"Alright, here's what I am thinking," Zevran finally announced, after a few minutes of watching the table in front of Maravillas, "There is an enchantment upon that merchant's goods, which is fair enough since any fool who purchases fish bones and believes them to be rare antiques deserves what he gets. However, somehow this merchant's charade has involved the disappearance of the Grey Warden - and this is admittedly cause for great concern to the both of us. Now, what should we do?"
"Stop talking." Sten answered, and approached Maravillas with purpose in his steps.
The masked merchant was not in his chair, and was nowhere to be seen. Sten flipped the table over, and the garbage that sat upon it spilled onto to street with a nauseating squish. People from all over the square turned to see what had made they noise, for they had heard it as the clatter of treasure.
"Where is the merchant responsible for this stall?" The qunari demanded, in a loud clear voice that reached the highest windows of the nearest buildings.
There was a pause of anticipation, and when no one came forward, the crowd moved into action. They dove for the unguarded riches that had spilled before them, grabbing at the gold they saw and fighting one another in a frenzy. Sten's stomach turned as he watched them greedily snatching up rotting banana peels and crumpled pieces of paper. None of them answered his question.
"That was… very dramatic…" Zevran commented, wondering for a brief second if he should grab the bottle of fine wine that had rolled next to his boot, before someone else got it, "But, it still has gotten us nowhere. Perhaps we should see if she has gone into the shop itself?"
Sten agreed with Zevran's suggestion, so he turned around and kicked in the door. His patience was beginning to wear thin, and he did not care for Antiva City in the slightest. He only wanted to ensure the safety of his friend and return to the inn as swiftly as possible.
"You are in quite the mood! I think I like it when you are feisty!"
"Your levity offends me."
To Zevran's eye, the inside of the shop was soft and warm and comfortable. Golden velvet draped from the ceiling in swaths that reached all the way to the smooth marble floors. Candelabras sat against the walls, glowing with gentle amber light that cast flickering patterns across the room like a pale kaleidoscope. The counter near the door was covered in the same velvet that adorned the ceiling, and upon it sat several small items of absolutely stunning craftsmanship. A sun dial with carvings of the sun and moon, a small wooden box with a stiletto dagger inside, a bronze bell with a pearl handle.
"What do you see, my friend?" He asked Sten in a tone of quiet reverence, best reserved for a Chantry.
"I see an ill-kept room. There is nothing in here but broken bottles and sacks full of straw."
"That… is a great shame." Zevran shook his head.
"It is what it is." Sten replied, and Zevran watched as he cut down a shimmering curtain and walked into the room with three cages.
Neither spent any time observing the illusions or realities of the room, for one sight in particular caught their attention. The black wall, smooth and flawless in both their eyes. Mahariel was trapped inside it, her body floating as though she had been flung beneath the surface of a dark sea. Her eyes were wide with terror, and one hand stuck out into the rest of the room, fingertips stretched outward in desperation.
Inside, Mahariel herself saw nothing but the swirl of the dark water around her. She reached forward, but slipped backwards and backwards as she drowned. Fear stole over her, and the knife-edge of panic pierced her burning lungs, until finally a hand grabbed hers and pulled her forward and free. She gasped for air and collapsed against Sten.
"Are you alright?" Zevran asked frantically, turning her to face him and looking into her eyes, "What is happening in this place?"
Mahariel shook her head, taking a few more deep breaths.
"We must take her away," Sten announced, "There is nothing here but dangerous things and the threat of demons."
"You must be joking! We cannot simply leave this place - this trap - for other people to find!" Zevran scoffed, gesturing to the darkly enchanted wall, "We have a responsibility to find some way to destroy it, and ensure the safety of the city!"
"Don't touch it…" Mahariel murmured, "Don't touch the mirror, Tamlen…"
Zevran raised his eyebrows in surprise.
"On second thought, perhaps it would be best if we found her somewhere to lie down. We can destroy this… whatever this is, in the morning. Once we are better rested and less prone to hallucinations."
Sten nodded and lifted Mahariel over his shoulder.
"Wait!" She objected, "We can't go until we help the men in the cages!"
Zevran looked up, and noticed them for the first time. Three exotic birds, each a different vibrant colour - one blue, one red and one yellow - with beautiful long feathers, and the promise of the sweetest songs he had ever heard.
Sten turned to look at them as well.
"We cannot help them, Kadan," He said, "They are giant spiders."
"Really?" Zevran grinned, "How utterly fascinating…"
As they hurried to make their exit, they were halted by the figure of the strange masked merchant, who stood in front of the door and blocked their path. Standing, he was almost as tall as Sten.
You cannot take my customer.
The voice came from all corners, filling up their minds. It was low and raspy, and held all the charm of listening to someone choke.
"I shall take what I like, mage." Sten answered, and drew Asala with his free hand. He stood poised for battle, with the Warden still draped listlessly over one shoulder.
You trifle with things you do not understand. Give me my customer, and I shall let you leave.
"Well, it is obvious that we are at an impasse," Zevran sighed, "Perhaps you are concerned with the coin you will lose should we remove our companion? This can easily be settled. How much gold do you imagine she would spend? We will gladly cover your loss."
The body of the mage began to shift, to transform into some inhuman form. He writhed and twisted, amid the sounds of tearing flesh and cracking bones. His body expanded like a lung filling with air. The seams of the robes he wore tore under the strain. A sound that seemed to call from the Black City itself took the place of the voice that had haunted their minds. It was a powerful scream of frustration.
The mask fell away from him, and revealed the unholy face of a Revenant.
"Ah, and here we are again. Facing off against some demonic creature we have no business fighting! It appears I cannot even take the two of you for a night on the town without such things befalling us. How disappointing." Zevran shook his head as he twirled his twin daggers with his usual flourish.
"Do not complain. Fight." Sten ordered, as the Revenant slashed towards them with a clawed hand.
Zevran dodged the strike with practiced agility.
"I will do both, if it is all the same to you." He laughed, and struck a blow against the demon's form. It roared in anger and slashed at him once more, this time striking. The marks of its claws had torn through Zevran's shirt and drawn blood.
The assassin winced in pain, and then struck his dagger into the base of his enemy's spine.
Asala sliced neatly through the air, and almost took the Revenant's head with it. But the blow was imprecise, impeded by his ungainly, one-handed hold. With the other he held Mahariel's unconscious form steady.
"Put her down, you stubborn ox!"
"I do not wish the demon to possess her while she is unguarded." Sten explained, and struck another blow at their enemy. It weaved out of the way and reached to pull Sten close, but he smashed its face with the pommel of his sword.
"We'll never kill it if you fight like that!"
"You are an assassin. It is your city. You kill it." Sten dodged another of its blows, and kicked the creature away from him. It let loose a frustrated hiss in return.
"Oh, very well." Zevran sighed with exasperation. He leapt onto the demon's back, grabbed its head and with all his strength twisted until the face of the creature was almost all the way around. There was a sickening crack. With one of his daggers, he stabbed into the creature's eye as deeply as he could, and then sharply turned the blade. The Revenant shrieked with pain unlike any other and doubled forward. Zevran leapt back, and rolled on the ground as he landed.
Sten stepped forward and sliced.
His blade cleaved the enemy in two, messily efficient, so that the torso slipped forward off of the legs and landed on the ground with a wet thud.
The shrieking stopped.
Zevran watched as all around him the illusion fell away. The shop was dark, dingy and grey. There were no treasures, no riches. Only heaps of refuse, apple cores, soiled cloths, and endless spider webs.
"I am suddenly overwhelmed by the desire to wash my hands."
They worked it out like this: Sten was going to stay for an extra two days and leave on the same afternoon as Mahariel. That way he could head home with the certainty that she wouldn't be attacked by any more Antivan abominations. The morning after the fight with the Revenant, Zevran had gone to the Merchant's Guild to ask about Maravillas and who owned it. As it turned out, it had been purchased by the man whose body had been taken over by the Desire Demon that corrupted him into a monster. Since Zevran had slain the monster in question, he was granted ownership of the building. His plan was to sell it and spend the money on things that actually interested him.
So, on the morning of her departure for Amaranthine, Mahariel found herself sweeping enormous cobwebs out of the corners of the dilapidated magic shop.
"Is this how you pictured what our time in Antiva would be like?" She sighed, looking over her shoulder at Sten as he dismantled the old counter by the door.
"No," He shook his head, "I expected many more fights with demons and better meals."
Mahariel laughed and jumped down off of the ladder.
"Are you complaining about the food again, my friend?" Zevran asked cheerfully as he dragged the corpse of a giant spider out of the back room, "I am beginning to think that you only pretended to dislike it in order to exasperate me. But this cannot be so, as it relies upon you having some category of humour beneath your warrior's façade. Which is, quite naturally, preposterous."
He stood and wiped his hands on the front of a brown cotton apron he was wearing. With a deep and exasperated fondness, he looked at his two friends.
"You know something?" He asked, "I am going to… be so incredibly bored without all of the trouble individuals such as yourselves bring into a man's life. What will I do for entertainment? I am certain to wind up with some extremely complicated perversion just to keep life interesting."
"Impossible," Sten grumbled, "You already have every perversion available."
"So what kind of wages are we getting for cleaning your shop? I think thirty bronze coins an hour is fair." Mahariel smiled, leaning against a newly dusted wall.
"Wages?" Zevran balked, "I single-handedly save you from the abyss itself and you want me to pay you for this small, insignificant favour that you offered to do for me?"
"Twenty-five bronze coins," Sten folded his arms, and glanced at Mahariel, "He was very efficient in battle."
"That seems reasonable." She nodded.
"Well, I must confess that I do not have the money," Zevran shrugged, "But I will when I have sold this place. So, the two of you are going to have to come find me here when you want to collect."
Sten looked at the elves.
"Pay me now."