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Sophia Dumar

"We are never weaker than when we stand alone."

0 · 2,085 views · located in Kirkwall

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

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"Though all before me is shadow,
Yet shall the Maker be my guide.
I shall not be left to wander the drifting roads of the Beyond.
For there is no darkness in the Maker's Light
And nothing that He has wrought shall be lost." -Trials 1:14



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Name: Sophia Dumar
Pronunciation: so-FEE-uh doo-MAR
Age: 28 (Act 3)
Race: Human
Sex: Female
Sexuality: Heterosexual
Height: 5’9”
Build: Sophia is far stronger than your average Hightown noblewoman. That’s not to say she could beat a Qunari in arm wrestling, but she can certainly hold her own. She’s athletic and fit, but manages to maintain the feminine appearance that is expected of her as a noblewoman.
Class: Warrior

Appearance: One doesn’t need to study Sophia for long to know she’s a noble. It’s in practically every aspect of her appearance; long, clean, flowing golden hair, a healthy, well-nourished body, excellent posture, a graceful walk. Her face seems to convey a kind of innocence or naivety that gives away the fact that while she has lived in Kirkwall her entire life, she has never really experienced parts of the city such as Lowtown or Darktown.

And that isn’t considering any of her clothing. Though the Viscount certainly isn’t as respected as his office would imply, Sophia and her family have wanted for little coming of age. When around the Keep, Sophia will often wear gorgeous, expertly tailored gowns, as well as numerous accessories for her hair and around her neck or on her fingers. She doesn’t mean to flaunt her wealth, she’s just never known anything different. Her armor, too, is expertly crafted, providing excellent protection for her in combat while still retaining some sense of elegance and grace.

Act Two: Sophia allows her successes and failures to sink into her appearance perhaps more than is normal. She'll be positively radiant after a successful battle or problem solved, and rather dreary if she's allowing the stress of her position and responsibilities to get to her. Overall, she seems to be slipping into the visual role of Viscountess rather well. She's often in her armor, and comfortable in it as well, the weight of her sword having become a normality across her back. Her store of gowns increases often, and she's never seen holding her father's court without her golden hair done up in an elegant manner of some kind. All she needs now is the crown, really.

Act Three: No traces of the sword-armed girl from the Keep remain; Sophia is a woman now, and she has gone through a great deal to get there. What's changed most drastically is how she had obviously performed a full retreat from the idea of being Viscountess, and she shows signs of disdain for being a noblewoman at all. She dresses more simply now, commonly pulls her hair back. She doesn't necessarily appear more confident, given her past failures, but she seems freer now, less focused on being required to look a certain way, and instead appearing as she desires, or as is practical. She still keeps herself well cared for, obviously.



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Demeanor: Those familiar with the Dumar family often jest that Sophia stole her brother’s strength from him when he was born, taking it for herself. She is a fiery and passionate girl, and holds strongly to her beliefs, even if they haven’t yet been fully tested. She possesses all the manners and skills in conversation that is expected of a noblewoman, and though putting on a lovely face for the Viscount’s many visitors often grows tiresome, she performs the task of being the Viscount’s daughter well, even if she has a habit of spurning the suitors her father presents her with. It is well known that she is the most clear headed member of the family, as her father is often weighed down by the stress of his office, and her brother constantly pursues his rebellious flights of fancy, which she looks down upon.

She is vibrant in conversation, and her passion and fire for life comes through in her words and actions. She is very difficult to dissuade once she has her mind set on something, and can be extremely stubborn at times. She has her own plans, and does her best to not let anyone dictate what she does with her life. That said, she is responsible enough and loyal enough to her family that she does the duty that is expected of her, for the most part. It is mostly because she believes her father and brother with both collapse under the pressure placed upon them if she abandons the responsibility she has to them.

Sophia is a devout Andrastian, and visits the Chantry frequently. Her faith in the Maker is something that is important to her, and she will often speak of her beliefs to others, especially those having doubts. She desires to make Kirkwall a better, safer place, and as she's grown, she's been willing to go to greater lengths to do so. Her friends are few enough, considering that it is difficult for someone to be truly friends with a member of the Viscount’s family, but around those she trusts she is very open and caring, and quite protective. She isn’t skittish about fighting, and is more than trained enough to do so effectively. And while she isn’t a hardened warrior by any means quite yet, she is willing and able to defend those she loves, or fight for a cause she believes is just.

Act Two: Her experiences and misadventures throughout her first few years really fighting to change Kirkwall have humbled her somewhat, and the reality that she has an extraordinary amount still to learn is beginning to sink in. She grows more confident in her own abilities however, as she tests and learns her limits, and finds a great deal of reassurance in the friends and allies she's made in the city. At the same time, issues looming on the horizon hound her in quieter hours, and oftentimes the intense workload she places on herself leaves her exhausted. Still, it's something she bears willingly, bravely, and honestly quite happily. The idea that her actions can have a positive effect on her city is enough to sustain her.

Act Three: It would be impossible for the recent tragic events that occurred to Sophia to not darken her to some degree, but thankfully, she has quite possibly the best support she could ask for, and has done her best to fight through it. One thing that's clear, at least for the moment, is that she has lost most of her interest in ruling the city, as what confidence she had in this regard has been shattered, and not even the likes of Lucien or Nostariel or any of the others can repair it just yet. Her faith has become more of a private matter now, the murder of her brother by a member of the Chantry at last opening her eyes to the folly of overlooking the establishment's shortcomings. She is still quite faithful in the Maker... just less so in the goodwill of others.

Fears: (Act Three) Her worst fears coming to pass crippled Sophia for a good period of time, but she has since evolved to move past it, for better or for worse. With years of experience under her belt, she now knows she was foolish to fear so little. She fears failing those she cares about, and to some extent now avoids large responsibilities, so that she won't be forced into these situations. And she fears losing Lucien, and the thought of trying to decide what to do were she without him.

Opinions: (Act Three)
The Chantry: Her faith in the Chantry will be forever shaken by what happened to Saemus, but she is not so blind as to condemn them all, where before she praised them all. She maintains a good relationship with Elthina, and remains faithful to the Maker.
Mages: “Magic exists to serve man, and never to rule over him.” Sophia firmly believes in the Chant’s stance on mages. She wishes they could live with less restrictions, but doesn’t see how it can be accomplished without coming at the expense of the people.
Templars: Sophia has the utmost respect and admiration for the Templars. She considered the prospect of joining them during the period after her father's death, if only for something meaningful to apply herself to. Now, however, she thinks she will go her own way.
Elves: Knowing an elf such as Nostariel certainly did nothing to hurt her opinion on elves, but she was never very prejudiced against them in the first place.
Dwarves: Similar to elves, Sophia has little opinion on the dwarves. She is quite friendly with Varric, and he is to her, but she tries to avoid forming opinions on entire races, but rather individuals.
Humans: She dislikes the inequality among her people, but doesn’t see a way for it to be rectified. She believes many of her people could do with a bit more faith in the Maker. Or just a little more kindness.
Qunari: What happened will forever taint her opinion of them as a religion. She was not able to attempt forgiving the Arishok, and now she will never get the chance. What she tries to remind herself is that they were only a part of what happened, not the sole cause. Regardless... she's glad they're gone.
Kirkwall: The City of Chains has been a brutal place to Sophia, more than she could have expected. At the start, she had known that pain and injury, even death could befall her... but she was never really prepared for what happened instead. For better or worse, it's still her home, and she still feels some pull to try and make it better. For her father's memory, if nothing else.



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Weapon of Choice: Vesenia, a hand and a half sword, or bastard sword. Sophia wields it with both hands, and while it doesn’t have the force of a full greatsword, she makes up for that with increased speed. The blade is named after her mother.

Act Two: Sophia still fights primarily with Vesenia, but she has learned the value of coming to battle well prepared, and has since started wearing a sword belt with a short sword as a sidearm, as well as tucking a knife into one of her boots.

Act Three: No real change. Vesenia is still her blade, and considering that it was the weapon to slay the Arishok, she expects it has become fairly well-known, at least in the city.

Armor/Apparel: Sophia focuses on precision and speed over strength and endurance in combat, and thus her armor isn't as heavy as a more straightforward warrior. She wears a full body suit of light ringmail sturdy enough to turn a blade, with thin plate armor adding extra protection to vital areas such as the throat, chest, and upper abdomen, with no shoulder pauldrons. Gaps in the plate open up vulnerabilities at the sides, under the arms, and just above the belt line, but also confer her the advantage of unrestricted movement. She wears long leather gloves with lightly plated forearms, and knee-high leather boots with plating on the shins and tops of her feet. Around her waist she typically wears a knee-length crimson skirt, open enough in the front so as to not inhibit her movement. In all, it's a light, functional, and honestly quite stylish set of light plate armor, quite fitting for a future Viscountess.

Act Two: Little has changed for Sophia's armor. It has served her well, and she has easy access to a skilled smith in the event that it suffers any damage.

Act Three: It's battle-worn and a little less shiny than it used to be, but Sophia still maintains the same set of armor. The breastplate, though, had to be replaced, considering that the Arishok punched straight through it.

Combat Overview: Sophia received her combat training in secret at first, without authorization from her father. She began at around 16, and has been improving ever since. In her trained style, Sophia is an aggressive and deadly swordsman, raining strong blows down with her hand and a half sword while maintaining a high level of mobility for a warrior. She has excellent speed and footwork, both of which are necessary for her, as she can't match more experienced warriors in terms of physical endurance. While she has enough willpower to push through an injury or two, she's not entirely accustomed to adversity in combat yet, so she tends to slow down when wounded.

Act Two: Sophia's been in more than a few bloody fights since she set out, and experience has proven to be an excellent teacher. She's become skilled against numerous uncommon weapon types in close combat, and has grown used to fighting on unusual footing, surfaces not entirely level and smooth like the ones she was trained on. She still fights almost exclusively with her bastard sword, though she has begun carrying the occasional sidearm on her person, such as a boot knife or even a shortsword at her hip. In addition, the cuts, gashes, bruises, and occasional broken bone she has suffered and recovered from have helped her become a more durable combatant, though she is still most effective when not absorbing large amounts of damage.

Act Three: She's a warrior in every sense of the word now. Her many brutal fights have hardened her considerably, into a much more deadly and resilient soldier than the soft girl that set out years ago. Her bastard sword might as well be an extension of her arms, she has used it so regularly. She's gotten better and better at predicting enemy movement and maneuvering to counter it, and she can gracefully and confidently fight multiple enemies of lesser skill. Nor does she seem to care about pain as much anymore. Her physical constitution obviously can't match someone like Lucien's, but years of bleeding and taking hits have taught her to ignore adversity quite effectively.



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Place of Birth, Nation of Origin: Sophia was born in Kirkwall, in the Free Marches.
Social Status: (Act Three) A bit of a tricky question, actually. In theory, Sophia should be the Viscountess of Kirkwall, but in reality, she fancies herself nothing more than a mercenary swordswoman.

Personal History: While Sophia Dumar wasn’t always the Viscount’s daughter, considering that her father only began his reign ten years ago, she was always a noblewoman. Born to Marlowe and Vesenia Dumar in 9:10 Dragon, Sophia grew up in Hightown. She never really knew her mother, as Vesenia died giving birth to Sophia’s younger brother of two years, Saemus. Her father was highly respected among the nobleman of the city, and their family developed an excellent reputation, although Saemus did tend towards the rebellious side. Sophia did her best to be the perfect daughter for Marlowe, and even if she didn’t realize it, she quickly began to overshadow her brother in terms of reputation. Even early on the nobles could tell that Saemus wanted little part in the politics of the city, but rather to simply do as he pleased. Sophia was made to look extremely level headed in comparison, which she was, for the most part. As the eldest, she felt it was her duty to carry out her father’s wishes.

But things changed after Perrin Threnhold’s uprising against the Templar Order. Marlowe was surprised at being chosen to be the next Viscount, but he was an honorable enough man to not refuse. The three of them moved into the Viscount’s Keep, where Sophia’s life immediately began to deteriorate. She heard that her father had been a different man before the death of his wife, and there were whispers that he would be incapable of handling the responsibility of a rule. As Sophia came of age, she recognized this to be true. Her father was steadily dipping into a depression, constantly crushed by the weight of his little crown as he was. Saemus continued to rebel, hating his new life as the Viscount’s only son altogether. Sophia was left as the lone remaining member of the family who appeared to be moderately pleased with her life. Her father was mildly disappointed with her as she repeatedly turned down the suitors he occasionally sent her way, but her fire and passion doing right seemed to invigorate him somewhat.

It was as she grew into a woman that Sophia became as faithful as she is. The stress of trying to hold back her father's depression, as well trying to keep a handle on Saemus, was a little overmuch for a teenage girl to bear. She was forced to grow up far quicker than she would have liked. When she began seeking an escape from the constant pressure of her position, the Chantry seemed a natural choice. At first it was merely meant to be a means of escape, a place to get away and collect her thoughts before continuing forward, but after repeated visits, the Grand Cleric began to take note of her. Elthina took it upon herself to provide Sophia with counsel, and with her aid, Sophia was able to effectively hold back the tide within the Viscount's Keep. Elthina helped her become extremely strong in her faith, and after a few years, the woman became a mother to Sophia, someone she could always turn to if in need of aid. Elthina occasionally proposed that Sophia could do something else with her life, such as possibly becoming a lay sister, or even join the Templars when she was old enough, but Sophia's family was too important to her for her to leave them, no matter how noble the cause. Elthina was nothing if not understanding, but still stressed that the options remain open to her if she wishes to pursue them.

Ten years into her father’s reign as Viscount, Sophia grew more worried by the day. The arrival of the Qunari in the city sparked something she felt might be dangerous in Saemus, and her father grew weary of trying to please all the various groups that ask for aid he cannot give. Sophia tried to take as much weight off her father’s shoulders as she could, but she had only so much authority, considering that she didn’t actually hold a title other than “the Viscount’s daughter.” Still, she was confident that if she had faith in the Maker, and maintained a positive spirit, and a drive to do right that could match the Knight-Commander’s, she could make a difference in the City of Chains yet. She just had to be willing to take a few more risks.

Act Two: Among Sophia's efforts have been a successful (and uncalled for) rescue mission of her brother from a band of mercenaries, and a rescue mission to a mine overrun by dragons in which Sophia helped to slay a fully matured one of the creatures before convincing the workers to return to their jobs under her protection. One of her less proud moments was a night in which she was lured into a trap by a rogue sister of the Chantry, hoping to stir up resistance against the Qunari by leading her to her death at their hands. The event served to only temporarily shake her faith. She has convinced herself it was naught but an isolated incident. In the years following the return of the Deep Roads Expedition, her most notable achievement has been to clean the city guard of corruption, playing a pivotal role in the ousting of the guard-captain, an event with which she has become all too familiar. Apart from that, she has simply been doing what she believes to be right whenever she is able, inadvertently growing her own fame in the process.

Act Three: The most pivotal events in Sophia's life occurred in these years, and they have forever changed her. Her bonds with her friends became extremely meaningful to her, as meaningful as her familial ties. They are the closest thing she has to family now, though, as her brother and father are dead, at the hands of the Chantry and the Qunari, respectively. Both responsible parties were dealt with, though, and this left Sophia in a bit of a vacuum as to how to proceed. She was momentarily torn between the decision of committing herself to the Maker more fully, and working with the Templars, or moving from Hightown and trying to find her place with a more simple life. The decision was largely impacted by whether or not she would have Lucien at her side, and now that she knows she does, she made the choice to be closer to him, as there is nowhere she would rather find herself while she tries to figure out how to move forward again.




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| Amalia |

Amalia is not a friend of Sophia's, but she is far from an enemy. They developed over time a working relationship that began with goals aligning and continues as a solid alliance, but with the recent events involving the Qunari, Sophia is honestly not sure where they stand. Amalia is obviously not like the others that stormed Hightown and murdered her father, considering that she yet remains in the city while the rest left, but from the first Sophia has been a bit wary of her ways. She is very grateful for all the effort Amalia gave to help her hold back the tide, but there is definitely a divide still between them, and Sophia has not reconnected with her following the events of the attack.



Image| Ashton |

Ashton is one of Sophia's best friends, something she would not have predicted years ago, when she saw him as yet another charming scoundrel of Lowtown, like so many of the boyish suitors that she turned away, only a little rougher around the edges. Since then he has proven his goodness and heart to her many times, and Nostariel's complete falling for him only reinforces Sophia's good opinion. Now that things have calmed again, she wants to continue utilizing his skills in her search for the details of her mother's distant past, starting with the location of Dairren Quinn. In addition to valuing him for his capability, she's glad to have him as a friend.



Image| Aurora |

They have differences, ideologically, that will always put them at odds at times, but one thing Sophia and Aurora can agree on is that they both greatly desire peace, whether it's between mages and templars, or just between themselves. They both set out as much younger, more stubborn, and perhaps more naive people, and they've both grown a great deal since the time they almost came to blows. Where once Sophia could hardly stand not turning her in to the Kirkwall templars, she now sees Aurora as an ally she can call on if she's in need, and valuable proof that mages don't need to live in prisons to be safe. They just need proper tutelage.



Image| Ithilian |

The quiet defender of the Alienage and Sophia have never made friends, or really had a great deal of contact. It would be impossible not to know Ithilian changed a great deal since he openly displayed disdain for her so long ago. As she saw with Aurora, exposure to a level head like Amalia's has a way of balancing the more emotional sides of a person. Still, Ithilian largely restricts himself to the Alienage, and Sophia doesn't often, or ever, go there, so the two of them are not likely to become friends. She's just glad she's not at odds with him, and glad that the elves have such staunch defenders to call their own.



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| Lucien |

In the swirling storm of dark emotions and wracking despair that Sophia found herself in following the deaths of her brother and father, Lucien was there to hold her, and without him, she suspects she would have ended up in an entirely different place when the storm spat her out. The place she finds herself in instead is warm and comforting, and replaced the worst pain she ever suffered with the greatest joy. Their lives are incredibly complex, the forces of fate often deeming it fit to pull at them and compel them with duties, responsibilities, and dangers that they can't predict. They almost pulled them apart entirely, and may yet still do so, but for the moment, Sophia and Lucien have finally found their way to each other, and she knows with all her heart that she will never feel the same way about anyone else. Without Lucien, and the love they have for each other, the person Sophia was, and the person she still wants to grow into, would have died. With him, she knows she'll someday have the strength to face the storm once more.



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| Nostariel |

The elven Warden and healer is one of Sophia's closest friends, even though they came from entirely different worlds. It was one of the things that helped them bond, actually, since each had such a respect for the different trials the other went through on a daily basis. Sophia admires Nostariel's selflessness and compassion, and is extremely grateful for all the help she's been given over the years. The fact that Nostariel pushed herself far beyond the limits of what she would normally allow, even to the point where her own life was in danger, to save Sophia is simply one more thing on the list of what Sophia values Nostariel for. Thanks were given, but none were really necessary. They're very close friends, and that was simply what friends do. She expects to be relying on Nostariel for some time to come, as she tries to adjust to all the changes she's thrown herself into.



Image| Rilien |

After learning a little of the past between he and Lucien, Sophia feels she has a slightly better understanding of the Tranquil, though she doubts she will ever truly have a good grasp on what happens inside the man's head. What she saw of him in the cave where they found what they needed to cure Sparrow revealed more. She can't imagine what his life must be like, and she has little clue as to how to react to it. For now, she wonders if it might be best to keep her distance. She was glad to help with curing Sparrow, at least.



Image| Sparrow |

They've had a tumultuous relationship. Beginning as awkward acquaintances, Sophia eventually came to call Sparrow a friend, helping her track down dangerous individuals from her past, among other things. It was when Sparrow offered to accompany Sophia against a band of raiders that everything fell apart. When Sparrow revealed herself to be an abomination, Sophia responded violently, and the two came to blows. Neither came out the victor, and for a time Sophia thought herself too betrayed, too lied to, to continue calling the woman her friend. Lucien helped her see through that, and now that she aided in curing Sparrow of her demon, Sophia is willing to start over. Trust will be a hard thing for Sparrow to win back, but Sophia believes it's very important to give her a chance.



So begins...

Sophia Dumar's Story

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



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

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

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

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


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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Try to keep up!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar
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Saemus paced about nervously on the far side of the road, not wishing to look at her sister as she tended to her wounds, sitting on a rock on the other side. The Viscount’s son had mostly averted his eyes during the fight, as he had always been squeamish around blood. It was perhaps surprising, then, when it had been Saemus that had suggested they stop and she treat her wounds, at least temporarily. He brought up a fair point in saying that Sophia was leaving something of a trail that the Winters could potentially follow by the occasional drop of blood falling from her side. Sophia had been glad for the excuse to stop. The horses were in need of a rest, and if she were being honest with herself, so was she. She wasn’t keen on losing any more blood than she already had. Thus, the royal children had come to a stop, Saemus keeping an eye out, and Sophia doing her best to halt the bleeding. She expected the remaining Winters had reached Rakkis and Lucien by now.

She could only hope that they would see the elf’s reason, and not attack them. If she returned to Kirkwall and then heard news of their deaths, well… she didn’t want to think about that. They had both risked their lives for her and her brother, with the promise of reward, of course, but still, the deed still stood, and Lucien at the least had seemed an extremely honorable man. To leave them so that she and her brother could live, even if it gave the elf’s plan a better chance at working, just felt wrong. She had felt so much confident with the situation when things had been simple. The Winters had been an enemy that needed to be defeated, a straightforward life or death conflict in which there was no choice, other than to kill or be killed. The Maker would forgive her for defending her own life, and that of her brother’s, and the cause that had driven them to conflict. Leaving an honorable man to perhaps his death, as well as allowing another to turn these mercenaries to a life of further crime, however… was more questionable. She had no doubt she would be debating this one with herself, and likely Elthina, for a while to come.

“They aren’t the brutes you think they are, sister,” Saemus said rather suddenly, revealing that he had been thinking about his fallen Qunari friend while Sophia had been continuing to battle her conscience. She had no immediate answer, having not given the matter much thought. She finished fashioning Saemus’ torn off sleeves into a bandage of sorts, and began unstrapping her breastplate. “Saemus, I never said anything about—” He cut her off. “No, you didn’t. I don’t think I’ve heard you say two words about the Qunari to me since they arrived. I know you well enough to know that when you avoid a topic like that, it’s because you disagree with me, and you just don’t want to anger me.”

Sophia grimaced, and not because of the wound. He had her there. She’d avoided bringing it up with him, mostly because she knew he had taken an interest in them, an interest she couldn’t help but see as dangerous, both politically, and for Saemus himself. It was no secret that the Qunari’s arrival had caused a good deal of unrest within the city, and there was already pressure on the Viscount to do something about them. She respected Saemus’ idealism, his kind heart, and his open acceptance of other cultures, but if this got out, which it probably would eventually, it would only make things worse. The idea of the Qunari having such a strong influence over the Viscount’s son reflected an inability on the Viscount’s part to maintain control over his own family. “If things were different, I would not object. You have every right to want to find your own path… but surely you can see that this will fall back on Father.”

“Maybe when it does, it will make father see what I see. Ashaad never lied to me, never coddled me. You were worth his time, or you were not. He was one of the few people I’ve ever met who saw me as simply Saemus, and not the Viscount’s son.” Sophia could understand that. She was the Viscount’s daughter, his eldest child. She dearly cherished those places, and those people, who could see her as something more than a title, a noble to cozy up with and ensure preferable treatment in the future. “I know the feeling. But there is considerable pressure on Father to do something about the Qunari presence in the city. Individuals with considerable sway. Even the Templars have expressed their discontent that the heathens were allowed to stay in the docks.”

Saemus turned to face her. By this point, Sophia had removed all of her armor from the waist up, and even she herself had been somewhat alarmed by the state of her tunic underneath. It had been entirely white upon setting out, but now was a dark crimson color more or less from her ribs down. She had carefully eased the arrow out, and was currently binding the wounds with the makeshift bandage she had fashioned out of Saemus’ sleeves. He swallowed. “Is that all you see them as, then? Heathens? You’re taking the Chantry stance on this?” Sophia averted her eyes for a moment. It wasn’t as though there was another stance she could take on them. They blatantly denied the Maker. That alone guaranteed that prolonged coexistence with the Templar Order was not likely, and certainly dampened them in Sophia’s mind. “It is an unkind word, but they do deny the Maker openly, and thus it applies. I would gladly see us able to live alongside them in Kirkwall, and I will do my best to ensure that father acts within reason, but the forces arrayed against them are numerous.”

Saemus sighed slightly. “Father won’t go against the Templars, certainly not on an issue as big as this. And neither will you, it seems.” Her wounds bound, and the bleeding stopped effectively enough for now, Sophia stood, gathering her armor and organizing it into one of her warhorse’s packs, before slipping her arm back through the strap of Vesenia’s sheath, letting the sword rest across her back once more. “You also know me well enough to know, Saemus, that I’d do anything to protect you and Father. If there’s a way to convince the people that the Qunari are more than they see them as, while also protecting Father’s well-being, I will find it. But I would not see him take on the Order without chance of success. It would destroy him, just like it destroyed Viscount Threnhold.”

Her brother shrugged somewhat, seeming to see her point, and accept her stance for the time being. He gestured with his head towards the horses, indicating that they should get moving again. Sophia’s thoughts drifted back to Lucien and Rakkis. Assuming the Winters did not attack them, they still only had one horse between the two of them. Being the honorable man he was, Sophia imagined Lucien giving the horse to the Coterie thug, and walking back to Kirkwall. The thought actually made her smile for some reason.

“Father’s going to fly into a panic when he sees you like that, you know,” Saemus commented from atop his horse. Sophia’s smile did not waver as she mounted her own. “I’ll tell him what I know: I will be fine.”




The clattering of hooves on the stone courtyard of the Viscount’s stables announced their arrival. Several guardsmen came to meet them. Sophia and Saemus dismounted as they reached them, their horses swiftly taken by the stable hands and led away. A guardsman offered to take Sophia to a healer in the Gallows, but she refused, intent on being there when Saemus confronted their father. She too had a few words for him, though she was certain Saemus would speak them as well.

The pair made their way swiftly through the Viscount’s Keep, ignoring the rather surprised gasps from the nobles who happened to be in attendance at the time. Bran met them at the front of his office, shaking his head. “Did it really come to violence, then? Was this the Qunari’s doing, or the Winters?” Sophia waved him off. “I’ll explain to Father. You’re free to listen in if you want the details, Bran.” It was obvious that the Seneschal had every intention on being present for the conversation, or at least the beginnings of it, as he led the way into the Viscount’s private quarters, closing the door behind them.

Viscount Marlowe Dumar was pacing by the window behind his desk. Sophia noted that he was looking older than ever as of late. Wrinkles were forming around his eyes where they had not been a mere year ago. He had all but given up on his hair, electing instead to shave what white strands had remained. But there was still some amount of shine in those bright blue eyes of his, eyes that Saemus shared with him, along with the black hair he had once possessed in far greater amounts. According to her father, Sophia was a mirror image of her mother, with her flowing golden hair, light brown eyes that gave off a sense of warmth, and that same inner fire. She wished she could have known Vesenia Dumar better.

He turned, and his eyes widened upon seeing both his children in their current states. She supposed Saemus must have looked quite unlike himself, with the experience of the morning, and his sleeves all torn off as they were, but of course it was for Sophia’s injuries he showed immediate concern. “Maker, Sophia, that can’t all be your blood? We’ll send for a healer immediately. Bran, if you would.” Sophia waved him off. It was getting rather tiresome. “I’m fine, father. The healer can wait. I would speak to you about what occurred on the Wounded Coast first.”

At this his turned his frustration upon Saemus. “It seems clear enough to me. Your foolish decision to traipse about the coast like you do nearly got your sister killed trying to rescue you!” Saemus responded in kind. “You hired thugs for a task Sophia could have performed herself! I was never in any danger until the Winters arrived.” The Viscount turned to his daughter with a heavy sigh, at least understanding that his decision to hire just anyone to have been a mistake. “Bran told me the Winters were involved. What happened? Are these wounds not from the Qunari?”

Sophia struggled for a moment to word things tactfully, but it seemed there was no way. “No, Father. They murdered Saemus’ friend. Saemus could not let them receive a reward for such an act, and neither could I. I requested that they leave Saemus in my care, and return to Kirkwall. Intent on claiming their bounty, they attacked. If I recall correctly, their plan was to kill me and the two companions I traveled with, and cast the blame for my death at the feet of the Qunari, either the Tal-Vashoth bandits in the area, or on the Arishok’s warriors themselves.” The Viscount seemed somewhat dumbstruck, and so Bran took the opportunity to step in.

“If I might ask, what became of your companions? Did they fall to the Winters?” he asked. Sophia paused for a brief moment. “No, they… stayed behind. Both to allow Saemus and I to escape, and to attempt a solution without further bloodshed.” Bran raised his eyebrows. “That was very noble of them. I must admit, I would not expect such behavior from Lowtown mercenaries.” Sophia nodded awkwardly. Saemus said nothing, waiting to hear from his father, who seemed to have collected his thoughts enough to pose a question.

“It was my understanding, Saemus, that you were captured alone. What’s this about a friend being murdered?” Saemus took a rather strong step forward. “And here is the root of the problem, Father. I was not captured, I was with Ashaad. The Qunari. They are not monsters to be feared.” He calmed himself, or at least tried to, understanding that an aggressive tone with his father here would certainly help nothing. His next words were rather pleading. “If you would just try to understand, others would see as well.”

His father put a hand to his forehead upon realizing what the true nature of the situation had been. He shifted his thin silver crown upwards so that he could rub his temples. “Better that you were thought abducted than to have their influence suspected in my own family… benign or not, it’s too much.” Sophia pushed a sweat-caked strand of hair from her face, strongly disliking the ever so common bickering between her father and brother. “Father… there must be some kind of middle ground that can be reached here. Father, surely you can see that Saemus means no harm. He seeks to understand and accept the Qunari. If the city is to coexist with the Qunari, than certainly an understanding of their ways will be necessary. We need not all join them, but we can at least respect their views, if they can respect ours.”

Her brother stood beside her, and seeing them both, she knew her father would not be able to keep this up. For better or for worse, he relented. “Very well, Sophia. There is a great deal of resistance in the city to the Qunari presence… but I will try to keep them at bay. For the sake of maintaining peace, if nothing else. And I’ll likely be needing your help with this, my girl. Changing the mindset of a city is no easy task.”

Sophia nodded, understanding the effort that would be required to get a group like the Templar Order to coexist peacefully with the Qunari. “I understand, Father. I am always willing to help, you know that.” He smiled, placing soft hands upon her shoulders. “That I do. Now, the healer. I’ll not stand to see my daughter injured a moment longer. Bran, if you would…” The Seneschal bowed slightly. “Of course, Excellency.” He turned and swiftly removed himself from the room, to summon a healer from the Circle. Feeling glad that the day’s events were finally over, Sophia allowed herself to be guided to her quarters, and eased herself into her bed with a more or less contented sigh.

Perhaps a healer wouldn’t be so bad, now that her task for the day was complete. Then perhaps it would be best to head to the Chantry. She needed a calm, quiet place to think about everything that had happened.

The Chanter’s Board has been updated. The Unbidden Rescue has been completed.

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

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

-Sophia


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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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: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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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: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Ithilian Tael Character Portrait: Amalia
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It seemed her meeting with the Grey Warden was paying off already.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hey! You there! Stop!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now... where was that damned rogue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was hardly a choice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now it was a dance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The crime is his freedom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She could only imagine how irritated they were.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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The boisterous atmosphere didn't seem to bother Lucien at all. On the contrary, he was distinctly smiling as he stood against a far wall, beside Rilien closely enough that it was obvious they were in some way associated, but not engaging the Tranquil in conversation. At least, not verbally. The reality of the situation was simple: they didn't need to speak to communicate, as anyone who'd spent enough time on a battlefield with another person could have attested. Granted, there wasn't much to be communicated at the moment, but then that wasn't so bad. He was content to tip his head back to rest against the wall and sink into a little bit of nostalgia. Once upon a time, in a land far, far, away, this bard had been a frequent party guest of the empress herself, and the complex melodies he wove were a background tapestry to much of the mercenary's former life. Strange, that it could call to mind so much of that world even now, when he was in much the opposite situation.

The Tranquil's fingers played easily over the strings of his lute, occasionally lilting his voice into the air as well. Of course, he doubted much of it was heard, or rather listened to, but it was of no concern to him. The tavern paid him a flat rate for this kind of thing, and he'd thought it would be a pertinent sort of thing to do, to see just who it was that would be constituting this expedition. He was almost certain he would be inviting himself along, as for the most part, they did not inspire confidence. Beside thim, unspeaking but present, was Ser Lucien, and in this way, it was not so different from a few years ago, when they'd crowded the tavern with the rest of the revelers after the archdemon had fallen 'neath the hand of the Warden-Queen Cousland.

The last few notes faded, and Rilien shifted his grip on the lute, holding it at his side rather than in front of him. There appeared to be some form of contest occurring in the vicinity, and for the moment it was drowning out most else. "Ser Lucien," he acknowledged at last, "I was not aware that you would be participating in this venture. Were the Darkspawn in Denerim not sufficient?" He blinked, catlike and apparently uninterested, but it was an honest query, if also one tinged with that faint humor that one could only see if they knew to look for it.

Lucien chuckled under his breath, adjusting his posture and lifting his head again so as to properly meet his friend's unusual eyes. "You know me, Ril. I never pass up an opportunity to put myself in mortal danger." A joke, but only just. He did seem to find himself in peril more often than most people, including most mercenaries, but then, that was just the way he lived. Worthy causes were rarely the easy ones, after all.

To that, Rilien offered no reply. He had none, and none was needed. The Chevalier knew that the Tranquil thought his near-religious adherence to honor was foolish. Near-religious because the religious could only hope to approach Lucien's dedication. Most of them would never achieve it; Rilien was of the opinion that no ordinary person was even capable of it. They all thought about things like self-preservation. It was an interesting quandary: the very quality he disdained in the other man was the reason once-Bard yet drew breath and did not rot somewhere in an unmarked grave. It was difficult to give it the contempt it deserved, considering. So he didn't, choosing instead to occasionally comment upon it but otherwise leave it be.

Interesting to him were the cases where the cold, Tranquil logic he'd been cursed with met conflict. There was only one thing it could mean, and that was that his level of concern with a person had at long last overridden his cold calculation. This possibility, the very existence of the part of him that could still hold another person in regard, he had discovered only because of the man towering beside him. Rilien was never certain if he should thank Lucien for this, or disembowel him. Then again, he'd tried that once, and it hadn't worked out very well for him. Sparrow had Lucien to thank for her current lodgings, and if anyone else thought they owed him anything, well, that probably came back to the knight as well. Life was strange that way.

The Viscount's daughter had been trying to make her way from the bar with some wine, figuring it had to be at least a little better than the ale and being sadly disappointed, when she had been ambushed by a pair of the expedition's hirelings. "Again," she repeated to them, "I was not alone when I slew the dragon, nor do I think I could have killed the dragon alone. Just as much, if not more credit should go to the Dalish elf and the Qunari woman sitting over..." she had been about to point them out to the hirelings, as she'd seen them talking together at a table, but now both were gone, leaving Sophia pointing at nothing, and leading to a sigh. "Well, the point is, I wasn't alone. Now, if you'll excuse me..."

It was clear they didn't plan on excusing her, but Sophia had come here to see some people and to attempt to enjoy herself, not to be interviewed, and while she appreciated word of her actions spreading, the embellishments were... interesting. No doubt the charming dwarf had something to do with it, with his ability to command an audience in this establishment. At last making her way through the throng of people to where she had seen Lucien go, she sighed in relief and allowed herself to continue with the wine. Considering that this was supposed to be something of a party and not so much a trip into Lowtown to get herself into trouble, Sophia had favored a dress over chainmail tonight, certainly nothing fancy, a dark blue dress that looked as though it could have belonged to a merchant's daughter as much as the Viscount's. Her hair was down, falling in golden droves around her shoulders.

She found Lucien conversing, albeit not very much, with the bard, a white haired elf. "You know," she said, coming to a stop before the mercenary, "Hightown parties might win in the category of sophistication, but compared to this, they're sorely lacking in spirit." Indeed, noble parties were often disguises for whatever games the attendants wished to play, power moves hidden behind a birthday or a wedding. This was... simple, and undeniably more honest. She turned to introduce herself to the bard.

"I would love to hear you play more, you're very good. My name is Sophia Du..." she paused in a rather awkward moment, her face screwing itself up in temporary confusion when she noticed the brand upon his forehead. She knew it for what it was, but now that she thought about it, she had never really conversed with a Tranquil before. They'd always just been there if there had been mages around, or if she had required anything of the Circle. "...mar," she finished. "Forgive me for asking, but are you affiliated with the Circle here?"

The Tranquil was aware of a third party entering the conversational sphere, and he prepared himself to retreat from it. While he would always have words to offer the Chevalier if he required them, he was not a talkative person as a rule, and did not enjoy the subtle intricacies and power gambits involved in ordinary parlance. Unfortunately, he was directly addressed. The compliment, plain as it was, was one thing, and he was used to dealing with those. A small inclination of the head and another song would serve his purposes quite well, but for some unfathomable reason, the flaxen-haired woman chose to give him further address. Did she not see the...?

Ah, there it was. He'd been on the recieving end of that look more than once. Glancing once at his friend as if to say 'this is what happens when I'm forced to associate with people you know,' he was met with nothing, and sighed internally. Twisting his wrist, he brought the lute back up to playing position and worked at tuning it, occasionally plucking a string. The third one was a little off, actually... He didn't need to look to fix it, and instead flicked a glance between the woman and Lucien. He thought the part where the last Drakon was followed around by those of the female persuasion would have ended when his title was stripped, but to be fair, this one had not the air of a hanger-on. "...No." And that was as much as she was getting out of him on the subject.

Well, wasn't this quite a sight? He wouldn't call the attempted conversation anything so horrible as a carriage wreck, but it certainly was going about as well as he'd have imagined, which was to say very, very awkwardly. Deciding to spare Sophia the indignity of replying to that, amusing as he thought it would be, Lucien stepped in to smooth things over as well as he could. "Ah, I suppose you haven't met. Sophia, this is Rilien Falavel. He's a dear friend of mine, originally from Orlais as I am. Ril, well... the lady introduced herself, so I suppose I need not. She's also a friend." The statement was just slightly pointed. He didn't expect Rilien to change his demeanor simply because Sophia was a friend of his, but it was a subtle warning all the same.

He was cautioning the Tranquil against acting too against type. He had no idea how many of his sort Sophia had met, but if the number was at all large, it wouldn't take much to figure out that Rilien was not like them. Even he, who had interacted with very few, had been able to figure that out. He did not begrudge the Viscount's daughter her faith in the slightest, but if he could prevent his closest friend from being hauled into the Kirkwall Circle and executed, he would. Whatever that took.

The caution was correctly interpreted, and Rilien still wasn't sure why he bothered. Even so, he chose to amend his previous answer in his hollowest monotone. "I see. It is nice to meet you, Sophia Dumar, friend of Ser Lucien. However, I am on contract to provide accompanyment for this evening's festivities, and must continue to do so. If you will both excuse me." He dutifully ignored Ashton's whistle, letting both he and Sparrow pass without so much as a wayward glance, then relocated himself slightly further away, so as not to be intruding upon any further conversation between the parties involved. His instrument properly attuned, he started up another song, to add truth to his words as much as anything else.

Sophia's reaction to Rilien's simple no had been to stare rather dumbly for a moment, at least until Lucien spoke. Apparently the two were good friends, but Lucien explained no more, and then the Tranquil moved off so as to not disturb them, or perhaps to simply not participate in a conversation. He had said he was contracted to play tonight, and so it only made sense. The being a Tranquil part didn't make a bit of sense, though, but Lucien's clear statement of his status as a friend was enough to give Sophia pause in a situation where her suspicion would have otherwise overpowered anything else.

"I... suspect there's a story behind that one," she said, but she didn't feel like pursuing the topic further, having something else on her mind. "Shall we sit? There's something I wanted to ask you." She found the nearest table she could, which was easy enough considering that many of the hirelings in the Hanged Man preferred to stand and drink, and on this particular night, there had even been a decent sized space cleared for dancing, though the women present were considerably outnumbered by the men.

When they were seated across from each other at a table, Sophia took a drink of wine, ignoring the taste. "So I've been thinking... you've been working as a mercenary here in Lowtown. I have not heard the best things about many of the mercenary groups in the city, and I can't imagine making a go of it as a freelancer would a very efficient path. Forgive me for saying, but it seems a waste of your time, and your talents, to be forced into taking jobs for coin." She didn't state this expedition specifically, considering that this was a celebration for the members of said expedition, but she couldn't help but think it.

"You're the most honorable man I know. If Hightown had just a few more nobles that were like you, the city wouldn't be in nearly so bad of shape as it is. I just... feel like you deserve better. Oh! Not that I'm saying what you have is in any way inadequate, I just think men like yourself are far too few in this city to be spent on mercenary work, when they could be doing something more." There was more to this, she knew there was. He carried himself so well, acted with a dignity that no lowborn mercenary would learn. He said he had been a Chevalier, a Knight, many steps above a sell sword for certain. So why was he one? He was holding himself back for some reason, and she wanted him to stop, or at least find out why, so that she might help him as he had already helped her.

"If you want, after you return from this expedition, which you will return from," she said, her lips curling into a small smile. It was the closest thing to an order she'd given him since they had met. "My family could use your services. I could use your help. I would see to it that any needs are taken care of, so that you need not sell your blade for coin anymore. I... could ask the smithy to forge you a greatsword, if you like. The scythe seems such a difficult tool to use..." It was as much a question as a statement, as she was very curious why Lucien chose to fight with that particular instrument. Surely the Chevaliers hadn't taught him to use it.

Lucien was quiet while she spoke, as courtesy demanded. He was also, he had to admit, interested to hear what she had to say, and in the end, he wore a subtle quirk to his lips for the majority of it. It wasn't that he found her words humorous, only unexpected. When all had been said, he hummed a ponderous syllable in the back of his throat and raked a hand through his shaggy mane of hair. "I think," he said slowly, letting his words ferment just a little before he uttered them, in case he should decide against passing them over his tongue at all, "that you may be giving me a little too much credit. I do not mistake your offer for anything but the honor it is, and I am humbled that someone herself so worthy thinks so highly of me."

There was a pause, not necessarily uncomfortable, but laden with an implication he was not certain he was making sufficiently clear. There were some things that could only be said in the elegance of silence, but other things which required words. "Were my circumstances different, I would accept without hesitation. I would have you know this, so that you do not think my indecision is your fault. But there are things I have not told you about myself that may warrant your reconsideration. This was not an attempt at duplicity on my part, I swear to you; I simply never thought there would come a time when the information was relevant."

Lucien sighed, and for once, his shoulders slumped, as though a weight of some significance had been added to them. "I am... less informed than I should be regarding Kirkwall's diplomatic relations with Orlais, but I do not believe hiring that country's most contentious exile in recent years will do you any favors. The nobles were quite divided on the matter, and some would doubtless view the act well. But such a deed would be inherently a political one, and therefore one that deserves the most careful of considerations. Whether you intended to or not, you would be showing favor for my aunt and her allies and disfavor upon others, including certain mid-level Chantry officials." He finished off his brandy and gestured for another, but his single visible eye did not leave hers.

"It is a long story, and not all of it is mine to tell. But I promise you this: ask of me anything, and you will recieve only truth, even if that must be silence. I would also understand if you wish to rescind your offer in light of the circumstances, and I would certainly not hold it against you."

Sophia knew full well this was not the ideal location for this conversation, but considering that it would be a few weeks before she would be able to speak with him again, it seemed worth it to bring it up. What he had said, though, what he had hinted at... Sophia was able to put a few pieces of the puzzle together. "Of course. I should not have sprung this upon you here. If you feel comfortable sharing, perhaps we can discuss this further when you return, and a better opportunity is presented to us." There was no need to state what she thought she had learned about him, since this was not a conversation he wanted to have here, and she was certainly not going to try and force it upon him.

She took a longer drink of wine, noticing that the taste was diminishing with each sip. Perhaps the Hanged Man’s spirits were simply an acquired taste. Rather than try to shift the discussion to something else just as serious, Sophia decided on something else, Rilien’s music floating to her ears and bringing a slightly mischievous smile to her lips. This was a celebration, was it not? Then what was she doing sitting here speaking of mercenary work and greatswords? “I do have one question for you,” she asked, leaning forward. “Do they teach Chevaliers how to dance in Orlais?”

"With as much fervor as they teach us to fight," he replied lightly, standing and stepping out behind his chair. Bowing chivalrously, he extended one hand. "Would milady be so generous as to do me the honor?" The slightly-crooked smile was an indication that he wasn't giving it quite that much gravity, but manners were manners, be they in a lowbrow tavern or at a lavish party with all the world's wealthiest. Normally, he probably wouldn't have asked, as the music one heard in taverns was not conducive to the sort of dancing one learned for the ballroom, but Rilien was a world-class bard, and there were no two ways about that.

It was hard to give a dance of any kind gravity in the Hanged Man, and Sophia’s smile turned into something of a little grin when she took his hand, sliding to her feet, the pair heading for the space cleared for dancing. It certainly wasn’t similar to the settings she was used to, sparkling rooms and ridiculous gowns that she had to be sown into, gilded affairs that were always weighed down by one hidden agenda or another.

This was simply a chance to have some honest fun in a way that she couldn’t in Hightown, and for that, Sophia was glad.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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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: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion Character Portrait: Aurora Rose Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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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.

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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It was late morning, the sun ascended high enough into the sky that its light streamed in through the highly-placed windows of his small dwelling. From the exteriors, most of the houses in Lowtown were built this, perhaps to discourage theives from helping themselves to an easier entrance. Perhaps it even worked; the only kinds of nighttime intruders he'd ever needed to worry about were those who would not be dissuaded by something so small. Unlike other places in the area, the window was about as clean and bright as lye and elbow grease could make it, though the glass was of a fundamentally grainy sort and would never admit the full brightness of the hour. Nonetheless, the room was well-lit, and though the wood and walls were dark, it did not have the cling of despair and dinginess about it.

Aside from the desk and the armchairs near the fireplace, the place was dominated by laden bookshelves, and, presently at least, a moderately-sized easel, on which was propped a canvas. It was about the only thing Lucien had purchased with his expedition earnings so far, as he found he simply had need of nothing else. He would need a new weapon in time, and perhaps this time he would at least go to a proper smith to obtain it, but for now, that could wait. At this particular moment, the owner of the hole in the wall was standing at the easel, charcoal stick in one hand, which was for once bereft of a plated gauntlet. Actually, all of his plates were currently arranged on the armor shelf in his chamber, leaving him with little more than a ringmail shirt and some leather by way of protection. That even these remained was perhaps a bit odd, but he did not think it so.

Taking shape on the canvas was the figure of the dragon from the Deep Roads, its wings outstretched and jaw agape. At its heels and arrayed out in front of it could be seen figures with currently only vague resemblance to Rilien, Ashton, Ithilian, Nostariel, Sparrow, and Varric, each wielding his or her weapon of choice. With time, their expressions would be every bit as contentious, but for now, he was simply arranging their shapes properly.

Some ways down the street, Sophia Dumar was making her way towards the mercenary's house, for once wearing more armor than he was. She was garbed in her usual suit of ringmail under light plate, crimson skirt flowing down to her knees, golden hair tied back to keep it out of her way. Considering that this was the first time she'd been able to escape from the Viscount's Keep all week, she planned to take advantage of the day. One of the guardsmen had tipped her off of something to investigate near the entrance to the Alienage, and she planned to check it out. That, and Lucien seemed more comfortable speaking with people who looked more likely to enter a battle than a dinner party.

The past few months had taught her that nothing was ever so simple as she wished, nor even so simple as it seemed. No amount of desire on her part could make all issues into black and white, with the clear choice as to where she should stand. She did not want to cause conflict with the Qunari, but at the same time she could allow them to operate with impunity within the walls of what was soon to be her city, a territory which they had no authority over. They still showed no signs of leaving or preparing to leave, and though Sophia would have liked to believe otherwise, it was becoming apparent that they would not be leaving on their own. Saemus had been pleased at that, and Sophia had not the heart to bring up what had occurred with the Qunari mage and Sister Petrice, for fear her own doubts would be dredged up by the incident.

Nor had she been able to confront the sister. For one, Petrice was remarkably hard to find, even for one who spent as much time within the Chantry walls as Sophia did. And two... it was perhaps the first issue the Viscount's daughter preferred to ignore rather than face head on. Sophia was willing put faith in her one more time, faith enough to believe that she wouldn't be fool enough to try something like that again. For the moment, Sophia was dedicating herself to solving some of the city's problems that didn't involve the Qunari. It wasn't like there was too few to choose from.

But first she planned to speak to Lucien. It had taken longer than she would have liked to run into him at the Hanged Man, given that her father was placing more and more responsibilities on her of late, almost as though he were trying to take up all of her time... no doubt he didn't care for what she did when given free time. But nevertheless she made her way on occasion down to Lowtown, and eventually ran into the Orlesian man at the tavern long enough to express her relief that the expedition had made it back in one piece, and to arrange a meeting of sorts to continue the discussion they'd left off last time. The location had been set for his house, which she could locate now that she had the directions. Lowtown still turned her around on occasion, but she was getting the hang of it. Coming to a halt before the door she'd been directed to, Sophia knocked clearly three times.

The noise echoed softly in the cavernous chamber; for some reason, Kirkwallian houses seemed to be built with high ceilings more often than second floors, but he wasn't complaining. He rarely did, even when there were things to complain about. Why bother? His father had always put it with that common touch of his: fix it, or shut up about it and move on. Somewhat crude as far as advice went, maybe, but quite relevant all the same. "It's open, Sophia," he called, just loud enough to be heard through the door. He would have answered it himself, but he was trying to make it to a decent stopping point with the piece so as not to be working still when attempting to converse. Adding a few more soft strokes to the swish of Nostariel's hair, he stepped back, frowned, and sharpened the lines of Ithilian's profile a bit before he was satisfied enough to lay down the charcoal on the side table, until such time as he had a moment to work on it again.

Right on time, the small kettle over the fire in the brazier began to boil, and he crossed to that spot, unhooking it from the hearth and carefully tipping some of the water into a teapot made of Orlesian ceramic. It was one of the few items he'd brought with him when he left, largely for the sentimental value. Though not particularly feminine in design or color, it was clearly a delicate thing, and it had belonged to his mother. Spooning a measure of tea into the pot, he left it to steep and retrieved a pair of cups and saucers from the shelf, setting these down on a small tray, which sat on the end table between the two armchairs. It was at that point that he glanced up at his guest, smiling kindly. "How have you been?"

Sophia had stood in the entryway for a moment while Lucien moved to the teapot. Once he'd reached the end table between the armchairs she took the liberty of seating herself in one, unbuckling her sword and leaving it propped up near the door. Awkward thing to sit down with, Vesenia was. "Busy, but not in a bad way. Father has me taking up more of his duties lately, trying to prepare me, that or he's trying to keep me out of Lowtown. Both, probably." She glanced over towards Lucien's painting, smiling to herself.

"So the rumors are true, then? I heard the expedition ran into a dragon below the surface, but I must admit, I was skeptical. I suppose that makes us even, then? Now that we've both ran into dragons and lived to tell the tale?" She leaned her chin on a gloved hand, studying the work in progress. "And I had no idea you painted. It's coming along very nicely, I think."

"Well, considering the source of those rumors, I suspect a certain amount of skepticism is healthy," Lucien said, a wry twitch at the corner of his mouth. Varric certainly could spin a yarn; the man would make a small fortune if he ever took up his trade in Orlais. Though, he would perhaps not need it now, given their rather large recent windfall. "But yes, there was a dragon belowground, and a good number of its lesser kin. 'Twas quite the battle, even for as many as we were. I do believe Ashton took possession of one of its forelimbs afterward, for some reason or another." Judging from the smell, the tea was done, and he poured hers first, followed by a second for himself.

His eye was drawn to the canvas upon her mention of it, as if he were seeing it for the first time, and he shrugged, just slightly. "I have but the barest fraction of my mother's talent, I fear. But such a scene as that one deserved the memory, even if it is a humble one in the end," he deflected modestly. He hadn't yet decided whether or not to place himself in the image, and he was leaning towards the negative. It was very nicely composed as it was, and self-portraiture was... iffy at best, as far as he was inclined. He was quite certain she was here for reasons other than discussing his half-formed artwork, but he was disposed to allow Sophia to come to the topic in her own time. It wasn't something he was particularly looking forward to discussing, but he would. She deserved to know it, and he honestly had no better reason to keep it to himself than a certain kind of unbecoming reticence.

So he took his seat, lifted his teacup into one hand, and resolved to let the conversation move as she dictated it.

Sophia would have tried to counter Lucien's downplaying of his own skill, but she was used to his extreme modesty at this point, and knew there would be little point. "My own mother was a terrible painter, as my father tells me. She was more like me, apparently. Sparring with her brothers rather than learning to sew and dance, and perhaps a little short on patience." She wasn't sure why she told him that, as she didn't make a habit of talking about her mother, though she enjoyed it on the occasions she did. She was a remarkable woman that Sophia could only hope to live up to.

Turning away from the painting, Sophia took a sip of the tea before setting the cup lightly down. "I thought we might continue our previous conversation, now that you've returned," she said, delaying no further. "I suggested you might aid my family more directly, to which you warned me that there are things I should know first. I was wondering if I might know them now, since we aren't surrounded by patrons in the Hanged Man." She was confident that whatever it was, her offer would still stand, given what she had seen of Lucien's true nobility.

But then again, nothing was ever so simple as she wished.

Sighing slightly through his nose, Lucien set down his cup and leaned back, raking a hand through his hair with a half-sardonic, tight smile. "I suppose I rather left you bereft of explanation, didn't I?" A pause, then he shook his head, just slightly. "Very well. I shall attempt to rectify that." Propping his elbows on the armrests of the chair, he steepled his fingers together, then laced the last three of each hand together, tapping his squared chin with his extended index digits in thought. It was difficult to decide where to start. It had not been beyond him that he might need to explain this eventually, but no way he ever seemed to approach the conversation in his mind seemed to work. He always ended up saying too much or not enough.

Perhaps it would be best if she could help him decide where to begin. "How well do you know your ancient history, Sophia? Are you familiar with the founding of the Orlesian Empire?"

Sophia cringed slightly. "I'm afraid my history tutor was... none too fond of me. If you catch my meaning."

That earned her a chuckle. "I think I understand. Well, most of it isn't relevant anyway. Suffice to say that I'm unfortunate enough to be related by blood to the founder. Kordillus Drakon, he was called, and my father is the present Lord Drakon, much to the chagrin of many another courtier." He might have said more there, but it occurred to him that this was probably more important information than his rather calm delivery would suggest, so he gave it a moment to permeate. Truthfully, he was expecting a question or two here, to put it politely, perhaps even disbelief. As if to stave that off, he tilted his head, indicating the coat of arms on the wall to his left, over the mantle.

Just the way he said it left Sophia with a rather dumbfounded look on her face for a moment, before she realized that this really made a lot more sense than it seemed at first, and in the end wasn't all that surprising. It was in the way he carried himself, the way he spoke, really everything about him had screamed nobility to her, but if she was interpreting this right, then he was more along the lines of royalty than a more common noble birth.

Once she'd gotten her thoughts back together, she actually smiled slightly at the announcement. "So does that mean I should have been addressing you as 'my lord' all this time?" Of course there was more to this than simply his birth, as there needed to be some explanation as to why a descendant of the founder of the Orlesian Empire would be selling his blade in the poorer districts of Kirkwall.

Lucien grimaced, the expression slightly exaggerated for effect. "I certainly hope not. If you did, I'd have to call you 'my lady,' and stop speaking directly, and get offended whenever someone didn't bow deeply enough. It's incredibly inconvenient for maintaining friends." Lifting one shoulder in a slight shrug, he continued. "And really, the decorum and rigidity is more or less the reason I'm here anyway. The Orlesian court likes rules, and changing them without telling anyone. I... may have broken a few. Call it the indiscretion of youth, I suppose, though it sounds odd to say so with little more than two years between then and now." He'd changed a great deal over that small fraction of time, though, and just before.

"Empress Celene is my aunt, on my mother's side. She does the best she can, I think, but even someone as powerful as she is had to work within certain... constraints. The court isn't very amenable to being ignored, and she can't do everything herself. My father is military, as my family has always been. It's not the royal line anymore, I think due to a complicated incident involving an illegal regency back in the Steel Age, but that's not really important. I was raised in a way that, perhaps, you might understand-- there was a certain expectation about what my future was to be," he left out the part where that future involved his aunt's crown, "and I was raised to meet it. The trouble was, my father and his predecessors have never been embraced by the court; I do think the only reason his marriage to my mother was allowed was because everyone expected Aunt Celene to have children at some point. He doesn't much go in for the Game, and this has made him more foes than I can properly count." Ah, the complexities of politics. He had not missed them.

"Well... that complicates things nicely, doesn't it?" she asked rhetorically, taking another drink of the tea. He was related to the founder of the Empire and the current Empress. Indeed, she was starting to see how his service to her family would be making a statement to Orlais, whether she wanted to or not, though she didn't quite know just what that message would be. "So... how did you end up here in Kirkwall? As a Lowtown mercenary no less." She certainly could understand the upbringing he had, to a certain extent. Hers had not been military beyond the blade training she'd received as a teenager, but the lack of choice in regards to his future was something she could sympathize with.

"Too much pride and my father's own stubborn streak," he replied lightly, but then he paused, considering the answer in more seriousness. He had never particularly enjoyed conversations that were about himself, perhaps because the people who asked usually wanted something from him. He didn't think that was necessarily the case with Sophia, at least not in the same way, but even so, habit was habit, and hard to break for all that. He supposed he couldn't even blame the courtiers who had intended to manipulate him or people he knew. It was how their own houses survived another generation with their influence intact. "I was... an officer in the army, newly-knighted and rather reckless, all told. My sense of what was right or best didn't always mesh with command structure, and I had little patience for what I viewed as incompetence."

It normally hadn't been that much of an issue; his lord father had less patience for it than he did, and was the man primarily in charge or promotions in rank. Still, in a fighting force that large, some people were bound to slip through the cracks. "A number of us were sent out to deal with some bandits terrorizing the countryside, the usual sort of thing. I was second-in-command, and a number of the troops in that detachment were personal friends of mine. The bandits were much more numerous than we'd been led to believe, and we were outnumbered. The commander led us right into an ambush, despite several of us insisting that it might happen. In order to get out, he was going to cut and run... and a few of my comrades were going to be in the 'cut,' so to speak." His expression dropped into a frown, one that bordered on a scowl.

"So I overrode the chain of command, took a few of my best friends, and dug out the others the hard way. Not as simple as it should have been; the bandits were trained." Too trained, his tone implied easily enough. He'd nearly died several times, lost to the reckless abandon of a fight for his life and the lives of those he cared about. Something that could still happen from time to time. "I lost two to save ten, which was regrettable. We managed to get out, but the commander was obviously not pleased. I was just as angry, and we wound up having it out right there. Duels are not common in Orlais anymore, but still technically allowed under chivalric code. He wasn't as bad a warrior as he was a commander, though." Lucien's thumb slid under the black band of his eyepatch, and he pulled it away. The skin underneath was bisected by a jagged-looking scar, and though the iris of the eye was the same color as his other one, the pupil did not adjust much for the incoming light, a sure sign that it didn't work very well.

"Nearly lost me my eye, but I'd say what he lost was considerably more significant." His words were heavy with some unnamed weight, and he shook his head. "I didn't kill him; I think even then I knew a little better than that. But his sword-arm is gone, and he's been ejected from the army. Of course, what I failed to realize at the time was that his family has enough influence to stand against mine, and I was officially tried for insubordination, assault, and a number of other things, some of which I certainly deserved, and the murder of my two friends, which I like to think I didn't." Truly, that they had died at all was the part he regretted the most about the whole incident. "There was a lot of delay, and considerable politicking, and a few bards got involved, at which point the whole thing was more sensation than trial anymore. My aunt was forced to exile me, at least for the time being, and I left Orlais, travelled through Ferelden, fought in Denerim, and then made my way here. That's about the long and short of it, really."

Sophia knew she needed more experience, but now that Lucien had told his story, she wasn't so sure she was ready to pay the price to get it. Thus far she had only involved herself in sessions holding her father's court that had been glorified practice, and ventures into the civilized wilderness of Lowtown that were starting to seem more reckless than noble. She'd done a lot of uncomfortable fidgeting throughout the course of the story, and had just about finished the tea. She had a sudden urge at the end to inquire about Denerim, but under everything else it felt rather minor in comparison. She'd have to ask him later.

"I..." she began, before reconsidering. "That can't be an easy thing to share. I'm honored you feel comfortable enough to share it with me." She figured it had to have been something like exile. She didn't claim to know intricacies of Orlesian politics and how it differed from the routine in Kirkwall, but she could think of no other reason he would leave his country for Lowtown. "I can't imagine my words are worth much. Or anything, really. I've never really been in any situation like that. Never had to follow orders." Indeed, she was more looking to receive advice from him, rather than give it. Though she didn't imagine he needed it.

"So your service to my family would anger certain influential people, I take it?" She sighed. "Politics have a way of muddying things, don't they?" So rarely were things clear to her. The time she'd ridden out to save her brother had been an easy decision to make, but everything since then was growing more and more cloudy. Perhaps she had to simply go with what her heart told her, regardless of where that led.

"A lovely piece of understatement," the mercenary mused thoughfully, sliding his eyepatch back into place. The blurriness faded from his vision, the details of his home and the woman in front of him resolving into better focus. "But true enough. I'll have to disagree in one respect, however: words have great significance. Yours no less than any others. And yes, I'm afraid my direct vassalage would likely create political problems the like of which I do not desire to contemplate. It does not seem to me, however, that the continued anonymous help of a friend will do the same, if you are not averse to it."

She didn't like it, but she didn't see much that she could do about it. Even if it was somehow stressed that the decision had been hers and not her father's, the weight of her choice would probably fall on him regardless, and she had no desire to place more problems upon him, as he had enough to deal with already. As much as she wanted to take his side, she couldn't do it while her father would take the fall. She would not try to convince him of this, either. Sophia had already decided she would only be bringing her father good news.

"So long as the anonymous help can go both ways, then perhaps it is best. If you need of anything that the Keep can provide, please do not hesitate to ask. I can't help but notice that your... farming tool, is not in sight. If you would like to make use of the Keep's forge, or take something from the armory, just say the word."

He didn't bother to hide the glint of amusement in his eye, nor the wry smile. "Yes, sadly the farming tool broke off inside the maw of a dragon. It shall be difficult to replace." Then, more seriously: "But I shall not take up a sword until I've earned the right. I may perhaps ask after some kind of waraxe, however." He'd been planning to have one made by a smith, but the important part would be what he could pay Rilien to do with lyrium and that strange enchantment skill of his afterward.

"You have my thanks, Sophia, for listening. It is not the most comfortable story in the world."

She stood. "It helps to have someone to tell it to, I think. I'm glad I could do the listening for once." Sophia crossed the distance to where her sword was propped against the wall, sliding an arm and her head under the strap so that it rested across her back once more. "See you around, Lucien."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Rilien Falavel Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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Sophia's last trip to the Hanged Man had ended with the dwarf Varric rather boldly pointing out that her sword could use a bit of enchantment. Now, she understood that Varric probably hadn't been versed on the history of that particular blade, given that it wasn't common knowledge (as in, only Sophia and the man who taught her to use it knew the blade's past), but she still had to struggle to keep the offense from her face. She cared for her mother's blade like she imagined she would her own children, were she ever to have any, and maybe it couldn't shoot lightning bolts from its edge, but it was the most balanced, precise, and deadly instrument she'd ever laid her hands on, and it was her own care of it that kept it that way.

Regardless, she indulged the dwarf's suggestion, and Varric went on to say that a friend of his had recently opened a shop in Hightown, with enchanting services that surpassed anything the Circle could come up with. Intrigued, Sophia wondered why she hadn't heard of this yet. It was true that she tended to close her ears to the majority of Hightown's gossip and local news, but something like this should not have escaped her attention. Perhaps she was forgetting one area of the city in order to involve herself more in the others. In any case, she decided to investigate during the next opportunity she had.

It happened to be a warm, sunny day when she next found herself free, and Sophia headed off towards the address Varric had given her, which directed her to the Merchant's Guild quarter of Hightown. Since she planned on having her armor enchanted rather than her sword, she carried the chainmail and light plate in a somewhat large sack over her shoulder, wearing instead a dress of a dark blue hue, belted loosely at the waist, with long, slightly flowing sleeves, the hem floating just above the ground without actually touching it.

There was indeed a new store-front, somewhere in that middling space between the Merchants' Guild and the more open-air stalls that characterized the Hightown Market proper. From the outside, it was discernible that the unit took up two floors, all of it recently repainted. The majority of the exterior was made of a light-colored stone, but the shutters were tinted a dark blue, as was the wooden sign hanging from a post protruding above the door, shaped like a shield over crossed swords and bearing a single word in gold block script: Enchantment.

Sophia was tempted to raise an eyebrow at the rather bland name for an enchantment services shop, but instead just adjusted the strap of her bag on her shoulder and pushed open the door. She was rather surprised that the first person she saw inside was none other than Lucien, sitting on a bench and sharpening the axe he'd selected from the armory. She then recognized his elven friend, Rilien if she remembered correctly, the Tranquil. So this was his shop. She probably should have expected it, given that Varric referred her here and that she knew all three of them had been on what had turned out to be a very successful expedition, but she couldn't keep the surprise off her face, and stood for a moment just smiling in the doorway.

She managed to take a step forward to allow the door to close behind her. "Why hello there! Our mutual friend Varric referred me here, but I admit I wasn't expecting to run into anyone I knew. Hello, Lucien. Hello, Rilien. I believe we've only met once before, the night before your expedition departed. I'm Sophia Dumar."

Rilien, who had been sorting ingredients on the wooden shelves attached to the back wall of the store, took a box full of runes from the top of a stack and handed them to Sandal, who was waiting patiently beside him. The lad had his own designated worktable, built much lower to the ground than the elf's. Closer to the front, Bodahn looked up from where he was organizing his own merchandise and smiled and bowed politely, but otherwise went back to what he was doing. Dusting his hands off, the Tranquil turned and faced the new arrival. He was not quite certain why she felt need to repeat information he was quite well-aware of, but perhaps she assumed he had forgotten. "I know," he replied simply. "Is there something I can do for you?"

Lucien, sitting at one of Rilien's workbenches, had initially looked up and acknowledged his friend with a smile and a gesture, but at Rilien's oh-so-typical response, he rolled his visible eye and shook his head. "What Rilien means to say, I think, is that it's nice to see you again and that from the looks of things, you may need some enchanting done, which he happens to be very good at," he said lightly, shooting a mirthful glance at the Tranquil. He happened to know that Ril was quite capable of manners, and vocal inflection as well, though he could understand his reasons for avoiding the latter around Kirkwall. It wouldn't do to be that different from the other Tranquil to be found around the Circle, say.

"That's quite alright," Sophia said easily, stepping forward to lift her bag onto a nearby table. "And yes, I'd be very interested in having some enchanting done. Varric said your work is better than even the Circle's, though I noted that his crossbow has remained untouched." Sophia was naturally not very fond of ranged weaponry, but even she had to admit that Varric's beloved Bianca was quite the piece of craftsmanship. She untied the knot cinching the bag closed, so that the chainmail could be seen beneath.

"I was wondering what kind of armor enchantments you might be able to apply. With all the danger I seem to throw myself in, it's finally crossed my mind to take a few more precautions. I'm sure my father would agree."

Rilien started removing pieces of chainmail and plate from the sack, reaching under the counter to produce several tools of varying familiarity. One looked like a small mallet, another a pair of tongs, but the third resembled nothing quite so much as a dowsing rod, or possibly a tuning fork. He struck the plates lightly with the mallet, which was actually made of hardened rubber, and passed the forked metal device over the lot of it, flicking it with his middle finger. The sound this produced was actually quite lovely, a high chime, though what it meant was a mystery to anyone but himself and perhaps Sandal, who stopped what he was doing to cock an ear at the noise. "It should stand up to any basic armor or defensive fortifications, and if I forgo using premade runes, I can work an elemental resistance of your choice into it as well. That would cost a considerable sum, as I'd have to procure raw lyrium for the purpose and the Templars do not readily part with it. I would not recommend anything stronger than that."

He replaced the tools beneath the counter, raising an eyebrow at the noblewoman.

Well, he didn't have the best over the counter manner, but he was efficient, wasn't he? Sophia thought for a moment about what would be most useful to her. "Could you reinforce the armor against piercing weapons? Arrows, specifically. The plate has gaps so as to not hinder my movement, but this in turn makes me more vulnerable to things like arrows and knives. A resistance to fire would also prove useful, I think. And the cost won't be a problem." There really wasn't a good way to say that she could essentially buy whatever she wanted, was there? If there was, it wasn't coming to her.

"I cannot make you invulnerable," he replied promptly, "But I will focus my attention on the weak points of the armor, and include protection against fire." And here, he shot the most subtle of glances towards Lucien, who had not yet at any point asked to have any of his items enchanted, despite the fact that he well knew there would be no fee for such a transaction. It rankled Rilien the tiniest bit, actually, but he would not bring the matter up at present. Naming Sophia a figure, he drew up a work order in precise handwriting and passed her a quill so that she might affix her signature to it. "It should be complete in three days."

"Excellent," Sophia said, scribbling her signature onto the work order. Once done, she turned to where Lucien sat, taking a moment as she had the first time she'd met the elf to note how they were a rather odd pair. "Any chance I could learn how the two of you met?" she asked with a small smile. "I've got some time before I'm expected back at the Keep."

At the query, Lucien diverted his attention from his task and back up to his two friends. The question was innocent enough, but that didn't mean the answer was. He wouldn't have even minded answering, really, it was just that a good portion of the information required wasn't really his to give away. Setting his axe down on the table, he glanced over at Rilien, as though seeking some form of confirmation, or in this case perhaps permission.

The tacit question was understood, and Rilien lifted both shoulders in a diffident motion. He didn't particularly know or place his trust in the Dumar heir, but despite what Lucien seemed to think, he really had no particular reason not to part with the story. "I was hired to kill him," he said flatly, indicating the former Chevalier with a tip of his head. "And his father. In their sleep, if possible." As this fully answered the letter of the question, if not perhaps its intent, he left it there, taking to stacking the plates and chain neatly on a nearby shelf with the sheaf of parchment laid atop the lot.

"Oh," Sophia said, a little shocked once again by the Tranquil's bluntness. She wondered if Lucien had simply gotten used to that over time. The explanation made a lot more sense now than it would have if she'd asked before the expedition, knowing more about who Lucien was, but it still caught her off guard. "Well... I'm glad you didn't. How does one turn from hired killer into good friend, I wonder?" She was starting to get the sense that there was more history here than she actually had time for, but it wasn't as if her father would be overly angry if she were a few minutes late.

Lucien sighed and picked up on the thread that Ril had so graciously left dangling there. "To be more... explanatory, perhaps, Rilien was once a Bard, in the Orlesian sense of the term. He was hired by the commanding officer I told you about, the one who is presently missing an arm. As he mentioned, it was supposed to be that he caught myself and my father by surprise, but things didn't quite work out that way, and the result was a match in my family's cellars, after which Ril agreed to part with the information on who'd hired him and why, and given that he was no longer hostile, there was no reason to harm him." The large man shrugged, rubbing absently at the back of his neck.

"Just as well, I suppose, as he's saved my hide more times since then than I can properly keep track of."

Rilien would have snorted derisively, because this particular rendition of events did merit some derision, even from him, but he was aware that it would not be entirely wise to do so in present company. So instead, he offered his corrections in as dull a monotone as ever. "Ser Lucien's modesty borders on deception," he contributed. "Put more plainly, he defeated me soundly and then offered me the terms he describes. I accepted from no goodwill, but a lack of other choices. Though of course, I have since realized that this was unncessary. He would not have slain me even if I'd remained silent." He still wasn't sure if he found that incredibly stupid or not. Either way, it seemed to have gotten him what he wanted in the end, though the whole mess that resulted probably indicated that the nobleman would have been better off if he'd just ignored his 'honor' and slain his would-be assassin, like other people did.

Lucien's mention of Rilien saving his hide since then indicated that they'd been on more adventures together than simply a botched assassination of one another, and she was tempted to inquire what exactly they'd experienced, but there was still a question that seemed more obvious to her, and one she was just as curious to have answered. As she was about to ask, she realized that this was something she had never really thought to question before. It had always seemed like just another part of the Circle of Magi. Wherever they were, there were likely a few Tranquil around. But here was a Tranquil, and he was very clearly not affiliated with the Circle.

"Before you became a Bard," she began to Rilien cautiously, as if bracing for another blunt response, "were you with the Circle of Magi?" She realized full well that the question was akin to simply saying you're a Tranquil, and waiting for an explanation, but she had to ask anyway. It was this particular wrinkle she had been most curious about when wondering how they'd met. His being a Bard and assassin was remarkable, yes, but it didn't explain how he'd come across the brand on his forehead.

"You assume that I was no longer with the Circle when I was a Bard," the Tranquil pointed out. Truthfully, the question lit a tiny flicker of rage in the center of his chest, but he had not been quelling such inconsequential emotions for years to have them show on his face at one woman's question. "Yes. I was a mage. Now, I am not." Not that he didn't desire otherwise, when he remembered how it felt to desire anything at all. When he did, it wasn't the warmth of love of friendship or the tickle of amusement that he missed. No, those were mundane, trite things, and occasionally to be found even in this state. What he missed was the ability to call the wrath of the elements to his very fingertips, to dip into the Fade and the minds of foes with all the ease of a child dunking his hand in a streambed.

That it made him bitter was a sign that he needed to resolve the matter with Sparrow sooner rather than later.

That flat way in which he said everything made it so hard to tell how exactly he had reacted. She almost thought he was angry with her, but what she knew about Tranquil told her that he wasn't capable of being angry with her, only answering her question. His eyes were cold, anything but friendly, but again, she shouldn't have expected them to be. In fact, she was surprised he even had enough free will to run his own shop such as it was. The Tranquil she had made during sparse visits to the Gallows and the Circle relied on direction from the others, on accomplishing whatever purpose they had been given. Surely there was more to it, and Sophia couldn't deny that she wanted to know.

"I'm sorry," she said, not actually sure if an apology was called for or not, "it's just... I never knew there were Tranquil that were not a part of a specific Circle of Magi. I was curious, was all." She glanced at Lucien, hoping to maybe read if she had overstepped her bounds or something, since he wasn't quite as difficult to read as a Tranquil was.

He smiled kindly. "Understandable, given the way the Chantry and the government tend to stay mostly separate here. This is not quite the case in Orlais, and Rilien can no more return there than I can, now. It seems unnecessary at best to ask the Circle here if they've need of another of his skill, when he's perfectly capable of plying his trade on his own." Well, that and the fact that he'd never go, and Lucien would never suggest it. But he supposed it was natural in the mindset of Kirkwall to assume that the only place the Tranquil were was the Gallows, be they enchanters or otherwise. The structures were a bit... looser, where they'd come from. The explanations beyond this grew more complicated, and tread on topics that he at least would not touch unless Ril did so first, so he left it at that.

"I see," Sophia said, though she really didn't. A great deal was still unexplained, such as why Rilien had been made Tranquil, when he'd been made Tranquil, and how exactly he'd come to be a Bard rather than under the guidance of Templars and other mages. The way Lucien had answered, however, seemed to leave out these details on purpose, and she decided to trust that it was for a reason. Rilien seemed no more willing to answer, remaining blank faced. Deciding now was probably a good time to depart and return to the Keep, Sophia picked up her now empty bag.

"I should really be going, I'm afraid. It was wonderful seeing you two again, and thank you for the enchantments, Rilien. I'll return in three days time."

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion
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Sophia had nearly made it down the steps to exit the Viscount's Keep when the voice of her brother called out from behind her. "Off to play the hero again, are we sister?" She lurched to a halt, the pair of guards at the double doors suddenly unsure whether they should open them or not. Sophia spun about to face Saemus, who was coming down the stairs in a rather striking green doublet, his black hair combed back away from his face. Sophia herself had just suited up in her newly enchanted chainmail and plate, and was about to head back down to Lowtown. The day was wearing on, and his father had retired to attend to personal business, leaving any further court matters to the Seneschal, which freed Sophia to do as she pleased with the evening. Apparently her brother did not approve of her choice.

"Saemus, what are you talking about? I'm just going--" But he cut her off. "Down to Lowtown? Perhaps you'll come across another dragon to slay, write another chapter in the legend of Sophia Dumar?" She found herself a little stunned, but this wasn't the first time Saemus had done that to her. This was a rather typical way for him to respond to things he disagreed with. He'd pout for a time, often unnoticeably, stewing by himself, until at some point he could contain his displeasure no longer, and it spilled over the top in the form of venomous words, which were really the only kind of aggression he was capable of mustering.

"Oh!" he continued. "Or maybe another horde of heathen Qunari will attack you, and you can drive off the invaders! Or stop a giant spider-monster from terrorizing the poor people in Darktown!" Sophia weathered this by simply standing where she was, crossing her arms and holding his gaze. The pair of guards behind her shifted uncomfortably. Sophia was glad there weren't many people in hall, at least. "You could go find the leader of the Coterie, and drag him into the Gallows to let him rot for a few decades. Could I come with you? I could be your squire, polish your armor, sharpen your sword, and write down tales of your heroics. We could make a pilgrimage to the sacred ashes of Andraste. Ever since I heard about that one I've wanted to piss in that urn."

That managed to turn Sophia a little red in the face, and she currently regretted the day she put the idea into words. The Warden Queen of Ferelden had supposedly found the location of the Urn some time before the end of the Blight, and ever since Sophia had heard of the place she dreamed of seeing it. "... Are you quite finished, brother?" she asked softly, and to her relief, he spoke no more, allowing her a turn.

"I'm not sure I want to know where all of this is coming from," she continued, "but I can assure you that all I've been trying to do is to help the people in our city, regardless of their social status. Kirkwall is like two different cities at this point, and Lowtown currently needs any help they can get. I can't just stand idly by while--" He scoffed and interrupted her. "Oh, please, Sophia. Don't try to pass this off as some kind of selfless service to Kirkwall, not when everyone says otherwise. It's a reckless, selfish, glory-seeking habit."

She breathed deeply through her nose, trying to avoid raising her voice, and only making things worse. "I had hoped you would have learned by now that the nobles in Hightown do not constitute 'everyone' in Kirkwall. In case you were informed otherwise, the dragon that I played a part in defeating was terrorizing a mine with its kin." Saemus didn't seem impressed. "And the qunari you killed? I suppose you had a good reason for that, too? Apart from increasing the already high tension between them and the city?" Her eyes fell to the floor momentarily, and she ran a hand through thick golden hair. She really didn't want to have this conversation with him here of all places...

Sparrow had the perfect plan. In her own head, in her thoughts, there was nothing at all wrong with the idea of bumbling into the Viscount's Keep in order to ask him about his ledgers, of all those he'd allowed into Kirkwall when they'd all arrived in those ships. Surely, he'd be able to tell her whether or not two shifty characters – bloody bastards, those two rats, had moved through Kirkwall, or even settled down in its midst. She doubted the latter, for she hadn't seen even a glimpse of them. She wouldn't have missed them, either. She never would. Rapture's presence was sporadic, often melting into an ambient noise of displeasure, murmuring in her ear canals when she thought of doing something foolish. This particular plan fell under that category, but she'd made up her mind and she was fighting tooth and nail for control, pushing against the demon with all her might. If she could hunt down Arcadius and Silian, then she could finally exact her revenge and all of this would be over; in theory, anyway. No longer would she find herself suspicious of Rilien's kindness, or look upon Lucien's face and see him staring back. No longer would she find herself painting their faces on her friends, wondering whether or not they'd finally corner her, tear apart who she'd become and reveal a much weaker person; a cowering little girl whose fears rattled her bones.

In mid-stride, Sparrow opened the double-doors wide, nearly colliding with Sophia and a man whose eyes she shared, and effectively bustling the guardsmen aside. It took her a moment to recuperate from the shock of nearly bowling two people over, but she took it easily, quickly recovering with a brimming grin. “Oh, I didn't mean to intrude,” She began to say, rocking back on her heels. For a moment, Sparrow seemed poised to say more, but she held up her finger, waggled it and stepped backwards, past the double-doors, where she then closed them back on herself. The doors slowly reopened and she proceeded to lean her shoulders against them, peering out between the crack she'd made. The smile tugging at her lips, two-parts amused, and two-parts mischievous, only seemed to brighten, as if this was a chance meeting with someone she'd been looking for all along. Perhaps, this was more appropriate than her initial idea of storming the Keep until she happened upon the Viscount. What if he was away on an important errand? Far too busy to fetch up some documents. She didn't move away from the doors, only blinked up at Sophia and Saemus, hunched over. “Sophia, is it?” She greeted breezily, “It's what I remember the gallant knight saying, anyway. I like Sophie better.”

“I was hoping it'd be you.” The comment might have seemed odd coming from Sparrow, but she seemed nonplussed by its implications, only glancing briefly at Saemus to gauge what had been going on between them. By the looks of the man's creased eyebrows, broody eyes, and telltale frown, it might've been a disagreement. Rilien always told her it was best not to bury her nose where it didn't belong. Finally, the half-breed straightened her shoulders, stepped through the threshold and pulled one of the doors wide open, ignoring the gawping look the guard was shooting her. “Apologies, Serrah, but I need to borrow Sophie for a wee bit, if you wouldn't mind,” She swept her hand towards the door, arching her eyebrows. If Sophia needed saving from whatever she'd been talking about, then it would've been a perfect excuse, even though they hadn't planned on speaking at all – and she could ask her in the meantime, it wouldn't hurt. She seemed ready to depart the Keep anyway, with mail armour riddled around her joints. As if to accentuate the offer, Sparrow offered an upturned palm for the taking.

The half elf... man's, interruption was a welcome one for Sophia, even if she found everything about it to be entirely odd. She remembered him, even though they had only briefly met before, but even still she found the informal nature of his greeting to be a little surprising. Sophia, Saemus, and the pair of guards inside the door all turned their heads to watch the visitor retract from the doorway and then reappear, addressing the Viscount's daughter by her given name, and then by a nickname, one which Sophia was not particularly fond of herself. Sophie was too... girlish, and reminded her far too much of her childhood.

The guards, and Saemus, blinked in surprise at the rather bold entrance Sparrow made, but allowed Sophia to speak for herself. She was momentarily torn between addressing her brother and the visitor, but Saemus soon solved that problem by throwing up a hand in dismissal and departing towards the private quarters at a quick pace. Sophia thought to call after him for a moment, but knew it would be no good, so instead she sighed in displeasure and turned to Sparrow. The half-elf had his hand swept towards the open door, and Sophia shrugged before heading outside. It was true that she had been planning on leaving anyway, and if Sparrow had come seeking her specifically, maybe they were headed to similar places as well.

Once the pair of them were outside and the great doors shut behind them, Sophia began to lead the way down the steps. "It's... Sparrow, right? We met in the Hanged Man, I think. I was just headed there, myself. You needed something?"

Sparrow offered her another smile, retracting her hand back to her side. She'd half expected for the guards to silence her charade, berate her for interrupting their quarrel and appearing in quarters she didn't belong in, but was glad that Sophia seemed at least as inclined to leave as she'd expected. Her smile briefly faltered, then blossomed into a wry grin. Sophie is a lovely nickname, but I'll call you Sophia, if you'd prefer,” Sparrow added softly, clicking her tongue. She'd seen the odd scrunch of the armoured-woman's nose when she'd let the nickname slip – and as inept as she was at picking up subtle expressions, she wasn't entirely oblivious. She knew how it felt to be called a name that didn't suit who she'd become, like wearing ill-fitting boots. She hooked her thumbs in her belt, eyeing the ceiling. What might it have been like to grow up beneath those archways, running around marble pillars, scampering down carpeted stairwells?

His inexperience with royalty was plain as day to her, as most of the people around here would have trouble calling her by anything other than my lady, and here he was offering a choice between her first name and a nickname. "I do prefer Sophia, actually. Thank you for asking." In all honesty, it was quite refreshing for someone to come into the Keep and not act like she was worth more than them or something.

Sparrow followed Sophia down the steps, moving beside her. She barely avoided bumping into a passing man, murmuring a quick apology as she shifted to the side, then stepped back into place. “Sparrow, that's right. Barely properly introduced,” the half-breed put in, bobbing her head, “The Hanged Man? Perfect. I need to ask you some questions. The subject is a little fragile, and it might not be tasteful for any passing ears, if you get my meaning. I'll buy you a drink.” Searching for assailants with the obvious intent of hunting them down certainly wouldn't sit well with any snobbish, goody-goody nobles who believed justice was best dealt with patience and prisons. She wasn't looking for someone to plaster wanted posters around Kirkwall, either. If Sophia had access to Kirkwall's records, however, then she was the perfect person to come to. Perhaps, better to see her then to ask for an audience with the Viscount. From what she'd heard, he'd holed himself up, refusing to take any action at all.

Another fragile subject, huh? Sophia took a moment to wonder if there was an issue in Kirkwall that wasn't fragile. If it involved the words mage, templar, or qunari, then the answer was definitely no. Maker, even fighting those bandits for her brother hadn't been a straightforward issue. And speaking, Saemus was doing an excellent job remembering to be grateful for that little adventure, wasn't he? Sophia rolled her eyes to herself, pushing the thought of her brother from her mind.

The two of them made their way through Hightown and down the steps, making enough conversation so as to not allow the trip to become awkward. Sophia was more than familiar with the way down the Hanged Man by now, and swiftly cut through the Lowtown streets until she reached the destination, pulling open the door and leading the way inside. She spotted the dwarf, Varric, as she entered the main room, and waved to get his attention. Though they did not know each other very well, Varric easily understood the value of being friends with the future Viscount, and Sophia had learned the benefits of being friends with a man like Varric. She knew him enough to know he was good at heart, and that his connections (and words) had perhaps more influence over the people of Lowtown than she or her father did. "Hello, Varric," she said. He bowed rather low. "Good afternoon, my lady," Varric said with a trademark smirk. "And to you, Sparrow. What can I do for you today?"

"Could I borrow your room for a moment?" Sophia asked. "Sparrow has something to discuss with me. I had hoped to speak with you afterwards, as well." The dwarf nodded easily. "Of course. I'll make sure no one disturbs you."

That out of the way, Sophia gestured for Sparrow to follow and led the way up the stairs to the rooms, closing the door to Varric's room once both of them were inside. She pulled up a chair, indicating for Sparrow to do the same. "This should do, I think. The drink won't be necessary. Now, what can I help you with?"
In turn, as she was greeted, Sparrow bowed her head, and slipped a hand across an invisible plumed hat. The Dwarf had proven, over the years spent in Kirkwall's infamous tavern, to be not only useful, and efficient in gathering information, but to be one of her predominant drinking companions whenever she was out of sorts. He never failed to make her laugh, and even though she'd never shared her most intimate secrets, she'd always felt like he could see straight through her. However, it didn't make her feel uncomfortable. She always thought that he'd heard stranger tales, or stories that reflected her own (at least, ones that might make hers a little less shocking). When she straightened, Sophia had already asked whether or not they could borrow his room – which was met with an assertive yes. It didn't surprise her. Rubbing elbows with the Viscount's daughter, or anyone of any important birthright, was useful in its own right.

For someone who'd spent a hefty chunk of her time under the Hanged Man's bar stools, Sparrow hadn't made it any further than that, so anything in the rooms above the stairs was territory she'd yet to discover. She let her gaze roam across the various rooms until Sophia slipped into the one closest to the staircase, which she promptly ducked into. Unusual posters, and drawings hung in the far corner of the suite, though it was the chair Sophia motioned to that drew her attention. Sparrow swiftly plopped herself into it, crossing her leg over her knee. There were certain secrets she'd have to skip around. It wasn't entirely unlike her to skim around the truth, or offer half-truths in the place of complete honesty, and this particular instance wasn't any difference. If she'd taken anything to heart while staying with Rilien, it was the importance of tactful discretion and keeping her mouth shut. She shrugged her shoulders, sweeping her hands in front of her as if to say are you sure about that drink?

When it was obvious that she wouldn't take her up on the offer, Sparrow rested her elbow on her knee, leaning forward just enough so that she could support her chin in her upturned palm. She met the woman's gaze resolutely, only looking briefly away to gather her thoughts. “I'm looking for someone, or two someones, rather,” She began to say, then continued, “A few months after I came to Kirkwall, we started receiving refugees from Ferelden. If I'm correct, everything's been written down, catalogued in ledgers, or documents. Papers, or anything.” She laughed into her knuckles, though it lacked its usual warmth, “I'll admit that I was seeking an audience with your father, but he's been rather busy with other matters.” Everyone knew that the Viscount was tied up with the Arishok stationed in the docks. Those issues would always be at the forefront of his mind, tangling him into affairs that, to him, would be far more important than shuffling through old files. Her eyebrows drew together, expression growing grave. “I need to find them. Can you help me? Please.”

Sophia was glad Sparrow had run into her rather than try to gain an audience with her father. He was indeed quite preoccupied with larger issues, and would only have been aggravated by a request like this. In fact, the Seneschal likely would have either turned him away or heard the request himself, if he thought it important enough, but certainly this would never have made it before the Viscount. Kirkwall had taken in thousands of refugees since the beginning of the Blight, and although it was ended now, a vast majority of them either could not or chose not to leave, for whatever reason.

"That's true, the city guard took a full accounting of everyone who entered the city seeking refuge during the Blight. I'm afraid there's not much more information to be had than the names, though. If the names you're looking for are on the list, it would only mean that they are somewhere within the city walls." Almost certainly in Darktown, Sophia added mentally. Lowtown if they were lucky or extremely hard working. The undercity's population had exploded since the refugees started coming in, along with the crime.

"I can see if Bran or the city guard can take a look through it for you. Who are you looking for?" It wasn't that she wouldn't be willing to do it herself, it was just that her free time was precious to her, with the responsibilities her father was piling onto her. It seemed a simple enough task, but it also seemed tedious, and Sophia wanted to avoid spending a free afternoon poring over papers in the Gallows if at all possible.

Any attempts at trying to tame her eagerness curdled in her stomach. Sparrow leaned back in her chair, watching Sophia's facial expressions. She'd learnt a long time ago – that, even though your companions may be friends with your acquaintances, it didn't always mean you could trust them, or hope for anything unrealistic. She didn't know her very well, though she had a pretty face, and a genuineness that surprised her. Her ability to tell the difference between lies and truth, to read between the lines and extract what she needed out of lies and dishonesty had long been eroded away with her own inability to come clean. She could only read so much in someone's eyes, but it seemed as if Sophia honestly wanted to help her, if she had the time to do so. “I know who they are, I need only know if they're still residing in Kirkwall.”

Her fingers found themselves wrung together, white-knuckled and rosy, until she slipped them apart and sighed. Anxiety blossomed in her gut, feeding a desperation she never knew she possessed. “Arcadius Kassim and Silian Raunthil,” She said the names like curses, like things she whispered between her lips in the dead of night. She'd said them more times than she wished to count. To Rilien, in the middle of the night, when she had nightmares. To herself, when she scoured Kirkwall, foolishly willing them to appear in the alleyways so that she could kill them. Her eyebrows knit together, souring her usual cheeriness. Every memory that threatened to squirm out of the hole she'd dug was promptly smothered, hastily buried to keep herself from crumbling. “They're dangerous – parasites in your city, really. Worse than anything in Darktown.”

She paused briefly, pinching her nose between forefinger and thumb. “One of them even looks like Lucien.”

So he was looking for dangerous people, was he? That caught Sophia's attention. Worse than anything in Darktown was a pretty big statement, and though he hadn't yet stated why he was looking for these people, Sophia's instincts told her that this was something worth following up on. Sparrow didn't exactly strike her as the type to go catching dangerous criminals just because he could, which led her to believe there was obviously something personal going on here.

"Arcadius Kassim and Silian Raunthil," she repeated. "I'll make sure Bran puts someone on this, and I can let you know personally if their names turn up. If they're criminals, it's likely they would use a false name, but I'll have the city guard go through the lists all the same." Notably, Sophia did not ask the obvious question of why Sparrow would want to find them, but that was primarily because if they did have any success locating the two of them, they would be having this conversation again. That, and Sophia wasn't quite convinced this was entirely her business yet. If they were as much a danger to her city as Sparrow seemed to think, she would probably want to go after them with him, but as of now Sophia didn't feel it was appropriate to pry for more information.

Though, Sparrow would've been hard-pressed to admit it, there was still much of Papyrus inside her. She was still the same: stubborn. Hard-headed. Doubtful, lonely, afraid.She felt like she was protecting someone by seeking them out, by promising that she'd destroy them as soon as she hunted them down. Eyes, brilliantly brown, were beginning to water, until she dashed her knuckles into them, mashing any unspilled tears away as if she were tired, exhausted by the peculiar request she'd just made. She didn't apologize for her behaviour, only met Sophia's gaze once more, holding it steady. “Thank you, Sophia,” She breathed, leaning over so that she could touch the woman's arm, then, thinking better of it, pulled briskly way. Her movements were wooden, particularly odd given her eccentricity.

“We have history. They attacked me as a child, stole me away from my family.” One small truth, vague as it was, would be enough. The details were shady, at best. If Sophia wanted to know more, and if it came down to trading information for what she wanted, for what she needed, then she'd do her best to offer it. If not, then nothing needed to be said. "I want to prevent that from happening ever again."

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera
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On days like this one, Sophia found herself wishing she'd never decided to get involved in the affairs of Lowtown.

There was a certain kind of peace that she remembered having when her feet never carried her down the steps to the lower city. She had just wandered her safe and privileged home, ears covered to the sounds around her, eyes cast ever upwards to avoid seeing what was beneath her. That was another time, of course. Now she not only saw what was under her boots, she descended into it on a daily basis, or as often as her responsibilities would allow her. Her ears were covered any longer, and this allowed her to hear everything that happened around. Not all of it was easy to hear.

One particular piece of news the other day had hit her like the time she'd been kicked by a horse when she was learning to ride. A name she had not expected to hear again, and certainly not within the walls of the city. Once she decided that she wasn't crazy and she had heard correctly, she'd gone to Varric, who seemed the most likely to be able to help her. Sadly, the dwarf could not, but he could point her to someone who was possibly more capable than he. Thus she found herself heading towards the Lowtown shop of Ashton Riviera, The Hunted Stag. She remembered him as the man she'd danced with the night before the expedition departed, and it wasn't too surprising that there was more to him than he'd let on. She'd done the same herself, of course. This time, of course, she'd be very straightforward with him. It probably helped that she hadn't consumed any wine today.

In her usual chain and plate, Sophia pushed open the door to his shop, doing her best to not let the smell of animal hides overwhelm her, though she probably did make a bit of a face at first. It was a rather modest place for a man who had no doubt received a large share of coin from the success of the expedition. Sophia found the man himself just inside, working on what appeared to be a large amount of... dragon bone? It made sense, given the tales of the group's battle with a dragon, but it was still rather startling to see.

"Hello," she said, giving a slight wave. "Ashton Riviera? I'm Sophia Dumar. We met at the Hanged Man a few months ago. Do you have a few minutes to talk?"

"Oh. Hi, welcome to the Hunted Stag," Ashton responded in monotone, but he was far too busy to notice that instead of his standard fare of Lowtown elves and humans, his customer today was was a highborn pretty lady decked out in plate metal and chain. Instead, his undivided attention focused solely on the hunk of bone he was working in his hands. The bone had been stripped of all flesh and meat that once filled out a dragon's arm, with the still usable bits of leather placed in a pile on the counter, while the undoubtedly rotted meat was disposed of elsewhere. He was currently in the process of bleaching it white with a bit of elbow grease and an old rag. He was nearly there by the looks of it.

Finally, the second part of the greeting filtered through his head and he took his eyes off of the bone, and a moment of remembrance flashed across his eyes. "Ah! Sophia, sweetheart. What brings you to my lowly shop?" He said, setting down the dragon bone on the counter beside him, next to a pile of recently acquired books, one of which was currently open. "Sorry I didn't notice it was you earlier. I was in the middle of polishing my bone-- er.. Dragon bone, that is... I didn't mean..." Ashton clarified. "Right! Now that that faux pas is out of the way... For you sweetheart, I've got all day to talk," He said, drawing his legs up so that he sat crosslegged on the counter, followed by perching his elbows on his knees so that his knuckles would hold his chin.

He looked genuinely intrigued about what the girl would say. He could smell an adventure a mile away, and this woman postively reeked of it. A girl after his own heart.

Sophia had taken a half step back, putting her weight on her back foot, and crossing her arms over her chest. She narrowed her gaze at the man slightly, but reminded herself that she wanted his help. Sophie was one thing, but sweetheart she didn't think she wanted to put up with, especially considering they'd only met once before. Between the two uses of the word, and his mention of polishing his bone, she strongly felt the urge to roll eyes, but refrained.

"I'm trying to find someone," she said, keeping her tone as it was before. "I overheard a name while in Lowtown the other day, and if it's the person I think it is, I want to speak with him. But considering his current circumstances, it's in his best interests to lay low while he's in the city. I would go to the city guard, but they're stretched thin as it is, and I consider this a personal matter, besides." She made sure to make eye contact. "So I'd appreciate it if we could keep this between the two of us for now."

Maybe this was a lot to ask of someone she didn't really know, but considering the way she'd been greeted, Sophia imagined her chances of getting him to cooperate weren't all that bad. "I've heard that you tend to keep an ear to the ground, so to speak. I don't yet have a great amount of experience with the people in Lowtown, nor am I able to speak to them without drawing attention, attention that would make my quarry disappear the moment he caught wind of it, I'm sure. So... think you might be willing to help? I would make sure you are compensated for your trouble, of course." Honestly, Sophia would prefer to keep this as a business discussion, since she couldn't say she trusted the man yet, and indeed, this problem was rather close to her heart. The details would come on a need to know basis.

"It's all the armor," Ashton mentioned, drawing attention to all the plate she was wearing. "Not many people walk around armed for bear. City guard and Lucien excluded. Tends to put the common folk on edge," He explained ever so helpfully. With that being said, he flashed her a smile and bent over backward so that he laid on his counter, reached behind it, and grabbed his quiver and bow before returning upright. "You've come to the right place Sweetheart. If the sign didn't give it away, I'm the best hunter in this here city. A person shouldn't be no more difficult than an animal," He said, uncrossing his legs and letting them swing freely over the counter.

Saying no to a pretty lady was never Ashton's style, and he'd been working on that bone ever since he got it back. A little diversion wouldn't hurt, and it might even be a little fun. As if he'd pass up the chance to spend an afternoon with a pretty lady anyway. "But, it'd be helpful if you told me this name first, and anything else about him or her that would prove helpful in this search of yours." He said, shouldering his quiver. If that wasn't answer enough, then the girl really needed to work on reading between the lines.

"The armor," Sophia agreed, "and introducing yourself as the daughter of Viscount Dumar. And believe me, I'm a terrible liar. The man we're looking for will only be found in the darker places of the city, places I couldn't blend into no matter how hard I tried." She shrugged. "That's if he's here at all. This is a rumor I'm following up on, not a sighting."

She took a few meandering steps forward, lowering her voice almost imperceptibly, as if she didn't even mean to do it. "The man's name is Dairren Quinn, he was the captain of the city guard here until about six years ago, when he was exiled by my father. The name I heard was Quill, which was what he used to call himself back before his days as guard captain. He's a criminal now, I think. And if he's back in Kirkwall, it can't mean anything good."

At least, that was what she wanted to say. Truthfully, she was very conflicted about it all, given that she'd trusted the man with her life back when he'd lived at the Keep. Sophia had always wanted another chance to speak with him, to get some answers, but the opportunity had never arisen. At least, not until now. "But first, I want to make a few things clear: one, this is the smartest man I've ever known. Finding him won't be a matter of simply asking around. And two, you're going to have to cut the sweetheart stuff. Sophia will do just fine." She felt she was being rather serious at the moment, but to be honest, hearing of Dairren Quinn again had her more than a little bothered.

"If it was easy, then there wouldn't be any point in the hunt, now would it swe-- Sophia? Any old fool can ask people where they can find their target. It's the mark of a true hunter to find their prey despite the odds," Ashton said, kicking off of the counter. "Well, let's be off then. Daylight's wasting, and trying to find someone at night is both dangerous and stupid. Shall we?" He said, motioning her toward the door. He ushered her out of the shop, locking the door behind him and walked a couple of paces into the street before turning to face Sophia.

If this man was truly a criminal like Sophia said, then he had the general idea of where to begin looking. "Darktown. You'll find all of your unsavory sorts there. Fugitives, refugees, outcasts, and even criminals. It'd be a great place to start, wouldn't you think-- hope you brought some coppers, we may have to grease some palms," He said, beginning to walk backwards in the direction of Darktown. "Or we could start where you heard this rumor. Or even elsewhere. This is your quest after all, I'm merely your guide through the darkness," he said with a wink and a laugh.

"It was near Darktown I heard it," she said. "Heard that he was recruiting. For what, I'm not sure I want to know, but he's charismatic, and I wouldn't be surprised if he gains a following. He knows the city inside and out." Darktown was... not a place she looked forward to going, nor did she imagine Bran or her father would approve. She was still getting the hang of Lowtown. "Lead the way. And watch out for the thieves, they seem to think I'm a good mark for some reason."

Ashton couldn't stifle the chuckle, so he didn't. "I'm telling you, it's the armor. It's all shiny and pretty, like a beacon. A big 'come rob me' beacon," his humor eased slightly as he spoke again, "The people in Darktown aren't as fortunate as me or you. They'd risk mugging a girl with a big ass sword on her back if there was a chance they could eat that night. It's... A desparate place," He was quiet for a bit after, allowing it to sink in just a bit. She was the Viscount's daughter yes, but did she truly see what was going on in her city past the gilded Hightown? He wouldn't pursue it, but the thought was there.

"So what'd this Quill do to you? Rob something? Besmirched the Viscount's good name? Civil disobiedence? General pain in the ass? Etc, etc?" He asked.

"He conspired with the Coterie from the position of guard captain, allowing them to expand throughout the city. If he's back and looking for manpower, it can't mean anything good for Kirkwall. That's more than enough reason for me to want him caught." That, of course, was the official reason. He'd been exiled and with good reason. Had her father not been merciful, he could have hanged him, but partially due to Sophia's influence, the Viscount let him live, and banished him from the city instead.

"I... I trusted him," Sophia continued, at first uncertain if she wanted to. "I would have put my life in his hands years ago. Growing up as I did, there were very few people I felt that way about. I guess I'd like to know why." There had always been something about him, his mannerisms around her, that made her feel comfortable, safe even. Perhaps that was just what he'd been hoping to do all along. Talking about it was starting to feel like a knife wound, however, so she shook her head, mostly to herself.

"I think that's all I want to say at the moment. I'm sure you understand. It's personal, but I can't do this on my own." Ashton was quiet for a moment as he digested the information. Then he said, "So the general pain in the ass kind? I know the type," not that he counted a Guard Captain with ties to the Coterie as one of his closest friends, but he'd had his toes dipped in the criminal underworld now and again. Still, he didn't prod further, feeling that his curiosity would be shut down, if not violently. He liked to press some buttons now and then, but he'd know a button too far if he ever saw one. "Fair enough," He said, "We're close to Darktown, best keep it to yourself anyway. Guard up now, it's quite dangerous. I'd think it'd tarnish milady's armor if she got blindsided," he winked. While sweetheart was out, milady was not.

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega
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The Chantry wasn't Nostariel's favorite place in the world, though she couldn't say she felt the same revulsion towards it as some did. He, after all, had been quite fond of the Chant, though not slavishly devoted. It was hard to look upon anything he'd liked and see ugliness, even if it was there. That was just the sort of person he'd been. A small pang of remembrance twinged in her chest, though it was soon soothed and gone. It was something that brought a smile to her face; she'd never forget him, and she'd always love him, but she was no longer consumed by his memory, mind, body, and soul. There was room in there for other things, now, and she had the very best of friends to thank for that. And maybe, just a little bit, she could thank herself, too. She was still alive, and still capable of giving more to this place before she inevitably left it as all people must. That was worth more than she'd thought, maybe.

The towering ceilings of the building still put her vaguely ill at ease, but she was bolstered by this new sense of self, and she'd made a point to wear her Warden's armor here, and to affix the red band of her officer's rank to her arm where it belonged. This part, she was still skeptical of, but today, her weakness would be her armor as well. She didn't bother to hide what she was, and indeed, her staff was strapped prominently to her back, her pale blonde hair presently fixed onto a tail atop her head, baring her pointed ears to even the most cursory scrutiny. She was twice, possibly thrice-damned, depending on who you spoke to, but she wasn't going to apologize for it.

She'd thought to meet Sophia in the Keep today, but the Seneschal, looking somewhat puzzled to see a Warden inquiring, had directed her to the Chantry instead. At present, her obvious oddity in such a place was going to do her a service, as it was bound to reach the Viscount's daughter that an armored elf woman (a mage, at that!) had just walked into the house of the Maker like she belonged there. And they'd let her, were they true to their faith. It would hopefully, however, save her the trouble of having to look for Sophia, as she honestly didn't know where the young woman would be.

Nostariel would have to wait for a moment, however, as the Viscount's daughter was not immediately present. One of the sisters had informed her of the Warden's arrival, of course, but Sophia took an extra moment to herself, kneeling as she was before a particularly beautifully carved statue of Andraste, up the stairs to Nostariel's right. She wiped a hand across her eyes, which Nostariel would likely be able to notice were slightly more red than usual, her overall appearance a tad more disheveled than her usual self, though she was good at hiding it at this point. She found herself wishing she was in armor again, her mother's sword comfortably seated upon her back.

Having collected herself as best she was able, Sophia rose to her feet slowly, taking a moment to brush off her skirts before she turned and strode towards the railing, spotting the armored elven Warden below, and waving to catch her attention. Her first attempt to speak went poorly, the woman's name catching in her throat, which she had foolishly neglected to clear, but the second try came out much better, if not sounding entirely like her. "Hello, Nostariel. Come join me? It's much more comfortable to speak up here, if that's what you'd like." That was true enough. The entryway had little more than wooden benches along the walls, and an empty expanse of stone flooring in between, whereas the upper levels had cushioned chairs and couches, a warm fire to sit next to.. and a much more private setting.

Sophia certainly trusted all of the Sisters enough to speak freely around them, but if the Warden had indeed come here to speak with her, it seemed best to arrange a private setting. And Sophia had no reason to suspect otherwise; she had not seen Nostariel within these walls before.

A wave and a call from above drew Nostariel's attention, and she glanced upward to catch sight of Sophia. Something seemed... off about her, but from this distance, it was impossible to put her finger on exactly what that might be, so the elf lifted a hand in acknowledgement and headed for the stairs. She supposed that what she had come to discuss could be done just as well publicly or privately, but perhaps it would be best not to make the nature of their work together and with Lucien the subject of gossip. Saying that one was trying to 'clean up Kirkwall' was all well and good, but few people had need of the less-glamorous details of the occupation. It was highly unlikely that anyone really wanted to know how many people their future Viscountess and her allies had to wade through to get there.

Ascending the stone staircase, Nostariel found herself in a much cozier sort of area. Here, the ceilings were not so high, nor the statues so... large and golden. It was a little ostentatious, all the wealth on clear display, between the rich red tapestries and the massive, aureate figure of Andraste looming over the whole thing. But then, she supposed that when your primary attendees and donors had quite a lot of wealth and splendor themselves, you had to make them feel humbled somehow. At any rate, the furnishings here were comfortable-looking, not so different from the ones she recalled being in the Circle library.

Sophia herself, however, was another matter. What from a distance was simply something vaguely off was up close evidently some form of distress. Her eyes were red-rimmed as though she'd been weeping (and Nostariel certainly knew what that looked like), and her overall appearance was less put-together than it had been on any other occasion the two had met. The Warden paused, unsure if their current relationship would make an inquiry too personal. She admittedly didn't know much about what nobility did in situations like this, so she consulted her only possible source for the proper etiquette: what would Lucien or Ashton do? If the answer seemed to be the same, it was probably the right one. That in mind, she ventured the question.

"Sophia? Are you... is something the matter? If you would prefer I leave for now and come back tomorrow, it can wait." She stopped just short of asking if there was anything she could do. Though that was her instinct, she wasn't quite sure it was her business.

Sophia actually smiled as she shook her head, and she wasn't really sure why. Words her father used to say more often came to mind, something about how her mother always had the most radiant of smiles, and how when she grew up, she was going to look just like her, be just as beautiful, and so she should smile just as much. There wasn't really much to smile about now, but she did it anyway. A Viscountess did not allow her personal issues to overwhelm her, especially not when speaking with guests.

"No, please stay," she said, taking a seat in a crimson colored armchair, not allowing her mood to affect her posture. "It's just some family issues," she explained, dabbing at her eyes again to prevent any more tears from coming out of them. "My brother is somewhat of a handful," she added, and that would probably be all the explanation she would offer. There was more to it than that, of course, but it had been another outburst from Saemus that had spilled it over the top, and in a moment of shameful weakness she allowed her stress to break through her walls, and fled the Keep for her sanctuary here, only to find that Andraste offered scant comfort to her. There was little to do but rebuild the walls, and act like they'd never collapsed in the first place.

"Talking will help, I think," she said, still trying to hold a smile, though it was a bit of a sad smile at this point. "How are you? It's been some time since last we spoke."

"I see," Nostariel said quietly, though really, she didn't. She had no idea what it was like to have a family, and she supposed it could be as stressful as calming, sometimes. Either way, it seemed as though Sophia was content to speak of other things for the moment, and if that was her wish, the Warden would respect it. Moving to sit in a different chair close by Sophia's, the elf settled herself gingerly in place before answering, tracing a finger along the pattern in the rich material.

"I am... doing rather well, actually. Darkspawn activity is starting to pick up again, but as of yet, it isn't anything that I can't handle on my own or with a little assistance." Her duties also seemed less laborious, perhaps, because she was trying, bit by bit, to embrace them rather than merely tolerating them. An incomplete process, but one that helped by degrees. "I came to tell you though... the Coterie's been growing recently, and Lucien tells me they've become a great deal bolder. More and more of his jobs involve dealing with them, and apparently the Alienage is threatened by them as well as Darktown, now." She had no particular explanation to give for the new rush of criminal activity, but there was always the possibility that they'd come under new management, and that was bound to cause a stir. A bad one for the rest of Kirkwall, if the 'management' happened to have a bit of wit about them.

"I've heard," Sophia said, and indeed, she suspected she knew more about it than most in the city. Probably a good thing, considering that it was soon to be her city. "The city guard has been... less than effective in combating them, I'm afraid. I'm beginning to suspect corruption, but proof is hard to come by. I've been looking into the matter myself. The Coterie's spread is alarming. With so many other issues plaguing the city, we can't afford organized crime to expand like this." She didn't know if her past acquiantance was to blame for this. He'd been exiled for conspiring with the criminals, it was true, but he had been gone from the city for at least six years now. It wasn't as if he could simply come back and assume the mantle of leadership for an organization as powerful as the Coterie... could he?

It was a troubling thought, to say the least, and made Sophia feel like discussing something else. "I'm glad to hear you're doing well. If the Darkspawn should become an issue, I'd be glad to lend a hand." She'd almost prefer fighting darkspawn, or so she thought. Sophia had never crossed blades with one before, but fighting a foe that was so undeniably evil would be refreshing for a change. She'd fought far too many people in Kirkwall already, people who turned to wickedness as a last resort. It was tough to see how she was doing good for the city sometimes.

"My own work increases by the day. It's been difficult of late to get out of the Keep during the day, and while I can leave for the nights, I find it often has unfavorable results." She was currently sporting several sore bruises and healing wounds in various places on her torso and back, times in which she'd let her technique get sloppy due to weariness. Lowtown was more dangerous at night, and after long days in the Keep, she was not at her best. It wouldn't keep her from trying on the nights she felt up to it, though. This would all make her stronger in the end, she thought. For the time in which she most needed strength.

"It... wears on me, but I can't not put forth the effort, not if I'm to rule these people. It's a price I'm willing to pay."

Nostariel's facial expression reflected some measure of concern. That line of thinking, while incredibly noble and worthy, could easily become a trap that would do much more harm than good. "Be careful," she advised gently. "I know a little bit about what it's like to take on too many responsbilities, or to be in charge of people's welfare. It's admirable of you to sacrifice so much for them, but you and I are just people in the end. We have our limits, and overstepping them won't help anyone, if it weakens us when they need us most." She frowned pensively, but then her face brightened a tad.

"If it's physical malady that ails you, I can always help with that, though. I'm trained in more than combat medicine, you know." Long-term healing wasn't exactly her speciality, but she knew enough to treat old wounds like cuts, bruises, and breaks, which were probably more the issue than long-term illness or something of that kind. For the maladies of the heart, there was no cure, and whatever incident with her family troubled Sophia was something that she would have to find her own ways to overcome. Of course, as she herself had learned, allies and friends could help with that, but not in the obvious way.

"I haven't fought alone in quite some time," Sophia was glad to announce. "Lucien's usually able to help. He's... much better at defending himself than I am," she said, with a small smile. It was true; Sophia was much more comfortable picking apart someone else's guard than erecting her own. She wondered what exactly the Warden had been through to give her experience such as she spoke of, but perhaps now was not the right time to ask. Though she was not greatly her elder of the likes of the Grand Cleric, Sophia had decided she would treat her advice much more seriously than she had initially thought to. It was clear that she meant well, and that in itself was a rare enough thing these days.

"I might take you up on that offer of healing, though, if you don't mind. I've been relying on potions thus far, but my last time out I was unfortunate enough to re-injure my side. The potions... haven't been quite enough." At first, she'd thought to be wary of the use of magic, but if there was any worthy use of magic, it was healing. And the woman was a Warden, and therefore worthy of her trust. The rib she'd cracked fighting the dragon had not been quite the same since, healing potions included, and if magic could make that issue go away, she'd take it.

"Of course," Nostariel acquiesced with an easy smile. She hadn't even thought about Sophia's potential aversion to magic actually, and the possibility of such a reaction had only hit her after she'd made the offer. Fortunately, it looked like that particular potential awkwardness had been avoided, and she strove to sidestep another. "Maybe it would be better to go elsewhere, then? I am given to understand that magic is not the most welcomed thing in a Chantry, and I'd not like to cast here if possible." Standing, she straightened some of the loose fabric of her armor, the embedded ring links chiming faintly with the motion. "Perhaps I could see the Keep?"

"Of course," Sophia said, standing as well. "A Grey Warden is always welcome in the Keep."

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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"How dare you!" the guard captain shouted angrily as two of his own men seized him by the arms. "I am guard captain! I won't be treated like this!"

Jeven was an ugly man even on his best days, Sophia thought, and anger really did nothing to help that. His face was quite red, his beard coming in rather patchy, and a vein looked about to burst up the right side of his forehead. Honestly, she had to restrain herself from laughing. As the guard captain was dragged from his office, he caught sight of Sophia, his undoing, and his rage was only multiplied. "You meddling bitch, this was none of your affair! I'll see you hanged! Quartered! I don't care who your father is, this will not stand!" Well, that was a rather impressive threat. She looked forward to seeing him try. At this rate, criminal organizations were beginning to have to wait in line. She smiled back at Bran as he gave a rather cheery wave to her and Lucien beside her.

Sophia supposed it was disconcerting that the corruption had spread all the way to guard captain (again), but honestly, she couldn't find it in herself to feel trouble at the moment, not after the work she'd just done. A patrol saved, an ambush routed, evidence to implicate Jeven, and the Viscount's daughter had not a scratch on her to show for it. She was getting rather good at this. No doubt Rilien's enchantments had helped out on a number of occasions, as was Lucien, her immovable ally. She found it rather pleasing that her effectiveness on the field was increased drastically when fighting closely alongside others.

"Some time in the Gallows will do him good, I think," Sophia mused pleasantly, crossing her arms. Really, she doubted any amount of time in dungeons would truly change the man, but it couldn't hurt. The guard would have to find a new captain now, as well. She would have suggested a man with qualities such as Lucien's, but honestly, she expected the captain had to do as much paperwork as actual guard duty, and she really didn't know another man with qualities such as Lucien's. Surely the Maker would forgive her if she chose to hoard him for herself.

"Would you care for a drink?" she asked, turning to Lucien. "Solving crimes is rather tiring work. But... very invigorating as well. Strange, how hearing a man threaten to hang and quarter me can actually put me in a better mood."

"Well, if you haven't made enemies somewhere along the way, you haven't stood for anything, really," Lucien replied with a touch of sanguine humor. Tracking the man's departure with his single visible eye, he raised the accompanying brow at the offer, which was a little strange coming from Sophia, but inclined his head. "That seems appropriate. It's the kind of thing that warrants a little celebration, perhaps. Hanged Man, or...?" He allowed the question to trail off. He wasn't any more damaged than she was, and had no particular inclinations to make his way back to Lowtown yet, though naturally, any drinking establishment in Hightown would be unlikely to let him in. He was not nearly as famous as Sophia here, for his station or his deeds, and honestly, he preferred things that way. The trappings of such renown were not something he would ever seek for himself, though he would admit they had their uses.

Frankly, the less cause Varric Tethras had to talk about him, the better.

"Excellent," Sophia replied, before motioning for him to follow, "right this way." She strode her way out of the guard quarters, smiling and nodding politely to any guardsmen she passed. She wondered how many, if any of them, were in danger of being as Jeven was. With any luck, none. Under her watch, she'd have the city guard become an honorable and effective organization, fit to protect the entire city, not just the keep and town in which she lived.

Instead of heading for the double doors of the keep as Lucien might have expected Sophia instead turned up the stairs and towards her family's own quarters. The pair of guards posted gave her a quick nod, before sliding one door open enough for the pair of them to pass inside. Once through the doors, she wordlessly led the way towards her own rooms, making sure Lucien was still following her. She was only slightly afraid he would either refuse to follow her for some reason, or that her father would come by and come to exactly the wrong conclusion, so once she and Lucien had both passed through the door to her rooms and she had gently shut it, she went straight to the heart of the matter, walking swiftly to a nearby cabinet and retrieving a bottle of golden colored liquid.

"While I'm not in the habit of hoarding powerful alcoholic beverages in my own quarters, this particular one was a gift from our mutual dwarven friend. Golden Scythe 4:90 Black. Honestly, I don't rightly know what it is, but I think we should drink it! Some of it. Slowly." She realized she was acting slightly strange, but really, she didn't remember the last time she had been in this good a mood. So what if she was being a little giddy, didn't she deserve to have fun occasionally?

Lucien, still standing and looking perhaps a trifle more uncomfortable than usual, felt his mouth quirk at the none-too-subtle pun. He probably deserved that one. "I happen to know what that is, and 'slowly' should be the operative word if you wish to remember this tomorrow," he advised. Actually, given the infrequency of her imbibing, he might have cautioned against it altogether, but he didn't want to ruin her obvious good mood. He'd just have to make sure that things didn't go overboard too quickly, lest he find himself explaining to the Seneschal (or worse, the Viscount) why Sophia was quite intoxicated in the middle of the afternoon.

"Right," Sophia said, barreling onward. "There's a table over here..." she moved towards one of the walls and grabbed a small end table by the edges, grunting a little as she hefted it into a better spot. She thumped the bottle down on top of it. "And some chairs..." They were mismatched, but that was far from her mind at the moment. "And the glasses." The glasses were more like teacups, cute little things, but if it was as powerful as Lucien suggested, perhaps that was good.

"I'll let you do the pouring. I will be right back." And with that she slipped into a side room, shutting the door behind her. Shortly afterwards followed the sounds of mail and plate dropping unceremoniously to the ground, and a sword being hung up on the wall. She emerged perhaps a minute later wearing a simple sleeveless tunic of white linen, probably what she had been wearing under her mail, along with a pair of belted breeches and much softer-looking boots. She quite suddenly stopped and seemed to realize herself. "I'm sorry, I'm acting... very strange. I didn't mean to drag you in here like this, I just..." She turned a little red and awkwardly pushed some golden hairs away from her face. "Ugh. Now I need a drink."

Well, this certainly counted as the single oddest visit he'd ever paid to a lady's rooms, and that included the time he'd found himself in the Lady Fleche's by complete accident. He still wasn't sure what use one woman had for so many pairs of shoes, but then, perhaps he wasn't meant to know. Somewhere, his etiquette instructor, stifling old woman that she was, turned over in her grave. Repeatedly. And was probably shouting at him from beyond it, he thought, flinching when he heard metal hit stone. Was she...? Yes, yes she was. Oh.

Trying not to think about all the potentially horrible rumors that could start in such a fashion, Lucien decided to at least make himself useful and uncork the Scythe. A faint pop, and the air was permeated with the sharp smell of a very strong liquor. He could only imagine the thoughts running through Varric's head when he decided it would be a good idea to gift this to Sophia of all people. Likely, there had been a lot of laughter involved, presumably at somebody's expense. Shaking his head, he started off with a little less than two inches of the stuff in each vessel. Restoppering the deceptively-elegant glass bottle, he set it back down on the table, in enough time to turn around as the door opened again. It took perhaps two more seconds for the situation to get even more irregular, and he was torn between agreeing with the sentiment and trying to make things a bit less... strange.

Given who he was and his concern for her constitution if she tried to down the glass in one go, as usually accompanied such statements, he went for the latter, holding up a hand in the universal gesture for a slight pause. Clearing his throat softly, he went for somewhat-humorous honesty. "I assure you that you would have had to work much harder to drag me anywhere, my friend. Admittedly, I would perhaps be wise to fear for the state of my citizenship application should certain parties become aware of my presence here, but then I assume I would be granted at least the good word of a prominent noblewoman were such a situation to arise." He lowered the hand, only just refraining from using it to gesture to one of the chairs. One did not invite someone to sit in their own home, even if he thought she could use the stillness. Still, he did pull it out, because some habits were impossible to kill.

Making a clear effort to slow herself down, Sophia slid into the chair opposite of Lucien, taking her cup carefully into her hands and lifting it to her mouth. Rather than risk smelling it for long, she simply took a small sip and set the cup down. Almost immediately her face contorted rather comically, and she sputtered for a moment. Her eyes had almost immediately began to water. "That was... I don't even know..." One thing it did do was make her feel rather warm all of a sudden. Perhaps a single small cup of this would be more than enough.

Lucien bit back a chuckle, reaching into a pocket and tugging free a clean handkerchief, which he figured would be of assistance with the eye-watering, and handing it over. "I think 'awful' may be the word you're looking for. Or perhaps 'horrendous.' I do believe Elissa referred to it as 'putrid' at the coronation, but I think it may be more caustic than rotten, myself." He took a sip of his own, feeling the stuff burn all the way down. It was perhaps fortunate that his father favored alcohol in this vein-- he'd learned his rather unfortunate lessons about such liquids after a misadventure in a locked cabinet that a friend of his had made rather short work of.

It took Sophia a moment while she was dabbing her eyes to connect the words 'Elissa' and 'coronation', but when she did, her hands fell to her lap and she blinked at Lucien a few times, dumbfounded. "You've met Elissa Cousland? The Warden Queen? You were at the coronation?" Rather than give the man any time to explain, she simply launched into a series of questions she had always wanted to ask. "What was she like? Did you speak with her? I've always wanted to talk with her. The others were there, too, weren't they? All of her companions? Did you speak to any of them?"

Lucien held his tongue until it seemed that the questions had paused for a moment, half-smiling patiently. It was perhaps understandable for someone to be a bit starstruck by Elissa-- she was that kind of person, to say nothing of the incomparable litany of her deeds. "I've known her for quite a bit of our lives," he said at last. "I'm sure you know how it goes-- the families are allies, and from time to time, the official visits are more friendly than businesslike, and the relations and children get involved." He shrugged, then fell pensively silent, trying to decide which words he wanted. "She's... spirited. Always has been. The maturity was a bit late in coming, if I may say so, but then I certainly understand that. Resolved. Courageous, of course, but judicious. Quite willing to rely on her friends when she needs to."

He had met one or two of the companions, but given the rush of events leading up to the coronation, he couldn't really offer opinions on anyone besides Alistair, and the man was king, so perhaps he ought not.

Sophia had been about to explode in disbelief again when Lucien said he'd known her for much of his life, but instead fell into silence once he continued, paying a rather extreme amount of attention, hanging on his words. Once he was finished she leaned back in her chair. "She... sounds incredible. Ferelden's lucky to have her... as is King Alistair, I imagine." She smiled a bit at the thought. Her story was almost too incredible to believe, and yet none doubted it. Some of the smaller details, maybe, but not her accomplishments as a whole.

"She's been a bit of an inspiration to me, you see. Going from an unmarried noblewoman, dreaming of something larger than that, and ending up becoming the first Grey Warden to kill an Archdemon and live. And then immediately afterwards she becomes Queen of Ferelden by getting to marry the love of her life? I'd think it was strange if a girl didn't want to be just a little bit like her." She wasn't envious of Elissa Cousland's life, as she'd certainly had to endure a great deal of hardship, but the fact that she was able to achieve so much amidst such turmoil and chaos, personal and otherwise, was inspiring.

"I'd like to think if I can be even a quarter as worthy as she, I can keep this city from falling apart, keep my family from falling apart. Next to the problem of uniting a fractured nation against a Blight, my troubles seem suddenly much more bearable." She touched Lucien's hand briefly. "Especially when I have the right people with me." Sophia decided another sip was in order. It didn't go down much easier than the last, but at least she was ready for it this time.

"Sounds like you might need to work on finding some new people," Lucien replied with half a smile. Other than that, though, he took the implied compliment without comment, glancing into his cup before taking another swallow, this one a tad larger than the last. "Though..." he paused, grimacing just faintly at the afterburn or his thoughts, it was hard to tell. "It's not really a matter of worthiness, I think. I do not doubt that Elissa is an extraordinary person, and Ferelden would have been hard-pressed to pick a better woman for the job. Her qualities are quite suited to the tasks she has undertaken, and this coupled with her resolve to see them through produced the results we can all appreciate. It is well that she was there, but she is still a human being-- accomplishments of the like are not beyond the reach of others with the right hearts and the needed circumstances. Certainly not beyond your reach, with time." The assessment was delivered straightforwardly, with no hint of flattery.

Of course, one had to hope that the circumstances needed to make a hero like that would not appear in Kirkwall, but Lucien, despite all evidence to the contrary, was not a foolish man. Chances were good that they would need many such folk before the decade was done.

The sound of a clearing throat was perhaps the only indication he gave that he was slightly less than perfectly-poised at the moment, and he finally allowed himself to actually examine the room he was in. He was used to such places being decorated with numerous house crests and pieces of art with old ancestors and great historical scenes, but there was something of that missing here. He found it a bit curious; perhaps such items were simply not to Sophia's taste. Still, he thought it might not be too intrusive of him to ask, considering. "Well, you know something of my family," he began ruefully-- it was not, after all, the most pleasant knowledge to part with-- "Would you be averse to telling me of yours?"

Someday, Sophia would tell him how frustrated she was by his impenetrable humility and courtesy, but it would not be today. Perhaps she hadn't had enough to drink yet. With that in mind, she took another sip, feeling the burn of the liquid run through her innards. Her family wasn't her favorite subject in the world, since it always brought constant reminders of her duty, and the fact that being in the Viscount's family, as the eldest child no less, made it so difficult to find real friends. There were so few people who would meet her and learn who and what she was, and then want nothing from her. But Lucien was very right; he had opened up to her about his own family, something she believed was rather difficult for him. Of course she would do the same.

"Well, if you know some of Kirkwall's more recent history, you'll know I haven't always been the daughter of the Viscount. I was eleven when my father was appointed. He was... different, back then. I think he had hoped to remarry for a time, but no one captured his heart like my mother did." This was of course the difficult part. Her mother's death in childbirth was the root of all the strife within her family today. It would never be an easy subject to speak of.

"I remember very little of my mother. I'm told I've grown to look just like her. If you'll believe it, my mother wasn't a noblewoman. She actually shared leadership of a mercenary group out of Starkhaven, though money was not their primary focus, as I hear it told. She fought for those that could not fight for themselves. Eventually she traveled to Kirkwall, and met my father. I don't know many of the details... he speaks of her only rarely now."

Notably, she left out Saemus, as well as the man who had shared leadership with Vesenia until arriving in Kirkwall. While Saemus was merely being troublesome and willful at the moment, Dairren Quinn was another matter, one that she didn't fully understand herself. She never had, and that was why it had bothered her so deeply. A simple answer to the question of why would go a long way towards giving her peace of mind.

"Oh, I can believe that quite readily," he replied. He did not presume she had gotten her martial sensibilities from her father, as to his knowledge the Viscount was more diplomat than warrior. Of course, such things weren't really inherited, but the presence of someone with such a talent in one's early life did tend to put things in a certain perspective. "A shame, that stories of her life are not common. It can be quite cathartic, to share memories in such a way. I've always found it a comfort to know that for all she is gone, my mother will not be forgotten, and more than that can be remembered with happiness." He paused. "But I presume too much. People are complex, and there's no one way to handle loss, I suppose."

"And I'm afraid my father's way is not the healthiest," Sophia said sadly. Perhaps she would speak to him about it sometime, though she feared too much talk of the past would only serve to further depress her father. It was a risk Sophia wasn't sure she was willing to take.

"I should let you go," she said, once the last of her cup was drained. "I believe I've kidnapped you for long enough. Thank you for... well, for putting up with me." She smiled despite her minor embarrassment, certain that she was about to hit yet another wall of humility.

She was not wrong. "Your company is never an imposition, Sophia, and you are most welcome to mine, if you find value in it," he replied simply, draining the rest of his cup in one go and setting it down gently on the table. Rising, he bowed shallowly and turned to take his leave.

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion
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"My lady," Bran said pleadingly, "I know it is your way to take struggles like this upon your shoulders, but the city guard can handle this. It just isn't wise to risk yourself like this, not when the guard is capable of solving this issue without you putting your life in danger."

Sophia smiled slightly as she knelt down to lace up her boots. "Unwise? I don't believe there ever was a wiser choice than this." 1t0mIfpVc

"I agree, it is most noble of you to make these sacrifices on behalf of the city guard, but I must repeat myself: the risk is not worth the reward."

"And there we'll have to disagree," she responded, sliding Vesenia over her shoulder and buckling the sheath across her chest. She gave Bran a knowing look. "Really, Bran, how many times have we had this conversation? You know how it ends, don't you?" She slipped her hands into her leather gauntlets and, now fully geared, crossed her arms and gave Bran a half-smile.

"I do," he admitted. "I warn you of the dangers, you ignore them, and then you return to us bleeding." She laughed at that, even if she knew it to be the truth. "Maybe so, but a leader that does not bleed with her people is no leader at all, is she?" Bran sighed, lowering his voice now. "It's a good thing the leader doesn't bleed in equal measure as the people. I'm afraid you wouldn't have any left."

"Sadly true. Which is why I have to go."

"You're impossible, you know that?"

"It serves me well. I'll see you soon, Bran." She strode confidently from her quarters, a pair of guardsmen joining her. It was true, she had to admit, this was probably something she needn't involve herself in, but when the Viscount's daughter overheard trouble from a guardsmen, especially when she'd been itching to get out of the Keep for about a week now, it was too difficult for her to resist. And so here she was, about to ride out to the Wounded Coast and investigate why a patrol of guards hadn't returned from their route today.

She stopped when she saw Sparrow standing in the entrance to the Keep. She'd almost forgotten that she'd summoned the half-elf to deliver her update on the whereabouts of those men she was looking for. As much as she wanted to drop everything and help the woman (Sophia was also still getting used to that), she had already committed herself to this, and couldn't stop now, especially since time was of the essence.

"Sparrow!" she called. "You'll have to forgive me, some trouble's come up on the Wounded Coast and I've decided to see to the situation myself. We'll have to arrange another meeting time. Is that alright?"

Sparrow tip-tapped her feet against the cobblestones, creating a significantly more annoying tune whenever the guards shot glares in her direction. She only shrugged her shoulders, levelling her own lidded gaze, partly because it seemed to cause them some sort of personal affront – were all guardsmen so testy? Or did her presence somehow threaten them? Patience had never been a virtue of hers. Beams of sunlight kissed their shiny pauldrons, reflected from their breastplates like old lighthouse beacons leading other grumpy-faced back into port, and she'd actually left her sturdy set of armour back in Rilien's homestead (because homestead sounded so much better than hovel). Instead, she'd opted for a slender-fitting set of leathers, coalesced with shiny, freshly-washed vestments that might have belonged to a freebooter. Slightly better than running around in noble's wear, but not by much.

Her mace still swung neatly at her hip, looking awfully large without her bulky plate mail. Had it been anyone else, they might have arrested her for looking far too peculiar. Thankfully, they were awfully familiar with her by now. She yawned theatrically, stretching her arms above her head. In the midst of her stretch, Sparrow spotted Sophia approaching from the top of the stairwell, and deftly dropped her hands, rubbing absently at the corners of her eyes. “Sophia,” She greeted merrily, nearly bounding up the remaining stairs to meet her. Her mouth opened to say more, but was promptly shut when her well-to-do companion announced that she had other matters to attend to. It made sense, after all. A quick glimpse was all it took to see that she was geared to leave the city – or else, did she always don her armour? Disappointment weighed briefly in her stomach, anchoring her in place.

“Ah!” Sparrow suddenly chirped, nodding her head sagely. She was familiar enough with the Wounded Coast, having met with Amalia there on occasion and wandering there when she had to clear her head and her heart. “Why don't I accompany you, then? Four hands are always better than two.”

Sophia's first instinct was to refuse, considering that the task she'd taken upon herself was likely dangerous, and she wouldn't want to bring that danger upon someone who didn't understand what they were getting into. But after a moment of thought, she figured Sparrow knew exactly what she was signing up for by offering to help. Sophia was as armed and armored as she'd ever been, she had a pair of city guards flanking her, and was moving with a sense of urgency that implied impending danger. Sophia noted the mace hanging at Sparrow's hip.

"In that case, we can talk about it on the way," she said happily, continuing on down the stairs to the bottom and signaling for Sparrow to follow her. Really, she imagined even Bran would approve of this. While Sophia would have liked to believe she could place utter faith in the guard, her past experience told her otherwise. Friends outside the sphere of traditional authority had to be more reliable, and Sophia found that she had not enough in this regard. She felt that Sparrow could possibly fill that area, based on what she knew of her personality so far. She seemed bold, and while she didn't strike her as someone who had the utmost respect for authority, Sophia thought she could sense a good heart in her. If she was freely offering her services like this, it only added to that belief.

"A patrol didn't report back on time. Normally I'd let the guard handle it, but their route of the Wounded Coast has been hit by bandits pretty regularly, enough for me to think there's some kind of organization to it. We're going to put a stop to it, whatever it is." They pushed their way through the front doors and off to the side, towards the stables, where horses were already brought out and waiting. Sophia whistled loudly, gesturing to one of the stablehands. "One more for my friend here, please!" She then turned to the half-elf.

"Do you ride, Sparrow?"

Sparrow waited, eyebrows flagged expectantly. Had she been refused, she would have simply offered her services once more, perhaps a little more adamantly, until Sophia finally caved in. She could be persuasive if she wanted to, or just insufferably irritating – both of which usually worked to swaying someone to her way of thinking. Who wouldn't accept another willing hand, a steady sword, or specifically a heavy-handed mace that could crush skulls and ribs alike? Not many, she thought. When Sophia inclined her head, Sparrow threw her a lopsided grin and mock-saluted the guards flanking their dear lady. Thinking better of it, the half-elf dropped her waggling fingers and joined Sophia at her side. Usually, guardsmen were busy chasing her fading trail down dark alleyways for causing trouble, and now she'd be fighting alongside them, however temporarily.

“That's great!” She approved, tromping down the stairs two at a time. Two birds, one stone. Though, she might have offered her services even if she hadn't had business with Sophia. Sticking her nose in other peoples business, when she was around to be nosey, was commonplace, and as Rilien usually said, would get her in more trouble than she warranted – but Sophia was a beautiful lady who she hadn't yet seen swing a sword, who could walk away? She could wear all the world's emotions on her face and still not mean any of them, but this time, her smile was genuine, clearly appreciative. She could not profess to know Sophia as well as she did her other companions, but anyone who was willing to help her, without much to go on, couldn't be ill-intentioned. Sophia was, in truest form, a knight. Perhaps, a little like Lucien.

She nodded. The Wounded Coast was renown for its dangers. If there weren't bandits plaguing the roads, then there were rogue Qunari – those who'd willingly left the Qun's teachings, otherwise known as Tal-Vashoth, creeping in the underbrush. Their motivations, even still, were unknown beyond escaping their chosen vocations in their strict society. She'd questioned on more than one occasion whether or not she fit in that category. Had she not done the same thing? She'd just chosen not to do away with her life as a mercenary, hiding in the mountains like a snake. Unorganized, pathless. Sparrow pitied them. She'd found her own path through her many travels, paving a road she couldn't have ever thought possible. But, perhaps, it had been because she was not truly Qunari, nor elven, nor human. “That is worrisome,” She added, rolling her eyes skywards. Organized bandits in groups capable of taking on skilled, experienced warriors? There were few capable of such a feat. Could they be...

A horse? Sparrow's ears twitched, lowering restlessly. The whistle caught her off-guard, but what had surprised her most was when the stablehand trotted back from the stables, guiding a large beast in his wake. Horses were treacherous creatures, always snorting and pawing at the ground. Probably whispering to each other in horse-language, plotting to toss you off like a sack of potatoes, straight off a cliff. “Oh, uh...” she began, idling slightly away from the horse, who'd pushed its muzzle towards her face, “Riding. I've never really, honestly. Uh, but it can't be that hard, can it?” Fingers, unusually unsure, snatched up the reigns, dropped them and moved towards the saddle. The horn on the saddle looked useless to her, but the dangling-metal contraptions hanging on the bottom looked promising. She paused momentarily, and regarded the other guards, and Sophia, as well. Perhaps, it might be easier watching someone else mount, and she could (attempt to) follow suit.

Sophia's own horse, a white destrier equally as beautiful as he was powerful, was trotted out to meet her. He had been a birthday gift for her upon her twentieth birthday, and was certainly one of her truest friends. She stroked his silvery mane affectionately once before lifting her right boot up into the stirrup, taking a grip on the pommel and rising, swinging her right leg over and settling easily into the saddle. She turned him around to face Sparrow, smiling gently at her hesitation.

"Aiden can hold two, if you're uncomfortable. I don't mind," she said, removing her foot from the stirrup and offering Sparrow a hand if she wished to climb up. Instantly learning to ride a horse was no easy task, and they wouldn't be traveling slowly, that much was certain.

After fiddling with the reigns and the metal-contraptions for a moment, and even attempting to swing her leg the wrong way onto the horses saddle, only hopping along with the bemused creature, Sparrow halted her clumsy attempts. It would do her no good if they started galloping and she was left hanging from the stirrups, banging her head on the ground. She certainly wouldn't know how to stop the horse if it misbehaved. She gave the horse an uneasy pat on the muzzle, handed the reigns off to one of the burly, smarmy-mouthed guards and turned on her heels.

Surely, Sophia wouldn't think ill of her not knowing how to ride. She'd only been around the deer-like variety as a child, and the Qunari had no need for valiant steeds. Too proud to let another creature bear it's burdens. Sparrow circled around Sophia's horse (who seemed a little more experienced) and snatched up the proffered hand, and with a little difficulty, managed to swing behind her. For once, she wasn't exactly sure where to rest her hands, so she settled them onto her knees and laughed. “Thank you. Hrm. Perhaps, you can give me riding lessons one day. I can't remain useless on horses.”

Setting

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion
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Sophia led the small company out to the Wounded Coast at a gallop, her golden, braided hair gently bobbing behind her. The day was clear and calm, at least, the conditions good enough that a conversation with the woman accompanying her wouldn't be too difficult to have. It was a relatively straight road, so it wasn't as though she needed to put much effort into the riding until they reached the coast.

"I've had the guard looking over the refugee records, as you requested," Sophia informed her. "We had no luck finding either Arcadius Kassim or Silian Raunthil, I'm afraid. It's likely that if they came to Kirkwall, they used false names. However, you said one of them looks similar to Lucien. I suggested the guards keep an eye out for any man with that description, apart from the one residing in Lowtown, of course."

She slowed Aidan to a trot as they rounded a bend, before picking up speed again. The ground beneath the destrier's hooves was slowly shifting from dirt to sand. "Nothing turned up for a while, but recently they've reported sightings of a man with a similar appearance entering the northern edge of the woods outside Kirkwall." It was frustrating that the guard wasn't really in a position to do anything about it, but with Sparrow's help, Sophia could probably change that herself.

"The guard has been spread too thin combating the Coterie and keeping order in the city itself to be able to organize a force for clearing bandits out of the woods, but we've suspected they've had hideouts there for some time now. This only confirms that. If you want to head out that way and search for them sometime, I'd be happy to assist. If they're as dangerous as you say, I'm sure four hands would be better than two." She smiled lightly back at the half-elf.

The Wounded Coast was beautiful as ever. It seemed to be the only place untouched by progress, unwaveringly wild against everything that surrounded it and equally bountiful by feral-men who wished to absorb all of its ruthless, slack-shouldered freedoms. Whoever shirked their civilized lives in Kirkwall usually wound up somewhere on the beaches or in the darkest parts of the mountains. Living alongside whatever other creatures that called this place their home must of had its own allure, and one that she herself had felt – a siren's pull that captivated, enthralled and enticed. Few could deny it.

The ride itself was a lot quicker than Sparrow thought it would be, racing recklessly down dusty pathways and thorny underbrush. In the beginning of the journey, she'd attempted to somehow steady herself on the horse's rump, but to no avail, ended up wrapping her arms around Sophia's midsection. More out of fear that she'd tumble off and be trampled by all of the other trailing riders than anything else. She was grateful that she hadn't had to suffer the jarring ride by her lonesome. She nodded appreciatively, straining her ears. The clopping of hooves was louder than she'd ever imagined. Even still, Sparrow made a sound of surprise and replied, “Lucien lives in Lowtown? I hadn't, I wouldn't have thought. But, you're right. They'd be stupid to keep their own names.”

Didn't this render her search fruitless, unless one of her guards managed to bump into one of them? They were a dangerous lot doing who knows what in Kirkwall. Once a criminal, always a criminal. She didn't doubt for a second that they'd simply decided to live a quiet, peaceful life. They were her monstrous bogeyman, and they'd most likely strike again. Even if she was wrong and they'd suddenly taken the Chantry's robes to atone for what they'd done, she needed her own justifications to continue hunting them down. To terminate everything they'd done to her. Sparrow's eyes trailed the changing terrain. She listened intently, leaning forward when she needed to and retracting a few inches away when she felt she wouldn't slip off Sophia's spirited destrier.

“Apologies if I've been taking advantage of any men you need. Maker knows it's been hectic in Kirkwall.” Maker knows. Sparrow still wasn't sure why she ever used the name. She wasn't a follower of the Chantry, and hardly believed in any other religious entity. Far too young to take what her parents believed into consideration and far too stubborn to believed in anything other than shackless, unburdened wrists, she'd realized sooner rather than later that she was better off not getting her hopes up in anything. Sophia's uncomplicated offer to aid her in her task took her off-guard, but she laughed, tipping her head to the side like a colourful bird.

“Only a fool would refuse.”

"It's their job to track down dangerous criminals that threaten the city. Even if you want to bring them to justice for something they did to you personally, it would still be a boon to the city to remove the threat they pose." She slowed the party to a canter as they entered slightly narrower terrain. She turned back to one of the guardsmen. "This was our missing patrol's route, yes?"

Somehow, Sparrow was pleased that Sophia hadn't thought her objective as a petty, selfish vendetta. Too often she'd thought the same, wondering why she hadn't been able to forget it and move forward with her life. The Qun had taught her that holding old grudges was like dipping your hand into scalding water, indefinitely. It was an effortless choice, and one that they repeatedly managed to make. Her weaknesses were far greater than anything she'd been taught as a fledgeling. She'd been holding her hand in those particular waters for as long as she could remember.

"Yes, m'lady," one of them replied, his voice slightly muffled by the full face helmet. "The route leads off the left at the next crossroads." Sophia nodded. "Very well, let's find them then." She'd been curious about Sparrow's mention of the Maker, actually. Some elves had adopted the Chantry, certainly, but not a majority of them by any means. She wondered if her companion was merely using his name out of habit, and many often did, herself included. It was not always an indication of faith, but certainly Sophia would have welcomed it if Sparrow was Andrastian.

"And yes, Lucien lives in Lowtown. I believe he's able to do much more for the benefit of the people from there. It's a rather small place, but of course Lucien is nothing if not mod--" She was cut off when Aidan suddely reared up on his hind legs, startled. A ball of fire had flown in their direction, smashing against the rocks in front of them, just missing. Only through her trained control over her mount was Sophia able to bring him back down, and still it had been a challenge.

Modest-man, old chevalier, friend of Rilien and justice-bringer of Lowtown. All of those titles certainly fit Lucien. She did not presume to know him very well, but she'd asked Rilien enough questions to know men like him. They were the likes of guardians, valiantly saving the day, slaying dragons and sweeping damsels off their feet without wanting anything in return. Did men like that even exist? It was hard to believe. He still looked like someone she vehemently hated. Someone she had nightmares about. Lucien did not deserve her wariness, nor her obvious avoidance. It was all she could offer until she buried her attackers. Perhaps, then, she'd explain why she acted so strange around him. She opened her mouth to reply, but was interrupted when Aidan suddenly reared, driving a strangled yelp from her lips and forcing her to tighten her grip around Sophia.

"On foot!" Sophia commanded. "Find cover." She pulled her foot from the stirrup and swung it over Aidan's neck, a slightly awkward dismount, but she had to account for the possibility that Sparrow was still right behind her. She dropped down into the sand before giving Aidan a swift rap on his hind quarters, telling him to get to a clear distance. He led the other horses back up the way they'd come, out of the reach of danger.

The ball of fire exploded into a shower of sparks, hardly a couple of feet in front of them. Sparrow whipped around, trying to detect where it'd come from without slipping off Aiden's rump. Thankfully, Sophia managed to calm him down. She, too, dismounted as gracefully as she could. Once her feet touched the ground, Sparrow took a few staggering steps backwards, watching as the horse bolted to safety. Everyone, it seemed, had already dismounted, searching for their assailants. It was an ambush. Perhaps, to be expected. Arrows hissed overhead, slamming into the sand and sailing over her shoulders. Unfortunately, she'd decided not to wear her armour, riddled with its own set of enchantments. The only means of defence she had was to desperately pivot her body out of harms way, open palm conjuring brief spurts of arcane-energy to know the away.

Arrows began to tear through the air around them, one of which seeming to hit Sophia in the arm before being turned aside by Rilien's armor enchantment, the shot merely glancing instead. She drew her sword from her back and moved forward, staying low and pushing down to the low ground, where a group of guardsmen were taking cover behind a line of rocks high enough to defend them. Just as she arrived, one of them lifted his head high enough to get a view of their enemy, only to take an arrow through the visor for his trouble. Looking around, a few more had fallen to the arrows or the mage, but there were still five of them left, enough to make a fighting force now that Sophia had brought some help.

"It's Harley, isn't it?" Sophia asked of the one with the Lieutenant's gear. Her eyes widened in shock at seeing the backup. "Lady Sophia? The Maker himself must have sent you. This is a disaster here. My first 'routine' assignment."

"I wanted to lead the party personally when I heard a patrol had gone missing," Sophia said, "I'm glad we got here in time to be of use." She shook her head in frustration. "Bollocks... Bedden must not have made it back. But, you came anyway. Can't look back now. We're up against Evets Marauders."

It would do Sophia no good if she took an arrow just now. Being slain by wretched bandits in the Wounded Coast would be a pitiful end. Especially if she hadn't really accomplished anything yet. Watching Sophia hunker down, sword clasped in hand, Sparrow couldn't help think that she was a warrior worth following. Certainly, a leader worth looking up to. Precious few had the ability to command, lead, and inspire. She crouched lower, sidling to Sophia's right. The guardsmen looked a little worse for wear, like they'd been stuck behind the outcrop for awhile. Her mace had already found its way into her calloused fingers, curled tightly – a familiar companion, always ready for bloodletting. She did not know who Evets Marauders were, but still bobbed her head, listening.

There was a name Sophia recognized. "Are you certain?" She nodded. "Fell Orden's up there. And Viktor Longdeath's handiwork you've already seen. We tried two sorties up the path, but it's trapped to oblivion. Now I'd be thankful just to get out of here alive." A call came from up on the ridge behind them, the mage Fell Orden lobbing a taunt down at them. "No fair, guard dog. You've brought friends."

"Shut your mouth!" Harley shouted back. Sophia turned to Sparrow to better explain what they were up against. "This group's been robbing and raping for Maker knows how long now, based out of the forests. Fell Orden's the mage, but Viktor Longdeath is a deadeye shot with that longbow. One of them even took to calling herself Little Sophie. Think I made an impression on them."

“Cocky bastard,” She whispered, very nearly peeking over the large rock like the unfortunate guardsmen had. Several arrows spat down, clattering and shattering against their craggy shield. Suddenly, throttling that arrogant mage seemed like a good idea – and thankfully, there was only one to be seen. Robbing and raping. A muscle jumped in her jaw, which was now clenched. Molars grinding against adjacent molars. Then, they were exactly like them. People that were more or less like slime, puddles of mud, writhing worm-sacks. They deserved no mercy. “Disgusting. We have to make sure this is the last of all that,” Sparrow rasped, eyeing her steadily. The look disintegrated. “You should have told them that you prefer Sophia.”

Harley banged her sword against her shield to get the blood pumping, ready for a fight. "With you here now, I think we can take them. I'm with you... but the men might be too rattled to join us. We've been trapped here for hours." Sophia looked to them, and though she couldn't see their faces behind their helmets, their body language spoke volumes. They thought they were going to die here. She wondered how many of them had gone up against a mage before. She herself hadn't either, but after fighting a dragon, a little fireball didn't seem so ominous. Perhaps she could still give them some hope.

"Listen to me," she said, at the very least getting their attention. They certainly weren't going to ignore the daughter of the Viscount. "Our enemies today are just men, made of flesh and blood, just like us. Men that would take advantage of your fear to pick you off one by one. But together, we can make them know fear, when they see us move as one to storm their position, with courage in our hearts and fire in our eyes. They will be powerless to stop us when their one weapon, fear, is taken away from them. Show them what strength the noble men and women of Kirkwall still have in them. On me!"

"You'll make a brilliant leader someday, my lady," Harley said, smiling despite the situation. "Let's go wipe these bastards out!" They rose as one with shields up and swords drawn, charging out to attack the marauders' position.

This warrior-woman would lead Kirkwall places, she was sure. Harley had said it well enough. Sparrow only grinned, surveying the visored-faces once more. They seemed rejuvenated by the speech. The heavy blanket of impending death had been ripped off and replaced with hope. Sparrow, too, rose alongside the guardsmen, brandishing her mace. Never had she feared death. It rode beside her like a shadow, promising the end of all things. If she died here, or anywhere else, then so be it. Perhaps that, most of all, had been ingrained into her. So it shall be, meravas. With the flush of battle creasing across her cheeks, it's easier to tell that her eyes were encircled with dark, tired coils. Something else seemed off. Her eyes shun brilliantly, several shades lighter than they usually were – she was Sparrow, but she was not. She was Rapture, but she was not. Sometimes, as of recent, they seemed to bleed together in times of duress.

Sparrow was already lurching down one of the pathways with a couple guardsmen, crying out something indecipherable. Her free hand flicked down to her waist, procuring a thin little knife between her fingertips and snapping it forward, like Rilien had shown her, into one of the traps, successfully clamping it shut like the jaws of a great metal-beast. She continued waving her hands in front of her, deflecting arrows in sweeps of brilliant blue while she barrelled forward. For years, she'd trained herself using maces and learned how to deal with things without magic. It was painful for her to learn. Magic was everything – she breathed it, it soared from her like caged birds being released. In battle, Sparrow was reckless. She did not think of who was in her company, nor did it occur to her what Sophia might think. They were friends, were they not? Friends accepted. Friends understood. Finally, Sparrow's mace drew backwards, slamming into the shoulder of a man knocking an arrow.

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Sparrow Kilaion
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Being the clearly visible leader she wanted to be, Sophia went first up the central path, feeling Sparrow branch off to her right, and Harley take the left, each of them supported by a few guardsmen. The bandits were thicker in the middle, several of them meeting her almost immediately as she entered. She met the first as he came, driving his longsword away from her throat and whipping Vesenia around and down, slicing into the back of his legs, throwing her knee guard up to catch him in the jaw as he fell to his knees. She felt the jawbone crack under the force, and he sprawled onto his back.

Her guardsmen rushed ahead to intercept the others before they could swarm her, tying them up effectively enough for Sophia to push on, but not before she was met with another fireball, this one better aimed. She dove to the side, covering her head, as it exploded where her feet had been moments ago, chunks of smoking rock raining down around her. She turned back over to see the young female bandit she'd heard about almost gleefully charging to attack her. Sophia blocked Sophie's strike into the sand from where she lay on the ground, before putting the sole of her boot into her attacker's gut, knocking her back a few paces and giving Sophia time to get back to her feet. She hoped Sparrow would be quick to get around the flank and handle that mage; he'd likely account for her movement much better the second time around.

The hapless bandit who'd been trying to knock his arrow collapsed in a heap, screeching like an injured dog. His shoulder had been crunched into his collarbone, jutting out in awkward angles. Sparrow hadn't held back at all, utilizing her fierce momentum to throw herself into another enemy, shoulder first. She felt the weight of the dagger in her hand, calloused grip tightening around the warm metal, dropped subtly from her sleeve. Effectively driving him backwards, Sparrow suddenly whipped to his right, dipping low to avoid having her own guts spilled over her shiny new boots. The blade pivoted in her palm, twisted up and under the man's boiled leathers and sunk into his belly. She'd already moved on before his innards slapped down his legs, before he'd even slumped down.

Occasionally, Sparrow glanced up the middle section where Sophia had charged, quickly gauging the distance between them. It would be more effective if she kept pace with her. Her mace swung once more, two-handed, and blood spattered the sands in thick rivulets, as if she were painting a Wounded canvas. She imagined the bandit's face crumbling. Bones shattering like old, fragile tea cups. Her fingers twitched, muscles contracting. Electrical itches rippled down her forearms, her elbows, her hands. She was there, scrabbling just beneath the surface, and screaming to be heard. Another bandit scrambled over the rocks, propelling himself off and sweeping his sword overhead in a downward swing. Her breath hitched, nostrils flaring. Sparrow managed to compose herself in time to bring her mace to her front, and they collided, meeting face-to-face. The clang of metal echoed in her ears, along with the grating of the sword nipping closer.

It will be fine, she lied to herself, while Rapture hissed and spat and threw her head back to laugh at such weak, pathetic words. Who would they comfort? For she was growing closer, almost close enough to through herself from the edge of their Fadespace. Her breathing calms, and her head feels dull and heavy, arms leaden. She sucked in a deep breath and shoved harder, hands summoning a much larger burst of energy. It crackled in the air, brightened considerably and ignited the man's vulnerable face. The smell of sizzling flesh and burnt hair assailed her nose. He clawing at his face, shlepping thick patches off. As she sidestepped around him, hurriedly avoiding his maddening screams and raking fingers, Sparrow moved ahead. Hadn't been for her momentary lapse, she might have been able to avoid a stray arrow, sailing through the air like a wingless, much more dangerous hawk. It sunk into her shoulder, sending her to the ground.

Whatever Little Sophie's intent was on building her bandit career by making fun of the name of the Viscount's daughter, she would never find out, as Sophia quickly overwhelmed her with fast and heavy strikes, swiftly removing her sword from her hands before plunging her bastard sword into the bandit woman's midsection. Looking up, she quite certainly saw her half elf friend using unconventional means of defense against arrow attacks, and the revelation that the woman who'd ridden on her horse to the Wounded Coast was a mage of all things was enough to give her pause, quite nearly knocking the breath out of her.

Her breath was quite literally knocked out of her when one of Viktor Longdeath's arrows hit her squarely in the stomach, sending her back a few paces and huffing for breath. A bandit attacked her from behind, having slipped by one of the other guards, but she turned and slipped Vesenia up under his axe, before throwing a kick to the man's groin, and plunging her sword cleanly through the lightly armored back, dropping him. Turning back again, she pushed forward, staying low, intent on not letting that murderer hit her again. The newly arisen issue of the fact that they had an apostate on their side would have to wait. Staying alive would take enough focus for now.

She reached their rear ranks just as Harley broke through from the left, engaging some of Viktor's own goons. Longdeath himself drew back and fired once more at Sophia, but a timely sidestep combined with the kicking in of the armor enchantment helped the arrow skim harmlessly off the edge of her breastplate. The bandit archer managed to pull a knife by the time Sophia reached him, but he was renowned for his arrow work, not his fist fighting. He'd be wishing he'd put the arrow through her skull soon enough.

Sophia caught his arm as he lunged for her throat, twisting it aside painfully to the left, while she plunged Vesenia up under his ribcage. Not one to waste more time than was necessary, she pulled the blade free and spun about in a whirl of golden hair and crimson skirts, her bloodied blade whistling sharply through the air until it cut clean through his neck, dropping the archer to the ground a head short. She glanced around. Most of Harley's men had made it, though she noted that one had fallen behind her, and one of Sophia's own guards had been killed coming up the main path behind her. She resisted the urge to sigh. Deaths made it seem otherwise, but with the odds these men and women had before, this was a victory. The majority of them would be going home, and that was certainly something that would not have happened had she not happened along.

There was a shaky, hardly audible, broken-record sound ringing in her ears, and it took her a moment to realize that she was the one making it. Sparrow released the breath she'd been holding. Her hands instinctively sought out the cause of her pain, which was blossoming in her shoulder. Fingertips snagged against the wooden shaft, then fell away. She could not simply pull it out. Instead, Sparrow teetered on the backs of her heels, pushing herself back to her feet. It took her a few breaths to conjure enough energy to raise an arcane shield around her own body, kindling visible warmth. Unfortunately, she was still quite useless when it came to healing. It was out of the question, and lay far beyond her capabilities. To anyone who asked, Sparrow was not a mage. She was, simply, Sparrow.

Finally, the half-breed broke through the left-sided ranks and reached who she presumed to be as Fell Orden. If the glowing balls of orange juggled in his palms were anything to go by. His name was ridiculous. She hardly swallowed the comment. He seemed to have taken notice of her, hands already swathed in growing flames. To this, Sparrow's teeth flashed in a grin. She did not shy away from mages, did not shrink back from the Fade's stink. Even if she were a mage, by anyone's standards, she still considered herself an opportunistic soldier, a warrior and one who almost always relied on brute force, rather than unconventional means. She leaned to the side, once, twice, then charged forward just as the fireball left Fell Orden's hands. Mages, it mostly seemed, were always vulnerable in close range. The fireball sizzled small hairs at the crown of her head as she ducked beneath it, hardly slowing to allow him to throw another. The man's eyes widened—

Her mace, riddled with blue flame, smashed into his ribcage. Soft, silky robes would do nothing to protect him. It ripped away in a blistering wave of black. She'd like to imagine that each and every bone were pulverized, sending splinters into his major organs. Especially for what he'd done to the others, even if he hadn't been the one to orchestrate everything—it didn't really matter. They were all scum if they preyed on other people. She spat distastefully on the ground, circling around Fell Orden's remains. Something was peeking out of his pocket. She hunkered down on her haunches, poking and prodding until she finally pulled it out. A letter? Creme-coloured. Nice paper, by all accords. For reasons unbeknownst to her, Sparrow mimicked another trick she'd seen Rilien perform by slipping the letter into another secret compartment on her person.

Fell Orden's fireballs had stopped, which meant Sparrow must have succeeded in getting around the right flank. Lowering her sword to the sand, but certainly not sheathing it, Sophia looked for the apostate, suddenly quite uncomfortable with the situation. It was reminiscent of when she'd learned that Aurora had been an apostate, years ago. But back then, it hadn't been the right situation to be able to do anything about it. The timing wasn't much better on this one, but she had the guard on her side, and seemingly no excuse to simply let Sparrow go free.

Other than the fact that she had just helped her rid the Free Marches of these despicable bandits, but Sophia was trying not to think of that right now.

One moment, Sparrow was looking at Fell Orden. Then, everything had gone black. Rapture had crept in, reaching her ethereal talons into her arm-holes. She took every piece of Sparrow into herself, shaking her legs into unwilling trousers. Her eyes changed completely, hardening into two sanguine orbs. And she laughed, throwing back her head in victory. “Now, this. This is quaint,” it sounded awfully like Sparrow, but there were higher, unfamiliar tones. The Fade grew heavier around them, drawing up like a foul wind and pooling around her feet like lewd blankets slipping from her shoulders. Finally, Rapture-Sparrow turned on her heels, and faced Sophia, ignoring all the others. “Little Sophia come to play the hero on unfamiliar grounds. Oh, and that unease. Tensing up your shoulders like that. You should see that crease,” She teased lightly, softly, then added in a far more sinister tone, tapping her chest, “This, is mine. Not yours. Not the Circle's.”

Everything about this mission to the coast had felt so right moments ago, but now, as Sophia was looking at a woman who she'd been ready to call friend, clearly controlled by something both otherworldly and malevolent, it felt wholly wrong. Harley and guards looked unsure, no doubt mirroring what Sophia was trying to keep from her face, and utterly failing. She had liked Sparrow, enjoyed her company, valued her assistance. She'd seen her for being a mage, but this was something else entirely. Was she only just possessed, in the course of the battle? Had she been an abomination from the beginning?

Abomination. Sophia knew full well what the Templars had to do when faced with one. She'd always imagined them as malformed horrors, twisted creatures, only mockeries of the person they had formerly been, but this woman still looked very much like Sparrow, apart from the eyes. But the way she moved, the way she spoke, only too clearly gave her away. Sophia didn't want to kill Sparrow, but this... this wasn't Sparrow, not anymore. Could control be returned? Sophia had never heard of a possessed mage returning to their former selves. She had thought that once a mage was possessed, whatever was left of them was gone. Was this not a mercy, then? To kill this demon using her friend's body like some costume, a means by which to experience mortality?

She would have to. The right thing to do was never easy, and this certainly fit into that category. Sophia raised her blade slowly towards the demon. Harley and... four guards remained to her. None of them had any experience fighting abominations, undoubtedly. No more than she had. They were with her, though, clearly. The demon's calling out of her tenseness was only too accurate; she felt none of the calm she could usually maintain in a fight, and little of the confidence. Even if she could best the demon, she wasn't sure she could make the killing blow.

The arrow still embedded in her armor twinged painfully when she took up a battle-ready stance, but there was no time to remove it properly. For now, she snapped off the majority of the shaft, trying to hold back a wince as she did. It would ensure it didn't get in the way of her arms or blade during combat. Dropping the feathered shaft to the sand, she looked to the enemy before her. "Relinquish your hold on her, demon, or we will force you out," she said, keeping her unease from her voice at least, if not her body language.

If the demon failed to comply, they would have no choice but to attack.

Now, this was precious. She ignored Sparrow's willful attempts to batter at her Fadecage. This was her time, her hour, her minutes. With gleeful anticipation, Rapture wondered how much damage she could do before releasing her grip. The demon appeared somewhat shocked by Sophia's righteous demand, mouth forming a melodramatic “o”. Simply asking a demon to leave its hard-earned residence like that. How many times had that been done before? Her shoulders slumped, raising slightly to indicate that this conversation bored her. “You'll have to do better than that,” She teased, coyly fluttering her eyelashes. A light laugh escaped her, airy and breathless. Living and breathing and stretching her arms over her head as if she'd always been born in Sparrow's body, Rapture nearly sighed in content. Every single demon dreamed of overtaking someone's fleshy husk, whether it was for ill-intentioned purposes or to simply have something that had been denied to them.

Abomination, abomination. How insufferably rude,” Rapture whined, soft and low, as she toyed with the arrow still jutting from her shoulder. Her slender fingers tip-tapped across the wood, and sifted through the colourful feathers like hands running through her lover's hair. Every movement bespoke of lewdness. Her eyes roved across the ranks, daring them to make their first move. Each soldier had its own set of weaknesses, bubbling to the surface like emerging paper-boats flowing down a river, and she was like a child meticulously plucking them from the waters. Reading secrets and desires had always been a forte, but this was different. She would not have time to manipulate them with words. Already, Rapture spotted hands hesitatingly raising their blades, or nervously reaching for their scabbards. Fear resonated through them, thrumming like individual heartbeats. She licked her lips.

“Demon? I am fear. I am doubt. I am promises wrapped in silk. I am more, and you, dear, are less,” Rapture hissed, lidded eyes widening ever so slightly. Her hand wrapped around the arrow's shaft. She had an unexplainable need to terrorize, to completely deny Sparrow of what she wanted to do—which was to run far, far away. In one sudden, incisive motion, Rapture wrenched the arrow free from her shoulder and casually tossed it over her shoulder, hardly indicating that it had hurt at all. Pain, after all, was just another sort of pleasure. She assessed Sophia as well, with a hard, scrutinizing glare before spitting at her feet. “You'll regret hesitating so, Little Sophia.”

With this, Rapture hurtled forward, hands free of the burdensome mace Sparrow was so keen on carrying around. It clattered to the ground behind her, left laying across Fell Orden's rumpled body. Pure, rough energy rippled around her. This woman would not choose Sparrow's prison. The demon held her in an ethereal cage, a cell made up of Fade-magic. Filled with locked doors just as real as any material one, and she could not escape because it was inside of her. The greatest of prisons were often the ones created in the mind. What could the Circle do beyond shutting out her abilities? Just like what they'd done to Rilien. It was a cruelty that even she could recognize. They imprisoned themselves so, while demanding freedom. Before reaching the first of Sophia's band of soldiers, Rapture spun around, her hands sweeping out in an arc, wielding dangerous Force Magic. It was her next round of movements, swift and assured, that devastated.

Draining life from her enemies, drawing their strengths and vitality into herself. She cast the spell to the two guardsmen hunkered in front of Sophia, offering her a slight inclination of her head, and a gaudy wink. Her fingers waggled, then swept in front of her once more. Their eyes met, and Rapture's wrist flicked towards Harley, launching a thin, finger-proportioned ice-needle towards the vulnerable flesh of her neck. She did not turn, but only lifted her shoulders again, dropping them in a shrug. She revelled in their fears, in their pained shrieks. “Open those pretty little eyes of yours, darling. You cannot command me, when you've nothing to offer.”

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Her reward for offering the demon a chance to end this peacefully had been only death. The guards in front of Sophia fell to their knees, losing the strength to stand, subject to unbearable amounts of pain as their very life force was drained from them, only strengthening the demon. Sophia thought to try and do something for them, anything, but then her enemy had thrown a precise and deadly needle to slice open Harley's throat, and her blood spilled out onto the sand in front of her. She dropped her weapons, hands going to her throat, but there would be no stopping her death. The Lieutenant collapsed onto her knees, a gurgling sound rattling from her throat and she fell backwards onto the sand, eyes staring blankly up at the sky.

Sophia should have just attacked, forced the demon on the defensive, fought the way she knew how. Instead she'd tried to save whatever was left of her friend, only to find that it had made the situation worse. Two of her allies were removed from the fight, and another was dead, all because of her hesitance. The demon's words cut through her. Uncertainty, doubt, hesitance, weakness, fear... all the things this demon represented Sophia felt coiling through her insides, poisoning her with every second she spent waiting. But she would not run, she would not falter.

"I can only offer you death now, demon," she said evenly. The Viscount's daughter threw herself into motion, kicking up sand behind her as she rushed forward past the weakened guards. There were still two allies on her side, and these took up arms at Sophia's side, the three of them rushing Sparrow. There was little defence against her magical attacks, so their only option was attack. Sophia dashed to close the distance between her and the demon, launching two swift horizontal slashes in broad strokes out in front of her, while her allies moved around the sides, to surround the demon.

Rapture reeled backwards, and spun again, weaving her arms in intricate circles. Her slender wrist came to her mouth and slipped back down, hands drawing together and pulling apart to reveal a thin rapier fabricated from her own blood. It had been ages since she'd been able to use blood magic—remnant abilities from an old body she'd taken and lost after he'd tragically plunged off the side of a cliff. Blood bonds and demons simply weren't matched for each other. He'd been too weak to hold her, and too stubborn to admit that the power she offered was something he could have only dreamed of. If one's desires were too weak, then perhaps, you were better off dead. She had no regrets, after all. Rivulets ran down her forearm, and dripped off her elbow as if admonishing what she'd done. Sparrow's clear revulsion made her smile.

She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, eyeing Sophia like a coiled snake, swaying slightly on her heels. The feeling of euphoria was immediate; it felt as if she was truly limitless, as if she could do anything. This body was her own, for the time being. She could feel the sheer power of her blood, singing siren songs and trumpeting in pleasure. It was as if she had been sleeping and the whole world had suddenly come alive; and in the most literal ways, perhaps this was truest of all. Every single sense seemed sharper and more distinct; she could taste the metallic tang of her blood in the air, smell it, feel it pulsing loudly. Rapture breathed in and out, in controlled bursts. “And death to your new companion, as well? Oh, Maker no. Mercy please,” She coaxed, lowering her eyelids.

Instead of remaining still, Rapture whipped her blade out, spattering the ground with ruby-red constellations and hurtled towards them. She looked as if she were about to collide with Sophia, but quickly sidestepped away from her, and her flurrying sweeps, slamming the pommel of her makeshift blade into the guardsman's head. Miasmic energy collected in her open palm, commanded forward with a sharp, crisp demand of, “Sleep!” It shot from her fingers just as Sophia's second assault caught her sanguine blade, sailing over her shoulder towards the other guardsman. She strained and pushed, locked together. Perhaps, if she were busy dealing with her unconscious guards—

Startlingly quick, Rapture felt something pulling at her, tugging her ferociously in all directions. The Fade became heavier, more tangent. Desperation tugged at her smug expression, until it completely collapsed. She'd lost to her. Fragments of confusion coloured her vision as her gossamer hull retreated from Sparrow's bodies, as if a much larger person had merely plucked her out of an unruly set of boots. Sparrow was quick enough to mewl her dismay, “No, no, no, no. This was, this wasn't supposed to happen. I-I didn't mean—” She sobbed, shoulders working to somehow hold this blade she did not entirely understand. Its firm shape wavered and became distorted, held together like a child holding a wet sand fortress. Her mucky-coloured eyes lost their glimmer, faded back to their original hue. “Sophia. Sophia!

“I didn't mean to.”

Sophia had been about to strike another blow, but the cry of her name, in such dismay, was enough to stay her blade. She felt instantly that it was the wrong choice, that she should strike the woman down now and be done with it. It was only the two of them now. Harley was dead and all of the guardsmen with her had been incapacitated, but thankfully left alive. In all honesty, the fact that Rapture hadn't immediately killed them, but instead simply subdued most of them, gave Sophia pause, but this made her wonder if this was some kind of trick. Demons were deceptive above all. How was she to know this wasn't some ruse to get her to lower her guard?

"Didn't mean to?" she said, holding her blade steady. "I'm supposed to just turn the other way and forgive you for murdering that woman there because you didn't mean to? You were dishonest with me, you have been from the start. I..." Sophia wanted to be angry, she truly did, but she was just starting to feel upset instead. Why did this woman have to be a mage? Why did she have to be possessed? Her intentions were so clearly pure of heart, but the results had been so disastrous all the same.

"You have to know better than this, Sparrow!" Sophia said, her blade lowering ever so slightly. "I am hesitant to let apostates walk freely. The Chantry's laws, and those of the Templar Order, dictate that all magic must be accounted for by the Circle of Magi, and as the future Viscountess of this city, I must follow its laws. Only in the most extreme of circumstances will I allow an apostate to walk free. But I could never let an abomination do the same, and still live with myself."

Her eyes wavered from Sparrow. She could do this if the demon had still been in control, but with Sparrow returned like this, she didn't think she had it in her. But she would not falter. She lowered her sword more, her voice unconsciously taking on a pleading tone. Pleading for her not to resist, to let Sophia do what she had to do protect the city. Still, she couldn't meet Sparrow's eyes.

"I can't let you leave, Sparrow. Not knowing what you are."

“I made a mistake!” Sparrow bellowed, murky eyes swimming. She couldn't condone what she had done, but didn't Sophia understand that it was beyond her control? But, that might have been the point. No amount of explaining could weasel her way out of this situation—she'd done what she was always afraid of doing. This was her waking nightmare, pressed firmly into reality. She'd never wanted to kill anyone on her side. Her allies were her companions. Whether or not they'd known each other for two minutes or years, Sparrow considered all of her acquaintances chummy, elbow-rubbing friends, and now, she'd just slaughtered a handful of them. It was impossible to take that back. She swallowed thickly, blade-tip drooping.

All of Sophia's warmth was replaced by her defensive stance. Blade still held at the ready, hardly dipping any lower. Like birds screeching out in dismay, ruffling their feathers at the sight of shackles and chains, Sparrow's hard-earned freedom begged her legs to turn and flee. If she did not run, then she'd be lead away to... the Circle? Or execution. She wasn't entirely sure, and her irresolution caused her to hesitate. There was no way she'd turn her blade on a friend, even if it was the only means of escaping another hopeless situation. Perhaps, Rilien had been correct. It was safer for her to remain in one place, far from anyone she may injure. Gallivanting the streets of Kirkwall was just asking for trouble. “I made... a mistake. If I could trade places—” Her voice broke, creaking on the words she could not utter. Would she trade her life for strangers? Strangers she considered friends. Even so, no.

“You don't understand.” Bile rose in her throat, threatening to spill from her lips. All mages shared a common enemy within themselves. Shadows stood vigilant in the Fade, waiting for any sign of weakness, for any chink in their armour to infiltrate and take advantage of. No one else understood the enticement of having someone shoulder all of their burdens, heft them across their shoulders and promise that they'll protect them no matter what, forever and always. It would always be easier to open up their arms and listen. Demons paraded around in the guise of once-friends, whispering in soft tones and making promises that preyed on their individual weaknesses. She'd said yes and now, she was paying the price for it. “Apostate. The Chantry's laws and the Templar Order,” Sparrow solemnly echoed, knuckling at her eyes with her free hand. “I thought you were different.”

I can't let you leave. Those words said volumes. Sophia was already slapping chains to her wrists, appealing to her guilt to waddle along straight to the Gallows. How she wanted to comply. How she wanted to face what she'd done, what she'd been doing to her friends, to strangers, to anyone who'd come in contact with her. And all in one motion, Sparrow's spine arched straight, tearful eyes hardening and shifting colours, before she hurtled forward and closed the short distance between them. Instead of using the stiff sanguine-blade, Sparrow-Rapture's hand thrust out from her side, slapping over Sophia's forehead. She tried, desperately, to control her arm and yank it back, but Rapture only crowed at her. Just like in the Deep Roads, Rapture mustered the last remaining grip on Sparrow's body, and her magic, and cast her into her own waking nightmare.

And Sparrow stumbled backwards, unable to take it away. Unable to keep Sophia from snapping out at her, either. She'd seen, through hazy eyes, in another plane, what the spell had done to her companions. She didn't have time to wait around. It was a useless endeavour. She made a small sound in the back of her throat, and screamed in frustration. Half-stumbling over to one of the unconscious guardsman, Sparrow shook and slapped him. She turned to run as soon as his eyelids fluttered.

I'm sorry, for once, would do her no good.

Sophia's focus had wavered so much, her resolve melted away into nothingness, that she was horrendously slow to react to the demon's return. Her blade had only made it halfway back to her guard when Sparrow, or whatever she was, reached her and placed a hand on her head. The very fabric of her reality twisted and wavered as a splitting pain tore through her mind, and she felt instantly nauseous, the coast tearing itself apart in front of her. She wavered for a mere moment before her legs gave out from under her and she crashed heavily to the sand on her back, eyes firmly shut.

She found herself in her father's room, where she so rarely visited these days. By helping to take over the responsibilities of his public life, she rarely played a part in the Viscount's private life anymore. It was night, a cold wind playing across the bare skin of her shoulders and arms. She felt entirely naked, but looked down to see that it wasn't so. She was garbed as finely as any Hightown noblewoman ever had been, her dress the color of gold. How strange she felt when unarmored lately. She wished that were not so, that she didn't need to leave her front door prepared for battle every day. It was meaningless now.

Her father was dressed all in black, standing quietly on the balcony outside. The view from the Viscount's Keep was breathtaking, standing tall over Hightown itself, Lowtown so far below and away that one couldn't possibly see the state of it, shrouded in darkness and smoke as it was. She took slow, measured steps out to him. She always felt like she had to approach the Viscount with caution now, like he was some ancient vase precariously perched on a column, with one wrong touch plunging it to shatter on the hard floor below. She came to a stop by his side, placing her hands on the railing rather than his shoulder. He didn't like it when she touched him, he'd started slapping her hands away a few years ago.

The city, as always, was burning. The riots, the chaos, it had started a lifetime ago, and Kirkwall now consumed itself from the inside out. Man, elf, dwarf, Qunari, all had turned on each other, and the city burned. They'd been locked in the Keep, for their own protection, for weeks now, surviving on the castle's ever-dwindling food stores. Her father looked skinnier than ever. Sophia wished there was something she could do for him, but everything she had ever tried had failed. He didn't look at her, the words he spoke hardly leaving his throat. They cut through her as surely as any sword would, however.

"I thought you could have been as strong as she was. She could have saved everyone. If only you hadn't been born with my weakness, but instead her strength..." And he threw himself from the balcony. She screamed, reached out, but he was gone, leaving her to stand alone on the edge, and she watched him fall. Only when he passed from her sight did she turn away.

She turned to run from this horrid place, to leave, to go anywhere where less would be placed upon her shoulders, where less would be demanded of her. But she hadn't made it halfway across her father's room when the door burst open, and Saemus was there, and his eyes were alight with rage and hate. "You killed him," he said, as if it were that simple. A knife gleamed in his hands, and she raised her own, trying to calm him.

"Saemus, no, I tried, you have to believe me. I did everything I could." She wanted to scream at him, tell him how he'd done absolutely nothing to take the weight off their father's shoulders, but despite all that he was still her brother, and she loved him. He wouldn't hear it, though, and he advanced, forcing her to back up while she begged him to see reason. Saemus had never seen reason. Sophia was halted unexpectedly by the wall behind her, and Saemus reached her, plunging the knife into her abdomen once, twice, a third time.

She slid slowly down the wall to the floor, coughing and sputtering blood, while Saemus tossed down the knife to clatter against the floor, taking his leave of the room, abandoning her to bleed on her own. There was little else she could think to do. She'd become pale as a ghost, her shallow breaths all that sustained her, when a man crouched before her. She'd always thought he'd had cold eyes for everyone else, but for her they were warm. She wanted so badly to hate him, for a reason she couldn't even remember. She tried to lift her arm and touch his face, but even that much movement was beyond her.

"I just wished you had known," he said, gently touching his hand to her cheek. "They were never yours to die for." He stood and moved to the balcony to watch the city burn, while Sophia's head finally lolled to the side, and her eyes closed.


Sophia gasped awake, the sudden lights and senses assaulting her powerfully. She coughed several times, the effort feeling like it would crack open her skull. Leather boots staggered through the sand towards her, before a figure fell to their knees beside her.

"My lady," gasped one of the guards, clearly struggling himself, "are you wounded? Can you hear me?" Sophia coughed several more times, before nodding weakly. There was a sharp whistle from the guard, and it simulated the effect of an arrow passing through her ears. Hooves galloped towards them in the distance. "We need to return to Kirkwall, my lady. Before more bandits arrive. We are in no fit state to fight."

For once, Sophia agreed with that sentiment. The surviving guards painfully pushed themselves to their feet and heaved themselves back upon their horses, departing for Kirkwall.

The Chanter's Board has been updated. Raiders on the Cliffs has been completed.

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Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon
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With a polite nod to the cluster of Sisters enjoying the weather just outside the Chantry doors, Lucien passed within. His mother perhaps would have sighed at him and shaken her head with the knowledge that he was not there to pray, but in the end, she would have indulged his desire to be outside instead and handed him a blank tablet to draw on. She’d have made them lunch, a skill she herself possessed, set everything down on their grounds and made an afternoon of it with him, her too-small, too-slight child who would rather study the world and recreate it on canvas than destroy it in the heedless stampeding of youth. It was a quality she’d always had time for, though his father was another matter entirely.

He wasn’t exactly sure what prompted the thought, but memories of home had been assailing him more often recently, as perhaps his sense of nostalgia for it sharpened to a more acute point. It was not a complaint that he would voice aloud, but homesickness did strike him, at times quite brutally, and he supposed that was really his own fault, for refusing, on some level, to put his roots down here. He still felt like a transient, and as on campaign, that mindset could only be sustained for so long before it began to wear.

Not, of course, that he had come here with the intent of conquering anything, save perhaps his own shortcomings. Glancing up at the massive golden statue of Andraste, he shook his head slightly at his own train of thought and refocused on the reason he was here at all.

Rumor had reached him that, a few days prior, Sophia and some guards had run into serious trouble when attempting to clear out some particularly-notorious bandits on the Wounded Coast. He’d not been able to pin down any of the specific details, but apparently, bandits had not been the only casualties. It rather warranted a visit, he thought, to see how she was doing. He could not tell if she’d been injured herself from the general nature of rumor. By some accounts, she was fine, by others, she’d limped out of there with a dozen wounds and all alone. Unlikely, if the story had spread, but concerning all the same.

Some of his worry was unwarranted however, as the Seneschal had informed him that she was in fact well enough that she was presently not in the Keep, but here in the Chantry. Taking his best guess as to where, he followed the stairs upwards to the more quiet areas of the building. She was easy enough to spot, knelt and bowed slightly forward at prayer. Loath to disturb her, Lucien stopped a respectful distance away and folded his arms behind his back. He could wait.

Sophia did not immediately notice Lucien's presence, respectfully quiet as he was, and absorbed in her thoughts as she was. The Chantry had served as her sanctuary for the past few days, and she tried to firmly restrict her activities here to prayer, and not contemplation. Her thoughts seemed as likely to attack her as help her sort out her troubles, and indeed, she hadn't achieved anything remotely close to peace of mind since her recent encounter with the demon possessing Sparrow.

She looked very little like herself this afternoon, though it was probable that she looked better than the previous two days. The demon's mental assault seemingly had carried after effects of the physical variety, and she'd felt extremely sick the first day afterward, eating hardly anything and spending the majority of the day in bed. The rumors had no doubt spread among the guard, and thus soon the rest of the city, about how she'd quite nearly collapsed after returning to the city, though the only visible wound she'd suffered was a single arrow to the abdomen, which had been healed quickly enough through alchemy. Today she appeared slightly thinner than usual, and still a little pale, and her hair was hastily done up in a messy bun just to keep it out of the way, though even this effort was starting to unravel. The most obvious sign of distress would of course be the tears, which she quickly wiped away with the sleeve of her dress when she realized someone was in the room with her.

She blinked once or twice before actually seeing Lucien, and when she did, her face lightened up with what was probably not happiness, but closer to relief. "Lucien," she said slightly hoarsely, having not spoken to many people recently. She rose to her feet and walked towards him rather quickly, almost as if she meant to hug him, but then seemed to think otherwise, standing awkwardly in front of him for a moment before moving to take a seat, indicating he could do the same if he wished. She cleared her throat quietly.

"I'd been meaning to meet with you, I just... haven't been well the past few days, and... planned on composing myself a little first. It doesn't matter, though, I'm glad you're here. Has any of what happened spread through the city?"

The state she was in spoke volumes about what must have transpired, though he felt he lacked the lexicon to put it all together. Probably for the best—he had no wish to know everything she’d rather keep to herself. Everyone was entitled to a little privacy, especially when they were so clearly troubled by something. Still… that didn’t mean he didn’t want to help. Removing the double-headed axe from his back, he propped it against one of the chairs and sank into the same, regarding her with obvious concern. The news that she had thought to seek him out wasn’t particularly surprising; he’d grown rather used to doing jobs at her request, and often at her side as well. He couldn’t help but think he should have been there for this last one as well.

“Only a little,” he said quietly. “And of course, reports vary. All I really know is that you ran into some trouble in an incident with bandits a few days ago, on the coast. Beyond that, the stories diverge. I’d thought to inquire after your health…” he let the sentence trail off into a frown, which finished it about as well as any words would have. She did not look well, but if he had his guess, the primary injury was not a physical one. His tone invited her to elaborate if she wished, but if she would rather keep the conversation to business, he would understand.

"I had arranged a meeting with Sparrow," Sophia explained, and the words alone seemed to reduce the tension in her a little. Maker knew she didn't feel comfortable speaking about this with anyone in the Keep. "To help her find a pair of criminals in the city. But that was the same day we heard reports of a missing patrol on the coast, and I decided to take some guards with me and investigate. You remember Sparrow, right?" She nodded at Lucien, assuming he did. "She decided to come along and help. I saw no reason not to let her join me. The actual mission went quite well... we found a guard lieutenant under siege by Evets Marauders, I rallied them, and we defeated the bandits, only..." She trailed off for a moment here. She was leaned forward in the chair, her elbows propped upon her knees, and she brushed loose strands of golden hair back behind her ear.

"I saw Sparrow using magic during the fight. I had no idea she was an apostate, the entire time I'd known her. I didn't mean her any harm at first, but... either she was possessed during the battle, or she had been possessed earlier. The demon took control of her. I... I tried to kill her. The remaining guards and I. We had to, she was an abomination, I didn't even know if she could regain control." She had regained control, only for a moment. If only she hadn't, Sophia could have fought to the end, and none... or less, of her current doubts and uncertainties would be plaguing her. But of course it hadn't worked out like that...

"She killed a guard lieutenant, subdued the others, and then seemed to regain control of herself. I... I hesitated. I didn't want to hurt her. But then the demon returned. I was caught off guard, she got in close, used some kind of magic on me. I collapsed, and had... visions. It was..." She blinked furiously for a moment, before stopping to wipe another pair of tears from her face. She didn't know if she was capable of talking about the nightmare. If there was any point in talking about it. It was just a nightmare, wasn't it? And yet it gave strength to all the doubts she'd been pushing back the last few years.

"She escaped," was all she ended up saying, sniffing.

As soon as the mention of Sparrow made it out into the open, Lucien could picture where this story was going, and he pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and first two fingers, as though a headache were forming there. “Maker…” he murmured under his breath. It seemed appropriate, given where he was and what he was hearing. He’d never known that Sparrow and Sophia were more than passing aware of the other’s existence, let alone to the point where the half-elven woman would invite herself along to help with one of the lady’s missions. They’d both been at the expedition party, but he recalled no conversations between them, and the only other time he'd seen them in one room, Sparrow had left after the briefest of exchanges. If he had… he would have said something. Maybe not the whole truth—he did not desire that Sparrow should die for what the foul thing under her skin did. But enough that Sophia would have known that it was not an offer to accept.

He had to own up to this. He couldn’t just omit that he knew this, that he’d let it pass. He believed in Rilien, and saw trying to save Sparrow as the right course of action, but that was not a decision he got to make for anyone else, least of all someone who’d suffered at her hands. “Those of us who ventured into the Deep Roads were subjected to something similar,” he said plainly. “The spell… I believe it is called Waking Nightmare.” She certainly didn’t need to tell him the content of her terrors in order for him to understand. He’d shaken his off, but put that down to the simple urgency of the situation. He didn’t suppose it would have been any more pleasant for Sophia than it had been for Nostariel or Ashton. “I did not know she was responsible at the time, but I did find out later. Rilien… he is set on saving her, and I’ve done what I can to help thus far.”

He paused, expecting there would be questions here, probably difficult ones. Letting his arm fall away from his face, he resolved to answer them, no matter how uncomfortable it doubtless was. With what she’d endured, she had every right to demand an accounting of his inaction. And though he had a choice about whether to give that accounting, for him it was no choice at all.

Several things went through her head at the admittance that Lucien too had been subjected to this magic, none of which helped to make her feel any better. She didn't think she'd expected him to make her feel better, or for anything to do that, for that matter, but at least getting it off her chest had been something she felt was necessary. She didn't expect him to make things somehow worse.

Her immediate thought was to wonder why he hadn't thought to warn her, but it occurred to her that he would be unaware of their meetings, of the growing friendship Sophia had allowed herself to have with the woman. He could not have known how close Sparrow had been to Sophia on those several occasions. No, that wasn't his fault. What she could blame him for, was inaction. Once he'd learned of her possession, he and his friend Rilien, they had done nothing to contain her, and the threat she posed upon the city. Now, as a result of that, someone had died, someone that very easily could have been Sophia herself.

Her gaze was accusatory only for the briefest of moments, before she realized she wasn't capable of it, not right now, and she looked away, dabbing at her eyes again. She'd known Lucien long enough to know that, while he didn't share her beliefs on some things, he wouldn't have done this if he hadn't thought it right, and the best course of action. She had reason to doubt her own course of action, as well. Had her threatening stance towards Sparrow encouraged the emergence of the demon? If she had been more willing to make peace with her, could it have been avoided? There were too many unknowns to condemn anyone for this.

"Do you really think she can be saved? I've... never heard of a mage returning from possession before." Granted, she still thought the best place for Sparrow, if she could be saved, was the Circle of Magi, but at least their desire to see her live was something they shared, and so it was this that Sophia chose to focus on. She wouldn't allow herself to go down the other paths that presented themselves here. Their ends were... too painful to think about.

Momentarily or not, he felt lanced by the implications in the glare, and dropped his eye for a moment, sighing through his nose. It was hard to answer that, and if anything, that actual question she asked was even more difficult. He was not an expert on magic; most of what he knew was second-hand information from Rilien, and though he’d asked the Tranquil a number of questions on the subject, in an attempt to understand what being a mage was like, he had a feeling he’d barely even scraped the surface of everything it meant. It was certainly far too complex for him to conveniently label with words like good, bad, uncontrolled, or the like. “He’s mostly been able to contain her damage for a while,” the chevalier said, partially in answer. “But I believe the issue… grows.”

He considered it a moment, then shook his head. “I truly do not know. The complexities of magic are far from my expertise. But Rilien is asking for very specific things. I believe he intends to force the demon out with some sort of alchemy. If there is anyone who would know something like that, it’s him. It seems the events near their end, for better or worse. I can only think that the chance to prevent further death is the one worth taking.” Until now, the demon had not been responsible for any fatalities that he’d known about, and perhaps that had deceived him into believing that it never would be, that it was only a matter of time before she was right again. He was almost certain that Rilien would not detach himself from Sparrow’s side once he heard what happened.

“I cannot determine with any surety, but I suspect that the fact that the rest of those present yet live means that Sparrow still fights her circumstances, and it seems… cruel to commend her to the grave alongside the demon.” Not that there was necessarily any difference in the eyes of some. “I confess I have no established doctrine to turn to with which to support that feeling. It is not a popular view regarding those possessed. All I can do is what I take to be right. I will certainly make no attempt to stop you from doing the same.”

Sophia stood, pacing slowly around to the back of the chair, leaning against it, weighing Lucien's words in her mind. "I had thought to go to the Templars with her description, ask them to search for her, before you came. I might have gone there today. But I don't think I want to now." The words felt like a sin beneath this roof, but she couldn't stop herself from saying them. Maybe her dream had been right, and she was weaker than she thought. But on the Coast, when she had been trying to get Sparrow to simply lay down her life, that Sophia might be able to rid the world of the demon, and in so doing kill her... the moment she'd seen Sparrow resist, and regain control of herself, she'd known she couldn't kill her. Monsters and horrors she could fight, she could release from their torment, but what had happened to Sparrow was something else. She was dangerous, it was true, but if she could still be saved, and no other lives could be lost...

Was it the right thing to do, or the weak thing? She could not know, so she had to simply trust her heart, and trust Lucien's.

"I think... if there's any way that I can, I'd like to help. If this can be resolved quickly and quietly, with no further death, I would like to save Sparrow. Do you think you could ask Rilien if there's anything I can do?" She'd gotten the sense that the Tranquil was either not fond of her, or not comfortable with her, not in the same way he was with Lucien. He was... hard to read. If he didn't trust her enough to allow her to help, she would be able to live with it. She just wanted him, and Sparrow, to know that the offer had been made, and that she was willing to contribute the effort as well.

“Of course I will,” Lucien said with a nod. “I doubt very much that he will turn down assistance freely-offered. He’s rather pragmatic in that way, which I suppose comes with the territory.” He did not make an attempt to hide his relief, though it was subtle all the same. More a relaxing of his posture than anything, and a nearly imperceptible easing of his facial expression. He had been truthful—he would not have stopped her from going to the Templars. But he wouldn’t have liked it much, and likely would have felt it necessary to give at least Rilien some form of forewarning. Whether this would have made any difference in the end, he didn’t know and didn’t care to contemplate. The important point was that she’d chosen differently. He was the smallest bit tempted to assert that it was very much like he’d heard people describe her mother, that willingness to take the hard way if it seemed like the right way, but he refrained, unsure if such commentary would be welcome, especially from him.

Instead, he chose to shift the tenor of the conversation a bit. “You mentioned earlier that you were planning on finding me for some reason. Is there something I can do to help you?” He felt rather the opposite of helpful at the moment, and it was not a feeling he enjoyed in the slightest.

She'd actually meant to find him specifically so she could air her feelings on what had happened, and hear his thoughts, and she'd done that. She was most glad for it, too. Without him, she'd have undoubtedly gone on to make what she now viewed as the wrong choice. But, as it happened, there was another reason she needed to speak with him.

"Yes, there is," she said, forcing herself to come around to the topic. It was quite a long way from where they'd just been. "As it happens, I'm turning twenty-five at the end of next week. My father is insisting on organizing a rather elaborate celebration for the occasion. I've tried arguing with him on it, but this seems to be one of the few things he's holding steady on." Lucien would no doubt understand her aversion to a grand spectacle meant purely for her, given the nature of those who would undoubtedly be in attendance. The nobles were so much fun.

"Normally I'd never consider dragging you to such an awful event, but I've heard some... disturbing things, coming from the guard. It hasn't been a very publicly advertised event, as it's been by invitation only, but there's been talk that an assassination of some kind is being planned. Either for myself, or my father, or both of us, I don't know. I suspect one of the attendees might be the one behind it, though I know not who. As we both know, the city guard hasn't always been the most incorruptible force in the city, so I can't feel as though I can fully trust them." Her hair was bothering her again, so he brushed it aside. She'd really need to just redo it soon.

"I'd feel much more comfortable if you were to be there," she said. "I'd also like you to speak with the Warden Nostariel, and Ashton Riviera, and see if they might be able to attend as well. And if Rilien isn't busy, I would like to have someone there with... some experience in matters such as these." It occurred to her that Rilien could very likely be busy preparing for whatever he had in mind for Sparrow. Perhaps Lucien knew someone else trustworthy.

Lucien grimaced immediately upon the mention of a large social gathering, though he did not seem surprised to learn that her birthday was approaching. The expression only soured further when assassins came up, and his jaw tightened. Ordinarily, he would stay as far away from such an event as possible, as keeping company among nobles, some of them Orlesian in descent, greatly increased his chances of being recognized by people who had reason to attempt an assassination on him. But it was immediately obvious to him that it was a risk he was simply going to have to take—he wasn’t going to be elsewhere when her life was so obviously in danger, not if he could avoid it. He raised a brow, trying to ease out the evidence of his displeasure, quiet as it was. “I don’t suppose I can get away attending in full armor, can I?” he asked, and it was light enough to almost constitute a joke.

Truthfully, that would have made things easier, but the guards would be posted around the events, and to be most effective, he needed to be in them. Of course, that would probably mean no (obvious) weapons and little in the way of protection. He’d be the shield, if it came to that, and he hoped it didn’t. It was, however, a distinct possibility. “I can certainly pass the invitation on to them, and if Rilien is busy, I think I know someone else who can move just as subtly, if I can secure her agreement. Do you have any idea who might wish to perpetrate such an act? …I realize that may be like asking you to list every noble you know, if your family is anything like mine.” That was a joke, if a true one, and he smiled a bit.

Her smile was slightly more full, and it was a beautiful thing, given how she'd been emotionally when he had found her here. "There's several families and individuals that could gain a great deal if my father and I were killed," she said, the smile fading. "I can go over them later, when the others are with us. If... any of them need more suitable attire, I can have something arranged. I'm afraid armor, either of the leather or plate variety, will not be acceptable. There's... also one other thing I should say..."

She bit her lip, knowing he wouldn't like this. Sophia could tell he wasn't overly comfortable with attending this at all, that he was doing it for her, specifically. But she was going to ask him all the same. Today seemed like a good day for bigger steps.

"It's... expected, that I have an escort. Father lined up the usual suitors, most of them sons of noblemen in Hightown, but I'm pretty sure I've turned them all away at some point over the last... eight or nine years. I'd prefer it if you could fill that role instead. I don't trust any of them. I trust you." That, and it was tactically beneficial. He'd have a perfectly useable excuse to be by her side, and near her family, at all times. The tactical benefits, however, were obviously not the reason she was suggesting it, judging by the current reddened state of her cheeks.

The tactical implications were immediately evident to the soldier in him, but even he was not so oblivious as to fail to notice the fact that she was blushing. He was, however, oblivious enough to assume that it was the nature of the request itself that caused it, and not the fact that she was making it of him. Propping an elbow on the armrest of his chair, he caught his jaw on the heel of his hand, clearly considering the thought. The reasoning was solid, even if it would further increase his chances of running into someone he shouldn’t, and the opportunity to both preserve decorum and remain close enough to she and her family to be useful if someone did strike was undeniably appealing.

Lucien opted to take it on the chin, so to speak. It made him uncomfortable, but she was worth it, end of story. “I cannot imagine the alternative selection would much please your father,” he said, though the smile he flashed robbed the comment of its seriousness. Sophia was of a steel-strong will, and he expected that the Viscount had grown somewhat accustomed to it by now. He, as said inappropriate escort, would likely catch some ire from various corners, but it was nothing he couldn’t deal with. “But you make it very difficult to refuse. If it is what you think best, then,” he swallowed, a bit thickly, “I suppose I’d better refresh my knowledge of Marcher custom.”

"Thank you," she said, smiling again. She'd expected the bit about her father not approving. That was no matter; she'd speak with him, and he'd see her way sooner or later. The acceptance was a bit more... businesslike, than she would have hoped, but she didn't really want to try and go over what that could have possibly meant. He'd agreed to it, and that was the important part.

"For everything, that is. I needed this today, I think. My thoughts have had a way of turning against me lately, but I'm very certain that you've helped with that." Truly, she felt much better already. She was going to help with Sparrow's situation, put personal effort towards making it right, and she had friends that she could trust to stand by her when doubt struck. There was little else she could ask for.

His expression softened, and he nodded once. “I’m glad to be of help, truly. It brings me no joy to see you under so much strain. If ever I can help in such a manner again, well… the things you ask of me need not be always of the kind where we’re risking our lives.” He stood, replacing his axe at his back and rolling his shoulders, easing away any remaining tension. “I will go find Ashton and Nostariel, and see what I can do about a fifth. I hope you’ll get some rest in the meantime—that many nobles in one room is bound to be taxing, assassination attempts or no.”

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Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Amalia
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Sophia's birthday was still a week out when she called for a meeting of those she had wanted Lucien to contact. Varric's room in the Hanged Man was to be the setting. She'd had him move in some more reasonably sized chairs for them in the event that they wanted them, but the table was still a bit too low to actually be used. It didn't really matter. The point was that she needed a place to speak privately with them, and despite appearances, a backroom of the Hanged Man was one of the better places in Kirkwall to discuss in peace.

As far as she knew, all of Lucien's meetings had gone well enough, and all of the people she'd asked for would be in attendance at the party. There was still the matter of this other woman Lucien had decided to request the aid of. Sophia was uneasy allowing anyone she didn't trust to enter in on this agreement, but if Lucien trusted whoever it was, that would be enough for Sophia. The fact that her father's life was potentially on the line as well as her own was entirely why she was so nervous about this going well. The waking nightmare continued to plague her, long after the demon's magic had faded.

Sophia looked much better by now, if still a little harried. She was in armor again, hair loosely tied back, as she wasn't expecting any combat simply walking to Lowtown. Still, she was apparently making enemies as well as friends by attempting to do what was best for the city, so it couldn't hurt. The weight of it had grown comfortable. She'd been eating regularly again for the past few days, and the majority of her paleness had passed. She was her usual self again, if a little more stressed than normal.

She waited patiently at the head of Varric's table for the others to arrive. They'd only know what they were being invited to, and the reason they were there. She'd purposely saved the rest for this meeting, so that it could all be gone over once, when they were together, and could more effectively prepare. She glanced to the sword next to her, sheathed and propped up against the wall. She certainly wouldn't be able to bring that with her to the Keep's ballroom. Nor would she be able to wear the armor...

Well, she could, but she'd certainly look like quite the fool.

Lucien wound his way through Lowtown, the taciturn Qunari woman beside him. He’d expected to have to work a little harder to convince her to do this, but she had simply sat quietly for a moment after he outlined the specifications of the task to her, then nodded simply. “I will do it, if she allows it.” He’d been quite tempted to ask after how the two were acquainted, as he had no knowledge of the connection, but he chose not to. With this one, silence was often the better choice, or at least the welcomed one. It was a drastic reversal from most of the people he’d known, but comfortable enough for him, as his father had been the same, and his mother as well. It was the other side of things that was harder to navigate.

As she’d promised, Amalia had met him at his dwelling a few minutes ago, and now both progressed to the Hanged Man, both armored and armed to the teeth. Well, actually, he just had his axe and a belt-knife, but he was pretty sure the four visible knives on the Qunari were not the only ones she was carrying. Rilien was like that, too, and it was actually somewhat reassuring to note, given the job he was asking her to do. He wasn’t honestly sure if she’d accepted from the nature of the task itself, some lingering feeling of debt to him for the incident a year ago, or something else, but given that Ril was otherwise occupied, he knew of nobody more suited to it.

They entered the Hanged Man, and, as she was obviously unfamiliar, he led the way to the back room. As it was, his bulk initially obscured her from view, meaning that she was not visible until she had entered. “Good morning, Sophia,” he greeted amicably, “You look well.” Unspoken was the obvious: she looked a great deal better than when he had last seen her. That would have to be conveyed in his small smile.

Amalia stepped cautiously into the room, clearly scanning it for security, sizing up potential exits. She took up a position on the wall near the door, but still close enough to the main part of the room to clearly be a part of the conversation. Propping the flat of one foot against the wall, she refrained from crossing her arms over her chest, as she was not here with hostile intentions and for once desired not to be perceived as such. Instead, she inclined her head slightly at the Viscount’s eldest child. “Sophia,” she offered mildly, by way of greeting.

Sophia was a bit stunned at first when the Qunari woman she'd met while battling dragons walked through the door. She was actually tempted to laugh, just at the sheer ridiculousness. Or perhaps it was strangely fitting. That the Qunari would be protecting her and her father from the nobles, who seemed so greatly to desire the heathens gone from the city.

"Hello, Amalia," she said, unsure whether to smile or frown. She ended up doing neither. She'd want to speak with Amalia in private, and that could be done once the others had left, after she'd delivered her information. She trusted Lucien's choice, and she'd seen the woman in action herself, so her assistance would not be turned aside, but there a few things she needed to be certain that Amalia understood.

"And thank you, Lucien," she said, offering him a smile and a nod.

Judging from the sounds outside her room, Varric’s was already filling up. With no particular need to arm herself for a ten-foot walk, Nostariel shrugged to herself and grabbed Oathkeeper anyway, Slinging the bow and a quiver over her shoulder. One could never be too careful in the Hanged Man—it tended to attract half the grudge matches in Kirkwall, and they didn’t always stay between the participants. Disabling and rearming her ward, the mage entered the room shortly after Amalia, recognizing the Qunari woman immediately and offering a bright smile. Sophia and Lucien were both already also here. Not quite as cautious as the trained assassin in the room, Nostariel took a seat, laying her arms on the low table.

“Morning, everyone. It’s good to see you.” it had been a bit since she’d interacted with any of them, and she’d not seen Amalia since the Fade incident. That she was here was surely a good sign of… something, though Nostariel wasn’t exactly sure how she’d been brought into this adventure, so to speak.

Next on the list was Ashton and his plus one, Snuffy. Ever since Nostariel gave him the little puppy, had had been glued to her for the following couple of weeks. He hardly went anywhere without her, and fortunately she seemed to begin imprinting on him so she tended to follow him around when he wasn't doing anything important. Surely the scraps of deer he'd been sneaking her had nothing to do with that. He was currently in route to the Hanged Man, at the behest of Lucien. He thought it a huge tease inviting him to the Hanged Man, since he had decided to cut way back on his alcohol consumption. A blackout ending in marriage, and a grim heartfelt talk-to-talk tended to ward one off from the stuff.

Ashton himself was lightly armed, though he still wore his leathers-- but that was hardly surprising. He wore those every day. He'd left the shop in Lia's care, and with it his bow and quiver. He did have a skinning knife hidden away in his boots, but it was suicide to walk around Lowtown without some form of weaponry. It was moments before his legs brought him to the door of the hanged man, which he pushed past and into the establishment proper. He got a couple of strange looks, due in part to the dog in his arms, but nothing was said. Hell, a little bit of dog could only help the swill they called drink. Ashton danced past the patrons and headed to the back hall, and angled himself toward Varric's room. Upon his entrance he recongized several familiar faces.

And they were all armed for bear. He stood in the door way for a moment, looking from person to person and suddenly feeling under-dressed. "So... Where's the fight at? Wish someone would have told me we were marching into battle. I would have grabbed something more substantial than a piddly little knife," Ashton said, chuckling, though Snuffy whined. The idea of a fight didn't much appeal to her. Still, he took a seat at the table beside Nostariel, and leaned back, propping his feet on the table and letting Snuffy play in his lap.

"No fight," Sophia said, not in the best state of mind for any kind of humor, but her tone wasn't harsh or anything. "I just wanted to gather everyone and help you all know what to expect at the party." She raised an eyebrow slightly at the mabari puppy in his arms, but did not press him on it. The dog certainly wouldn't be allowed among the guests.

"I'll get to it, then," Sophia said, shifting slightly uncomfortably. The possible candidates who wanted her or her father's death were very many, especially when so many of them were so adept at hiding their motives, and their goals. It had taken her quite some time just to try and pick out a few who would be the most likely, as well as those who were simply the most prominent nobles at the celebration.

"You'll all be allowed entrance into the grand ballroom of the Viscount's Keep with the other guests. I can instruct the guards to allow you to pass with weapons, but they'll need to be hidden. I don't want armed guests, especially if you're to be moving among them. The guards on the perimeter and near my family will be enough, and I hardly trust them as it is." Even the captain had been corruptible, as she and Lucien had found out recently. How many of the lower ranking guardsmen were just as susceptible, she could not say.

"The party will consist of a feast, several speeches, I'm sure, gift giving... you need not bring a gift, I certainly won't mind. I would have preferred not to have the party at all, but Father insists." She shook her head. She had no doubt that some of them would still bring her some kind of gift. Well... it would be sort of expected of Lucien, given how he was arriving with her. "It will be pretty unorganized, but a group dance will end the festivities. Until then, we'll simply have to put up with the city's nobles."

No easy task, certainly. Sophia was not fond of some of them, as she was about to go over. "Lucien will be arriving with me as my escort, and stay with me throughout the party. Nostariel, Ashton, I'd like you to mainly move through the guests, keep an eye out for anything suspicious, and perhaps talk to a few of them, see if you can find anything out. Amalia can keep watch over things from a distance, and intervene if she sees anything."

Ashton nudged Nostariel's arm at the mention of a group dance, but otherwise kept silently until the end. Even then, he prolonged the silence a bit further to ensure that no one else had any other, more pertinant questions before asking his. "Are you always so particular over your birthdays? And should we be looking for anything specific?" Surely if she displayed such decorum with other matters, she was bound to be a barrel of fun-- He decided not to press too hard though, as clearly she wasn't in the mood for it. Besides, everyone was armed but him. He would definitely like to leave in the same shape he arrived.

"Oh, and would you like anything particular for your birthday?" Ashton added. A hint would be nice, though he could always figure something out. He did think he was good at giving gifts, after all.

Sophia couldn't help but sigh at the man. "You're all going out of your way for me as it is. That in of itself is a gift. I don't need anything more than that, really." Really, she trusted Ashton to have a good heart, but his occasional inability to take things seriously was trying sometimes. "There's several people I'd like you to talk with at some point, to see what you can get out of them."

"First would be the Arren family, particularly Jorah Arren and his son, Jamie. The Arren family was one of the ones closely considered to inherit the Keep, but my father received it instead, and it surprised many. They remain one of the most powerful and influential families in the city. They've never been very supportive of my father's rule, but Jorah has tried on several occasions to bind our families by trying to match me with Jamie. I have resisted this notion, as you can see." She wondered what he'd think when Lucien of all people walked in with her. Jamie had always been the most charming of her suitors, but he was a fool to think charm was what she was searching for.

"The Lady Miranda Threnhold is the second. If you recognize the name, you'll know that she's the only living member of the Threnhold family left. Her father was the Viscount of Kirkwall until he crossed the Templar Order. Miranda is his daughter. In all the time I've known her, she's shrewd, cold, and intelligent, and she's none too subtle about her dislike for me and my family. I don't know if she feels that she should be Viscountess now or not, but she's certainly smart enough to be able to put together a plan for it. I had thought assassination to be a place she wouldn't go, but I may very well be wrong." She was still quite wealthy, as she had been too young to be implicated in her father's revolt, and considering that she'd hadn't committed any crime, there was little reason to not allow her to inherit what her father left behind. Apart from the leadership of Kirkwall, of course.

"The wealthiest family in the city is without a doubt the Tarkins. I believe only the twins will be in attendance, that's Damian and Dorian. They're... well, I hesitate to use the word brute, but they both fit the description rather well. Their family's made their fortune by running a number of the trading vessels that come in and out of the docks, but on several occasions the guard has nearly connected them with the Coterie. No proof, though, so there's nothing to be done. Both Damian and Dorian were suitors of mine, for about a day each, actually, which is a day more than I needed to decide against them. I don't think they hold allegiance with anyone but themselves, but I'd thought them content with their fortunes. I'd thought responsibility of rule was something they'd wanted to avoid." She could easily be mistaken about that, however. They were as private as they were brutish when confronted, and she rarely met in person with the patriarch of the family. Motives were hard to determine through letters.

"Last... the Natlas will be in attendance. They've risen to power quickly in the last decade or so, mostly through their strong ties with the Templar Order. It's no secret that Knight-Commander Meredith has as much influence over this city as my father does, and the Natla family is one that she respects. Two of their sons and one daughter have joined the order, and risen quite high in rank, I believe. Meric and his wife Falda should be among the guests, and I believe their daughter Joanna will be there as well. She's the Templar daughter. Normally, I wouldn't consider them a threat, but I fear the sheer amount of influence they've gained among the other nobles, and the pull they have with the Order, may have gone to their heads. I hope they won't try anything rash." That, and Sophia really didn't know them that well. As much time as she spent in the Chantry, she spent little among Templars, and though she respected them from afar, she knew not all of them were possessed of a level head. They were only human, after all.

Nostariel wasn’t sure she really understood what it was like to have such powerful enemies. Darkspawn didn’t usually try to stab you in the back, and at least most Templars were fairly forthright about their intentions. She was certain that dealing with all of this politicking on a regular basis would drive her mad or into seclusion. She felt her respect for Sophia, already rather considerable, ratchet up a couple of notches. It took a lot to speak so calmly about people who might want to kill you. The Warden did not desire to ever find out if she had it. Leaning back in her chair, she blinked a few times, trying to think of a useful question. “These people… I’ll do what I can to talk to them, but I’m not sure how willing most of them will be to exchange words with an elf.” she smiled, a tinge brittle. She would not be a Warden there, or at least not immediately recognizable as such. That left her options for social status very limited.

“I’ll admit, I don’t much fancy the thought of having to get through everyone there to find the ones I’m after. Is there a way to recognize the people from a distance? Distinguishing characteristics?” she supposed the twins would look alike (and she imagined large), but the others… there was no way to tell thus far.

"The twins will be easy enough to spot," Sophia said. They were indeed quite powerfully built. Perhaps together they'd be a match for Lucien hand-to-hand, but even then, she doubted that. "Miranda's also quite hard to mistake. Tall, dark haired, very beautiful, and likely alone. The Natlas... I expected Joanna will be in Templar attire of some kind, and she'll likely remain near her parents. Jamie... will likely be the best dressed in the room. He's around my height, rather boyish appearance, short light brown hair, green eyes. Keep an eye on me long enough, and you'll see him at some point, I've no doubt."

"Good thing I'm a people person, I suppose," Ashton added, scratching behind Snuffy's ears. "Though we'll see if they'll want to talk to a Lowtown shopkeep." Well, he wouldn't have to admit to working in Lowtown. He could always call himself an aspiring entrepreneur specializing in the distrubition of various sundry household wares. That sounded a lot better, and it necessarily wasn't a lie either. Him. An entrepreneur. It brought a smile to his face, his aunt would be so proud of him. He nodded and said, "Know what? I can make it work. I'll get the information out of them. I'm just that damn lovable."

"I think you would be surprised," Sophia said. "A good deal of Hightown has heard of the exploits of an expedition to the Deep Roads recently. I'm sure they'd be interested to meet some of its members." Nostariel's point about being an elf was unfortunately a solid one, however. Sophia wasn't sure how well some of them would react to an elf being at the party, and not as a servant. The Tarkins were the most worrisome in this regard, if she recalled correctly.

"And if any of you need assistance finding something to wear, I can have something arranged with a tailor in Hightown. Armor will sadly not be permissible in the ballroom." Nostariel raised a small hand with a sheepish smile. She'd never owned more than a few sets of robes in her life, and now some leathers. Nothing that at all suited such an occasion as this. Still, she was sure they could arrange it later. For now, it looked like the meeting was wrapping up, and she stood, scooping up Oathkeeper and her quiver. There were likely preparations for all of them to make, and she personally had an appointment with some Darkspawn this afternoon, the thought of which took her to the door with a polite farewell.

Ashton thought on it a bit and then waved Sophia's offer away. "I've got something," he explained. He had it, he might as well use it. Though he'll make a point about not getting married this time. With that, he stood slowly-- so as to not awake the puppy in his lap, and made his way out of the room behind Nostariel. He had to make sure Lia hadn't burned down his shop yet.

Lucien was next to take his leave, but something stopped him just on the threshold of the door. He couldn’t believe he’d almost forgotten to ask… again. It seemed certain finer points of social nicety escaped him after so long away from court. Pausing, he turned back and addressed Sophia. “If I may ask,” he inquired, tone caught somewhere between amusement and something that might have been a touch of embarrassment, “what color do you plan on wearing?” It was not, exactly, the kind of question one business associate asked of another, and to be honest, he’d never had cause to ask it of a friend, either, not in this context. But if he was going to do this, well… he wanted to do it properly. The escort bit and all.

"A dark red, I think," Sophia replied with a hint of a smile. It was her favorite color, after all, and if she couldn't wear it on her birthday, then truly there was something wrong with the world.

“Ah. Thank you.” Lucien replied, inclining his head and taking his leave. That left only Amalia, and the Qunari had shown no inclination to move yet. She was not a fool—she knew her presence here was unexpected, and likely not particularly welcome. She had a feeling she was going to receive either an interrogation (though it would hardly deserve such a word) or a list of house rules. Don’t kill the basra, things like that. It was not as though she was not capable of discretion, but Sophia had no particular reason to know that. The woman likely understood Amalia even less than Amalia understood her. That she remained was a testament, however subtle, to the fact that she was willing to change that, just a bit, or at least set it aside for the moment.

Rather than begin the conversation with any of these observations, however, she offered the closest thing to an olive branch she possessed. “I understand that such occasions often call for music. I play the harp, if it please you to keep me away from the delicate sensibilities of your guests.”

"Erm... yes, that might be best," Sophia said rather awkwardly. "The nobles have a special brand of delicate sensibilities, I'm afraid." She wondered for a moment how best to say what she wanted to say... or rather what to say at all. It occurred to her that she really had no idea why Amalia was offering to help, but she wasn't sure she needed to know. If there was one thing she thought was apparent about her, it was that she was driven. If she'd taken this upon herself, she was going to see it through.

"The nobles are... also the most desirous of seeing the Qunari leave the city, as well. I'm very thankful for your offer of assistance, but if this party is as eventful as I'm hoping it won't be, a Qunari presence could be harmful to the current state in the city." She swallowed, seeing how they were on two sides of that issue. "It would also be preferable if no one ended up dead after this is over," she continued. "Of course, I would ask no one to take a chance with my father's life to try and keep an assassin alive, but if possible, I'd like there to be a minimum of bloodshed. Even to protect the Viscount, a Qunari taking the life of a noble would not go over well, and beyond that, I'd like to speak with whoever wants me or my father dead." She was certain Amalia would understand. Perhaps she wasn't experienced with their politics and way of living at the noble tier, but she was clearly a very intelligent woman.

Amalia nodded. It was not as though she was incapable of maiming without killing, and she did not plan on announcing her status as a Qunari to everyone at the event. If all went even moderately well, nobody would be the wiser. “I understand,” she said neutrally. “Discretion and judgement are often required of me, and unlike your large friend, I am rather capable of telling lies when I need to. You need not fear for the lives of your guests unless those of your family are threatened by them. I will watch, and I will wait. If things move as you wish, that is all I will do.”

"Thank you," Sophia said, quite simply. She didn't need to ask why she was helping. That she wanted to was more than enough for Sophia.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sophia Dumar Character Portrait: Ashton Riviera Character Portrait: Nostariel Turtega Character Portrait: Lucien Drakon Character Portrait: Amalia
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Sophia had spent roughly the last half hour trying to figure out which method of movement in a small space was most effective to hold back nervousness. She was starting to think she was better off just sitting down. There'd be more than enough standing and talking to go around tonight, perhaps it was best to save herself.

She was just outside of her own quarters in the Keep, having prepared herself far earlier than was necessary, simply because she hadn't known what else to do with the time while she waited. She could hear the guests, undoubtedly half of Hightown, being ushered through the doors to the grand ballroom beyond. They undoubtedly would not stand the indignity of being patted down for weapons on their way in, and the guards were only confiscating visible weapons, while informing them that any kind of weapon bearing in the ballroom would be strictly forbidden. Sophia had heard that they'd already taken possession of several swords worn by noblemen, hoping to look more dashing when armed. Perhaps they thought to show Sophia that they too had no fear of battle. She had, after all, yet to announce any kind of plans for selecting a suitor.

It was one of the greater mysteries of the night. For all they knew, she would be arriving alone, as she seemingly preferred to do. No doubt the appearance of Lucien beside her would come as something of a shock to them. They likely wouldn't even know who he was, and Sophia had decided that any inquiries as to his identity would be his alone to answer how he saw fit. She knew who he really was, more than just his title, and why she wanted him next to her. That was all that mattered. If the nobles wanted more from him, they would have to pry it out of him. Sophia had no doubt that they would try.

Lucien would be permitted access to the family private quarters in order to meet with Sophia for their entrance together. Ashton and Nostariel would have to arrive with the other guests, where they woud likely be guided to a pair of seats at the round tables for the feast that was to open the night. She hoped they'd be seated fortunately next to, or at least near, some of the families that Sophia had requested they find at some point. It seemed unlikely that they'd be able to determine without a doubt if one or more of them were guilty of plotting to assassinate her and her father, but at least they would have a chance of discerning motives. Amalia would undoubtedly be able to enter among the other musicians, though Sophia had to admit she was wondering what the Qunari woman would wear, if she'd even make an attempt at dressing differently. Nostariel and Sophia had worked together a few days prior at getting her into something suitable, and Sophia had thought the Warden had looked quite stunning when they were done, but for Amalia she quite simply had no idea.

Sophia herself had dressed for the occasion, and managed to remove all traces of the ill effects from the nightmare spell. From head to toe she was garbed in crimson trimmed with gold, her dress leaving her shoulders and arms bare, the cut rather low across her back. The skirt flowed down to barely skim the floor as she walked. Her eyes were the only differing color, small pools of sapphire amidst the warm glow of her skin, offsetting the small ruby pendant that was draped around her neck. Her hair for the evening had been tied back in an elegant Orelsian braid that ran straight down her back to rest between her shoulder blades. While fashionable, it also served to keep her hair out of her face in the event that things became more hectic.

Not that she had much to defend herself with, anyway. She had a small knife sheathed on her right thigh, but reaching it under the skirts would be a bit of a challenge. If she had to defend herself, it would likely have to be with her ability in hand-to-hand combat, which was limited at best, especially in an outfit such as this. She told herself for the hundredth time that there was a chance that nothing would happen, that this would just be a night she and Lucien could spend awkwardly dodging nobles. Considering that that outcome was what Sophia was actually hoping for, the odds of her enjoying this birthday didn't seem too high.

Nostariel brushed her hand down the front of her dress—her gown, oh Maker what was she doing in a gown?—for what must have been the umpteenth time, trying to ignore the fact that the calluses on her fingers caught a bit on the light silk of the garment. It looked fine, she was sure: though the seamstress had sniffed and fussed quite a bit over having to make a dress for a twiggy little elf, of all things, she’d seemed to be good at her work, and honestly her demeanor seemed more irritable generally than particularly concerned about the shape of the Warden’s ears. It had been a tedious set of hours, passed slightly easier due to Sophia’s company, and by the end of it, she’d been convinced that she’d have to be folded and sewn into the garment. For all the tailor’s complaining about her thinness, she certainly hadn’t left any fabric to spare on the bodice. Or maybe that was just this whalebone corset.

Who could wear things like this on a regular basis, anyway? Last Nostariel had checked, breathing was not optional. Apparently, it was also not fashionable. The Warden had done her own hair, braiding it up and around her crown and gathering the rest of the length in a pile on top, curling the ends with a steel rod she heated with magic. One of the girls in the Circle had invented this trick, and used to practice on the rest of them all the time. Of all the magic she’d learned, she’d never thought to have a use for this, but then, she was done assuming life wouldn’t take her truly strange places.

Nostariel didn’t have a lot of pride, but she was not going to be the waifish elven chit, the sore thumb that stuck out and didn’t fit with the grace and elegance of the occasion. She’d even pestered (well, asked; she never had to pester) Lucien for a basic curriculum on etiquette and dancing, and she bet he was better at it than the rest of Kirkwall combined, plain armor and humility or no. Okay, so maybe she had some pride, but to her credit, it was mainly in her friends. She wasn’t going to let them down. She contemplated darkening her eyelids with charcoal, but decided against it. She didn’t want it getting in her eye at an inopportune moment. She felt no need to carry a weapon in particular, given her magic, but she wasn’t the only one she had to think about, and so a knife was secreted on the inside of her left shin.

The gown—she still wasn’t used to that thought—was, at her request, a deep shade of Warden blue, cast off her shoulders in a shallow boatneck. The sleeves were long, belled things, trimmed in glimmering silver. There were no gems or metals involved, but she had managed to locate some jewelry for the occasion: a modest silver locket and teardrop-shaped sapphires for her ears. She wasn’t just going to hope nobody noticed their length. She had nothing to be ashamed of. A long coat covered the arrangement until she got to the Keep—she had no wish to be mugged on her way out of Lowtown, after all. Other than the small package tucked under one elbow, she carried nothing. At the entrance, the package was taken to a long table by a servant, an elven man whose eyes widened with obvious shock to see one of his own kind among the guests. The coat, she shed and had to remind herself to hand off rather than hang up.

She was ushered to a spot surprisingly near the middle, at least once she confirmed that she was, in fact, Nostariel Turtega, the Warden captain. They’d looked fairly disbelieving at that, but she was unrelenting, producing an insignia to the effect, and eventually they led her to her spot. Well… at least nobody had called her knife-ear yet, though the number of odd looks she was getting was disconcerting. She had to remind herself that it could just be from the strangeness of it, and not any particular disdain, though she could feel the back of her neck burning anyway. She was really beginning to wish that she’d been allowed to attend in armor.

A pair of hands descended gently upon her shoulders, and a lanky figure leaned over to whisper into her ear. "You, my pretty little Warden, are the single beautiful dove in a room full of strutting peacocks," Ashton said, reeling back and returning to his height, a light smile at his lips. Nostariel was, even more than he could have imagined, beautiful. Even despite the fact that she looked like she was absolutely about to crawl out of her skin and hide under the table. He then did an extravagant bow and took a seat next to her. Now he wasn't a hundred percent certain that the seat was his, considering he had been positioned a bit further down. Too far from Nostariel for his tastes. So he took the risk and swapped seats. Formality had always been a pain in the ass for him anyway.

Surprisingly, Ashton looked just as noble as anyone else in the room and not like he was raised in the wilderness by a wolf. No instead of the usual (finely) homespun fabrics and leathers, the only thing homemade he was was the antlered knife hidden in his boot. It was an outfit he wore exactly once, and its origins were still entirely unknown to him. Did he steal it, or did he buy it? Only Sparrow and himself knew, and they were too smashed to remember. He'd remember this time though. The svelte midnight blue suit was still as magnificent as the day he found it, the golden inlay sparkling in the light. The collar was of fine rabbit's fur, fluffled up for effect, and his pants were a deep burgandy color with a crease down the legs. Jet black boots finished the outfit with style. He even had his hair fixed, darkened with oil, slicked back and tied out of his face with a black ribbon. He looked like the noble he was born as. He even looked comfortable in it.

He was still Ashton of course, for all intents and purposes. He had entered the Keep as if he owned it, his step swelling with the swagger of someone vastly more important than himself. His back was straight as an arrow, looming the entirety of his substantial height and he kept his gaze swung forward with a self-important smile on his face. If he was to play the noble's game, then he was going to play it right. His words were formal and stilted when he needed to speak, taking a couple of cues from his encounters with Lucien. If someone accused him of not being part of the nobility, that someone would be accused of lying.

"You do look beautiful," he repeated, "We'll do fine. Maybe nothing'll happen and we can just enjoy ourselves." It was a hopeful thought. Maybe everything would go off without a hitch and they could spend the party mingling. He'd be lying if he said he didn't look forward to the prospect of playing nobility. Then his eyes shone with a spark of rememberance "Oh, right, before I forget," he said, reaching into his shirt and digging around for a minute. When his hand returned, it was clutching a wooden box which he explained with a wink, "I didn't want to crush it." He then opened it and revealed a blue morning glory flower. "For your hair, milady." he said with a smile.

Nostariel flushed a rather amusing shade of red, pursing her lips in an attempt to keep from smiling like a silly girl, and raised a brow. “Why thank you, Messere…” she plucked the embellished name card from the seat next to hers, that Ash now occupied. “Lord DeLauncet.” Hm; must be one of the younger members of that family, to be stuck all the way down here. She lost her battle then, and grinned at him. “You’re probably going to offend half of the room, you know,” she added, but she didn’t bother to hide that she was glad to see him. A familiar face in this tide of nobility and privilege was a welcome sight, especially this particular familiar face.

The flower was a lovely thing, and she picked it up carefully between her index finger and thumb, brushing the other hand’s little finger over the soft petals. “I do hope this wasn’t stolen from the clinic’s garden, Messere.” Nevertheless, she tucked it into her hair, above one of her ears. There. It was almost easy to forget why they were supposed to be playing at nobility at all, really.

The musician that entered through the servant’s entrance was scarcely recognizable as Amalia at all. The Qunari woman had removed her hair from its usual braid, gathering it instead in a lustrous golden ponytail that still draped past her waist to mid-thigh, even pulled over her left shoulder as it was. Her clothing was rather simple by comparison to most of that present, though well-made, and loose enough to obscure the second skin of her armor: a dark green tunic with long sleeves, ebon breeches tucked neatly into well-shined mahogany boots which reached her knees. Over one shoulder, she wore a stylish half-length mantle in the style of bards everywhere, the gold cord at the neck of it its only real adornment. It and her hair did the job of hiding the pale scars just visible above her collar about as effectively as she could hope. All in all, she looked like any rakishly-charming Antivan troubadour, save perhaps the solemnity of her eyes. Her harp was slung across her back, and she carried a box on one hip, which she placed on the gift table near the musicians’ setup.

A much larger item caught her eye, a curious flicker playing across her face when she noted that it was the same thing she’d seen Lucien carrying earlier. She had no idea what it was, though if pressed, she might be able to give a general guess. Shaking her head minutely, she hopped up onto the stage in a single catlike bound, startling an already-nervous youth trying to tune his fiddle. Raising a brow, the Qunari quirked a lip coolly, inclining her head just slightly and taking one of the chairs, crossing her legs up and underneath her to begin the fine process of attenuating her own instrument, which, along with the six knives and twelve needles currently secreted about her person, had been recently polished to a shine, the fine golden wood reflecting the lights from the crystalline candle-holding chandelier above their heads. She’d already checked to make sure nobody was perched in it, but made a note to continue doing so throughout the night. If she were to sabotage the event, that would be one of the three most preferred locations from which to do so.

Lucien was not the kind of man who could wear faces that were not his own. He lacked the conceptual apparatus required for true subterfuge, and though he could keep his feelings from his face if he really needed to, it was a skill he rarely practiced, and his aptitude was limited. He was, however, more than a simple mercenary, however much he might desire otherwise. It had perhaps seldom been more bleedingly-obvious than it was right now. The embroidered tunic he wore was predominantly the deepest black in color, the intricately-wrought details in dark red the feature that saved it from appearing like mourning attire. It fit fashionably snug across the lines of his broad shoulders and chest, cutting a sharp, clean silhouette that spoke somehow of military discipline despite its elegance. The accompanying trousers matched, the red stripe carrying the theme through to the knee-height boots capping his shins. He’d trimmed and neatly tailed his hair, and taken a straight-razor to his face, at least.

Though the fabrics themselves were impeccably-tailored to him, he was quite certain he hadn’t felt this uncomfortable in years. The familiar weight of his armor was gone, and what small weapons he’d managed to tuck into his boots seemed hardly adequate to the task of protecting a life—or more than one, certainly. But he would do as he always had, and get along in whatever circumstances happened to present him with. Hefting the cloth-wrapped present, he handled it with surprising care all the way from Lowtown, where he was almost sure he’d seen Amalia, (though dressed like that, he wasn’t sure it could be her) to the Keep, where he’d managed to find someone to take it in to sit with the others and make his way to the family quarters, where he’d been invited to await the leisure of the evening’s Lady. Not that he thought she was taking anything with particular degrees of leisure of course.

Reaching the appointed door, which was open, he nevertheless knocked on the frame, clearing his throat softly. “Your Excellency, Lady Sophia, Lord Saemus.” he bowed cordially at the waist. The Viscount was more-or-less facing him, but the other two were turned away, and so he let the acknowledgement also serve as announcement of his presence. He was unsure how he would be received by the other members of Sophia’s family, but he’d decided to do this properly, and so he would.

The Viscount and his family had either disagreed on a coordination of color, or they had simply preferred to dress on their own, for as a group they did not match very well at all. Marlowe himself wore dark grey trimmed in gold, with white stripes lining the sides of his dark pants as opposed to Lucien's red. Sleek black boots came up to knee height, and his hands were covered by short black leather gloves. His son was closer to the rear of the immediate room, dressed in a sapphire blue that matched his eyes. It was a rather flamboyant ensemble, his pants a crisp and clean white, his own boots a light tan in color. His black hair was slicked back away from his face quite symmetrically, framing a typically sulky expression. Either Saemus' own company had not yet arrived, or he had elected to avoid selecting a companion altogether.

The Viscount had been carefully adjusting the unusually thin crown of his office upon his bald head when Lucien entered. Sophia turned abruptly at the knock and smiled in greeting, but it was the Viscount who was first to speak. "Ah, Lucien, it is good to make your acquaintance. Sophia's told us nothing but good things about you; a lovely change of pace, I think." He strode forward to close the distance between them and offer his hand for a shake. Sophia made her way over to him as well, taking in the way he'd dressed with obvious approval. Saemus took in the sight of the man with a glimmer of recognition, clearly remembering the one time previous in which they'd encountered each other, on the Wounded Coast years ago, but otherwise left the greeting to his other family members.

"Before we begin this in earnest," the Viscount continued, "I'd like you to know that Sophia's told me everything, and though it took some convincing, she's won me over. If you wish to be of royal blood tonight, you may do so, but if you wish to be simply a mercenary from Lowtown, I would not object. Nor would I have any right to complain about my daughter's choice." The look in his eye, and the smile he gave, was very knowing. He had, after all, married a lowborn mercenary himself.

"A person's actions determine their worth in my eyes, not the social status of their parents. If it makes my daughter happy to have you at her side, then I say there's no finer choice in Kirkwall." Sophia moved to stand next to him, trying to have her smile be reassuring. The look in her eyes, however, conveyed that the issue of Lucien's birth was the only issue that she had informed her father of. Truly, she hadn't wanted to do anything to damage the mood he seemed to be in lately, as it had been quite some time since he'd seemed so adamant about anything. Worrying him about his daughter's safety at her own birthday party was not something she wanted.

Well. That was considerably more than he’d expected out of this, but he supposed it made some sense. He’d done some looking, and knew a fair bit about this family’s history, and they were less disposed than most to the proclivities of other nobles to remain very insular. Grasping the Viscount’s hand firmly, Lucien shook gladly, offering a gracious nod to Saemus as well. “My sincere thanks, then,” he replied with audible relief. It was clear that Marlowe and Saemus did not know his actual reason for being here, but in the end, that didn’t really matter. “If I am to be thrown to the wolves today, I would much prefer to know that those at my back have no desire to share in the evisceration.” His tone was light, his smile slightly crooked—he had a feeling the other two men would understand how he felt, both being used to (and likely weary of) such situations themselves. “If it is all the same to you, I think I shall simply be a chevalier this evening.” He still had his commission, as his father had refused to strip him of it, and most of that knightly order were of noble birth, so it should be acceptable with a minimum of sensation.

Of course, even a minimum of sensation was bound to be quite a lot. Well, he’d deal with that as he must. He was not the most comfortable with these situations, but he wasn’t without a certain amount of poise and social grace. It would be managed. If Kirkwallian nobility were a pack of wolves, Orlesian ones were a den of wyverns. Perhaps dragons.

Last of all, he turned to Sophia. The gentleman’s imperative was to keep his eye where it belonged, and he did, but he wasn’t blind. Brushing his fingers lightly along her palm, he brought her hand up and bowed over it, just barely grazing her knuckles with his lips. “You are beautiful, my lady,” he said gravely, though a slight smile played over his face, “And you look quite exquisite, as well.” It was of course, traditional to pay a compliment of some kind, but he would not deny that the one he had chosen was specific. Simple, perhaps, but he had no wish to make his words empty, or gild a sentiment with too many decoratio