At some point along the way, Clara stopped caring about whether or not an American-style diner fit in with the scenery or not. The answer was "not" the vast majority of the time, of course. But the exact same thing was true of a police box straight from the sixties, and when had that ever stopped anyone? By now, all she and Me tried to do was do their best to leave the TARDIS more or less hidden, if it was at all possible. Sometimes they landed in the middle of a plain, or a desert, or something similarly flat and empty, and there wasn't much they could do about it. This time, however, they had a nice secluded spot somewhere in the cracks of a mountain.
And on top of said mountain there was a castle.
"Nice," said Clara, and meant it. "I'm off to explore. Coming?"
"I've seen more than enough castles to last a lifetime. Plenty of lifetimes."
"You always say that, and you always end up coming anyway."
"Well," Me said, stepping outside the TARDIS to join her, "this one might be different."
It was different, as it turned out. Not just in the details like architecture or location, the things that made it this particular castle as opposed to the many other castles they'd already seen. No, there was something deeper going on here. A different purpose. And the thing about places with a purpose was that they tended to be full of people more than willing to dish all the rumours about them. On the short way that still separated them from the fortress, they met a lot of people who were also heading there and had a lot of information. It still needed to be put in order to get the whole picture, of course, but many of the pieces were there.
The castle's name was Skyhold. It was the current more-or-less residence of the Herald of Andraste, whatever that meant, but rumor had it she wasn't around right now - she travelled a lot. Saving the world, as one does. There was an Inquisition, and they seemed to be the good guys, which was weird but not the weirdest thing that Clara and Me had seen in their travels so far. Oh, and the sky was spitting out demons, because of course it was. Never a dull moment.
When they arrived, there was so much to look at that they decided to split up for the moment and then compare notes. It took Me about five seconds to find the Arcanist and go to get herself some weapons, while Clara preferred to enter the tavern and get a closer look at the locals. Taverns were usually the best place to start for that.
She had been expecting the same sort of weird looks she got most of the times she went into a place like this: a bunch of huge, tough guys turning around to stare at the cute tiny English teacher. But the Herald's Rest was not like that. It was full of humans, elves and dwarves of all colors and ages, and aside from some confused stares at her clothes and a few shrugs, no one seemed to be too surprised by her looks. It was almost disappointing. Clara decided that this had more to do with the people of Skyhold being used to receiving a lot of strangers than with her losing her touch, and sat down to have a drink. She needed an excuse if she was going to stick around and people-watch, and she might as well enjoy herself.
As soon as she tried the beer, she realized that 'enjoy' might be an overstatement.
"Not exactly great, is it?"
"Not exactly," she agreed, as soon as she managed to stop coughing.
The one who had asked that question was a blond dwarf, with very little facial hair for his species but more than enough chest hair to make up for it. He sat down at the same table than her, as sure of himself as if he owned the place. Then again, for all Clara knew, he might.
"Sorry if I startled you," he said. "It's just, well. You looked interesting."
The dwarf shrugged.
"I'm a writer. I people-watch."
"Well, I'm an English teacher, and I understand," she replied. The fact that she was here to do the exact same thing was something she chose to left unsaid. "I'm Clara."
The name sounded familiar somehow, which was odd, because Clara was extremely sure that she had never been on this planet before. When it finally clicked, she couldn't hold back a gasp.
"Varric-- You wrote The Tale of the Champion!"
"That I did," he replied, looking quite pleased with himself. "And thanks for mentioning one of the good ones."
"I loved it. Too bad it was borrowed," she said. Actually, she had found in the TARDIS's library - the Doctor's TARDIS, back in the day - but he didn't need to know that. "I'd have loved a signed copy."
"Well, you can still buy a signed copy of one you haven't read yet."
"I should complain about how shameless that was, but it's actually a good idea." She paused for a moment, thoughtful, and frowned. "Ah... You do take gold and silver and the like here, right?"
"You probably should have thought of that before you ordered a drink," Varric said.
"That's not an answer," said Clara, and pretended that she didn't notice that she wasn't addressing his point either.
"We do take gold and silver," he replied. "Specific gold and silver coins, of course, but you're in luck. I doubt Cabot will make much of a fuss you give him something slightly different."
"Gold is gold, right?"
"Especially in times like this, yes. When the sky's falling down, people get a lot less picky." Now it was Varric who paused, giving her a curious look. "So. Weird clothes, asking about currency... You must be really foreign."
"You have no idea," she admitted. "I'm so foreign, I don't even try pretending otherwise. Learned that from a friend."
"Depending on where you go, that could mean trouble," Varric said. In a different context, it could have sounded almost like a threat. In yet another one, it might have been concern. But Clara was used to interpret that kind of lines by now. This time in particular, it was nothing but a statement of fact - she had nothing to worry about at the Herald's Rest, except maybe a bunch of nosy questions.
Then again, she liked nosy questions.
"Oh, it often does. But it's all part of the fun."
"Come on, you can't just say things like that and then not tell the whole story," he laughed. "An anecdote, at the very least."
Clara grinned and put down her still (and, probably, forever) unfinished beer.
"I have a better idea. Let's go make some anecdotes right now." She stood up, left a gold piece on the table that was probably worth a lot more than that awful drink, and motioned towards the door with her head. "The sky is falling. There's bound to be something interesting to do."
Surprisingly, the dwarf didn't move. His only reaction was to raise his eyebrows, amused.
"Nice try, but I live here. Even falling skies lose their novelty after a while."
"... Fine," Clara said. "Let's compromise. Show me around and I tell you a story?"
That finally got Varric to stand up from his chair.
"Better yet," he said, "you tell me your story."
Clara only had to think about it for a second. After all, she had to admit it - she did like talking about herself.
"All right," she agreed. "Let's go find Me and I'll even show you the TARDIS."
"Wait, let's find... who now?"
"... right. That's another long story."
Judging from Varric's expression, he didn't seem to mind.
"That's fine. I have plenty of time."
"Oh," Clara laughed, "I have a couple of stories to tell you about time, too."