A/N There are some random encounters in Origins that are funny. There are some that enhance the plot. And there are some that serve to illustrate just how totally out of touch Chantry and Circle policies have become. Trigger Warning: Contains mention of non-con and an unpleasant, violent death.
Payback is the Name of the Canis Mabarius of the Female Gender Imprinted on My Grey Warden
Siobhan Amell strode along the rutted cart path that followed the valley floor in the shadow of the ruined Imperial Highway high overhead, breathing deeply and enjoying the sunshine on her face, smiling over at Alistair and anticipating what they'd be doing when they made it back to camp.
In her first weeks away from the Circle, she had hated the idea of walking, of being outside, and had given Duncan no end of grief about it. Even Ostagar, with its tent city and ruined buildings, had seemed infinitely preferable to being sent back out into the Wilds just to find some darkspawn blood. If it hadn't been for the addition of Daveth and Jory, she almost would have accused Duncan of sending her out just to torment her some more.
After the very first encounter with the maddened wolf pack, when she'd had to use several dangerous spells to keep the vicious brutes at bay until the armed and armored men could dispatch them, she'd cringed when the last wolf was down and Alistair - the templar - had turned to face her. She'd felt her skin tighten in anticipation of having her magic drained for having dared use it openly - offensively.
She'd been stunned when he'd flashed her a wide, engaging smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes. "That's more like it," he'd said in approval. "Keep the beasties occupied and confused so we can finish 'em off easily. So much better than worrying about having your backside savaged while you're fighting off two in front of you." And the others had agreed, thanking her as well. That was when she realized, that for all the nasty, dirty, cold and unpleasant things "outside" represented, it also meant something that eclipsed any personal inconvenience - it meant freedom.
Since then, her appreciation of being outside and free - free of the Circle, free to use her powers to defend herself, free to love - had grown to the point where she admitted to herself that she would rather die than go back. She even finally understood the repeated escapes of that young mage from the Anderfels. Poor sod. He probably would have jumped at the chance Duncan had offered her, if he hadn't been locked in the dungeons as punishment for his last escape.
Siobhan frowned. Was it really Grey Warden policy, or the Chantry, that dictated the Order could only have one active mage at a time? True, there had been other Circle mages at Ostagar, but they had been carefully watched and inhibited by the large templar squad Greagoir had sent along. None of them had been allowed to do so much as start the evening campfire all the way from Kinloch to Ostagar. And they certainly hadn't been enough to make a difference during the battle.
After the debacle of the briefing, when the Chantry cow had contemptuously ignored his offer of help, no wonder Uldred had conspired with Loghain, and then turned to blood magic when he and Wynne were sent back to Kinloch. Even Wynne, when it came down to it, had technically become an abomination when faced with death - and now she was free as well. Just how beneficial would the spirit remain, if Wynne was sent back to imprisonment in the Circle?
Suddenly, a shiver of awareness ran down her spine; and as she reached for her staff, she heard Alistair's sword hissing from its sheath. Immediately, Zevran stopped in his conversational attempt to get more than a grunt from Sten, while the giant hefted his maul and looked to the two Grey Wardens to determine the direction of the threat.
"Just ahead, I think... where the road curves around that hill," Alistair said quietly, looking at her for confirmation. Siobhan nodded in agreement, and ghosted frost onto all of their weapons with a flick of her fingers.
"Sten, you and I at the front - concentrate on taking out the leader, if there is one. Zevran - flank and take out any archers you can - and don't use the confusion to sneak away, right?" Alistair had been saying it for weeks now, and it had become more of a friendly joke than a sign of actual suspicion.
"Ah, Alistair, once again you ruin my fun. But I promise not to leave any stray daggers planted in your back. And the lovely enchantress has already told me she will not run away with me. Of course, that will not prevent me from staying and trying to change her mind, no?" So saying, the elf had stepped to one side of the road and almost vanished into the tall grass.
"Siobhan," Alistair looked at her with an easy smile. "Confuse and occupy the rabble, eh? And keep yourself safe, love. Right, then, let's get busy." He and Sten set off at a slow trot, weapons poised, and she brought up the rear, easily keeping pace with their heavily armored forms.
As they came around the hill, she could see a fairly large skirmish band of darkspawn ahead - nothing they couldn't handle, she thought smugly, and then she saw them on a small ledge on the side of the hill - three mages, standing silhouetted against the skyline - making targets of themselves.
Stupid bastards, she thought angrily. Are they trying to get themselves killed? She glanced around quickly, but couldn't spot any templars. They're damned lucky we came along when we did.
Then she recognized them: two apprentices and an enchanter who was one of Kinloch's instructors in basic magic - and definitely not someone whom she would trust. They were some of those who had managed to lock themselves in the storage caves and survive the insanity of Uldred's rebellion. What in Andraste's name were they doing out here?
The two warriors continued forward, Sten bellowing something in the Qunari language that sounded like a challenge. Alistair threw up his shield to block an arrow that came whistling towards him from further around the base of the hill, while another from the right went high over his head - Zevran's doing, she thought, hearing a choked scream from that direction.
Some of the hurlocks engaged Alistair and Sten immediately, but several more raced past them, intent on reaching the three mages on the hill. Siobhan threw up a spreading cone of ice, which immobilized at least four of the monsters, but there were more behind them, and before she could summon anything to knock them back, they were sprinting up the hill, although two remained to attack her.
"Now, remember, concentrate, just as I showed you," she heard the enchanter shout over the assorted snarls and growls coming from the darkspawn that encircled them. As Siobhan started to bring her staff around to fire a forking bolt of levin-fire into the two hurlocks menacing her, she heard one of the apprentices shriek in terror.
The hair on her arms and head began to stiffen and crawl and she reversed her staff mid-swing and threw a hasty elemental shield around herself instead, hoping that Alistair and the others were far enough away to escape the worst of the tempest summoned by the panicked youngster. Honestly, didn't anyone teach them to check who was around before they cast such spells? she fumed.
Suddenly, the two darkspawn in front of her collapsed, riddled with smoking holes, and with a crystalline chiming, those she'd immobilized burst into a spray of bloody frozen shards. Still, at least it's taken care of this lot, she admitted to herself.
She ran towards the hill, coming up behind the breakaway group of hurlocks. She saw the enchanter standing back at the very lip of the ledge, serene in an elemental shield of his own, content to throw the occasional small bolt of power into any darkspawn that tried to approach him. Meanwhile, the two apprentices were frantically fighting for their lives, staffs whirling and spinning, but mostly just in desperate parrying of the darkspawn's weapons, with only one of them still able to fire the occasional bolt of magic. Great Maker, one's already exhausted and the other barely has any room to cast, she thought grimly.
Although several of the hurlocks had been severely injured by the lightning that continued to blaze down from the sky they were still mindlessly carrying on their attack, jagged swords cutting viciously at the apprentices. The exhausted one went down as she ran forward, and with a snarl she smashed a gout of stone into the back of the darkspawn that had killed him. The other apprentice's face twisted in concentration, and a shockwave of mental force blasted out from him - momentarily stunning the nearest monsters.
The bolts of lightning had stopped with the fall of the caster, and one of the stunned hurlocks went down with blood gouting from its neck. Suddenly visible, Zevran spun away from it and planted his blades deep into the back of a second one that was starting to shake off the confusion. That left another three for her to finish with a carefully placed fireball.
Alistair and Sten came panting up the hillside just as the last of the darkspawn writhed and died in the fire. The remaining apprentice dropped to his knees by his fallen comrade and began calling his name in desperation. "Timmin - open your eyes. We've won - we did it. Timmin? Master Wallach, please help me with him." He turned to the enchanter, who had finally deactivated his shield.
"I'm sorry, my boy, but there's nothing to be done for the lad," he said, stepping forward cautiously and taking fastidious care that neither his boots nor the hem of his well-made robe came into contact with any of the gore-splashed grass. He raised his gaze to stare at Siobhan and her companions, and smiled thinly in recognition.
"Ah, Apprentice... Amell, isn't it? Still enjoying wandering about as no better than an apostate vagabond? I'm sure if you came back to Kinloch, the Knight-Commander would be delighted to show you how badly you've been missed."
"Why, you poxy..." Alistair growled, but Siobhan shook her head at him, and dropped to her knees by the fallen apprentice. He had a gaping wound across his stomach and the grass underneath him was stained brilliant crimson, but there might still be enough residual energy to tie his spirit back to his body.
"Not now, Alistair. Get me some bandages and a few potions - healing and lyrium - please. If I work quickly, I might be able to save Timmin. Zevran, why don't you take the apprentice over to sit down, and make sure he's all right. Sten, keep watch on the road. I don't think there are any more darkspawn about, but it won't hurt to be sure."
At the end of her rapid instructions, Siobhan pushed up her robe's sleeves and plunged the fingers of both hands into the gash across the young man's abdomen. Although the wound was fairly deep, she could find no sign that the sword's blade had penetrated his bowel, and no other internal organs seemed to be damaged. Nor, thankfully, did there appear to be any poison or corruption. The apprentice had probably succumbed to shock as a combination of blood loss and exhaustion rather than from receiving a killing wound. She bowed her head and let loose a stream of healing blue energy into the gaping slash.
Alistair waited, hovering protectively and watching with undisguised fascination over her shoulder, casting occasional black looks at the enchanter. When Siobhan raised her head and quietly said, "Lyrium," he cut the wax seal off the mouth of the bottle with his belt knife and tipped the potion into her open mouth with practiced ease gained from months of traveling and fighting together.
A few minutes later, Timmin took a deep, shuddering breath and opened his eyes. "Easy, Timmin, you're safe now. It's over," she said soothingly, and he went limp and started crying softly in relief. The other apprentice - Koren? she thought uncertainly - immediately came over and began talking to his friend, holding his hand and patting it.
Siobhan sighed and smiled her thanks up at Alistair, then used her staff to get back to her feet. "Well, he'll be able to travel in a day or so. We should take him to camp with us this evening. A good sleep and a large helping of our endless stew should see him recovered.
"Now," she continued in a steely voice. "I'd like to know just what idiocy has brought two apprentices and a fawning templar lickspittle out of Kinloch Hold, Wallach."
The enchanter drew himself up haughtily. "Watch your tone with me, girl," he snapped dismissively. "I'm a full enchanter, and a valued member of Kinloch's complement. Knight-Commander Greagoir trusts me implicitly."
"Yes, well, while we're pointing out ranks," Siobhan said pleasantly, "I'm a Grey Warden and a successfully Harrowed mage. First Enchanter Irving trusts me pretty well, as you may recall. And that is Sten of the Beresaad - a Qunari soldier. Do you know what they do to mages, Wallach? Unless you want to find out, I suggest you answer my question. Why are you out here with untrained apprentices, no guards and no backup?"
"Our templar guards are waiting further down the road," the enchanter huffed, after glancing at the Qunari's impassive face. "First Enchanter Irving had mentioned that more mages were going to be needed for the coming conflict. Since the Harrowing chamber is still not useable for its original function, the Knight-Commander has decided that encountering and defeating darkspawn will serve in place of the ritual.
"If they can manage to stay alive without succumbing to either blood magic or abomination, they will be considered Harrowed and acceptable as mages. As you can see, they succeeded, although your intervention was helpful," he conceded.
"Were there eight templars, one with a truly magnificent bow?" Zevran asked casually, cleaning his daggers on the ragged shirt of one of the fallen darkspawn. "If so, I must regretfully inform you that they will not be joining us - the darkspawn evidently encountered them before they decided to play with you."
Wallach paled noticeably at the assassin's news, but he had lost none of his arrogance. "Then the apprentices and I will join you tonight at your camp, before we return to Kinloch Hold," he stated, and made as if to move past them and down to the road.
"Please, Mistress Amell, don't believe him," the uninjured apprentice blurted, turning a frightened face to her. "He and some of the templars..."
"Silence, Koren, you impudent boy!" the enchanter snarled, turning and beginning to level his staff at the two apprentices.
"Alistair," Siobhan shouted. The warrior sprang forward and slapped the enchanter's staff aside with his shield, followed by a ringing punch to the side of his head which drained his magic instantly. Wallach dropped in a heap, unconscious from the force of the blow.
"Oh, lovely. I've been wanting to do that since he first opened his mouth," the blond warrior said with a grin. "Not that I want to make a habit of acting like a templar, mind you. But this prat has had it coming for quite some time, I'll wager. I hope I didn't hit him too hard," he said, nudging the limp form with the toe of his boot.
Siobhan shook her head at him and grinned briefly before turning her attention to the apprentices. They still looked frightened, but at her encouraging smile, Koren swallowed and continued to speak, still holding Timmin's hand tightly. "We're only the latest apprentices they've sent out, Mistress Amell. So far, not a single one has come back, although he always has," and he spat contemptuously at the unconscious mage.
"But I don't understand what they hope to accomplish by doing this," Siobhan said, appalled. "At least Harrowing is contained and Irving is there to prevent over-reaction on the part of the templar watcher. This is madness - tantamount to murder. Although I must admit, Timmin, your tempest was very potent."
The injured apprentice grinned faintly, and said, "Well, when I panic, I can do things I normally don't have the power for. And since they meant us to die out here, I decided to see if I could take Wallach and the darkspawn with me."
She turned her attention to the other apprentice. "All right, Koren, why don't you finish telling me what Wallach and Greagoir are up to?"
"Well, no one can prove that the Knight-Commander knows anything about it, but there is a group of templars that... well, you were an apprentice not too long ago yourself. You know what they used to get up to in the dormitories after the senior mages and enchanters have retired for the evening." The young man swallowed, and glanced down at Timmin, who looked as though he was ready to start weeping again.
"Most of the decent templars were killed trying to protect the mages when Uldred's demons and abominations attacked. That left all the worst ones either outside the great doors with Greagoir or down in the storage cavern with those of us who were lucky enough to shelter there.
"Since Uldred, they claim there aren't enough templars to safely 'guard' us, so Wallach and possibly a couple other mages - we're not sure - have been casting blanket sleep spells on the dorms to 'keep us out of trouble.' But too many of us woke up with sore backsides and unexplained bruises and started comparing notes - so we knew they were up to their old tricks again. And until Anders is released from solitary, there's not anyone who's skilled enough to heal us."
Koren looked down at Timmin again and smiled gently. "Tim's been trying to learn what he could, but getting permission to study in the library outside of lesson time is difficult these days. First Enchanter Irving is a good man, but the unfortunate thing about good men is that they usually don't realize when they're surrounded by bad men."
Intimately familiar with the horrors of what Koren was describing, Siobhan watched Alistair and her other companions closely, wondering how they'd react. Alistair's face went from curiosity to shock and then nausea, finally settling in lines of cold rage more intense than she'd ever seen from the young man before.
She couldn't see Sten's face because he remained turned away, ostensibly still watching the road for danger, but she could see his fists clenching - while his posture became even more rigid than usual. And Zevran smiled blandly when he caught her look, but the smile did not reach his eyes. Instead, he cocked one eyebrow and tilted his head slightly at Wallach. Siobhan narrowed her eyes and nodded, and the elf produced some leather thongs from his backpack and began to bind the enchanter, taking care to gag him first.
"Well, it's high time Irving found out. He may be an able administrator when it comes to ordering wheels of cheese and making sure everyone has a spare change of clothing, but the man never really has had much of an idea of how to care for people - especially his own," Siobhan said briskly.
"As for the two of you, you're coming with us. We're heading to Redcliff and once there you can stay under Bann Teagan's protection if you like. Or you can come to Kinloch with me and present evidence to Irving; because I'm going to force him to open his eyes and and confront Greagoir. Those raping templars ..." Then she smiled, baring quite a lot of teeth, and Zevran chuckled to himself at the sight of it.
"You know," she said thoughtfully, "It occurs to me that if Greagoir thinks sending apprentices out to face darkspawn is an acceptable substitute for Harrowing, then he is missing a very important opportunity. After all, he needs to make sure that his templars are capable of handling abominations. Obviously, those eight he sent out with you weren't up to the level of skill required.
"I think I'm going to insist that Greagoir start sending out certain templars - I'm sure you lads can tell me if I miss any - in small, lightly armored patrols against darkspawn. Better to know now if they're ready for battle or not - and he is required to aid us according to the treaty. Alistair, do you think your uncle would like the idea of having templars to patrol Eamon's lands looking for marauding darkspawn so he could concentrate on repairing Redcliff?"
Alistair let out a whoop and picked her up, spinning them around and kissing her soundly. "You're an evil woman, Siobhan, but evil in a good way - not like Morrigan," he added hastily, and kissed her again. "It's a wonderful idea. Let's just make sure we take enough men to the Tower with us..."
"It is indeed just," Sten said. "Even though they are collared and bound, no one would treat saarebas so dishonorably."
"Well, then, that just leaves one last little thing," Siobhan said, and walked over to where Zevran was crouched by Wallach's side. "Wake him up for me, would you please, Zevran?" The elf dribbled a small amount of water from a pouch over the enchanter's face and began slapping him on the cheek. "Sten, Alistair? Could you please help Timmin and Koren down to the road? Zev and I will join you momentarily," she continued quietly, and the note of steel was back in her voice.
Alistair swallowed uncomfortably, but nodded once and helped Koren up, while Sten actually knelt and picked Timmin up as easily as if he were a baby. The two warriors moved off the ledge and down to the roadway just as Wallach finally began to come around.
"Zev, do you have some magebane?" Siobhan asked quietly as Wallach opened his eyes and groaned. "I'm pretty sure Alistair drained him thoroughly enough, but I don't want to take any chances."
"For you, anything, deadly lady," the elf said, and produced a small vial from his belt pouch. He tipped the bottle upside down for a second, then righted it and pulled out the wooden stopper, which came to a very sharp point where it fit into the vial's neck. He jabbed the stopper into Wallach's throat at the pulse point just under his jawline.
The man struggled briefly and his eyes widened as he saw the grim expression on Siobhan's face. He made a muffled sound behind the gag, and she tapped her lips thoughtfully with one finger. "Listen carefully, Wallach," she said. "I will only ask you once, and if you fail to answer, then I will leave you to my friend here. He's a Crow, and he needs to stay in practice.
"Which templars have been abusing the apprentices? Also, which of the mages are so warped as to join you in your collaboration with the templars? I want names, Wallach - all of them." At her gesture, Zevran removed the gag.
Wallach flexed his jaw and licked his lips. "Will you let me go if I tell you?" he rasped. "Once I've told you, I'm a dead man in the Tower - I can't go back to the Circle."
"Hmmmm, the dainty Wallach wandering as an apostate vagabond," Siobhan smirked. "I would enjoy that. Yes, tell me who's been party to the abuse over the past decade, and you can go free."
Sweating profusely, he started listing names. Siobhan nodded in agreement with most of them, and grimaced at a few others. When it came to the collaborators, apparently all but Wallach had died in the confusion of Uldred's uprising and its aftermath.
"Why, that is a goodly bundle of information to pass on to the First Enchanter. And I'm sure that Greagoir will be happy to avoid an inquiry into just what kind of filth he had dishonoring the templar order under his command all these years," Siobhan smiled at Wallach.
"But you know, Wallach, I find that I just can't let you go, after all," and the smile dropped from her face. "You see, I woke up early a few times when I was still in the dormitories - and I had your stench all over me," she hissed, leaning close. "I remember, you bastard, and I've been praying to Andraste for years that my chance would come. Now you're going to rot in the Void."
She slammed her hand over his mouth, and drew her belt knife with her other hand. "I'm sure you've heard the saying, Wallach. Payback's a mabari bitch," she said, and stabbed him in the groin. "That's for every apprentice you ever helped destroy, you worthless piece of shit," she snarled.
As they waited for him to stop convulsing within the confines of the leather straps, Zevran stared at Siobhan in shocked admiration, but when he started to speak, she held up one shaky hand, still clutching the knife.
"No, Zevran. Not one word. And Alistair is never to find out. Give me your oath," she said faintly. He did so, and she turned away and was noisily sick. When she was done, Zevran silently handed her his water pouch so she could rinse her mouth out and wash the blood off her blade. Her eyes were shiny with unshed tears, but when she was finished, she stood up and straightened her robes decisively.
"All right, let's rejoin the others and get going," she said, and walked away without a backwards glance.
Ah, mi amora, the assassin thought as he followed her. I think I am beginning to pity the Archdemon.
Addendum: Payback Is a Mabari Bitch
I've put the story's real title here. Apparently, my little one-shot was one of many victims of the recent purge pushed by a group called Critics United. The story had been up for several months, and I had never received a single complaint. Sadly, I also lost the reviews it had garnered. I will concede that the word "bitch" - even though used entirely correctly in reference to a female dog - is not "G" rated. But if I had received a warning - change it or lose it - I would willingly have edited the title. However, unilateral deletion instigated by a group of talentless, bitter trolls is something I will not accept meekly. Hopefully, the FF admins will discover how they've been used, and will react accordingly by doing a purge of that group - especially of the ones who haven't written anything themselves. I'm personally considering a move, or at least a backup alternative of AO3. One note of satisfaction, however. Turns out Payback is indeed a mabari bitch - because I've now come up with a backstory to fit the new title, as well - keep an eye out for it, won't you?