Gidet: It's funny, at first I liked Wynne a little bit, not in terms of character but in terms of "Holy shit, gimme healing", and MZ decided she just disgusted him... Funny how they, the chars, just sort of develop their own personalities all on their own.

Reviews make me squee: Gimme some love so I'll make silly sounds! (My husband always laughs at me when he hears them...)

Title: A Murder of Crows 16/?
Author: Rhion
Rating: T
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: I has bed. It is awesome. Now if only I had my car so I wasn't trapped at home...

XXX
Murder 16
XXX

"Wait, don't kill me!" The armored man was prone on the ground, and Zevran would have ignored his plea, but for Lahar's hand on his shoulder.

The mage's face was impassive. "You attacked us. What mercy would you have shown?"

By the man's looks, Zevran figured he was a mercenary. "He is not much more than a hireling, bonita."

Even so, hirelings still have the ability to speak, to spread word. He hoped his expression conveyed this thought to Lahar.

"This is no ordinary mercenary." Leliana finished inspecting one of the dead and approached with a peculiar cast to her features. The Orlesian crossed her arms, pinning the man with a stern look. "Tell us who sent you, and we will spare your life."

Zevran had to resist the urge to snap at the bard; such decisions were not hers to make or to offer. Speaking out of turn in such a manner was bad form, and not something to be done in front of those who may or may not live to carry news. Not only that, speaking so was gauche and overly presumptuous. Of course, Zevran didn't show a single flicker of those thoughts, and Lahar to her credit merely remained silent, staring the man down.

"Ah, look, we was sent to kill the red head and her companions, but the red head was the target, miss mage," this was directed at Lahar, the mercenary correctly realizing who was actually in charge.

"Yes, to kill the red head...wait, what?" Leliana cried out incredulously. "To kill me? Quel l'enfer!"

The mercenary shifted cautiously, and the tip of Zevran's sword went straight to his throat. "Tchk, I would not do that if I were you."

"Didn't mean nothing by it, ser. I got a map of where I was to meet my contact after the job was done," halting all movement.

"And who hired you?" Lahar finally spoke once more, gesturing for Leliana to take the map from the man while Zevran kept his sword point trained on him.

The mercenary gave an lopsided shrug, for Zevran had robbed him of the use of his arm. "Don't rightly know, miss. Was just given the directions and descriptions and a map of where to pick up the rest of our fee."

After Leliana had retrieved the scroll and it seemed the mercenary had no more to say, Zevran pulled his sword away only to thrust it into the man's throat once he had relaxed. With a gurgle and wide, surprised eyes, the hiresword slumped back to the ground. Giving a last kick to the body, rolling it over, the Crow nudged the man's gorget completely away from his throat and severed both windpipe and the carotid artery, ensuring his kill.

Behind him, the Orlesian gasped in anger and horror. "You did not have to kill him! He was to go free!"

Zevran snorted once, ignoring her, and wiped his blade free of blood before sheathing it. However, the frigid weight of Lahar's gaze on his back as he began rifling through the mercenary's effects made the hair on the back of his neck rise. Lahar spoke a quiet word to the bard, sending her to go about similar grim work, and Zevran kept his head down for a time waiting for Lahar to speak.

"That man asked for his life and was given it. I'm not exactly in the habit of reneging on those sort of deals," said with frosty determination. Zevran felt a frozen woosh of air and fought off a shiver.

"He was a loose end," startled to notice his breath frosting in the air and sinking rapidly down. When he looked at the ground, all the grass had turned white and sparkling. Gritting his teeth, he felt irritated that he had to justify his actions. "If he had been allowed to live, he would have promptly gone to inform his contacts and all who would listen of our locations and identities. He would have spoken long and loud to any who had ears to hear."

The air tinkled with the sound of grass shattering under closing footsteps. "And are you not a loose end?"

Stiffening, Zevran glanced over his shoulder at his Warden. "No, I have pledged my loyalty to you, amante, this you know."

"Enough," somehow the softly spoken word held the weight of crushing ice floes, rolling over him with glacial ferocity - implacable, immovable and impervious to all pleas or reason. "You are scrambling to defend that which you know was wrong. You use platitudes when your actions cannot be undone and, even if justified, go beyond the leeway granted to each and every one of us in our positions in the group. We each have our roles, and our opinions are worth something, but superseding another's rights is...unacceptable."

Rising slowly as he turned to face her fully, Zevran answered, "I have killed many and never thought it wrong. You have never appeared to think it wrong either."

"I had not promised those others their freedom or their lives." The air around her sparkled as hoarfrost rose from her body, and her robes took on a moist, crystalline sheen. "I had promised this man his life, even if my hand had been forced by Leliana's vow of mercy. You countermanded it, publicly."

"Ah," nodding minutely, "it is a matter of leadership. I should have waited then until after our fair bard was out of sight."

If possible, the temperature dropped further and suddenly fat, perfect snow flakes began to swirl around the Warden. "It did not fall under your jurisdiction. If you had spoken with me privately about your worries or taken me aside to voice your concerns, then your actions could have been justified. Now, all I see is someone trying to side-step the consequences of an impetuous action that ran counter to the wishes of the group."

Zevran opened his mouth to say something, but quickly snapped his jaw shut when a line of ice spears sprouted up around Lahar's feet with a discordant tinkle. Perhaps it would be wise not to say anything to further incite her ire... But he was merely being practical; he had not thought she would react this way. Repressing a shiver at the freezing temperature, Morrigan said that Lahar is unfamiliar with anger. It would be best for everyone, I believe, for me to simply take whatever punishment she decides to serve. Later, when she is returned to her normal disposition, she and I shall talk.

XXX

Dinner had been a silent affair with, oddly, the only person willing to sit with him being Alistair. The Templar had yammered on about the Kocari Wilds, Flemeth, Ostagar, the Circle Tower, demons in the Fade and such. It had been altogether strange, and Zevran had decided he would have to steel himself against a sleepless night, for he was sure Lahar would spend the night at Morrigan's tent.

After all, that is where she goes when she feels she cannot be around me. He listened to Alistair with barely half an ear and didn't really taste the food he was eating.

"So, ah, what are the Crows like?" Alistair prodded him with a question finally.

Turning his head to look at the Templar, "Eh? Ah...they are like a large group of friends who all get paid to kill other people. One large, happy family."

"Oh, right, sarcasm," grimacing. "Can we pretend that you said something a bit more...I dunno, believable?"

Glancing at the young man, Zevran replied, "Alistair, if I were to tell you too much, it would shatter your benevolent world-view. I do believe I have done enough things to warrant other's irritation with me, and I do not wish to add to their number at this time."

"Um, well," scratching at the stubble on his cheek, Alistair frowned, "I don't think I'd be too upset. It'd probably just be more things to make me want to watch you."

"Why, Alistair, my dear boy, I did not realize your interests lay in those directions," reflexively taking the ready target the shemlen so neatly provided. "It is the high cheekbones and pouty lips, is it not? Or the accent, yes? It must be. I knew it. It is always the accent."

There was some blank blinking, and Alistair's face went lax as he puzzled out Zevran's meaning until his entire face turned red, "Maker's breath! No! Not...not like that! Not...not that there's anything wrong with it, no, I...but...but no! Just...no." The large man drew in a deep breath, "No I mean, you know, any stories you might tell about the Crows, they may make me watch you more closely. To make sure you don't do anything...nefarious." Which statement was followed quietly by, "Or watch your back more."

It was Zevran's turn to frown in puzzlement. And why should you do such a thing? He didn't comprehend that the Templar was offering to take on his usual role as shield. A patently odd notion, Zevran eyed Alistair for a moment before shrugging philosophically. No one watched his back except possibly Lahar. When she wasn't aggravated with him. Spying Lahar heading for their tent, his frown deepened. What reason could she have to go there? He passed the remnants of his meal to Alistair who, always being hungry, accepted it without a word, seeing that the Crow was obviously intent on their leader. Zevran followed Lahar cautiously.

Inside, Lahar was brushing her hair in brisk strokes, and the air was chillier inside the tent than outside. She cast him a brief look before she began plaiting her hair rapidly and tossing the length over her shoulder. Licking his lips, Zevran paused on his hands and knees at the entrance to their sleeping area before entering fully.

"You are tired, pequeña?" pulling his boots off and setting them by the entrance. "Are you not going to make your usual rounds?"

"I am too tired to do so," the answer terse.

Tugging his shirt free he held it out his Bonded, waiting for her to take it, "Ah, it has been a rough day."

She didn't reply and ignored his shirt, rearranging their combined bedrolls so that they were separate and only taking off the outer layers of her robes before slipping beneath the blankets. Confused, Zevran folded his shirt and set it aside before going to lay down. If she is still angry, why is she here? In our tent? Should she not be with Morrigan, commiserating over the idiocy of men?

Rolling onto his side, "Amante, do you wish me to sleep elsewhere tonight?"

"No," curling into a ball and presenting her back. "Stay here."

Clearing his throat, "Then we should lay closer together, so that I may touch you and know that it is you who is beside me."

A hand flailed out from the blanket, reaching backwards and grabbing his wrist, "Fine."

Weaving his fingers through hers, Zevran scooted closer, wrapping himself around her form, "Mi diosa, if you are still angry with me, why come to bed?"

"Don't," attempting to squirm away. "I don't want to be mean and punish you, but right now, I can't stand you being that close to me."

Grimacing, "Then why not just work out your anger like a normal person? If you are angry with me, say so. Tell me what you are thinking. Yell, or just take your wrath out on me and be done with it. I am more than strong enough to handle it and am well acquainted with such occurrences. It is best to simply get it over with, rather than letting it fester."

She flipped over in the bed to face him, "Excuse me? You think I would hit you?"

"Well, if you are going to punish me, get it over with. I do not like this...this being by you and yet not being by you," growling with a hint of his own aggravation. "It is best I have found, to get the beating out of the way, so that there is time for healing. Then, a sound round of angry intercourse to get the last vestiges of rage from the system and be done with it so that we can go about going to sleep, the way normal people would!"

Lahar's mauve lips made an incredulous 'o' as her entire face went white - well, whiter - with shock, "Normal people? Like normal people? How is...how is that...? You...blood and damnation, Zevran..." When her hand went to his face, Zevran almost flinched, but her touch was gentle. "I wouldn't hit you. Maybe...maybe swat you. But hit you? No...no. That's...even I know that's not normal."

Uncomfortable suddenly, the Crow shifted away from the soft caress. "If you are displeased with me, then you should either express it fully and work it out with me in whatever method is needed or remove yourself from me as you usually do. I do not like this...half here thing. It is as though you are forcing me to suffer your ire with no way to solve it."

"I thought it made you angrier when I stayed away," brow beetling.

"Angry?" cautiously taking her hand. "No, it...made me agitated, yes. But you only stayed away when you felt you could not come to me. Or so I thought, though at the time I believed you were displeased with me for some reason."

She sighed and squeezed his hand, "I'm upset with you still. But I don't want to punish you. Not like that."

XXX

They were near one of the major roads which would lead directly to Denerim, or at least heading towards one, when Zevran finally decided he should speak up. "This plan of yours, I have some concerns."

"And?" Lahar sighed, and he could feel the strain between them, even though several days had passed.

Clearing his throat, "If this Marjolaine hired men to seek out Leliana to kill her, no doubt she also has similar to guard her person."

"Leliana, Ser Prize and I can handle it just fine," holding up a hand, palm upwards, a floating globe of ice forming there.

Gritting his teeth, Zevran pointed out, "There might also be Crows." Amending rapidly, "Actually, there will be Crows. It is where the largest cell is, and there is even a Crow Master in residence there, last I passed through, though I did not make contact with him."

His Warden sent a short bolt of electricity through the ice, shattering it and shifted her grasp on her staff. "No one will pay attention to a mother, her daughter and a dog."

Upper lip curling, the Crow snorted, "You look nothing like our Orlesian, and your appearance is far too distinctive to simply allow you to merely stride through a major city center with Crow operatives, Howe's spies, the scum and chaff, and think that you can blend in."

"Are you going to provide some useful advice, Zevran, or are you going to pick everything apart and complain the way Alistair does when he doesn't like something?" the mage didn't exactly snap at him; she was far too level to do something so crass.

But the vague hint of fatigue in the words was in some ways worse. Bah, I wish she would just throw a temper tantrum and be done with it. It would be less bothersome than disapproval, as though I were some naughty child... Even if in her mind, his actions were equal to Alistair's.

Wincing, Zevran answered, "I know you cannot be turned from this course, but I will not be left behind. I at least know what to watch for, as Leliana is too preoccupied with her own demons to be much use in a city."

"No, you are too conspicuous," shaking her head. "Tattoos, obviously elven, accented and walking like a fighter? No."

"Oh? And you think that I cannot cover those things?" raising a brow at her, though she paid it no mind and only focused on the trail ahead. "I may not be able to hide my race, but I can hide or alter those other things. Infiltration is something any rogue worth his salt can master. Mi cielo, you have two choices as I see it. I will either come with you, or I will follow. It is up to you which you choose. My advice is for you to take me along as an elven servant with a wheelbarrow to carry our arms and armor."

The air frosted for a moment before Lahar silenced her abilities. "And if I order you to stay behind?"

"It would be unwise," said evenly. "For many reasons."

"Fine, we will change the plans," the look she cast him was hard, "to accommodate your insistence. But this is to be an in and out job. Find Marjolaine and then leave. Nothing more."

XXX

Leliana's hair was done up with fat and flour making a neat little bun, and artfully applied soot created the image of a middle aged woman. Beside her, walking with one hand on Ser Prize's head the other firmly wrapped about her staff, Lahar's eyes were covered by a thin wrap of fabric as though she were blind, though he had made sure that it was thin enough she could see through it. And Zevran had made use of soot and fat himself, his hair tied in a tail, now black rather than his natural blond. Bits of grain, fat and some of the paints that he kept for such occasions created pockmark scars over his cheeks. Their clothes had been purchased from the Feddics and Levi so that they appeared to be free holders turned refugees fleeing to seek family in the city. This way, no one would question an elven servant and a mabari hound.

Or so Zevran hoped.

The guards waved them through along with a group of refugees who had come from near Lothering by their talk. No one had spared them more than the usual cursory glance. Of course the beggars and street urchins darting through the streets could be the eyes of the Guild or Howe or even Marjolaine. It was all the Crow could do not to sneer at the city itself, though. Disgusting filth everywhere, no dogs or street cleaners, no gutters? Standing pools of...Braska, is that man...oh ugh, he is. Hiding his grimace at the sight of a legless soldier eating from a plate of scraps that several rats were sharing, the Antivan stepped up his pace just a little pushing the wheelbarrow so that he stood in such a way as to block the view from Lahar, if she were to glance in that direction.

As they wound their way through the main square, Zevran pitched his voice just so, carefully taking on a flat, nasal accent, "Miss Anna, I 'ave word tha' the tavern ahead be a good place for the lil'missus."

Leliana nodded in apparently weary assent, reaching out to take Lahar's arm above the elbow. "Poor dear must be tired. Let's get a bite to eat in you."

Trundling along, Zevran quietly scanned the square, allowing his gaze to skip over a most distinguished looking bald man and a younger man that could be brother or son.So out in the open? Interesting, making a note of a small flash of ink on the skin at the cuff of the elder man's left wrist. Black was not a common tattoo ink outside of Antiva, as it required materials and synthesis of a complex variety that most didn't know or understand how to do properly. The Dalish had an almost black ink which would fade to a navy blue, but not that flat black that Antivans preferred.

So, I have found our avians, maintaining a neutrally subservient posture as they moved by the stalls.

Keeping up appearances, they booked a room for the night, and Zevran put the wheelbarrow in the horseless stable. Horses were always the first thing to go in troubled times, usually for the army, but as far as he had heard, there was no standing cavalry currently. Then again, it didn't really matter. Horses would definitely help in their trek, but since none were to be had, there was nothing to be done for it. Not only that, but he knew Lahar had no idea how to ride, and as for the others they too might be just as ignorant of how to handle equines.

Shouldering the bundles of gear masked as simple packs of possessions, the Crow took the back entrance up to their shared room to drop off the gear and go down to the main area downstairs.

One of the serving women was fussing over Lahar, who had opted to play mute as well as blind, as her accent and Leliana's would clash. It didn't matter that the bard was good at masking her own accent, but the fact that the Warden's would still be so different would be glaringly obvious to any who heard them both.

"Oh here, sweetling, here's the spoon," the woman was gently placing the handle in Lahar's hand. "Would you like some spiced cider to drink?" passing a hand over the mage's long, sable locks in a maternal fashion.

His fingers twitched, unhappy at seeing someone touch her in such a familiar way. Instead, the Crow went to Leliana who gave him a list of things they "needed" and the address of a "relative" for him to go in search of, as a dutiful family servant would. The guise didn't chafe, except that it prevented him from reaching out to touch Lahar or lay a hand on her shoulder. So, with only a small dip to both the bard and mage, Zevran left the Gnawed Noble to carry out his reconnaissance.

XXX

Zevran was coasting casually with Lahar on his arm, and with a little finessing, her mage robes had been traded for a set of leathers that hugged her small frame, emphasizing each curve in tantalizing ways. He seemed nothing more than a hiresword seeking a bit of fun. Leliana would follow shortly after with Ser Prize while they moved into position. The door was unassuming and looked like any other door into a set of apartments, but earlier in the day, he had ascertained that an Orlesian woman matching Marjolaine's description had taken up residence recently.

"Mi diosa, remember, I shall throw a gas bomb into the rooms first, so you must not breathe the fumes once the glass breaks," murmuring to her.

She nodded, her braid slithering against leather with the motion, "I understand." Lahar squeezed his forearm, glancing up at him, "Don't get in my way once I start casting. It's been awhile since I've had to deal with close quarters fighting."

There was a trill behind them signalling that Leliana was about to be upon them, and he stole a quick kiss from his elven lady. "Just keep yourself safe, do not worry about me."That was what they had time for as Ser Prize's hulking form bumped Lahar and Leliana dropped her shadows. One Orlesian bard to skewer for the order of the day's menue. I wonder if anyone brought the butter?

The door swung inwards, and guards rushed them.

Zevran had already whipped out his weapons, and with a twirl of his wrists, the blades created a shield of metal that distracted his chosen opponent. Chuckling darkly, he braced his weight on one foot, his other leg scything upwards in a circle that slammed into the large shem's head, a move so unexpected that there was no guarding against it. Metal squealed at the impact, and the shemlen collapsed to the ground like a toppled bottle. The Crow made sure of the guard with a shove of blade into eye socket, ripping it free as he turned to face the others. Ser Prize's mouth was bloody, and Lahar had a nimbus shimmering around her, distorting her outline, red dripping from her dar'misuas she flung out her hand, a shaft of ice flying into the last, swaying guard.

The giant Qunari growled, attempting to take a step forward, but Leliana stabbed an arrow up through his jaw, all the way into the Tal Vashoth's brain pan. Quickly surveying the damage, Zevran nodded to himself in satisfaction. Why she insists on using a bow in a building makes no sense to me, casting a look at the bard who checked her arrows and then signaled that she was ready for the next room.

Rotting flowers and cat urine - common ingredients in the most expensive and pungent of Orlesian perfumes, though few could pick out the individual scents that comprised it - swamped his nostrils in burning acridity. It was enough to make Ser Prize sneeze wetly all through Marjolaine's dripping lies. Pfah, my gas bomb will have no effect in this, thinking with ill humor, even though of course it would. But the stench of perfume was enough that in and of itself, it could be considered poison.

He could see the upraised plates of traps at the corners, and he waited only long enough for the women to stop their harping, and Lahar's cold statement that Marjolaine must be "dealt with" to throw the glass beaker at Marjolaine's face. It shattered on impact, and he sucked in a deep breath before the fumes spread, diving for one of the plates. With a quick flick of a dagger, he severed the mechanism that would have released whatever nasty surprise the trap would have spewed if it had been discharged.

There was much choking and coughing, but Zevran paid it no mind, ignoring the rushing in his ears and the tearing of his eyes. He had selected his target, a mage, and found himself struggling to halt the mage's casting. Snarling breathlessly, he cut through fabric, skin, then bone, lopping a hand off at the wrist. The mage screamed, dropping his staff and clutching at the stump, then he was dead with a gurgle. Flipping his attention to the rest of the fray, the Antivan cursed at seeing another mage and another trap. Ser Prize and Lahar were busy trying to kill the bard and the rogues with her, but the second mage was taking all of Leliana's attention.

Flying by as he ran crouched low to the ground, Zevran hamstrung a rogue in passing as he headed for the second mage. This one was much quicker to dispatch, Leliana's arrows breaking the mage's concentration enough for him to have time to deal with the trap and then the mage himself. That left Marjolaine who, even unarmed, was able to keep Lahar off of her. His little Warden was covered in blood, not being made for close-quarters fighting, and a shock of anger roared through him. The Crow let out an ululating cry as he tackled the Orlesian to the ground. He dropped his weapons in favor of grabbing the thin neck of the bard and slamming her head repeatedly into the ground as he straddled her. It was inelegant, but effective.

A sudden thrum of energy coalesced around Marjolaine's skull, and Zevran tasted ozone in the back of his mouth just before the bard's head turned black, the skin crackling and peeling away, hair standing on charred ends. Lahar was crouched near him, spreading the fingers of one hand as a line of electricity jumped from her palm to Marjolaine's now baked skull. Just before the energy reached him, it snapped off, ending so abruptly that while Zevran felt his own hair standing on end, there was no damage to him other than singed fingers. Stinging cold flowed through him, healing the electrical burns, and he rocked back on his heels shaking off the effects.

"Dear Maker," Leliana sobbed once, before containing herself, arms wrapped around her middle as she doubled forward. "It...it is...done. I...I think I need...some time to myself," staggering to the door. Shadows encased her as she left the apartments and the corpse of what had been her mentor.

Probably her lover, too. A not-quite-pang of sympathy touched him as he took in her reaction.

Lahar stood up gracefully, the nimbus falling away as she held her hand down to him, "Are you alright? I saw the first mage strike you..."

He accepted her hand as he rose, all the better to pull her to him. "It was nothing, I had not even noticed. Here, let me look over you."

Sticky brown-black blood was splashed over her leathers, face, arms, legs and neck. Growling to himself, he went to a wash basin in the sleeping area and dampened a rag so that he could wipe Lahar clean. She stood still, letting him take her hands and wipe at them aggressively to remove the blood from each digit. It took some doing, and before he finished, Zevran could smell the released bowels of the dead, but he didn't care. He only moved to dump out the water and pour more in the basin so that he could set to Lahar's face and neck.

"I can get clean at the tavern," she said as her mouth was smooshed to one-side by his vigorous rubbing at her cheek.

"How much of this is yours?" His eyes focused on a particularly ground in bit.

The Warden shrugged, holding still for his ministrations. "I got cut on my leg, but that's healed up now."

Falling to a squat, the Crow shoved aside the pleats, inspecting her thighs until he found the faint line and wiping that area clean before kissing it. "I do not like you being in the thick of things."

A hand rested atop his head for balance at the odd stance she had to take. "Well, we weren't out in the open, so we knew there was a chance I'd get hit. I thought that's why I'm wearing armor and why I brought the dar'misu instead of my staff."

"While yes, that is the logic, it does not mean I have to like it," snapping at her.

Partially satisfied that he had her as clean as he could without a bath, Zevran quickly set to dragging the bodies from the entrance-way and into the back room. Such actions gave him time to mutilate the faces so no one would be able to guess the identities later. There was no way he was going to let Lahar see him hacking fingers off, cutting faces away, and pulling ears off and eyes out. In an empty pillowcase he stuffed the identifying body parts and set them near the front door. He would dispose of them later.

A last pass over the apartments yielded a veritable treasure trove of items - gems that he pried from settings, a bow, and some miscellaneous things that should fetch a bit of coin. Also, there was another set of daggers which he decided he could keep as spares. Mostly, the Antivan didn't ask for gear, as he merely took what he needed from the dead and stowed away a few odds and ends here and there. But the jewelry had reminded him of what Lahar had said - that she had never had anything nice to wear simply for the sake of its beauty.

Lahar was balled up on the bed with Ser Prize, dozing, while he went about his grisly tasks, and he was loath to wake her, but sleeping near the dead was unwise.

Sitting on the bed, he tucked a stray lock away from her cheek, "Amante, it is time we quit this place."

She didn't say anything other than to yawn a little as she slipped from the bed, Ser Prize grunting as he hopped to the floor. Upon exiting the building, the dark of the night made his neck prickle. They were being watched.

"Ah, so good of you to join us." The Antivan accent rolled from the tongue, unblunted by years in other countries, and Zevran recognized the voice when he hadn't recognized the face earlier in the day. "Before you attack, a word if you please." A small lantern was unshuttered, a shaft of light casting its yellow glow, "I can have someone dispose of the...results of your night's business. Come, do not look so happy to see me, Warden. I have no intention of completing another Master's contract."

"Ignacio, you weasel, what are you doing here?" hissing at the Crow Master.

"Hmm, Zevran, yes? You are of no note, as you are dead to me. See that it stays that way, whoreson, and things will be well," gesturing for them to follow him as he headed towards the tavern.

The temperature plummeted, and the flame in the lantern guttered, "Whoreson, son of a slave, whatever, it's all the same. If you please, try and keep insults to a minimum. I am fully capable of bringing down a few buildings around your ears and leaving you nothing but a smoking corpse."

Ignacio halted his steps, turning to eye Lahar warily, "No true offense was meant. If you will take note of who initially bandied about insults, it was not I. If you please, forgive me, for I do have business to discuss with you."

Lahar's expression was lit strangely as she summoned up whatever shield she had used earlier. The blankness of it, utterly impassive and impervious to anything, just like the face of a glacier, was far more frightening than the dead eyed expression all Crows learned, for that at least seemed as if it had once been human. No, Lahar merely lookedat Ignacio who, as any Crow Master should be, was a creature to be feared himself. He still took a step back.

She cocked her head, examining him, "I have to please nothing nor forgive anything. What is your business with me? Other than the contract on the Wardens?"

"This is a most exposed place," protesting.

Zevran debated killing the Crow Master outright, but there was sure to be backup in the alleys, so instead, he noted, "Exposed or not, if you wish to converse with someone, it is bad form to ignore their preferences. Especially when there is no gain for them in doing what you wish."

The old man grunted and turned slowly. "Is that what you say, Warden, or what your guard says?"

"He knows my opinion." A little tongue of flame lept from her hand to relight the lantern. "And the fact that I do not like to waste time, which you are doing at the moment. If you have something to say, say it or get out of my way." Zevran thought he saw the corner of her lips tilt just the smallest bit. "Or don't. It doesn't particularly affect me either way."

But it would certainly affect you, Ignacio, and Zevran found that he did the smirking for them both.

Ignacio dipped a bow, fist to his heart. "Your wish, Warden." He straightened. "I have a proposition for you. Times are busy with the Blight, nobles disagreeing, and such. It brings out the...ah...best in people."

"Your point?" Lahar was utterly still, motionless, even her breathing was near undetectable.

"He is saying he has work for us, my Warden," Zevran stated smoothly.

"Could be, if there are any...enterprising individuals who are willing to tell me news, some coin could be had." Ignacio nodded, making heavy use of innuendo. "So many are likely to have accidents in these times, and I have need of extra ears. It is...something to think on, yes?"

His Bonded began heading towards the inn, "I have no need for coin."

"Keep it in mind, my dear. There are many benefits other than coin to be had," Ignacio called just loudly enough for his voice to reach their ears.

XXX

Zevran had excused himself from their shared room, letting Lahar provide what comfort she could to Leliana. Being at loose ends, he went to the main room and made inquiries with the bartender on call this late in the night. Or early, depending on one's view point.

"Ah, is there anyone who might need a helping hand?" Hooking a foot around a stool-leg, the Antivan leaned his elbows on the bar, sliding a few silvers towards the barman. "I find that the bones have not been so kind of late."

"Your master know you're larking about taking jobs?" plunking a tankard of beer in front of the elf, snapping up the money quickly.

Lips twitched ruefully. "What my Master does not know, he does not care about."

"Mm, well, it's your skin," shaking his head. "But there's a few things, if you're of a mind."

"Oh, I probably am," taking a long, slow sip from his drink.

The transactions were rather easy - some components for poison and Zevran said he would keep his eye open for some letters. Later, after he finished his drink, he would go and dispose of certain...indiscretions, tidying up loose ends. He didn't particularly care who was offering these low level jobs, that it appeared that there was some minor scuffle going on amongst the criminal elements of the city, or the fact that he was promising aid to both groups. One of the best ways to gain profit and information was to know and understand the underworld of a town or city and to keep them too off balance to interfere with one's own ends.

Before he left to go see to these little trivialities, he had a question, "Do you know where I might find a blacksmith willing not to ask any questions? I find I am in need of such a person."

"Heh, got some goods that are a tad too hot for you?" looking up from taking inventory. "I could take them off your hands you know."

"Some of them surely, but some I would prefer to keep in less...ah...telling shapes," tapping his belt with a knuckle.

"Hmph, well, you'll be wantin' Master Wade then. He don't ask anyone questions, too busy with his fancy work, but his lad, Herren, only cares 'bout a profit," returning to his bookkeeping waving in a general direction. "Usually up at the crack o'dawn, sometimes earlier if Wade's on a kick."

The Crow conveyed his thanks with a few more silvers and went on his way.

Ugh, and none of these idiots could think of how to dispose of a body on their own? Sloppy, so very sloppy, smacking his hands in satisfaction as the second body slipped into the well. Tchk, what these people need is someone who knows what they are doing. A little order never hurt a group of thieves, and they are in sore need of it. Ah well, thoughts for someone else to have, I would rather be elsewhere than king of this rotting shit heap.

Following the sound of hammer on metal he went to Wade's workshop, ready to do a bit of business.

"Ah, we are not open to the public at this time," a blond, short haired, harried looking man said.

Holding up his hands, Zevran answered "I am not exactly the public. But I do have a small bit of business. Please, it will only take a few minutes of your time." Quickly he explained his need for finished materials and a few tools, as he proceeded to pull out bits of armor from the pack he had been carrying. "I need some wire in several gauges fit for making thin, jewelry style chain, some pliers, a file, and a set of cutters." Before the blond could say anything, he pulled out a twisted helmet. "Silverite, and I have plenty of it. All I need is twice my height in wire. I also have some gold that I do not need, some silver I do wish to have - maybe as beads, if you have the time."

Herren's eyes went sharp eyeing the headpiece. "How much more?"

Giving him a knowing smile as he pulled the smaller items from hidden spots about his person, Zevran dumped broken dagger hilts, swaths of green viridium chain, and the rings he had accumulated. "Would vambraces and greaves be enough to sweeten then deal?"

"Ooh, goody! Silverite! I can make a set of chainmail or scale. Oh, Herren, can I? Can I please?" the bald man had set aside his work, veritably skipping over to the front area. "It's been so long since you've let me have any good materials. I can whip up what this man wants in a flash! Just let me have some fun!"

XXX

Entering their room, Zevran spied Leliana sleeping in a heap, curled close to Lahar, with her head on his elf's bosom. His Warden was propped up against the wall, stroking her hand over the Orlesian's hair, yawning periodically. What? Surely she should have slept by now, frowning his concern.

"Mi tierra, why you have not slept?" speaking softly so as to not wake the sleeping bard.

A jaw cracking yawn was smothered behind a hand. "You haven't either."

Sighing, he sat near her, draping an arm around her shoulders. "I am used to it. A night here or there is nothing to me. It is only when I go days without that I suffer any ill effects."

"I couldn't," nestling closer, taking care to not dislodge Leliana from her spot. "I didn't know where you were or if you were safe."

Resting his cheek atop her head, he toed off his boots, which landed with soft thumps on the floor. "Only doing a bit of exploring and information gathering. I did not travel outside this area, you need not have worried yourself."

"I thought maybe Ignacio caught up with you." One of her small hands landed on his thigh, wiggling its way between the pleats in his leather kilt.

"Shh, amante, sleep, I am here," squeezing her to him. "That old buzzard would not be that obvious. What would you do if something had happened? No, he is perfectly aware you would hunt him down, and your little display this evening showed him some of your mettle. It is a rare thing indeed to make a Crow Master flinch, and you did so, all on your own."

Lahar murmured, "Display? I didn't do anything."

Zevran found himself unable to hold back his chuckle. "Oh yes, mi hermosa diosa, you did. Most people with any sense in their skulls would be at least a little impressed by a Crow Master. And those without it would be full of bluster. You, my dear little one, are not the sort to fear or to be impressed without proof."

"Why should I be?" yawning again and he could feel her losing the fight to stay awake. "He's a man, like any other. He bleeds the same, he shits the same, he eats the same. And he can die the same. There isn't anything superior or mystical about him, no matter his status. He's a man, no more, no less. I suppose we should see what he wants later. Maybe we can figure out a way to keep him off our backs."

"Shh, no more thoughts, bonita, rest," kissing her temple. "Save it for after you have slept."

XXX

"Ma petite cherie looks so tired." Leliana raised her head, blinking sleepily and knuckling away the gum of dried tears.

Keeping his eyes mostly closed, "She did not sleep until I had returned."

"Hmm, and you have not slept at all, oui?" pulling her fingers through her hair. "Non, of course you have not. I will go run some errands and take Ser Prize outside for a few hours so that you both may rest, as you have been so kind as to allow me to borrow her bosom."

Quirking his lips, he snapped his fingers softly towards the mabari hound, "Ser Prize, would you kindly guard our bard, hmm? I shall guard our mistress, but it would not do for our lovely Orlesian flower to be left by her lonesome."

Said woman was dressing quickly in leathers and pulling her hair back into two short tails, "Just how smart are you? Hmm? Brave, kind...yes. A bit of a glutton?"

Her voice trailed off as she left with Ser Prize in tow, leaving Zevran alone finally with his Warden for some rest of their own.

XXX

Taliesin, of course they would send him, his steps plodded, and he felt lightheaded as they went to join up with the rest of their little group, heading out of Denerim. He barely paid attention to where he was stepping - his head was pounding, his heart was beating too fast, and sweat prickled his scalp. Who else would they send? Who else would know my habits? Hmm? Who else might have a chance to unbalance me? No, of course it has to be him.

Name-dropping, Ignacio had let Zevran know the fellow Master Crow's identity. Taliesin was not just in Ferelden, but was looking for him. Waiting for him. Initially, the shemhad probably come as backup, but with no word and the fact that Zevran had never made contact with Ignacio...that left only two possible conclusions Taliesen would be able to come to. The first would be that Zevran had died and left his contract incomplete or the second, that he had gone rogue.

But, of course, Taliesen wouldn't assume he was dead. The shemlen had worked too hard to keep him alive. He touched the back of his neck and the hair that was now finally at his collarbones. What effort you put into keeping me, amigo. And now you will kill me too, hmm? So you think. Glancing to Lahar, Or do you believe you can reclaim me? Rehabilitate me? No, not even your connections and mama can get me forgiven. And I do not care, cabrone. I can have freedom rather than your chains.

"Warden!" the call was sharp, yet friendly and attention grabbing. "Warden, a word with ye?"

Reacting on pure reflex, Zevran had the man by the collar and slammed face-first into a wall before he could say anything more. "What did you say?"

"Ah, ah nothin', Ser Crow." With hands raised and pressed beside his face on the side of the building, the fat, red headed, human stuttered.

Zevran had a knife out and was about to plunge it into the man's kidney, but Lahar stopped him. "No, hear him out." The second part was directed at the sweating shem. "How do you know who we are?"

"Arl Howe - may the Maker bless him with boils on his nethers - had his men pass around portraits of you to the guards," speaking quickly, "and I happened to get a glimpse of one. But nobody likes that rat-faced weasel, so I don't think the guard or nobody will say anything even if they recognize ye."

Digging the point of his knife into the unnamed man's back, Zevran picked up the conversation. "And why would you be looking for the Warden? Hmm?"

"Name's Slim, Slim Couldry, and if ye've heard of me, then I ain't been doin' my job right," casting a nervous glance back at Zevran. "I'm a bit of a sneak thief. It's my specialty, and I was just gonna offer up some information, that's all."

"For a price," Lahar said, tugging off her eye bandages, probably to get a clearer look at the rogue. "And what information do you have, and why would I want it?"

"Well, it may make a profit, and it'd put a bee up Howe's skirt no doubt. It'd be a bit patriotic to do that, now wouldn't it?" Slim said, finally relaxing, even though Zevran had yet to release him. "Nobody believes what Teyrn Loghain says 'bout the Wardens. They're just too scared to take direct action. But indirect action? Oh, many of us can do that. Even so, there's things that need some muscle, which most of us don't have. You do. It could earn you some goodwill, and it'd knock those two off-kilter, know what I mean?"

Lahar nodded at Zevran, indicating he should let Couldry go, which Zevran did reluctantly. "I'm listening."

"Well, I hear tell that there's a Crow lookin' for this one here," nodding at Zevran. "And he's a right nasty fellow too. Came and commandeered most of the local branch's group, which didn't earn him no good feelings from the bald man. He hangs out near the docks, just so you know, and he's been stirring up trouble for all of us. That information's free. But for the other bit, a donation of ten silvers to a good cause would be welcome."

"And what cause would that be?" asking evenly as he watched the road to the main gates. Zevran tucked the knife away.

"Why to the poor, namely my family. I've got more cousins than I've got toes and fingers. I swear my uncle must walk around with it up constantly," chuckling. "Two wives he supports, never you mind the Chantry. It's all that can be done to keep everyone fed."

Lahar fished in her pouch and handed over the money. "We were just leaving, but we might have time for a fast excursion."