|The Nevarran Mummy Incident
Author: Serindrana PM
In which Jane Amell and Nathaniel Howe go on a glorious expedition into the jaws of certain death - or scholarship. A sequel of sorts to Whispers In The Dark.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Romance - Amell & Nathaniel H. - Chapters: 3 - Words: 21,032 - Reviews: 2 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 07-08-12 - Published: 07-02-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8279557
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Nevarran Mummy Incident
in which Jane Amell and Nathaniel Howe go on a glorious expedition into the jaws of certain death - or scholarship
Nathaniel almost doesn't recognize her.
It's been four years since he last saw the Hero of Ferelden, watching her depart from the wreckage of Vigil's Keep before the repairs were even truly begun. If it wasn't for the mabari that she leans against, he doesn't think he would know her from any of the other dozen people, Grey Wardens mostly, who sit or stand or mill about this section of the grand Nevarra City necropolis. She's abandoned the robes he's always seen her in, high-cut and high-collared in the Tevinter style, in favor of flowing fabric. Her hair is down and long, a great mass of curls, barely corralled under a length of pale rose cloth that covers the top of her head and wraps several times around her neck and shoulders.
He would never have expected to see Jane Amell dressed like a Nevarra native, but he supposes that time can change even her.
What hasn't changed, though, is the look of melancholic calm she has. She has sheaves of rough paper balanced on a board on her lap and he watches as she shuffles through them in search of something. They're covered with notes and with dark charcoal rubbings of inscriptions and carvings. Paperwork of a sort seems to follow her, even now that she is no longer the de facto Arlessa of Amaranthine. He smirks, then looks to his companion.
The man - an escort provided by the local warden-commander - is tall and thin. He looks as if he's drowning in his blue and grey mail, and he fidgets slightly where he stands. His colors say that he's taken his Joining, but Nathaniel thinks he can't be more than twenty. It's probably a good thing that he's on courier duty. If he were out in the field, he'd have even more of the scars that already crisscross his narrow face.
"She doesn't always like to be disturbed," the man- boy- oh, what was his name- Phineas, that's it- whispers.
Nathaniel frowns. "The last time I saw her, she wasn't the angry sort."
"She doesn't get angry." Phineas shrugs. "She gets this sad look. And she always says it's okay, but-"
"It is okay," Nathaniel says, and walks the short distance over to the reclining mage, ignoring Phineas's strained protest about proper introductory form. She doesn't look up even when his shadow falls over her page, and he smirks and crouches down next to her.
"Engrossing, whatever it is."
Jane looks up, startled, and he can't help but twitch as the air around them shifts and shimmers with heat and Veil. But just as quickly as that power surrounds him, it drops again, and Jane smiles. It's not the full grin of old friends meeting, but it is slightly more than he thinks he has a right to expect.
He drops to sit beside her with only the softest creak of his leathers, offering out a hand to the mabari. Shibboleth, he thinks- he's only met the dog once before, when a Grey Warden named Stroud arrived with that Orlesian bard friend of hers and the mabari in tow. Two days later, Jane had set out for Weisshaupt, leaving the reconstruction of Vigil's Keep to him.
Shibboleth snuffles against his hand, wet nose and jowls pressing against his skin just long enough to be uncomfortable. He thinks he feels the lightest slide of teeth against his palm. just before the mabari pulls away and settles down with a hrumph.
"I didn't know you were in the area," Jane says after the exchange is completed. "Are you passing through?"
"No. My assignment's been shifted to Nevarra for a while. I'm on my two weeks' leave of getting to know the place." He can't remember what they talked about those last two days at the Keep. He doesn't remember much of what they talked about before that, except for the veritable chaos that had followed on Anders's courtship of the woman. She's no longer his commander, either, but he still finds himself hoping for some direction from her.
"Are you making a tour of the necropolis, then? I assure you, there are far fewer occasions of possessed corpse uprisings than you'd think." The skin around her eyes crinkles as she smiles again, and he thinks he can see the beginnings of fine lines. They're all getting older, bit by bit.
"Oh, I'm sure the Nevarrans build their walls thick enough to keep them all trapped inside the tombs."
She laughs, and it's the quiet little laugh that came before Anders. "Indeed they do. We've only come across one or two of the dead in our-" She glances around, then over to Phineas, who's still standing there looking nervous. She nods to him and he points to himself. She gestures back towards the city; he takes the opportunity and hurries out of the gate.
"Investigation. Phineas doesn't like hearing about it - he hates being here, too. Warden-Commander Malvean must be angry with him to send him over here." Jane turns her attention back to her papers, straightening them up and setting them and her writing board aside. "We're performing a service for the Pentaghasts - recording all that we can from the oldest tombs, then clearing them to make sure that there are no wandering corpses trapped inside."
Nathaniel stands when she does, eyeing her with a quirked brow. "They're letting you in?"
"Only into the ones built before they came to power. None of their own. But it's the older ones that worry us, anyway." She resettles her headscarf, then nods to the tomb closest to them. It's old and made of marble and metal. It looks as if there used to be carved friezes on the columns ringing the structure, but rain, wind and age have rubbed them almost smooth. The building itself is far lower to the ground than the others and is built in the round with decorative flanges; a narrow tower that can't contain any rooms at all sticks up like a spoke in the center.
"This one," Jane continues, "is obviously built to resemble Tevinter architecture, which was in fashion several ages before the Pentaghasts sat on the throne. We know that the other Tevinter-style tombs all go into the earth." Jane gestures between other structures as she moves towards it. Nathaniel isn't sure if he should follow until he feels Shibboleth bump his nose against the backs of his knees. "Most of the later Pentaghast tombs either sprawl or tower or both; they don't delve, and so we don't worry. But this style…"
"You think darkspawn may have broken through?"
"It's a distinct possibility, and the reason why we're involved instead of a Chantry delegation or some scholars from Cumberland."
"I'd begun to wonder when the Wardens had turned academic," he says, dryly, watching as she approaches the building and runs her hand over a carved piece of stone that fits snugly into one of the many seemingly ornamental arches.
She looks over her shoulder and shrugs. "You let mages into the Grey Wardens, things get lit on fire and books get written. Or at least, mountains of sketches. We've been out here all season and my office is beginning to fill up."
"Have you found anything yet?" He settles against one of the columns.
"A few ambling skeletons, one revenant that seemed very, very lost… some lyrium offerings that we left in place. No sign of darkspawn yet, thank the Maker."
"You're not itching for a good fight?"
"Not when it would end in us having to somehow bribe the dwarves enough to seal whatever hole they were pouring up through. I don't want a repeat of what happened in Amaranthine."
He grunts in agreement and she leaves the archway, coming to stand before him with her fingers clasped loosely behind her. They're of a height and her eyes no longer slide from his when he tries to catch her gaze. "You've changed," he says, voice dropping.
"Hopefully for the better," she agrees. "Four years of not having to save the world helps, I'll admit. I haven't been able to mess up quite as spectacularly with the stakes so much lower."
"Good," he says, then frowns. "That is-"
She holds up a hand and he stops. "I understand."
"… I wasn't sure how I was going to find you, given what happened with Anders."
"Four years," she reminds him with a thin smile and a shrug. "I've moved on."
Four years ago, she'd left Anders with a promise that she'd come back as soon as she could, and while Nathaniel had stood there watching the exchange, he'd been sure that words of love were finally going to pass the lips of one of them. They'd danced around it for months.
Neither said it.
Nathaniel had left to visit Denerim to meet with the crown about his and his sister's involvement with his father's crimes a week later. By the time he'd returned, there was a new warden-commander of Ferelden, Justice had disappeared, and Anders had killed a host of templars and fled with half of the Deep Roads maps stored in the keep. He had been the one to pen a letter to Jane while the warden-commander sent word on to Weisshaupt. Jane had never responded.
He looks at her now with some strange mix of pity and pride; the Jane Amell he met in the dungeon of Vigil's Keep might have broken and withdrawn into herself, but the woman before him has so clearly mastered and pushed aside whatever grief she still feels. The Grey Wardens have been good to her. Or, perhaps, this is Anders's legacy, a stronger Jane Amell that has a distant melancholy in her eyes but whose sight and words are clear.
"Good," he repeats.
A myriad of emotions cross her features, but she settles into amusement as she leans towards him and just slightly to his left. He tenses at how near she comes and frowns when she taps at the marble by his head.
"You know," she says, "I think he looks just like you."
"This, here. Look." She's pointing to a weathered carving and he squints at it as he moves to stand beside her. "It's a figure who's cropped up a few times on the outside of this one. It might even be his tomb."
"How… charming," he mutters. "And hopefully not prophetic."
She laughs. "Hopefully not. Will you be joining my little expeditionary force, then? You'll have to sit out here all day and draw pictures. Unless you happen to speak an old form of bastardized Tevinter? The Nevarrans went for all the trappings of authenticity back then."
"As they do now." Nathaniel peers at the carving a little longer - it does seem to share something of his nose, he concedes - before turning to Jane. She's close and he fights the urge to take a step back. "It depends on if I'd actually be of any use. I'm sure I could find a corner at the compound to scowl from, if it comes down to it."
"I'd certainly appreciate the help when we open this one, which should be within the week. I usually take a small band in at first, and it'd be nice working with an old- companion." She almost says friend, he can catch the leading edge of the fricative, but stops herself and puts a little distance between them, covering her retreat by bending down to scratch Shibboleth behind one ear. The mabari's leg thumps happily against the ground. "It'll be just like at- oh, but you weren't there."
Nathaniel waits for her to clarify, crossing his arms over his chest. It takes a moment, but then she looks up and smiles sheepishly. "During the Blight, I spent about a week in an old Tevinter ruin, complete with tombs, in the Brecilian Forest. That one was particularly crowded. Werewolves on top of everything else, and there was- a lot else."
"Ah." He glances back towards the city, a dark sprawl on the horizon that contrasts sharply with the glimmering white and metal splendor all around them. "I don't think you'd told me that story before. But you do seem more given to rambling these days."
"Do I? Oh, sorry. I haven't- really had many people to talk to. Well, aside from giving orders to them." She's moving back to her original spot and he finds himself watching her as she crouches to gather up her work.
"I think you just gave me orders, back in our 'good old days', Amell," he says with a wondering shake of his head.
She shrugs and casts a wry smile over her shoulder at him before setting off in the vague direction of the city. "Yes, but you watched me kill the Architect and don't look at my sideways trying to figure out just how I managed to kill the archdemon without dying. It's refreshing. It's like… seeing a piece of home, transported here."
"Me. Home." He snorts.
Color rises to her sunkissed cheeks. "I never said it made sense. Come on- I'll introduce you to the rest of the crew, and we can go over the plans for dealing with whatever's in there over dinner."
She may not be spending her time saving the world and he may not have the fondest memories of her leadership, but like before there's something convincing in the way she speaks, the determined set of her shoulders. He finds himself falling into step behind her with surprising ease and just hopes that, this time, there won't be any trips to haunted, soggy towns with demons crawling all over.
It ends up being three days before they manage to get any work done. Darkspawn are sighted fifteen miles out from the city and Nathaniel is drafted into the detachment that goes out to take care of them. He comes back the next night, and the conversation tends towards old adventures instead of new ones. The more he draws small, nostalgic smiles from her, the more Jane forgets what it is they're supposed to be talking about.
She doesn't remember enjoying his conversation this much back in Amaranthine, but she isn't about to shy away from the odd camaraderie that's beginning to grow between them. They stumble around the more awkward topics - Eileen Bensley, Anders, her decision to protect the city at the expense of his childhood home - and focus more on complaining about Oghren, wondering where Velanna has disappeared off to, reminiscing about Sigrun. He tells her about pushing into the Deep Roads, finally traveling to Weisshaupt, even visiting Vyrantium, and in return she tells him about the year she'd spent in Rivain helping to establish a Grey Warden presence as far north as Seere, and the tense moment when she had offered the Joining cup to a Tal-Vashoth.
By the time they've covered three of the four years they've been apart, the common room of the compound is empty and Jane's eyes are too heavy to stay open.
The third night, though, they fare better. It helps that she insists they eat in her small office. All of her maps and papers are there, after all, and the warm din of the common room isn't quite as noticeable, even with the door left open. Food is quickly abandoned in favor of spreading out a diagram of the last tomb she explored, and she pauses in her explanations only to refill their glasses of peach wine.
"I didn't think you drank," Nathaniel says when she pours herself a second glass.
She pointedly looks out the door to where loud cheers are erupting at semi-regular intervals. "I've picked up a few habits while here. It's hard not to."
"You resisted Oghren just fine."
She rolls her eyes and takes a sip of the sweet, slightly spiced drink. "That wasn't too hard to do. Anyway," she says, shifting forward and gesturing to the map, "the tombs from this period usually go about five stories below the ground. A few have gone a little lower, but not by much. They're all trapped to some extent, but the paths are generally direct. From the research we've been doing, it seems like the tombs have always been built so that the body can be brought into it later, which works to our advantage - they're totally navigable. No chambers sealed off by ten feet of rock on all sides."
"I'm assuming you'll want me to handle the traps?" The look he's giving her, the intense, slightly distrustful look, is familiar if not entirely appreciated. He doesn't seem disappointed in her this time around, which Jane appreciates, but he's still watching carefully.
She glances away and takes another sip, feeling it go to her cheeks in a bloom of heat. "Mm, or we can just try not to trigger them. But yes, it would be- helpful. Though it's not why I want you there."
"Old traveling companion, right."
"Exactly." Another sip, and then she's refilling her glass. She may feel more comfortable around him now than four years ago, but his judgment is still nearly overwhelming and even when it's meant jokingly, it takes her back to Amaranthine just after she'd almost gotten Anders killed. She reminds herself firmly that there is absolutely no reason to sit with her palms flat on the desk and wait out a lecture.
Instead, she stands and comes around to his side of the desk, leaning over him to point out some details. "The traps will slow us down even if there aren't any skeletons to disassemble. We'll be in for at least two days. I'll have them seal the door behind us."
"And how do we get out again?" He leans back in the loveseat he'd dragged over to the desk, then bats the trailing edge of her headscarf away from his face.
She shifts to sitting on the arm of the couch so that she isn't directly above him. "Magic," she says, simply, and waggles her fingers. "Very useful stuff."
He snorts. "Indeed. And if you're injured…?"
Jane stares at the map for a long moment, then bites at her lower lip. "… It hasn't happened yet."
"That is a horrible excuse." Nathaniel sighs and her stomach sinks and twists. Half of her glass of wine slides down her throat before she has time to think about it. She's focusing on how the burn feels very similar to how she's blushing from shame when he speaks again, saying, "You should know better than to let a task rest only on one person."
It's the softness in his voice that drags her gaze back to him. He's leaning against the other arm of his seat, legs stretched out in front of him and crossed at the ankle, watching her from over the rim of his own glass- which, she notes, is also half empty.
"I know," she concedes, quietly.
"It'd be easy enough to have them open the door again at a set time and send in a larger party to find us if we're not waiting for them. Depending on how tightly the door seals again, we could also run some sort of thread out to them and work out a signaling system." He shrugs, taking a sip. "I'd approve of either, as a back-up plan to your own."
"A gracious mutiny, then," Jane laughs, some of her tension falling away. She finishes her glass and sets it aside, pursing her lips and studying the map again. "Do you think we should take Shibboleth?" The mabari in question harumphs from his bed behind her desk before going back to sleep. "He doesn't like the dark. I think it reminds him too much of the Deep Roads."
"Why would you take him, then?"
"Well, it's just been the two of us for all the other tombs." She can feel Nathaniel fix that judging, strained look on her again and she tries to fend it off by grabbing up the bottle and topping off his wine. It doesn't help, and it leaves her leaning slightly over him, frozen. "How is that any different than us going alone?"
"I have thumbs," Nathaniel says.
"This is true."
"And I'm not afraid of the dark." He's staring her down and it's working almost too well; she barely manages not to spill wine onto the floor, righting the angle of the bottle at the last minute.
She colors and tries to cover it up by saying, "That's a good thing."
"And…" He trails off, frowning, and she slowly, uneasily smiles.
"You can't think of anything else, can you?"
"… The thumbs are important," he mutters, drinking deeply and looking away.
Jane laughs, finally moving again and setting the bottle aside. She considers pouring herself another glass but she can already feel the edges of softness, her skin beginning to tingle just a little. Instead, she begins to stand up.
Nathaniel's hand settles over hers where it's braced against the tall back of the couch and she hesitates. "Yes?"
He seems to be struggling to find what he wants to say and she spends the time trying with increasing determination to ignore how warm his hand is on hers. It's been several years since she felt skin against skin in any intentional way and wine always makes her want- need physical contact. But this is Nathaniel Howe whose only emotions regarding her have been disappointment, irritation, and, at best, bemusement, so there's no point in-
She's about to say something, anything, but all that comes out is a shaky exhale. He watches her expectantly. When she finally shrugs and settles onto the cushion next to him, she's all too aware of how their legs are touching just slightly. The seat is cramped the way he's sitting, legs still stretched out an angle, and he doesn't move.
"So," he says, and she watches as his tongue peeks out between his lips. He swallows before looking back to the map. "Two days. How much gear are we taking down with us, then?"
"Ah-" Jane forces herself to stop watching him and instead leans forward again, leaning her forearms against the desk. She can't see him from this angle; it helps her focus. "Dried fruit, some very dense, very hard biscuits. Water will be the biggest thing, and bedrolls, but if it looks like the tomb is empty, we can set up a base camp and leave things while we confirm."
"Torches? Paper to record all of those carvings you're so interested in?"
She looks back over her shoulder at him, holds up a hand, and flames jump and dance along her fingertips. "And no, we'll record once we're sure it's clear, when we bring in the rest of the team."
He ducks his head and she thinks she can see a sheepish smile twisting his lips. "Right. That all makes sense."
She laughs and turns her attention back to the diagram. "I do sometimes know what I'm doing." Sometimes is not right now, however; she isn't sure what to make of how he shifts his leg against hers or how he settles his hand on the small of her back, leaning forward to join her against the desk. His touch is light and hesitant and when she twitches, he begins to pull it away. Jane glances at him and offers a shy, confused smile.
He settles his hand against her again and says, "Yes, you do. Apologies for doubting you." There's no censure there, no sarcasm.
"Um," she says, blushing to the tips of her ears and pulling her lower lip between her teeth to worry at it. "I- thanks? I try-" She's not sure exactly what she's trying to say, except that the unexpected praise makes her want to grin uncontrollably. Nathaniel's approval feels like a victory.
His hands, meanwhile, feel warm and uncertain as he touches his fingers to her cheek, then to her chin. Her mouth falls open just as he takes a deep breath and leans in to press his lips to hers. She mumbles something surprised before responding, lifting a hand to tangle it in his hair, and his hands find her waist and-
They tumble off the couch, overextended, and Jane yelps as her head thuds against the floor.
Nathaniel sits up immediately, mumbling apologies and helping her up. Jane laughs, awkwardly, and reaches ups to heal whatever damage has been done. They regain their feet and stand there, staring while they barely look at one another.
"Um-" Nathaniel says.
"I didn't know-" Jane says.
They stop and stare again. It's Nathaniel who speaks first, uncertainty making his voice low and gruff. At least, she thinks it's uncertainty."Maybe- maybe we shouldn't- talk about that. Again."
"Oh." Disappointment and relief both shoot through her and she frowns.
He runs a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have-"
She shakes her head, reaching out to touch his arm and then letting her hand drop before it comes within an inch. "No! No, it was- fine. I…" Jane trails off, looking to him helplessly.
"We should- probably turn in. So we're ready to go in the morning," he mumbles.
"Right. Right, that's probably a good idea." Jane pulls her headscarf free so that she can run a hand through her hair, mimicking his nervous motions now. She watches as he picks up his glass, then sets it down again, then moves for the door. She thinks that maybe she should say something else, ask him to stay, but she's always been bad at this, and so she stays silent until the door closes behind him.
She turns to Shibboleth, then, who is just beginning to stir from his nap.
"… So, that just happened," she says, wrapping her hair back up. Shibboleth whines in confusion and she shakes her head, beginning to gather up her papers and clean up her office.
Nathaniel nearly thanks the Maker aloud when he and Jane come to stand before the tomb's door the next morning and she hasn't said a word about the night before. He's still not sure what prompted him to kiss her. He would blame it on the alcohol completely except that he remembers feeling very deliberate about it, remembers how she looked when he'd praised her just a little, remembers how it was only surprise that made him flee the room.
No. Better to blame it on the alcohol; she is his commander and, historically, not a very good one. And Jane Amell's relationships always end tragically.
But there's little point in comparing himself to the king of Ferelden or an apostate Warden, especially not while Jane and several of the other mages present in the necropolis pull the towering slab of white stone free of its arch just far enough that Nathaniel can heft their supplies and slip into the gloom. Jane follows, circling around the stone with her hands raised and glowing a faint violet. She backs in to the dark with him, shouting out commands, until the stone settles back into place.
Nathaniel can see just a little by the remaining glow on Jane's hand, and he uses it to hunt for the torch he's brought along. Magic may have been enough for her and her mabari, but if it is to be this dark-
The darkness falls away as if it never was. Jane is closer than he thought and leaning in, looking at him with an amused, slightly questioning expression.
"Didn't trust me?"
"If you're tired or injured-" he begins, his own surprised look turning quickly to a glare.
"You're right," she interrupts, holding up one of her hands. It's only then that he notices that the light isn't coming from her. Not directly, anyway; a sphere roughly a foot across hovers in the air before them. There's a faint glow around Jane's left index finger that mimics the color and light of their lantern, but it's the only sign that it's connected to her at all.
He notices, too, the sad little smile that touches her lips as she speaks and just as quickly fades. His glare, in turn, falls to a frown as he wonders just why that twist of her lips makes him feel guilty. For every time in Amaranthine that he corrected her, overrode her, ignored her, he never felt uncertain or apologetic. It had always needed to be done.
Jane shrugs, looking away from him and to their light. "It would just be better to keep your torch until we absolutely need it. I doubt you have more than one, since you snuck that into our gear."
He grunts in response, turning to inspect their surroundings. Quiet observation suits him better than arguing or apologizing, and his eyes scan the length of the walls that are illuminated. They're made of the same white stone as the exterior and carved in the same style, endless processions of figures bearing gifts and leading armies. There is paint here, too, on some of the panels: brilliant blues and vibrant oranges, set off by gilding and inlays. The hall begins to glimmer as Jane brings a light closer, coming to stand beside him.
She makes a pleased little sound and he glances over. She points to one of the figures.
"It's you again."
He rolls his eyes but can't help his small, rough laugh. "So it is." This carving is far less worn than the one outside and he has to admit now that there really is some resemblance. Even beyond the nose, they share similarly shaped ears, a slightly furrowed brow, long hair. Even the eyes are similar; the carving has grey pearls for irises. Nothing else is painted, though the armor is gilded. The figure even has a bow slung on his back.
"Eerie," he says, finally pulling away and looking down the corridor. "So, down this corridor and-"
"You know, this might not be his tomb after all. Or at least, not just his tomb." Jane has come close enough to the wall that her fingers now hover just above the surface. "There's another figure that repeats just as often."
She looks up, then glances down sheepishly. "Right. Theorizing comes later." She goes back over to her pack and hefts it up. He does the same, watching as she pulls her lower lip between her teeth. "Down this corridor we should come to at least one set of branching passages. They'll go to secondary tomb spaces, possibly for servants or animals. Then there will probably be a spiral staircase going down at least two stories, and then another series of passages. The stairs to the very bottom will be hidden."
"And that's why I traded the maps for this torch." He smirks at Jane's surprised look. She laughs, that uneasy little sound, and fiddles with her headscarf.
"Guess I'm good for something after all, hm?"
"Lightening pack loads. Something to be proud of, for sure."
Her little smile tightens in response, and he curses inwardly as she sets off down the passage.
The walls are decorated down their entire length, and when Jane sets the light hovering a foot above their heads so as not to blind them, Nathaniel can see intricate geometric carvings casting complex shadows that make it almost seem as if they move. More than once, he has to nudge Jane's shoulder or cough to pull her away from a new inscription, a decorated floor tile, or just the ambiance of the room.
He's not entirely sure how she managed to explore the other tombs without simply sitting down and staring wondrously around for days on end.
When he asks, finally, she shrugs.
"When it was just me and Shibboleth, I didn't really look. He wanted to get out, so I pushed through as fast as I could. Head down. Like in the Wending Woods."
He bites back a comment about just how far she'd kept her head down (practically to the Deep Roads, really) during their first foray into the Wending Woods. It's hard; he can still remember Anders falling with a genlock sword through his gut and the world freezing all around them as Jane panicked. He manages to only make a noncommittal noise as he pushes past her and takes the lead.
There's a chance, he realizes a few yards further down the hall, that she might end up distracted and he wouldn't even notice, but a glance back shows her following close at his heels. She's learned, then, that she doesn't always need to lead. It's probably for the best.
Except that he can't shake the feeling that it's more that Jane's realized she shouldn't lead, and that it's all his fault.
Still, it's probably for the best.
There are sconces at regular intervals along the walls and some still hold dessicated wood. He glances to Jane and points to them, but she shakes her head.
"Did that once. The room… well. It was suddenly a very black, very ashy room."
The cross passage is there just where Jane has predicted it, the carvings on the walls falling away as the juncture approaches. The geometric patterns from the ceiling replace them, trailing down the walls like vines, then meeting at the floor in the center of the hall's widening, where it intersects with four other passages and continues along down in a noticeable slope.
Jane sets her pack down and sends the glow sphere to bob in the center of the room.
"Feel anything?" she asks, frowning.
He narrows his eyes and inclines his head, listening for the telltale buzz around the edges of his consciousness that means darkspawn. He stretches out along tendrils of his own resonance, then pulls back, shaking his head.
"Nothing. Should we head down?"
"Not just yet." She peers down one of the side corridors. "There could still be possessed dead. The main passage could also be trapped and need a switch somewhere else."
Nathaniel nods, walking to the center of the room they're in, his feet slightly unsteady on the carved floor. There are too many crannies and ridges for his comfort. "With the size of this tomb, those halls can't be too long. Should we-"
"Split up?" She stares owlishly at him. "That's- a horrible idea."
"It's more efficient."
"Only if those halls are completely empty and we're willing to waste your torch now."
He grunts, crossing his arms over his chest and trying not to let his embarrassment show. "Well, commander, if you're willing to waste the time inste-"
He's cut off by the sound of stone on stone and the clang of metal. Old iron grates drop in front of the exits to the room and as he looks up, the dust of grinding rock falls into his eyes.
"Oh, Maker's mercy," Jane breathes. She runs to one of the carved walls and shouts over her shoulder, "Don't just stand there, look for a button!"
"A button! In one of the carvings, there'll be something you can- you can press or twist and if the mechanism is still working, it'll send the ceiling back up."
"Have you done this before?"
"No, Phineas did- that's why he hates coming down here. Now, stop standing there and look!"
Nathaniel shakes himself and drops to his knees, crawling across the floor, fingers searching even as his legs protest at being prodded by the raised designs. "Can't you just- use magic? To push it back up?"
"I can try, but I can't guarantee anything! It might be warded!"
"It's ages old, Jane!"
"Since when have you been studying ward duration?" Jane snaps, turning away from the wall she's searching to glare at him.
He bites back a growled swear, redoubling his efforts to find the littlest difference. Some of the stone crumbles at his touch, and he glances up with growing fear at the slowly descending ceiling. It couldn't have crossed more than half a foot, but the room feels so much smaller, so much closer already.
There's a flare of sickly yellow-green from the corner of his eye. He turns and Jane's there, hands raised up, staff in one hand while the fingers of her other dance so quickly he can barely follow them. The glow sphere goes out, plunging them into darkness except for the light surrounding Jane, and all he can focus on is the concentration twisting her face so much that the shadows make her look barely human.
The grinding stops.
Nathaniel exhales and sits back on his heels as Jane brings their light back to life. She's panting and her headscarf has fallen down around her shoulders. She looks over at him and smiles thinly.
"That just leaves the gates."
"At least we can search at a more leisurely pace this time." He shakes his head, turning back to the floor. He looks it over, searching for anything that looks out of the ordinary. He's crossing the room at a crouch, in pursuit of an inlaid stone that glints a dull grey in the growing light of their sphere, when a loud groan shakes the room.
"Oh, no," Jane whispers, the sound almost lost.
He looks up.
The ceiling is descending faster than before, its screech of stone on stone louder and all-consuming. There's something new, too, extending past the intricate patterns and glinting dangerously. Nathaniel swears.
"Where did the spikes come from!"
"Bad reaction to me working on the ward!" Jane shouts as she practically runs along the walls, hands searching. She drops her staff. The light begins to die again and he yells her name; it surges bright again. He scrambles across the floor, looking between the stone, her, the ceiling above.
It's getting closer.
They can't have more than a minute left before the first spikes reach the top of Jane's head. Jane is saying something, something he isn't sure is even in Common but is definitely something old, maybe even older than the Chant. She's stumbling over herself. He forces himself not to watch, not to care about anything other than his own hide.
His eyes fix on that dull grey glint.
His hands and knees protest as he frantically chases that tiny glimpse and he grits his teeth hard enough that his jaw aches in time with his hammering pulse. His leathers are little protection when he's moving so fast, his body digging into the stone for leverage. There's blood on his hands and it's not that the stone is sharp; it's that he's pushing hard enough to break his own skin.
Jane screams and the world explodes in fire just as he slams his hand down on the tiny grey pearl.
At first all sound dies. There's only ragged breathing from the corner of the room and the roar of blood in his ears. And then there's the ebb and flow of awareness of Jane, the darkness in her veins calling to his.
And then there's the grind of stone on stone and Nathaniel almost screams, pressing himself flush to the floor.
But the sound grows just a tiny bit softer with each passing moment, and when he works up the courage, the will, to roll onto his back, the sharp glinting silverite points are retreating. The groan of the ceiling is soon joined by an echoing, metallic creak as the gates lift up.
The air is hot and acrid from the dancing fire that had filled it only moments before and Nathaniel coughs as he pulls himself to his feet. He swallows hard when he sees Jane crumpled in a heap of smoldering fabric in the corner of the room, her staff forgotten yards away. There's the faintest hint of blood seeping out into the channels of the stone.
The light goes out before he's halfway to her.
"Jane!" he shouts, slowing his pace. The last thing she needs is for him to run straight into or fall ontop of her.
Her voice is soft and unsteady, but he clearly hears her mumble, "Alive."
He moves towards her voice, then drops to one knee when he thinks he can hear her breathing. "Not dying?" He reaches out a hand and finds her too-close, only an inch at most from his boot. He shifts back.
"I don't- think so." She coughs and shudders beneath his hand. "Just a moment. I can-"
The sphere begins to emit a pale blue glow and he watches her sit up. He keeps his hand on her shoulder, steadying her.
He thinks he can see a thin smile, but it disappears fast, and his eyes fix instead on the trail of blood seeping from her hairline and down her temple.
She closes her eyes, touches her tongue to her lips, drawing his eyes back down. The skin there is cracked and he hisses at the sight; her cheeks look flushed, but when he lifts his other hand to her jaw, he can feel them radiating heat.
"Just a moment," she repeats.
"I can wait."
Her lips quirk into a smile for just a second before she hisses and lets it fall. Her eyes open and she furrows her brow. She lifts a hand, twitches her fingers once, twice, old movements that bring spells to mind and fruition even when her thoughts race. Faded green light envelops her and she sighs, falling forward.
He catches her, awkwardly, and tries to shift so that she can lean against him.
Her fingers flick again. More green light, this time stronger, and her lips heal over before his eyes. The room grows brighter and less blue.
"Are you badly injured?" he murmurs.
She hums thoughtfully. "No. No, not badly. Just- tired."
She twists a little to look up at him. "… the- are you burned? I didn't mean to do that, but sometimes if I'm very scared-"
"I remember the torches in Vigil's Keep," he reminds her. He had never put it together before, but he isn't surprised. He's so used to seeing her boil and burn their enemies that it makes sense she would use it as a last line of defense- or make it dance when Anders had her up against a wall.
No, he doesn't want to think about that.
She's laughing, leaning heavily against him now. "I'm just a bit tired. Give me five minutes and I'll be back up. Promise."
She could probably have used about ten minutes, to be honest. Or an hour. Or a good night's rest.
But she dutifully picks herself up after five, murmuring abundant thank yous to Nathaniel, who, now that his fear has worn off, looks awkward and confused. He relaxes when she's standing again, and she wonders if he might fall onto his back in relief.
He doesn't, of course, but the mental image makes bow her head to hide a smile.
She focuses on strengthening the link between her and the light, which has lost its blue tinge (if asked, she wouldn't be able to explain why it had been blue in the first place) but has not grown notably brighter. It sputters and she frowns. She must be more tired than she thinks.
She's brought lyrium, though, just a little bit, and she picks up her staff as she makes for her pack. It would be just as easy to reopen the cut on top of her scalp, courtesy of a spike that had caught her when she'd turned frantically to see Nathaniel in those last moments, and weave the blood into the link, but she held off.
That waits for the direst of moments. Until then, she won't use that part of herself. Nathaniel doesn't need to see it.
She reaches her pack and fumbles it open, fishing around inside for one of the small vials she'd had prepared. She's never been good at herbalism and she doesn't trust herself handling the stuff; it sings its siren call even in dust form.
She glances back to Nathaniel, who is retrieving his own pack (and quiver, she notes- there are arrows everywhere around where he had been standing when the trap had triggered). Jane quickly puts the vial to her lips and tilts the contents in her mouth.
It's impossible to restrain her quiet moan, and Nathaniel's head jerks up, eyes fixing on her. Her vision goes blurry and her fingers curl tightly around the vial, then go limp. It falls to the floor and bounces with a faint ringing.
In that year she traveled with Alistair and brought down the archdemon, she'd done this countless times. She'd had to drink deep. She could have pulled power from corpses, but in those days she'd shied away from her affinity with the dead. She had learned how to cast from her blood at Redcliffe but had kept it secret. Wynne would have been horrified, after what she'd been through. And Alistair-
So she'd drunk deep of lyrium when they had it, and they'd accumulated so much in Orzammar.
Now, the feeling is familiar, overwhelming and glorious, and she feels her mind dance upon the Veil. It never fails to make her smile.
Nathaniel clears his throat and she comes back down, albeit hazy and soft around the edges. "Enjoy that?"
"It's been a while," she says, shrugging as she feels her cheeks begin to burn. She twitches her left index finger, curls it under, and the light flares to full life. "There we go."
He comes to her side, crouching and scooping up the vial. "You know, for all that you and Anders got excited over that massive store of lyrium in Kal'Hirol, I don't think I remember seeing you take much."
"And you won't now, either," she evades, lifting the glass from his fingers and tucking it and its stopper back into her pack. "Come on. We'll leave our things here for now. Four hopefully empty hallways and then we can go downstairs."
"I'm not sure I'm looking forward to it, if all the rooms are like this one." He glances up.
"There's usually one major trap and a few small ones. Granted, I've never been in a tomb with one this… intense, but we should be fine. Come on."
She notices she's holding her hand out to him only when he looks down at it, frowns, and then reaches out hesitantly to take it. She coughs and lets hers drop and he does the same. She busies herself pulling her hair back over her shoulders and rewinding her scarf as she sets off for one of the hallways, his soft footfalls behind her the only other sound.
She's moved on to twitching at her sleeves and vest by the time he breaks the silence.
"… So, the next time a mage tells me something is a bad idea, I think I'll listen."
"Well, we've learned something, then," she says, looking back at him with a surprised smile. He'd gone back to being critical after last night's awkwardness, but a near death experience seems to be mellowing him again. Her shoulders relax.
"Trust that the mage knows about magic."
"And I'll trust that the rogue knows something about finding hidden switches."
He smiles at that.
They reach the end of the hallway where it widens out into a room much like the center chamber. The geometric patterns don't leave the ceiling, however, and the walls are painted as well as carved. Instead of processions of figures, there are stylized trees that stretch the height of the room. A few strands of emerald beads still hang from the ceiling like trailing vines, but the majority of the strings have long since rotted away, leaving stones scattered over the ground.
There are also three skeletons, long dead, and she crouches by each of them.
"They're quiet," she says.
"I've never understood," Nathaniel says, leaning in the doorway, "why the Nevarrans choose not to burn their dead."
"I've always thought that it started out to insult the Orlesians. We'll follow the Chant differently, so there, that sort of thing."
"But it leaves them so open to- to the hungry dead. There are enough of them from unknown deaths and battles, why make the problem worse?"
Jane shrugs. "The majority of the common people still burn their dead. Embalming and burying are status symbols. After all, if you can't afford to build a tomb complex, what's the point in preserving the body? Only those aspiring to power or those in power attempt it."
Nathaniel exhales sharply in response, then turns away. "Well, if they're resting, then let's get to the others."
They walk side by side this time; the halls are wide enough and Jane finds it far more comforting. She's still a bit shaken from the collapse in the main room and her head is still fogged from her lyrium dose. She finds herself humming, softly, as they walk.
Nathaniel frowns. She stops.
The next hallway is much the same. It stretches about as far and ends in a widened room. This room is painted to look like it's surrounded by towering cliffs and the floor is covered in inlaid semi-precious pebbles that catch her attention with how they shift and glint. Two small side hallways branch from the room and Nathaniel moves to investigate one.
"Empty?" she asks, and he grunts in response. "Oh, good. Hopefully it'll all be like that." She's smiling and moving to the other crevice-like passage when she hears a low hiss.
She hears him shout and curse and she wheels just in time to see him fall backwards out of the hall. He's streaked with something dark that smells like corruption and death and she looks around, hand going to her staff. "Nathaniel, where-"
"Look up," he whispers.