Chapter 68

In the span of twenty-four hours, Shepard's forward camp had been substantially fortified. A familiar narrow but sturdy cot had materialized, courtesy of Shepard's three dwarven archnemeses; Gavin, Nils, and Aidan. A somewhat primitive screen had been erected where two walls met, and there were now two buckets - one of fresh water just outside the screen, and a second hidden behind it. Shepard had hoped that she'd seen the end of buckets for the rest of her unnatural life, but needs must when the devil drives as the old saying went.

Ash could probably have told her where that one came from, too.

She was well supplied, mostly by Hawke and her motley crew, but also by a few elves she recognized from the alienage, and by an assortment of street urchins she suspected of being in Varric's pay. They brought her food and water (wine, in Fenris's case), and thankfully emptied the… the… sanitation bucket, and refilled the wash bucket. Word had gotten around that Shepard tipped well for these small services, so there was actually some squabbling for the dubious honor of being Shepard's er… bucket technician.

The qunari kept an unsubtle eye on her, though she was never approached or spoken to. She personally escorted any guard patrols past the qunari's encampment; after the first few encounters of this type, the guard patrols began entering Lowtown's docks by other passages, and kept well away from the qunari enclave. Shepard couldn't tell if this was initiative by the guards themselves, or if Aveline had passed the order down. Either way, it suited Shepard just fine.

She also escorted nearly a dozen new viddathari to the qunari's gate (all but one of them elves, and all of them dirt poor) after ascertaining to her own satisfaction that they knew what they were getting into. In Shepard's eyes, they were just trading one kind of prison for another, but she had to admit the prospect of being well fed, well housed, well clothed, and protected from the incessant threat of violence was probably worth any loss of personal freedoms to these people. After all, it was not as if they had that many personal freedoms to begin with, but they certainly had more than their share of privation.

After she'd delivered the fourth would-be viddathari to the stony-faced pair of guards on her side of the compound, the Arishok himself came to stare broodingly at her through the bars. She sketched him a brief salute, which merely caused his expression to harden before he stalked away.

For four days now she'd guarded the stairwell between the docks and the rest of Lowtown. Unless it involved violence or utter mayhem, Shepard ignored any activity around the docks that didn't directly involve the qunari. Those who had violence or mayhem planned soon grasped the fact that if they just took it somewhere else, said plans would not be affected by the Spectre's presence. Within two days if it weren't for the presence of the harbormaster directly across from the compound, Shepard expected the area around the qunari enclave would be utterly devoid of people. Even those with legitimate business with the harbormaster slunk into the area like unskilled burglars. Nights were as quiet as a churchyard, with nothing to disturb Shepard's light sleep but the occasional ruckus from further along the dockside.

But just as things had achieved a new status quo, it all went to hell.


"Psst," hissed a voice.

Shepard woke from her doze abruptly, reaching for the pistol that wasn't there and the rifle that was. "Psst," the voice repeated. It seemed to be coming from the stairwell behind her.

"No, don't look around," warned the voice, as Shepard rolled to her feet, settling Garrus in her hands. "Just listen."

"I'm listening," Shepard murmured quietly, staring out into the darkened harbor.

"Good," replied the voice. "You're in danger."

Shepard snorted loudly enough that the nearer of the two qunari guards cast a glance in her direction. She gave him a curt nod and a lazy salute with her rifle, and he looked away, jaw tightening.

"That's hardly news, whoever you are," she said in a low voice. "Tell me something I didn't know."

The unseen voice either didn't understand sarcasm, or was immune to it. "Knight-Commander Meredith believes you to be a very powerful Tevinter battlemage, protected from Templar control by some kind of demonic talisman."

This time Shepard controlled herself enough that only the very faintest of chuckles could be heard. "She's wrong on all counts. I've never even been to Tevinter, I'm not a battlemage, and this particular talisman was manufactured by the Serrice Council, not demons."

"The truth matters not to Meredith," the voice retorted. "Know that she plans to overwhelm you with force; if not force of arms, then force of magic. And you are no mage."

"Thanks for noticing," Shepard said dryly. "Is it just me, or does this place breed nutjobs better than anyplace else in the galaxy?"

"I wouldn't know, serah," the voice concluded. "But you have been warned."

Isabela paused in her prowl of the dockside, raising more than one sailor's hopes as a half dozen or more sparred verbally for her attention.

But Isabela wasn't interested in the sailors. For the past year and more, her only real interest in any sailor on the dockside lay in recogniZing the few she knew to belong to Castillion's crew. When she'd first been stranded in this Maker-forsaken town, Isabela had occasionally given the odd sailor a night (or morning, afternoons being given over to establishing her territorial ownership of the corner of Corff's bar) of delight when her longing for the sea and unbroken horizon grew too strong. It was dangerous, though, and once she'd learned she could pay for one of the Rose's talented staff to roleplay for an evening, she'd given up the practice. One of the human male whores found the whole thing highly enjoyable and put quite the effort into it, wearing rough sailor clothing, already scented with tar and sweat and sea spray, and giving himself a wash in salt water before their assignations. He'd spent some time listening to sailors, too, either on the docks or in the course of business, for that authentic touch.

As the hopeful sailors redoubled their efforts, Isabela squinted her eyes against the glare and strove to make out the detail on a ship at anchor far out in the harbor, hard against the nearly vertical cliffs that enclosed and protected the city from the sea and anyone on it. One hand reached out and grabbed the nearest sailor by his shirt. Before he could even feel a momentary surge of elation at having attracted her attention, Isabela made her innermost desires known.

They were not what the sailor expected.

"I need a spyglass. Now."

She released the man with a little shove, as if to underline the sense of urgency. For a moment, it seemed as if the man could not remember what a spyglass was, or if he might have such a thing on his person. For the first few heartbeats he simply stared at Isabela, then began madly patting himself down.

Another sailor, both quicker on the uptake and possessed of such an article, silently yet hopefully offered it to the pirate. She snapped it open without a word of thanks and pointed it at the distant vessel. The stream of curses that followed caused the spyglass owner, who was sidling closer in the expectation of some expression of gratitude, possibly a very physical and intimate one, to stop in his tracks. Especially the one about a highly specific pox and the anatomical parts involved.

With a final expletive, Isabela slapped the spyglass against its owner's chest, forcing the man to fumble to get a hold of it before it could fall, turned on her heel and rushed off. The disappointed sailors could only stare after her sadly. A despondent spyglass owner summed up their feelings neatly.

"But it's not even as if any of us are from Tevinter…"

Shepard brooded for a time about her midnight deliverer of Kirkwallian prophesy. She suspected her visitor was part of the mage underground; she could think of no others in Kirkwall apart from Hawke's crew who would have both the information and any desire to warn her. But that was only a guess at best - whoever had imparted the knowledge also knew she was not a mage, and therefore her plight should be of little interest to the semi-secret band of mage allies.

She supposed it could be some kind of trap, although she was at a loss for how the trap would work, exactly. Or maybe it wasn't a trap for her, but for the mage underground itself? Or maybe someone hoped to scare her away from her post here using the Knight-Commander as some kind of bogeyman?

Shepard felt eyes on her and looked up to catch a qunari staring at her from the opposite side of the compound gate. For once she didn't need to see the qunari's eyes to know his identity - she'd spent enough time in his company to recognize the ashaad from his posture and mannerisms. Even at this distance, she knew he was not a happy ashaad.

Shepard stood up again and drifted over to the gate, hands spread wide to telegraph she was approaching without any desire to cause trouble.

"Ashaad," she called softly, when she was close enough to the gate that her voice would reach him. She spared the briefest of nods for the two guards, stopping well short of their positions. "What's wrong?"

"Kadan," rumbled the ashaad, his normally impassive face creased by a frown. "You should leave this place."

Shepard shrugged. "I can't, Ashaad. I have a job to do."

The ashaad made another rumbling noise deep in his chest. It wasn't the same kind of noise the Arishok made - and Shepard was more than thankful for that - but seemed more to express distress as well as the qunari default of frustration with Shepard's actions. "I do not want to face you, kadan," he said, his voice heavy.

"You don't have to," Shepard pointed out. The ashaad snorted, and Shepard once again had a flashback to Garrus and his comments about good turians. "I've gotten a lid on things, I think," Shepard reassured him. "Nobody's going to do anything to provoke the qunari. We'll get through this, Ashaad."

Her words appeared to have no effect on the orange-eyed giant, and Shepard raised an eyebrow. "Unless you know something I don't…?"

The ashaad merely shook his head and walked away from the gate, leaving Shepard to stare after him with suddenly growing unease.

"Houston," muttered Shepard under her breath, trepidation rising faster than a well-thrown biotiball, "I think we have a problem."#

The following morning dawned as pleasantly as any morning in Kirkwall could. The sun was bright, the sky cloudless, the light but steady offshore breeze pushing the stink of the harbor into the city, rather than allowing the stink of the city itself to permeate the narrow alleys and scattered plazas.

It was a matter of personal preference which was worse.

Shepard felt tired and thick headed. She'd had no further disruptions in the night, but sleep had refused to return. Instead, a dozen or more scenarios played out in her mind; not of Meredith and her templars, though Shepard hadn't forgotten or discounted her unseen visitor's warnings, but ways in which the qunari could launch an assault on the city, and what Shepard herself could do to stop them.

So she was in no mood for anything; not city guard, not templars, and particularly not drunken idiots.

Up until this point, the people who actually had legitimate business on the docks had, like everyone else, given Shepard a wide berth. For the stevedores and longshoremen who moved cargo, this was a simple matter. Shepard's post was far enough away from where ships were actually berthed that there was no real reason for them to venture anywhere near the Spectre's forward camp. For the ships' captains and others that had business with the harbormaster, most eyed the strangely armored human the way you would a mad prophetess, and resolutely forbore any other interaction with her.

And but for two simple facts, this happy state of affairs might have continued. The first was that the Hanged Man sold the cheapest and strongest whiskey in Kirkwall. And the second was that the fastest way to and from the docks and the Hanged Man was the staircase Shepard now guarded.

Shepard was crouched over her wash bucket, trying to make a few handfuls of water splashed over her face make up for the past several nights of broken and fitful not-quite-sleep. Trying and failing. She longed for her new bathroom, and the lumpy wool-stuffed mattress of the bed that was still softer and more comfortable than any she'd had during her service in the Alliance.

"Look sharp, mates," slurred an accented tenor voice from the stairwell while Shepard ran her damp fingers through her hair. "Seems one of the whores's set up shop right 'ere, all convenient-like."

Shepard glanced over to the stairwell to find a hard-eyed, hard muscled man leaning against the corner. Behind him were several others; all in various stages of rumpled dishevelment. She caught the smells of unwashed bodies and stale alcohol and her nose wrinkled in distaste.

She stood up and strolled closer to the knot of men.

"Do I really look like a prostitute to you?" Shepard asked, flexing and rolling her shoulders to emphasize her armor and the butt of the rifle clipped to her backplate.

"I see a wench with a cot near at hand," scoffed the man, pushing off the corner and closing the last of the distance between them.

Up close, the hard eyes were bloodshot, and the smell of alcohol was stronger. Shepard felt her temper rise, and throttled it down. When she spoke again, it was in a deceptively conversational voice. "You boys been drinking the swill, haven't you?"

"And if we have, love?" the man asked. "Makes a change from the grog, dun't it?" He reached one hand out to trace his fingers along Shepard's jaw. "If you're thinkin' it means you'll not get a rise wi'out help, you c'n set your mind as ease on that score."

Shepard's hand snapped up to catch the man's wrist. "I'm only going to tell you this once," she ground out from between tightly gritted teeth, all of the frustrations of the past few weeks catching up to her in a heartbeat and making her long to put her fist through the idiot's face. She squeezed the wrist briefly before flinging the hand and arm away. "If you know what's good for you, you'll take your sorry ass back up those stairs. Go back to the Hanged Man, or to the Blooming Rose, I don't care. Just get the hell out of my face before I do something we'll both regret."

The man merely grinned at her. "Bit of a spitfire, mates," he called out to the others. "Reckon it might be worth a sovereign or two, aye? Can get a tuppenny upright anytime, but opportunity like this a man dun't come by often."

When Shepard swung her fist, she couldn't immediately tell if what she felt toward the sailor was closer to anger at his stupidity or gratitude for it.

Isabela stared at the entrance to the Hanged Man, one thumb nervously rubbing the hilt of one of her daggers.

She didn't want to do this.

She really didn't want to do this.

But there was no choice.

After verifying the identity of the Tevene ship in the harbor, Isabela had gone through every last one of her contacts on the dockside, and the few she had in the Coterie. Somebody had to know something, and for once Isabela was willing to spend whatever it cost to buy the information. Desperation gnawed at her; she was so close.

So close to the end of the nightmare of the past few years. So close to getting the specter of Castillion out of her mind and his sword away from her neck. So close to once again being able to stand on the deck of her own ship with the wind in the sails above her and the sea pounding the hull beneath her and the horizon all around her.

But nobody could help her, at any price. The ship's boat had come ashore, some hooded figures had gotten out of it, and… disappeared, as far as her informants could tell her.

So she was here, at the Hanged Man, chewing on her lower lip and rubbing the pommel nut of her right hand dagger, walking past her usual seat at the corner of the bar. Climbing the few stairs to the private suites. Hand leaving the dagger to tap on the dwarf's door before entering.

Varric glanced up at her over the pair of half-moon spectacles he habitually wore when sorting through his paperwork.

"Rivaini. Don't tell me Corff's cut you off already?" he teased.

The short, impatient shake of her head made the light wink from her carved golden earrings. She really, really didn't want to do this.

"Whatever contacts you've got, sweetness, it's time to pull them all out." Her amber eyes gleamed at him in the dim light of the suite.

"The magisters are here."

Shepard threw her head backwards as one of the sailors grabbed her from behind, just catching the bottom of his nose and causing him to loosen his grip enough that she could shrug her way out of the bear hug. She pivoted to slam a fist into his gut, ducking as another sailor took the moment's distraction to throw another punch at her.

Unfortunately for Shepard, despite a night of drinking at the Hanged Man, this group of sailors appeared to be sober enough to fight with a depressingly high degree of coordination. The swill they'd put down appeared only to have lowered their inhibitions while increasing their aggression and tolerance to pain. They were, to a man, as strong and well-conditioned as any N7, faster and more agile than any of the antaam she'd fought except for the Arishok himself. And they were clearly used to fighting together as a group.

One was down and groaning, and a second was having trouble seeing out of his left eye, thanks to a mouse the size of a ping-pong ball. At this point, there wasn't a single one of them Shepard hadn't scored against, but they'd all managed to land something on Shepard as well.

Of course, she was wearing ablative plating over three-quarters of her body and they were wearing plain canvas, so despite everything, the odds were still tipped considerably in the Spectre's favor. If she weren't so angry about everything, she might actually find it… fun.

Shepard tangled two men up briefly and slammed a third into the wall hard enough to bounce his head off the stone and he went down.

"Shepard?' called a familiar voice from somewhere behind the last four men. "I'm a little busy," Shepard retorted. "Can it wait, Hawke?"

"I see that," noted the voice cheerfully. "And normally I'd never interrupt what is clearly a tender moment, but we could use your help."

A hiss of pain escaped Shepard's lips as one sailor clipped her ear with his fist as she slapped another's punch away. "Busy, Hawke! Either shut up or give me a hand."

"We don't have time for this, Hawke," Isabela growled. "We have to go. Now."

"Calm down, Rivaini," soothed Varric. "We'll get there. Maybe a little faster if Hawke stops talking and starts helping, but we'll get there."

"I don't see you volunteering," Hawke pointed out. Nevertheless, she grabbed one of the sailors by the back of his shirt and kicked his legs out from under him.

Varric kicked him in the chin. "There. Happy, Hawke?"

Isabela's stomach rolled unpleasantly. She had to get that relic. Had to.

She reached out as a sailor stumbled backward from a hastily thrown side kick by Shepard, grabbed the man by one arm, spun him to face her, and kissed him.

His hands flailed in the air for a moment, and his knees went weak. And Isabela kneed him in the wedding tackle.

"We really don't have time for this," she shouted.

Shepard headbutted her penultimate opponent into not-so-sweet oblivion, and only the leader was left. The hard-eyed man was not too drunk to notice that he was surrounded by his groaning or unconscious fellows, and (winning Shepard's Clear Thinker of the Year award) suddenly threw both hands up in capitulation.

"Seem to have made a bit o' an error in judgment," he admitted. "No offense meant, no harm done. I'll just be… I should go."

They watched him hurry away with as much of a swagger as he dared.

Shepard gently rubbed a hand against her burning ear. "Damn," she muttered. "Haven't gotten a cauliflower ear in forever."

"Nevermind that," said Hawke, drawing closer. "The plan," she hissed. "It's time."

Shepard gave her a blank stare for a moment.

"It's the," Hawke shot a glance at the qunari guards, "you-know-what."

Shepard blinked. "What you know what?"

She blinked again as enlightenment spread its dawning light over the fog of her mind. Her eyes darted toward the compound, and she frowned.

"Are you sure?" she pressed. "Because this is a really bad time…"

"Yes," said Isabela sharply. "Time." She glared at the others. "Which we don't have."

Shepard glanced toward the compound again, clearly torn. "Look," she protested, "things are really dicey right now. The Arishok is up to something."

"Maybe he already knows about the book?" suggested Varric hopefully.

Isabela thought she might just have to tie the dwarf up and shave off all his chest hair for that comment. She was already about to vomit.

Shepard shook her head. "I don't like it. Something's going to happen with the qunari, and soon."

"Relax, Starkiller," Varric said easily. "Aveline told us that the Senechal called off any pursuit of your little vigilantes. Nobody's going to piss off the giants for the next fifteen minutes."

I hate this, Shepard thought bitterly. I need to be there, but I need to be here, too.

"Can we go now? Please?" Isabela's voice was razor sharp.

Hawke gave her a worried look. Varric raised an eyebrow at her.

" What?" the pirate snapped. "If Shepard has to stay here, she has to stay here." Please stay here, the pirate added mentally. It would be a lot harder to get the relic away from Shepard than from Hawke. "It's not like we can't do this without her."

Shepard bit her bottom lip.

Decision, Shepard. Isabela's right. There's no time for dithering.

She shot a final look at the compound.

No, if there's any chance we can find the one thing that might appease the qunari completely, I have to be involved.

"No," Shepard repeated aloud. "It's not the first time I've wished I could be two places at once." She laughed without mirth. "The one time that clone of mine could have been useful… if she wasn't an evil bitch and batshit crazy. I'll just have to hope that, whatever the Arishok intends to do, he holds off for just a little bit longer."

"You have to be kidding me," Hawke muttered sourly. "This place again?"

They were standing in front of the old foundry in Lowtown, site of so many of Hawke's personal battles. "I should have burned this place to the ground a long time ago."

"It's stone, Hawke," Varric pointed out. "Why do you think in all it's history nobody's ever been able to raze the city? Stone just doesn't burn well."

Hawke scowled. "Well, something, then. Blown it up, broken it down, filled it with nugs… something."

"Can we stop talking now and open the door?" Isabela demanded. "Who knows who's getting their hands on the relic."

Isabela's slip of the tongue appeared to go unnoticed by the Hawke and Varric, but Shepard cast an odd glance at Isabela.

The pirate seemed to be unusually on edge. Shepard couldn't remember another time where Isabela had shown herself to care this much about seeing the qunari safely away from Kirkwall. In fact, as far as Shepard could recall, the pirate hadn't seemed to be at all enthusiastic about Hawke's plan. And it certainly wasn't pre-mission nerves. She'd been on enough of Hawke's little assignments with the pirate to know that Isabela never showed nerves before any kind of a mission, and had never been afraid of a possible fight.

Shepard reluctantly decided it probably had nothing to do with the task at hand. She realized she didn't actually know much about Isabela, for all the time they'd spent together. She saw the pirate on assignments for Hawke or drinking at the Hanged Man, and for the regular card nights at Varric's suite. Hell, she didn't even know where Isabela lived.

Obviously something was up with the Rivaini woman, but now was not the time to dig into it. She'd keep an eye on Isabela just to make sure the other woman didn't break from whatever it was under pressure, and once they were done here she'd just drop a little flea in Hawke's ear about it and let the rogue handle it from there.

"Right," said Hawke cheerfully. "Get in, grab the book, and get out. Then we just hand it over to the Arishok and bundle him on to the next boat leaving for Qunandar."

"I hate to break it to you, Hawke, but I don't think there are all that many ships in such desperate need of the qun that they'd be traveling to a place where that was the only commodity," Varric pointed out.

Hawke shrugged gamely. "If I have to, Varric, I'll buy them a ship. Of their very own."

Isabela gave Hawke a deeply offended look. "You've never offered to buy me a ship of my very own," she complained.

"It isn't that she doesn't value your friendship, Rivaini," Varric consoled her, as Hawke bent to work her wiles on the lock, "it's that you're less likely to kill or enslave everyone in Kirkwall if we don't get you one."

Isabela didn't deign to answer, simply pushing past the dwarf and into the building as Hawke swung open the door.

The interior was dark and smelled musty and undisturbed, but Hawke pointed to a series of footprints in the dust. Recent footprints.

Large footprints.

"Any chance that somebody in Tevinter has really big feet?" Varric muttered quietly.

"Several somebodies," Shepard said grimly, looking over Hawke's shoulder.

"And I suppose we can't just leave the qunari to get their own damn book back, can we?" Varric asked with resignation.

Three female stares met his, and he sighed sadly. "Didn't think so."

The footprints didn't go far. Only, in fact, to a rapidly brightening archway on the far side of the room, from which raised voices could now be heard.

"You will hand over the Tome," came an unfamiliar voice in very familiar tones.

"The book belongs to whoever pays most for it," said another voice; one filled with undisguised greed.

"The book belongs to us," came a third, in haughty, cultured tones. "We have bargained in good faith and have the price, in gold, that was agreed upon."

"Negotiations Are Not Final Until Goods Change Hands," rumbled a strange, hollow voice.

"A qunari, a magister and a golem walk into a bar…" muttered Varric as they crept quietly up to the arch.

He was once again the subject of unamused stares. "You're right," he admitted sheepishly. "Not even I can make that one funny."

And then Hawke's voice was ringing out, bright and full of irony, "So sorry we're late. Have we missed anything important?"

And as if Hawke's words were the spark to the powder, the room erupted into violence.

It was not just a qunari, a magister, and a golem in the next room.

First off all, there were three qunari. Shepard didn't recognize any of them immediately, but she guessed them to be some of the Arishok's best. He wouldn't have entrusted this to anything less. And there were not less than six magisters, all wearing robes and wielding staffs. Thaddeus Gigantus Crumbum the Third, however, had no back up. From her memories of the Dark Roads, Shepard had to admit that the golem probably was sufficient on his own.

And lastly, there was a small, weaselly looking man with an air of surprise and dismay, suddenly clutching a rough burlap sack containing something rather large and vaguely rectangular to his chest.

The scrum was on.

Hawke, as usual, leapt into the fray with drawn daggers, Varric dropping back to cover her with his crossbow. Isabela had also drawn her knives, but was easing around the fighting, her eyes on the thief and his prize. For Shepard, there was no point in drawing her rifle in such close quarters. So she, too, prepared to wade in to the melee.

A moment later, she was ducking the swing of a great sword.

"Dammit, Sten, I'm on your side!" Shepard grated, lobbing superheated plasma at one of the magisters, who had the benefit of high ground, being ranged along a railed mezzanine.

"All are our enemies, now," shouted the sten, bringing the sword whistling at her on the backswing.

Shepard backpedaled desperately, and the tip of the sword left a thin groove in her chest plate. "We're trying to help you, you idiot!" Shepard clarified, scrabbling backward some more and catching a blast of ice from one of the magisters for her pains.

"I don't think they're going to listen to you, Starkiller!" yelled Varric, shooting at the magister who'd launched the ice blast. "They seem, I don't know… upset?!"

On the third swing, a great overhanded thing, Shepard rushed the giant, ducking to the outside and giving him a shove back toward the wall.

"I don't want to hurt you or your men," she growled. "Can we all just focus on getting rid of these damn magisters?"

Out of the corner of her eye, Shepard saw a giant stone fist about to connect with Hawke's head.

But Varric saw it too. "Hawke! Golem!" For a heartbeat it seemed the warning was too late. But at the very last second, Hawke dropped into a roll and the golem's fist crunched into the chest of the magister she'd been fighting.

Relieved, Shepard turned her attention back to the qunari and a large, steel-gray fist wrapped around a steel-gray pommel caught her in the jaw.

It appeared that Varric was right. The qunari would not be listening to reason.

Shepard staggered back, blood filling her mouth, and shook her head to clear it.

"Enaam esan qun!"

The sten was rolling his shoulder, bringing his huge sword around for another swipe at her. She narrowed her eyes.

"Oh, fuck it," she muttered, priming a heavy neural shock. The sten barely had time to register surprise as the lash of static electricity took him in the solar plexus; his eyes rolled up in his head and he toppled over backward.

"Bet you wish you had a redundant nervous system about now, don't you?" Shepard told the recumbent figure, wiping blood from her lips. "You're gonna have a helluva headache when you wake up."

She looked around. The other two qunari had charged up the stairs to close with the magisters while the sten took care of Shepard. Hawke and Varric were fully engaged in the three way melee.

And Isabela and the thief were nowhere to be seen.