Dust Town's Really Not All Bad

Disclaimer: I do not own Dragon Age.

Pollyanna Brosca was a diehard optimist and that was something she took great pride in being. Growing up on the streets of Dust Town was hardly ideal, of course, but she had always believed that most people made life worse for themselves by dwelling on the things that they couldn't change and not being happy for the things that they did have. Dust Town was always going to be Dust Town, after all, no matter how miserable they were so why not try and put on a positive attitude?

Take today, for instance. The biggest crime lord in Dust Town, Beraht, was standing in the main room of their humble abode for a meeting with Rica. Most people hated Beraht but Pollyanna really didn't get why. He was a little rough around the edges, certainly, but he was also providing Pollyafnna, her sister Rica, and her mother Kalah with the money that they needed to survive. In return, he expected her and Rica to work for him but that was only fair. After all, Kalah's illness meant that she couldn't help and if they didn't help Beraht make money then how was he supposed to be able to help other families like he'd helped the Broscas? He really was such a good soul.

"I can't keep betting on you forever, Precious," Beraht was saying. It really was sweet how he used such positive terms of endearment to help them feel valued. Most people didn't bother to try and cheer a duster up but Beraht always went the extra mile. "You've got a sweet look, the kind that can really drive a man wild, but it means nothing if you don't go out there and work it."

Rica stared determinedly at her feet. She always got so embarrassed when people called her pretty. Pollyanna supposed some people might find Rica's shyness adorable but she just wished that she could be more confident. She'd worked hard to make her natural beauty shine through amid all the dirt and grime of Dust Town and she should be proud of that. "Please, Beraht, you know that I don't want to do this in front of my sister-" Rica's voice held a pleading note. Really, was that necessary? Pollyanna knew that she wasn't nearly as pretty as her big sister but that was fine since she had other things she was good at and Rica didn't need to always try and make sure her feelings weren't hurt by hearing about how beautiful the elder of the pair was. Still, it was so dear of her to try and protect her in this way.

"Why not?" Beraht asked, clearly amused. He knew that Pollyanna's self-esteem wasn't nearly that fragile. "She knows the way the world works, don't you girl?" That was another thing that she appreciated about Beraht: he never treated her like she was too young to understand things.

"Of course I do," Pollyanna said brightly. "And you don't need to worry, Rica, it doesn't bother me that you're the pretty one. I know that I am just as talented in other areas."

Rica rubbed her forehead like she was getting a headache, which she did a lot. It really was too bad that Rica got such migraines but at least it was making Pollyanna more appreciative of her lack of health concerns and Rica could be relieved she didn't have more serious health problems.

Beraht laughed. "Oh, but she is a sharp one. Listen, Rica, I've got places to be so I'll just tell you this: I've invested a lot of money in you and as such I'd really like to see something come out of all your elven poetry and string-harp lessons. That said, I can't keep backing a losing side forever and you haven't even found a patron yet. You have a week or I'm cutting you loose."

Oh, dear. That dreadful. Beraht must be having a hard time with his business. Pollyanna would just have to work twice as hard to compensate for this.

"But…but I have found somebody," Rica insisted. "It's nothing definite yet but he said that he wanted to see me again so I think that I'll be able to meet that deadline."

"Forgive me if I don't hold my breath," Beraht replied. "I'll be back in a week to see if you've come through. Pollyanna, your buddy Leske is waiting outside for you to do today's job. It's very important so no screw-ups. Your whole family's on loose sand with me right now and it's not like you have anywhere else to go."

"Okay, thanks for your concern," Pollyanna said cheerfully, waving goodbye as the crime lord just shook his head and muttered something about lyrium-addled dusters before taking his leave. Beraht was right: they really did have nowhere else to go and if they weren't doing what they were supposed to well enough then it was really very kind of him to be so forthcoming about it so they'd have a chance to shape up and prove that his taking a chance on them wasn't for nothing. She always liked to prove to people that their faith wasn't in vain. Maybe if they proved this to Beraht he would feel better about taking the risk to help other desperate people.

"I am so sorry you had to see that," Rica said, sounding mortified.

"You don't need to hide things from me, Rica," Pollyanna said soothingly. "We're sisters and that means that we'll accept each other no matter what."

"I suppose that's true. Still, I've always tried to protect you. Sometimes I think I've done a little too good of a job but at least I've kept you from having to buy your future with what's between your legs," Rica said grimly.

"What?" Pollyanna asked blankly.

"I'm trying to find a noble to get me pregnant, remember?" Rica prompted. She'd tried, she really had, but perhaps a three-year-old wasn't the best person to raise an infant. It had certainly produced…interesting results with Pollyanna, at least.

"Oh, right," Pollyanna said a little sheepishly. "You're going to have an adorable baby boy and then I'll have the best nephew in the world. He won't ever have to even see Dust Town and then we'll all get to go up to the Diamond Quarter. You'll wear fine clothes and mother will stop drinking and Beraht will get his reward for having helped us out so…and my faith will be rewarded."

"That's the plan, little sister, that is the plan," Rica said wearily. Pollyanna felt her heart go out to her poor, hardworking sister. She was always out so late that Pollyanna was sure that the fact she hadn't settled on the father of her future son was through no fault of her own. She just wanted to make sure she found someone who would be a good father. It couldn't be easy to have all the hopes and dreams of the family pinned on her. "Now I have to go get ready and you've got your own job to do."

"Have a good day, Rica," Pollyanna told her earnestly. "And good luck. Remember, I believe in you!"

"You believe in everything," Rica said fondly.

"Someone has to," Pollyanna said determinedly. "And it might as well be me. Besides, good things come to good people. Things will work themselves out, just you wait."

With that, Pollyanna left Rica to go get ready as she checked on their mother.

"Greetings, Mother," Pollyanna said gently. Kalah hated loud noises first thing in the morning. The fact that it was already afternoon meant very little as she was still sleeping. Rica had always said that their mother was sick but Pollyanna didn't really think all the alcohol was helping her condition. Or maybe it was and she'd be ever worse off without it, which was a truly chilling thought. Yes, it sure was lucky that they had the money to get alcohol to treat their poor, ailing mother.

Kalah groaned and opened her eyes a fraction. "Huh? Rica, is that you?"

"No, it's Pollyanna, mother," Pollyanna helpfully identified. Sure, Kalah would figure it out soon enough but it was much more polite to clear up the misunderstanding personally.

"What, you think I don't know my own kid?" Kalah asked defensively. "That I need you to tell me which one you are?"

"Not at all, Mother," Pollyanna quickly assured her. "I was just trying to save time…which this explanation has just wasted. Still, such is life. How are you feeling?"

"Don't 'how are you feeling' me like you're so high and mighty," Kalah groused. "You're lucky Rica looks out for you or else I'd have had you out there with her."

"I really am lucky that I have Rica, aren't I?" Pollyanna said happily. "She's a great sister. I'm sure not everyone has such a wonderful sister and that deeply saddens me."

"If it were up to me I'd have put you out there with her. Remember, you were born with only one coin to play and it's between your legs," Kalah said cruelly. "You'll never escape Dust Town no matter what you do…the dust clings to everything and everywhere you look it's all you can see."

"That is so sweet of you!" Pollyanna gushed.

"Huh? Sweet?" Kalah asked confused. "Don't know how I could ever mistake you for Rica, she's not the one barely aware of her own reality."

"Yes, very sweet," Pollyanna confirmed. "You want me to find a nice guy and have an adorable baby and be happy just like Rica's going to do. I don't think that's in my future just yet but you never know. Now, it's been lovely talking to you but I really must go. I don't want to keep my bestest friend in the whole world waiting!"

"Maybe this time she won't come back," Kalah murmured hopefully as she passed out again.

"That's the spirit, Mother!" Pollyanna encouraged. "Just keep believing."

She slipped out past Rica and saw Leske leaning against a wall trying to look cool. She was well aware that she often got far too excited to be able to look cool with any kind of verisimilitude so she was lucky that Leske was willing to pick up the slack for her.

"Good afternoon, Leske," Pollyanna said with a smile. "Isn't today a wonderful day?"

Leske practically fell over. "How long were you standing there?" he demanded. Leske was so silly sometimes. He was a perfectionist about the strangest things and didn't want her or anybody to see his cool stance until it was perfect.

"Not long at all," Pollyanna assured him. "So what's the plan for today?"

"We're supposed to go find a Surfacer named Oskias ," Leske explained. "He's a smuggler that Beraht suspects of holding out on him."

Pollyanna frowned. "Oh, now that's just not nice at all. I'm sure he had a good reason, though."

Leske snorted. "Yeah, if by 'good reason' you mean 'wanted more money' then I'm sure he had a great reason."

"Do you have any idea where we should look?" Pollyanna wondered.

"Well, I've heard he has family in the merchant caste so he'll probably be up around there. I suggest we check Tapsters first," Leske answered.

"Why Tapsters?" Pollyanna asked.

"Because if he's not there we can still go get drunk," Leske replied as if it were obvious.

Leske may be silly at times but there was a reason he was her best friend: he could always look on the bright side.

Pollyanna always liked to go up to the common area of Orzammar. It was much nicer and cleaner than Dust Town and she enjoyed making the other dwarves feel better about themselves when they saw her. 'Sure', they might think, 'my business isn't making a profit but at least I'm not a brand.' She didn't even have to do anything but walk by for her mere presence to cheer up those lucky enough to be born with a caste. That's why she was hoping for a nephew. He'd be much happier with a caste no matter if it was among the nobility or a humble servant. If she got a niece instead she and Rica would make sure to love the baby anyway and make sure that she never blamed herself for any hardship that they might face.

She spotted Oskias the minute she stepped foot into Tapsters as he was the one with the strange darkened skin. There were people here in Orzammar with darker skin, of course, but this just looked…different. She'd seen it before on Surfacers, something to do with that giant ball of light they claimed lived in the hole in the sky.

"Hey, I was saving that seat," Oskias said rudely, barely looking up from his drink when she and Leske sat down at his table.

"That's thoughtful," Leske smirked. "Chasing scum like you down is hard work, Oskias."

"How…how do you know who I am?" Oskias asked, suddenly frightened. "You're not with Beraht, are you?"

"We are," Pollyanna confirmed. "And we had heard that you weren't giving Beraht his share so we hoped that you could explain the situation for us?"

"Well, she was hoping," Leske corrected. "I just want to hurry up and kill you."

"That…that's really not necessary, is it?" Oskias asked desperately. "Look, I might have taken just a little money that I haven't shared with Beraht but I was planning on it, honest! It was just a side deal that I hadn't gotten all the details worked out on yet!"

"Yeah, something tells me Beraht's really not going to care," Leske said flatly.

"Listen, I don't have any coin down here but I do have two lyrium nuggets. You can take them and sell them if you let me go," Oskias offered.

Leske frowned. "Cheating Beraht? I don't like it. Sounds like just the kind of thing that gets two dusters like us killed. What do you think, salroka?"

"We don't have to cheat him at all," Pollyanna told him. "I wouldn't feel right about betraying the trust of someone who has done so much for us anyway."

"Of course you wouldn't," Leske sighed.

"Is this girl for real?" Oskias asked uncertainly.

"Unfortunately," Leske replied, rolling his eyes. "Alright, what do you propose we do instead?"

"We can give the two lyrium nuggets to Beraht instead," Pollyanna suggested. "That way he'll be happy with us and we don't have to worry about him finding out we've done anything wrong."

"That's probably the smart thing to do," Leske agreed. He paused. "And I really can't believe I'm saying that to you but there you go."

"Since you two appear to have a plan, what are you going to do with me?" Oskias asked worriedly.

"Orzammar is too dangerous for you right now and maybe forever," Pollyanna said seriously. "I'd suggest going back to the Surface and not returning for a good long while."

"That's a risky idea," Leske told her. "Beraht won't be happy we let Oskias go. We should just kill him."

"I don't like that plan," Oskias spoke up. "I think you should listen to her." He nodded his head towards Pollyanna.

"Well, we're hardly asking you what to do," Leske pointed out. "You're obviously biased."

"We can't just kill him!" Pollyanna protested.

"Why not?" Leske asked matter-of-factly. "It's what we were sent here to do, after all."

"No, we were sent here to see about that lyrium and now we have," Pollyanna said stubbornly, crossing her arms.

"It's called 'reading between the lines'," Leske said slowly.

"Well I don't think I care very much for you lines," Pollyanna sniffed. "Killing him like this just wouldn't be right."

"I don't want to argue," Leske said tiredly. "You never listen to reason and your sister always gets mad at me. He can go, I guess, but we'll have to tell Beraht that we killed him."

"Oh, thank you!" Oskias practically shouted. "I have never been so grateful to see someone so weak-willed before! And you, my lady, are as kind as you are beautiful! May the ancestors bless your steps!" He dropped two nuggets on the table and sprinted for the exit.

"Aw, that's so sweet," Pollyanna said, deeply touched. "See? I told you sparing him was a good idea. He's clearly a great guy."

"Or a guy who just got a new lease on life," Leske countered. "We should get back to Beraht before someone tells him they saw Oskias leaving. But first…a drink."

Pollyanna walked in on Beraht and some woman she didn't know talking about how sad it was that the King was so old and wouldn't live forever and enthusing over how much they liked Prince Bhelen.

"It's about time you two showed up," Beraht greeted curtly. "How did it go?"

"Oskias had two lyrium nuggets on him," Pollyanna reported, handing the nuggets in question over to her boss. "And then he left."

"He…left," Beraht said dangerously. "Please elaborate."

"We didn't want to kill him so he left," Pollyanna repeated.

"Not in the Tapsters, certainly, as there's far too many witnesses and it could cause problems if the warrior caste gets annoyed by blatant murder in their tavern so we lured him out and then killed him before tossing his body into the lava," Leske quickly covered for her.

Beraht looked thoughtfully at the pair before nodding. "Good thinking. I must admit, I wouldn't have expected such forward-thinking from you. That makes me feel a lot better about sending you on what could very well be the most important job of your careers: I have several hundred sovereign riding on the Proving today. I'm betting on a fighter named Everd. He's a long-shot but he's just back from a Deep Road offensive. To prevent cheating, the fights aren't announced until just before the matches start. When the favored fighter Mainar comes up, make sure to poison his water. Get this done as close to the start of the fight as you can as the drug only slows his reflexes for a short time."

"But…that's hardly sportsmanlike," Pollyanna protested.

Beraht closed his eyes in a 'why me' gesture. "Maybe not but I really need the money if I'm to be able to continue helping that sister of your out."

"I understand," Pollyanna said solemnly. Sometimes you had to do things you didn't like in the name of helping other people. Hopefully this Mainer would understand.

They were stopped on the way in by a guard who noticed their face brands but Beraht's passes got them in easily enough. They spotted a human standing around who was presumably one of the Grey Wardens they had heard about. Pollyanna wanted to talk to him but Leske convinced her that they had no time and weren't supposed to draw attention to themselves anyway.

It was easy enough to find where Everd was. The problem was…

"He's drunk," Leske moaned, banging his head against the wall. "And not even the 'mildly out of it but I can still kick ass' kind of drunk, either. He's dead to the world. And so will we be when Beraht finds out."

"But…it's not our fault," Pollyanna said, confused.

"You really think that that matters?" Leske asked incredulously. "Beraht is going to skin us alive! Unless…the warriors wear full-body armor and a helm, right? If you put this on you could take Everd's place in the fight. You're a better fighter than me so it has to be you. I don't know if you can beat them but you stand a better chance than this drunken sot does."

"I don't know, Leske," Pollyanna said uncertainly. "That doesn't sound like a very moral thing to do."

"Okay, seriously, girl? You're a thug in the carta of Dust Town and you have been for quite some time. Where in the world did you get such a moral compass?" Leske demanded.

"Rica said she wanted me to be a good person so I learned it from her," Pollyanna replied promptly.

"And how did you manage to survive for so long since you're clearly in denial about what it means to be a carta thug?" Leske pressed.

"I don't understand what you mean," Pollyanna confessed.

"What I mean is that you always expect things to work out and for everyone to be all nice and moral and, guess what, no one's actually like that. Not the dusters, not the warriors, and especially not all the uppity nobles," Leske ranted. "You'd expect a girl like you would have learned better by now or else been chewed up and thrown away. What I'm asking you is, how in the world hasn't this happened to you? What hasn't anyone you've tried to help sensed weakness and gutted you?"

"Why hasn't anyone bad managed to kill me?" Pollyanna seized on the only part of the conversation she really understood. "I'm just that good with a dagger."

Leske sighed. "I suppose we might as well make use of that. Listen, Pollyanna. You've always wanted to enter a Proving, right? Well here's your chance. You may not be able to let anyone know, but here's your chance to prove that dusters can be just as good as anybody else."

Pollyanna grinned. Leske had been seriously confusing her earlier but there was the optimistic best friend that she remembered. "Alright…one of condition. We do this, we do it my way and that means no more illegal activities than strictly necessary. I fight Mainar, I do it honorably. No drugs."

"If that's really the way you want it," Leske said dubiously. "Hey, do you hear that? They're calling for you. Or Everd, really. Hurry up and change into that armor."

"Okay," Pollyanna agreed. "Make sure that Everd doesn't get out of his room and get us both killed before I come back."

The Proving was actually a lot easier than Pollyanna thought it would be given all the fuss. She'd been up against Mainar first thing which was incredibly nerve-wracking but she'd tried to respond to his pre-battle words with similar ones of her own (mentioning glory or the Stone generally seemed to be a good bet, she'd found) and had soundly thrashed the legitimate fighter. Huh. That was rather unexpected no matter what she had told Leske. It seemed like her decision to face him fairly paid off as she never would have known that she could beat him in a real fight otherwise.

Her next opponent was a warrior named Adalbo who went down easier than Mainar had. Her third opponent caused a bit of a slip-up on her part as she hadn't quite realized that Silent Sisters literally never spoke but it wasn't like Lenka could tell anyone, right? The Proving Master sounded greatly surprised to announce the underdog Everd as the Proving Champion…until the real Everd stumbled out into the arena. Pollyanna almost had a heart attack. How had he gotten out? Leske was supposed to be watching him!

"Remove your helm," the Proving Master ordered. "So that we may all see the face of the Champion that has bested the best."

"Alright," Pollyanna said shakily. This was not going to go well for the next few minutes even if she'd eventually be able to get out of this mess. On the bright side, at least she'd be able to prove to these people that a casteless really could stand up to the best the warrior caste had to offer and thoroughly trounce them. They wouldn't want to believe it, of course, and would probably stay firmly in denial as they obsessed over the 'outrage' but it wasn't something they would ever be able to forget and no matter what happed to her, she'd try and remember that. "Here I am."

As she removed her helmet, there were gasps from the crowd and the Proving Master himself looked like he was about to faint as he called for guards to take her away. The Grey Warden was leaning forward, a thoughtful expression on his face. This horrible 'dishonor' didn't seem to bother him any.

As the guards swarmed her, Pollyanna comforted herself with the fact that there was nothing else she could have done and at least these people were forced to see her.

"Hey, salroka, wake up," Leske was whispering urgently.

Pollyanna's head felt like someone had been stomping on it repeatedly and so she wasn't exactly eager to do so. "Nnn…go away…"

"I can't do that, Pollyanna. We've got to get out of here or else Beraht's going to have us both killed and probably Rica, too," Leske continued insistently.

That got her attention. "What are you talking about? What's going on? Where are we? And why would Beraht kill us, much less Rica?"

"Don't you remember?" Leske looked surprised. "I suppose they did hit you pretty hard. Everd got out of his room and stumbled into the arena, you were revealed to be casteless, and the guards arrested you and then found me and assumed I was involved so they arrested me as well. Why'd you have to fight them, anyway?"

"I was trying to prove a point," Pollyanna admitted, rubbing her head. "It may not have been the best idea in hindsight but I wanted them to see that I wasn't ashamed of who I am and I wouldn't meekly surrender because of who my parents were."

"Well you took quite a few of them down with you," Leske reported. "You really impressed that Grey Warden, I think. The guards took their frustration with you out on me since you really made them look bad. They questioned me for ages and then Jarvia showed up and we were moved down here to a carta prison. Listen, salroka…Beraht has lost more money on this than you or I could even begin to imagine. I know you think he's a good guy but even good guys have tempers and we really can't take the chance that he'll, er, go after Rica. We need to get out of here so we can check on her."

"He already said that we were on loose sand with him," Pollyanna remembered. "I…I can hardly believe it but you might be right. I can't take that chance. If nothing else, Rica needs to know what happened and that I'm alright. Let's get out of here." She promptly took a pin out of her hair and inserted it into the lock on the cell.

"I've already tried to look for a way out while you were unconscious but I couldn't find anything," Leske cautioned. "I really hope you have an idea."

"One moment," Pollyanna said as she continued fiddling with the lock. It snapped open and she pushed the cell door open and stepped outside.

"How'd you managed that?" Leske asked, stunned. "Picking locks doesn't seem like a very ethical thing to know how to do."

"I don't see what's particularly unethical about it as long as you don't use it to hurt people," Pollyanna disagreed. "I practiced on my own lock anyway so it's not like I was breaking into other people's things."

"Hey, you can't do that!" the single, not very attentive guard in the room declared as he lunged at her. Pollyanna quickly tripped him, stole his helmet, and then kicked him in the head making him go down like a light.

"Impressive," Leske said, awestruck. "Now get me out of here and we can escape. We'll probably have to fight our way out of here but I can't really think of a better plan."

"Neither can I," Pollyanna said grimly. "But at least we can try not to kill as many as possible."

As it turned out, Leske didn't actually feel the need to make sure to not kill the carta members they came across but since he did seem absent-minded at times – like when he forgot he was supposed to be watching Everd – Pollyanna chalked it up to a mix between that and fear for Rica.

"I'm cutting the whore free. If that freak of a sister of hers can't stay in her place, I don't need precious Rica, either," Beraht was saying coldly once she and Leske made their way to his office.

Pollyanna couldn't breathe. How could he say things like that? He was supposed to be helping him! Was the bet really worth that much? She didn't understand. Even thought Leske convinced her to escape so that they could check on Rica she hadn't really thought that there was any need to. How could she have been so wrong about him?

"Rica?" one of the thugs with him perked up at the name. "That the one you got all done up in lace? I been wanting to get my hands on that."

"Heh, I know what you mean..." a second thug agreed, a lecherous smirk on his face.

Beraht spread his hands magnanimously. "She's yours if you want her, boys. And let me tell you... it tastes as good as it looks." His face twisted into an unpleasant scowl as he saw Pollyanna and Leske standing in the doorway. "What in sod-all is that doing out of its cage?"

"I trusted you," Pollyanna said quietly, drawing her weapon. "And you were going to let them hurt Rica. You hurt Rica."

"If you weren't such a fool this wouldn't come as such a surprise," Beraht sneered at her.

"Let's see who's the fool when I cut your sodding head off," Pollyanna said darkly before lunging at him.

Leske quickly took out his weapon and joined the fray. The fight was short and brutal and in the end it was a triumphant Leske and Pollyanna that stood over a decapitated Beraht and his two goons.

"Rica…" Pollyanna murmured. "We've got to find her!"

"Calm down, salroka," Leske said soothingly. "From the sounds of it he was just ordering those two we killed to attack her when we walked in. She should be safe. But, uh, can you let her think that I was the one who killed Beraht? It really doesn't matter if she thinks you're a badass."

"I don't even care at this point," Pollyanna said, feeling drained. "Let's just get out of here. The good news is that we won't have to go around working for Beraht but now how are we supposed to support ourselves? Killing a carta boss…that's pretty big and anyone who takes Beraht's place won't take too kindly to that."

"Hey, don't tell me you're giving up on me now," Leske said earnestly. "As much as your ever-cheerful nature often annoys the living daylights out of me, seeing you depressed is really freaking me out. Today you entered and won a Proving, you escaped from carta cells no one has ever escaped from, we killed Beraht before he could send anyone after Rica, and are about to get away with it all! If that's not things working themselves out then I don't know what is."

A slow smile spread across Pollyanna's face as she realized that he was right. "And to think I almost gave up right as things are starting to look up…thanks, Leske. You're a true friend."

"Anytime," Leske replied absently as he peered over her shoulder, checking for someone to come investigating what had happened. "Let's get out of here."

"Agreed," Pollyanna said. The pair hurriedly made their way to the shop the carta was using as a front but had barely taken two steps out into the commons before they were surrounded by guards…and that Grey Warden from earlier.

"There they are! Seize the fugitives!" the Proving Master instructed before deigning to address the fugitives in question. "Drop your weapons and walk down slowly. We will use force if you resist."

"Well, we tried," Leske said wryly.

"Look on the bright side," Pollyanna suggested. "Beraht's still dead and Rica should be fine."

"Wait, Beraht's dead?" the Proving Master looked flabbergasted. "He had a lot of powerful enemies, certainly, but also some very powerful friends. Are you trying to say that you killed him?"

"Strictly in self-defense," Pollyanna confirmed. "He was going to kill us and then go after my sister."

"It seems that once again you've demonstrated your courage," the Grey Warden mused. "My order could certainly use someone like you."

The Proving Master started. "Duncan, you can have your pick of any in the warrior caste! You can't possibly take her! She's wanted for treason!"

"Treason?" Pollyanna repeated indignantly. "I borrowed someone's armor without asking! And he probably got it back, anyway."

"I can and I am," Duncan said firmly. "I, Duncan of the Grey Wardens, extend the invitation for you to join our order, friend."

Pollyanna's eyes widened. "What? Me? Are you sure?"

"More than sure," Duncan confirmed. "I wanted to recruit you after having seen your display at the Proving. Why would I change my mind after you managed to fight your way out of prison?"

Pollyanna bit her lip. "Leske, you think I should?"

Leske laughed incredulously. "I can't believe you're still standing here! This is the chance of a lifetime, salroka. I want you to take it. You'll be safer up there anyway and perhaps you'll, er, fit in better. Don't worry about Rica. I'll take care of her for you!"

"I'm just thrilled to hear that," Rica murmured.

"That's so sweet of you!" Pollyanna gushed. "I could never find a better salroka than you no matter how hard I looked!"

Leske looked embarrassed. "Yeah, well, just get out of here, okay? Have fun on the Surface and think of me when you kick some darkspawn ass, will you?"

"I will," promised Pollyanna solemnly. "And Rica? You'll be okay down here with just you and Mother? I know I've made things difficult and I don't want to just abandon you."

"Don't worry about me," Rica said warmly. "That potential patron I mentioned? He really came through for me and found someplace for Mother and I to stay. I'll be fine, I promise, and I'm not about to be the one to deny you the opportunity to be more than just a whore's little sister. And like Leske said: maybe you'll fit in better up there."

"Fit in better?" Pollyanna asked confused. "What do you mean?"

"It doesn't matter," Rica claimed. "Just go and remember that I'll always love you."

Pollyanna turned back to Duncan. "Well, I guess I'm leaving then. I must confess, I never expected this but I knew that things would somehow work themselves out…"

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