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Fairly Weathered

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Aislin knew it was a trap as soon as the woman approached them, begging for them to help, that bandits had attacked them. Her face remained impassive as she surveyed the scene before her. One dead ox lay by one of the overturned carts, there seemed to be no one around.

The silence in the valley made her suspicious, usually there were sounds of birds twittering in the trees, but there was only silence. A warning, a sign that something was not right. It could be attributed to the attack, she supposed, but there were no dead bodies littering the ground. There was no evidence that the carts had been ransacked. In Aislin’s personal opinion as a rogue, and one trained as an assassin, this was as staged set up for an ambush if she ever saw one. And not a well-constructed one either. She would have to be sure to let them know her thoughts once they revealed themselves, before or after she slit their throats for insulting her with this slap-dash set up.

She glanced back at her companions, she reached up to scratch the back of her neck and briefly touched the hilt of one of her daggers in warning. Morrigan caught on quickly and inclined her chin slightly to signal her understanding. Aislin glanced meaningfully at Alistair and Lelianna, the latter still looked slightly confused but two of three was not bad, he would catch on quickly.

Aislin turned back to the woman and smiled warmly, a farce of her own, “Show us how we can help,” she said, lacing her voice with concern. This would be fun. No one ever suspected the tiny elven woman with the pretty face to betray them. Well, maybe in Orlais, but beyond that god-forsaken country she was confident that could fool any sucker, because she was always underestimated. A fact of her life that used to infuriate her, but now she uses to her advantage. Now to take down the bandits that surely laid in wait.

As the woman led on, predictably a dozen or so people emerged from the carts after she met with a tanned elven man. Aislin smiled serenely, counting them quickly to gauge the danger. She was unconcerned, she drew one of her daggers leisurely, flipping it in her hand as the ambushers began nocking arrows and drawing their swords. Aislin has to jump out of the way of a falling tree trunk, which then blocked any path of escape.

The elven man approached them, the swagger to his step indicating excessive confidence, something easy to exploit. Aislin sized him up, and he did so in return as he shouted for his comrades, “The Grey Warden dies here!”

Oh, that is what this is about. Their efforts to recruit the Dalish must have reached the ears of a very particular man.

“The Antivan Crows send their regards,” he said by way of greeting, and Aislin’s serene, closed lip smile widened to bare her teeth, this was going to be absolutely delightful. The Crows were an interesting group to be sure, and much more exciting than drab and inept bandits.

“How lovely. Please, send Falon’Din my regards, pretty,” she cooed, drawing one of her throwing knives from her waist into her left hand. The man’s eyes lit up at her return, and gave a short, pleased laugh at her moxie.

The battle began when an arrow whizzed past the elven man’s face, meant to sink into her eye, which Aislin sidestepped, her braid hitting her face with the quick movement. She heard the arrow hit Alistair’s shield behind them, before throwing her own knife into the socket of the woman who had led them here in return. She fell, dead, and Aislin stepped forward over her body to parry the man’s subsequent attack.

Aislin met his eyes as their daggers clashed, “I promise I will not treat your face so unkindly, yours is one to be preserved,” she told him with a glint in her eye as she feinted for his ribs and then slashed at his throat. He jumped back, and when Aislin went to follow she also had to jump back to avoid a flurry of arrows.

“Morrigan, archers!” she called, just avoiding the poisoned tips. The Crows were well known for their potent poisons, she would have to avoid every blow. She could take maybe three cuts before the toxins would affect her body, she would have to be vigilant.

“Indeed they are,” came Morrigan’s dry reply, and the crash of ice magic followed by screams seemed far away as Aislin squared off with the man who seemed to be the leader. Aislin did appreciate the sarcasm, though she was one of the only ones in their group who did. Alistair was keeping the bulk of the fighter at bay, while Lelianna was dispatching many on her own as they were distracted. It seemed as though this elven man had zeroed in on her from the beginning. This must have been a very specific hit placed on her and Alistair’s heads, it reeked of Loghain’s foul play.

It was not often that two assassins squared off like this, while Aislin held the title Grey Warden now, she was first and foremost trained as a quiet killer, not a brawler, not a warrior. She enjoyed the thrill of battle, but her talents laid with stealth and deception. However, this was entirely delightful to her, to find herself circling an opponent who adopted the same cat-like movements, she was no stranger to the battlefield especially not after joining the Grey Wardens. However they were hunters, killers, stalkers, and their stances mirrored one another. Aislin often grew bored of outwitting foes that barrelled at her with their swords held high, leaving their weak spots completely open for her to exploit. This man excited her, she would enjoy killing him, and that was evident in her eyes and reflected in his.

He seemed equally pleased, a smirk adorning his lips as he knocked away a knife that she produced from the sleeve of her light armor with the broadsword in his dominant hand. Admittedly it was not a good throw, just a distraction. She studied his movements, his footwork, everybody had a weak point but he was obviously very adept at hiding his.

“What are you searching for, beautiful lady?” he taunted her, noticing her eyes flitting around his body and finding nothing, “Do you perhaps like what you see?”

Aislin grinned, “I would like it better if I could find a limp or an old injury… or even a non-dominant hand to exploit,” she admitted, knowing full well that he knew this already, “I do love the sight of a man at my mercy.”

Oh, he liked that. His eyes flashed as he rushed her, going for the throat. Aislin caught his blade and gave a sharp kick to his ankle, causing him to stumble momentarily. She grabbed the hilt of his blade, but he was obviously stronger than her, if she allowed him to press further he would kill her easily.

Her arms shook with the effort of holding him back, his other blade struck at her abdomen but glanced off her enchanted light armor. Her knee came up and she kicked down hard at his leg, causing him to stumble again and she danced away as he gave another swipe at her.

“I do like the thought of being at your mercy, though in a slightly different context,” he finally answered as he resumed walking in a leisurely circle. Seeking an opening, a warrior broke away from Alistair and Aislin’s face twisted in displeasure as he took a swing for her head, interrupting her dance with the elven man.

“Do you mind?” she spat, ducking underneath the blade and sticking her dagger through the weak point in his chainmail into his ribs. He spat blood and collapsed holding his wound, Aislin kicked his sword away and put her dagger in his eye, before having to turn to deflect a blow from her main opponent.

He leaned close and smiled at her as her arms shook with the force of the blow, “You know, it truly is a shame to kill you,” he said conversationally. Aislin could smell the poison off his blade, and recognized the mixture. Oh, yes, it would be very bad to be cut even once, actually. It was a paralytic. The realization sent a thrill through her.

“Not too much of a shame to stop trying though, I see,” she responded haughtily, keeping the strain out of her voice the best she could. He barked a laugh, bearing down on her. She couldn’t back away from this engagement without risking a quick nick to the exposed parts of her body, she was sure that was his play now that he could not outwit her in combat as easily as he had expected

“Oh, a true shame indeed, it seems, beautiful. Though I see this more as a duel than an assassination now. I am truly impressed by you, Grey Warden, it is an honor to kill or be killed bysuch a surprising opponent.”

Now, Aislin was admittedly stalling, she was glad he continued talking though that made her uneasy. He was stronger than her, she generally did not allow her larger opponents to get this close before killing them, but the attack from the warrior had given him a window to get close quickly and keep her from getting away again. His stance had adjusted since the last time, she would not be able to compromise his footing this time. Very clever, she was truly impressed as well. She just was a bit more sparse with her compliments, tending to be coy. Right now, however, she was a bit more preoccupied with surviving than flirting... despite her bravado.

She couldn’t back away from this engagement without risking a quick nick to the exposed parts of her body, she was sure that was his play now that he could not outwit her in combat as easily as he had expected. He was holding her there waiting for her to move, to give him an opening.

Admittedly she had let her hubris get her into trouble once again. Always overconfident, though rather more humble these days than when she was a scrap of a thing learning to survive on the streets of Denerim, good gods. Too many times had she outwitted an underpaid guard and felt untouchable, only to land herself in deep trouble the next day because of her big head. Aislin has survived many encounters, killed many people dead set on killing her, but she was not entirely sure she would actually survive this one, though she kept her face as impassive as possible as she frantically sought a way out.

Suddenly, a thunk. And the elven man’s eyes rolled to the back of his head. Not dead, it seemed by the groan he let out when he hit the ground, but semi-conscious at best. Aislin stared at him, feeling that this was rather anticlimactic but she was grateful that she was not in the same position but with a cut throat or stuck like a pig.

“Thank you, Alistair,” she said with disappointment in her voice. He rolled his eyes at her, and kept his sword pointed at the unconscious man he had just knocked out with the pommel of his sword.

“Yeah well, someone had to stop the disturbing... murder flirting,” he said with disgust evident in his voice, though his gave her a good-natured smirk.

Aislin smirked and shrugged, “Not my best moment, honestly. But it is not everyday we get the pleasure of crossing swords with the Antivan Crows.”

“Speaking of which, they are all dead except for this one,” Leliana chimed in, “We should kill him before he regains consciousness.”

Aislin knew that the best course of action would probably be to kill him now, but she was also very curious for some names and answers from the leader of this ambush. Knowing she may regret it later, she held up a hand to stop Leliana from cutting his throat.

“We will question him first,” she said, crouching down and resting her elbows on her knees. He groaned, his eyes rolling under his lids. His eyes opened to slits, and Aislin moved to adjust his chin with one of her engraved daggers, tilting his face up to hers with the flat of it.

“Good morning handsome,” she taunted with a grin, though her confidence felt misplaced even to her since she had not been able to beat him on her own. She could practically hear Alistair rolling his eyes behind her.

He groaned in response, “Uh…. I… oh. I had hoped I would wake up dead, or rather not wake up at all as the case may be. But I see you haven’t killed me yet.”

Aislin leaned closer, “No, not yet, though I do think it is bad sport to kill a semi-conscious opponent that I was not able to overcome on my own, so I suppose you could thank Alistair for that.”

Alistair snorted before Aislin continued conversationally, “Though I do think I would like to torture you first,” Aislin really wasn’t one for torture, it wasn’t quite her style, but the threat of which usually served the same purpose as the practical option.

The elven man smirked up at her despite what was sure to be a splitting headache, “Oho, you kept me around to have a little fun first, eh? But the purpose of torture is usually to interrogate, yes? So despite the potential of fun, perhaps I’ll save you a bit of time and get right to the point.”

Aislin’s grin widened, “I like this compliant attitude, though you must know it will be hard to trust anything you say. I am not so easily fooled as to believe the words of a fellow assassin, pretty.”

He shrugged one shoulder, careful not to move his head and nick his own throat on her blade, “Be that as it may, I have no reason to lie. Since I failed to kill you, my life is forfeit, the Crows will kill me anyway.”

Aislin knew this, one will almost never meet an ex-Antivan Crow for that particular reason. Though Aislin herself had met all of one in her young life, an older woman hiding in plain sight. She was dead now, the Crows eventually caught up with her. Even if this man killed her later it would not matter because he didn’t succeed the first time, Aislin knew this well. She locked away that particular memory and leveled the man with her gaze.

“Then I would start talking.”

He did so, expanding that his name was Zevran, Zev to his friends. And he confirmed that Loghain was the man who had ordered the hit on any remaining Grey Wardens. A desperate act of a guilty man if Aislin ever saw one. Her face twisted as if she tasted something foul thinking on it.

Zevran had a proposal for her after he answered any question Aislin could think to ask.

“As I said, I fail to kill you, my life is forfeit. That’s how it works, if you don’t kill me the Crows will. Thing is, I like living, and you are obviously the sort to give the Crows pause. So, let me serve you instead.”

Aislin blinked, she was not exactly expecting that. Her eyes narrowed to slits and she pressed her dagger to his throat, though not yet hard enough to draw blood.

“I told you I was not fooled so easily by the sweet words of a kindred assassin,” she hissed, and searched his eyes for signs of deceit. Assassins were generally well-versed in the art of lying, it was hard to discern even with Aislin’s own prowess at it. Normal people had tells, assassins had those beaten out of them early.

A throat cleared behind her, “I do not believe he is lying,” Morrigan drawled. Aislin relaxed a little at the sound of her voice, something not many people could say the same of ‘the Witch of the Wilds’. But she just so happened to be the closest thing to a best friend that Aislin had experienced since her childhood, as prickly as they both were, it worked.

She pulled her dagger back, sheathing it silently as she inwardly mused. Zevran could very well be an asset to them, but Aislin could not bring herself to completely discard the idea that he would one day slit all their throats in the night. Though, beyond her paranoia, she knew that this would not benefit him. He needed protection from the Crows or he probably would not last more than a few weeks on the run. Even if he did, the moment his guard was down they would catch up to him.

A pang of pity, rather uncharacteristic for Aislin, softened her gaze incrementally, and Zevran’s face lifted slightly at the sight. She should not have been impressed that he noticed the small shift in her expression, but she was. Her face was hard to read even when she was emoting freely. She rolled her eyes and extended a hand to help him stand.

“I will not hesitate to kill you if I get even an inkling that you will betray us,” was her warm and friendly welcome to the crew. Zevran gave her a blinding smile as he gripped her forearm and she started to hoist him to his feet. What was one more dangerous individual on this ragtag team of idiots, she reasoned. Two wanted Grey Wardens, a feared and near-legendary Witch of the Wilds, a Qunari criminal that she had saved from a cruel Darkspawn death, a bard turned Chantry girl, and an old lady brought back from the dead by a benevolent demon…. He was surely not the biggest threat amongst them. Her lips curled into a half-smile when she thought that he would probably actually fit in rather well.

“Ah, a beautiful smile graces me. I am in your debt, lovely Warden,” Zevran said charmingly, and Aislin let go of his hand immediately in retaliation, causing him to almost land on his ass before he regained his footing. He laughed, straightening up with a glint in his eye. She kept her face impassive.

“Aislin is my name, no flowery adjectives needed or wanted, pretty,” she replied, turning on her heel and taking her leave, her companions following her, “Alistair is the lovely Warden here, flirt with him instead.” Alistair complained at that, though it was mostly a compliment and a deflection and not meant to be emasculating.

“But are truths flowery or fact?” was his response, and Aislin had half a mind to throw a knife at him. He would surely dodge it. Probably. Maybe.

“Depends, ask Alistair,” she drawled, continuing down their path. They would need a place to camp for the night, the sun was setting and they had traveled quite a distance before being ambushed by Zevran and company.

He breathed a laugh behind them and she heard his feet move to catch up to them, though he walked in view of most of the party, he kept off to the side. Not quite part of the clique yet, but maybe he would be with time. Aislin smiled to herself, face hidden as she led the group away.