"Are you sure this is the right place?"
Alistair ran a hand through his hair. "Really? I mean 'dirty back alley'? It's not very specific. Could apply to—"
Oghren snorted. "—Just trust me."
With a growl, Sten nodded cross the road. The strange dwarf smirked to see them, trailing an idle hand along his hip as he swayed. Behind him came half a dozen others, leading a bound and hooded figure between them. Two of them broke wide to level crossbows at their chests.
They had made a brief stop at the Pearl, leaving Flora behind and recovering their proper gear. Old, cumbersome, perhaps a bit dented and ill tended, but never had he been so glad for the weight. Alistair shifted, steadying himself, as the dwarf waggled a finger.
"You have my coin?"
"Good. Now. You bring it here."
Behind him, Sten stiffened. "This is not wise."
"'Course it ain't." Oghren raised his voice. "You surfacers lose your honor along with your Stone sense?"
The other dwarf stroked his beard, elbow jutting as he braced a hand against his waist. "Me a surfacer?" Smirking, he shifted hips. "Oh yes, I have heard of you Oghren. The pride of the Sword Caste. Already they are saying that you got so drunk that you stumbled up into the sky."
Alistair found himself laying a hand on the dwarf's arm, holding him back as he growled. "Oghren."
Sten moved to his other side. "Calm yourself."
"Vaeta." The other dwarf stepped between his guards, dragging the hooded figure forward by his bonds. "We will honor our bargain. You toss the coin; we send you the elf."
"Unwind your bows, duster. Then we'll see." Already the rage seemed to be subsiding, though Oghren's cheeks still flamed.
With a flippant sigh, he waggled his fingers. The bowmen unfitted their bolts. "Now. My coin."
Glancing briefly to the others, Alistair bent to slide the purse across the stones. The elf was sent staggering toward them with a kick behind the knee.
Alistair, too, found himself gritting his teeth as he pulled the hood away, blinking into the wide eyes of an elf he did not recognize.
The dwarf glanced up from the purse with a grin.
"This isn't Zevran!"
"Your elf. Your friend. Your elf friend. That was our deal."
"Hey! We don't even know hi—" He skidded to a stop, the pair of crossbows pointed directly at him now.
"—Your friend. From last night. Particularly friendly with you, I saw." There was a knowing smirk there. As the others closed in to cover his retreat, the dwarf blew them a bowing kiss.
But the elf was still gagged, mumbling as he struggled to free his wrists. With a sigh, Alistair cut the bonds, pulling the soiled cloth from his mouth.
"Alistair! Thank the Maker!"
"It's Dag! Dagrian? The apothecary?"
He shook his head.
The elf's smile turned sheepish as he rubbed the stiffness from his wrists. "Well, amateur apothecary anyway. Mostly I just work at the Pearl."
Alistair turned to Oghren. "What?"
"He's a whore."
The elf shrugged, grin spreading as Alistair flushed. "Wait… he said… did-did we…?"
Dagrian laughed, slipping an arm round his shoulders. "No, no, unfortunately no. But I did do you a favor. Tell me, how did it go?"
"How did what go?"
He leaned close with a conspiratorial wink. "The potion. For your drinks. How was it?"
Sten had folded his arms, stepping closer. "What did you give us? Speak."
The elf backed away, holding up his palms defensively. "Hey! Hey! All of you were keen enough. A special night, you said. Paid me good coin for it."
"What. Was. It."
"Just a little Incense of Awareness. Supposed to, y'know, expand your mind they say. Give a good bit of kick to the ale."
Alistiar quirked a brow. "That's not… exactly what happened."
"Oh?" Holding up a finger, Dagrian dug into his pouches. "Magebane, Deathroot, Rock Salve, Incense of A— Oh. Heh."
"Uh, might not have exactly been—" He held up a vial with a shrug.
"Then what was it?"
Again, he rifled through his pouches, counting the glasses rattling there. "Hmm, Soldier's Bane most like."
"Soldier's Bane? We drank Soldier's Bane?"
"We were poisoned by a whore."
Chuckling, Oghren glanced up at the qunari. "Like I said, a good night."
He scowled. "We should return to the Warden. Admit our failure."
"Not when you say it like that."
"The assassin is gone. Perhaps he returned to his homeland."
"Heh. Sure went on about it enough."
Alistair turned away. Sten was right; it was over. But he found him blinking into the still smiling face of the elf. He sighed. "Do you… like it?"
"Y'know… with the… for money?"
Dagrian shrugged. "Keeps a roof over my head. And I know the Pearl's probably nothing to travelers like yourselves, but there are much worse roofs in Denerim, trust me."
Alistair nodded, almost turning back to the others. He stopped dead, laying a hand on Oghren's shoulder.
"Whoa, boy. What is it?"
"I know where Zevran is."
Flora looked up from scrubbing a table as they burst through the door. The Pearl was already well packed, none of the other patrons or girls so much as glancing their way.
"Flora! Are there stairs? A way onto the roof?"
She nodded. "There's a ladder in the rear cupboard. Last door on the left."
Already Alistair was wending his way through the crowd, ducking through the doorway into the relative silence of the private hallways. He could hear Sten keeping pace, Oghren huffing behind as he shouldered the door aside.
"Hey!" The man started with a glare, the woman… dwarf… other woman… tangled beneath him glancing up in surprise. Someone threw a pillow.
"Left, boy! She said left!"
Slamming shut the door, Alistair bolted for the one opposite, suddenly finding himself wedged in a dark and musty cupboard. "Okay, ow."
Laughing still, Oghren shouldered him aside, leaping to hoist himself onto the ladder. His legs flailed a moment, a string of barely formed curses spilling from between gritted teeth. Gaining purchase at last, he snorted. "Here's hopin' you're right about this."
As he pulled himself slowly up the rungs behind, Alistair craned his neck to the meager light spilling round the edges of the trapdoor above. "Maybe… maybe it locks from the inside and he's been stuck up there all night, all day. Maker, what if there's no shade? What if he burnt up?" He blinked. "What if… what if he didn't wake up? I mean… poison!"
Beneath him, Sten grunted. "Be silent."
Oghren only laughed. "Crows got poison for blood, they say. Drink it for fun. Bet he's up here laughing at us. Or halfway to Antiva by now."
He had reached the door, balancing on the uppermost rung to fling it wide. What little light was left in the day seemed suddenly blinding. Hoisting himself up over the edge, Alistair gave his eyes a moment to adjust.
He lay on his back cross an upturned crate, one arm flung over his eyes as the other dangled limp to the ground.
"Ohhh, Maker! Is he—?"
Bending to his side, Alistair barely even flushed for his nakedness. There was breath there, maybe… but shallow… if he was…
The hand came hard against his wrist. "You are in my light."
Alistair stood quick, choking as he stumbled back against the others. "Maker's breath, Zev!"
Propping himself up on his elbows, he fixed them with a tired smirk. "Come to join me at last, I see?"
"What are you… what are you doing?"
Swinging his legs round the side of the crate, he stretched. "You think it does not take effort to stay this beautiful?"
"Oghren, if you are going to stare you could at least buy me dinner first."
"Soddin' nug-licking son of a whore."
Zevran met his grin.
"But you… you were up here all day?"
He shrugged. "Unfortunately, the door seems to lock from the inside. I attempted to signal you…"
"By tossing your clothes off the building?"
He nodded. "But we made the best of it."
Following the direction of his nod, Alistair peered round the crate. Two… three… four… The women lay in something of a tangled heap, sleeping heads pillowed against arms and legs and breasts. He could feel his eyes go wide as he met the elf's smirk.
"Well, I think I know where the coin went."
"Funny you should mention coin." He stooped, scooping up something from beside the crate. "I seem to have acquired a purse. Must be almost seventy sovereigns."
He quirked a brow.
"Well, minus the whores I suppose."
"Ahh, but you wound me."
Shaking his head in disbelief, Alistair turned to the others. "Is that it then? Can we go?"
She came running cross the common room, pulling up short to run hesitant fingers over the box in her hands. Alistair had expected the big man to brace himself, grimace perhaps, but there was something almost… guilty there.
Flora blinked up at him a moment before shaking her head. "I know… I know there's the Blight and all, but I just wanted to say… and to – um – give you this…"
He took the box carefully, staring down at it a moment before peeking beneath the lid.
"I know how you like them."
Standing in the doorway with Oghren and a newly-clothed Zevran, Alistair felt his jaw drop. The qunari was… almost smiling.
"I am sure our travels will bring us to Denerim again. I will…" Even he seemed to pause, tilting his head. "…see you then."
She smiled, leaning up on her toes to lay a kiss upon his cheek. "I'd like that."
As they stepped into the street, Oghren let loose a rumbling laugh, Zevran clapping the big man on the back. Alistair, though, peered round.
"What's in the box?"
Sten opened the lid a crack.
"Ooh, can I—?"
"No." It nearly snapped shut on his fingers.
Pausing a moment, Alistair's hand strayed instead to the unaccustomed weight of the purse at his side. "Right. Just one stop to make first."
The dragon glided on the air, swooping low as the warrior leapt up to catch it. Even as they passed through the city gates, beneath the astonished glances of the guardsmen, he smiled. After the day they had had he didn't care who saw.
But they waited in the road ahead. She waited, her grin widening in relief.
Flushing, Alistair hastily dropped the figures back into his pouch.
They seemed to cross the distance slowly, the four of them in a row: Zevran still stretching to work away the aches of the night's activity, Oghren taking a long pull from his flask, Sten slipping another cookie from the box and Alistair… hands straying to those familiar and comforting lumps as he glanced back toward the gate.
Morrigan, Leliana and Shale waited with her, one scowling, one smirking and one… well, scanning the skies for signs of attack. But it was she that held his eye, she that strode forward to press her lips to his.
"Did you have fun?"
He glanced back over his shoulder, the others pointedly avoiding his eyes. Only Zevran shrugged.
But still he was smiling up at him. "Well? What did you guys get up to?"
He ran a hand through his hair. "Nothing, really."
Behind him Sten rumbled his assent, busying himself with taking another bite.
"Heh. Seen more life in the Deep Roads, myself."
Zevran yawned. "It was quite… uneventful."
Slowly her eyes roamed from one to the other, narrowing suspiciously as she shook her head. After a moment, she shrugged. "Well, alright then. We'd best get moving."
As they started up the road, Alistair took one last glance back at the gates. What happens in Denerim…