Title: A Murder of Crows

Author: Rhion

Rating: T for now

Summary: F!Surana and Zevran each have their secrets. Some are stranger than others. The trouble with secrets is that they are best kept by only one person. But there's always someone else who knows the hidden things.

AN: Y'know, from how he speaks, how he looks (it may be poor character design, who knows?) and the sorts of things he knows, I think that Zev is probably a good bit older than oh... say the twenty-five to twenty-eightish that Alistar, Leliana and Morrigan appear to be. My guess is that he's more mid-thirties. Sly, lecherous dog. I also think he set a bad trap and didn't use anywhere near the amount of skill he could have. Superior numbers, weapons, planning and skill – all of which he had – should have lead to the demise of the Wardens. Except it didn't. And I think that it's because he wanted to die so badly that he purposely set just enough of a trap to make it look like he was trying to succeed rather than fail. Remember, at the time, he really just wanted to throw himself into something and not come out of it alive. Not only that but afterwards he chose not to show his skill so that he didn't raise further suspicions, primarily the PC!Warden's because he didn't want to be questioned as to his motives for failing so utterly.

Oh and also, I actually do like Alistair but for some reason Zev doesn't seem to be all that fond of him. Far less so than I had intended. I'm hoping this turns out fluffy, I keep wanting to write fluff but the other document that's currently open and has three thousand words on is not fluffy and Zev is very strange in it so I'll be abandoning that probably.

I'm going to say that this is AU because it's an idea that's been kicking around in the very back of my head that I've desperately, and I do mean desperately, been trying to avoid. Lahar is the elven mage origin, but she didn't come to the Circle of Ferelden the typical way. Hopefully it won't be too off putting.

Also a further side note, the Crows have a form of martial arts that is exclusive to them that for no other reason that I can't think of a better name I'll call the Baile de muerte or Death Dancing. Terrible I know. Sorry.

Beta'd by the absolutely splendiferous Steph, she who is a fellow SCA nut, music-o-phile and all around awesome person. She made this pile legible. Hopefully ya'll enjoy it now that it's been straightened up. Chapter two is being beta'd at the moment as well. As they are fixed up I shall replace chapters until that's caught up. Until then I'll wait to post chapter four.

XXX

Strange and curious things were an expected matter of course in life. There was the weird, surreal, bizarre and plain old freakish. He supposed he could take his pick of words to describe it, and that was just in Ferelden, not to mention his native Antivan or the Orlesian he had picked up or even the smattering of Tevinter. Words were wonderful weapons to add to any arsenal, particularly his wide repertoire that had served to keep Zevran alive so long. That and a certain wily cunning that had prodded the Crow to hide just how skilled he was, to ensure that no Masters saw him as a threat to their power because he was just as good as them.

Sweeping the mild reverie away, his focus sharpened picking out detail after detail. Alistair was polishing his armor of blood that would rust the metal away faster than anything. Dismissing the younger man, eyes slipping around the camp searching. No Warden in sight. Alistair hardly counted, strong and skilled with shield and blade – he was far too idealistic to be a true Warden by Zevran's estimation. Wardens lead, they were not simply fighters but much more. Alistair was a fine warrior but not much else, the ranks must have been thin indeed for the Templar to be recruited.

The others in the group were just as engrossed and had taken no note of Lahar's absence. And to him that was strange in of itself even though that was the norm he had observed so far. Well then, if they do not notice the lack of her presence, then they shall not notice mine. He was rising then, casually from his position beside his tent and sauntering towards the area that functioned as their latrine always a creature of caution. When he was just far enough away to become a shadow blended with the others, Zevran settled into full stealth, virtually invisible to those without the knack. It was time to hunt the Warden down, for skilled or not, nighttime was not a good time to be alone. Not in these forests, not in a city and not anywhere. Besides, what good was his oath if he didn't actually follow it? Besides he was curious about the girl-woman who had spared his life several weeks ago but had yet to make any use of his skills as anything other than a camp guard.

From shadow to shadow Zevran flitted, not as at home in the trees as on streets or rooftops, but comfortable enough to hunt even in the dimness for a quarry that had not bothered to cover its tracks. Further away from the camp than was even remotely prudent Zevran found Lahar. Pausing Zevran took in the scene that was before him. Gone were her purple mage robes, a man's loose tunic and leggings all she wore. That was not all as she slowly moved, first one hand then the next following before a sliding step turned into a fluid kick to the side. Familiar katas were repeated - a mere handful of the countless Zevran knew like the weight of a dagger, or scent of poison, but for all that Lahar was conversant in so few did not detract from her graceful execution of them.

Time passed, but not that much, from what Zevran could guess from the measure of light filtering through the canopy, no more than a quarter of an hour before Lahar slipped down to sit crossed legged. Again with the familiar – so strange to see the open hand fighting forms being used by a non-Crow, and to even follow it up with the lotus position as if she were seeking to find her center.

The already considerable curiosity further piqued, Zevran knew that at this point if he wanted to get a feel for the Warden, he would actually need to speak with her rather than watch and measure as he had for the last twenty one days.

"All alone out here in the dark my lovely Warden," Zevran chuckled, while mockingly shaking his head, "Tsk tsk, if you were out here waiting for me you could have simply requested my presence rather than going off by yourself. I do so hate to be late to a midnight tryst."

Lahar didn't even look in his direction, "I want to be alone please, and you're distracting me."

Her voice was not the soft and serene, or firm and strong that Zevran had come to associate with her interactions with others that he had overheard. And yet – she didn't sound annoyed either which would have been gratifying in it's own way. It was deep fatigue, verging on soul weary and hollow than merely tired.

Reassessing the situation, Zevran bowed though she couldn't see it, "Then I shall keep watch."

"Zevran -" Her voice brought him up short before he could melt into the treeline in search of a likely perch, "If you want to talk later, and haven't gone to sleep, I'll oblige."

She had not glanced in his direction, yet she read his intention, ignoring the facade he had cultivated through banter, action and looks. Cheek twitching into an almost grimace, he debated retreating. Zevran did not care for the thought that he could be transparent, to a mage, to a woman who may or may not still be a child, or to anyone for that matter. Not answering in words, Zevran faded away to give her the illusion of privacy, making sure to remain within sight of her seated form.

XXX

They did not speak that night, nor the next, or the one after that. Zevran decided he would not engage Lahar in conversation but let the mage come to him. Better to not reveal his hand when he was not sure of what the other player held.

Lahar left the camp that night and again he followed, watching her move through the open hand katas, the same over and over again before settling in for meditation. Tallying what he knew about the Warden, he separated his attention between watching her and scanning the area surrounding the camp. A strange disquiet strummed in the back of his mind, which was new to the Crow.

There was no denying that Lahar was a mage, nor that she was female, or that she was a Warden. She had proved herself to be dangerous enough to blast himself and his mercenaries to the Pit. And naive enough to help every person along the path towards facing the Archdemon if Morrigan's complaints were to be believed.

And she knew what was supposed to be something strictly taught to Crows.

Even a little knowledge outside the Guild was considered dangerous and any Crow taught teaching those techniques, ones that were saved for only the most proficient of members was... Not good. Going rogue was bad, and generally punished with death except in rare cases; where it would cause more trouble reaching the rogue Crow than it was worth. Poison recipes could be bought and sold, even lessons in general combat could be overlooked as rather minor infractions. In the case of teaching the lethal and delicate dance, even a move or two, always brought repercussions. And still there was only one conclusion: someone from the Guild had taught Lahar the forbidden Baile de Muerte.

Which oath was more important, the one forced from him as a child, or the one he had given in willing trade for a chance at possible freedom? And that was the crux of the problem. Zevran hadn't wanted to bear the label of Master Assassin, because it bound freedom even more. It piled responsibility on top of missions and worst of all paperwork on a man. And the duty of playing the Game called for torturing advanced apprentices and gathering a cell. No, Zevran would fight tooth and nail for any chance at a modicum of freedom. So for now he would uphold his oath to the Warden.

Knowing that Lahar was almost finished with her session, Zevran lept down from his tree branch perch and left for the camp fire, confident that she would be following behind. Alistair who was on watch tossed a suspicious gaze towards him, and he countered with a lascivious once over and a wink. The Templar recoiled with a look of horrified disgust twisting the pristine good looks. Pleased with the fact that Alistair would not even bother him for the rest of the evening - let alone look in his direction -Zevran plopped with disingenuous bonelessness beside the fire.

Allowing his eyes to close for that state that was his only current method of sleep, one that resided between a doze and alertness, Zevran let his heart slow. A study of lazy relaxation, senses no less dull for the fact that his mind had gone blank, absorbing what revitalization he could from the action. The shuffle of boot on dirt approaching brought him back to full alert. Opening an eye to confirm what his ears had told him, Zevran watched as Lahar neared. Perhaps now she would reveal her first move in the game beyond the current stasis they were being held at.

"I have a question," Brown hair was loosened to hang around her shoulders and the purple mage robe was covering her again.

Grinning as cheerfully as he could, throwing his arms wide as he sat up, "And I have an answer! Ah, common ground my lovely Warden, we have reached it! Now, let us retire to your tent so we can explore that ground thoroughly, hmm?"

"Thank you but I think I would like to remain out here," She fidgeted with her robe, a blush creeping over her face. So Lahar wasn't as immune to his overt sexuality as she generally appeared, that was a bonus at least. She waved a hand at the ground beside him, "May I sit?"

Turning up the heat in his gaze, Zevran shifted back. "Please do." He all-but purred, paired with a grin, stretching out his legs as he leaned back onto his elbows, making a tiny motion with his hand, "A supplicant never refuses his goddess."

She took a moment to settle and he allowed it, but it didn't slip his attention that she would not look at him more than a second, before finding somewhere else to rest her eyes, "I have a question and I would like you to answer it."

"Another? As you wish," He stared at her hard, like he was undressing her with his eyes. Few could stand his unwavering gaze for long before becoming flustered, which was why he did it. Always keep others off balance, especially those with power over you, it was a hard learned lesson.

"Tomorrow, would you like to accompany us in the forward party? Leliana is having trouble right now with her hand, she broke it the other day, and despite Wynne's healing it is making her ability to work in the field difficult," Now she did look at him, searching his features no doubt. Lahar continued, "I would like to have someone around who is dexterous and you fit the bill, but if you do not wish to come along tomorrow I will understand."

Quirking a brow, "I am yours to do with as you please," Zevran waved a hand that he a made sure would encompass all of him, particularly to his groin. "Your wish is my desire."

In reply Lahar shook her head, ignoring his obvious invitation, "It's a question Zevran, not an order. If you want to stay in the rear it's alright. You haven't really let Wynne look over those injuries you sustained in the ambush. A few healing spells from me to patch you up are no replacement for deep tissue spells and time recovering." She pointed a finger towards his right side, the one that Sten had cut so deeply into that Zevran had almost been rent in half, "Frankly with the amount of damage you took you should be resting more than you do. When do you even sleep? A doze here and there? Really I should have let you be a while longer," he watched as she rose swiftly an angry twist to her lips, before continuing her tirade, "And I'm sending Wynne to get a better look, to check to see how you're healing."

"I assure you," stretching as he rose, a languid mirror of her actions, "I am more than well enough to do whatever you require of me my sweet Warden. But," he stepped up into her personal space, enjoying the rare fact that he could near tower over someone, trailing his palm from her shoulder down to her elbow sensually, "If you would like to check me over yourself, I would gladly submit to your care."

Her frown deepened, "You're refusing treatment from the one who could do best, look - " Lahar gave a short exasperated huff, "Your insides were almost outsides, and while sure I can throw a good regeneration spell and even know the basics of healing, I'm simply not that good at it. If you fall to infection, or because you're not as well as you pretend, how irresponsible would that be? It would be on my shoulders and that's not acceptable."

"Ah your concern warms me," Zevran grasped her hand, which was cool and light in his, and played with the digits hoping to illicit some further reaction, "But no other touch but yours will satisfy any need I may have for healing."

Calculating, Zevran wanted to be alone with Lahar – the only way to control someone other than to keep them off balance, was to make them addicted to him. And his survival, his freedom required it. Zevran could control her body, play it like an instrument, make her moan or sigh, give her pleasure, and once that was done Lahar would belong to him. From there he would not have to worry about anything, for Lahar was the head of the group, and what she said was law. It would force the rest of the party to stop watching him so closely, to cease with their constant limiting of his movements.

Lahar extricated her hand from his grip so she could rub her temples, "Are you always so stubborn, or are you even listening? I can't prevent scarring and long term damage to your internal organs, what if one of your kidneys isn't functioning right? Or any other number of things that keep your body running?" She held out both her hands and they began to glow, "All I can do is keep you patched up enough until you get to a better healer or until your body can do most of the work. I kept you breathing long enough for your body to replenish itself but never mind, this is foolish. Go to bed Zevran and tomorrow let Wynne see to you. There's no more I can do for you than that. Leliana will just have to join us until you're well."

Bewildered. Yes that was a word for how he felt at the moment. Zevran blinked several times, realizing that it was quite probable that he was outclassed. Lahar may not be immune to his presence, to his invitations, to his touch, but she was the sort to completely ignore herself in favor of what was necessary. And for some reason she thought him being fully healed was meaningful and important enough to wave aside every advance he had made thus far. Pressing his palm to his sore side, knowing that his flesh appeared to be fully healed, even if Zevran could feel the ache, the tenderness of a slowly healing wound. No one bothers with that, so long as we can keep moving, keep working to finish a mission. Time, no one ever has time to fully recover, so long as the outside looks fine, the inside will keep until the darkness finally drags them down one last time.

XXX

"What comes my friend?" There was the assassin again, being their leader's second shadow, following silently behind her as she went to the witch's fire, ears perked as he heard Morrigan's voice over the fire. "You look most tired."

"Because I am," the woman-elf sighed, "And I could use less demanding company."

Citrine eyes widened as they twinkled, "Mother would laugh at that statement, for aren't I a demanding shrew?"

A small smile graced the young Warden's face, "Since when is speaking one's mind the same as being a shrew?"

Morrigan bent over her fire, a bare hand digging amongst the embers unscathed by the heat, "Tis not that I speak my mind, but the thoughts that come from it that mark me as such." Turning a small smoking bundle held in her hands, "But come sit, let me share my repast, as Alistair's cooking would leave much for you to desire no doubt."

"Thank you," relief washed over her features, "I don't think I could handle another night of glop. Anything Zevran would cook, even if it was poisoned, would do less damage to my insides than what Alistair classifies as food."

"T'would seem likely," the witch nodded. "But I do not think it wise to let him wander around as much as you do. He did try to kill you and he is an assassin, he will make another attempt."

Picking at the haunch of rabbit she accepted, "And you're an apostate, branded as evil by the Chantry. You may be dangerous, but you're no more evil than the wind that blows, or the wolf defending its den."

Zevran eavesdropped mercilessly, wondering what the mages might be getting at.

"And your Chantry fools thrust swords of so called mercy into those who do not subscribe to their beliefs," Morrigan looked bitter, a swirling sea of rage contained barely in her bearing, "They burn, rape, pillage and destroy what they cannot subvert."

The assassin had to agree with that. How many Templars had he been contracted to kill over the years? Angry relatives of mages felled for no other reason that they had not been sent straight to the Circle, paid well to the Crows. The corpses he had seen, little more than broken rag-doll refuse, ill used by men who were considered holy. In the name of belief many crimes can be laid, He thought, relaxing against the trunk of the tree, comfortable but from the stickiness of sap that clung to the tips of his fingers, where they gripped the branch, as many or more than the Guild. The Guild buys slaves, uses them, breaks them, kills them and orders deaths, while the Chantry has brought low nations, whole races. He snorted, trying to keep silent, Braska, save me from the sight of the holy.

"They even took you, my friend, and are you better for it?" Morrigan's words drifted up to Zevran's ears once again.

They sat in silence then, each of the trio buried in their own thoughts for a time. Yawns were hidden behind a hand and Lahar blinked with sleep heavy eyes, staring into the fire.

Morrigan murmured softly, her tone and voice not unkind to Lahar, "You should sleep, go to your rest, I will take your watch this evening."

The she-elf shook her head once, "I've no wish to go over there to be stared at by those who see in black and white, expecting more from me than I can be."

"So you've noticed Alistair's heavy looks," There was Morrigan's bark of a laugh. "He could be pleasurable enough if you give him a chance I'm sure."

Lahar's face twisted in momentary distaste at the mention of the Templar. "He's nice, but doesn't understand a thing. 'Magic is bad,'" She puffed up her chest, crossing her arms taking on the templar's demeanor, "'Mages are abominations, except you, because you're pretty, oh you're so defenseless!' No, I don't want to be categorized any more today."

"Then you may stay here, in my questionable company," the witch waved a hand to her tent, "Though 'tis clear they will all think I corrupt you with my presence."

Lahar crawled rather than walking to the makeshift shelter Morrigan had built, "Stop that nonsense, you're not evil, and you're no more questionable than Zevran."

"Hmm, the assassin, you would put he and I in the same category? Strange," She moved to share the sleep area, but keeping a clear space between them, "I would think a murderer would be closer to evil than not."

"Death is natural, and he serves a function in society," Lahar's yawning was becoming more pronounced, "And if he was a simple murderer, Zevran would have killed me rather than watch over me when I go for my walks. An evil person would not work to pull their own weight, or admit what they do. An evil person would hide what they were so that they could operate freely. He may hide things, and he is dangerous, but he is no simple murderer. As far as I can tell he doesn't go out of his way to just kill things because it would be fun, there's a law and order to that Guild or Antiva would have never remained free."

Lahar was more correct than she could know. Rules governed everything, and to kill when it was not a contract, in self defense or as a part of the Antivan Game was frowned upon. To kill for the pleasure of killing earned one their own death quickly. It attracted too much attention, and the Crows may rule Antiva from the shadows, with the common populace aware of and fearing the dark hand of death coming for them under contract, most knew that they weren't important enough to draw the eyes of an assassin. If the Crows were indiscriminate then the population would turn against them, and if that were to happen the Guild would fall. Without the Guild then the only weapon that the nation had against it's much larger neighbors would be gone, leaving them open to be conquered. Rather the population respected, feared, even worshiped the Guild and its members as the ultimate solution to any problem.

Need someone killed? Contract a Crow. Need a bodyguard? Contract a Crow. Need a tactician to help you through the intricacies of some political maneuvering? Contract a Crow. Sometimes they were even hired as whores, and the price for that was far higher than for most of the other skills the assassins learned. They were the best at what they did and there was nothing that they couldn't be contracted for.

Smirking, Trystan was even contracted for marriage and to get a few babies on a woman by her overprotective father. A man who would not cheat, and would be there for children's birthdays, a most interesting proposition. That was a contract that would last for fifteen years, seven of which had already passed. Of course it was one that did not appeal overmuch to Zevran, nor was it one that he could have taken anyway being that he was an elf and the woman in question had been a noble.

XXX

Situating his baldrics over his shoulders, Zevran buckled them tight, pretending to turn a deaf ear to Wynne's disapproving 'mmm' while she watched him finish getting ready for the day's upcoming hike. This was the first time in which Lahar had allowed him to join them, having changed her mind over his physical fitness for potential fighting, and Zevran would not allow himself to be distracted.

"I don't like this," That was grousing from Alistair leaning down to whisper to the younger Warden, "Why can't we just bring Leliana?"

Because the bones of a hand are no simple thing to heal? And because she wasn't operating at full capacity, the fair bard is currently remaining in Bodhan's cart, toted along like a sack recovering from being shot four times, keeping the words from his lips was an easy feat. And I am expendable in comparison. Morrigan was right, he is far from being stupid, sharp as a fresh blade that one, he didn't bother trying to hide his snort at the path his thoughts followed.

"You have something to say?" Alistair glared over at Zevran, that petulant look to his face again.

Glancing up slowly, tilting his head backwards to take a look at the Templar, "Excuse me? Are you speaking to me?"

"You made a snorty-snorted sound," he accused, as if it made everything completely clear.

Zevran feigned sweet ignorance, "A 'snorty-snorted sound'? Is this... some Ferelden thing?"

The smaller elf-mage glided between them, laying a hand on the center of Alistair's chest, the other on Zevran's forearm, the soft chill in her touch on the assassin's skin gentle, "Enough baiting, both of you. Alistair you know why Leliana can't come with us, and you know why I would rather have someone around with that set of skills. What if there's traps? Don't you remember the time when -"

"Yes, yes I remember," That was said like he was reciting what had to be a prior argument, "There were tons of bear traps and I got caught in one, and if we had had Leliana or Zevran along I wouldn't have to stand there for ten minutes flailing around and screaming like a little girl."

The image was a funny one, but before he could say something suitably snarky, Lahar turned to face him, "And I know Wynne says you should be fine so long as you don't get hit dead on, I want you to take it easy and be cautious. No heroics if we have to fight. Do your thing but don't take unnecessary risks. Let the big guy in the metal underwear do that."

A surprised laugh broke from Zevran, "As you command my sweet Warden. So, Alistair," The assassin slid a sly look at him, "Metal underwear. . . is this a common thing amongst your Templars? Does it not. . . restrict your movements? And. . how. . how do you fit? I do not think I could handle being stuffed into something metal like that all day. What would happen if I were to see some lovely woman or other, how would I properly salute then?"

There was a soft rap of knuckles on his pauldron, "I said no baiting Zevran, amusing as it is to see the two of you square off, I would rather just as soon keep searching for the Dalish than have to play mommy and put the two of you in time out."

Pressing a fist to his chest, the assassin bowed a quick dip, "As you wish."

XXX

"Darkspawn!" Alistair shouted even as his shield came forward, sword snapping from it's scabbard, even as the beasts started to show from the treeline.

Wishing he had brought a bow instead of having opted for close range weapons, Zevran issued an eerie howl, calling for reinforcements. In reply several questioning cries came, even as Zevran charged headlong into the fight. That short time he had spent amongst the Dalish garnered the trick he was currently using, aid coming to the party in the form of wolves. Yips and growls filled the air along with Alistair's taunting shouts, and the mystic chanting of Lahar as burning ozone struck out in lightening. The sound of blood pounding in his head, mingling with the frightening roars from the darkspawn was almost overpowering.

This was not the first time Zevran had seen darkspawn, he had come across a few in his search for the Wardens, but still the sight of them, the sound, the very smell of them made his skin crawl. Some visceral part of the Antivan knew that there was something incredibly wrong with the very existence of such creatures.

Lunging forward, burying his blade in the back of a genlock, Zevran spun, a whirlwind of motion aware that the battle had to end quickly to prevent major injuries to the party. Felling another opponent, he raced off, hearing the twang of bowstring and the whistle of a barrage of arrows heading to their targets. Turning on heel and rushing to the archers, lashing out with a kick to one, spitting in the face of another even as his blade cut a bow in half. Trusting to his speed, Zevran continued dispatching the one that was rising from the kick he had delivered, twisting aside as a knife came at his side. A twinge above his right hip reminded him that he wasn't as strong as that side as he usually was and it needed protecting.

The elven Warden's scream shattered the battle-trance he had fallen into. Finishing the last of his genlocks, Zevran howled again, calling for more aid as the remaining wolf fell, echoing the mournful wail. Wynne was glowing, in the middle of sending waves of healing to Alistair, who was dripping blood and offal. But it was Lahar, blasting ice out from her hands, dark blood soaking from a protruding dagger in her thigh that needed it most.

A mix of hurlocks and genlocks were descending too fast on the duo for Alistair to reach in time.

Racing, leaping over the ledge the hill formed, landing in a roll blades twirling in his grip, hamstringing one of the stragglers as they headed towards the mages. Not killing it in favor of reaching Lahar and Wynne in time to save them, hopefully. Zevran sprinted, his legs carrying him in bounds. Falling upon the tangle of bodies, like a madman he laughed or he would have screamed instead. The Antivan was a blur of motion and vision disjointed he put his body between Lahar and a truly huge hurlock in heavy armor.

Deflecting the ax blow that was meant for his head, he slithered up into the guard, head butting the beast. Pain was lancing through his shoulder, his side and his lungs burnimg. Taking a risk Zevran grabbed one of the vials he kept on his belt and threw it into the bunch, leaping back and crashing into Lahar, dragging her back, other arm out-flung to yank Wynne along with him as the explosion sent darkspawn flying.

Stunned, rolling over, Zevran ears ringed and the sound of clanging metal announced Alistair dispatching the remaining darkspawn, with the help of a fresh contingent of wolves.

Moaning, struggling to rise, Zevran swayed, "Hmm that really got the blood pumping."

"Hold still dear," Wynne was murmuring in her motherly soothing tone to the fallen Warden, "Alistair take the handle and, on my mark pull it from her leg."

Moving aside ignoring how his own life's blood was oozing from him, Zevran forced his body to obey his demands, beginning the process of searching the dead for useful items. Lahar kept a steady stream of soft curses in what sounded like a form of Tevinter as Wynne worked on her knife wound.

Expendable, but I may as well be useful, The assassin heaved one of the darkspawn onto its side so he could better riffle through its effects. The thick viscous goo that was the blood burnt his nostrils; he had smelled month old, water logged bloated corpses that weren't anywhere near as bad.

"Enough! Enough, I'm fine, just make sure everyone else is okay Wynne," Ears twitched as slapping sounds, like those that happened when swatting away at too helpful hands accompanied the grousing. "Where's Zevran?"

Mostly finished, Zevran hoisted his pack of pilfered goods over a shoulder, "So you miss me my sweet Warden? I'm touched."

It wasn't until they moved off by several miles before they set up camp, even though it was still early.

Most days were uneventful but on a day like this, with injuries that were more than simple sprains or something that were gone with a little effort from spells or potions they would get as far from the battle site as possible and then promptly set up for the night. Not once did Zevran complain, taking the rear position to watch everyone's back. And so he could wince occasionally without anyone the wiser. As he set down the bag of loot near Morrigan, mentally preparing himself for the trial of setting up camp and then seeing to his wounds in privacy that the edges of his vision which had already been darkening went black and he crumpled.

"Blast and damnation!" It was a harsh sound, Morrigan's voice rising in a curse. On hands and knees, Zevran stared at the ground, even as hands grasped his shoulders, "You idiots, did no one think to ask if this moron of an assassin was wounded, before allowing him to act like a pack animal?"

Unable to contain the scream as energy coursed through his body, Morrigan roughly applying her skills, Zevran's last vision was of Lahar's glowing palms sending even more. And then he knew only nightmare.

XXX

Something wasn't quite right, the light was diffuse and yet the place was familiar. A Chantry, one of the sort that sat overlooking an orchard of fig, apricot and orange trees, far from the nearest town. It looked like one of the beautiful little monasteries that littered Antiva. In one of the open courtyards, a tinkling cultivated pond rested, several benches for contemplation scattered around it. Zevran tested the air, wondering at the haze, but smelled nothing but warm stone, water and the breeze carrying fruit's sweet perfume to him.

"I see you have finally arrived Crow," The robes of a priest could not hide what the man before him was. A killer, a weapon, and a fellow assassin.

"You have me at a disadvantage," Squinting, the man's features strangely swirling, shifting and unidentifiable.

The man gave a dismissive wave, "It does not matter. Come, Master Crow, walk with me."

That was a flinch from the Antivan elf, "I am no Master."

"Aren't you?" Robust laughter reached Zevran's ears, "This is the Fade and here all your secrets are laid bare. I could send you into a memory, to remind you of all that you are. And what you most certainly are not."

Voicing his question, despite the fact that he didn't want to give anything away, "The Fade? The... place of dreaming? Are you a demon then, come to take my soul?"

The being grabbed his arm, forcing Zevran to follow a path around the garden, "No, that I am not. Besides, do you think you even have a soul to bargain with?"

"I suppose not," Feeling an absence of panic was certainly odd. This thing, whatever it was, should have put everything instinct on edge, ready for an attack. But it did not.

"You wonder why you are here then?"

Zevran thought that would be obvious, but nodded anyway, "Certainly. One is not usually aware that they are in a dream, that they are in the Fade. Yet I am."

"I brought you here because I have been waiting, you have fended off true sleep for near a month," The man-entity said, "and I have wished to test your mettle. Your presence directly affects more than the life and death of a few but of thousands. A Blight is upon the land, and if the mission you have been dragged into fails, then not just the country of Ferelden will be damaged but all nations until the Archdemon is finally felled."

Stopping, Zevran moved seeking to identify the presence once more, "And what does that to matter to those of the Fade?"

"That is none of your business Crow, but know that today I shall release you freely to the land of the awake, your body is in dire straights at the moment," Something grasped and dug at the insides of Zevran's mind, prodding, "And I can assist from here to a degree. The cost of it to you will be this – when next you rest you will be unable to fight sleep. You will be brought before me for judging."

"You are familiar to me somehow, and you are a Crow," Zevran tried to probe this man-spirit, wanting answers to the questions swirling in his head.

"That will never cease to be the case, once a Crow, always a Crow, even though my allegiance is to something far larger than the Guild," He nodded in agreement. "As to who I am, if you survive you may find out." A light gesture to the landscape around them, "But now it is time you arise, your companions worry for you, and that is of great interest to me. I wish to see how they act towards you, and how you respond in turn. Now go."

With no more ceremony than that Zevran fell back into a silent abyss.

XXX

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