She stared up at the clouds roiling overhead, a tangle of differing shades of grey that shouted, Doom!, as droplets of frigid sea foam spattered her face. Her stomach churned with them; she'd never gotten used to the constant rocking at sea, not even after spending weeks in a hold. Unlike the sky and her gut, the sea seemed calm, as if it was waiting. It held its breath, though the clouds didn't. She wished she could quiet the storm within her. She stared at the huge staircase and towering manses that loomed over Kirkwall proper. If only she hadn't been caught, she could have been living in one, shielded from Templar eyes, and protected by her sister.

Just one day in one of those fancy dresses… Oh, the silks we saw at the markets! She laughed to herself as the ship rocked. Dresses were the last thing that should be on her mind. She hadn't been to Kirkwall proper since the Qunari had sacked the city, and whatever this reason was, well, dresses really had nothing to do with it. She stroked her robe's fur trim and snickered again. Some noble would kill for these fabrics!

The First Enchanter nodded her way, his face drawn tight, and his brows clenched to spasms.

"I hear you've made some progress with the Champion. That's good." She doesn't like the worry in his eyes or the way his thin lips twist. "I've summoned her here, but we're not going to have enough time."

"For what, First Enchanter?"

"I need to speak to the Grand Cleric, and I need you there. I'm leaving a messenger behind; Andraste willing, the Champion will join us."

She nods. She wonders, not for the first time, if the true reason the First Enchanter mentors her has nothing to do with her talents.

"I'm not sure I'll be of much help, messere."

"You're needed, Bethany. Follow."

"The Champion will have to intervene," the First Enchanter said as they docked. "She's eminently reasonable."

"First Enchanter." She only knew the young male mage by reputation. "Will everything be all right?"

"I have full faith in the Champion and the Grand Cleric."

"What happened, exactly?" she asked.

The First Enchanter wrenched himself to his feet with his staff and staggered onto the gangplank. "The years don't make this any easier." A small chuckle. "The Knight-Commander is determined that you find out. You won't have to wait long."

"Maker! Well, at least Lyssie calls you, 'The voice of reason.'" She left off the rest, though he'd likely have found it amusing.

"A good sign. Maybe the Maker is watching out for us after all."

She swallowed her laugh. If only, First Enchanter, if only.

The clouds had stopped twisting and instead clustered together, blocking what limited daylight remained. She'd always hated the docks at night—not that she'd ever been fond of them during the day—and she huddled in close to the rest of the First Enchanter's entourage. Three years hadn't dimmed the assault on her nostrils; the intertwined reek of decayed fish, unwashed bodies and rotgut dueled with the overwhelming stench of sea salt. Smells like home, Isabela had told her once as she'd clutched at her mouth to keep breakfast from revisiting. Home. The Gallows. The children! She hadn't warned them and seen to their safety before she'd left. If it involves Lyssie, it's bound to be trouble. But there was nothing to be done; one didn't defy the First Enchanter.

Past the empty space that the silver-skinned barbarians had once called home. The docks had once bustled with life, even late at night, even I that life had delighted in ridding other life of its coin, and its very existence. The reek was as still as the air, and she felt the hidden bandits holding their breath. Waiting. She shuddered in tandem with another of the mages she knew little about. At least she knew his name, Cyril, and that he was the talk of at least half of the female mages. That Cyril can light my flame any time! Even Ella had spoken of him once or twice. That accent, Bethany! Oh, it's so foreign! She'd never liked Orlesian accents much, herself.

"Zees is 'orrible," he said. "You know zees place?"

"Too well."

"I see. Well, zee First Enchanter will protect uz."

"I know. He has my full faith."

Up the stairs, and the First Enchanter's breath came heavy after the first flight. He leaned against his staff as she looked out over the brooding waters. A single guard nodded, silent beneath her heavy helm. And silent was what she wished Cyril would become, though the other two mages kept their mouths firmly closed.

"They say ze Champion is beyootifool."

"That's what they keep telling me, over and over."

The Hightown mansions loomed overhead and she wondered if Lysandra laughed down at her.

"They also say zhat beyooty runs in ze family. If so, ze Champion must be beyootifool indeed."

She stared into a pair of leering brown eyes. Maybe he was handsome, his cheekbones towering majestically over a square, sculpted jaw, but Maker! Clearly, he had no idea what a fool he sounded, and she still, even after six years in the Gallows, couldn't take a man in a dress and ornate hood seriously. The heavy accent, redolent with invasions and conquering, grated her ears to shreds. Maker's breath, even Ella's more subtle when she stares at Fenris!

"Yes, well, look! The mansions! The carvings on the stairs!"

"They are not so beyootifool as you."

"You know, I've met a mage or two who speaks well of you. Have you talked to Ella? She likes accents."

"And you do not?" She'd hoped those eyes might turn crestfallen, or those cheeks a shamed burgundy, but instead, the—Oh, Maker! They look so soft!—sensual lips curved into a smirk.

She huffed up several steps before she grunted, "I like Fereldens."

Cyril laughed, and even his laugh was tinged with an accent. "I have heard ze leettle mouse likes everyzing."

"Little mouse? Could you be any more insulting?"

His awful laugh didn't stop, and its intensity grated at the base of her spine. "Your leetle friend is rather cute. Zhat is why I don't call her 'Chantry Mouse' as ze rest of ze Circle."

"Maker's breath!"

The mage's laugh echoed off the polished marble. Hah! Hah! Hah! She clenched her fist, the raven-tinged cawing grating at her spine, as she slipped back to lend a shoulder to the First Enchanter. The elf gave her a grateful smile tinged with a hint of amusement. Three more flights, and the Enchanter's smile turned to a smirk.

"The first sight that greets you in Hightown," he said, nodding toward the Blooming Rose. "It's fitting."

Pompous and lurid, despite its purpose, it dripped with velvet and silk and expensive tapestries. She'd gasped the first time Lysandra had confronted Uncle Gamlen inside, and had gritted her teeth as that male whore had offered her sister his body. She'd swallowed and flushed as she'd watched Lysandra's eyes widen and a hint of a smile stretch her lips as she considered, but a quick glance at Fenris had dried up her sister's enthusiasm, thank the Maker! She snorted. Lyssie's always liked elves, apparently. Who'd have guessed? Lysandra hadn't looked at any of the boys back in Lothering, not once Carver's older friend had moved on to an apprenticeship in Redcliffe, and there were few enough elves back home for Lysandra to take a cotton to.

Hightown was just as quiet as the docks, with not even a single stray guard to lend a hint of life. She shivered as they passed a pair of Templars standing motionless outside the Viscount's Keep. The First Enchanter nodded their way, but they didn't even deign to grunt in acknowledgement. Why are Templars here? Shouldn't the city guard be watching instead? Lyssie said the Knight-Commander was grabbing for power, but I didn't think it was this bad.

"It is wonderfool to be zo loved," Cyril said and the First Enchanter cracked a smile.

"It is, isn't it? Meredith must have dropped a philter in their morning tea."

"Good to know you can all be so happy," she said. "I didn't have a chance to warn the children."

"Come now, it's not so bad," the First Enchanter said. "The Champion will work another of her miracles with that hellion, and everything will be right as rain."

"You don't really believe that…" The words dried up in her throat as she caught a glimpse of yellow hair twisting over some especially gaudy Templar plate.

Maker! The Knight-Commander! How did she get here so fast?

"Meredith, what a pleasant surprise!" The First Enchanter opened his arms wider than his smirk. "I see you whip the ferrymen harder than your lackeys!"

He's worse than Lyssie! Andraste save us!