Blurb: Hey guys, this is my first story in a long time. Had to give it a shot for DAI, since the DA world is gorgeous and filled with compelling characters! Constructive feedback is welcome, reviews are what I LIVE on. Please donate to a starving writer near you (me).
Some of you may have noticed that this fic is also posted in ff.net. Rest assured, I am the same author!
Tags: Krem x OC, slow romance. We need more Krem!
Chapter 1: The Poacher
Chief was wearing the face. The teacher face - expectant, watchful, sharp. It was a contrast to his usual boisterous attitude. Krem consciously made the effort to keep from fidgeting and went through his mental checklist. True, the Chargers hadn't completed their scouting since they had been spotted by the cursed Venatori assassins and had had to rush into battle, but they had finished it well. Eight Venatori lay breathless, bloody and scattered among the rough terrain of the Hinterland campsite, all seven Chargers were alive and counted for. Stitches was patching up Grim and Rocky, Iron Bull and himself were next since they had shallower wounds. The thin drizzle and damp had made it easy to put out the fires in the Venatori tents and they had collected all written material for the Chief to go through for valuable information to send back to the Inquisition.
Krem thought everything had gone well, considering. Obviously they'd have to work on practicing their stealth and he already knew what techniques they had to focus on.
"Alright, Chief, I'll bite. Constipation?" Krem feebly joked.
The Iron Bull raised a scraggly, notched eyebrow. "Are you sure you didn't miss anything, Krem?"
Krem sighed. "We'll work on the stealth techniques. I'll ask Skinner to put us through the routine again, but with rougher terrain. We'll go through them over by that hill with the gravel until even Rocky floats over them like an elf."
The Chief smirked, his grin bracketing his beak-like nose. "That's actually not a bad idea, and good luck with Rocky. But I was actually wondering if you'd checked behind those boulders over there."
Krem turned and squinted at the lush yet forbidding Hinterland landscape, spotting the boulders resting beyond the camp perimeters by a slight hill. "Nope."
"Really? Because I spy with my little eye some iron bars. Might be a caravan. If you're having trouble seeing, being vertically challenged and all, I can lift you up-"
"No thanks, Chief," Krem rebuffed, "I won't be your Sera-bomb. I'll go check with Skinner."
He was mentally kicking himself when Skinner lightly fell into step beside him. "Bull still training you?" She asked in her customary blunt manner.
"Yeah. Wish he'd stop talking about maybe leaving," Krem answered as they trudged up to the boulders. "Don't know if there would be any Chargers without him, and I'm too green."
The lithe elf nodded, limping slightly as they climbed the hill. Krem knew that her silence was normal and not necessarily an agreement or an opinion of his skills as a leader. Still, he felt a pinch of worry and resolved to complete scouting from higher elevations in the future.
They rounded the boulders and the slave caravan came into view. Typical build of thick iron bars caged over a wooden wagon. He frowned when he spotted figures in rough clothing lying in the wagon bed, stained in blooms of crimson and rust. So, recently killed. Probably belonged to the Venatori and slaughtered before the fight. They'd have to check to see if any were still alive, check the perimeter for guards-
Movement in the corner of his eye and the reflexes Iron Bull had smashed into him saved him from the slashing blade. Krem felt the breeze slice by his eyes as he ducked back, catching the other dagger with his greave and a grunt. Twisting away, he kicked the Venatori assassin back a few feet into the dirt. It moved inhumanly fast and kicked Skinner's injured leg out from under her and she fell with a cry.
He deflected two throwing daggers with his shield, biting back a yelp as he felt pain branded into his right thigh and positioned himself by Skinner, who had sprung up and returned fire. The assassin side stepped and launched at Krem, becoming a blur but this time Krem was ready - he threw all his weight behind his shield and bashed it into the side of the caravan. The assassin snarled as it dodged another round of Skinner's blades, pulling himself up by grasping the bars and coiling to pounce.
Krem only had a moment to note sudden movement in the caravan before a pair of gloved hands thrust through the bars above the assassin's head and dropped a chain around its neck and pulled. "Now! Now's good!" the cloaked prisoner shouted, visibly digging in her heels into the edge of the wagon and throwing her weight back.
The assassin yelped and scrabbled at his neck, twisting around as Krem and Skinner closed in. Krem's sword cracked through the assassin's ribs and thunked into the wagon planks while Skinner slashed its neck with her daggers. The assassin shrieked, then slackened.
Krem yanked his sword out and the assassin drooped to the dirt with a yelp. For a second, Krem thought it was still alive, but the prisoner was straining against the bars with her arms poking through, the chain connecting her cuffed wrists holding up the dangling assassin from around his neck like a macabre puppet. "He's dead, right? Please, tell me he's dead before he chops off my arms," the prisoner begged with an indiscernible accent, "I'm rather attached to them."
Skinner had already stealthily run off into the trees, leaving spots of blood behind. Krem knew she'd be up in a tree in a flick, scouting for any lingering Venatori like the assassin. "Hang on," he ordered, heading in the opposite direction. There was no way he'd be caught unawares twice today.
"Har har," he heard the prisoner grumble, "that was terrible, even for a Charger."
Krem bit his tongue and reigned in his curiosity until he had thoroughly scouted the area and returned to the caravan. The dead assassin lay in the dirt by the wagon, and Skinner was sorting through her lock picks by the door. The prisoner was slouched against the bars, cradling her right shoulder.
"Glad to see you got rid of the dead weight," Krem said lightly as he examined her critically. Overall, the prisoner had a thin build and skinny wrists. Her stained cloak was disheveled but made of good, tightly woven druffalo yarn, her tunic and breeches of the same quality and similar fabric. The dark stain widened and darkened from underneath the hand she had clamped over her right shoulder. Her empty hands were so stained with blood he had mistaken them for gloves. The chain was surprisingly long enough for her cradle her left elbow and hold her right shoulder comfortably at the same time. There were two other prisoners lying in the caravan with her, both lying in their respective pools of blood and staring lifelessly up at the overcast sky. Everything smelled like wet nug and rust. "Think you can walk out of the wagon? We have a healer who can tend to your wounds," Krem said, trying to catch a glimpse of her face from under the hood.
"Krem, report," Iron Bull said as he rounded the boulders. The rest of the Chargers were close behind sporting new bandages and drawn weapons.
Krem shifted his weight to his uninjured leg and tried not to think of the hilt sprouting from his right thigh and the throbbing pain. Stitches would patch him up soon enough. "Skinner and I took down the guard, I'm calling it mine. I got my leg stabbed, Skinner's got a slashed ankle. No other hostiles found. One survivor, just about to ask who she is. Seems like she knows us," he added with an expectant look at the prisoner.
Skinner paused from picking the lock to scowl at him, her eyebrows audibly snapping together in a vee. "We killed him at the same time," she defended.
"Actually, cutie here speared him a hair before you got to him, Stabby," the prisoner countered. She turned and fluttered her lashes at Krem, "not without help from yours truly, of course."
They had just enough time to register her face before they burst.
"Ugh, it's the poacher!" Rocky shouted in disgust. "The one from that Sevran arl's job!"
"And the rift tome job," Stitches growled, seeming to think twice about sheathing his sword.
"And from that Venatori fight on the Storm Coast last week," Dalish snarled, her blue eyes icily burning.
"Who, me? I'm nobody, just an innocent trying to live within the meager allotment in life the Maker has given me," the poacher said piously, her eyes wide. "You must've mistaken me for someone else. Now, if you'd open the door-"
"Not a chance," Krem snapped. Skinner had already stopped picking the lock and looked as if she were going to stab the lock picks into the caged elf's eye sockets. "What are you after this time, thief?" He paused, sizing up the caravan for any magical wards. "And why haven't you poofed your way out of there?"
The poacher stuck out her right hand with a wince, then rattled the silver chain. "Magical cuffs and chain. Can't even poof a candle with these on. How about you get me out of these and the cage, then we'll start talking?"
The Chief sauntered up to the bars and transformed into The Iron Bull, eight feet of bulging muscles and battle scars. The chained prisoner shrank away from the bars and craned her head back to match his eye. Her smart mouth was wisely still and quiet as he scrutinized her. "Two of the three times you've poached from us, you've stolen Venatori shit," The Iron Bull rumbled amiably, "why?"
The prisoner didn't look like she bought his act for a second. She swallowed and shrugged, her stiff movements undermining her nonchalance. "Gold. People still won't trust free mages and bounty hunting is fair game," she said, her accent wobbling into Orlesian territory. "And who doesn't hate those Venatori assholes?"
"Yeah, I'd buy that except this isn't like you, Ashe Fayrel," Iron Bull replied casually, "not according to my reports, anyway."
Ashe's fine eyebrows climbed her forehead. No matter how many times he saw it, Krem always enjoyed it when the Chief stealthily Ben Hassrath'd someone. He sat down to enjoy the show with Stitches pulling up beside him with his medic bag.
"Bounty hunter since the Circle rebellion, most notable hunts being Vishok of the merc band Gutters, Aegia of the Highlands, and the Great Bear of Redcliffe," Iron Bull listed, "proficient in fire and lightning magic, no specialization known. No history of poaching in your one year career until four months ago. And we aren't the only people you've annoyed."
Ashe shifted uneasily, glancing around at the Chargers. Krem straightened so he could see her face better. True of most elven circle mages, she didn't have a vallaslin, indicating that she had been a city elf prior to being shipped off to a Chantry Circle. Dull, wavy brown hair of about shoulder length, large eyes shadowed by her hood, pretty in the way elves usually were with high cheekbones and fine bone structure. She looked apprehensive, but her lips were twisted in a rueful grin. He'd seen those same lips call forth walls of scorching fire as she disappeared into the night. Actually, he was glad for the magical cuffs now.
"You abided by the code for the majority of your career, and bounty hunters live on their reputation," Iron Bull continued, "for a lone mage like you to suddenly turn on other bounty hunters - one of the few groups to welcome a free mage - and hunt serious guys like the Venatori, something changed. Very few people make a consciously stupid decision."
The caged elf raised her hands, baring bloody palms in a surrender. "You got me. Shit happened and I'm looking for information. The Venatori have it, and I've been hunting them ever since. You guys just happen to get there a tad faster sometimes."
"You poached from us and dented our rep," Krem said seriously.
"People have killed for less," Stitches added.
Ashe sighed, her thin shoulders sagging. "I've already cashed in the cursed amulet and the hand of glory. But if you get me out of here, I can give back the rift tome."
"Can we just leave her here? Or is there a bounty on her head?" Dalish muttered from somewhere behind them.
The Iron Bull glanced back at his lieutenant and gave him a look. Another teaching moment. Krem stood up with a care for his newly-bandaged thigh and walked up to the bars. Maker, she had the most ridiculously longest eyelashes he'd ever seen.
She winked at him with a half smile, the pale daylight shimmering off her grey - pale blue? Green? - irises. "What do you say, handsome? Let's let bygones be bygones."
"Not interested," Krem replied coolly, "we want the journal you swiped last week."
The poacher scanned his face, glanced calculatingly at Iron Bull, then back at Krem and sighed. She raised her wrists and pointed to them, "you get these off, you have a deal."
"This is a bad idea. And I know a lot about bad ideas," Rocky muttered from Krem's side.
Krem resolutely stuck his hand through the bars. "Deal."
She clasped his calloused hand with hers, the chain jangling as they shook.
The Chief smiled his shit-eating grin and laughed. "Great! Skinner, work your magic! See, it's funny because she can't."
A/N: hey guys, please let me know what you think! I wanted to work in a slow blooming romance between Krem and a strong OC. R&R please!