Briall never thought she would have to see this place again. She thought she was rid of her past. Yet, here she was. The closer to the water locked tower she got the deeper the chill in her soul settled. If any of her companions noticed, they didn’t show it. The only one who outwardly showed anything was amiss was her loyal hound, Bane. He stuck a little closer to her than usual as if he could sense her unease.
She didn’t notice the side glances Zevran would shoot her way. Didn’t notice the way his eyes would follow her nervous gaze to the great stone tower looming ahead of them. Perhaps she was simply too distracted to notice. He was, after all, the only one who knew about her entire past there. The Templar who took her innocence in every sense of the word. The only one who could possibly understand that it wasn’t necessarily the tower she was hesitant to approach.
Zevran was fiercely proud of his Warden when she first entered the tower. None of her discomfort or nervousness showed. She met with the remaining Templars and mages and took the situation in stride. Briall offered assistance to people he might not have if he was in her position. Not even the threat of demons, abominations and blood mages could turn her away from those in need, even if those people had taken her from a family and kept her in a life of captivity.
He did notice the way her eyes scanned the Templars in attendance. Judging by her lack of reaction, the offender from her past was not present in their rank. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He felt an odd anger well up inside of him, a raw emotion he’d rarely felt in his life. When she had told him the story of the dark hallway and the Templar who preyed on the women in the tower, the anger had surfaced and never really gone away. Especially now that he saw her holding back the fear that scratched so close to the surface of her calm demeanor.
He, however, wanted to see the man’s face. Probably as much as Briall didn’t want to see it. The nights she wasn’t plagued with nightmares of the arch demon she suffered from nightmares of him. It seemed that telling him her tale had opened an old wound. She struggled to keep her composure at night when they were alone. The Briall the others saw during the day was washed away at night with her tears.
Of course he was sure that her opening up about her past hadn’t been the only trigger. They had already been resigned to going to the tower when she’d told him. Probably prompted by her nervousness at going back. The closer they got the worse the dreams became. He also knew that it wasn’t just her attacker that made her fear returning. Her life in general in the tower had been miserable. Locked up, told what she could and couldn’t read, study or do. Briall was meant to be free, roaming the world. Using her skills to help better the lives of others. The way that she had opened up in their time traveling together had humbled him. He was the one she chose to share her life with.
And this lovely creature had deemed his life worth saving. Even at his lowest point she found worth in him. He struggled to reconcile the Briall he saw during the day with the on that he held at night.
Through all of that, she entered the besieged tower with no fear. Sheer determination kept her going where a weaker woman would have fled.
Despite Alistair’s dislike of Zevran they worked well as a team. Alistair to keep the enemy’s attention, Bane and Zevran to strike at the most opportune of times and Briall to stay on the outskirts hurling spells into the chaos. Both men trusted her completely to have their backs, her spells never so much as singeing their hair. Room after room, hall after hall, floor after floor cleared of blood mages and demons. Pockets of survivors were sent back in their wake, safely evacuated from the living hell around them.
With another floor clear, Briall called for a rest. They were all battle weary and covered in blood but still had so far to go. The biggest fight was yet to come. Briall was every inch the capable warrior Zevran had come to respect. Her robes were torn in paces from close calls that had Zevran’s heart skipping a beat. Her lovely red hair was starting to work its way out of the elaborate braid she’d set it in this morning. Delicately pointed ears peeked through the strands.
“Alistair, take Bane and go clear out the library. Make sure no one is hiding in there. Zev and I will clear out the store rooms on the south side.”
Alistair gave his leg a pat and the mabari trailed after him. He turned and walked backward, jabbing a finger at Zevran. “Hey, hands off!” He warned, looking at Briall then pointedly back to the assassin.
Zevran held up his hands in surrender. However, once Alistair was around the curved hallway and out of sight he pulled the mage into his arms, letting his concern show through.
“Tesoro, you should rest. I will search the store rooms by myself.”
“Absolutely not.” She argued, though she did let him hold her, resting her cheek against his chest and tucking her head under his chin. “I’m not letting anyone go anywhere alone.”
He tisked, but didn’t argue. “Very well.” Zevran sighed and released her. She pulled away and looked up at him with a weary smile.
“I knew you would-” Her voice caught in a stuttered gasp. She was looking somewhere over his shoulder, green eyes wide. An enemy would have immediately elicited a fight response from her, so he knew there was no demon at his back. Instead, she looked ready to flee.
“Briall! Praise the Maker!” A man exclaimed. Zevran turned to see him stumbling toward them. Templar armor immediately marking him as one who should be helping to restore order. However, this man’s armor was completely clean. Surely he would have heard the fray of the fight and joined in. Where had he been? Hiding all this time?
He reached out to grasp her hand and Briall stepped back deftly out of his reach. Her eyes were locked on him, raw fear making her draw in ragged breaths.
“Mallum.” Her voice was a bare whisper. Zevran didn’t recognize the name. She’d never told him the name of the man who had forced himself on her years ago. But he didn’t have to know the name to recognize that this was the same man.
He rested the flat of his blade against the man’s breastplate, halting his bid to reach for Briall again. “The Mallum?” He asked, sounding impressed. “My dear Warden has spoken of you at length!” He lowered his blade and wrapped an arm around Mallum’s shoulders. “I know all about the care you took of her. Quite the impact you had on her time here at the tower! I should very much like to get to know you better!” He said, sheathing his blade.
“Mi amore, would you like to join us?” He asked, steering Mallum into one of the store rooms off to the side. His eyes were intense when he met her fearful ones. She understood immediately that he was asking her if she needed this confrontation to heal.
“N-No.” She stuttered, shaking her head. “I’ll keep watch out here.”
Zevran leaned his head close to the Templar’s and began to speak in low tones. She wasn’t sure what he was saying to the man though he seemed more and more hesitant to go with the elf, shooting her an odd look before Zevran nudged the door closed with his foot.
The moment the door latched, she knelt down and hid her face in her hands, letting out a great, gasping sob. The sight of her attacker broke all of her defenses. She fought hard to control herself, taking in deep breaths and forcing herself to stand back up. She clenched and unclenched her fists, her eyes screwed shut to keep in the tears. It was several minutes before she was able to compose herself. Perhaps longer, she wasn’t sure how much time had passed. It was all she could do not to re-live those painful memories. There was a job to do. Once it was over she could wallow in self-pity all she wanted.
The door latched with a click and Zevran felt the man jump under his arm. “Um, how is it you know Briall?” Mallum asked, trying to move out from the arm around his shoulder.
Zevran clasped him tighter and chuckled. “I owe her a great debt.” He said simply. “And I’m about to repay part of it now it seems.”
“Listen, I don’t know what she’s told you but you clearly know we have a history together.” Mallum said nervously, attempting again to get out from under the constraining arm.
“I have heard indeed.” Zevran confirmed, walking him further into the room and around a partition toward a stack of large wooden crates. “Though, remind me, how do you know Briall?” He countered, his face close to Mallum’s.
“She was my ward when she was an apprentice.”
“And?” Zevran prompted. “Anything else?” He stopped walking but kept the man under his arm.
“Well, we...you know.” He was sounding more and more nervous.
“No, I fear I do not know. Please, enlighten me.” Zevran gave a winning smile.
“We made love once.” Mallum finished. “But it was a long time ago, if you and she are-”
In one swift movement Zevran unsheathed his dagger and drove it into the back of the man’s knee where the joints of his armor left him vulnerable. He could feel it tear through tendon, muscle and cartilage. With a strangled cry he fell to the floor, grasping his ruined knee and scooting away from Zevran to press his back against the crates.
“Wrong.” Zevran said simply, twirling the bloody blade in his hands. “That implies consent. Did she give you consent?” He asked, kneeling down in front of Mallum. His amber eyes were dark with anger that didn’t show on his face.
“She wanted it!” He cried out, rocking his leg to try to ease the pain. Again he had skirted answering the question directly.
For a moment, Zevran couldn’t contain his anger. A string of Antivan spilled from his lips. The beautiful language in the furious tone sounded guttural and harsh. He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath.
“Mallum.” He opened his eyes to regard the now sweating Templar. “We both know that is not true. Correct?”
“She didn’t say no!” He argued. He was breathing hard and his face was pale. Blood pooled beneath his leg.
Grabbing Mallum’s wrist he slammed it against the crate. With a quick thrust the dagger went through his palm to imbed into the wood. He cried out again, his free hand leaving his knee to grasp at Zevran’s hand, trying to pry it off of his wrist.
“You have not said no.” Zevran said with a shrug. “I am having a good time. You should be as well, no? Is this not your line of thought?”
“Maker, help me!” He cried out, hesitantly grabbing at the dagger handle. The moment he touched it it shifted in his palm, making him quickly release it. “I’m sorry! I was young and stupid. I didn’t know better.” He was whimpering now.
“Another lie I think.” Zevran tisked softly and pulled the dagger out with a sharp movement. Mallum cradled his hand to his chest and grasped the back of his knee with this free hand to stem the flow of blood. “You did know better. How many were there I wonder?” His accent grew thicker the more passionate he became. Mallum was having a hard time understanding him with the blood loss addling his brain.
“What?” He asked, holding back a sob.
“How many?” He dragged the tip of the dagger across his breastplate, the scratching noise making Mallum wince. “This is a very, very important question, my dear Templar.” He leaned in close, his nose mere inches away from Mallum’s.
“I will know should you lie.” He warned, his voice low and dangerous.
“Just her! I swear, just her!” He said quickly.
Zevran closed his eyes and shook his head sadly. “Dear Mallum. I truly hoped you would not lie to me. But perhaps this is better.” He opened his eyes and frowned at the man. “For then I might have spared your life.”
Gripping the top of Mallum’s breastplate Zevran sank his dagger low into Mallum’s gut. With a slow twist he pulled it back out again as the man gaped down at his actions. Mallum let out a long cry, both healthy and ruined hand moving to cover the wound.
The assassin wiped first one side of his blade then the other with a corner of Mallum’s tunic and then stood. Red still streaked the blade. There was far too much blood to clean that easily.
“You can’t leave me like this!” He pleaded as Zevran headed to the door.
“But I must!” Zevran threw a grin over his shoulder. “You see, I take my oath to protect my dear Warden very seriously. I have left her for far too long already. Pray to your Maker for forgiveness for I have none to give to you.”
She heard a strangled cry from inside the store room that made her look up sharply. Time seemed to pass slowly before she heard a small amount of scuffling, another cry and then silence. It was a long time before the door quietly opened and Zevran stepped out. She couldn’t tell if any of the blood on his armor was new. He latched the door quietly behind him as Alistair came tearing around the corner, Bane at his heels.
“It sounded like someone was dying!” He came to a halt. Zevran’s bloody dagger was still out and he was standing in front of the door. “In there!” He pointed to the room. “It sounded like someone was dying in there. Did you kill someone?!” He asked incredulously.
“You wound me.” Zevran frowned. “He was alive when I left him.”
“You’re avoiding the question.” Alistair accused.
“Perhaps he is dead now, perhaps he is not.” The assassin allowed. Now Zevran was avoiding answering questions directly.
“Was it a demon?”
“No.” Zevran simply answered.
“Was it an innocent?”
“What did he ever do to you?” Alistair asked, jabbing another finger in Zevran’s direction.
“To me, nothing.” He answered with a shrug.
“This is insane. I knew I couldn’t trust you!” Alistair started to push past Briall in an attempt to get into the room. Briall grabbed his hand and squeezed.
“Alistair, if you still consider me to be a sister to you, please, I beg you, please do not go in there.” He whirled to look at her, surprised. “No one in there is worth saving.” There was something in her look that removed some of his bluster. His anger turned to concern and his other hand captured hers, holding it between his own.
“Bri, please tell me what in Andraste’s name is going on?” He implored. “Do you not trust me?” He looked slightly hurt. She knew that it would bother him that she would trust Zevran with something she couldn’t trust with him.
“Alistair,” She kept his gaze while she struggled for the words. “When I was an apprentice here...there was a Templar. He…” She had to look away for a moment, biting her lip. “He forced himself on young women here. I was one of them.” She admitted, her voice shaking.
It took a moment to completely comprehend what she was telling him. She knew the moment he understood when the look in his eyes changed. It rather mirrored the look in Zevran’s eyes when she had told him. Raw anger. The protective instinct in Alistair was strong.
Her whirled on Zevran and poked him in the breast plate hard enough for him to sway backwards. “You better have made him suffer more than anyone else you’ve ever killed.”
“Alas, I had not the time nor the instruments for that.” Zevran said nonchalantly. “Though I did have a little bit of time for some fun.” He added, almost as an afterthought, spinning his blade deftly around his fingers. “And his death will be neither swift nor painless.” He promised.
Alistair turned back to Briall and gently rested a hand on her cheek. “Are you okay?”
“No.” She answered honestly. “But I will be. Let’s just keep going, okay? We have too much to do. I’ll deal with this later.” Zevran found himself smiling at her. What hadn’t killed her had only made her stronger.
Alistair hesitated a moment before nodding. “Yeah. Too much to do.” He echoed.
“Come, tesoro.” Zevran took her hand and brought it to his lips, kissing her knuckles with the barest press of his lips before following Alistair.
She looked down when Bane nudged that same hand with his wet nose. He whined softly.
“Come on you beast. Let’s go.” She spared one more glance at the closed door before following after Zevran and Alistair.