely that the party triggered some form of magical wards as they entered, as Decimus was almost immediately alerted to their presence. "They're here! The Templars have come to take us back to the Circle!" he shouted, rousing the boldest of his followers from their stupors. The woman at his side, however, grabbed hold of his arm upon seeing the intruders for herself. "Decimus, no! Stay your hand. These are no Templars." The mage leader seemed conflicted for the briefest of moments, recognizing the Warden's sigil, the Tranquil's brand, the presence of magic. But the blood of his followers was hot, and he needed to direct their aggression now, lest it be lost to him. "What do I care what shield they carry?" he shouted. "If they challenge us, the dead themselves will meet the call!"

He conjured forth more of his dark magic, the power of his own blood, and likely some of his allies, to summon more dead from the ground. They set upon the group from behind, while the mages willing to fight these strangers followed Decimus' lead, attacking from the front. More than half, however, chose not to fight, instead pushing themselves towards the corners, hoping to avoid being caught in the battle.

Another slaughter this was to be then, and for him it was simply passe. Not one to forget, the Tranquil made a beeline directly for Decimus, well-aware what had happened the last time he'd let a blood mage remain too long on a battlefield. Control was essential to someone with Rilien's mental makeup; he existed in a state of perpetual fine-tuning of his control over himself, his environment, and his craft. When one could or would not be able to waste time in more sympathetic pursuits, it was sometimes all that remained. He would be content playing puppet to no one, least of all some spineless mage who had already resorted to the desperate.

Of course, it wasn't so simple as all of that. Not every enemy present was simply going to let him waltz up to their leader and stab him in the eye. In fact, they seemed rather keen on putting more warm bodies in his way. He spent a moment deciding if it would be better to leave them in too much pain to move, but alive, or simply dead. Given that these had sided with a blood mage, he concluded that if he didn't kill them, the Templars would, and decided to save the time. Lethality was a much simpler choice than its opposite, actually, though not even he was so crass as to factor simple ease into his choices. A slight flash; a mage dropped with a stump where his arm used to be. Another hurled an orb of fire at the Tranquil, who ducked in time to recieve nothing but a few singed hairs, though he wasn't sure of the status of anyone behind him. He was in need of a haircut, perhaps.

In fact, the progression forward was the hardest part; these were not physical fighters, and after the first few had tried to be just that and failed miserably, the rest had wisely decided to stick to pelting the group with projectiles. It had been years since Rilien had shot a bow, and he certainly didn't make a habit of it, meaning that he'd simply have to find a way through the barrage and to Decimus. The next conflagration caught his sleeve; he ripped it off at the shoulder seam before it could burn its way to his skin. Ice gathered at his feet, but he skated across it, failing to lose his balance. The hissing of mixing elements was accompanied by a thick cloud of steam and debris- finding his target in this mess was going to be difficult.

"We just wanted to talk!" Ashton cried as he settled into an archer's stance. Even though he'd rather not fight these people, if the choice was the between the safety of the mages over the safety of his companions, he'd choose his friends every time. "Are you so blood drunk that you'd deny even that?!" he pleaded, though based on his recent experiences with blood mages he doubted that mere words would sway their demon addled minds. Speaking of demons, Ashton kept an especially open eye out for anything from beyond the veil, and those such creatures would become priority targets. He would not let another Sparrow happen.

His first shot connected with the shinbone of a mage, thoroughly tossing the man to the ground and interrupting whatever spell he had aimed at them. The next shot he fired cut deep into the outstretched arm of another mage, sending the frost spewing from his hand in a wide arc away from it's intended target-- The tranquil. Ever the efficent one, Rilien had opted to wade directly in towards the leader, and cut the head off of the problem. Ashton wouldn't be surprised to see Sparrow wade in directly behind him either flailing that mace about and casting whatever spells she had in her repertoire either, considering her brusque nature and had began to account for her in the plan that was beginning to fall into place in his mind. What they needed was to stop Decimus, else be subject to what he could summon from the fade, or worse, while at the same time reduce the number of casualities of the other mages. While he may not have been the biggest fan of the Templars on principle, the one outside the mouth of the cave had the right idea about saving these mages. No one's life should just be tossed away like trash.

"Remember where Decimus stands Rilien, Sparrow, I'll cover your approach!" Ashton called, withdrawing the fat shafted arrow that released smoke upon impact. He nocked it and let it fire, directly into the middle of the fray. He trusted them both to take full advantage of the situation. The impact was punctuated with a solid pop, and an obscuring white smoke was beginning to fill the cave and hide their presence. Ashton, however, would not be able to do much more as a large Spirit Bolt cut through the smoke and slammed directly into his chest. It was enough force to take him off of his feet and fling him a good couple feet back, landing ungracefully on his back, trying desparately to get air back into his lungs.

"Ouch... That stung. I think it broke something..." Ashton weezed, coughing a thick gobule of blood out. "Yep... Definitely broke something... Man down. Medic?" He whined, his deadpan tone belying the seriousness of the injury. Looks like he'd have to trust Rilien and Sparrow to this. Though truth be told, he wouldn't trust anyone else more.

Shlepping off the remnants of goo from her fingers, promptly smeared across a snippet of cloth she'd ripped off one of the animated corpses, Sparrow seemed intent on not showing how discontented she was at diving deeper into the cave. It wasn't enough that the caves tunnels were constricting like a snake's belly, forcing them to walk in a straight line. She'd taken the rear, glancing over her shoulder on occasion and gripping her mace all the tighter. Each sound of skittering rocks, disturbed by nocturnal creatures, screwed up her eyes in consternation. She might've been foolhardy enough to appear brave in the face of stumbling corpses, but she wasn't fond of darkness, of not being able to see what was in front of her, or more importantly, behind her. It wasn't her strongest suit. She couldn't help but imagine long-fingered hands slithering from hidden alcoves, ready to pull her in. No amount of squinting could adjust her eyes to the dim lights. The incessant itch demanding to look behind her shoulder – just to be sure, only grew with each step forward.

The flickering lanterns, barely illuminated, cast weaving shadows against the craggy walls. Distorted masses of tantamount-duplications, familiar in their shapes, but terrifying all the same. It was as if the darkness whispered do you fear, do you? And she was afraid. The darkness was all-encompassing, enveloping; an omnipresent thing that promised monsters and deeds she'd rather not carry out, immeasurably vast and unrestricted in its limitless infinity. It was a dreadful, malevolent thing. Whatever happened in the darkness, usually remained gloomy, forgotten-things. She resolutely resisted the urge to grip Rilien's flapping sleeve, ordering her hands to still themselves. Weakness would not do in a place like this. She seemed absent from her thoughts, as if she'd taken a break from her ceaseless barrage of snippy opinions, settling herself on some faraway bench. And somehow, this unsettled Sparrow. She did not search for her, did not reach out her arms like a frightened child, but instead lowered her head and trailed her empty fingers across the nearest wall, allowing her mace to dip low to the ground.

Sparrow breathed a heavy sigh of relief when the tunnels branched out, extending into a much larger chamber. Much like the one they'd found the walking-corpses in. It rattled through her bones, breathed through her lungs, drooped her eyelids a little lower. She didn't need to look behind her shoulder anymore, at least, not unless they'd have to squirm through another tunnel, which didn't seem likely, because they could hear a faint conversation going on in the distance. As soon as they rounded the corner, Decimus and his merry crew of less-than-pleased mages were already moving to intercept them, staves brandished and eyes thrown wide open, wildly alert. Her mouth went dry, hoping wryly that the woman could convince him that they weren't Templar-bastards after-all. “Stop that, idiot.” She snarled, eyes darting to Decimus' fingers, swirling in intricate circles, spewing his own blood force to raise more dead enemies around them. It was Sparrow who first hesitated. She was shaking. She could feel it. “We don't need to do this! We're just trying to help.” Said with little conviction, dying off into a strangled sound when Rilien unerringly amputated one of the mages arms, continuing his way through the throe of warm-bodied people.

She barely dodged the fireball, skittering backwards. Slight fumes of her burnt boot wafted unpleasantly to her nostrils, though she quickly kicked it through the dirt so that she wasn't another ambling corpse, afire, trying to pacify her opponents. Sparrow was not behind Rilien – she hadn't moved, aside from scrambling away from the nearest projectile that'd singed her companions hair. It was Ashton's voice that'd broken her out of her conflicted thoughts, reminding her where she ought to have been and where she needed to go if she wanted to keep her companions alive and well. “R-Right! And watch yourself, no heroics!” Her heart was not in this. How could it be? It'd been left on the precipice that she'd be able to convince them to lay down their weapons and flee from the Templars before they'd even stepped foot into the cave to retrieve them. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen. Instead of hammering through the mages, Sparrow took another more indirect approach, squaring off with the ambling-dead and smashing through, swinging her mace, and inefficiently weaving around those who were still consistently throwing projectiles.

For once, she wasn't directly behind Rilien, but she was coming up beside him, throwing energy-blasts to parry icy-cones and balls of flame, scattering frigid pellets and sparks around them. Sparrow would turn her hesitation, her anger, her despair onto the forerunner of attack.

While Rilien and Sparrow seemed inclined to rush the enemy, Nostariel hung back with Ashton, the group's other ranged combatant.There were enough fierce foes this tme around that she could not afford to simply choose her targets as he chose his, though, and doubtless, the efficiency they produced would suffer for it, but the important thing right now was to keep these mages off the Tranquil while Sparrow smashed through the corpses directly in front of them. All told, it was a sound strategy for such a hastily-devised one, and everything seemed to be going about as well as could be expected until a spirit bolt whizzed by her only to catch the archer full in the chest, throwing him backwards an immoderate distance.

Nostariel had switched tactics before he even made the request. Healing and damage-dealing required completely different mindsets, and it was hard to swap quickly from one to the other. It was a rare mage indeed that could manage both in any kind of swift succession. Nostariel was not yet such a mage, if she would ever be, and it took her a moment to adjust. With a couple of deep breaths, though, she was able to summon the energy to herself, and then direct it towards her fallen comrade. If there was one thing she was good at, it was trauma healing. She was passable with illnesses, but the battlefield was where she shone. Ironic, considering how little she liked them, and how often she had failed at this very job.

Not today.

Rilien, much further afield, had only dim awareness that someone behind him had been hit. What he had noticed was that Ashton's arrow had added to the fog already present, obscuring his target even further. It was more than worth the inconvenience, however, as the mages were no longer firing upon him with anything even resembling accuracy, and he was a much more mobile fighter than they. He would find his quarry, even if he had to stalk it. It was not terribly often that he vanished under the cloak of stealth, though he was capable of it. Mostly, he relied on complete silence to achieve the same result, and this instance was no different. Footfalls normally only incidentally soft lost all noise whatsoever, and he threaded his way carefully in the general direction of Decimus. More than once, he ran into a different mage, but he was much quicker on the uptake, and as a result, each of the three died before they could so much as choke out a warning.

At last, he found what he was looking for. The shroud of smoke was starting to thin, just a little, and the Blood Mage could see him, too, evidenced by the expected half-mad, half panicked ramblings that ensued upon sight of the sunburst resting so obviously over his brow. It was an unusual mage that was not unnerved by it, especially outside a Circle. After a while, it grew repetitive, actually. That Sparrow had not paid it much mind at all was one of the reasons they got along as well as they did. Decimus was nothing even resembling Sparrow, and Rilien had little conscience to delay his action. Surprisingly, his first hit was blocked by a desperate staff maneuver, the metal blades biting deep into the wood of the thing. Ripping them free with exactly no change in facial expression, the Tranquil moved again, this time catching a few shards of stone in his exposed arm for his trouble. Considering that the mage's arm now ended at the elbow, he wasn't very concerned by this.

Predictably, Decimus failed to control his reaction and dropped his stave, clutching at his stump with his still-whole hand and doing quite a lot of screaming. At this point, Rilien was forced away from what would have been the finisher by an incoming jet of flames; the others around them were regaining full visibility, and apparently would defend their leader to the death. He supposed that could be arranged.

Whatever amount of hatred she'd harvested from wheedling out the animated corpses had not been enough to weave into the fray and clock Decimus in the head – which would have been quite easy, since he was already distracted by Rilien's merciless assault, desperately attempting to block the Tranquil's impossibly quick hands with his staff. It was numbingly obvious how the situation would end. Instead, Sparrow stepped in while the fog cleared and slammed her mace into one of the mages stomach. Certainly not hard enough to bust all of his ribs, but enough to debilitate him, to discourage him from throwing any more funnels of flame at her companions. She whipped to the side to engage another, busying her mace against a creaking wooden staff. "Kill him first!" Perhaps, then, the others would lose face. They would give up. They wouldn't need to die. Then, Rilien could stop killing the others.

On the other side of the cavern, after Nostariel's burst of healing magic, Ashton had managed to drag his sore corpse over to one of the many stalagmites that littered the cave and leaned his back against it. Sure the immediate pain was gone thanks to the pretty little mage, but he still felt as if a horse had kicked him in the chest. What little blood that had remained floating around freely in his system was still interfering with his breathing, but all things considered, he could be worse. He could be dead. And not being dead was always a plus in Ashton's book. The hunter did look worse for wear though, left over blood flowing from the corner of his mouth. He looked a lot worse off than he was. He'd try to milk it for all the pity that it was worth.

He wasn't of the strongest constitution, to say the least. He wasn't a strongbacked, rough and tumble individual, like Sparrow. He couldn't take punches, hell, he probably couldn't even take a stiff breeze. Even Rilien, with his Tranquil stoicism, was more hardy than the Archer. At the very most, he put himself on Nostariel's level, and that was if she didn't have that Wardened hardening training whatevers. He knew what he was, and that was why he put himself in the back of the fight, flickering in and out of visibility. Though, he'd not allow a simple magical bolt to hold him back. He wasn't quite out of the fight yet, he wasn't quite done.

Ashton had nocked an arrow, and was beginning to draw before he paused. His sitting position would not allow him to fire his bow upright. He sighed and angled the bow horizontally and drew once again. "That was the plan..." Ashton murmured behind Sparrow's command. At that, Ashton let the arrow slip, and like a bolt of lightning it streaked forward towards it's intended target. Luckily, for those mages that had saw Ashton get hit by the Spirit Bolt, they thought him out of the fight. They didn't expect him to crawl back into the thing. That oversight allowed the arrow fly unmolested, right into the head of Decimus. Well. At least the chance of possession by Blood Mage was down. "Yaaay... Can we go home now?" Ashton whined, his arms dropping limply.

The arrow struck Decimus's forehead at about the same time as Sparrow downed her last one and Rilien disemboweled the remaining antagonist. All those that remained were cowering at the corners, and one flinched noticeably when the Tranquil leveled a dead-eyed stare at him. That was largely a normal occurrence, however, and he paid it no heed. His part of this enterprise was concluded, and frankly, it would have been impossible for him to care any less about what happened to the rest of them. For someone who had been a mage, their so-called plight was of precious little consequence to him, except as it occasionally pertained to what few people ever managed to bumble their way into mattering to him.

He picked up his discarded sleeve on the way back to the back of the ranks, using the deep red fabric to clean his knives before he resheathed them. Blood still dripped in rivulets down his bare arm, and he busied himself removing what chunks of stone he could from the wounds, tossing them onto the ground with apparent disregard for any pain it caused. There were still a few in there, and those would have to wait until he could make his way home and use a smaller instrument to dig them from his flesh. After that, it would be a simple matter of alcohol, bandages, and potions. It would not be the first time he'd gone through that particular routine, and it would doubtless not be the last.

"Not quite yet," Nostariel replied to Ashton. "We have to talk to the rest yet, and see if any more bloodshed might be avoided. I can take better care of that later, too," she added, noting the obvious fatigue under which he still operated. The Tranquil's bloody arm also concerned her, but it did not appear to be bothering him in the slightest, and she wasn't quite brave enough to ask him if he wanted any help. That left Sparrow, who looked fine, and the other mages, who were apparently looking upon them with more fear now that the violent among them were dead.

"Please," Nostariel entreated them, gripping her staff as firmly as she could muster and taking tentative steps forward, "do not be afraid. This is not what we intended, and a peaceful resolution to this affair is still possible." She shifted her posture just a little, so that the insignias of her station were easily-visible, and hopefully that would help. The Wardens were not harbingers of needless violence, and they were also not in the back pocket of the Chantry, which she hoped would lend her pleas some weight. "Ser Thrask of Kirkwall led us here to you. He wishes for you to return to the Circle, peacefully and without anymore needless death, but that window of opportunity will be brief." She waited then, for one of them to speak, or do anything at all, really.

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Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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The woman who had attempted to stop Decimus from attacking the group fell to her knees by his body now that the violently resisting mages had been dealt with. "You killed him!" she shouted, dismayed. "Oh, Decimus, you should have listened to me, love..." She gazed up at the four that had killed the blood mage. "Decimus gave us the courage to face the Templars. Without him, we would be prisoners still. He was our future... Until he came, we never thought to fight back. I told Decimus he was going too far, but he said it was the only way to protect us. To protect me." 

She stood, clearly desiring to look upon the maimed corpse no longer. "Please, we only want our freedom. Without your help, the Templars will execute us all for Decimus' crimes." 

Nostariel's expression tightened, the frown playing at the edges of her mouth and eyes clear evidence of her sympathy, though to the statement itself, she said nothing, at least not until the woman spoke her plea. At that, the elf shook her head, though whether this was from straightforward disagreement or resignation was not precisely clear. "Thrask will not. He sent us here to prevent just that, but you must understand something. He will not be alone for long, and if you are not with him when the others arrive, it... will not end well. Surely, you can see the need to protect yourselves from that. For the sake of those of you that still remain, please, return to the Circle." The words tasted bitterly on her tongue, and something in them weighed tangibly upon her, slumping her shoulders, but... she had seen too much of the world to believe that they were really better off just running away for the rest of their lives. The Circle was a cage, but compared to the fear and perpetual danger of an apostate's life, it was a gilded one. 

With their phylacteries still operational, they didn't stand a chance of remaining hidden for long, and then they really would be executed, or made Tranquil. The latter shouldn't be the case, but anyone with even a shred of realistic undersanding knew that what was supposed to be and what was differed substantially when mages and Templars were involved, and that went both ways.

“We must not.” Again, it was Sparrow who piped in, rolling her shoulders to rid herself of the growing cramps. She lowered her head when she caught sight of Ashton's appearance, blood welling down from his lips. It would do no one any good if they engaged another, tougher, foe in his state – not that she doubted his abilities, but he, for one, would not outright want to do battle with Templars. Her lip stiffened, and her posture straightened. “There has to be another way. Escape through another tunnel.” She added bitterly, whipping her head around to the other apostates. Hadn't they noticed a way out? Or was this cavern doomed to dead ends and disgusting smells? It was by the coast, wasn't it? She spread her hands out wide, then snapped them down. “Lie, or cheat if we must. Rilien can say that we've killed them. Slaughtered all of them because we had to. Thrask might be upset, but, but then they'll be able to go on their way. Leave the Free Marches and go to Ferelden – if not, expect injustice. You've committed crimes, and you're considered dangerous. They will kill you.”

Sparrow made a grunting noise, throwing her hands wide, as if to appease the Maker. She did not want to disobey her companion. She did not want to go against what she was saying. Hadn't Nostariel suffered at the hands of the Circle? But, because she'd been in one, did she think they would be merciful to their crimes? Not all Templars were as forgiving or compassionate as Thrask. There would be Templars within the Circles order who'd want to seek retribution, who'd pull on their own tethers to see these mages burn. Chains and cages were only so good if they were being compared to execution. If they hadn't a say in the matter, then wasn't this all pointless? “The Circle will not accept them anymore. They aren't runaway birds. They've killed Templars, Nos. We're leading them to the Gallows.” However metaphorical that might've been, Sparrow did not want to wring nooses around their necks. Had it been years prior to her arriving in Kirkwall, upon first meeting Rilien, then she would not have cared. Efficiency ran nearly as thick in her blood as it did in her Tranquilian companion. She'd spent years cultivating her nonchalance, her ability to walk away from the poorest souls when she might've been able to help; without a heavy heart. It's kept her alive thus far.

"Nostariel. Please..."

She was silent. She was smiling. 

"Yes," the mage woman said, clearly liking the sound of Sparrow's plan far more than Nostariel's, "We have found no other ways out of the cave apart from the way we came in, but if this Templar can be fooled, then lie to him, say you had to kill us all. You've enough blood on you to prove it. We can escape when they're gone. I hear there are places, outside the Free Marches, where the Templars are not so vigilant. With our phylacteries destroyed in our escape, we could make a go of it." 

She took on a different look then, a hardness in her eyes that hadn't been there before. "If he can't be fooled... surely the death of one Templar is preferable than the deaths of so many mages. Kill him so that we can escape before the others arrive. Please, if you want to help us, then help us."

Rilien, entirely uninterested in the discussion taking place, stepped over several corpses and partial corpses to where Ashton was still half-laying on the ground. With his back turned to the rest of the group, it was safe to assume that the slight lift to his eyebrow was intended for the archer alone, as if to ask what he was doing wasting time on the ground when he was perfectly capable of standing. The Tranquil offered the archer his good arm and helped him pull himself to his feet, figuring that even if he didn't care a whit whether these mages or any Templars lived or died, the loudmouthed hunter was bound to have an opinion of some sort. Furthermore, he wasn't a complete idiot, so it might actually be a worthwhile one, which was clearly not a guarantee where some of these mages were concerned.

Nostariel, meanwhile, had been about to say something to Sparrow when the woman spoke. The Warden's was not a face that appeared as if it could host any expression describable as 'thunderous,' but it soon became clear that appearances were misleading. Her stare matched and surpassed the tattooed woman's in its coldness, and for once, it wasn't hard to guess that Nostariel's favored element was ice. The bladed end of her staff slammed into the ground with uncharacteristic force, and she straightened, every line betraying her utter disgust. "How dare you," she hissed, tones low and glacial. It might have been the imagination, but the temperature in her immediate proximity seemed to drop by a good ten or so degrees, her irises hardening to chips of frost set into a stern face. 

"I understand what it is to feel trapped, but that does not excuse the very suggestion that we murder the man who called us, strangers to him and people far outside of the Circle, for the express purpose of saving your lives. How dare you suggest that his life is so insignificant. He is exactly what the Circle needs, and exactly the reason you will not be killed. Just how do you think he found you at all? Your phylacteries were saved from the Circle you burned. If not him, another Templar will find you, and you would be lucky indeed if that one is half as merciful as Ser Thrask. If you want the attitude the world has toward us to change, then you must be better than this. Better than his blood magic, and much better than the idea that the death of a good man means nothing. I will not lie for you, and I will definitely not murder for you. How you choose to take that is a measure of your own character." She left it unsaid that she already found it to be wanting. That much was clearly obvious.

Ashton accepted Rilien's hand with a nod of approval and thanks, before he put his hand on his back and thrusted, popping a number of bones. Now that Nostariel's magic had enough time to sink in, he was feeling better, if tired. That and the left over blood from his internal wounds was still clogging up his breathing and such. In the long run though, he'll be fine. He patted Rilien's shoulder for an extra show of thanks and then approached the brewing storm that was Sparrow, Nostariel, and the mages. If only he truly knew the depth of the murky waters he was wading in to. Or perhaps he did, and just didn't care or understood. He knew, a blow like that could scramble even the sanest minds, and Ashton's wasn't the sanist to begin with.

"Yeah, we're definitely not going to kill Thrask," Ashton backed Nostariel up, [/color]"Templar or not, he's too good a man to just off like that. So now that that option's off the table,"[/color] he mimed the action of cleaning off a table, "That leaves either letting them go, or bringing them back to the Circle," Now that the options were stated, next came the muddy job of siding on one. Great. Just what he woke up wanting to do today, side on the matters of mages. He pinched the bridge of his nose, still totally unaware of the drying streak of blood dribbling down the corner of his mouth. It gave him a rather serious appearance, more serious than he'd like.

"My kneejerk reaction tells me to let 'em go," Ashton said, again mimicking the kneejerking part. "Though considering that their leader had just tried to kill us and they already show no qualms about killing to get what they want... Maybe the best route is the Circle after all," Ashton said, offering an apologetic look for Sparrow. "Who's to say that they just won't cause more trouble, attack more Templars if we just let them go. Though the lot are machines, some do have hearts inside that armor like Thrask. Some are good people. And who's to say that they won't kill more good people just to keep their freedom?" Ashton said, clearly not enjoying the words coming off of his tongue. "At least it's safe there," He finished, rubbing his head. Then he shrugged, turned his back on the whole quarrel and went to stand beside Rilien. The Tranquil had the right idea.

"I don't care what either of you decide. I've said my piece. I'm not a mage, so I can't pretend this gobble-gook applies to me, do what you will and I'll be right behind you," Ashton said, settling in beside Rilien. "Besides, I just really want to go home now," he murmurred.

Oh great, now the mage was insinuating that Sparrow was on board with killing everyone else in her path to free them. That wasn't what she had in mind, after all. Her doubts about Thrask's ingenuity had been cleared as soon as she'd met him, for he could've taken a different route if he'd wanted the runaway apostates slaughtered. Whatever qualms she possessed against Templars could be momentarily set aside. She wouldn't kill Thrask just because she was asked to. The other Templars were an entirely different matter because they carried chains, false promises, and a nasty tendency to provoke their captives into coercive, inappropriate knee-jerks. Such things could be easily dealt with their blades because the mages were simply too dangerous to bring back to the Circle. If they walked away, and then the Templars rounded the corner to do away with them, without Thrask to oversee their journey, they wasn't it the same thing as signing their death sentences. This would be difficult.

She was slightly taken aback when Nostariel slammed her staff in the ground, galvanizing with unadulterated anger. Nearly bristling and bursting at the seams – if she were that little mage, however beautifulNostariel might've been while staring her down, she would've been shaking in her boots, as well. If she were in the mage's position, fighting for her own freedom, and if she was backed into a corner, then wouldn't she, too, want to kill everyone trying to strip her of her freedoms? She knew she would. Even if it meant destroying someone innocent like Thrask. They didn't honestly know who this Thrask was. He was just another Templar idling outside, waiting for them to convince the mages to lower their weapons and give up before they faced inevitable execution at the hands of more Templars. However stifling, and utterly frigid, Nostariel's disgust was, Sparrow couldn't help feel her heart go out to them, fluttering from her fingertips like two flighty things searching for another, much more pleasant way to end this. They wanted to live freely, much like she did. Would Nostariel have denied her if she had known what she was willing to do in the face of imprisonment?

Sparrow abruptly whipped forward, grabbing a handful of the apostate's robes before shaking her wildly, drawing her near so that she could look her in the eyes. Two pieces of flint meeting rusted copper, dark and darker. “Don't mince my words. Just because I don't want your sorry carcass to rot in the Circle, doesn't mean that we're dirty mercenaries willing to swing our swords around for just anyone. If it hadn't been for Thrask, then we'd be stumbling onto a pile of ash and bones, remember that.” She did not relinquish her grip, only tightened and spun her around to face her companions, her terrified fledgelings that had been lugged along with them. They clung to each other, as if letting go would mean they'd fall. They'd stumble, they'd be finished. Some of them might have had hands as bloody and stained as their leader, Decimus, but some even still might have been entirely innocent in any acts they partook in as they absconded from their Circle, only faltering when it came to the aspect of freedom, fleeing along with the rest of them. They would suffer. She looked at Nostariel, then to Ashton. Her tongue tied into knots, stuck to the back of her teeth to keep herself from saying things they wouldn't want to hear. She eyed the smear of blood on Ashton's lips. He should not have to suffer her pride.

“Condemn them all for the possible actions of a few?” It sounded familiar enough. Her argument was weakening already, like wobbling knees ready to buckle. Sparrow's grip loosened, allowing the material to slither away from her fingers. But, still, her heart felt heavy. It settle down to her heels like silt in the ocean, and no amount of well-wishing could dilute the impending shame. She might have hated blood mages for what they'd done to her, bringing a demon into her mindscape (even if it had been her own doing) but she felt disgusted at the very idea of marching a troupe of runaway mages into their grimy hands. She knuckled her eyelids, averting the sigh bubbling in her throat. “If you think this is right.” It was fine. Let them be done with it. She would drink for them later.

The mage seemed defeated. They certainly would not kill Thrask, and the Warden would put an end to any attempts to lie to him, which had been slim at best. Templars were easier to kill than fool, after all, that she knew. When faced with the choice between the Circle and death, Decimus had chosen death. But she... could not do it. She couldn't make the others do it. "You've made your point," she gave in. "I won't have all of us die down here in this cave. We'll go back to the Circle." 

The Chanter's Board has been updated. Act of Mercy has been completed.

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Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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The tumblers inside the lock could hardly be heard over the pitter of the rain falling about his shoulders. What a wonderful time of night to go visiting, Ashton though as he locked the door to his shop. Still under the awning that led into his shop, he gazed out into the rain and heaved a big sigh. A marvelous night indeed. So it was with some resignation he flipped the hood of his cloak and adjusted his grip on the brown paper bag and it's contents in his hand. He then dove into the rain, running towards his mark, the local shifty dive bar, the Hanged Man. A couple of minutes and splish-splashes later, he found himself inside the bar, dripping wet. He knocked back the hood and sighed, once again, and began looking for his target. She shouldn't be that hard to find, considering her smile would light up the bar.

"I understand, Varric. I'll see what I can do," Nostariel promised, rising from her seat and returning the amicable dwarf's farewell. Stepping out from under his doorway, she contemplated the noisy main room of the bar for a moment, then shook her head. She'd rather not deal with all the people and the noise this evening, though she did feel very much like partaking in some of the ale. That job for Thrask had torn open more than one sluggishly-bleeding old wound, and it was something she'd be much better off forgetting. She was going to head straight back to her room when the door swung open, admitting a familiar face. Well, it would be rude not to acknowledge him, anyway, so the Warden stepped out to the middle of the top stair and waved, a somewhat shy effort that at was at the very least visible. Ashton was one of those people that she had absolutely no idea what to do with or how to predict. Not that it was necessarily a bad thing; it just left her feeling very often flat-footed or surprised and slightly awkward in his company. Considering that those were times she wasn't morose and abjectly miserable, that might be a good thing.

He didn't have to wait long, as Nostariel waved to him from the stairs. The rain dripping from his shoulders nearly evaporated from the sight of the Warden, or some such poetic nonsense. Seeing how he was not a poet, he decided to not compose a serenade right then. Sure, forward he may have been, but even he knew there were boundries. At the sight of the pretty little Warden, Ashton unclasped the cloak around his shoulders and tossed it on on the bar. If luck willing, it'd still be there by the time he left. If not... No harm really. It was a rough thing, made by himself, for himself, with only one purpose in mind. Keep him dry when the day was wet. He took his leave from the door way and slipped through the crowd on the way to the stairs.

The dive seemed to be a lot more active than usual, probably due to the rain outside. People looking for somewhere to escape it probably. And what better place than a place that sells ale by the barrel? Sure, sure, they all ran the risk of partaking a little too much and end up drowned in a gutter somewhere, but hardly anything could get in between a man in his ale. Not even Ashton. He made a point of slipping through the crowd in such a way that he'd have to touch the fewest people possible. Again, his movements showed the trained agility of the hunter, slipping in and around the people like a whisper. By necessity no less, the previous day revealed the fact that he didn't take punches well. It'd ruin the night he had planned if he got cold-cocked in the jaw by an unruly bar patron.

It didn't take long for the slippery Ashton to make it to the stairs and began to ascend them. He bent his lanky frame in order to better talk into Nostariel's ear. "Know of anywhere quieter? I'd like to not yell at you," Ashton said, his grin tugging at his lips. Yelling certainly wasn't romantic.

Insinuation had a tendency to do exactly one of two things to Nostariel: it either rendered her a blushing, stuttering mess of a person, or else it flew over her head entirely. In this case, the latter was fully at work, and she took the words at face value. Also having no desire to raise her voice to be heard, she simply nodded, turning and padding a little further down the hallway until she reached the wooden door after Varric's. Touching it with one flat palm, she spoke, probably audible, but not considering it much one way or another. "Ewan." A ward flared to life on the door, then faded, allowing her admission. Sometimes, she wondered why she did that to herself, forced the name to pass her lips several times a day, but masochistic as it may have been, she also thought it necessary.

Pushing the planks of wood inward, she held the door for her friend to follow, then let it fall shut. A spell lit the fireplace, illuminating a small, but serviceable sitting room with a small table and a few chairs, one armchair in a corner, and not much else. Assorted books were piled here and there on the table or the floor, a few loose parchments sticking out here and there. Despite the lack of furniture pieces, the room gave off an air of homey comfort, and was clearly quite lived-in."It's not much," she admitted ruefully, "but you're welcome to make yourself comfortable. Can I get you something?" Not that she had much on offer, but it seemed polite to ask anyway. Nostariel remained standing, shifting from foot-to-foot slightly uncomfortably. She wasn't exactly used to recieving guests here, as the slight untidiness might attest. Usually, when people wanted to see her, they just slid into the chair across from her in the tavern proper, but... he'd had a point about the noise.

The seal thingy on her door made Ashton's head tilt in curiousity, but he kept it to himself. Surely she had a reason and didn't go through all that hassle for no reason. The spell lighting the fireplace though, that was neat. The sight of the display caused his eyes to widen in awe. He'd never seen magic used for such mundane purposes, and already the gears were turning on the possible uses he could put to it at his shop and home. He'd have to inquire about that... Later. he wouldn't really just stop everything and ask, how you do that.... He'd do it later. "It's more than what I got. I sleep in a closet upstairs in the shop... No, forgive me. Closet is wrong. It's smaller," Ashton joked, the turn at the corner of his mouth revealing it as such.

"In a matter of fact, I suppose you can get something for me," He said, making his way toward the table chairs. He let her suffer through a few moments of silence before he answered, "Two glasses, I've got a present." He held up the brown paper and it's contents. It was blaringly obvious that the contents inside was a bottle of some sort. He then took a seat in one of the chairs and sat the brown papered bottle on the table. "You do drink right? You look like the drinking sort," he said, seemingly unaware of the blunt nature of the observation. Still, he patiently waited for Nostariel to gather the glasses and take a seat before he continued.

The statement was so plain, she almost didn't know what to do with it. She was too aware of herself to be offended, and instead she simply found it... funny. A smile cracked her discomfort and scattered it to the four winds, though she didn't quite laugh, instead disappearing through the one other door in the room and reappearing with two dusty, but serviceable, glasses. These, she cleaned with a dry cloth, and set one in front of him, settling across from him and eyeing the bag with curiosity. "I could say something about the redundancy of bringing alcohol to a tavern, but something tells me that's nothing this place serves." She quirked a blond eyebrow, conveying the rest of the question with a rare levity.

This was certainly unexpected; she had rather thought he might be here for business, but if so, he had yet to mention it. "How are you feeling?" she asked seriously, folding her hands primly on the table in front of her. "That was a hard hit you took yesterday, and emergency healing is only good for so much. If you're still in pain...?" She let the statement trail off. Nostariel knew she could be the pushy, overly-concerned type, and tried to avoid it where possible, since it wasn't the best impression to give off. Especially as a Warden; it made her seem like she didn;t have enough confidence in the abilities of her fellows, and that wasn't good for any of them. Still, some habits could only be curbed, not broken.

"No, no nothing like that. I'm fit as a fiddle," Ashton said. If that fiddle had been dropped down a flight of stairs. There was still the pang of soreness, but nothing to worry anyone with. It'd go away on it's own eventually, as long as he wasn't dragged into many more adventures any time soon. Now that that was out of the way, he steered the conversation away from himself and back to the bottle on the table, "A clever one, aren't you?" Ashton teased, "I guess you can say that." He then opened the bag and retrieved the bottle that was within. Now that it was free from the cloak, it was revealed to be the Monrenny Vintage that Rilien had so kindly dropped off for him.

"Something about it's worth being measured in soveriegns? I know it's better than anything this watering hole has. I'm surprised the bottle didn't just explode when I walked through the door, being subject to such mockery. Luckily it didn't, and we get to enjoy the fruits of Orliasian vineyards-- Er.."' he paused, his hand on the cork ready to pull. "But before we drink, I'm going to need your name and a smile," Ashton said, his own smile stretching from ear to ear. He chuckled at the personal joke before popping the cork and pouring for the both of them.

Nostariel, despite being accurately-describable as a lush and perhaps even a drunk, didn't really know that much about the subject. Still, pretty much anyone knew that Orlesian wine was fancy. If you didn't know it about wine, you still knew it about Orlais, after all. The second half of the statment perplexed her, and her brows drew together over her eyes. "Um... what?" She blinked quickly a few times. No, her vision wasn't swimming, she didnt feel the slightest bit dizzy, so she was definitely not drunk... somehow, that made the request make even less sense. Still, she shrugged and decided to play along. "Well, my full name's Nostariel Shea Turtega, which is a bit of a mouthful, I suppose. Most people don't use it anymore, but my friends used to call me Nosta." Back when she'd had friends, anyway. But maybe that was unfair to some of the people she knew now.

She offered a smile, though it wasn't the most natural one. It was genuine enough, even if the confusion was still clear in it.

At the, although forced, smile Ashton sat a glass in front of her and took the other for himself, "And I am-- and don't laugh, because I'm dead serious-- Messere Lord Ashton Cuthbert Riviera," the way he said his middle name told that he didn't particularly care for it, though he went right on to explain the "Messere Lord" part of it. "Yes, I was a noble. Once. A long, long time ago. I don't even remember it. I had it for an entire year before it was stripped. No fault of my own mind, it's just that my parents weren't... Quite right in the head," and the family resemblence shines through... "I don't dwell on it, I liked the way I was raised better. That's a story for another time perhaps," Ashton said, flicking his hand as if shooing the thoughts away. He brought the cup up to his mouth but hesitated, and he looked at Nostariel with all seriousness etched into his face. "Do not tell Sparrow my middle name is Cuthbert," he said, taking a drink of the wine. His eyes widened at the taste and he beheld the glass. It was really good.

The Warden bit her lip to stifle the snicker that threatened, though it wasn't so much at the name itself as his reaction to it that amused her so. "Cross my heart," she told him with mock gravity, drawing an 'x' over the left side of her chest with a small flourish. "Truly, though, I would never have guessed-- about you being a noble, I mean." She paused, coloring slightly and shaking her head. "Um, that wasn't an insult, I swear! I just meant that you seem to fit so well into your present occupation that it's hard to imagine you doing anything else. I'm a little jealous of that, actually." She took a sip of the wine upon noting his reaction and had much the same one. "Though from the looks of things, you have extravagant tastes in wine, so maybe I can believe it." Her eyes crinkled just slightly at the corners with the force of her grin; clearly, the statement was meant to be a joke.

"Hah that's a funny one. I wouldn't know fine wine if it hit me upside the head. You've got the Tranquil to thank for that, it settled a bit of a... Debt, I suppose you could say," Ashton said, rubbing his cheek. The woman that Rilien scared off really had a hand on her... "Anyway, I was like... one when I was cast off to my uncle and aunt. They raised me. Taught me how to be a hunter and fisherman, how to live off the land. They were good people, if the hardy sort. Uncle tried to beat the nobility out of me... and I think it worked," Ashton said, chuckling. "I start wincing and twitching when I walk through Hightown," he said jokingly, miming the effect of twitching. It was obvious he was fond of his uncle and thankful to the both of them. Another drink from the cup and he shrugged, "But enough about me. How about you? How does a Warden Mage get her beginnings?" He said, raising an eyebrow.

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Nostariel was quiet for a long moment, and stretched it further by taking a protracted drink from her wineglass. When she spoke, it was quietly, the humor vanished from her tones. "I don't know," she admitted with a small shrug. "The first thing I remember is being inside the Circle, watching out the window while the archers practiced. I always used to think that they were the most wonderful thing, you know? Their armor was all white and shiny, and occasionally one of them would notice me watching and wave up at me or something. I wanted to be one of them, when I grew up-- a Starkhaven archer, one of the very best in the world. A bit of a silly dream for a mage, but I didn't know it at the time, of course." She polished off the rest of her glass, though she wasn't quite rude enough to just reach for the bottle again. It occurred to her that she was saying perhaps more than he'd asked for, and probably more depressing things than one should burden such a recent acquaintance with, and yet it was much... easier than she'd have guessed.

Ashton felt the mood shift, the silence drawing a rather solemn air about them. His face shifted to fit the mood, listening eyes, a soft line etched in his lips. A comforting smile awaited to shine through should it be necessary, always there on the edge of his mouth. He didn't move much or fidget as she spoke and merely lent an intent ear. For once, the loud mouth slowed and waited patiently. As she finished off the glass, Ashton topped it right back off for her. The way she polished it off didn't bother him, it was just another insight into who really was Nostariel. After he was sure she had finished, he shook his head softly, "There's no such thing as silly dreams Nostariel, mage or no," he offered, polishing off his own drink. He poured himself another before he continued, "It's never too late you know? The armor I'm not too sure about, but you can always pick up a bow and learn. You'd just need the time and patience. If you ever believe that you want to pick that dream up again, my shop's always open. I think I got a couple of old bows laying about and I know of a clearing not too far from the city..." he said, allowing the implications to sink in.

"You... you'd do that? For me?" Disbelief echoed somewhere in the words, and she clutched at the stem of her wineglass as though it were all that tethered her to the situation. Foolish as it was, the very thought almost made her want to cry, and there was a definite hot prickle behind her eyes, only made more pronounced by the fact that her obvious happiness was offset by something else he'd said. If only this was the only dream she'd ever had to give up on, she might have been able to believe him. There was no simple generosity that could repair the damage done by the other, though, and it was that one that weighed most heavily on her heart.

Again, he felt the air shift into something heavier. Too heavy. In an attempt to combat it, he offered a bit of humor to lighten the mood. "Of course I'd do that. I mean, I learned how to shoot straight. A clever girl like yourself should have no trouble firing off arrows like yours truly. Whenever you feel up to it, just drop by the shop and we'll go on a little field trip... Maybe the adventure will have less Ithilian this time..." Ashton offered, remembering the last time he went hunting, and remembering the run in he had with the dalish in the Alienage. "Really don't think he likes me," Ashton chuckled as if he could care less and took a drink of his cup.

"I don't think Ithilian likes anyone much," Nostariel replied with a brief shake of her head. She was a bit surprised still that they seemed to have known each other, but it made as much sense as anything. She didn't mind the Dalish man at all, but unsociable was putting it lightly where he was concerned. "I wouldn't take it personally, were I you."

He shrugged at the offered reply. It wasn't like he took every little slight his way personal. Else he'd be a lot more bitter. Feeling that the air was lightened enough to further the conversation, Ashton did just that, "You say that you were raised in the Starkhaven Circle? What was that like?" he asked with no small amount of levity.

That was a dangerous question, and she studiously stayed away from the most relevant aspect of the question in favor of keeping the lightness. "Oh, you know. Long nights in the library, Senior Enchanters always prodding you with questions, getting your robes set on fire by the little ones who still don't quite know what they're doing. Leaving secret messages in books for the next person who has to read them, chasing each other 'round the hallways, that sort of thing." She smiled fondly, enjoying the little pieces of recollection and the slight buzz that was now fuzzing her wariness over just a bit. "Some of us were right terrors, too. Not me, though; I always wanted to be the responsible one." A wistful sigh. Looking back on it, she wished she'd been a little more of a hellion in her own right, if only to have enjoyed that warm, ensconcd feeling of safety and all it offered to the fullest.

"Sounds like quite the adventure. Whenever I acted up, my uncle dumped me in the woods with one instruction before he went home and locked the door. Survive. Showed him when morning came around-- I had breakfast cooked," he said, laughing. Whether he was laughing at the memory, or whether he was laughing because it was a joke remained to be seen, and he certainly wasn't going to ruin the surprise. Once he got the laughter out of his system, he chased it with a swig of the wine before he sat quietly for a moment. It wasn't an awkward silence by any means and actually felt kinda... Nice. It was a bit before he spoke again, "Sounds like it was one big happy family. Hearing you speak about it reminds me of my own," he said, growing relatively serious.

"They might not have been my parents.. But I loved them like they were. Did more for me than my real parents did," he said, looking at the wall wistfully, "Sure, a noble's life might have been soft and cushy but... I just couldn't imagine it would have the same... Warmth? I doubt that'd I'd even see my parents that often had it all stayed the same. They gave me purpose, life, and a backbone. I don't wonder about the what-ifs. Having to leave them hurt, you know. Last I heard, they were still in Highever, living like they did before I left. Hardy people," Ashton said smiling and looking back to Nostariel. "I still miss them from time to time. I get letters and such, but it's not the same, you know?"

"I suppose not. Sometimes, I wish I had never left the Circle. In fact, knowing what I do now, I never would have. I got too greedy, I guess, and other people paid for it more dearly than they deserved. Looking back, it was warm, in its way, if only I'd been able to appreciate it at the time. I grew up with good people, but... I didn't understand what family was then. I thought it had to be something different, something more like families on the outside, or in tales. I wanted that so very dearly. Part of me still does, for all that desire has destroyed." She was halfway into her third glass by now, and if she'd realized that, she probably would have insisted they stop talking, because this was always when her loose tongue started to betray her. As it was, she knew it not, and even though her face was flushed with the effects of the wine, she easily attributed it to the fire and thought nothing of it.

"I suppose that's why you were quick to side the the Templar-- Thrask during out last little excursion," Ashton noted, bringing the glass to his lips again. He too was beginning to feel the edges of the buzz, and had thusly consigned himself to drink slower. If he ended up fully lit, then his loose tongue may get around to beating his brains out talking. He'd rather not do that just quiet yet. Still, he was beginning to get to the heart of why he wished to speak with Nostariel. Sure, he loved the conversation, he loved the companionship, but he was curious. He shrugged and with a vague hint of apology in his voice, he spoke, "It sounds as if you haven't led an easy life. Certainly not as easy as mine. I'm sorry for digging such things up," he said, looking at the woman across from him.

"That's not it," Nostariel replied morosely, staring into the burgundy liquid still in front of her as though it held all the answers in the world. "I know why mages don't like Templars. I don't particularly get along with most of them either, but... a good man is a good man, and sometimes, he's a Templar." She shook her head almost violently, trying to clear a particular image from it, but it didn't work. It never had. "I..." She raked both hands through her hair, clearly anxious about something. "Have you ever been in love, Ashton?"

That was an unexpected question, and actually managed to throw Ashton off guard. He paused for a moment, and looked away as if trying to register what she had said. Once he had figured out that, yes, she did ask, he hesitated some more. He then shrugged, "Sadly. I can't say that I have. Not... real love. I've been smitten a couple of times," he said, glancing at her, "But they're shallow things. I have yet to be blessed with real love," he answered, with a bit of weight in his own voice. Sure, he'd loved before, that much was blaringly obvious... He'd just never been in love, and that fact stung. A lot more than he thought it would. Damn Rilien and his wine. For once in a long, long while, he felt the pang of loneliness.

"Smitten..." she echoed softly, pursing her lips and chancing a glance up at him. "That may well have been all it was, but you have to understand. Mages aren't allowed to fall in love. They aren't allowed to do silly, childish things, or think about having families, or live the way other people do. All of that is denied us, and we never learn to differentiate between all those feelings that we can have. We especially aren't allowed to feel affection for Templars. It's one of the reasons they're encouraged to be so distant with us, and we with them. That distrust... it prevents attachment. Well, it's supposed to." The Warden slumped forward, resting her chin on her hands. She'd already said this much, and the story just seemed to fall from her tongue after that.

"His name was Tristan. I was studying in the library late one evening, and he'd come by as part of his patrol, I guess. I'd never seen a Templar actually look at the books before, and I suppose it surprised me enough that I just... broke that barrier of silence that usually exists. I asked him if he was looking for anything in particular, and he told me he enjoyed epics. You know, old legends, bards' tales, stories about heroes and dragons and wonderous things. I was reading a book at the time, called the Tale of Ewan, and I lent it to him. Somehow, that turned into weekly meetings, and we talked about everything. The books, our lives, my studies and his training. It just became so normal to be with him, and I fancied myself in love. Maybe I was, maybe not, but for once, all I could see were the bars on my cage, and what they were stopping me from having."

She sighed heavily, seeming to almost deflate with it. "He was far too good to defy his vows, and I didn't want to make him. Besides, it wouldn't have been enough. I'd always wanted a family, a real one, whatever that means, and he told me he did, too. Barely out of childhood, and yet so sure that we knew everything that was good for us. It took us a while to figure out how we could get it, but then the Warden recruiter visited the Circle, and suddenly everything was obvious. He was an excellent warrior, and I knew healing magic backwards and forwards. We were young, willing volunteers, with excellent recommendations, and the recruiter took us without an issue. I thought... I thought I was finally going to have everything I'd ever wanted. It was going to be absolutely perfect: I was going to do something so much more useful to the world than staying trapped in a tower. I'd get to see things I'd only read about, and I'd do it all with Tristan." She stopped then, taking a deep, shuddering breath.

"It turns out that less than half of Warden recruits survive the Joining. I just... woke up, and there he was. I couldn't save him; nobody could. Some dreams really are just silly, Ashton. And I've dreamed too many of those to hold out much hope for the rest anymore." She offered what was supposed to be a sardonic smile, which was too bad, because it was more or less drowned in the saline liquid dripping from her eyes. If she wasn't just a little too into her drink to avoid it, she'd have been ashamed of herself for subjecting him to this.

Ashton felt his heart in his throat. He knew that there was something to Nostariel, something behind those clouded eyes. But he never expected this. He felt... He felt guilty. He felt like it was his fault, he felt like it was because of him she had to reopen those old wounds and experience that pain again. Even so. As guilty as he felt, he refused to look away from the Warden. She deserved that much. She was spilling her heart to him and he couldn't look away. He wouldn't. He watched as the tears streamed down her face in unusual stoic silence before he began to shake his head again. He refused to believe that, he just refused. He reached across the table and wiped what little tears he could from the woman's face as he spoke, "Dreams are never silly Nostariel. I refuse to believe that they are. Everyone deserves to dream, mages, templars, hunters, even apostates. It's what makes us... us. I'm... I'm sorry," Ashton said, reeling back his hand. He didn't know what else to say. What else could he say? "I know... It may seem cheap coming from me. I've never lost anything. I have no right to say this... But... Never give up hope. That little bit of hope. It makes this life worth living..." he said, finally growing quiet.

Nostariel shook her head mutely, catching his hand even as he drew it away, holding it perhaps a little too tightly for comfort as she tried to gather the words. It was hardly an easy task, and it took a matter of minutes, during which she sobbed harshly but refused to let go. Somehow, in that intervening time, it felt like something that had been weighing on her eased, like a small space in between her lungs opened up and let her breathe just a little more easily. This was a story that she hadn't told a soul, but now that she had, it seemed... better, in a way. Maybe she just really, really wanted to believe him. It was hard to say. Collecting herself, the Warden swiped at the remaining tears with her free hand, looking up at the hunter with a melancholy, awkward smile. She managed to produce a halfhearted chuckle, even, and blinked away the rest of the waterworks that still threatened. She hadn't cried like that in... she couldn't remember the last time. Perhaps never. She'd had no time to mourn Tristan truly, as she'd been thrown straight into her Warden training thereafter, and had used it to pretend that she was in no pain. It was only really since being relieved of her command that she'd had this much time to think on her circumstances, and this was perhaps the first occasion on which she'd wept for them.

"Well," she managed, still sounding a bit tremulous, "now that I've established that I am absolutely the worst drinking buddy ever..." She trailed off, realizing she was still gripping his hand and released gently. "I'm sorry. It's probably horrible form to just dump all that on you. But... thank you, truly. I wish the world had more people like you. I wish I was more like you."

"You're not that bad of a drinking buddy," Ashton shooed. "A lot better than Rilien, I'd hazard a guess," though he mentioned it, he just couldn't muster up the energy to imagine it, hiliarious as it might be. Then he went quiet for a second reflecting on the second bit of the comment before shrugging, "Yeah, well, if there were more people like me, then I wouldn't nearly be as unique," he said, giving a false smile. There was.. A shadow over his own past. He didn't quite wish his past on Nostariel, nor did he really want her to keep her own... His was nothing like Nostariel's, but he too had his share of skeletons in his closet. Ones he never allowed himself to think about. However, he felt just raw enough, just drunk enough to think about them. He quickly tried to lock them away. It was not time for them to fall out, not yet. He reaffirmed himself with another smile, this one bigger and more real than the last.

He picked up the bottle, which still had some of the liquor in it before swirling it around in the bottle, "Really good wine," he restated, "Though, I'm not sure if I should thank Rilien, or just glare at him..." he posited before chuckling.

"I should thank him. I... it hurts, but..." she sighed gustily. "I think I needed to say it all, even just to hear it myself, and I never would have done it on my own." There was no mistaking that it hurt afresh now, and yet perhaps that was the way it should be. An infected wound needed to be cut open and cleaned quite painfully before it could heal properly, and in this case, she was sure there was no magic to substitute for that process, however convenient that might have been. She might have been a bit gone, but it didn't stop her from noticing-- or perhaps simply imagining-- the shadow that passed behind his eyes. "Next time, we'll talk about you, if you feel like it. Even if that means I just get to expand my repertiore of jokes and odd puns. I do need to try and keep up with Varric, after all."

"Stick around, I got plenty of 'em," Ashton replied chuckling. In a way, he was glad. She looked to be better than she once was, though the air of sadness still hung in the air, perhaps an air of healing hung around as well, though that might have just been the alcohol clouding his eyes. For both their sakes, he dared to hope that it was the case, and that it had helped, that he in some way helped allievate what weight was on her shoulders. It was of his opinion that no one should be bound, by chains or even by their pasts. Everything deserved freedom in a perfect world, and though it wasn't a perfect world, he wanted to try his best to make it that much closer. Perhaps that's why he still felt that tinge of guilt.

It was abundantly clear to both of them that a move away from such weighty matters was what the situation called for. Nostariel, bleeding afresh at least metaphorically, needed time more than anything right now, and while she wasn't sure about him, it seemed appropriate to steer clear of tragedy and awkwardness for the moment. She wasn't exactly sure what to talk about in the wake of it, though, until the subject matter came upon her quite by accident. It seemed so simple, now that she thought about it. "You know... Varric and his brother are planning an expedition into the Deep Roads. I'm going along to guide them, but they're in need of someone to invest. I'd just gotten through promising to see if I could find someone when you walked in. I don't know as many people in Kirkwall as I should. Perhaps you're aware of someone who'd be interested?"

Ashton pursed his lips as he thought. He had heard rumblings of an expedition, though he didn't quite understand the details. Muffled rumblings more like. Though, and investment meant a return. Any simpleton could see that the Deep Roads and what treasures within would be ripe for the plucking, especially after the recent blight. Most of the ugly creepy nasties would be dead or in the process of dragging their taint back underground. He was also running behind on his payments again... Perhaps, perhaps if... "You know. I think I do have someone in mind. He's got two thumbs, and is just crazy enough to go on this little adventure," he said, twitching his thumbs in the air to indicate that it was, indeed, himself. "I could take what savings I have under my mattress," and put his shop up for a loan-- though he wasn't going to tell her that part, "And invest in this little venture-- If I get to tag along and see my investment through... Plus one," He added.

He felt like Sparrow needed time out of the city, and though an underground adventure wasn't the normal idea of a vacation, the scent of adventure should have been strong enough to hook her in. Besides, he doubted they'd have to worry about demons, blood magic, and apostates underground. It sounded like fun, if he thought about it. "So how about that?" He posed, arms outstretched awaiting an answer.

Miracle of miracles, Nostariel managed a snicker. "You'd have to take it up with Varric, but I'm sure he wouldn't mind. He can drive a hard bargain, but he and Bartrand are so desperate that you could probably ask for a whole circus to accompany you and get it, but don't tell him I told you so."

"Not a whole circus... Just part of it," He grinned.

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 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.