Don't get involved, was what her Daddy always told her. Don't get involved, Mely—folks'll turn you in soon as smile at you, once they figure out what you are. 'Course, it was easy for her daddy to follow his own advice now. Hard for a dead man to get involved with anything or anybody.
All the same, it was good advice, and more often than not, she followed it. It didn't always make her happy, but it kept her alive, and alive was just as good as happy. Hell, alive was usually better than happy—unhappy was more temporary than dead. And even if it didn't feel like it sometimes, bored was better than dead, too.
So she kept her distance, letting Varric and Isabela scout the towns they stopped in; they always came back with useful information and gossip in equal parts (sometimes the two overlapping), letting her know who needed what they'd likely be asking for, and who really didn't. And if sometimes it happened that her tonics worked and healed the people sick enough to need healing, well, that was just the Maker at work in His mysterious ways, wasn't it?
And still she didn't get involved. She stayed in the back of the wagon, mixing potions and calling them tonics, watering some down with water, some with gin, and some with laudanum for a little more kick than the rest. And when people got caught in her partners' net of tantalizing promises too good to be true, she gave them what they needed, even if it wasn't exactly what they wanted. Then they unhitched the horses and made off for the next town, never leaving behind so many unsatisfied customers that they'd be unwelcome the next time they came around. She let people wonder if she was a charlatan, because things would be so much better for her if she was, and the money wasn't too bad, when there was money, like now. And when she went back to the farm at the end of a trip, she had enough coin for Mama to patch whatever needed patching and pay whoever needed paying before it all started over again.
All this aside, as Amelle "Miracle Mely" Hawke measured out dried elfroot on an old set of brass scales, it struck her just how damned bored she was. She brushed the withered leaves into a mortar even older than the scales and leaned back, grimacing as the muscles in her shoulders reminded her how long she'd been hunched over. Her rear end likewise reminded her how long she'd been sitting on the hard wooden bench. With a breath, she sent a stream of cool healing mana to the aching muscles, rolling her shoulders and then twisting in a stretch.
Just then, one of the horses nickered softly—possibly Tango or Cedric, it didn't sound like Falcon—and her head jerked up with the noise as she closed her eyes, listening hard. Moving slowly, she reached out with her right hand until her fingers closed around smooth handle of the revolver lying at the end of the bench. She stood, taking slow, cautious steps around the cluttered wagon, lifting the gun and cocking it with a loud click, just as a pair of broad hands appeared, and a short, broad body levered itself into the wagon.
Varric looked up, blinked once, then let out a dry chuckle, shaking his head and hauling himself further into the wagon. "Oh, please. You and I both know if you were going to kill anyone, Hawke, it wouldn't be with that."
Amelle uncocked the gun and lowered it. "Nobody questions the cause of death in a body filled with holes. You taught me that." Gunshots also brought people running, and when they found a dead man and a hysterical young woman with a smoking gun falling from trembling, nerveless fingers, no one tended to ask questions.
Isabela had taught her that.
"True enough. Come on, we've got to see a man about a dog. Bring your bag."
Holstering the weapon, she grabbed the worn leather satchel and drab grey cloak hanging from a nearby peg, doused the lantern, and swung herself out of the wagon, following Varric. The wagon was safe enough where it was; her companions knew more than a thing or two about safeguarding valuables. "Where's 'Bela?" she asked, huddling down into her cloak; the night was surprisingly cold, the air dry. "Keeping both man and dog company?"
"You could say that."
It was late, and the small town was dark, the only lights and noise coming from the saloon, lanterns making the windows glow yellow as raucous laughter danced out into the cold night. She made out the tinny strains of a piano playing an old dwarven drinking song. Varric softly whistled along as they walked.
The houses got smaller and more depressing the further away from town they got, until they reached a cluster of tiny structures; they weren't quite shacks, but calling them anything else would have been far too generous.
"Miners," Varric supplied brusquely.
"It's a bit off the beaten path, even for you. How'd you find them?"
"Talked to some of the right people, and a few of the wrong ones. People'll talk about all sorts of things when they're two hands up and a few bottles in."
"Pity, he didn't stay that way for long," came a smoky voice that blended all too well with the shadows, even as the woman eased herself out of it. The faint moonlight made the gold at her throat glint, but little else.
"Good night for cards, then, Isabela?" Amelle asked.
Her grin was a smug one. "Is it my fault I find so many people who are so bad at holding on to their own money?"
"It's not your fault, Rivaini," Varric replied easily, "it's a damned gift is what it is."
"You say the sweetest things," said Isabela, easing further into the moonlight. She jerked her chin at the shack she'd been waiting by. "Go on in, kitten. You're expected."
Amelle approached the cabin. It wasn't often sickness came with a smell. The scent of rot, of infection, of something beyond mere illness, but that of disease, of a thing that seemed to crawl and slither into every crevice and lurk like death itself, draining love, joy, and, worst of all, hope from a room until nothing remained but fear, desperation, and maybe, just maybe, if the sick were lucky, defiance.
The tiny one-room shack stank of death, even before she opened the rickety plank door. A thin blond woman sat hunched on a stool pulled up to a bed barely wide enough to fit two. She looked up as Amelle entered, her narrow face and sunken bloodshot eyes almost skeletal, her thin lips pale and cracked. Her hair was pulled back into a too-tight bun, which only served to make her eyes look even more hollow.
"I'm… here to help," she told the woman.
"Don't know how anyone can help. They told me," she said, jerking her chin at the door, "they told me they knew someone what could, but…"
The woman stood, revealing a swollen bump beneath her clothes. Pregnant and living in anywhere near a lyrium mine was a bad idea. Pregnant and living right damned on top of one was the worst idea. Amelle thought she knew what the problem was, until the woman stepped aside, revealing who lay on the bed.
The man was thin and pale, every bit as much as his wife, but his dark auburn hair, made darker by sweat, gave his skin a gray tint. A dusting of freckles stood out on his face, and though he was clearly full grown, the effect made him look absurdly young. The sweat slicking his hair poured off of him, soaking the thin shirt he wore, dampening the threadbare linens. He trembled with fever — the heat radiating off him was beyond imagining. Amelle could feel the warmth even before she brushed her fingers across his forehead.
This man wasn't just ill; he was dying.
"My husband," she said, her voice tearing on the word. "Broke his leg in the mines. Don't think they set it right. He started comin' down sick three nights ago."
"How long ago did he break his leg?"
"Six days now."
A poorly set leg was bad enough, but…
Amelle licked her lips, not wanting to ask the next question. "And how long has he been working in the lyrium mines?"
"Three months. His… uncle got him the job."
Long enough to addle his brains, she thought, barely remembering not to let her expression reflect her thoughts. Long enough to do real damage once he strayed too far from the mines for too long. She rubbed her fingers firmly between her eyebrows, looking more closely at the dying man.
I don't know if I can save him. The words were on the tip of her tongue, and nearly came out—nearly, until she saw the raw, naked hope on the young wife's face. "How long have you been married?" she asked gently, sure she didn't want to know the answer.
The woman looked down, and her expression softened so that Amelle could see that beneath the grit and grime and worry and fear, she was quite pretty, or had been, once. "Six months now."
And against her common sense and better judgment, I don't know if I can save him turned into, "Well. Let's see what we can do then, all right?"
Don't get involved, Mely, she could almost hear her father say.
I'll thank you not to get involved either, Daddy, she thought, cracking her knuckles and taking a seat on the stool the woman had left.
The hard soles of her boots scraped softly across the wagon floor as Isabela helped her navigate the path to the bedrolls, and the last thing Amelle remembered before sliding into sleep and dreams, was Isabela's voice whispering oh, so sweetly in her ear, "I hope you didn't give away all our money tonight, kitten. Or at least not my share."
Her dreams were filled with dark passages and faint whispers, twisted with the vaguest sensation she was meant to be looking for something, but she didn't know what, leaving her with the feeling that she'd forgotten something important, but had no idea what it was, except that it was vital she find it—
And then Amelle rolled over, and a sliver of early morning sunlight pricked red through her closed eyelids, dragging her from slumber, leaving her with only the faintest impressions of the dream, crushed under bone-deep weariness from the last night's expenditure of magic. The exercise wasn't entirely an altruistic good deed, but rather a sort of… enlightened self interest.
The best, most useful aspect to Varric and Isabela taking Amelle out in the middle of the night to heal a man whose bone had been set badly, an act that involved both purging his body of infection and lyrium sickness, then re-setting the bone and giving it all a little push of magic just to start the bone knitting back together again, was not that the whole affair left her so damned magic-drained that she had to be half-carried back to the wagon. It was that she'd pass any test or trial any mage-hunter set her to.
The most convincing way to hide was in plain sight.
So Amelle's mana levels would hover between "negligible" and "rock bottom" while they peddled their wares, and her disguise would remain intact. It had worked well so far, simply another element added to the whole of her disguise.
The problem was the whole affair left her exhausted. She lay in her bedroll trying to find the wherewithal to heave her body to her feet, but none was coming. It had been too long since she'd slept in a proper bed, under a proper roof, and a sudden, lancing bolt of homesickness stabbed through her breast. Soon. She'd be going home soon. Soon she'd get her narrow little bed, the warm feather mattress sinking with her weight. Soon she'd inhale and breathe in more than dust and the stink of whiskey, urine, and unwashed everything that seemed to permeate every larger town they stopped in. She longed for the scent of sweet hay, her mother's bread, the tiny flower garden, the clean scent of the breeze coming in off the fields.
For all she was good at it, Amelle wasn't made for a life like this. She liked having roots.
Slowly she pushed herself up. It was dim inside the wagon, but morning was encroaching — her eyes went back to the worn piece of canvas and the light that had woken her up already. She sat up slowly, grimacing; her head pounded with a merciless tattoo and nothing short of straight whiskey or Varric's coffee would beat it back.
At the moment, the former dumped into the latter sounded like the best idea.
Moving stiffly, she crawled from her bedroll and crept out of the wagon. Isabela still slept soundly inside, but Varric's bedroll was already neatly stowed away. The dwarf sat by a crackling fire, scribbling in a leatherbound book; Amelle marveled a moment the way Varric's hand moved so quickly across the page, as if he could barely keep up with the words forming in his mind.
"Coffee's ready," he said, never looking up from the page. Amelle rummaged in one of the packs until she found a battered tin cup into which she poured a generous helping of steaming dark liquid, adding a similarly generous helping of sugar—Amelle didn't have all that many vices, but sugar was one thing she insisted on; Varric's coffee was only palatable as long as it was as sweet as it was thick. She settled down next to him as he wrote, and a few more moments passed in silence before the pen stopped and Varric, evidently satisfied, closed the book with a nod.
"So what the hell was that last night, Hawke?" he asked, bracing his arms behind him and sending her a speculative look. "Should be enough you give folks your mana free of charge. You're giving away money, too?"
She wrinkled her nose. "It was just a little bit—Maker, leave it to Isabela to make it sound like I've given away the Queen of Antiva's damn fortune." Stirring the coffee with a bent spoon, Amelle explained, "There's a cleansing tonic she needed to keep the infection at bay—it's not that common a potion, so I didn't have any with me. You know as well as I lyrium does a job on the poor bastards—our man last night was damn near impossible to heal—and the wife's going to need more help than I could give her. I left her the recipe and a little money for the supplies." She took a drink from the cup and grimaced. "It was hardly our whole savings."
"Speaking of our savings," Varric said, refilling his own mug and taking a drink with nary a grimace, "it looks to me like we could probably head back Lothering way after today's haul." He shrugged. "Good chance of it, anyway." At her immediate and obvious smile, he chuckled. "Yeah, thought you might feel that way. What's the state of our stock?"
"More than enough. I was topping off our stores last night when you turned up and dragged me off."
"You mean to say," a voice came from the dark confines of the wagon, "kitten and her bleeding heart didn't give it all away last night?"
"Just your share, 'Bela," Amelle tossed back, grinning.
The woman in question climbed out of the wagon, her face no less welcoming than a stormcloud. "Do not joke with me before I've had my coffee, kitten," she announced, pouring herself a cup, to which she then added several generous slugs of whiskey before taking a long drink. "And never joke about my share of the money."
Mining towns. He'd ridden through nothing but mining towns for two days now, with more ahead of him.
Fenris grimaced, hands tightening on his reins. Had it not already been far too long since Agrippa had been watered, he'd have been more than content to pass through without stopping. But he hadn't stopped at any of the last three settlements he passed; to forego rest any longer would have been both foolish and dangerous. He hadn't lived this long by being foolish. Better to stop now, let his mare cool down and rest for a time than risk her throwing a shoe or worse. A short rest was better than no rest at all for the animal, even if any pause in the journey would be far from restful for Fenris.
All the same, he was thoroughly tired of mining towns. Few of them were large enough to suit his needs, and too many of them attracted the very people he'd spent too long trying to avoid. Ostagar was larger than most, he supposed, but not large enough that he could be lost in it. It would do for a brief respite—one night, but no more than that.
Within an hour, he had a room in a shabby-but-clean hotel, and Agrippa was set up in a stall with dry hay, fresh feed, and clean water. He rubbed down the mare, checking the hooves for stones and wear when he noticed a long thin gash along her right rear fetlock; she snorted her displeasure when he began prodding at the shallow wound. Ointment, then, which he'd been out of since Gwaren, and only luck and care had kept him from needing any until now. He sighed; better to purchase his own than presume to use anything the hotel stables kept on hand. It was with this thought in mind that Fenris made his way down the winding dirt road that rather grandly called itself "Main Street," eyes sharp for a general store.
What caught his eye first—or his ear, rather—wasn't a shop at all, not in the strictest sense.
"Step right up, ladies and gentlemen!" a woman's clear, strong voice called out, a sharp, cold breeze carrying it well up the road. "No need to push, no need to crowd, plenty of room for everyone! Step right up and behold the miraculous Miracle Mely Hawke's Miracle Tonics!"
A wagon backed up to a makeshift platform upon which stood a woman in a modestly-cut gown the color of claret. A vividly painted sign hung outside the wagon, and flanking her on either side of the platform were crates upon crates of bottles and jars.
A small crowd had already gathered, and as Fenris drew nearer, the woman in red held a bottle aloft as she smiled brightly and addressed both the people who'd already drawn near, and those—like him—who hovered on the edges, not quite ready to commit to joining any sort of audience.
"I've got ointments," she called out, a grin never entirely leaving her face, "I've got liniments—by the Maker, I've got every ment you could possibly want!"
"Have you got peppermints?" a voice in the crowd yelled out. A stocky blond dwarf with a crossbow slung over his shoulder rocked onto his heels and smirked up at her.
"Every mint but that, good sir!" she replied with a laugh. Arms sweeping wide, she walked from one end of the platform to another, attention solidly on the crowd before her. "Why, I've got tonics to tame your troubles, elixirs to ease your aches, and a salve for every sorrow. A promise, a hope, and a cure in every bottle! Hand-crafted and approved by yours truly, Miracle Mely Hawke, at your service." She dipped into a low curtsy, the red skirt swinging out and revealing a flutter of white petticoats beneath.
Straightening, she spun on the ball of her foot to walk to the other end of the platform, gesturing grandly. "These tonics will rejuvenate, activate, facilitate and alleviate! My ointments will bust bunions and halt headache." Hawke's expression went suddenly sly as she sent a broad wink down to the growing crowd. "Why, my Empress Elixir was crafted and brewed for Celine herself to snag every last royal lover to cross Orlais' borders."
A dark woman, her long hair held back by a blue scarf looked unconvinced. "But does it work?"
Hawke's expression went to one of shock, tempered with amusement and affront. "Does it work, she asks! My good woman, my Empress Elixir will render you captivating! Tantalizing! Enticing! And alluring!"
The woman, who Fenris doubted had any practical need for any sort of "love potion," rolled her eyes and tossed her head, unimpressed. "Hmph."
"Don't believe me, my dear?" the woman asked playfully. She plucked a small bottle from a straw-filled crate. The liquid inside glinted a deep jewel-toned purple as she waggled it at the other woman before gently tossing it to her. "First bottle, free of charge."
He watched, never venturing closer than the furthest outer edges of the crowd. He'd seen other such displays before, in towns larger than Ostagar; the wares being peddled were usually hardly any better than mineral oil and camphor—a single bottle "cure-all" that wasn't fit to oil a saddle.
"And you, sir!" Hawke's voice rang out again. "At the back with the glare black enough to match your hat and your coat. What is it you're looking for?"
He realized, belatedly, she was addressing him.
"I'm sure you have nothing I require," he replied coolly, lifting his gaze defiantly to meet her laughing eyes.
"You sound so certain," she replied lightly. "There's nothing in my humble wares you might find use for?" Her grin widened. "Try me."
Fenris suddenly became aware of the eyes on him as prickling heat crept up the back of his neck. "You have nothing I can use," he told her.
"Hmm." She tapped her chin thoughtfully. "And if I disagree?"
"You may disagree all you like," he retorted. "It hardly changes the material fact that you have nothing I need or want."
Hawke's expression was one of genuine amusement—seemed so, at least. "Oh, now you've cut me to the quick, good sir. Nothing you need? Well, perhaps. But nothing you want? Well, that's just insulting." Before he could reply, she swept to the edge of the platform nearest him, and crouched down. "What say we make it interesting, hmm? How about I guess?"
He blinked. "I beg your pardon?"
"I'll guess," she said again. "I'll guess at your aches and ailments, and if I am at any point correct…"
"If you are correct—something I most firmly doubt—then… yes," he conceded, "I will make use of your… wares."
She straightened up, a beaming smile lighting her face, and clapped her hands once. "Excellent!" With that, and with the help of several nearby onlookers, she hopped down from the platform. The crowd was only too happy to part for her, and she was by his side in seconds. Strangely, Hawke had seemed taller, almost larger than life standing upon that makeshift stage that Fenris was surprised to discover she was shorter than he by inches.
At this distance, too, he saw the dress was indeed well made, but worn in spots, and expertly patched, embellished with buttons here, a swath of lace or a velvet frill there to hide the wear. Her features were well-molded, her nose long and straight, her chin a narrow point beneath her heart-shaped face; her short brown hair—easily as short as any man's and swept to the side—seemed to suit her. There was paint upon her cheeks, but beneath she was parchment pale. The only pieces of her that did not change with distance were Hawke's eyes—a laughing, dancing green—and her smile, which seemed now to widen at his discomfiture, though there was nothing malicious about it. On the contrary, she appeared overjoyed that he was playing along.
"How many guesses do you intend to take?" he asked as she circled, studying him, laughing eyes suddenly serious, the tip of one finger tapping pensively against her lips.
"Three, I think, would be sporting. Don't you agree?"
She gave a sly wink, her smile turning crooked, as if they were conspirators. "Unless you want to give me more."
"Three is more than sufficient," he said stiffly.
"Spoilsport," she murmured, just under her breath.
"You cannot expect me to make it easy for you to part me from my coin," he replied, just as quietly.
She let out a soft hmm. "And you can't expect that any part of this is actually easy." After circling him three, perhaps four times, she faced him, a pensive look still etched on her features. "Do you suffer from saddle sores, my good man?"
She'd noted the dust upon his legs and boots. Fair enough. Still, Fenris shook his head. "I do not."
"Pity," the dark-haired woman drawled, "I'd rub him dow—"
"Thank you," the woman said, her tone edging into warning. "That will do, miss. It's hardly fair for me to get help from bystanders." She leaned in closer, looking hard at his face and Fenris fought the urge to lean back as she scrutinized him. "Fatigue?" she murmured, half to herself. "Oh, no, that's too easy." Then she looked up and met his eyes, saying quietly, "Though I suspect it still applies."
"If that is your second guess, I have no need for a restorative. It is nothing a full night's sleep won't fix."
She took a step back then, looking him over one more time—slowly—from head to heel. Indeed, Fenris felt as if Hawke's gaze were boring through him, taking in every inch, every smear of dust, every streak of sweat. "Nug Oil Liniment," she announced suddenly. "Best poultice you'll find this side of the Frostback Mountains, made with frostrock from those very hills. Soothes sore muscles and heals minor cuts and scrapes."
He shook his head. "I haven't any—"
"Not for you," she interrupted gently, taking his hand and indicating the faint streak of blood across his knuckles and the bits of hay and horsehair clinging to his clothes. "For your four-legged friend."
He brushed some hay from his sleeve and frowned at her, nodding at the blood. "And you're so certain that's from a horse?"
She shrugged slender shoulders. "Well, I had a suspicion, certainly. And I suppose that could just as easily have come from a dog, or a cat," she countered, dimpling at him. "But it was you who told me it's a horse."
With a wink, Hawke bobbed another curtsy again and strode again to the wooden platform, climbing back upon it. This time he followed her, watching as she rummaged around in one of the crates a moment before pulling a jar free from the straw and tossing it down to him. The contents were thick, viscous, and blindingly white with a pale blue sheen and a chill Fenris felt through the glass.
"You're certain this will work," he said, turning the jar over in his hands and looking up at her from beneath the brim of his hat.
"As certain as I am you'll find me and tell me if it doesn't," she replied lightly.
After some haggling, which Hawke managed with the same degree of good humor she'd started out with, the ointment cost just a little less than what he would have paid at a general store, and far less than he might have been able to get off a farrier. The question, of course, was whether it would work as advertised, or whether he'd wasted coin he could ill afford to waste—and whether he'd be able to find her afterward if it turned out not to work. Fenris paid her his coin and went on his way, wasting no time heading back to the hotel's stables as the gathered crowd exploded behind him, asking about cures for anything from creaky joints to toothache to hair loss and whether or not her Empress Elixir might correct one's… vitality. Hawke's laugh—warm, not cruel, he noticed—carried on the wind before she lowered her voice and answered this last question in an undertone.
By the time Fenris returned to the stables, he could still hear enough of the commotion to know there was a commotion going on in town. Agrippa lifted her head from the feed bucket long enough to acknowledge him as he let himself into the stall, then closed her eyes and resumed chewing noisily.
"Well," he murmured, running one hand along her dappled grey flank, "shall we discover whether your master is a fool?"
Agrippa continued chewing, which Fenris accepted as an affirmative reply. Crouching down and twisting open the jar, he dipped two fingers into the concoction, startled suddenly at how cold it was. But there, beneath the chill, there was a strange, tingling sort of warmth. Frowning a little, he rubbed the ointment between his thumb and middle finger—it was thick and smooth, smelling rather powerfully of new-fallen snow, something cold and clean and sharp, and nothing at all of camphor. He smoothed it along the narrow cut, noting that the mare snorted her surprise, jerking a little at the sudden chill when he applied the ointment, but beyond that she seemed unbothered by the application, or at least more interested in the contents of her bucket than anything else.
With a last look at the thick ointment smeared upon Agrippa's leg, Fenris left his mare in the stall. His stomach was reminding him it had been some time since he'd had a proper meal himself, and he had no desire to linger in Ostagar any longer than absolutely necessary. He would take time to eat and time to rest and examine his maps, determining the best, safest route to Amaranthine, and provided Agrippa's wound was healed, he would be underway again at first light.
"A good haul," Varric announced, closing the coffer. "And we're sold out." He leaned back and stretched his arms high above his head, then rotated his shoulders until they cracked. "Good call, singling out the broody elf."
Amelle shrugged as she carefully folded the red gown, tucking it away in a trunk. She'd traded it for a far more comfortable blue calico dress and a soft, warm shawl. "He looked like he'd be a hard sell."
Isabela's smirk was instant. "Oh, I just bet he's—"
Amelle didn't bother letting her finish, interjecting, "And if you can win over the hardest sell in the room…"
"You can win over the room," Varric nodded.
And if the surliest customer also happened to be visually pleasing, well, Amelle could hardly be faulted for noticing him, could she? It wasn't as if he'd been scowling subtly at her, in any case. Then she'd met the glare burning out at her from beneath the brim of his dark hat and she'd known engaging him would be a gamble, but one entirely worth it.
"What do you suppose his story was?" Isabela mused aloud. Then, with a glance at Varric, she said, "Go on, fill in the blanks. You know you're dying to."
The dwarf chuckled. "A character like that? No idea. Markings were a little odd. Maybe he's a Dalish pariah, cast out of the clan and forced to walk the world alone and bitter. Or clan royalty, wrongly accused of a crime he did not commit, and is on the hunt for justice to clear his name."
Amelle sat upon the trunk. "I didn't know the Dalish had clan royalty."
Varric snorted his amusement and shook his head. "Rivaini didn't ask for facts, Hawke. And the best stories don't deal too heavily in truths anyway. But whatever his story, we've got the broody elf to thank for the best haul we've had since Denerim. I can safely assume you made sure he'd be a satisfied customer?"
"Oh, the most satisfied," replied Amelle with a knowing grin. "I gave our scowly friend the good stuff."
"Good," he replied with a nod. "So what do you say, you two? Grab some eats, find a card game, and see what kind of trouble we can get into before heading home in the morning?"
"You go on ahead," Amelle replied ruefully, flicking her fingers; a blue flame licked to life in her palm. "Probably better for all if I keep a low profile tonight."
Varric and Isabela exchanged a look. Before Amelle could ask, Varric asked, "Is it me, or are you recovering faster these days?"
"I don't think it's your imagination," she said with a sigh, the flame winking out. "I've… got an idea for something that might help keep my mana levels low, but it's going to have to wait until we get back to Lothering. I haven't got half the supplies I'd need."
"You're going to try the magebane, aren't you?" Isabela asked, her expression darkening as she folded her arms over her chest. "I've said it once already: it's a bad idea, kitten."
"In a small enough dose," argued Amelle, "there's no reason why it shouldn't suppress my mana levels just enough to keep me undetectable."
"I do know a thing or two about a good poison, sweet thing. The last thing you want is to tangle with something that nasty."
It was a topic they'd visited and revisited before, and Amelle knew perfectly well that Isabela had a point; playing around with toxins was tricky business, and definitely not something she relished. On the other hand, Amelle also knew her mana was replenishing itself quicker and quicker these days. And if that meant—as she thought it did—her abilities were getting stronger, then Amelle was going to need a stronger means of suppressing herself.
"Well," she said brightly, "you've got as long as it takes until Lothering to talk me out of it."