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Sarah was blissfully lolling on the bed in her cabin, beautifully humming a tune she had heard long ago, but could never remember where. The room was very dark, but she did not mind such a triviality overmuch. Light was at her fingertips if she but desired it for even the briefest of moments. It was a benefit of being a mage. Though precarious, she fully enjoyed the entirety of her position. Her curiosity was like that of a child's, insatiable about the things on the ship. Next to that ruffians, flirtatious crew members, even the Templars were irrelevant. The only thing she really, truly, dreaded was that the ship should sink, as she hadn't the faintest idea at all how to swim. This notion naturally calls into question why she would flee the Templars by sea, but as mentioned before, Sarah is not known for exercising the better part of what normally passes for reason. She reached the refrain of her tune as the ship took a rather more violent upheaval (the waves had grown stormy soon after the noon meal) and a lock of her sand blond hair fell before one of her emerald green eyes. The refrain was more or less something like this:
Gardener, gardener, bring me a rose see that it's red, that it's green, that it grows. And should it be hurt in the pulling please weep a tear, because it's sad. But if it's pulled free without harm, A warm smile shall span my face! Oh gardener, gardener, please bring me a rose?
She hadn't known love before, but that did not stop her from humming the tune. Why should it? An observer need not know well the subject of an artwork to appreciate it. Thinking of that, Sarah remembered that was one of the things Irving had taught her during her brief apprenticeship at the circle. He had been a kind man, though not without his defects. She felt lucky to have come to the tower after the Hero of Ferelden had saved it from abominations, because she did not wish to partake in that trouble. It was a strange twist of fortune that the Templars should catch her at age fifteen, and take her to the tower instead of executing her outright. That her fortune should stretch further so as to allow her to narrowly miss the trouble that plagued the tower was even stranger. She knew she had an inherently vast quantity of luck, and thanked the maker for it routinely.
She had sometimes asked Irving what the Hero of Ferelden had been like, but he had never given much of an answer to that query, citing that he barely knew her himself. He would say that she was a brave and good elf, and that more people owed her their lives than most people meet in a lifetime. He would then direct her to return to her studies. She would often wonder therafter what she would do if ever she met a person like that.
Laryn flung the door open hard enough force for it to bang against the wall and slam shut again and Sarah jumped badly enough to nearly fall off of the bed. What is your problem?! She ejaculated in a frenzied voice. She could see the spark of fury burning in Laryn's eyes, and was greatly disturbed by it. It was not the notion that Laryn was angry, but what she could be angry about that was unnerving.
How can you possibly expect to reach Kirkwall on this ship when you insist on being so recklessly stupid? Hissed Laryn. She leaned in closer until her left eye was directly in front of Sarah's right. Sarah could see the fury burning in it, but there was more than that, excluding always present sadness that veered on the edge of perception. The Templars suspected an Apostate was on board before, and now they find their suspicions all but confirmed! They will search, and how do you intend to evade that?
Sarah was not entirely scared, but rather unnerved. She quickly regained her composure and said in her usual, slightly satirical melodic tone: I have a great deal of natural charm. I'm not exactly helpless either. It also helps that I don't run around wearing a nightdress.
Laryn shook her head and began pacing back and forth in a frenzy. Count it in your favor that they think I'm the one they hunt, or you would have no chance.
Sarah's face widened with surprise. Why would they think that?
If you didn't know me, and were told that I was a mage, would you believe it? She looked directly at Sarah with those eyes whose fury of passion already seemed to be withdrawing.
If given more than a finger point, certainly.
Laryn shook her head. The Templars think they have exactly that. She paused and stopped pacing. Regardless, that is no matter. My innocence of their perceived crime does not alter your guilt. Take me if you can.
You heard me! Laryn snapped. You say you can handle yourself, prove it. Beat me in a fight. Right here, right now.
Do you think you can best those Templars if you can't even best me? Now, have at me!
But I'm a mage, not a warrior.
Then use magic. She hissed in a frustrated tone.
Sarah saw that Laryn would in no way be deterred from her ultimatum and tried to cast a spell to stun her. Much to her surprise, the magic wouldn't flow. The mana would well to the surface, but could not break through She realized in that moment what it was like to be an overfilled stopped wine bottle. She tried even harder, but that did not help, it instead resulted in an extreme discomfort. She put all her will into breaking the magical chokehold but found that she simply could not break it. It was like trying to move a mountain by pushing it with her bare hands. She realized what was happening and fixed her now scared gaze on Laryn. She took a step back in shock and almost bumped into the bed. How could the only ally she could rely on on this vessel be a Templar?
She didn't have time to puzzle this question however, as Laryn promptly sprang forth with speed Sarah's eyes could barely follow. She ducked clumsily out of the way and then raised her arm to deflect the next blow. Laryn did not make a strike, but instead grabbed Sarah's arm and pinioned her to the wall. You've lost. She said.
Sarah ignored that as Laryn released her and then turned to face the other way. You're a Templar.
Laryn shook her head. No. She said nothing as Sarah sat down on the bed. I met an ex-Templar once, and he agreed to teach me some of the Templar skills in direct violation of his vows. I learned the skills initially from him, and have been practicing with them ever since. There's nothing more to be said.
Sarah stood up, incredulous. Yes there absolutely is more to be said! Why did he teach you? Where did you meet him? What are you even doing here?!
I refuse to speak of that! Snapped Laryn coldly. Sarah felt like she had been slapped in the face and sat down on the bed again. Laryn stood there for many minutes, still as a tree in breezeless air. Eventually she gave out a deep sigh and sat down next to Sarah. She placed her elbows on her knees, folded her hands together, and stared at the crack of light beneath the door. One might have thought she was praying. When she spoke again it was in a whisper, all the anger seeming to have fallen out of her voice into some void never to return again. I'm sorry Sarah. I... I don't speak of my past much. It has some redeeming qualities, but it is ultimately a tragic tale I never wish to speak of. The gap left in her voice by the withdrawal of anger was being filled by sadness, it seemed. Know that you can trust me. I have no will to do you harm.
Sarah thought about that for a long time. The thick thumping footsteps of the dwarf traced by outside and down the hall. Think you'll ever tell me about that past? I would still like to know.
She shook her head. We probably won't know each other long enough for me to be ready to talk about it. She paused and then stood up. She didn't look back as she walked out of the room, letting the door swing slowly shut behind her. Sarah was reminded of what she had told Laryn before: that she could seem compassionate in one breath and bitter in the next. The entire exchange reminded her of that aspect of Laryn's character. She was more curious than ever what sort of mind paired with what sort of circumstance could produce that sort of individual. She found an inherent appeal in what to her was the enigma that was Laryn. She wasn't fully certain if she wanted it unraveled though. Laryn to her felt a little like faith, never to be understood but always to be trusted. And yet she knew the arts of a Templar...
Elise sat at a desk in her room, rhythmically pounding her left fist into her right with the undulations of the ship. Her elbows were propped on the surface, and a candle cast the lines of her face into a very unforgiving light. She had sent Smelost off to ask some of the crew members about Laryn, as she spent a great deal of time alone on deck. With any luck, he would come back with something one way or the other. She wanted to believe there were no apostates on board, but Laryn was simply too uncomfortable whenever the topic of magic was brought up for her to believe that. Smelost had wanted to accost the elf directly, but that was a bad plan. Elise had seen apostates cornered before, if their will was stronger then that of the Templars hunting them, it could easily turn disastrous. That Laryn was possessed of an immensely powerful willpower she was not prepared to question. Besides, even were Laryn not the apostate, interrogating her could easily tip off a real one that she was on to them. This was all null though, as there was no solid substance behind her suspicions, and she required at least some before acting on them. To this sentiment Smelost had told her she had no business being a Templar. This reminded Elise of what Laryn had said to him earlier: "Some people know real evil, Templar. Maybe you should open a book and remind yourself what that insignia on your armor represents." She wasn't sure what to make of that.
The candle had nearly melted into a puddle and she snuffed it out with her fingers. Nothing was getting done while she sat there, and the Chantry's work needed doing. She was nearly to the door of the dwarf's room before she realized that she had referred to it as the Chantry's work, not the Maker's. She thought about that as she knocked.
Intrude. Answered the dwarf in a voice that was either like velvet or a tenor, yet with a certain harshness to it that was hard to place. She eased the door open and saw him writing vigorously on a sheet of vellum. She could not make out the outline of his skull behind his savage mane of bleach blond waist length hair. Sarah asked if she should close the door and the dwarf nodded. Sit there if you will. .He said pointing to a plain wooden chair when the operation was completed. She sat down as he grabbed a sheet of blotting paper and placed it over his writings. He did not cease in his operations as he asked why she was there. I wanted to ask you a few things, but should we not be introduced first?
The dwarf scoffed. Meghren. Yours? He was much more gruff than he had been earlier, but the eloquence was still there.
Elise. Elise DeWulff. She answered.
Related to the Arl Wulff?
Not to the best of my knowledge.
The dwarf shrugged. I should have expected it. He folded his arms and surveyed her briefly. Ask your questions then. He removed the blotting paper and then studied his work carefully. He nodded in satisfaction and set the blotting paper on fire by putting it to a candle. He then placed it in a bowl and turned to face Elise again. His expression was veiled beneath his hair and beard, leaving only his eyes to judge his mood, and those were passive. Elise wondered if he was paranoid, and if so, why. That was not her concern, however. I want to know what you think of the elf Laryn.
I have no qualms with her.
None at all?
That's what I said. Replied Meghren abrasively.
Have you ever seen her doing anything you would consider strange?
Meghren leaned back in his chair and folded his hands. Everything topside is strange.
You're from Orzammar then?
Meghren nodded. Been topside seven years.
And you're still not used to the surface? She was polite enough in asking the question, but all things considered it wasn't really a polite question and Meghren seemed to take offense. I was in Orzammar longer.
Elise apologized and asked him why he had left. Political intrigue cast me out. Was all that he gave in way of answer. Elise was sorely tempted to ask more of what had happened, but that was not directly relevant to her purpose, so she tried to steer the conversation back in a direction that was. Earlier today, at the table. Sarah made her jest and everyone laughed whilst you stared at Laryn, why did you do that?
A look of realization passed into the dwarf's features, but he continued with his gruffly concise manner. She had kicked her neighbor.
Elise waited for more but the dwarf didn't give any. She made a gesture with her hand for him to continue which he ignored, instead staring at something behind her on the wall. She prompted him verbally: And...?
I was curious why. Did you have any ideas?
Then I wouldn't be curious.
Elise realized that interviewing the dwarf would not take her anywhere. She did not think he was lying but his continuation of his habit of not speaking more than five consecutive words was getting to her. That, and she now felt she had stronger grounds upon which to believe that Laryn was an apostate, and she was content to have found even that much. She thanked him for his time and showed herself out of the room. A short time later she was back in her own, carefully penning out her thoughts on a sheet of low grade parchment. She found herself wishing she had some of the dwarf's high quality vellum. It was a bit much to ask for in the circumstance, however. She finished and went off to search for Smelost, wherever he might be.
Meghren was glad to be rid of the Templar. He had no special contempt for her, but sorely disliked intrusions. If everyone on board would just leave him be when he wanted to be left be, he felt that he would have no problems with them. As things stood however, he felt he would not care in the slightest if some of those on board fell into the ocean. He guessed that the Templar guessed that Laryn was an apostate, but would not venture that guess himself. Something about that elf was inconsistent with being a mage. That, and he could not shake the overriding feeling that he had seen her somewhere before. The greatest problem was remembering where. That had frustrated him many times over the past nine days. He stared at the small carved tablet mounted on the wall and thought about the matter again. In time he resumed his writing, in a slightly fouler mood for the Templar's unwelcome intrusion. He had apparently forgotten that the Templar had entered with his permission.
Smelost did not knock, he simply pushed the door open and walked into the room. Sarah was sitting on her bed, apparently idle. She was a pretty thing, with her clipped blond hair and emerald green eyes. His heart quickened a step or two and he begged her pardon for the intrusion.
It's no trouble, did you want something?
Mayhap several things, love, but right now I want to know if you think that your elf friend is a mage. It is safe to say that his straightforward approach did not work in his favor, because Sarah instantly caught both his intended purpose and his feelings towards her. She didn't care for him in the slightest, but was perfectly willing to use said feelings to her advantage.
Surely not. Why if she were, a cunning Templar like you would be able to tell her as such at once. She said with a coy smile playing across her lips as she stretched out over the bed. The Templar was baited and hooked with ridiculous ease. She laughed on the inside at the idea.
You're quite the enchantress yourself, love. Replied Smelost with a lustful look on his face.
Ah, but how did you know? I guess my apprenticeship at the circle of magi had its uses after all. To help me to win the attention of such a fine man as yourself. Smelost blushed, completely enraptured by the flattery. The way she traced a finger over her thigh as she said this probably helped.
Smelost took an involuntary step forward. No, you've never been there. You don't have one of those absurd dresses...
Yes, being dressed is cumbersome. She replied. Smelost's heart skpped a beat. He tried to think of what to say next but found himself tongue-tied. A broad grin split across Sarah's face as she looked past him at the open doorway. Why hello Elise. She said cheerfully.
Smelost paused and then a hand jerked him out of the room. Elise slammed shut the door and gave him a slap on the cheek that was extremely painful given the gauntlets she wore. What in the name of Andraste are you doing?! She spat furiously. We are not here to amuse ourselves like a bloody Antivan! Smelost was given no time to reply before she was dragging him down the hall.
Inside her room Sarah got up. Idiot. She said to herself. That had been ridiculously easy, especially considering she was showing feelings she couldn't have towards him on a fundamental level. She thought of what she had heard of maleficarum controlling minds at the circle. Who needs blood magic to do that? She wondered aloud. Returning to Smelost, he would be back, and she shuddered at the notion. Perhaps seducing him was not the best way to protect her friend. There wasn't a thing to be done about it, of course, but that did not change the fact that her decision had more likely than not been a bad one. It was all toy easy to do, and would most likely be very difficult to undo. She sighed and went up on decks for some fresh air. The sun had been dormant just long enough for its light not to show over the western horizon. Then she thought back to his awkward silence and burst out laughing.
The eleventh day from the start of the voyage threatened a storm, and the dreary overcast sky saw Elise and Smelost on a remote part of the deck, conversing in private. Elise's face was somewhat haggard, having lost much sleep and gained many worries over the past couple days. Smelost's was lined with the usual haughtiness defined by arrogance that was near omnipresent in his features. I say it again Elise, you are making more of this than it is. I can tell you with absolute certainty that there are no apostates on board this ship.
Elise raised an eyebrow as she remembered the fine example Smelost had shown of his interrogation talents by forgetting his purpose and attempting to seduce one of the passengers. She was still upset by his stupidity, but let it be for the moment. She held herself above personal attacks, and simply reaffirmed that recent events hade done much to convince her that she was right.
You are free to believe that, but I still maintain that you are wrong, and I am done wasting my time on this nonsense.
He spoke with an air of finality that made Elise want to slap him but she understood that would accomplish nothing. Have it your way then. She replied and gestured for him to go. He did so happily and went off to look for Sarah, whom he had not seen since their last encounter. Maker's breath. Remarked Elise as she leaned her elbows on the railing and put her head in her hands. She refused to put the passengers on board in danger that could be avoided but... she didn't want to accuse the elf of being an apostate when she had so little other than suspicion. What was there, really? Laryn's tendencies towards isolation and ideas inferred from a dwarf? There had to be more. Or... or maybe she was just paranoid. It came to mind that there were still people on board that she had not talked to, but the three ruffians had been very secretive for the last two days. She found herself believing more and more that they knew something. But they were always moving now, and very hard to talk to.
Elise. Elise abruptly pulled her head out of her hands as she recognized the soft tones of Laryn's voice. She turned around and saw the elf leaning against the railing right next to her. That she could be so stealthy made her nervous. She quickly overcame the feeling, however. Yes?
I know that you think I'm an apostate. She said simply. Elise's eyes widened a bit and her mouth hung slightly open. In less than ten words, Laryn had shook Elise's beliefs that she was an apostate to the very cores of their foundations. She knew. She knew her suspicions, and had done nothing? Why? What could an apostate gain by not acting when they knew that put them in danger? It made no sense. And why would an apostate wish to be caught, such a thing could only lead to their suffering, tranquility, or perhaps even execution. Elise said nothing for a long time and neither did Laryn. Only the sounds of the rolling waves and distant crew members broke the silence. Laryn looked out at the horizon, her expression unreadable.
Elise swallowed and looked out to the horizon as well. So then what will you do?
A faint but common false smile played across Laryn's lips. I place the next action in your hands Elise. Do what you will, I am no apostate, and have nothing to fear. That Laryn had been bold enough to confront her was nearly proof enough for Elise to take her at her word. Nearly. There were still three people that she had not talked to yet. Elise shot a sideways look at Laryn then watched a particularly large wave pound the side of the ship. She was still getting used to the sensation of the boat rocking, though the voyage was more than half done. She doubted she would be sailing again soon. Elise paused, then spoke plainly. For now, I'll do nothing.
Then she turned and walked off to another part of the ship. Mahariel watched her leave and then stared back out to the horizon. She was happy to have found such a brilliantly simple way of shattering Elise's belief of her perceived crime. If luck was on her side, this would be the end of it. She did not count on luck being on her side, however, and would in accordance with that strain of thought remain on guard. All this for an apostate she barely knew. Her familiar humourless smile pulled at her lips at the thought. Thinking back, this was not so unlike what it had been with Anders: a person hunted and persecuted for nothing other than being born what they were. Laryn could empathize with that, finding no place in her heart capable of understanding such a sentiment. It occurred to her that she would just as likely spend the rest of her days fighting such oppression as she would fighting the darkspawn. She thought about that. Darkspawn were absolute evil, not even being capable of good, whereas the oppression came from people that ought to know better. She wasn't sure which was worse sometimes.
She suddenly found herself once more en route to the cave with Merrill and Fenarel. Silence reigned supreme, overlord of all that which was at one point a warm and familiar place, the forest. It was all too hostile since the mirror. She remembered the first darkspawn she had ever seen, shorter that her by nearly a head, perhaps even two, but tremendously powerful. She had but to look at it to see the blackness it wrought. Even as the beast smiled as she ran it through after a brief fight she could not shake the impression its evil had made upon her. It was as if it had pumped ice into her veins, a chill that she could not outrun, that she could not escape. It would only break when she met her second, to be replaced by an intense fury that saw her hack the thing apart even after it was already dead. Merrill had gotten scared and almost had to pull her away from the corpse. "It's over Mahariel, there's no sense wasting yourself on it now."
Mahariel had spun around to face her, her rage towards the thing being undiminished. "I would do more." She said slowly, coldly, then led them the rest of the way to the cave. She had gladly slaughtered every darkspawn that crossed her blade, not even bothering to think of the consequences as she leapt forward to kill fiend after fiend. When the last one lay dead with its head loppped clean from its shoulders she had pushed open the door to the mirror chamber, and there had been Duncan. She remembered his calmness, his manners, and how it had bred in her an instant dislike for the man. How could one speak of such events with such coldness? And then they had discussed Tamlen, and she knew in that moment that she would never like Duncan, and more likely than not hate him therafter. Had he so little compassion that he could speak so listlessly of things so dear? Had he never known once what it was to lose a loved one? Was he heartless to not understand? Yes was her answer, and it would be weeks before she could acknowledge otherwise. His manner had upset her near to the point where she wanted to strike him, but what was the use? She instead settled to scour what was left of the ruin top to bottom while Duncan went back to the camp. She did not know how much time she spent in there. Merrill first told her that it would be best to head back, as Tamlen was gone. Fenarel had begged her to head back so as not to worry the keeper. She had ignored all, driven in a cold fury coupled with a single minded determination that if physical would be as immovable as the earth itself. But then there came that moment, that single moment of murderous resolution, of a dark epiphany so omnipotent light could not pierce its shroud to the heart of the thing. It was only the truth, the reality, a reality left unpaired with any redeeming value: Tamlen was gone. She had found herself forced to accept that, and that had been the end. All the emotion simply fell out of her, and she was as nothing.
Only faint stirrings of what could almost be feeling were capable of manifesting themselves, and only able to do so in incidents of extreme provocation. Speaking with Ashalle of her mother, that aroused something that might have been sadness diluted to an opaque peripheral sensation. She had asked Paivel to prepare a service for Tamlen on the keeper's behalf, and that felt to have nearly killed her. Then Duncan had made his offer with a simple directness that was like salt to her injured self.
She had said nothing but simply studied his face through unfeeling eyes. It was an invitation, an invitation that would take no refusal. How could the keeper condone this? It was not possible, to be sure. Could she not see how she was suffering, and would she crush her all the more by casting her away? She had looked at the keeper's face, and seen that this was indeed so. That was it, there was no emotion, she no longer cared, she wasn't even thinking on a conscious level. She simply accepted Duncan's offer in a voice that autonomously implicated her knowledge of the ultimate lack of choice and her hatred at the keeper towards it. It would be weeks before feeling came back to her, and by that time they were nearly to Ostagar. From there it would be nearly seven years before her bitterness at the affair finally shattered. And then there she was, leaning against that ship rail.
She took a deep breath of the salted air then slowly let it out. All that was going to be resolved soon, she could explain herself to Marethari, let her know how sorry she was to have turned her back on clan. She felt warm inside at the thought. There was still the immediate matter of Sarah, of course. But that now seemed a small thing. She promised herself they would both reach Kirkwall safely, and that she would find the clan afterwards. Perhaps Sarah would even come, if she were so inclined. Mahariel carefully withdrew the dark polychromatic sky ball from her cloak and slowly twisted it in her hand, humming quietly a song Paivel once sung to her about the passage of winter to spring. When she reached the end she placed a light kiss on the skyball and put it away. She knew she would later reflect on these events again and be bitter, but was happy with the peace she had temporarily found. It was more than she was accustomed to.
Brennard was crouched over a crate with the two other ruffians in the cargohold on the thirteenth night. It was projected they would arrive in Kirkwall in a matter of hours, and this made him feel safe. Smuggling stolen lyrium sand was not easy, after all. There were so many things that could go wrong, not the least of which being that lyrium sand was incredibly volatile. In truth he felt nervous just checking on it with his comrades. You open the box. He hissed to his second, a man with copper red hair that he did not know the name of. His wrist still hurt fiercely from the encounter with Laryn, almost as much as his pride was. He would get that bitch back, and soon. But he needed to heal first. His comrades were very apprehensive of the idea, and seemed to believe her to be a mage. He certainly believed it, the way the air itself had turned against them. He shuddered to remember. He wouldn't talk to the Templars unless confronted though, for he was a man whose pride would not suffer him to confess being beaten in such a manner. He would be content to avenge himself on the bitch when the circumstances aligned themselves properly. Oh how he would relish in that moment...
His mind returned to the task at hand as his second pulled off the lid of the box, and there was the sand. Still intact, not about to explode. He breathed a sigh of relief and hoped the Tal-Vashoth that had requested the theft would keep his word. He didn't care what the Kossith did with the sand, but oh the gold! How handsome it would be. He might be able to get some proper attention, instead of trying to have his way with some lowly elven serf on a boat. Or maybe he'd have both, he was not sure. Did it matter? Either way, he would be the victor of the situation.
Satisfied, he waved for his two followers to replace the box in its hiding place beneath the floorboards. He then systematically led them to each of the nine other boxes and they examined each in turn. The minor hitch with the elf aside, things were going spectacularly well. He felt unstoppable. He was unstoppable. He was just over a few hours away from more money than he had fingered in a lifetime. Fifty sovereigns, and that was just his share. If the three of them kept together, they might even be able to make it into the big time, maybe even put Kirkwall's Coterie to shame, though he wouldn't want to push his luck that far. He knew to let things run their own course when things were going his way.
The last box was replaced and he smiled. Gents, by tomorrow afternoon we will be rich men, mark my words. The other two nodded in assent and he placed a hand on his heart. They had almost died smuggling the sand out of the Vigil, the Knights of the Silver Order had well earned their reputation, but here they were. The nostalgia of the moment nearly made him giddy. He could scarce wait for the voyage to be over. As for the men he had killed so that they could impersonate them on the voyage, what of it? No one on board would catch word until after the ship came back to Gwaren, and by that time they would be long gone from Kirkwall. He was perfectly content to be triumphant. Only his humiliation at the hands of that knife-eared bitch could lessen his spirits, and the notion that she might be a mage made him frown. Perhaps the Templars should be informed, for safety's sake. Being human, the strength of word was his, what could be the harm?
He thought about it some more, then made up his mind, he would deal with the sand first, and the elf later. A feeling like ice ran through his veins and the lantern affixed to the ceiling went out. What was that? One of his comrades asked. Gust of air. He replied, though he doubted that very much. Let's go.
The two Templars were once more at council in Elise's room. They had both felt it during the afternoon, they could both sense as the veil atrophied sharply around them as they drew closer to the city. But that it should degrade so noticeably so fast, it made one uneasy to think of it. What had the city suffered to have the veil so damaged so far away? They both felt the ice chill just moments before, and Elise was under the distinct impression that a demon had already crossed and was on board the ship. Smelost of course was unphased, citing that he would strike down any demon that had the nerve to enter the physical world. That is not the point. Snapped Elise, almost fed up with Smelost's nonsense. Everyone on this boat is in danger, including us. We must keep our vigil constantly now, and I feel it would be prudent to remove all dangers, that includes apostates.
You want to dispose of the elf then?
Elise shook her head. No, I want her restrained and under constant watch, so that we might know if she is to become an abomination. Smelost scoffed and reiterated that she was paranoid, but Elise waived this and was intent on proceeding. Her instincts as a Templar and protector had at last overridden her objectivity. She remembered Laryn's boldness and the doubts it had placed in her, and those doubts were still there, but that no longer mattered. The difficulty was, how was Laryn to be restrained? Something in the elf still made Elise distinctly uneasy about approaching her, and Smelost would be of little help in such a confrontation. Perhaps the mercenaries could be of help? No, that was nonsense, they were on board for an entirely different affair. She had not yet talked to the ruffians though. She came to that realization abruptly and scolded herself for it at once. Stupidity at its grandest to be sure, or at least absentmindedness, a fault she had never claimed before. She resolved to have their opinions, and to have them at once, so she went off to find them, leaving Smelost somewhat dazed in the therafter empty room. Rain thudded outside, but it was beyond her field of hearing. She would know the ruffians minds, and then she would have their help in restraining the elf. To her there was no more to it than that.
She found them just outside the cargo hold, apparently leaving. What were you doing in there? She demanded brusquely but not harshly. She didn't wait for an answer before saying Never mind that now, I have questions for you. The leader of the three looked at his cronies, then nodded. Of course. He said. The other two remained silent.
I want to know what you think of the elf Laryn. She said simply, discarding her usual more gradual manner in a way Smelost may have been proud of. Awkward silence ensued. Elise heard Smelost's footsteps on the floor above tracing towards Sarah's room. She shook her head and silently branded him an idiot beyond any redemption. Well? She prompted when she felt that they had been too slow in answering. The leader exchanged a brief look with each of his comrades for assurance then looked at her. Was that a smile? The bitch tried to kill me, and she's a maleficar to boot. He answered quickly, viciously.
Finally, there was something substantial upon which to hold her. She did not ask more but simply appropriated the help of the three men, who were for whatever reason more than willing to lend a hand. She still had no absolute proof of her suspicions, but had nonetheless come close enough to act on them. There would be no execution, not on this ship, but she would more than happily kill her if she resisted arrest. The first goal was to alert all those aboard the ship of the danger and fetch Smelost. With any luck she would be caught quickly. The four walked by a shut door as Elise began barking orders with the authority only a Templar could possess. Maker help her, she would not fail in her duty to her fellow passengers.
Sarah thoroughly regretted her earlier decision to play off of Smelost's attractions, as she was incapable of genuinely returning them on a fundamental level. Now it was a thorn wedging itself in her foot as he tried to coax her, albeit gently, into subordination. He was inordinately frustrated, and near the end of his short patience, but nonetheless did not show it as she commented on his armor as looking like a tin cup half melted in a smelter. He was about to retort when Elise kicked the door in with enough force to send it flying from the hinges and relayed her findings to Smelost. Both Templars and (were those the ruffians?) three others left in a hurry, leaving Sarah alone with herself and dreadfully afraid for her friends safety. She had to find her, to warn her, she was not prepared to suffer harm to Laryn on her account. She got up and ran out of the room, she had to find the elf before the Templars did.
She should have known it. She should have known it from the moment she set foot on this ship that things could not go smoothly. And what she didn't know then had become the truth now. Mahariel shook her head as she shifted the heavy desk in her room. She had heard the Templar run by, caught fragments of what she had said, and wasted no time. She leaned over the desk to see behind it and carefully retrieved both Starfang and Topsider's Honor. Starfang immediately resumed pulsing blue the moment her hand touched it. Topsider's Honor looked to have lost none of the sourceless light it was reflecting. She had hid them because prior to now she did not think they would be needed. She still hoped that they wouldn't be. She concealed the weapons as best she could and replaced the dresser. She then pulled up her hood and headed for the cargo hold. It was remote, and not a place she usually went. That, and it was easy not to be seen even if they searched for her there. She considered herself fortunate not to find any resistance on the way down.
It was too dark. The lamp too dim, the air too still. Elise knew the feeling, she had been near demons before, and this was no different. But it was worse, so much worse. It felt as if a faint chill had taken root in her trying to quash her spirit out. She was tempted to say sloth, but that couldn't be. It was too strong, and the manipulation was wrong. Whatever was trying to steer her was playing off of her past glories, urging her to reflect on these instead of the task beforehand. Then it hit her. Pride, pride was on board the ship. She shuddered, hoping desperately the demon was not aware of the mage, but already knowing it was. But why was it following her Smelost and the ruffians then? Demons were supposed to track mages, it made no sense! It was wrong, fundamentally wrong.
She thought she caught shadows moving in the corner of her eye as she ran to the door of the noblewoman's room. Everyone had been alerted of the danger and were presumably on deck except her, the mercenaries probably would not stay there though. Elise tried the door but it was locked. She called once, and then a second time. There was no answer. A certain energy came into the air. Her heart stopped, was she too late? She took a step back and then kicked the door down. It was horrible. Horrible in such a way only a blood mage could commit. There is no need to go into the details of a dismemberment, so it is best to leave that as is. Perhaps worse though, was what was depicted on the wall in blood. It was the insignia of her order, but the blade was broken in half. She caught a breath. Such symbols of sacrilege were rarely seen. Then she looked back to what had once been a woman and the horror truly hit her. She took a step back and collapsed against the wall, faint.
Smelost placed a hand on her shoulder and helped her stand back up, showing a rare emotion other than simple arrogance. Don't worry love. We'll make sure this is avenged. She won't stand against me, let alone the both of us. His words were of some comfort as he led her down the hall to the cargohold. It was the only place left below decks to search, so the elf had to be there. He was going to kill her for this. He swore aloud that he was going to kill her.
Elise was not so certain they would be killing anything. The air was still so wrong, too dark, too sinister. And, she couldn't place it, but she knew the demon was amused. Perhaps the elf had summoned it?
No. A soft voice whispered inside her head. She shuddered, wondering if the thought was her own.
Too easy. Far too easy. Crossing the veil, the manipulation. All of it too easy. Was he even trying? Toying with the Templars and ruffians, he thought not. But then, they were the easiest to toy with. The mage, the elf, they were of stronger will, far more challenging. But then, if he wanted a challenge, why was he taking the easier path? Because it was more fun. He knew he couldn't keep this up forever. Sooner or later he would need a host or would lose his power. But it was so enjoyable to manipulate them like puppets. And the Ferelden noble, that had been priceless! He had been led to believe that the mortal world was imalleable. So much for that supposition. It was too easy though. True indeed, far too easy. A game almost. Were all mortals this easily fooled, or was it just the proximity to the city? He pondered that as he planted the notions in Smelost's head of where he would find the elf as he led them to her. This was going to be interesting. He had the feeling that the Templar would let him in with horrifying ease, and that was promising. But the mage was in the hold now, was she not? The mage and the elf... two outcasts of the world. Or so he had gleaned from the Templar's minds. How fitting that a mage should like an elf. He would have sneered if he had lips. What would the pair do when confronted with the hurricane he hurled their way? He wondered. He was tempted to become a player himself, and know it first hand. But for the moment he was content to watch and bask in the glory of his manipulations. He loved mind games, and this could make good fun. Still, it was disappointing. Because it was too easy. All was too easy. Such were the thoughts. Such were the thoughts of a demon named Pycha.
Sarah eased open the door to the cargo hold and slipped in. She couldn't place it, but she knew this was where Laryn would be. Perhaps it was the fact that it was the most ideal place to hide? She treaded carefully in amidst the crates to search for her. Laryn? She whispered softly as the door swung shut. Laryn? It was too dark, almost pitch black. She looked to where the lamp was and saw only a faint outline. She cursed softly and kept looking amidst the darkness.
The air was wrong. She was becoming progressively more aware of this as what felt like hours began to pass. It was too cold, too still. Were there enough light for it, she would swear she could see her own breath. Her heart began to pound in her chest. She had felt something like this before, right before she took her Harrowing. Could there be a demon about? Unnerved, she conjured a small light in her hand, just enough to see a few feet ahead, but not enough to be seen from the door, which she had lost track of. She turned another corner and there she was, leaning against a crate in waiting. Laryn looked up, her countenance dark in the poor light. You're too stupid for your own good. What are you doing here?
Sarah hesitated. I wanted to warn you about the Templars.
Laryn shook her head. I know, you'd best leave. You carry as much guilt as I if you're seen with me.
That's my problem then, isn't it?
Laryn looked at her angrily then shook her head. Fine. Stay or go. If you die here, it's your fault. Not mine. She faltered towards the end and looked away. Not mine...
She didn't say anything for a long time. We'll be all right. Sarah reassured her. She reached out a hand to place on Laryn's shoulder for comfort but she threw it off the moment she made contact. You'd better hide. Sarah didn't move. One part hurt one part unwilling to leave. She realized the second part only after a few moments of reflection. She wondered what was wrong with her, then attributed it to the loss of her friend back in Denerim. Could she be expected to repeat that?
Laryn looked back at her with a look of fury on her face. DO IT! She half shouted and Sarah unconsciously moved behind a crate some distance away, to where she could not be easily observed but still have a decent view of Laryn. The air began to grow even more sinister, as if forcing the chill upon her. She shuddered and instinctively extinguished her light just as the door to the hold flew open.
She's in here, I'm sure of it. She heard Smelost say in the distance. The other Templar muttered a vague assertion and then they were fully inside the room. The door shut with an echoless thud and then there were only footsteps. Sarah listened. There were too many, who else had the Templars brought with them? How thoroughly would they search? What would she do if they found Laryn? She didn't think it would be anything rational. A soft breeze whisked by her though the air was very still. It was almost as if someone had walked by, but that was impossible.
This way! She heard Smelost utter and then the footsteps were drawing closer rapidly. She felt her heartbeat begin to accelerate and began considering various spells that could help. A light was present somewhere closeby and then they were within her field of vision, and Laryn within theirs. There were five of them. Two Templars and the three ruffians from the table. She wondered why the mercenaries weren't there, as they would surely be better fighters.
Elise saw Mahariel and instantly went for her sword. Smelost and the ruffians did the same. Mahariel studied them for a moment, her eyes unreadable. Am I to be slaughtered as a mage then?
Don't toy with us! Shouted the lead ruffian, a character she had not seen in a few days. Elise raised a hand to hush him. Smelost spoke next. You are very perceptive. I hope the Maker counts it in your favor.
He took a step forward and Mahariel withdrew both blades from their respective places of concealment. Topsiders Honor reflected the light of the lamp the last ruffian carried. Starfang was pulsing a bright blue. Mahariel was not going to let this stop her. She would kill these people if she had to, and was more than angry enough to do so without question.
Elise's eyes widened. Whatever she had expected, it was not for her to draw melee weapons. Mahariel saw the doubt flash back into her eyes. Smelost, his usual self, took little notice. Cross sword with me and I'll have your head Apostate!
You're not after her! Mahariel froze as she heard Sarah's voice. Did her stupidity know no bounds? This was thought more of exasperation than genuine sentiment. All five of the aggressors turned around as Sarah stepped from behind the crate. One of the ruffians was about to say something when Sarah raised her hand and sent out a telekinetic pulse that sent the three of them flying, they landed somewhere out of sight, evidently knocking loose crates to the floor and spilling the contents. That was if the loud crashes were anything to judge by, of course. A ripple of delight surged through the air. Mahariel knew the demon was present, but could not do a thing until it showed itself.
The Templars were unsure what to do. One of them was obviously keeping Sarah from casting more spells, or perhaps they both were. Elise whispered something in Smelost's ear and then turned around so that they were back to back. One for Sarah and one for Mahariel. Mahariel tensed as her eyes met Elise's. Each was waiting for the other to make a move. Smelost strode up to Sarah as casually as he may, lifting his sword to run it through her. Mahariel couldn't reach them in time, and Elise was still in the way.
Smelost stopped a few feet short. To think I thought I liked you once. But I guess all apostates are the same. I guess I'll have to settle for doing to you what you did to that woman. He was silent for a few moments. This will be painful.
Elise didn't look away from Mahariel as she shouted over her shoulder. Have you forgotten the demon? Don't egg her on! And don't give it a chance to possess her!
Smelost laughed at the notion, even then unable to lose his haughty arrogance. The demon can have at me on whatever level it pleases! I will prove myself more than its match!
Time stoppped for a moment. There was utter silence, utter lack of motion. Mahariel almost thought she could feel the demon's glee. Everyone realized what was coming next at the same time. A moment later there was a feeling like a hurricane ripping through the air and Smelost dropped to his knees.
Sarah was rooted to the spot, too horrified by what she was seeing to move. Elise turned her head briefly and Mahariel saw the indecision in her face. You have to kill him now, before the demon gains control! Elise looked at her. I can't just-
You call yourself a Templar? Then I will do it myself! Mahariel took two steps forward and Elise struck at her, unaware until that moment that she would. Mahariel deflected the blow and continued to do so as Elise went for her again and again. Then Mahariel abruptly dropped Topsider's Honor and caught Elise's sword arm in mid stroke. Listen to me. She hissed as Smelost began to scream at ever intensifying volumes. There's nothing you can do. He's lost. All that can be done is to keep him from doing more damage. Do you understand me? I've seen it before. Elise was silent for the longest time, then nodded. Smelost fell silent as Mahariel let go of her wrist.
Elise turned as Smelost got to his feet and raised her arm to strike the abomination down. But she was too slow. Smelost pivoted so fast he was blur and sliced both her and her armour open like one would cut cheese with a knife. Elise fell to the ground dead and the abomination began studying the blood on the blade. Then he looked at the blood and corpse on the floor. Sorry about the mess. He remarked coldly, without emotion. Oh wait, I guess I'm not. He sneered malignantly as Mahariel brought Topsider's Honor back into her hand. I suppose you will be next then?
There was a fire in Mahariel's eyes such that one could almost see the flames roaring behind them. You'll not be the first. She said cooly.
Oh I know. It said calmly. There's a trail of blood leading to you so wide a wisp could follow it. He smiled. Did you enjoy running him through? The only love you'd ever known? Did you enjoy watching him die?
I'm going to enjoy watching you die. Mahariel responded.
Name's Pycha, if that makes a difference. He sneered, a cat with a plaything in his eyes.
It doesn't. And then she leaped forward and the two were locked in a combat so fast and so furious Sarah could barely follow. It was more like a whirlwind of steel. She could not tell who had the advantage, or if either of them had any at all. She wanted to help, but couldn't keep close enough track to make sure she didn't miss. She wished she had studied creation more, that at least was less likely to hurt her friend than a poorly directed blast of fire.
The abomination suddenly broke free and took several steps back. Sarah seized the opportunity to blast it with as much fire as she could conjure. It howled with pain and staggered back, but was otherwise unaffected. An unintended result of the spell was that the floor and several crates caught fire. The abomination looked at her. You don't want to be doing that. There's lyrium sand under the floorboards.
Sarah saw Laryn turn pale. She didn't know what lyrium sand was, but judging by that reaction, it was bad. Very bad. Then the abomination was after her. And Sarah, knowing she couldn't fight, ran. She could feel the demon behind her as she bolted past crate after crate, praying that she was headed towards the exit. The demon called mocking bellows after her, but couldn't quite seem to catch up. She hoped she didn't miss something on the floor in the near darkness and fall. That would be bad. She blew by a ruffian without even realizing it until she heard the abrupt shout of pain behind her. She swallowed but did not look back. There was no time.
The door was straight ahead. She saw it, she also felt the demon in pursuit. She did not stop to open the door but instead used magic to blast it off its hinges as she approached. The lower decks were empty, though slightly better lit. She wasn't sure why she noticed this as she hurriedly ran up towards the main deck. There was another door in her way at the top of a flight of stairs and this too she blasted off its hinges. Then she was in the open night air with rain pouring down, the taste of salt in her mouth and the smell of it in her nose. She caught the briefest glimpse of tall black cliffs on the horizon as well as several stunned faces before she pivoted around. As soon as the abomination entered the frame she blasted it with ice, freezing it in the doorway.
There were several frenzied shouts at this, including an incomprehensible stream of Orlesian. She ignored them but instead looked at the frozen demon. The ice cracked and then the demon broke free and surged forward again. Sarah ducked out of the way just in time to avoid its blade and struck it again with fire. This time it only smiled. It rushed forward to strike at her again but was caught by surprise when Laryn appeared as if from nowhere. Before anything could be done she leaped upon the abomination and pinned it to the ground, knocking its sword from its hand. She raised both of hers up to plunge into the fiend and end it, but then had to defend herself as the mercenary named Ernest tried to strike at her. You will not have him you bitch! He shrieked with a fury. He was the first of the assembled passengers and crew to act.
She struck back at the mercenary without thinking, and he in turn parried. They might have gone farther, but a sudden burst of energy from the abomination sent them both flying. Mahariel was slammed against the mast and only just managed not to lose her hold on either blade. She couldn't account for Ernest though. She looked around but the abomination was already upon her again, and she had to fight.
The crew remained passive. Juillet led the apostate with her bow, preparing to take the shot. That the other Templar was not present meant she was dead, and that she was actively casting spells in attempts to kill the other was more than reason enough to attack. She saw Ernest get to his feet within striking distance of the apostate but paid little mind, a fatal mistake as it turned out. She loosed the arrow just as he lunged forward to strike down the rogue mage, and the result was that the arrow pierced his jugular. The mage turned abruptly and paled as the man fell in front of her. Juillet cursed and nocked another arrow, but got no farther as she was suddenly hit by a telekinetic blast and sent flying into the sea.
The demon broke out of combat again and he and Mahariel circled each other in turn, both waiting for the other to strike. The crew and passengers looked on in silence. The demon smiled gleefully as a notion came to him. They cast you away, what makes you think they want you back? He took you, but the keeper condoned it. All they wanted was to get rid of you. Just like all your friends after simply wanted to use you. It-
PUT AN END TO YOUR NONSENSE AND FIGHT! She shrieked and lunged at the demon who ducked out of reach. But do I not speak the truth? The apostate values you as a means of evading capture. The witch only wanted you near to gain power. The bard thought she could use you to atone for her past. The Qunari thought the same. I would-
Mahariel leaped at him again and this time the demon was too slow in ducking away. Her blow caught his shield arm, nearly tearing it off. The demon howled with pain and desisted in provoking her, opting instead to return to a simple fight.
Sarah watched this and wondered to whom the demon was alluding, as she once more found herself unwilling to risk hurting her friend. The dwarf Meghren, also on deck, raised an eyebrow but remained passive. Next to him stood the last of the three mercenaries, too scared to duck into the fray. Behind the pair were the elves, silent and praying to the Maker that it would end soon. The remaining two ruffians had yet to appear on deck, but that was about to change.
Brennard had taken anything of value he could find and left the hold as it began to burn in earnest. He had been happy to see his second at the door and both ran for the decks, Brennard whispering hurried instructions as he did so. We get up there and we take a lifeboat off the ship. That sand's liable to blow at any moment. They both reached the deck to find the elf engaged in a furious duel with the Templar, who appeared to be losing. Brennard considered lending a hand, but reconsidered quickly. The elf would surely die when the boat went up, and that was good enough for him. He moved to get to a boat but the crew was in the way. Dammit. He muttered to himself.
The demon was beginning to waver. Mahariel could feel it. The wound she had dealt to the arm appeared to be weakening it, but nonetheless it was still more than able to defend itself. For every strike she made at it it was ready with a parry, but they were lessening in resistance. The demon gave a soft hiss and attempted to slam her with telekinetic energy. But it was poorly aimed and cast and she only staggered back several paces. The demon attempted to exploit this but Mahariel backstepped out of reach. In retaliation she used an ability she rarely opted to. The holy smite slammed the demon with such force that it screamed in agony. The problem was that there had been too much power behind it. It punched through the decks right down to the cargohold. Though the demon screamed, it was muffled to silence with what immediately followed.
One of the caches of lyrium sand was hit by the power and detonated instantly. This resulted a chain reaction causing every box in the hold to explode. The combined explosion put even the mightiest explosive Dworkin the Mad ever constructed to shame. The majority of the ship flew apart instantly, catapulting Mahariel, the demon and Sarah out to sea in one direction. The passengers were sent another, towards the cliffs, and the crew were for the most part sent into open water.
Flying through the air, lost to space and time, Mahariel was reminded of the penultimate blow to the archdemon. The way it had thrown her into the air and she brought both Starfang and Topsider's Honor crushing down into the creatures neck. That of course had been a shorter drop though. She caught sight of the demon beneath her as she soared through the air and twisted herself around as best she could. The demon struck the water first, and then she struck it. She shrieked as her eyes went red with the pain of the impact and then gagged as salt and water filled up her lungs. She drew both her swords out of the creatures chest and then kicked to the surface as hard as she could. She tried to breathe too quickly upon reaching the it and instead took in more water. She sputtered for what felt like a long time before regaining her breath. She looked around, her eyes slightly bleared.
A large shaft of wood plunged into the water next to her and sank. Her heart stopped. That was too close. She looked into the sky but couldn't really see if there was more debris falling. She looked back towards what had been the ship to find most of it missing. What was left was lit up in a blue fire that could probably be seen from the cliffs.
She looked towards where she thought they were She could just make out the outline on the horizon. At least there was a heading. She clumsily placed both her swords back to their secure places beneath the robe. This was done with much difficulty, as the fabric was soaked through and she was struggling to stay afloat. She heard spluttering and cries for help nearby and swam over.
Sarah was floundering badly. Help me Laryn! She cried as she caught sight of her. I can't swim!
Creator's preserve me. Mahariel said to herself as she caught Sarah under the arm. She asked if she was alright and she nodded. Aside from being out in the ocean like this, yeah I'm happy. Laryn shook her head and looked over towards the cliffs. There was really only one place to be going now, and only one way to get there.
Meghren offered the Orlesian his hand and helped her get hold of the fragment of the mast. The two ruffians were already clinging on. There was no accounting for the elves or the last mercenary. We should go. Said Juillet simply. Zey will not have lived. C'est triste, mais-
English please. Said Meghren simply, in a very good impression of the late Ernest.
Let's just go. Juillet said. The four of them began kicking. Hopefully they would reach Kirkwall before they all drowned.
What was left of the ship burned on bright blue for a time. Then she slid gracefully into the sea. No one could say how far she fell before finally meeting her final rest upon the ocean floor, the rightful resting place for any vessel with pride.