"I don't know why I let you talk me into this," Fenris muttered darkly as he lent his hand to aid Hawke in exiting the town car. Hawke smoothed down the front of her black cocktail dress and discreetly tugged down the hemline.

"Oh, come now, Fenris, let's be honest: I can talk you into doing nearly anything," Hawke replied saucily to her friend. "Besides, as my dearest friend, it is your solemn duty to accompany me to dull affairs such as this one, if only to give me something to look at." She swept her eyes up and down the elf's formal wear-clad figure. It had been an inspired choice on her part to select a suit in monochromatic black and charcoal, rather than the traditional black-and-white tuxedo. It was impeccable tailored to fit Fenris's lean but muscular form and also satisfied the elf's preference for darker tones. "One of my very best investments, I have to say," she said approvingly.

Pulling her hand into the crook of his elbow, Fenris shook his head as they began the short climb up the stairs to the entrance of The Keep. All around them, the well-to-do of Kirkwall sparkled in their finery. There was a line at the door where the party-goers were waiting to pass through security and here Hawke and Fenris took their place.

"I am a grown man, one fully capable of dressing himself, not a doll for you to dress up when the whim strikes you," he said.

Airily, Hawke retorted, "I don't see why those two things have to be mutually exclusive." She paused nonchalantly. "You might be glad to be looking your best tonight when I tell you that a certain roguish Starkhaven businessman will be here tonight." Her eyes took in the brightly-colored sights around them, landing anywhere and everywhere but on her companion.

Fenris closed his eyes briefly. He knew there had been some other motivation behind Hawke's fussiness over his appearance earlier this evening, beyond her laughing assertion that his role was simply to be her, quote-unquote, eye-candy for the night.

"Hawke, you meddlesome creature, you will stay out of my… relationship… with Sebastian. Knowing you, whatever you try to do to 'help' me will end up making the situation, at best, unbearable and, at worst… well, there might be corpses at the end of it, somehow."

Saved from having to dignify that with a response by their having reached the front of the line, Hawke showed her invitation to the security officer sitting at entrance to The Keep.

"Marian Hawke, plus one."

The guard searched on his list for her name and after finding it, glanced up at her face to compare it to the picture next to her name. Satisfied, he nodded Hawke and Fenris over to the metal detector to be searched.

Hawke and Fenris glanced at each other sardonically as the guard swept his security wand up and down both sides of their bodies. Fenris's subcutaneous lyrium implants, now highly illegal after the Thedas-wide ban came down from the United Nations ten years back, were completely undetectable by the majority of security scans unless they were activated. Fenris was a deadly weapon in his own right.

Hawke, ever the dutiful citizen, made a small noise in her throat to catch the attention of the guard. As he made eye contact with her, she motioned subtly to the tracker embedded just under the thin skin on the underside of her forearm. The guard took a small handheld device from his belt and passed it over the tracker.

Scanning…. scanning…







Deemed appropriately harmless, Hawke and Fenris made their way into The Keep.

Hawke remarked as her eyes roved the length of the castle, "I haven't been in here since the renovations were completed."

"Our tax dollars at work. Well, yours, at any rate, they got fuck-all from me for this waste of space," Fenris smirked. He was not on any tax rolls, of course; being a deserter from the Imperial Army and hunted by an insanely obsessive magister-general did not allow him to participate fully in his civic duty.

"Skyrocketing crime and unemployment, refugees from the Imperium sweeping across the border now that the Qunari have won the war, extremist groups committing terrorist acts across Thedas—mere trifles! Slap a coat of paint on the old girl and let's have a party!" Hawke shook her head. "I love this city."

Fenris made no reply; he didn't have to. They'd solved the problems of this city countless times over a glass or four of wine. Hawke and Fenris, along with a small group of differently skilled… associates, actually did their part to combat the seemingly endless tide of corruption and violence in Kirkwall. But tonight was not the night for that; tonight was the night for blending in with high society, pretending as if the two of them were not wolves in the midst of a pack of primped poodles.

As the couple strolled through the crowd, Hawke nodded and smiled to various acquaintances as she caught their eyes. Leandra Hawke, stricken at the last moment with a rather indiscreet stomach ailment and thus unable to make it to the gala, had pleaded with her reluctant daughter to be polite and "for Andraste's sake, try not to, for example, get the prime minister's son arrested for under-aged drinking in a gay bar." Hawke believed more than enough time had passed for her mother to move beyond that little escapade. How had she been expected to know that Seamus would use a fake identification to get into the bar? He'd assured her he was of legal age and she'd only been doing her best to get the poor lad to have some fun without being under the thumb of his controlling father, Prime Minister Dumar.

Her eyes suddenly seized upon a welcome sight—Sebastian Vael, hovering by the bar with a champagne glass. Pulling Fenris steadily and surely in Sebastian's direction, she said coyly, "Why, look who's there."

Far too brave and manly to actually drag his heels, the stiffening of his arm muscles under Hawke's firm grip communicated his discomfort. Fenris muttered, "Yes, please, let's dive headlong into my personal torment right away."

Hawke whispered, "I love you, Fenris, but honestly, if some benevolent force had allowed me to be present the night you two finally got together and then witness you leaving that delicious-looking man afterwards? I would have had to slap some sense into you myself."

She greeted Sebastian as they approached the bar. The tall, auburn-haired man was wearing a traditional tuxedo with white-and-gold cufflinks sparkling at his wrists. "Sebastian, you'll have to tell me what it's like to always be the prettiest one in the room." Hawke stretched up a bit to plant a kiss on his cheek.

His blue eyes twinkling, Sebastian replied gallantly in his most buttery Starkhaven brogue, "Never could I hold that title once you have walked into the room, lovely girl." Shifting his eyes to Fenris, his gaze warmed ever-so gently. "And surely our mutual friend deserves some recognition as well. Fenris, you look…very well."

Fenris's blazing green eyes met Sebastian's. Quietly, "Thank you. It is… good to see you." The tension was thick between them. Hawke looked speculatively back and forth between them. She decided to rescue her friend from his inner turmoil.

"So," she said brightly, "Sebastian, have you met this esteemed Qunari leader that has everyone all atwitter?" She scanned the crowd as she asked.

"Not yet, but I'd planned to. He's stationed over but I haven't caught sight of him yet." He gestured vaguely toward the grand staircase, where Hawke could only make out that the crowd was somewhat thicker. "I was waiting for a lull in the crowd before making my way over there."

"I shall accompany you. Now that the sanctions are no longer in effect, we'll both be in business with the Qunari now that Minrathous is under their control. That's the second largest port of entry in the north."

The Unites States of the Free Marches had imposed economic sanctions on the Imperium over twenty years ago when the once-powerful nation was in its death throes. Desperation to withstand the overwhelming force of the Qunari antaam had led to some truly heinous human rights violations, especially toward the large number of conscripted soldiers in its army. It remained to be seen what kind of business partners the Qunari would be. Amell Industries and Vael Enterprises would both greatly benefit from an open and free port in Minrathous.

Setting his champagne glass on the bar, Sebastian said, "Let's head in that direction then. I find myself curious to meet this Arishok. Fenris, will you join us?"

Fenris shrugged. "As you wish. Hawke, the Qunari can be somewhat… rigid in their manner. Could you please try to avoid doing or saying anything that might shatter the fragile peace we find ourselves in?"

Hawke sniffed indignantly. "Honestly, between you and Mother, I'm starting to get the impression that my loved ones think of me as some kind of incorrigible troublemaker."

Sebastian and Fenris glanced at each other wryly. Sebastian offered gently, "It's not so much that you make the trouble, Hawke, it's just that trouble tends to… happen… frequently. In your general vicinity."

With a mildly irritated huff of breath, she replied, "Oh, very well. If it will put your respective minds at ease, I'll shut up and let Sebastian do the talking. Will that suffice? Let's get on with it then."

The trio set off in the direction of the crowd surrounding the Arishok. As they neared, Hawke could just make out several sets of Qunari horns above the teeming mass of Kirkwall's elite class that were milling about, clearly all curious about the Qunari leader. Hawke made her way through the crowd, nodding and smiling vaguely to people she recognized. Then, as she came to a more open area, she set eyes on the Arishok for the first time.

She was reminded of stories her father used to tell her of the Dragon Age, when battles were fought with swords, battle-axes, and other shining implements of death. The men before her were warriors and clearly there was no other way to describe them. The Arishok and his men were dressed in what had to be the Qunari version of a dress uniform—form-fitting gray pants, charcoal boots, and dark-colored leather cuirass with red markings. As a signal of his high rank, the Arishok had a sleeveless floor-length robe made of leather with more red and gold designs emblazoned on it. His massive horns were bedecked in gold rings and a trio of golden rings decorated each of his pointed ears.

Hawke thought the Arishok looked as out of place at this opulent and self-indulgent gathering as those warriors of old would have. His horns and pointed ears lent him an almost bestial look but, as her eyes gave him a thorough up-down, to her he seemed be the perfect example of the male form in one massive, intimidating figure.

Her skin tingled warmly and her stomach flip-flopped in unmistakable signs of physical attraction.

"Fenris and Sebastian are going to be so pissed at me," she thought ruefully.