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Chasing Shadows

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Leliana had been furious. Oh, she had tried to be discreet, certainly. It would not do to let the world know that the Inquisitor - chosen of Andraste herself - was little more than an untrained girl. Leliana had hand-selected the men for the job, specialists who would come to Skyhold and train the young hero in the arts of war. She needed people she could trust, she said. But who was more trustworthy than him?

Zevran reclined in the shade of a scrawny tree, as far from the stink of the stables as the courtyard would allow. It had been here that the spymistress had found him, her shock quickly giving way to anger. With an apology for the other trainers, she had pulled him away so insistently that it was a wonder she did not drag him by the ear.

When they were safely in a quiet corner, he grinned. "Ah, Leliana. I see the years have not diminished your beauty. Nor your tact."

"Where is she?"

He pursed his lips, the very picture of innocence. "Who?"

"Heir. The trainer who was supposed to be here."

"Dalish woman? One of those humorless 'gift-of-death' types?"

"Zevran... what did you do?"

"To her?" He chuckled. "Oh, I did try. But the woman proved remarkably resistant to my charms."

"So you...?"

"Killed her? Is that what you wish me to say?" Shaking his head, he tsked. "I did consider tying her up and leaving her in the inn where I found her, or perhaps slipping something into her drink - simply to give me a head start, mind you - but in the end the solution proved a simple one."

His old friend had a hand on the blade at her belt. "Which was...?"

"Were you always so paranoid, dear Leliana? What has happened to make you assume the worst?" He swept a strand of fallen hair from her forehead and tucked it behind her ear. Even when his fingers lingered, she did not flinch, did not look away. He shrugged. "I simply played the part of messenger and informed her that her services were no longer required. She had no cause to believe me, of course... until I gave your name."

Leliana stepped back with a sigh. She looked tired, too tired to fight this battle when there were others to be waged. "And your plan was - what? To join the Inquisition?"

He dropped into a shallow bow. "If the Inquisitor can make use of my skills, I will do my best to impart them."

Her lips twitched into the merest hint of a smirk. "We would like her to actually kill Corypheus, you realize."

"So cruel. You wound me, Leliana." But he had smiled then and she had smiled with him.

As they made their way back to the others, she had asked him why. It was a question he had asked himself often as he made the trek through these frigid mountains. He had seen the cost of saving the world, knew the price better than most. Thinking on those days was not so hard as it had once been. Despite how it had ended, their time fighting the Blight had been exciting, dangerous, filled with unexpected delights. Too pale a word, in truth, but he knew that he would never see their like again. That light was gone from the world. He was chasing only shadows.

Still... he had not expected this.

He watched her as she made her way across the courtyard. Every eye was drawn to her, but even had they not been, he would have known her. She was slight, tanned and dark-haired, the lines of her vallaslin thin and unmarred. He had laughed when he first heard that the Inquisitor was an elf, imagining the faces of her noble allies when they were made to bow and scrape before a Dalish savage. And savage she was, though not in the way that they might think. Her every step was a challenge to those she passed and she carried herself as a woman unafraid, a woman who would slip a blade between your ribs quicker than most would smile. She was beauty and she was terror, a delicious combination that he knew well.

Zevran shook his head, sinking back into the shadow of his tree. This had been a mistake. He would speak to Leliana. He would go. But his legs were frozen beneath him, his eyes locked to the elven woman. Perhaps she would not notice him.

He watched her as she spoke to the others, stopping at each in turn. Three-Eyes was a tinkerer who preferred the term 'Artificer.' The Inquisitor listened politely as he explained his craft, but Zevran could see the restlessness behind her eyes. No, there would be no tinkering for this one.

The other was a man named Kihm, who preferred potions to blades. Zevran could not see the sense in that and had received only a dull glare when he asked the man if he might brew up a few bottles for him. But would that be enough for the Inquisitor? Or would she trust in steel, the feel of a blade in her hand, the certainty that when you drove it home the act would be well and truly done?

Alas, it seemed that he was right. Never had he wanted so badly to be wrong. But then she turned those eyes on him. They were wide, green, searching. Rinna's eyes. Reikha's eyes. Eyes that had seen him once, seen him truly. Eyes that saw no more.

"You're the assassin?"

No introductions, no preamble. He rather liked that in a woman, but at the moment his tongue failed him.

When he did not reply, she held out her hand. "Lyna Lavellan."

Zevran remembered himself at last. Taking her hand, he bowed and brushed a gentle kiss across her knuckles. "Inquisitor. A pleasure."

"Is it?" She didn't wait for a reply. "I would train with you."

"Truly?" He blinked. He had thought on things to say, clever things to convince a faceless girl that she would be best served under the wing of a former Crow. But the Inquisitor was no girl, and it seemed that she had already made up her mind. "You do not have... questions?"

"I know how to kill people. I hear you can teach me to be better."

He tsked. "So eager for bloodshed."

"No more than I need to be."

Her directness certainly wasn't helping. Rinna had been direct. She had never shied from the truth. And yet when she told him she was innocent, he had not believed her. He had let her die.

"So how do we start?" Slipping a dagger from her belt, the Inquisitor spun it between her fingers.

Reikha had been skilled with a blade. She had killed men even before becoming a Grey Warden. When they had sparred at camp, she had given him more challenge than he'd expected, had made him feel more than he'd expected. Yet, for all her skill, no blade could have saved her. They had won the day, defeated the dragon and still his Warden had died.

Stepping back, Zevran shook his head. "We don't."

"What?"

"There has been... a misunderstanding. I am not the man to train you. I cannot be."

The Inquisitor arched a brow. "Why not?"

How could he explain? He could make an excuse, perhaps insult her in such a way that she would throw him from the keep, but again his tongue deserted him. The woman wanted to speak plainly? Then let them speak plainly. "Those I train... they have an unfortunate habit of ending up dead."

If she suspected that there was more to it, he could not say. "And yet here you stand. So don't train me as you trained them. Train me as you were trained."

"That, Dear Warden, I would not wish on anyone."

She blinked in surprise. "Warden?"

Braska. "Inquisitor. My apologies."

"Talking's not really your strong suit, huh?"

"On the contrary, I have been told that I have quite the gilded tongue."

She laughed, the sound throaty and rich and deep. Drawing a second blade, she stepped back, crouching ever so slightly. "I'm not here for your tongue."

He chuckled at that, despite himself. He had made a mess of things already, gotten in over his head yet again. But perhaps she had a point, this Lyna Lavellan.

Drawing his own daggers, he spun them in his hands, mirroring her as he circled round. They came back to him in flashes, haunting him still - the way that he and Rinna had danced for their masters, blades flashing in perfect rhythm, a synchronized dance of death; Reikha darting away through the trees, making him chase her, only to ambush him where the others could not see. Lyna was perhaps more vicious than either, her strikes shouting a warning, but always the aim was true.

Blocking a low slash, he shook his head. "I can see you coming, Inquisitor. Try surprising me, hm?"

She already had, though she could not know it. And he knew what came next. He had seen it all before, could see it even now - Rinna pleading with him as they opened her throat, Reikha laying lifeless and bloodied in his arms as he knelt beside the fallen archdemon. Perhaps Lyna would never find her way into his bed. Perhaps they would only be as master and student. But still the end would be the same. She would die and he would be there to witness it.

His mind was not in the fight, another lesson he would have to teach her. But the realization came too late. Lyna moved right but lunged left, her momentum carrying them backward and knocking them both to the ground. She landed on top, of course.

Tilting her head, she stared down at him. "Surprised?"

"My dear, you have no idea."

 

 

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