Chains of Slavery
Your ignorance is my kingdom
and oh, what a glorious kingdom it is...
Fen'Harel ~ From the lost Dalish Book of Linadahl'arla
- Prologue -
She rushed from roof to roof, a flash -there- then gone on silent feet as she clung to the shadows stretching away from overhangs that swelled from the roof tops or from areas that projected out at odd angles, and sometimes, a smoking chimney here or there readying for the dusk meal. Her bright olive eyes searched. Seeking. Hunting. Compelled forward by the sinister hum faint against her skin, feeling instead like ice crystals slicing into her and freezing beneath flesh, than a true hum. In the air she could feel the taint that caused the hum whispering, calling out to the people of Kirkwall. None of course could hear it, ignorant and innocent as they were. But some more primal instinct of theirs could sense it, could feel this corruption murmuring to them. Slowly but surely creeping into their minds and bodies. Molding them into the agents of chaos this tainted sinister force wanted them to be.
Why else was this city so tense when it had no right to be?
There were no threats. No monsters lurked at nighttime. Nor were there massing armies beyond the city's walls preparing to lay siege. Nor did there exist any other possible threat one could think. And yet, it felt as if the city held its breath, waiting for the attack. Mother's called children in, hours before the first sun rays dipped below the horizon. Dogs howled as if night and the moon were full in the black sky. Many walked swift and stiff from building to building, never stopping outside longer than they needed too. Or at least those upstanding folk who lived their lives peacefully, doing no harm and hoping for no trouble in return were like this: Afraid and living each moment as if walking on broken glass.
But not everyone was upstanding folk, and not everyone was afraid. This corruption didn't affect all the same and the rougher cutthroats were more anxious or excited than fearful. They wanted battle. Yearned for it. While other, darker minded individuals sought blood. Yet, they held back. The time not right. So they too waited -a few not so patiently as they beat or killed those who had the ill-fated luck of crossing their path in the midnight hours- for the attack that loomed from nowhere and everywhere.
Jumping a gap between roofs she landed on the next one, knees bent and body crouched. She did not rise right away. Instead closing her eyes, hearing the whispering and feeling the hum as she attempted to pinpoint where in the city the taint emanated from. But just like the time before and the time before that, she could not find the source. The corruption had spread too far, the whispering voice echoing off the buildings, the living, and the waters of the harbor, and those echoes in turn echoing. For the past two days she had searched the city and now she was running out of time.
A huff of air slipped past her lips and she rose, walking up the steeper red tiled roof to the apex and thought, Mayhap I have already run out of time...
Reaching the peak, she leaned with her right hand on the crumbling chimney of a building on the edge of the market in Lowtown. Her gaze inspected the dwindling crowd, not as big as it should have been but still the biggest she had seen it this past month living here. Dressed in tan trousers, dark brown boots that went past her knees and a pink blouse that bunched up where she had tucked it earlier at her waist, her silhouette stood unseen by the throng of people passing below. She once more tuned out the sinister whispers as voices rose from the market of those nervously milling about, a static fearful hum to form the foundation for the erratic shouts of jumpy merchants hawking their goods. With the distant clash of the ocean rising and falling against Kirkwall's ancient stone walls and the gulls cries above, a symphony played for her and all those who took a moment to pause in their bustling lives to hear it. The symphony of Kirkwall-far more agreeable than both the sight and smell, and even the overall ambiance of the place.
A soft salty breeze brushed against her. It stirred her ebony hair and she took another deep breath tasting the fresh air the ocean's breeze brought in with it. As well as taking in those last few breaths of freedom before her master's arrival on the morrow in his ship, Gray Rose. Her head turned at the thought, gaze seeking the mouth of the harbor to her right that stretched on passed the decaying Lowtown houses of reds, yellows and grays, and the large merchant storage buildings in the dock area. The old city walls crept into the water in a half circle formation towering high into the sky along with the withering 'Twins', statues from Kirkwall's past as a slave hub at either side of the harbor's opening to the sea. She could almost envision it, his personal ship. Gray sails fluttering in the wind, a predator among sheep, the other ships with their billowing masts of white that rested within the dark stone walls of the city.
Bending her arm she drew closer to the chimney, cheek resting against her hand. Other than the moldy ancient walls worn smooth by the weather and waves -and the 'Twins'- the view from her perch was a beautiful sight. What with the sun setting off to the west the water beyond the walls took on a hazy pale yellow and a pink glow, and yet the left half reflected the black void and bright stars above. There were not many places in Thedas where one could see such a plain spectacle of the warmth of day giving to the chill of night. And soon, all too soon she would have to say goodbye to the calming sight. But the fates had never allotted her a peaceful living, and dreaming otherwise was as impractical as it was a waste of time.
Her shoulders stiffened.
Another, less corrosive hum tickled against her skin, and for how faint it was she could have dismissed it as another ocean breeze if she so wished. Yet at the same time, this faint hum was pleasant and stirred something deep within, and she could not help herself as she tore her green eyes away from the harbor to the Lowtown market's crowd. She knew without seeing that he was there among their masses. A man -no, an elf- so strange that the sight caused woman and men alike to step back with trepidation. And though these people were used to seeing him around and knew of this elf, they still tried to give him a wide berth whenever possible. The passing bodies below opened then, splitting off to either side and letting her olive gaze lazily sip the intimidating figure that had been hidden amongst them.
For an elf he was tall, standing nearly even with the other human men around him. All the same, he bore his peoples slender attributes with amazing strength that showed in the lean bulge of muscles under tan flesh marked with white tattoos. Lyrium tattoos. It was this lyrium she felt tickling her skin, the power within reaching out to her. The fingers of her free hand twitched, wanting to answer. She shook her head, lips tugged down at the urge and the space between her eyebrows creased.
Squatting down, she tried to ignore the hum and want as her green eyes watched him move with a predatory ease through those that lingered before him. If not for the lyrium tattoos and the mop of white hair on his head, he would not have stuck out as blatantly as he did, even in the Tevinter style armor accessorized with razor spikes on his shoulders and gloves. But she knew that if he wanted to he could disappear into the same crowd with little trouble. Almost the way a rogue disappeared, he could slip into the crowds and do the impossible of blending in with them if need necessitated it. He did not need to now, walking amongst the simple folk, dark green eyes scanning them for danger. Always alert and ready. But he could. And that was what made him so dangerous.
It was not the lyrium that gifted him with frightening, unimaginable powers, or even his skill with the massive blade at his back that a man his size should have no right to wilding. No, it was his skills at becoming unnoticeable. One second there-standing intimidating and terrifying with one of his many scowls. The next second the scowl gone, tipping his head in submission and shifting his body to become something that was no longer a threat. It was not that he became invisible, just un-rememberable. "Did a man with white markings and hair come through here?" Someone later might ask and you would hear, "No." Then sense the person's confusion as they counter, "Wait... Maybe?" And a story would shortly follow that included all the tattooed men that person had ever seen wrapped up into one man who may or may not have had a large silver cat perched on his shoulders instead of a giant sword at his back.
Only two types of people learned a skill like that: The first an assassin, it allowed an ease of getting close to a target or disappearing from the scene of a kill that was unmatched by anything else. And the second a slave, whose life depended on being unremarkable and silent. She belonged to the former category, he the latter. Because of that the elf did not realize the worth the skill had. She frowned at him with a bored sigh. If he had understood the power he had, her task of finding and watching him would have been difficult. And considerably more entertaining. This runaway slave her master had sent her after had not been a challenge. She had found him the first day stepping off that ship and keeping tabs on him was laughable. Child's play. She expected more out of a lyrium warrior.
Her quarry stopped, giving his back as he examined oils and stones at one of the merchant tables. She snorted, propping her left elbow up on her knee and resting her chin on it. So ignorant... He placed down the stone he had picked up and reaching for another he casually glanced left and right. His dark green eyes searched, scanning the crowd around him. To anyone else that may have looked at him it would appear he was indifferent, taking in his surroundings with a quick aloft glance. Dirty streets-smelling at best like a wet Mabari and at worse day old sewage. Poor haggard people-rank thin-trying to use the last hour of the day's light to buy or sell worn goods. And decaying, crumbling buildings that had endure much these past seven or so years. She, though, knew better. She could see the way his jaded eyes took in every single feature with one of his ever present scowls.
It was one she knew. The scowl -number four on her running list- was the one he used when concentrating and yet did not want others knowing, masking it beneath fake indifference. His scowls amazed her. How could one man have so many? She had only categorized a handful of his scowls in her month trailing him and knew there to be more, but the rest would require her to be close and personal. Experiencing them. That was not her task. Only observe and follow, nothing more. A part of her wished her master's words had not been so binding in that aspect. She could have disguised herself and ran into him, playing a doe eyes maiden full of wonder. Or mayhap a head strong woman full of life and struggling for survival. He reacted well to those types.
Her free hand twitched, she titled her head, pulling her cheek away from her propped up arm and looked down at the other. The hum that tickled her skin from his lyrium was strong in a subtle way that was dangerous. Certainly it was for the best that she could not interact with him yet. She sighed, opening and closing her hand as her olive gaze settled back on him. Resting her chin on her hand once more with an almost pout. All of his scowls aside, he knew she was there but not where.
I can work with that. Mold him. Use him. But will he let me?
She did not know. He was a proud, stubborn man. And his repugnance for mage's would be an issue. He carried a lot of baggage that came off as frustrated indifference. She could imagine the rage inside him, though. Something a lot like her own... But that should not matter. The world was full of damaged people. What was one more to her?
A group of children squealed below, running from the orphanage caretaker who was red-faced, not finding anything funning about the boys' antics. Her thoughts stopped as she looked for that little girl with copper red hair she had met two weeks ago. A perceptive child, not but seven or so, and who, like the rest of the Lowtown population, was too thin for her own good. Her eyes caught the flash of red and found the little girl standing with some of the older, bigger girls, trying to be like them: calm and proper as she held that armless doll of hers and a dirty thumb jammed in her mouth, with equally dirty cheeks.
Her olive eyes clouded when she saw that the little girl not only wearing her long amber hair in the Tevinter style braid she had done for her, but that the older girls' had tried to 'mimic' it.To be honest, she was not sure where she had learned it. The memories vacant. Gone. But a strange sensation still filled her seeing the braids. What is this? She stiffened, frowning at herself and the children. Shaking herself, she rose from her crouched position, gaze going back to the elf. During the distraction he had gained company. The charismatic dwarf that followed the Champion of Kirkwall and lived in the Hangedman, his stories were the crown of that rundown tavern. Probably the only good thing the establishment had going for it.
Her quarry gave a soft chuckle after the dwarf said something. Her right eyebrow rose, amused before whispering to the wind, "Enjoy this freedom while it last, Fenrehs." Giving him one last look, she turned, dashing across the roofs of Kirkwall, seeking the tainted hum once more.
A voice, almost non-existent, traveled on the breeze to him and Fenris stiffened. Not quite sure what was wrong. He glanced around -for what felt like millionth time that day- but found nothing again. Next to him Varric's brown eyebrows rose, questioning, but he ignored his short friend as he continued to scan the thinning crowds around them.
Something, (he wasn't sure what it was, but he wouldn't necessarily call it instinct) told him to turn completely around. He obeyed. Frustrated at still finding nothing he muttered a Tevinter curse under his breath. He was about to turn back around when his gaze traveled up one of the weather and battle aged buildings, a dark mass he couldn't exactly make out stood on the roof (which was odd given his keen eyesight). He squinted, but the action did no good and the shadow disappeared right before him. Uncertain, he scanned the rest of the buildings' roofs, before dismissing it and turning back to Varric.
"What is it, Elf?"
"Nothing," he grumbled, "Just shadows."
Shrugging, Varric gave his own glance around. "The market's are nearly closed. You coming to the Hangedman for a game?"
Fenris weighed his options: stay in a huge dusty mansion alone, or a game with Varric... which included Hawke and that abomination lover of hers. Considering he was not on the best of terms with Lady Hawke, it probably wasn't wise. He shook his head. "Maybe next time. Night, Varric." He turned, knowing the real reason was that he didn't think he could stomach seeing the two brushing hands or the exchanging glances.
"G'night." Varric frowned as he watched his broody friend leave and shook his head before walking in the direction of the tavern.
Here we are again. Another version of this first chapter-well, now prologue.