Chapter Title: Blackpowder Promise
Written by: FenZev, Wintryone, & LucienGrey
Beta'd by: Erana
Summary: Hawke and the Arishok meet for the first time.
Hawke was bored. Not that there wasn't any number of things she could be doing right now, but none of them held the slightest interest for her. Picking the dirt out of the braided hilt of her sword, she sighed audibly in the hopes one of her friends would entertain her.
"Problem, Hawke?" Fenris asked, an amused grin curling his lips. He knew she was bored. She was after all a warrior, as was he, so he was all too familiar with the signs of that particular itch, that need to do something.
She leaned forward, placing her heavy sword on the table. "There must be a damsel in distress, or a kitten in a tree, anything to get away from the smell of piss and vomit around here." Hawke wrinkled her nose in disgust.
"Now, Hawke," said Varric, as he idly spun a single bolt through his fingers. "I think your nose must be failing you. The smell of the day is most definitely burnt stew and sour ale."
"We could see to the disposal of the Tal-Vashoth," Fenris pointed out, ignoring Varric's comment.
Hawke considered the task. An annoying dwarf who called himself Javaris had asked for her assistance in dealing with the rogue Qunari, and Hawke had been avoiding that particular job. Mostly because she couldn't stand Javaris. As soon as he'd opened his mouth and began spouting off about selling explosives for profit, she'd wanted to walk away. It was Varric who'd convinced her otherwise, with reminders of the money she needed for the Deep Roads expedition. Even so, Hawke wasn't keen on getting wrapped up in Qunari business. So far they had been kind enough to remain locked away in their dockside compound and not bother the citizens of Kirkwall; she felt it best remain that way.
"Tal-Vashoth you say," Hawke repeated the idea. "What do we know about them, anything? Skills, tricks, weaknesses?"
"The Vashoth are those that reject the way of the Qun," Fenris explained. "Most become mercenaries since they lack training from the Qunari army. They are outcasts, vagabonds, and are loyal to none."
"Hmph," Varric grunted. "Bartrand tried to hire them once - the result wasn't pretty, to say the least."
"What happened?" asked Hawke.
"Turns out that once they start killing things, they aren't very... discriminating." Varric's smile was grim. "Bartrand lost nearly a dozen of his own men that trip to friendly fire."
"They sound lovely," Hawke replied sarcastically. She turned her head and raised a brow at Fenris. "So what's with the Tal part?"
Fenris smirked. "Together it means 'true grey ones.' Tal-Vashoth are more violent and care little about life other than their own. If you are seeking a cure for boredom, ridding the coast of Tal-Vashoth is a worthy task."
She pushed back her chair and stood, retrieving her sword from the table. "Alright then," Hawke began. "Let's go kill some Qunari."
"Tal-Vashoth," Fenris corrected her.
She rolled her eyes. "What made you the expert on them anyway?"
"A story for another time, Hawke," he replied as he also stood.
Before they headed out to the coast, Hawke dragged Anders from his clinic. If they were going to face a bunch of crazed killers, she thought a healer might be a good idea. Anders, as always, agreed to whatever Hawke asked of him. She had a sneaking suspicion the mage was interested in her, though she pretended she didn't notice. He was handsome enough, she supposed, but he was too... soft. As far as using that interest to her advantage, though, Hawke had no problem with that. Free healing whenever she wanted it? Who would complain?
They'd barely set their feet on the path that ran along the cliffs of the Wounded Coast, when the first spear came flying through the air to land at Hawke's feet. Of course that immediately set her blood to boiling, in a way that she loved more than anything.
They left a trail of dead Tal-Vashoth in their wake, and Hawke was feeling very cheery when a voice echoed from ahead.
"Be warned human..." was all she caught.
"Meh," said Varric. "I don't even bother to pull Bianca out for every threat anymore."
After a really bizarre conversation with a single Tal-Vashoth, during which he also claimed he wasn't one, and then proceeded to warn them of the danger posed by his own kind on the path ahead, Hawke felt more confused about the nature of these grey giants than ever.
Up the cliffs they went, on a twisted path to a cave entrance, where they faced the worst of the lot so far. It was at this point that she was extraordinarily glad she'd brought the healer along, because they were outnumbered at least four to one.
Once in the caverns, the odds didn't change, and in fact perhaps grew worse. Yet Hawke found they were more than adequate to the task. This is what she had wanted, had been craving. The need for action, the thrill of adventure, and the adrenaline rush of the kill.
"You know, these guys don't smell so good when they're dead," quipped Varric as he wiped some blood off his boot.
Finally they came to an expansive cavern deep underground, where it looked like the Tal-Vashoth had set-up a sort of camp. Platforms had been built, and boxes littered with supplies were scattered around the cave. Varric ran up a set of rickety wooden steps for a better vantage, then pulled up short when he got a look at what was waiting for him at the top.
"We've got a live one up here!" he shouted down to the others. Andraste's flaming ass, he hated these Qunari mages with their shorn horns, sewn lips and chained collars. And now the thing was glowing! Varric retreated several paces just as Fenris rushed past him. Leaving it to the broody elf, Varric lifted Bianca to his shoulder and sent a volley of arrows raining down on the largest group of Tal-Vashoth below him.
It was the hardest fight yet, and when it was finally over, Varric muttered to Hawke as they exited the cavern, "I'm going to kick Javaris' ass to the Deep Roads and back."
Hawke laughed. "Not if I get to him first."
Once they actually entered the Qunari Compound, all thoughts of Javaris and ass-kicking fled from Hawke's mind at the sight of the tall, proud giants casually lounging in their makeshift home. She hardly heard the weasely dwarfs' words as he called for the Arishok, so entranced was she by these warriors. It mattered not that they appeared to be at their ease, her own warrior's blood knew exactly just how ready they were to respond to any threat.
It was then that he walked in. Immediately she was struck by his inhuman grace; not one ounce of energy was wasted as he strode to the long bench and took his seat. The leather thong of his armor swayed between his thighs, capturing her attention so deeply she found it impossible to look away for what seemed an eternity. Eventually she managed to lift her head, her eyes meeting his, and she studied the Arishok's strong features as if in a trance.
Hawke was familiar with Qunari, having seen one back in Lothering and then several in her travels, but this man... His very presence demanded respect, and those that he led visibly gave it to him. Idle movements ceased, postures straightened, and all eyes now focused on her group, ready to protect him with their lives. Hawke was certain her band of misfits didn't have that loyalty, that fierce determination in their eyes for her, and she envied him.
To Hawke's surprise, Fenris stepped forward and spoke to the Arishok first. "Arishokost. Maaras shokra. Anaan esaam Qun." Peace, Arishok. There's nothing to struggle against. Victory is in the Qun.
"The Qun from an elf?" the Arishok replied, his low baritone rumbling through the compound. "The madness of this... place."
Hawke felt her body tremble at the sound of his voice. It wasn't from fear, however. Fascination of the stunning beauty of the beast that stood before her was one thing, but when he spoke? Her mind immediately imagined him whispering in her ear, telling her all sorts of naughty things. Why had her imagination gone there? She had no love for the Qunari, avoided them in fact, and yet here she was not only admiring the burgundy tint of his horns, but the curves of his chiseled painted chest and the raspy way he had replied to Fenris.
Maker's breath get a grip on yourself! "Tell me that helped?" she asked Fenris, hoping he would pull her away from the impure thoughts racing through her mind.
"We shall see," came the elf's uncertain response.
Javaris spoke next, going on about some deal he had made with the Arishok, but Hawke paid little attention. The furrow of his brow, the way his lips curled slightly downward, the sun reflecting off his skin... Hawke literally shook her head to chase these thoughts away. What was it about this man that enthralled her so?
Whatever conversation she had missed, Javaris was now staring at Hawke. "He's not getting it, make your chatty elf say something."
His words snapped Hawke back into reality from the perverted fantasies she'd been creating in her mind, and she turned to Fenris, a question in her eyes.
"Qunari do not abandon a debt," Fenris told her, before he turned back to the Qunari leader. "I humbly request clarification from the Arishok."
Hawke thought she could hear surprise in the Arishok's words as he said, "I have a growing lack of disgust for you." Yet his next words were clipped, almost business-like. "The dwarf imagined the deal for the Gatlock. He invented a task to prove his worth, when he has none."
Fenris bowed his head slightly. "Then we have wrongly inserted ourselves in your affairs." He looked up then, and in a rather eager voice, to Hawke's ears anyway, asked, "Would you have us kill this dwarf?"
Javaris spoke up quickly. "Wait. What now?"
The Arishok ignored the dwarf, and spoke again, directly to Hawke. "If you faced Tal-Vashoth, he is not worthy of dying to you, as he was not worthy of dying to them." The leader of the Qunari paused and seemed to consider her for a long moment. "But you - you keep good company. Let him live, and leave."
Both the Qunari and Hawke's group watched as Javaris exited the compound, muttering insults under his breath. She watched him go, but her feet would not follow. She had no desire to leave the company of the Arishok, at least not yet. Had she even said a word to him? Trying to recall what had just happened, she realized she hadn't, and that was something that needed to be rectified.
He noticed her hesitation, and the Arishok leaned forward slightly, his leather armor creaking with the movement. The very fact that this human, this bas, had defeated the Tal-Vashoth, and kept company with an elf that spoke the Qun, intrigued him. For one so small to have accomplished such a feat was... impressive. That she appeared to be expecting gold for her actions however, annoyed him. Was she waiting for a reward of some kind? Typical. "You will go as well, human. There's no more coin for you here."
"And if I prefer to stay and a chat a while?" Hawke asked, without forethought. "What then?"
Dark eyes narrowed in on her. This one would challenge him? The Arishok breathed in deeply, inhaling her scent, which was distinctly different from the others. She smelled of... desire, where from the others, there was only wariness and fear. If he were to smile, he would've done so now. Instead he turned to Karasaad that stood next to him. "Imakari dathrasi himrasaa."
The Karasaad began to laugh, and the Arishok joined him, as they were both now staring at her. Hawke shifted uncomfortably, and whispered to Fenris with gritted teeth, refusing to move her lips. "What did he say?"
"We should leave, Hawke," Fenris quickly responded.
Anders spoke up from behind them. "I hate to admit it, but I agree with Fenris. Let's go Hawke."
She refused to listen to either one of them, however. Hawke stood her ground, staring up at the Arishok seated at the top of the stairs. She opened her mouth to say something, what she wasn't quite sure, but he spoke before she was able to come up with anything.
"Why do you bother me human?" his gruff voice was directed towards her. "I hire no blades and need no goods." With a wave of his hand, he had expected her to dismiss herself, as any good trained soldier under his command would've done. When she made no move, he continued. "Your kind thinks selfishness and want are normal. This city, all of it, leaves a bad taste."
Hawke folded her arms across her chest. "You despise this city? And yet you are still here. What does that say about you?" She heard an audible groan from Fenris; clearly he did not approve of her questions.
The rumble from Fenris was nothing compared to the Arishok's. "Since we have arrived I have seen nothing but greed and weakness. There is no order here, no goal for a common purpose. But I do not expect the likes of you to understand."
"The likes of me?" Hawke repeated, raising an eyebrow. "Really?"
"You are one of the few I have met with any ability," the Arishok admitted. "And yet this too was random, a result of selfishness. You note that we remain, yet I wonder how you can also remain, in the midst of this filth and chaos."
She laughed, unconsciously tossing her hair back with a swift gesture of her hand. "Oh I agree with you, this city is a mess."
He narrowed his eyes at her. "But you don't see this as a problem," he said, more a statement than a question.
"It's an opportunity I take advantage of," Hawke responded honestly.
To her surprise the Arishok stood, and walked a few paces closer to them. Hawke lifted her head to look up at him as he towered over them. His expression was clear; he did not approve of her answer. "Karasten are soldiers," he began, gesturing toward the men who stood guard on the steps. "The Qun made it so. They can never vary from that assigned path, never be other than what they are meant to be. But they are free to choose within that role. To accept and succeed or deny and die. Glory is clear and defined."
He continued down the stairs until he stood within inches of her. Hawke could smell the leather he wore, feel the dominance he projected, and her knees suddenly became weak as his eyes bore down on her. "What full advantage can you take without authority?" The Arishok questioned her. "You acknowledge this city's lack of order, yet are content to do nothing about it."
Hawke shifted her weight uncomfortably, but stood her ground. She knew instinctively that to show weakness in this moment would not be wise. "So your soldiers are free to accept their way of life and succeed, or deny it and die? I accept my way of life, Arishok, but I also recognize my limitations within that life."
"Which is why you fail as a species," he replied. "There are no limits within the roles we are assigned, no uncertainty, no doubt. It is the way of the Qun, and your city, while I remain stuck here, may demand that certainty."
She swallowed hard, fighting the waves of intrigue and desire that consumed her at being in such close proximity to him. The thought of him wishing to claim dominance over Kirkwall was worrying. It was hard to focus on, however, when the thought of him claiming that same dominance over her, personally, was so very intriguing. Licking her dry lips, Hawke replied, "I don't think Kirkwall would do very well under military rule."
The Arishok considered her for another moment before turning his back and returning to the large bench where he sat. "The rule of the Qun is not military. It is discipline and order." He sighed. "But I am no more equipped to explain than you are to understand. I suspect we are done, human."
Hawke did not appreciate being dismissed, and was about to inform the Arishok of that fact, but Fenris latched on to her elbow. "Let us go Hawke," he warned under his breath. "We have disturbed him enough for one day."
Reluctantly she listened to him, exiting the compound with one final glance back at the Arishok. He was still staring at her intently, and if she wasn't mistaken, with a bit of curiosity.
After the gates to the compound had shut with a loud clank behind them, Hawke stopped and turned to Fenris. "What did he say that had them laughing at me?" she demanded the explanation now.
Fenris did not look at her when he responded. "He said your scent was that of a young female animal in their first heat."
She wasn't exactly sure what that meant, but the blush on the elf's face surprised her. Hawke didn't think Fenris was capable of being embarrassed by anything. "I suppose with your Qunari experience you know exactly what he was referring to?"
Fenris looked down at his feet, lifting one as if to inspect it and then performed the same action with the other. "Qunari sense of smell is strong. If I am wrong, forgive me, but if your body desires him, he is well aware."
Anders laughed boisterously. "Good job Hawke, next time just lift your tail and spray on his steps! I wouldn't suggest any loud mewling though, unless you wish the Qunari to fight over you. Could be fun?"
Hawke narrowed her eyes at him. "Very funny Anders, ha ha," she said angrily. Was it that obvious that she was instantly attracted to the Arishok? Fenris wasn't wrong, she felt her entire body respond to the man the second she laid eyes on him. As they walked up the stone stairway to Lowtown, she swore to herself she'd avoid the Arishok from now on - and she was very good at keeping promises to herself.
Yet, if she'd known just how soon events would throw them together again, her confidence would have been sorely shaken.