Anything you recognise is Bioware's. Anything else probably belongs to them too.
Cassandra swallowed audibly as she stared at the elf. Three years ago she had interrogated the dwarf Varric for long hours. His long tale had contained many implausible fragments. The most fantastical had been his claim that, directly following the annihilation of the Kirkwall Cathedral, despite Anders calmly sitting at the site, Meredith had left his punishment up to the Champion. That had simply made no sense, given the Knight-Commander's attitude towards mages. The Seeker had assumed that the dwarf had either not witnessed the confrontation, or had made substantial changes to make Anders appear even more impenitent.
However, if Meredith had been terrified to her soul of touching the man…
"It was you," she breathed. "You turned Knight-Commander Meredith to... to..."
Kathryn glared pointedly at her. "I told you," she said, her tone hard. "Don't you remember what I said as I began my tale? I specifically told you that I'd set events in motion that you wouldn't like to hear."
Leliana's eyes widened as she made the connection. "The events at Kirkwall… You were responsible?"
Kathryn nodded, looking glum. "Fundamentally, yes. I set the scene, as it were. My actions caused Anders to decide to desert the Wardens. Just as my actions laid the foundations of the events in Kirkwall. Meredith was a standard, closed-minded mana-phobe before I got to her. But to make sure she left Anders alone, I terrified her so much that I set her on the path to full-blown insanity. Before, she was content to merely clamp down on mages and their freedoms. After, she went in search of something that she could use to actively destroy a mage who could resist templar powers."
"Bartrand and his red lyrium idol," Cassandra stated.
Without clothes, I was more or less forced to make my way back to the Hanged Man in animal form. While philosophically, a naked woman was at home in any company, exhibitionism would have drawn more attention than I could have coped with. I smuggled myself as a mouse aboard one of the boats that shuttled between the Gallows and the city, even during the early hours of the morning.
It seemed that the Gallows got restocked at night. The templars were searching each boat thoroughly before it left. It amused at the lengths they were going to in order to track me down.
Hopefully there would be rumours about me being able to teleport or turn invisible. Despite established magical lore that you needed to put one foot in front of the other in order to travel anywhere, the ancient elves did have eluvians that supposedly could transport people around. It wasn't so impossible to think that magic couldn't do that.
I turned myself into a dog the moment I got back to the docks, and trotted back to the grimy tavern in which Varric based himself. While a bitch of my attractiveness was rare, Kirkwallers could barely discern the difference between a mongrel and a purebred mabari. My presence wasn't cause for note.
I shimmered into a mouse, squeezed under the door to my room, and transformed back. Connor hadn't returned; his bed was unused. I clothed myself in my usual traveling leathers, and then went looking for Varric.
He wasn't in his customary alcove. Connor was, however.
"Arlessa Kathryn! You're safe!" he said in a hushed whisper, rising to his feet.
I nodded, noting a great many new blood stains and tears on his clothes. He was uninjured, so I deduced that he took care of any wounds before I returned. "I am. What happened to you? I was under the impression that Varric was going to stay with you until I got back."
He ducked his head. "Um, he was, but things got a bit, er…"
"Out of hand?"
I pinched the bridge of my nose. "Did anyone die?"
I frowned at that. "Maybe? You're more than intimately acquainted with what it takes to kill someone. That sort of vagueness is all well and good for mercenaries and thugs, but I expect more precision from you."
"Well, there was a bit of a fight. A brawl really. I couldn't keep track of everyone."
He looked so downcast that I had to fight back revealing my amusement. "Let me guess; you started it."
He opened his mouth, apparently to object, but thought better of it and just nodded. "And then the guards came and arrested everyone still standing."
"I trust that group included you?"
He nodded yet again.
"And yet you're here."
He looked abashed. "Well, I didn't want to stay in a prison cell for longer than I needed to, so I turned into a mouse and left."
I couldn't help but grin. "That's my boy."
He looked surprised, but flushed with pleasure. "W-what?"
"Connor, I can't tell you the number of times I've been involved in a situation that escalated beyond sanity. And authorities charged with enforcing the will of the local ruler tend to be humourless and unmotivated. Personally, I've never felt the need to stay in their company any longer than necessary. I am curious however, weren't you going to a garden or something? How did it all happen when you're looking at roses, for Andraste's sake?"
He frowned. "What? Varric didn't take me to a garden."
"He took me to a brothel."
I blinked. "He said he was taking you to see a rose."
"The Blooming Rose," Connor agreed. "It's the name of a brothel in Hightown."
Sodding dwarf played me. I should have realised he wasn't being straight with me from that grin he gave me. "Of course it is," I sighed. "So what happened?"
The lad looked mightily uncomfortable. "Um, Varric talked to a woman there in charge, and they got another lady to sit with me." He paused and gave a cough.
I gestured for him to continue.
"Well, she was pretty, but I didn't want to, you know…"
I sat down and gestured to the seat next to me. As he dropped into it, I placed an arm around his shoulders. It was a stretch to reach that far. "Any reason why not? I mean, you've just turned fifteen. I recall that apprentices in the tower of that age, particularly the boys, were quite indiscriminate."
He looked at me briefly, then lowered his eyes and shrugged. "I just… there's someone else."
Ah. I'd seen that exact look on Cullen. "I see. So what happened?"
"Well, she wouldn't leave me alone. I didn't want her to touch me, but she kept…" he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Through clenched teeth he finished, "I shoved her away. She fell backwards and got hurt."
"And the people in charge of keeping the peace intervened," I reasoned.
Connor's face morphed to a mask of rage. "They came and picked me up and threatened to… to…" I felt the magic potential in the air grow, like fog wafting in off a lake.
I pulled my hand away from his shoulders and grabbed his hand. "Connor! Stop. You're safe."
He closed his eyes and clenched my hand. "I just… It's so hard! I can feel the demons, they're so close here!"
I squeezed his hand back, but before I could respond I heard several heavy footsteps accompanied by an argument on the stairs. "Quick! Ch-," I got out before Connor shimmered into a rodent. I smiled at his speed, and pointed to a far corner. He scurried over and out of sight.
"-want to know who he is!" a forceful, female voice carried. Oddly, she had a distinctly Ferelden accent.
"And I'm telling you, I don't know. I only just met him today. Well, yesterday. He accompanied an associate I'm doing business with, that's all!" Varric's voice replied.
"I'm not buying that, Varric! You were down at the guardhouse in double quick time to try and bribe his way out of the cells."
The dwarf decided to go for the 'honest but misunderstood' title. "Guard Captain! Really! I would never…"
"Oh shut it, dwarf!"
The argument rounded the corner. One dwarf accompanied by three armoured humans. The leading female's armour looked somewhat more ornate than the other pair, but it was no less functional for that.
Varric's eyes widened on seeing me, but he made no other move. The woman – the Captain of the Guard, presumably – gave a start of surprise.
"Varric," I greeted with a nod. "You brought back company."
"Ah, Kat," he prevaricated, rubbing the back of his neck. "I didn't expect you to be up so late."
The Captain's eyes narrowed. "You're Varric's 'business associate' I take it?"
I spread my hands, deciding that until I got a better understanding of what was going on, vague answers would be better. "I'm an associate of his," I answered. "I'm not so naïve to assume I'm the only one. I won't be staying long; as soon as our business is concluded, I'm heading home."
"Kat just arrived yesterday to negotiate a contract, Aveline."
Aveline pointed at me. "Is the boy Connor your companion?" she demanded.
I had a fundamental objection to answering questions posed to me in such a manner. "Is there a reason you wish to know?"
Varric looked up at the ceiling and sighed. Aveline's eyes narrowed. "He escaped from custody while this dwarf was trying to bribe one of my guards to release him!"
I raised an eyebrow. "Really? That sort of largess doesn't match with Varric's reputation at all," I pointed out.
"I know!" Varric agreed with enthusiasm. "So you see, I didn't-"
"Don't!" Aveline snapped, rounding on him. "I know you bribe the gangs to make sure they leave Merrill alone."
He narrowed his eyes. "Daisy is a friend," he stated flatly. "I've known her for almost two years. I just met the lad yesterday."
The guard rubbed her eyes in frustration. "Ugh, I don't have time for this. I'm searching your rooms, Varric. If I find the boy, I'm taking both of you in."
Varric tensed. "Is that necessary? I've been in your company constantly. I literally cannot have had anything to do with his escape."
"Perhaps you should have thought of that before bribing one of my guards and forcing me from my bed two hours past midnight!"
The red-haired Captain flicked her hand at the two silent guards, who moved off towards a specific room. Varric followed along, all the while complaining.
Aveline turned to me. "You look familiar," she said.
I couldn't have that. "All you humans look alike to me too," I retorted.
Her eyes narrowed. "You didn't answer my question earlier," she growled.
I pretended to rub my eyes wearily. "Sorry, I'm quite fatigued. Could you repeat your question?"
"Is the lad Connor your companion or not?"
I crossed my arms. "I'm not deliberately being obtuse, but will it matter what my answer is? Given what you're saying he did, if I say yes, you'll arrest me. If I say no, you will say you don't believe me and you'll arrest me anyway. So where is it to my advantage to answer?"
She closed her eyes and appeared to count under her breath. "Fine. I'll just have someone keep an eye on you until you leave." She spun on her heel and stormed over towards the room the two guards were searching.
Varric continued to complain as the search took place, though his voice became far less intense once he realised that Connor was not hiding in his rooms. The Guard Captain growled out some more threats, though her heart wasn't in it. I got the impression that she actually liked Varric, but was just unamused at being woken in the middle of the night.
Eventually, the guards left. Varric joined me in his usual business spot. "This is pretty much exactly how I did not want my night to go," he grumbled, before giving an enormous sigh of relief. "Did the lad make it back here?"
I grinned. Under the table, I gestured to Connor. "He's behind you," I said.
Varric frowned. "Very funny. Where is he?"
I just kept smiling until Connor resumed his form behind the dwarf. "Like I said, he's behind you."
Varric sighed and half turned his head. The sight of Connor staring at him with dead eyes caused the dwarf to jump clear out of his chair.
"Ahh! Maker's breath!" he cursed, clutching his heart. "Where the hell did you come from?"
"I was here the whole time," Connor replied, his tone empty and flat. "I didn't want to have to kill the Guard Captain, so I hid."
Varric placed two fists on the low table and leaned forward, breathing deeply. "My God, you people are going to be the end of me. If I sign that damned contract over to you will you leave Kirkwall?"
I nodded. "Yes, of course. But I'll probably come back after we visit Starkhaven and buy out the contracts held there. I understand that it's easier to charter a ship to Fereldan from here."
The dwarf looked pained. "My family has business interests in Starkhaven. If you go straight home now, I promise that I'll buy all your damned contracts in Starkhaven for you."
I raised an eyebrow. "That sounds less than profitable."
"Believe me, it will be in my interests to get you back to Ferelden as soon as possible. The last thing I need is you unsupervised in Starkhaven," he insisted. At my questioning expression, he explained, "The Gallows are in an uproar; the Knight-Commander was attacked in her own chambers. Every damned guard in the city is searching for Mister Invisible here, making it damned hard to conduct honest smuggling." He shook his head. "You've only been here a day. I'm not sure Kirkwall could survive you being here too much longer."
"I do have that sort of effect on local events," I agreed amicably. I tilted my head to one side. "I'll think about your offer. For now, I think it's time to sleep. I'm exhausted."
He grunted, not pleased, but agreeing. We rose and went our different ways.
Once in our room, I turned to Connor. "Are you all right?"
He shrugged. "The Veil in this city is really thin. I can almost hear demons even when not sleeping." He paused. "I think maybe I do need to go and kill someone. That should quieten them enough for me to sleep."
I felt a shiver run up my spine. The lad already had blood on his hands today. As proud as I was of his abilities, he was still a young man. To be so accustomed to death at such a young age was insupportable.
He was fifteen. Peasants and nobles alike of his age were generally married by now, and quite likely to be parents. Even such ordinary people had troubles, but to have lived through the horrors this young man had endured would have damaged even the strongest willed person.
I made a snap decision, took his hand and led him to the straw pallet. "Connor, you've been steeped in death and killing for years now. You need to learn to enjoy life."
He blushed in the dim light. "Um, Arlessa Kathryn?" he stammered, suddenly sounding several years younger. His hand began trembling.
"Shh," I said, placing a finger on his lips. "It probably would have been easier on everyone if you'd done this at the brothel earlier."
"But I… but we…"
"Shh," I repeated, easing his clothing off his shoulders.
I flicked some fire magic around the room, warming the air. It was always nicer to avoid gooseflesh when getting intimate. Once Connor was naked, I gently pushed him down onto the sleeping pallet.
I pulled off my robe. The sight visibly impressed him.
"Kathryn, are you sure?" he tentatively asked.
I nodded, squatting over his lap. "There is so much good in the world, Connor. You need to experience the joy that can be found in life." I reached down and gripped him.
It was difficult to start with. I was not particularly aroused, but after a bit of uncomfortable maneuvering of hips, my body began to respond. Connor however became caught up in the moment, and began thrusting hard, his breath quickly turning to gasps.
I placed both hands on his shoulder and shoved him back to the pallet. I growled, "No! I'm not doing this for you to simply finish in seconds!"
He froze, staring at me with fear in his eyes.
"Sit still," I ordered, much more calmly. I began gently rising and falling. "Savour it, Connor. This is a celebration of life."
I took command of everything. Quite a few times he began to lose control, and I pushed him down and instructed him to stop moving. I took some delight in teasing him, drawing out his pleasure. I slowed as he approached climax. I sped up when he calmed down. For perhaps half an hour, I gently took him to heights of pleasure.
Finally, even slowing did not help. He suddenly cried out and clutched at my body, encasing me in a crushing hug. He thrust powerfully and surged within me. Such physical strength appealed to me, and I found myself quivering at his loss of control.
I lay on top of him for a long while, still joined. His breathing slowed and evened out. Moving as little as possible, I reached out and grabbed a blanket, sliding it across our bodies. I rolled off his chest and into the nook of his arm. A few moments later, I joined him in sleep.
Connor attitude was much improved the next day. He had a smile on his face that could not be shifted. He did make a formal offer to take my hand in marriage, apparently feeling that he'd somehow defiled me. It was a noble act that reminded me of Teagan. I managed to keep my amusement from my tone as I explained that his offer was appreciated, and indeed flattering, but was in no way necessary.
I did not mention that having Isolde as a mother-in-law was not an appealing prospect.
After a hearty breakfast that would have given Alistair's appetite esteem issues, he happily joined me in a jaunt out of the city and along the Wounded Coast.
Without the taint in my veins, I couldn't locate the darkspawn Marethari insisted were around. So we explored up and down the dunes, from the water's edge to the rocky tors, searching for tainted ground or the distinctive whiff of decomposing flesh.
A distant sound drew our attention. The clash of weapons. War cries. And a familiar scream of inarticulate rage that could only come from a darkspawn throat.
We broke into a jog.
The skirmish was mostly over by the time we reached it. There were barely a handful of living defenders against a wave of hurlocks and genlocks. Dozens of corpses lay scattered around a cave entrance; human, darkspawn and, incongruously, Qunari. Hurlocks continued to surge out of the cave, attempting to overrun an eclectic band of defenders.
One more human fell to a rush of two gunlocks, leaving two men and two Qunari still standing behind a natural outcrop of rock. Every one of them was clearly injured, with free-flowing wounds, but they fought with bravery, or at least determination.
Whoever the humans and Qunari were, the darkspawn were my enemy. I rose to my full, unimpressive height and unleashed the Force Magic spell I'd learned just the night before. As the magic took hold, I made a fist and mimed slamming it into the ground at my feet.
A powerful wave of invisible force smashed every darkspawn within a few meters of the cave entrance hard into the ground, breaking bone and crushing organs.
I gasped at the sensation. I could almost feel my enemies break under my fist. Blessed Maker and his merciful bride; that felt fantastic!
Connor's eyes widened in appreciation, and he let loose a fireball at the stunned darkspawn. Unable to even crawl away, the pyrotechnic display shredded the bastards.
With our unexpected magical support, the four remaining defenders managed to fend off the few darkspawn outside of the affected area of our magical assault. However, the cave vomited more of the cursed creatures, and I gleefully let loose a more sustained magical barrage.
Lightning burned through rotten chests. Ice froze and shattered decomposing heads. Again and again, I slammed them with that glorious spell, luxuriating in the sensation of unleashing so primal a magical force.
To my disappointment, the ready supply of darkspawn dried up long before my appetite for destruction did. Connor too looked a bit despondent at having his fun cut short.
The two human defenders gave us a cheer. The Qunari simply looked up at us impassively.
Then, too quickly for me to register, the larger Qunari took his weapon and ran the other through.
Connor cursed at the blatant murder.
The two humans appeared to agree. They readied their weapons, but were unable to withstand a rush from the giant. One head arced away while another took the blade deep in the side of his chest. The second man managed to stab his own sword into the Qunari's abdomen before he expired.
The killer staggered, and dropped to one knee. He tugged weakly at his sword's hilt, trying to free it from its grisly tomb.
Connor looked ready to exact some justice on behalf of the victims, but I grabbed his arm and shook my head. "The darkspawn were our objective. It does not matter what happened amongst the rest; it not our business to exact vengeance."
He considered that, and nodded. "But-"
"That doesn't mean I'm not curious," I added.
We approached the enormous warrior cautiously. He lay against the rocky outcrop, right hand still gripping his sword. His left was clasped around the blade of the sword embedded in his lower belly.
His eyes were closed, and he breathed in gasps, slow and shallow.
"Atas shokra," I greeted him.
The Qunari's eyes opened. "Saarebas," he snarled.
"Oh yes," I agreed cheerfully. "I'm likely the most saar of any saarebas you'll ever meet."
Connor turned to face me. "What's a saarebas?" he whispered.
"Literally, a dangerous thing," I explained with a grin. "It's a quaint peccadillo of Qunlat that mages should be described as such." To the dying Qunari, I said, "This is my apprentice."
He grunted, which turned into a wheeze. "Begone, saarebas. Allow me to die in peace," he muttered, closing his eyes. The sheen of sweat on his face gave him a shiny countenance.
"Most people don't turn on their allies so quickly. So why would a follower of the Qun commit murder just when their survival was assured?"
"I am Sten. I need not explain myself to bas."
"You are a Sten?" That was a surprise. I glanced at the remains of the three he had just killed. I quickly came to a conclusion. "Then you are here at your Arishok's bidding. He musht have sent you to eliminate these men and their Kossith allies, I take it?"
His eyelids flickered open again, this time filled with surprised curiosity. "You know more of the Qun than most bas. But you are unbound, so you are not viddathari."
I nodded. "I allied with a Sten during the Blight. I learned much of the Qun from him. He named me Basalit-an. He believed me to be Ashkaari."
Purple irises ringed with dark crimson regarded me. "You are the one known as the Warden," he stated.
"I am." I examined his face, noting the prominent dark veins around his eyes. He was corrupted.
"I have heard the story of how you located a single sword in a country afflicted by war. Anyone so capable must indeed be Ashkaari."
I nodded. "That is a good story. Asala is a blade worthy of such a quest."
He swallowed, but looked around at the corpses littering the area. "The Arishok tasked my platoon with the elimination of the Tal-Vashoth that abide in these caves. They allied with these vashedan who prey upon the weak who travel through this place. Our battle was interrupted by the cursed ones from the deep stone."
Connor raised his eyebrows.
I shrugged and translated for him. "Sten is a rank of prominence, reserved for Qunari of great skill and dedication. His military leader ordered him and his men to eliminate both the deserters and the bandits they'd shacked up with. The darkspawn interrupted their fun."
"Your words lack precision and gravitas, but they are essentially correct."
I dropped to one knee next to Sten. "Your mission remains incomplete, doesn't it? You still need to report back to your Arishok."
"Yes," he replied, his voice weakening.
I shook my head. "You'll not make it back to Par Vollen. Not without my help."
Through wheezing breaths, he replied, "I need only return to Kirkwall. The Arishok is there. With rest, perhaps I will have strength enough to survive the journey."
"No, you won't," I disagreed. I held up a hand to forestall the expected denial. "I don't doubt you could make it if you were just wounded. But you've been infected. The taint of the darkspawn is in your veins."
The Sten did not react. "Then my duty shall remain incomplete."
I snorted. "I thought you were Qunari. You're quitting?"
"Do not mock me!" he roared, before wincing and clutching at the blade again.
I gave some thought to the idea forming. "What if I offered you an extension to your life; long enough for you to report to your Arishok and fulfil your duty."
He glared at me suspiciously. "What would such largess cost me?"
"The rest of your life," I stated. "I am offering you the opportunity to become a Grey Warden. If you agree, and survive the ceremony, you will master the taint that is already killing you. The remainder of your life shall be spent fighting the darkspawn. That would be your duty, and your life, from that moment on."
"I will not abandon the Qun."
I sighed. "I'm not suggesting that you do. While I am not Qunari, I do appreciate the elegance and truths within its doctrine. If you decline, you will die here. Your Arishok will not receive word of your accomplishments, and all your skills will be lost. If you accept, you can fulfil your duty to him, but your duty from then on will be to the Grey Wardens. You will continue to serve the Qun by learning of, and fighting, a threat to all living beings in Thedas."
Sten closed his eyes and was silent for long moments as he considered the proposal. "I cannot accept."
I sighed. "That is a pity."
He continued, as though I had not spoken. "The Arishok must release me. I cannot dedicate myself to the Wardens without his guidance."
I rubbed my chin. I always carried enough lyrium at all times to make the Joining potion, and a few drops of archdemon blood in my Warden pendant. It would only really be necessary to brew in an emergency if there was ample fresh darkspawn blood around. But should Sten survive the Joining and the Arishok refused to release him, I would need to kill him on the spot.
If the Arishok took exception to that action, well then, I'd have to kill him too. Plus any other Qunari nearby who would no doubt take exception to the grisly death of their leader. It might get very bloody very quickly.
Was it worth the risk? Gaining a Qunari warrior was a prize I was willing to risk much for. I probably had the best chance of all the Grey Wardens.
"Connor, see to Sten's wounds. I've got to collect some things."
It did not take me long to gather the necessary reagent. I had to make the potion a little crudely, but I carried tools enough to do that. I used a drop of Sten's blood to make the potion more likely to work for him, per Avernus' instructions.
Connor was surprised and a little put out when I asked him to take himself out of earshot, but I was obliged to keep Warden secrets. I sent him out for some game, fully expecting the powerful Qunari to survive the Joining. Sten would wake with a potent hunger.
I said the ritual words and passed the enormous warrior the vial. He stared at the contents impassively, before downing the contents in one gulp.
"Disgusting," he said, before grunting and falling to his knees. My heart skipped a beat, but he fell to the side rather than forward, and began a deep, rumbling snore.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Another Warden joined my ranks.
Connor had learned rudimentary hunting skills from the Redcliffe Huntmaster before he had gone to the Circle. He could read and follow a trail with acceptable skill. Magic however, gave him an edge over the average poacher.
He could petrify or stun a hare from a distance, then go and collect the animal at leisure. This close to the sea there wasn't any large game, but within an hour he had a brace of six coneys.
They were nicely roasted by the time Sten awoke from his nightmares. I let him eat ravenously as I explained the bad news. He took the limitations of his new station impassively, not giving any indication he cared one way or the other.
He was ready to move late in the afternoon. We continued along the coast away from the city, searching for signs of more darkspawn. We found another cave with a modest population, and committed genocide with satisfaction.
Sten fought brilliantly, as expected from someone with his rank. But besides his size, he reminded me only a little of my friend. This one had four horns and intricate tattoos over his exposed chest and abdomen.
When my Sten had explained to me that he had been chosen to infiltrate Ferelden to answer the question 'What is the Blight', I struggled to keep my amusement hidden that a lavender-eyed giant could ever be inconspicuous.
Having met horned-Qunari, I came to the bemused conclusion that my Sten actually was the best Qunari available for the job.
It was several hours past nightfall by the time I decided to make camp. Sten sat and stared into the campfire flames. "You fight with passion and skill," he said, breaking the silence.
Knowing that he was making a statement of fact rather than a compliment, I replied, "I know."
"Yet you are saarebas. You should be chained."
Connor drew in a sharp breath. I placed a hand on his shoulder. "Chaining me has been tried. It failed."
"Attempted with the customary incompetence of bas, no doubt."
I shook my head. "No, the man who did so was more than competent. The orders he followed were poor, however."
Sten did not immediately reply. "Basilit-an are respected. As are Ashkaari. But you are saarebas. And you are female. You cannot lead."
"You know nothing about her!" Connor spat.
"No! Why don't you-"
"Enough!" I shouted. "Connor, thank you, but I can handle this. The Qun demands that he chain me."
Sten's head snapped up and he stared at me. "It is good that you understand this. Less so that you do not agree. The Qun demands that you submit. As saarebas in my presence, it falls to me to enforce."
"My duty demands that I do not. I am a Grey Warden. I will not allow anything to impede me from executing my responsibilities."
"That is an admirable sentiment; worthy of a Qunari. But it is misplaced."
I rose to my feet. "Are you arvaarad then?"
Sten also stood. "I can be."
"Arlessa Kathryn," Connor said; wariness in his voice.
"Connor, please light up this campsite with sprites," I said, my eyes never leaving Sten.
I imagined him comparing the two of us; a slight elf against a mountain of muscle. Sten was probably close to three times my weight. Still, Connor obeyed, and the campsite lit up with an eerie glow.
The Qunari readied his sword. "I perform this duty without satisfaction," he intoned. "You are basilit-an."
I smiled at him without humour. "Then show me that you are worthy of holding my chain." I whispered a spell.
He leapt forward, sword raised, blindingly fast.
Straight into a rearing archdemon.
The surprise on his face was gratifying. I batted him to the ground with a foreleg, and then slammed the same 'hand' down upon his body. I did my best not to crush him, but I needed to ensure he was contained. His face turned bright red in the magical light, and I could clearly see fear in his eyes.
I lowered my head to his, and snapped my jaws in front of his face.
"Parshaara, atashi!" he wheezed.
I pulled my head back and raised my leg, freeing him.
He scrambled back, putting as much distance between us as he could. He looked up at me with wide eyes and an open mouth.
I shimmered back into my elf form. Before I said anything however, gooseflesh reminded me of something.
"Damn it! Connor, throw me a blanket, will you?" I snapped, standing amid the scraps of my clothes.
Connor was suitably impressed. He'd heard the story of how I'd been found at Ostagar, but had never seen a dragon of such size before.
Sten however, had real trouble. The Qun dictated that mages were dangerous; indeed, that was how they were described. But the fact that I had so much power yet had the discipline to refrain from laying waste to the countryside was a dichotomy he found difficult to process.
We managed to scrounge another set of mismatched leathers from the corpses around the cave where we'd met Sten. They were uncomfortable, and could in no way be described as hygienic, but they satisfied my modesty.
We found no more darkspawn, but there was clear evidence that they were regular visitors to the Wounded Coast. I'd definitely need to get the place patrolled by the local Wardens.
Once I was satisfied that we'd made the area as clear of darkspawn as practicable, we headed back to Kirkwall.
The Arishok was enormous. Even seated, I estimated he stood half a head taller than Sten. As expected, he ignored Connor and me, speaking only to his officer. Despite speaking in Qunlat, I could follow along.
Sten described the numbers and composition of the Tal-Vashoth he and his patrol eliminated. He described the battle with the darkspawn without exaggeration, including the magical assistance.
The loss of several soldiers did not even rate a flicker of emotion on the eight-horned giant's face. He stared at Sten impassively throughout the entire report.
"This is the saarebas known as the Warden."
To my silent delight, he actually leaned back a bit at that. Several of the other Qunari in the compound turned to stare.
I stepped forward, deciding not to waste time with trivial greetings. "The Qunari do not recognise our Right of Conscription. I know that it is incompatible with the Qun. However, the darkspawn are an enemy that threatens all life on Thedas. The Qun must learn of them.
"I propose that you delegate Sten's duty to the Wardens. He shall return to Ferelden with me, where he shall learn of this enemy as he battles them with us. When I deem him ready, he shall return to you and establish an order of Qunari dedicated to the eradication of darkspawn. Established on the precepts of the Grey Wardens, this Order will follow the Qun, while protecting Qunari from the threat."
Deep set eyes regarded me for a long moment. "No."
I felt my stomach drop. "Then Sten must die, here and now. He is a Grey Warden, and cannot be permitted to leave the Order."
The Arishok turned to Sten. "Go. Do not return."
I blinked at the sudden reversal. But I wasn't about to object. I turned, nudged Connor to do the same, and walked out of the compound with my Qunari Warden.
The gate slammed shut behind us. "What was that all about," Connor demanded.
Sten stared straight ahead. "It is not your concern."
I looked up at the stoic warrior. "It is a concern of mine," I disagreed, "but it is not something we need to discuss now."
He did not reply.
Varric had been busy.
"I've secured you passage on a merchant ship bound for Amaranthine that leaves on the evening tide," he declared.
"We need an extra berth. Sten here is coming with us," I replied, indicating my new companions with a nod of my head. As Varric ogled him with wide eyes, I decided to tease the dwarf some more. "I poached him from the Arishok. Have you got any idea how fun it is to annoy a Qunari with eight horns? Well, so long as you're leaving the city..."
Varric covered his eyes. "Wonderful. Two days ago everything was fine and dandy. Now I've got infuriated templars, pissed off city guards and incensed Qunari to deal with. The evening tide can't come soon enough. I have got to get you out of my city," he groaned.
I stifled a grin. "I might have to delay departure til tomorrow. I have to go and visit the Dalish Keeper of a nearby clan before we leave."
Varric winced. "Will a letter suffice? I'll hand it to Marethari personally if you promise to go to the docks now and hide aboard the ship until she leaves."
"You know Marethari?"
The sodding dwarf grinned at my surprise. "We've met. I told you Daisy was a friend. She used to be Marethari's First."
Suddenly, the Keeper's admonition that her apprentice was protected made sense. "All right. I could use the peace. I'll write her a letter, then we'll grab our stuff and go to the docks."
Despite Varric's cynical expectations, we were not assaulted on our way to the ship. The captain barely gave our group a glance as we boarded, merely accepting a small pouch from our dwarvern companion.
"Warden, I'd say it's been a pleasure, but not even I can lie that convincingly. I'll have the Starkhaven contracts sent to you in a month." He held out a hand.
I accepted it with an amused smile. "Thank you Varric. I promise that if I ever return, I'll try to give you plenty of warning."
He swallowed. "Please do. Warn me, that is. I'll take the time to sell everything and leave town."
"Oh come now, it wasn't that bad," I objected.
He looked incredulous. "Not that bad? In one day you pissed off the three biggest and best armed groups in the city! And as far as I can tell, you actually believe you can deal with them!"
"She can," Connor claimed. Sten rumbled an agreement.
Varric looked up at the giant, then to Connor, then back to me. "You can?"
I nodded. "Of course."
He swallowed, loud enough to hear over the noise of the docks. "Okay, I'm never mentioning this day to anyone. Ever."
AN: Thank you to all my readers and reviewers. Apologies for the delay in this chapter. After months on blood thinners after getting blood clots in my lungs, I gave up everything that had nothing to do with my health or family for been focusing on my health for the last 3 months.
I'm oddly pleased at how similar some aspects of my planned plot is to the plot of Inquisition. Without spoilers, the antagonist in the game is the same in my fic, and he has the same sort of plan. No Breach, of course, but I might have to 'accidentally' fix that problem to keep my story canon-ish.
Merry Christmas to you all.