Isabela can't breathe. Her lungs burn and her ribcage is like crushing bands of iron around her chest, there's a splintering sharpness in her side and she can't breathe. Then the dragon roars again and the sound drives through her skull like a week of bad ale and for a moment the pain in her ribs is drowned out, and she coughs, blood spattering onto the white sand, something loosening in her chest. It still hurts, her ribs are broken for sure, but she pulls herself upright, rolling onto her knees.
Sebastian is a sprawled and flattened heap next to her. He was close, too close, he must have been caught in the same brutal wing-slap that flung her across the pit, and his armor is dented and flame-scorched and there's blood trickling out the corner of his mouth. She can't tell if he's breathing. His bow has rolled out of his limp fingers and lies at her side. It's new, a gift from Hawke, a work of art, bright gold caps and white paint.
Hawke wrapped abruptly around her from behind, one hand holding a bow out for inspection, the other tickling saucily against her ribs. "What do you think? Fancy enough for the Holy Prince of Starkhaven?"
Isabela laughed and trapped Hawke's hand with her own, trying to slide it lower. "Make sure you test the pull, I'm sure he needs a fifty or higher. A man that repressed probably handles his weapon with a great deal of.... passion."
Hawke gave a laugh of her own, but prude that she is, freed her hand from Isabela's before it could get anywhere entertaining in such a public place. Untangling herself and stepping into a wider part of the aisle, she pulled back on the bow, sculpted swordsman's shoulders rippling with the unfamiliar strain, and sighted down it. "Oh, that feels strange. Haven't fired a bow since Ostagar." She relaxed the string and gave her lover a curious look. "I didn't realize you knew archery."
"I had a few Antivans on my crew once. They just love their bows, Antivan pirates do. Not a fan, myself, they make a terrible mess of the sails when you're trying to steal someone's ship."
Her eyes trace the battlefield for Hawke. Of course, where else would she be but slamming the dragon -- no, this is a Dragon, a High Dragon more than worthy of the capitals, and where else could Hawke be but slamming it upside the head with a sword as long as its face? Nimble and fearless, their unacknowledged leader leaps around its legs, dodging quick snorts of fire and sweeping claws, digging her blade into its flesh and tearing at its wings to try to keep it grounded.
The others are equally occupied. Varric was the first down, and lies not far from Hawke; the dragons seemed to take offense to him knocking them out of the sky with quick wingshots from Bianca. Merrill and Anders, in a cloud of blood and flaring blue, stand back to back, plumes of ice and bolts of crackling lightning keeping the horde of horse-sized dragonlings that surround them at bay. Fenris, a knife's throw from where Isabela kneels, is battering away at another curious four, driving their snapping jaws away from prince and pirate.
And Aveline, midway down the field of battle, faces the huge adult female by herself, slamming her shield into its tender nostrils and drawing it away from its steady drive toward Hawke. Isabela reaches for her daggers, and finds them gone, one lost somewhere in her flight across the pit, the other still buried in the skull of one of the smaller dragons.
The arrow, black-feathered and brutally barbed, sank into the handrail, disturbingly close to Delgado's right hand.
"Well, that didn't look much like a surrender," said Delgado, raising his bow with a grin. His captain smiled back, raising her own, and they returned fire in clean unison as the other archers in her crew followed suit. Their arrows fell like hail on the fat two-master, so close by then that Isabela could hear the pitter-patter thunking of sharp wood into wood and the quick yelps and howls of struck crew.
But she wasn't there to enjoy the view, and she smoothly nocked another arrow and aimed across the water. A single drop of green-yellow liquid beaded at the tip, glinting in the afternoon sun -- the lethal toxin that set a true Antivan Adder apart from any colorful pretenders. She let fly with all the buoyant joy of a child with a new toy, and why shouldn't she? It had been six months since Delgado started teaching her this weapon, and she'd never yet had a chance to use it on anything but seagulls.
Isabela pulls her backup dagger out of her sash and tries to rise to her feet. She gets halfway up and something horrible shoots screaming through her leg, dropping her back onto the sand like a collapsed suit of armor. The ground bangs against her shattered ribs, and she thinks she might have cried out. Fenris risks a glance back at her, then drives back into his dragonlings with renewed fury, a clean upswing cleaving one's head from its neck.
Isabela rolls back upright. Her arms are still good, and she whips her remaining knife forward, lodging it in the snapping open jaw of one of Fenris' foes. It gurgles and flails, freeing the elf to step sideways into its space and skewer one of its sisters. The final dragonling scrabbles back, showing survival instinct at last, and Fenris follows, cutting it down just as Isabela's target finally collapses. Fenris glances around the battlefield, then back at her once more.
Their eyes meet, and she nods. He doesn't like it, but he goes, abandoning her and Sebastian, jogging toward the mob surrounding Merrill and Anders. He pounds into the dragonlings' flank like a hammer into glass, trying to free the mages to regroup around the wounded. Aveline, still occupied with the adult dragon, has lost her sword, and is slamming her shield repeatedly into its face with both hands.
Isabela can't see Hawke, but the High Dragon is still flailing at something, frustration in its movements and cries, and Isabela's relief is well out of proportion with the direness of her own plight -- Fenris gone, Sebastian out cold, herself immobile and weaponless against any loose dragonling whose eye she might catch.
Her hand brushes Sebastian's bow.
"You. You did this!" snarled the woman, clutching a shivering young man in her arms as she knelt on the deck with the rest. It did seem likely the woman was right; the turquoise feathers on the shaft buried in his shoulder could only have been Delgado's or hers.
Isabela shrugged at the woman as her men collected weapons and secured ropes. "I am a pirate, you know. This is sort of what we do. Your captain could have surrendered."
"Not my captain," was the furious response. "My son isn't crew, he had no part in this! We're only passengers! He would never have hurt anyone, never, he wasn't fighting, he wasn't armed, he wasn't even supposed to be on deck! You killed my son, you pirate bitch!"
It was a shallow strike low on the man's shoulder, and Isabela's arrows weren't tipped. No killing wound, but the woman was right about this too. Adder poison didn't care where on the body it struck.
"... that's life on the sea, sweet thing," said Isabela, and turned and walked off.
The dragon has knocked Aveline to the ground. She slams her shield edge-first into its foot and it screams, then rakes sideways, jerking the offending metal off the woman's arm. It snaps its face down and Aveline dodges, half-pinned, trying to wrestle her arm free as drooling jaws close on the air right next to her ear.
A dozen yards away, Fenris, Merrill and Anders show absolutely no signs of their seething mutual hatreds as they flow and strike in perfect sync against the crowd surrounding them. Blood and lyrium and ice and pounding chunks of the earth itself batter howling lizards to the ground, and it's just not fast enough.
She still can't see Hawke.
She picks up Sebastian's bow.
"I could buy you a bow," said Hawke, absently, tracing meaningless patterns in the sweat on Isabela's stomach.
"Now what on earth would I want with one of those?"
Hawke gave as much of a lopsided shrug as she could, with one hand busy propping up her head and the other shoulder dipped forward by her wandering hand. "Well, you obviously know how to use one. And I don't know, some of the fights we get into... I like to keep all those overly friendly giant spiders at sword length, you know? But you get awfully up-close and personal. It's almost enough to make a girl jealous."
"Hawke," said Isabela, shooting her the sternest look she could manage given how pleasant those fingers on her abdomen felt. "If I wanted an overprotective lover to try to get me standing somewhere 'safer' in a fight I'd be shacking up with Lady Man-Hands."
"Sweet Maker!" yelped Hawke, rolling onto her back and slapping her hands over her ears. "She's practically my bloody sister, you soulless wench, why would you even put that image into my head!"
Isabela rolled on top of Hawke, peeled her hands off her ears, and proceeded to apologize by driving all thoughts of Aveline, or anything else -- bows quite explicitly included -- well out of her warrior's mind.
She winces as she pulls the string back. Sebastian does use a fifty-five-pound bow, as it turns out, and Isabela is not Hawke, who swings a sword that probably weighs as much as Merrill and does one-handed push-ups with Varric sitting on her back just to show off. Isabela's preferred draw is a little more than half of that.
Aveline is going to die.
Isabela strains through the draw until the holding weight kicks in, and sights the arrow.
She caught a glimpse at the man -- no, admit it. The boy -- as they rolled him overboard. His eyes were milky and crusted, his face pale and puffy, his tongue so thick it held his mouth open, a little.
The dragon's eyes roll orange in its head as its mouth slams shut around Aveline's forearm, teeth piercing metal. She punches it with her free hand, hard, but it doesn't so much as flinch.
Isabela stared at the Guard Captain. "You can't really truly seriously be inviting me to a family party. With your family. And you. And ME. Are you drunk? Were you just hit on the head unusually hard on the way over here?" She paused, and narrowed her eyes. "Did Hawke put you up to this?"
"Hawke's not even coming, she'll be off trying to push pro-refugee reform at one of Lord Denton's cocktail parties or something tediously political like that. And no, I'm not drunk, though I'm starting to wish I were. Just come, alright?" She cast a long-suffering look up and down Isabela's outfit. "And try not to wear anything too whorish."
Isabela lets fly.
The arrow sinks cleanly into the dragon's eye and buries itself up to the fletching. Aveline's arm, still trapped in its jaw, is pulled sideways as the whole mass of lizard slumps to the ground, but the Guard Captain manages to wrench herself free and roll just clear enough that it doesn't collapse completely on top of her. She tugs her leg free, tossing the wing off herself, and scours the ground for her weapon, slapping her shield back onto her arm with a wince Isabela can see from where she sits.
A few dragonlings have peeled off from the crowd around the mages, finding that fight too cold for comfort and heading toward Isabela and Sebastian instead. Aveline intercepts them, and Isabela offers support, dropping a few more arrows into their midst. She's tired and can't manage the full draw a second time, but the little bastards are close and Aveline is good with a sword -- all she really needs from Isabela is a distraction.
Fenris and the mages are starting to make headway toward her and Sebastian; in another minute or so, Anders will work his less deadly magic and she'll be healed enough to get back into the fight. At this rate, Hawke might actually not have to kill the bloody High Dragon all by herself.
Aveline makes it back to where Isabela is crouched, leaving dead, arrow-peppered dragonlings in her wake. "Didn't know you were any good with a bow," she says, by way of macho warrior-woman thanks.
Isabela smiles disarmingly. "Ungainly things, not at all to my taste. Daggers are just so much... sexier. But I figured just this once, I could make an exception for a friend."