"You sure you want to be seen with me?" Shandi asked, digging her heels in just before the Herald's Rest. The raven perched on the open door cawed at them as if communicating the rules patrons were expected to follow. He didn't think the comment had to do with her skimpy clothing or anything to do with her manner. No, it ran deeper than that.
"What?" Gabriel asked, incredulous. "My lord Inquisitor has already seen us together."
He looked up at her only to see her mouth drawn in a frown and her head tilted down and away. Over the course of their admittedly short friendship, this was the only time he'd seen her be anything less than bubbly and confident.
"In front of whoever else we're going to meet, I mean. Bet you he has the rest of his team with him. We're going to have to fight together. Might as well be on a first name basis, right?"
"Of course I don't mind. If anything I worry you wouldn't want to be seen with a human."
"I'm not under the Qun. I'm lesser in most people's eyes than even an apostate mage, sometimes even to other Qunari. If that big brute thinks I don't see the contempt on his face..."
She muttered the last part as if she had forgotten he could hear her. The rumors said that the Iron Bull still adhered to the tenets of the Qun despite his membership in the Inquisitor's inner circle, and he apparently wasn't shy about showing the general prejudice towards the Vashoth and Tal Vashoth no matter what he claimed to be himself.
"Hmph. He plays like he's Tal Vashoth, but I don't buy it. Well, if he thinks he's stealing a dragon kill out from under me, he's got another thing coming."
Thankfully, Shandi let him lead her in to the tavern. He couldn't call himself an accomplished spirit healer compared to some, but what awareness he did possess rippled like a pond with a rock skipped artfully across its surface as soon as they entered. A Fade being dwelt here, somewhere. So subtle was the vibration that he hadn't detected it when the place stood full to bursting, but now in the relative quiet of the early morning he could. His instincts--they couldn't truly be called combat instincts, as untested as he was--shrilled, but he sensed no malice and resolved only to keep his wits about him.
The Inquisitor sat at the biggest table available, right in the middle of the main space. Drawing attention, and purposefully? An attempt to reassure the soldiers, craftsman, and laborers that took their leisure here? A show of power intended to intimidate followers and spies alike? From what Gabriel had experienced during that first meeting, he guessed the Inquisitor's motives drew a little water from each of those potential wellsprings.
Next to the Inquisitor sat an unfamiliar Elvhen woman. Her form caused a spindly white birch to flash across Gabriel's mind's eye, or perhaps a spider with long, clever legs. She and the Inquisitor were both thin, and tall for their race, though this woman especially so with her delicate wrists, huge, luminous eyes and ethereal bearing.
Those eyes were the same color as the Inquisitor's, deep purple with gold flecks. As white as the Inquisitor was dark, she nonetheless had the same delicately chiseled features, the same sharp nose as if drawn forth by the lathe of a master. Where the Inquisitor once again had clothed himself in leather and velvet practically painted on to his whipcord and bone form, she had chosen traditional Elvhen robes in leaf green and magenta, and where the Inquisitor's black hair brushed his collar, she wore her red tresses braided to one side with the other shaved clean.
His sister? A cousin? She's too young to be his mother.
So taken was he with this new face that he started when Shandi grabbed his arm.
"The magister," she hissed, and he turned his attention to the man in question. His heart thudded in his chest at first glimpse; by the Creators, another gorgeous man. Broad and muscular, he wore the asymmetrical shirt collars and bold draping that Gabriel associated with Minrathous fashions, a snake motif picked out in black curling around his flawless body, buckles and gold fasteners as much an adornment as functional. When the magister noticed the two of them lingering at the tavern door, he turned huge, owl-grey eyes on them. Gabriel held tight to Shandi's hand then, breathless. While he'd never held with his father's tendency to idolize Tevinter and its Magisterium, seeing this magister made him admit--albeit grudgingly--that perhaps Father had a point.
"Well, come over," the Inquisitor said, rising to his feet. "Surely we aren't so intimidating that you can't share bread and ale with us."
Still cool, the Inquisitor at least didn't evidence the overt hostility he had on the battlements. It took Gabriel a couple of steps to realize how strange it was to see an Elf like the Inquisitor share his breakfast with anyone from Tevinter, let alone a magister, of all things. He expected barely restrained hatred between them, or simmering tension, but as he came in to their orbit he sensed neither.
"I am Aislinn," the woman said, rising to clasp his free hand in both of hers. "of Clan Brangwen."
"My sister," the Inquisitor said as they all readjusted to let him and Shandi sit. "My mirror."
"Sweet of you to say, my shadow," Aislinn told him, sparing a fond look for him.
"And I am Dorian Pavus," the man said as if at any moment he would break out in to a dramatic sweeping gesture to underscore how taken he was with his own exceptionalism. "An altus from Tevinter. Don't worry, I won't be requiring a blood sacrifice today. Though, it does add a certain tang to the house red."
The Inquisitor sighed a long suffering sigh. "Ignore him. I always do."
"Dorian," Aislinn scolded, though Gabriel could tell that her annoyance had no real side to it. Shandi, for her part, flagged down the serving wench and ordered a Qunari Reaver sized meal that made the table groan when it arrived. She went to work on a whole loaf of bread as Gabriel tried to make sense of all the relationships currently in play, the steam from within enveloping him in a puff of sweet wholesomeness.
"Well," Dorian said, with an easy attitude to him that said he wasn't in the least bit sorry, "after awhile one must joke about it. It wouldn't do to waste all my precious time on anger. Plus, it would get me nowhere. I have my incredible and endless charm instead."
"And Southern heads are as dense as ironbark," Aislinn added, as if quoting.
"My dear, we spend far too much time together," Dorian told her, affection rounding out his brash tone.
Lovers, maybe? The Inquisitor's sister with an altus?
Gabriel couldn't help but try and discern who held what power; the pressures of nobility had changed him whether he wanted them to or not.
"Gabriel, Shandi," the Inquisitor started, "I thought it wise to introduce you to at least Dorian and Aislinn before we go to the Western Approach. You may not be aware, but an adventuring group can become quite close and familiar, if only because we are all enchanted and otherwise bespelled in a way that compliments one another."
"So I don't singe your perfect hair with an errant fireball, you mean," Dorian said, cheerful.
"If anyone is concerned about the state of their hair, it is you, you insufferable peacock."
Gabriel thought Amjad had the right of it, with how well cared for Dorian's mustache was.
"The great altus admits to conjuring less than perfect fireballs?" Aislinn said, leaning forward to grin at him. "I never thought I would hear such a thing."
"Oh no, my dear. You see, it keeps my enemies off balance. When they underestimate me, that is for the best." Dorian told her, leaning back in his chair and smirking as if he'd just revealed a great and powerful secret. Gabriel tried to keep a neutral countenance, though he badly wanted to roll his eyes.
"Ahem," he tried, as Shandi started in on a bowl of stew bigger than his head, "enchantments should be no problem. My blade and my robes are already bespelled. If...if you like, I could perhaps add some of them to your arms and armor as well, if that would help with magical synergy."
Dorian lit up as if he'd promised Dorian a storehouse of gold and jewels, and for the next while their discussion on magery drove the conversation. Aislinn proved to be as competent as the both of them, interjecting with a number of astute observations. Slowly, Gabriel got the impression that she had yet held something back regarding her skills. The whisps that often cavorted about him whispered in dark, low tones, but would not reveal anything concrete, and he wasn't about to push a woman he'd just met.
"My lords, my lady Aislinn," he said when he'd divined a lull that seemed appropriate, "can you tell me anything about the spirit that dwells here?"
Shandi perked up at that, curious. She had all the magical talent of a brick, but Gabriel appreciated that her mind remained quite sharp and quick even about subjects that didn't directly pertain to her.
"Ah," the Inquisitor said, "that would be Cole. He came to aid us in Haven, when Corypheus attacked."
"He was once a Compassion spirit," Aislinn added, taking a swig of her beer, "and now, he's...perhaps it would be best to say that he has a foot in each world, the Fade, and that of the mundane."
"He's come through in to this world? Did he possess someone?" He knew that the Inquisition could boast all types of members, some more questionable than the last, but this he would have never imagined.
"No. He is unique," Aislinn said, "you will understand when you meet him."
"He will surely put in an appearance when he feels compelled to," the Inquisitor said, nodding at the servants coming over to clear all the empty dishes and refill empty tankards. "Gabriel, I would see your blade."
Gabriel found himself blushing; from another noble that could be construed as a proposition. He doubted a Dalish would have the same intent in mind, though, and he took the sword from his back, unsheathed it, and laid it on the table. The Elvhen script down the blade glimmered at his touch. Aislinn and the Inquisitor looked at one another in a way that showed they were communicating quite a bit without even having to speak.
"That is the blade of the Arcane Warrior," Aislinn said, "crafted with a Keeper's touch. You must be a unique man, to have been gifted such a thing."
"We shall see," Amjad interjected, that suspicion back, his eyes serpent-bright and as menacing.
Gabriel felt the sudden and insistent urge to extricate himself from the situation, jangling nerves making sweat bead on his brow.
"My lord, if it pleases you I will ready myself for travel," he said, rising to his feet. He hoped the Inquisitor couldn't see through him, but one look at the man's expression told him otherwise. Plainly confused, Shandi stood as well, a fact he could have kissed her for.
"Yes, there is no sense in delaying further," the Inquisitor told him, though he and his companions stayed seated for the moment. "I will meet you at the stables in a half a candlemark."
Once outside Gabriel took several full lungfuls of crisp, cold air. Shandi put her hand on his shoulder, and he shook his head; he couldn't look at her yet.
"Come on," she said, "let's go get outfitted. You'll feel better when you have something to do."
He had to concede her point, and once he'd gone back to his room for his gear the sense of purpose did blunt his panic some. Ser Pounce came out from under the bed, mewling and waving his fluffy tail.
"Hello, Ser Pounce," he had to smile at that, anyway. He changed in to his finest mage robes, a light, white affair with silver embroidery and blue lining. A belt crafted from august ram's leather went on next, slung low on his hips, potions, a grimoire, and a knife appropriate for use in the wilderness supported by it. "I expect you to guard the place while I'm gone."
"Mrr," the cat told him as if complaining about his assigned duties, leaping up on to the bed and immediately shedding an impressive amount of buff colored fur all over the dark blue coverlet.
"You've scored a hit on a Darkspawn but you can't guard one room in the safest place in Thedas? What kind of cat are you?"
He could have sworn Pounce smirked at him.
At least I got something good from Anders.
He put the bitterness out of his mind as he turned to leave, adding a cloak the same color as the bedspread to his outfit. The enchantments would keep him appropriately cool in the desert, and clean besides. What harm was there in adding a bit of flair to his attire? Should he do any less he would be woefully underdressed relative to the rest of them.
When he reached the stables he saw Shandi waiting there, once more encased in her dragon-bone armor, her broadsword on her back, a long knife at her hip, and vitaar once more painted under her eyes and across her cheeks. She'd darkened her lips nigh-black with the stuff, and the gold and black pattern on her face drew a fierce cast from her features, even features as feminine and delicate as hers. He approached, but before he could say anything a creature that shouldn't exist poked its head out of the nearest stall.
The thing--he hesitated to call it a halla--tossed its head and pawed at the ground, its broken horn and rent hide underscoring the fact that it was very, very dead, despite whatever questionable magic could be blamed for animating it.
"What is that?"
He sputtered. Shandi threw her head back and laughed, though the voice that answered didn't belong to her:
"That," the Inquisitor said as he walked up, Dorian and Aislinn in tow, "is Orala. She fell in battle and a friend of mine was kind enough to resurrect her for me."
Gabriel tried to compose himself; it wouldn't do to disapprove of a gift the Inquisitor cherished so.
"I see," Gabriel tried, straightening his clothes as if doing so could also straighten out his mind, "I mean no disrespect, Inquisitor."
"Amjad," the Inquisitor corrected him, though the man portrayed such aloofness that switching over to his given name seemed an insurmountable challenge.
"Amjad," he tried, for the sake of respecting the Inq--Amjad's --wishes. And those wishes were generous, a fact that Gabriel wouldn't let himself forget. "My lord," he continued as Amjad opened the stable and lead Orala out by her hackamore, "perhaps you will allow me to guard you when we are out in the field."
Amjad turned that suspicious gaze on him again.
Wondering if I'm a spy?
"Oh?" Amjad said, his voice neutral but nonetheless full of potential, for anger, for judgement, for rejection.
"Of course Dorian and Aislinn are some of the most capable people in all of Thedas," he said in a rush, even as the people in question were leading their mounts from the stables and girding themselves for battle, "but surely you could use someone whose job it is to specifically guard you."
"They are also two of the most protective people in all of Thedas," Amjad said, faint affection bringing life to his generous mouth and the tips of his ears. "But perhaps it would be wise to test you in such a fashion. Just know that if your motives are any less than pure, they will strike you down without hesitation."
Gabriel bowed in acknowledgment. "Of course. I would expect no less."
Only then did he take in Amjad's armaments and the potions hanging from his belt. The usual healing potions were in evidence, but the rest of his flasks were full of iridescent liquids that swirled, thick, in their containers. The crystal vials had the soap-bubble quality that Gabriel often associated with enchantment.
Dorian and Aislinn, their mounts readied, came over to lay further enchantments on them all, a process that made Shandi grumble and shift from foot to foot. As if reading his thoughts Amjad said,
"These enchantments will help keep us all safe from friendly fire, but there are few spells that will protect you from a Tempest's flasks. Be on your guard and ready for chaos. I am no patient assassin or careful bow master."
"I understand, my lo--Amjad." Gabriel said as Aislinn brought a horse over to him. A beautiful roan mare with a curly forelock and the shape of a star picked out in white hairs down her delicate face, he fell in love with her immediately, and she stood like a rock as he mounted.
Once Amjad found his saddle, the others fell in behind him and that...thing. At least Aislinn and Dorian had chosen plain horses. The finest in all of Thedas, perhaps, but warm. Living.
For the first time, as he watched Amjad pet Orala's neck lovingly, he realized that he may have gotten himself in deeper than he had first imagined.